“God Leads Us Along”

Hymn Study
by Dean McIntyre

TITLE: "God Leads Us Along"
AUTHOR: George A. Young
TUNE: GOD LEADS US
COMPOSER: George A. Young
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3031
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 23; Isaiah 43:1-2; John 10:3; Philippians 4:13
TOPICS: baptism; conquer; darkness; disaster; evil; fire/flame; flood; grace; blood of Jesus; light; music; singing; night; sorrow; struggle; water; weary

 

Background

George A. Young (dates unknown) was a carpenter by trade and a preacher who humbly served in small rural communities, often with small payment and resulting hardship on his family. Despite the hardships, he and his wife were faithful and loyal servants of God. After many years of struggling, Young was finally able to build a small home and move his family in. While he was away on a preaching trip, the house was burned down by a group of locals who didn't care for his preaching. The house was totally destroyed. Again, despite the hardship, Young remained faithful; and this hymn grew out of that experience.

Noted hymn writer and publisher Haldor Lillenas (1885-1959) migrated to the U.S. from Norway early in his life. He learned English from a neighbor who befriended him. Lillenas has related that the woman often sang "God Leads Us Along" to him as an expression of comfort when he was struggling. Years later, recalling the woman's kindness and the song she sang to him, Lillenas sought to learn about the song and its composer. He discovered that Young had died, but that his widow was still alive and lived nearby. He found her living in a poor house, visited with her, and heard her relate this about the hymn:

My husband and I were married while we were very young. God gave us a wonderful life together; he led us from day to day. We had so much of Jesus. But then God took my husband. Now God has led me here, and I'm so excited and glad about it! God has used me in this place. Isn't it wonderful that God leads his children day by day and step by step? Many people come to this place and they are so sad and in such great need. They need help and comfort. I have been able to cheer many of them and lead scores of them to the Lord Jesus Christ. How thankful I am that God has brought me to this place, where I can be of so much help to these people!

Music

"God Leads Us Along" has many of the hallmarks of the gospel hymn style. It is in a verse/refrain structure. Such a structure in gospel and revival songs lends itself to a call-and-response or leader-people performance. The melody is pentatonic and the melodic range is limited to an octave. For the most part, however, the melody is contained within the interval of the lower fifth of the key. The dotted rhythms, along with the short note values and the 6/8 time signature, will lead many to a lively tempo, while the seriousness of the text may call for a slower, more expressive rendering. The simple harmony is limited to the three primary chords of the key with one use of the secondary dominant in the refrain. The simple harmony, the diatonic melody and a slower tempo will provide keyboardists with ample opportunity for harmonic elaboration and improvisation, especially when accompanying a soloist.

Words

The hymn writer makes skillful use of exaggerated extremes in order to express the full range of human struggle and experience and God's great love and mercy. The message is that in all of life's circumstances, good and bad, God is with us, comforting, enabling, leading. When life is good and circumstances are favorable, God is with us. But even in times of struggle and suffering (even when your house has been burned down), God is also with us. It is in God that we find strength, comfort, and purpose. We must take note that the hymn never suggests that God causes us to suffer or struggle or puts obstacles in our path, but rather that God goes through those sufferings and struggles with us, leading us through them, showing us the way to victory. It is God who "gives a song" for us to sing regardless of life's circumstance.

There is a fourth stanza that is sometimes omitted in hymnals:

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.

Sources

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Hymn Studies, Hymnals By Name, Worship & Song, Worship

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