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He Leadeth Me
"As a young man who recently had been graduated from Brown University and Newton Theological Institution, I was supplying for a couple of Sundays the pulpit of the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]. At the mid-week service, on the 26th of March, 1862, I set out to give the people an exposition of the Twenty-third Psalm, which I had given before on three or four occasions, but this time I did not get further than the words “He Leadeth Me.” Those words took hold of me as they had never done before, and I saw them in a significance and wondrous beauty of which I had never dreamed.
It was the darkest hour of the Civil War. I did not refer to that fact—that is, I don’t think I did—but it may subconsciously have led me to realize that God’s leadership is the one significant fact in human experience, that it makes no difference how we are led, or whither we are led, so long as we are sure God is leading us.
At the close of the meeting a few of us in the parlor of my host, good Deacon Wattson, kept on talking about the thought which I had emphasized; and then and there, on a blank page of the brief from which I had intended to speak, I penciled the hymn, talking and writing at the same time, then handed it to my wife and thought no more about it. She sent it to The Watchman and Reflector, a paper published in Boston, where it was first printed. I did not know until 1865 that my hymn had been set to music by William B. Bradbury. I went to Rochester [New York] to preach as a candidate before the Second Baptist Church. Going into their chapel on arrival in the city, I picked up a hymnal to see what they were singing, and opened it at my own hymn, “He Leadeth Me.”
The tune is by William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868). Bradbury was born in York, Maine where his father was the leader of a choir. By age fourteen he had mastered every musical instrument available, but never saw an organ or a piano until 1830, when his parents moved to Boston. There he met Dr. Lowell Mason, and by 1834 was known as an organist. In 1840, he began teaching in Brooklyn, New York, where he gained popularity by his free singing-schools, and by his concerts, at which the performers, all children, sometimes numbered 1,000. In 1847 he went to Germany, where he studied harmony, composition, and vocal and instrumental music with the best masters.
In 1854, he started the Bradbury Piano Company, with his brother, Edward G. Bradbury in New York City. William Bradbury is best known as a composer and publisher of a series of musical collections for choirs and schools. He was the author and compiler of fifty-nine books. The first book was published in 1841. He died on January 7, 1868 in Montclair, New Jersey and was buried in Bloomfield Cemetery in Bloomfield, New Jersey.
Lyrics by Joseph Gilmore