The King of Love my Shepherd is
Hymns we love singing
Revd. Sir Henry Williams Baker [1821-1877]
The king of love my shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
And he is mine for ever.
Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul he leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow
With food celestial feedeth.
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love he sought me,
And on his shoulder gently laid,
And home rejoicing brought me.
In death's dark vale I fear no ill
With thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.
Thou spread'st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And O what transport of delight
From thy pure chalice floweth!
And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never:
Good shepherd, may I sing thy praise
Within thy house for ever.
"The King of Love my Shepherd Is" is one of the most beautiful interpretations of Psalm 23 in the English language. It was written by Henry Williams Baker.
Baker was the eldest son of a Vice Admiral. He was educated at Trinity College Cambridge, ordained in 1844 and appointed Vicar of Monkland, Leominster, where he ministered from 1851 until his death in 1877. He inherited his father’s baronet at the age of thirty.
Being Vicar of a small country parish meant that he was able to devote much of his time to one of the great passions in his life, hymnody.
In 1858 Baker was approached by a fellow clergyman, Revd. Francis Murray, who suggested that the Church of England needed a national hymn book of its own. The Church was then undergoing the revival of the Oxford Movement. Within a few months work began on the compilation of Hymns Ancient and Modern by a committee known as ‘The Proprietors’ and chaired by Sir Henry Williams Baker.
Baker contributed many hymns and translations of his own and encouraged others to write for him. He often freely edited their efforts, giving rise to A&M’s early nickname, Hymns Asked for and Mutilated. He enlisted the help of well known church musicians to compose suitable tunes. The first musical editor was William Monk, a much respected organist and composer at the time.
Since its original publication in 1861 over 170 million copies have been printed, making it one of the best selling hymnals in history.
The King of Love is sometime referred to as a metrical psalm [a version of a psalm in strict metre]. However, Baker’s interpretation of Psalm 23 was not as true to the original text as most classical metrical psalms had been. Instead he gave it a distinctively Christian emphasis. At the beginning of the hymn the sacred name of ‘The Lord’, Jehovah, becomes ‘The King of Love’. In the second stanza the ‘still waters’ of the original psalm become ‘streams of living water’ [a reference to John 7.37-39]. The fourth verse tells of the Cross where the Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep. The fifth verse introduces a sacramental theme, turning the psalmist’s ‘table’ into the ‘Lord’s table’. The ‘cup’ becomes the ‘pure chalice’ of the Holy Eucharist.
It is said that as he lay dying, at the age of fifty six, Baker was heard quietly reciting the words of his hymn to his friend and fellow hymnist, Revd. John Ellerton; “Perverse and foolish oft I strayed, but yet in love he sought me, and on his shoulder gently laid, and home rejoicing brought me.”
The hymn is usually sung to the tune, Dominus regit me, written for the words by the priest musician John Dykes. It is sometimes sung to the beautiful Irish melody St. Columba