William Williams (1717-1781) was born the son of a prosperous farmer in Wales. He intended to become a physician, but at a revival meeting conducted by the evangelist, Howell Harris, committed himself to ministry. In doing so, he solved a serious problem for Evangelist Harris. The problem was this: The Welsh love to sing, but there were few good hymns in the Welsh language. The solution was this: William Williams proved to be a prolific hymn writer—a great Welsh poet.
Williams wrote more than eight hundred hymns during his lifetime. “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” is one of the few that has been translated into English and is the only one in common use in English-language churches today.
This hymn is a prayer for a person going through tough times—a person traveling through a barren land—a thirsty person in need of water.
Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever felt confused, wondering where to turn? Have you ever felt the need for someone to point you in the right direction! Have you ever felt the need of a strong helping hand? If so, this is your hymn—your prayer. It admits, “I am weak,” but it answers, “Thou art mighty!” It asks, “Hold me with Thy powerful hand.” It prays, “Feed me till I want no more.” And then it promises, “Songs of praises, songs of praises, I will ever give to Thee.”
I don’t know if it is still true, but I am told that, for many years, Welsh crowds at rugby matches or other public gatherings would sing this hymn, much as we in the U.S. start games with the playing of the National Anthem. I am also told that many Welsh people were inspired to learn to read just so they could read the words to Williams’ hymns.
William Williams turned out to be both a great hymn writer and a great evangelist. During his many years of ministry, he traveled nearly 100,000 miles (160,000 km), often drawing crowds of 10,000 people who came to hear his preaching and sing his songs. He had a great impact on the people of Wales and, through his music, on all the world.
— Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan