On March 26, 1862, during one of the darkest times of the American Civil War, Philadelphia pastor Joseph Gilmore wanted to comfort and encourage his congregation at a mid-week service. So he chose Psalm 23 as the text for his sermon with a focus on the words “He leadeth me…” Following the service, Gilmore attended a gathering at a deacon’s home where the conversation turned to the ways God leads. Inspired, Gilmore took out paper and immediately penciled the hymn text He Leadeth Me. He handed the paper to his wife and promptly forgot about it. Gilmore’s wife sent the text to the Boston periodical The Watchman and Reflector for publication where it was spotted by William Bradbury (1816-1868), composer of the hymn Jesus Loves Me. Bradbury manipulated the text into a stanza and refrain structure, adding a final line to the refrain, and then published the hymn in The Golden Censor (1864).
A year later, Gilmore was a pastoral candidate for a church in Rochester, New York. Unfamiliar with the new church’s hymnal, he picked up a copy to thumb through before the service and was surprised when he found his own hymn He Leadeth Me. As he later commented,
“That was the first time I knew that my hymn had found a place among the songs of the church.”
This hymn’s reminder of who leads us is comforting as, once again, our world faces turbulent, divisive times. Since being a “faithful follower” often requires action, I decided to give this piano arrangement of He Leadeth Me a rhythmic walking movement throughout. The hymn’s melody appears three times with three different moods because sometimes being a faithful follower requires us to steadily stay the course (first section), quietly contemplate (second section), and boldly stand up and proclaim (third section.) I hope you find it comforting and inspiring. Enjoy!