Words and music: George A. Young (c. 1855 to 1935)
In shady, green pastures, so rich and so sweet, God leads His dear children along;
Where the water’s cool flow bathes the weary one’s feet, God leads His dear children along.
Some through the waters, some through the flood, Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song, In the night season and all the day long.
Sometimes on the mount where the sun shines so bright, God leads His dear children along;
Sometimes in the valley, in darkest of night, God leads His dear children along.
Though sorrows befall us and evils oppose, God leads His dear children along;
Through grace we can conquer, defeat all our foes, God leads His dear children along.
Away from the mire, and away from the clay, God leads His dear children along;
Away up in glory, eternity’s day, God leads His dear children along.
This is a fine gospel song, though its origins are not clearly known. As students of hymnology, we continue to look for more data about the author. This hymn in many references is attributed to George Young who was a carpenter, and a preacher of the gospel. In the late nineteenth century he laboured in obscurity, serving small rural areas in the United States. Today, there is not even a reliable record of the dates of his birth and death. (A guess would be approximately 1855 and 1935, respectively.) Often his income was so small he had difficulty supporting his wife and family. Even so, he kept on diligently serving the Lord.
Finally, after a great deal of effort and years of sacrifice, the Youngs were able to move into a small house they had built for themselves. All were delighted with the new place, but tragedy soon overtook them. While George was away holding meetings in another community, some ruffians who were hostile to the gospel he preached set fire to the Young’s home burning it to the ground.
In 1903, George Young published a hymn for which he wrote both words and music. It is a testimony to his faith in God, in spite of this severe trial. It depicts different kinds of circumstances and experiences we face in life, with a reminder that the Lord provides for us in them all. The opening stanza paints a lovely picture, reminiscent of the 23rd Psalm. But the author was well aware that not all of life is like that. The song’s refrain gives a more sobering view of life’s trials:
Some through great sorrow.” It’s believed this is a reference to Young’s own experience. He had learned, through painful loss that “God…gives songs in the night” to those who trust in Him (Job 35:10). And through it all, whether in good times or bad, the Lord continues to “lead His dear children along.”
Perhaps there are those who think that if God is our Guide, our lives should never be touched by hurt or harm. But that’s not the case. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, he led his people with a supernatural pillar of cloud and fire (Deut. 1:33). But He led them through a wilderness. There they experienced a lack of water, and a shortage of food, in addition to enemy attacks. God did not deliver them from such experiences. But He proved Himself strong, time and again, to meet their need.
Today, Christians are subject to all the ills common to man, and they have, as the hymn writer’s experience reminds us, the added burden of living in a world at enmity with God. Jesus warned, long ago, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 15:20). George Young certainly knew about that!
Though there are some remarkable instances of God’s deliverance from pain or peril, they are not the common thing. We are not promised a final and full release from trials until we go to be with Him in glory. It is then that sickness, pain, and death will be forever put behind us (Rev. 21:4). More often now, rather than delivering us from these things, the Lord helps us in them, and carries us through them.
The hymn also reminds us that there are places that God will lead us during our walk with Him. Some are places we like to hear about and visit (“shady, green pastures” or “on the mountain”). Other places we probably don’t want to be reminded of (“the valley” or “the flood”). There are specific people and specific stories in the Bible that tell us the kinds of circumstances Godly people will encounter as His followers. This may be contradictory to some of the “prosperity” messages we hear today, but here are some Biblical examples of what the author is talking about:
• “Some through the waters” – The children of Israel provide a couple of examples of going through the waters – with Moses at the Red Sea and with Joshua as they crossed the Jordan. One of the encouraging things about these stories is that they walked across on dry land. Not only did the Lord do the miraculous by holding the water back, but He also led them across on dry land.
• “Some through the flood” – The Bible says in Genesis that there was a world-wide flood. A destruction of almost all life on earth by water. However, God had a plan. He chose a man – “a just man and perfect in his generations.” This man and his family obeyed, and God protected them during this flood. God had a plan. God picked a man. The man obeyed God, and God protected him through this devastation. We can learned something from Noah about how to handle “floods” in our lives.
• “Some through the fire” – We all know the story of the three Hebrew Children – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their’s is a powerful story of God’s miraculous protection from the wicked King and from the fiery furnace. I love their statement of faith and confidence in God found in Daniel 3 – “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” I love their confidence in God, but also their testimony that if God doesn’t work it out like I know He can, He is still God and nothing will change my mind about that. What a powerful example for us!
The last phrase I wanted to comment on ties into the story behind the hymn. The phrase is “Some through great sorrow.” The author of this hymn, George Young, was a little known preacher and carpenter. He spent the majority of his lifetime ministering in small rural areas. He was never a man of means, but lived a humble, fairly meager, existence. As the story goes in the earlier paragraphs of this note after many years and much struggle, the Young family was able to move into a small home that they had built themselves. One day, he left his home to preach at gospel meetings, and while he was away, his home was set on fire by a group of hoodlums. These young men didn’t like his preaching or the Gospel message, so they burned his house to the ground. It is believed that out of this tragedy came the words to this particular hymn.
One of the things about hymns that I have noticed is that many of them are written by people that have experienced great tragedies. I’ve sometimes dreamed about writing a hymn myself one day. For someone like me who has a fondness for old hymns, I really think it would be neat to write a hymn that actually got published. The author of this hymn, however, stated that through great sorrow, “God gives a song.” This thought makes me ask a question of myself. Am I ready to write a hymn? I haven’t experienced that kind of deep tragedy or loss in my life, so am I prepared to do it? I haven’t endured, and really don’t want to experience, the kind of pain and loss that many of these hymnwriters experienced in their life. I would much rather hear about blessings and good gifts than a life of struggles, trials, and tribulations. If I am honest with myself, I want the easy way out. This has, unfortunately, become the attitude of many people in the church today. “Let me have a tremendous ministry and do great things for the Lord, but can I do it without enduring any hardship or trial?”
My prayer, and I hope it is yours as well, that I will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and be confident that God is leading me along. Wherever that may be (waters, fire, or flood), I pray that I truly believe He is control. My personal prayer is like the father who prayed in Mark Chapter 9 – “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”