Hymn Story

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us

Hymn lists

by book of Bible

We don’t know who wrote the words to “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”  It first appeared in a children’s hymnal compiled by Dorothy Thrupp in 1836, so some people think that Mrs. Thrupp wrote it—but that is far from certain.

But it is clear enough what inspired the words.  Two scriptures come to mind.  The first is Psalm 23, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  The second is the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, where Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.”

And we know who wrote the music.  His name is William Bradbury.  Bradbury was a gifted teenage music student in Boston when he met Lowell Mason at the Bowdoin Street Church.  Mason was a well-known musician who wrote the music for “Joy to the World” and a number of other hymns.  Mason took Bradbury under his wing, nurturing his musical abilities.  After finishing school, Bradbury moved to New York City, where he worked as a church musician specializing in children’s music.  He wrote the music for what must be the favorite children’s hymn of all time— “Jesus Loves Me.”  He intended

“Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us” to be a children’s hymn, but it turned out that adults enjoyed singing it too.

A story related to this hymn is told about Ira Stankey, a musician who worked closely with Dwight L. Moody.  On one occasion, Stankey sang this song, “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us” at a public gathering.  Afterwards, one of the guests pulled him aside and asked if Stankey had served on guard duty on a particular night in a particular place.  Stankey, who had served in the Union army, said that he had.  The other man said that he had served in the Confederate army.  On the evening in question, he had started to shoot a Union soldier when the Union soldier began to sing “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Me.” The Confederate soldier, who had often heard his mother sing that song, couldn’t do it.  Singing “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us” had saved Stankey’s life.

— Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan