Thursday, December 13, 2018

"Saviour, Like a Shepherd Lead Us"

It was Christmas Eve 1876 and Ira D. Sankey, the famous singer and songwriter, was traveling on a steamboat up the Delaware River. Travelers on such a holiday, seemingly cut adrift in a world where everyone else is celebrating with loved ones, often seem to cling together making a circle of warmth in a waiting room, in a plane or in an almost deserted restaurant.

This was such a journey. On the deck were gathered a number of passengers, looking out at the calm, starlit night. Someone said, "Mr. Sankey is aboard!" and immediately there were cries of "Let him sing for us! Let's ask Mr. Sankey to sing!"

He was leaning against one of the great funnels of the boat. Before he began, he stood for a moment as if in prayer, deciding what to sing. He wanted to sing a Christmas song, but somehow the words of the shepherd song were what came to his heart.

"Saviour, like a shepherd lead us
Much we need Thy tender care
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us
For our use Thy folds prepare"

"Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are"

There was a deep stillness throughout the crowd. The words, telling the sweet story of God's love for wandering men, and the beautiful melody floated out across the deck, across the water and into the night. Every heart was stirred.

At the end of the song, a rough-looking man stepped forward. To Sankey, he asked, "Did you ever serve in the Union Army?" "Yes," answered Sankey. "Can you remember if you were doing picket duty on a bright moonlight night in 1862?" "Yes, I do," answered Sankey, with surprise. "Were you...?"

"I did, too, but I was serving in the Confederate Army. When I saw you standing at your post, I said to myself, 'that fellow will never get away from here alive.' I was in the shadow, completely hidden, while you walked in full moonlight."

"I raised my rifle and took aim. At that instant, you began to sing, just like a moment ago. The song was 'Saviour, like a shepherd lead us...'

"The music touched my heart and I took my finger off the trigger. 'I'll wait until the end of the song,' I said to myself. 'I can't miss him, and I can shoot him afterwards.'

"We are Thine, Thou dost befriend us
Be the Guardian of our way
Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us
Seek us when we go astray"

"Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus
Hear, O hear us when we pray
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus
Hear, O hear us when we pray"

"As you sang, you reached the place where it says," 'We are thine, do thou befriend us, be the guardian of our way...'

"I could hear every word perfectly, and how the memories came to my heart! I began to think of my childhood and my mother. She loved God and had sung that song to me many times. But she died all too soon, otherwise I think my life might have been different.

"At the end of the song, I found it impossible for me to take aim, though you still stood in the bright moonlight, a perfect target."

"Then I thought of the Lord. I looked at you and thought, 'the Lord who was able to save that man from certain death must surely be great and mighty.' My arm dropped to my side and I cannot tell you all the things I thought at that time. My heart was smitten, but I didn't know what to do.

"Just now, when you were about to sing and stood quietly as if praying, I recognized you. I've wandered far and wide, since that other occasion. I have never found that Shepherd. Please help me now find a cure for my sick soul."

Deeply moved, Sankey threw his arms about the man who had been his enemy. A man who could have ended his life. That Christmas Eve night, a former soldier found the great and tender Shepherd as his Saviour.

"Early let us seek Thy favor
Early let us do Thy will
Blessed Lord and only Saviour
With Thy love our bosoms fill"

"Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus
Thou hast loved us, love us still
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus
Thou hast loved us, love us still"

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