Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” On this Sunday, across the world, many will be singing the beloved hymn, “The King of love my shepherd is.” Just the fact alone that millions across the world will be singing this beloved and beautiful hymn on Sunday is a beautiful and powerful thing to behold.
Sir Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877), the author of this hymn and also the vicar of Monkland Priory Church in Herefordshire, England, wrote many hymns with “fine emotion and intellect.” Baker is said to have uttered stanza three of this hymn as his last words before dying:
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.
A great passion of his Baker’s life was the production of the innovative Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861), a monumental milestone in the history of English hymnody. It was a collection of great variety and musical effectiveness. At the time this hymnal was released, most congregations in Anglican churches devoted their congregational singing to metrical psalms, not hymnody. The singing of hymns soon spread from the Methodists and Evangelicals in England to the Anglicans. A notable feature of this landmark hymnal was the printing of text and tune for each hymn on the same page. Tune and text were distinctively paired so that the poetic text was enhanced by the music. Up until this time, hymnals usually only contained the text of hymns with a limited number of tunes.
“The King of Love my Shepherd Is,” a metrical paraphrase of Psalm 23, was written by Baker for the Second Edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern in 1868, and included in the appendix. His friend John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876), musical editor of the hymnal, wrote the tune DOMINUS REGIT ME specifically for it Baker’s paraphrase. (Take a listen to this beautiful tune here!) The tune we sing today, ST. COLUMBA, was paired with the text by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). He was denied use of Dykes tune for inclusion in his English Hymnal (1906), and so paired the text with his own arrangement of this Irish air. ST. COLUMBA was originally published with the caption, “an Irish hymn sung at the dedication of a chapel”. The tune is named for St. Columba, who brought Christianity to Ireland and is said to be the first to report a sighting of the Loch Ness monster.
As we sing this hymn on Sunday or you read or listen to the text below, notice the beautiful imagery, the ways in which the shepherd cares through the actions of leading and feeding. I love stanza five – “From thy pure chalice floweth.” The imagery of Christ’s body and blood holding out grace, healing and forgiveness of our sins, is a beautiful one. What is your favorite imagery? What do you love about this hymn? Comment if you wish to share.
The King of love my shepherd is,
whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his,
and he is mine for ever.
Where streams of living water flow,
my ransomed soul he leadeth,
and where the verdant pastures grow,
with food celestial feedeth.
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me,
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home, rejoicing, brought me.
In death's dark vale I fear no ill
with thee, dear Lord, beside me;
thy rod and staff my comfort still,
thy cross before to guide me.
Thou spread'st a table in my sight;
thy unction grace bestoweth;
and oh, what transport of delight
from thy pure chalice floweth!
And so through all the length of days
thy goodness faileth never:
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
within thy house for ever.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Ben Keseley, Minister of Music