Hymn Histories : Lead, kindly light
Written by : John Henry Newman in 1833
I’m sure that some of you have never heard of this hymn! If not, why don’t you listen to it in the link at the bottom of the page. I chose it not only because of the story of the author but also for the stories of those who were, much later, comforted by singing this hymn in their own terrible times.
Lead, Kindly Light was written in 1833 by John Henry Newman, an Anglican vicar, out of a time of frustration. Stranded in Italy through illness and travel disasters, he was desperate to get back to England to work. The final straw came when, having eventually boarded a ship, it was becalmed for a whole week just off shore. His plans were frustrated again. But, there on the deck on that motionless ship, it came to him that perhaps God’s plan was not his plan, and wrote these words.
‘Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home
Lead Thou me on! Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene, one step enough for me.’
Maybe you’re feeling frustrated just now – not able to work, not able to see family, not able to serve the Lord in the way you want to, not able to serve others, not able to see the way ahead, the ‘distant scene’. Perhaps we need to trust that our Saviour knows the way, and can light our path, one step at a time.
Here is one of the many stories of this hymn being sung in dark times:
In the book ‘The Hiding Place’ by Corrie Ten Boom she wrote of her arrival, with her sister Betsie, at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. As they were driven out from their tents into the darkness she wrote: ‘Women began spreading their blankets on the hard cinder ground. Slowly it dawned on Betsie and me that we were to spend the night here where we stood. We laid my blanket on the ground, stretched out side by side, and pulled hers over us.
‘The night is dark and I am far from home . . .’ Betsie’s sweet soprano was picked up by voices all around us. “Lead Thou me on. . . .”
As you listen to this beautiful version of the hymn close your eyes and imagine how the words comforted and blessed, and still do today.