Great God, our King! Amen

Posted by Missouri Rev on Aug 30th, 2006

When I was a boy blindly slogging my way through the public school system we use to sing the patriotic song, America, which starts with the words, My Country, ‘Tis of Thee . . . Being raised an atheist, I had no clue who the “Thee” was and even at that time it wasn’t kosher to talk about the specifics of the song in our school, so it remained obscure and quite boring. All I knew is that it had something to do with Thanksgiving (now my favorite of all holidays), since that is when we sang it the most.

As I have been studying the very rich, covenantal history of the Puritans, I ran again across this ancient hymn, that’s right, hymn, as it professes the absolute Sovereignty of God as our nation’s King. It was written in 1831 by Rev. Samuel Francis Smith in the already waning days of our nation, since it was by then turning from Him in high-minded, pragmatic covenant breaking. Nonetheless, the song truly reflects the Puritan roots and faith behind the founding of our once Covenanted Christian Republic. As a child, I do not recall singing the last three stanzas, especially the last one. Had we sung them all, I might have gotten my first glimmering light of the true gospel, for the words of this hymn are powerful and enlightening. Once more, it reflects the biblical agrarian attitude that once prevailed in our nation.

America

1. My country,’ tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside let freedom ring!

2. My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free, thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills, like that above.

3. Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees sweet freedom’s song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break, the sound prolong.

4. Our fathers’ God, to thee,
Author of liberty, to thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by thy might, great God, our King! Amen

There is one stanza that was crossed out by Smith in the original manuscripts, which would be quite appropriate to sing today in reminding us of the tremendous and sacred cost our founders paid to give us the very freedoms we have tossed out in pursuit of “happiness and the American dream.” It was originally the third stanza:

No more shall tyrants here
With haughty steps appear
And soldier bands.
No more shall tyrants dread
Above the patriot dead;
No more our blood be shed
By alien hands.

It is the very last line of the hymn — Protect us by thy might, great God, our King! Amen — which jumps out at me and thrills my heart, especially its bold proclamation of faith in declaring the Lord Almighty our nation’s Protector, God, and King. This is quite true and very reassuring, though the converse is soberly true as well . . . that, in being these very things to us, He is also America’s Witness, Judge, and Executioner when the very people it was established for, true Christians, turn their backs on Him in blind covenant breaking, presuming that His blessings will always come, no matter how much they unequally yoke themselves with the unregenerate around them in seeking their godless peace and prosperity in serving mammon together with them.

The Puritans warned us of the judgments we now suffer under today. John Winthrop (1588-1649), Puritan founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, aboard the Arbella (June 11, 1630), authored the writing, A Model of Christian Charity, which became a standard for future covenants of the Colonies. These two glorious paragraphs from it says it all:

If the Lord shall please to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place we desire, then hath He ratified this Covenant and sealed our Commission, will expect a strict performance of the Articles…the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us. Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man. We must hold a familiar commerce together in each other in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality. We must delight in each other, make one another’s condition our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our Commission and Community in this work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace . . .

We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when He shall make us a praise and glory, that men of succeeding plantations shall say, “The Lord make it like that of New England.” For we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for God’s sake; we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether we are going. (Winthrop, John. 1630, “A Model of Christian Charity.” Stewart Mitchell, editor, The Winthrop Papers, 1623-1630 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1931), Vol. II, pp. 292-295)

May we all someday sing this hymn on the good side of faithful covenant keeping, should our Lord and King be pleased to grant us repentance and reformation from true hearts of steadfast obedience. Even so, come Lord Jesus, utterly break us and deliver us from the captivity of our generational rebellion, for it would be far better to fall into His hands, though they administer His painful, righteous wrath, than to continue to live as slaves under the wicked, corrupt hands of fallen men He has placed over us because we will not submit ourselves under His. — The Missouri Rev.

One Response

  1. Emily Says:

    An excellent and eloquent post! I am a victim of the government school system (that could take up an entire post, if not a book); however, I do have very fond memories of standing at my deskside singing My Country ‘Tis of Thee….even including the powerful fourth stanza. Apparently the name of the Lord had not yet been excluded in that particular school district. This was back in the early-mid sixties in MA. I remember something stirring within my heart as I sang those words, though I would not be redeemed in Christ for another thirty years. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this beautiful and meaningful hymn; it always brings tears to my eyes. How far we have strayed and how soon we have forgotten, though the lessons of history should be thoroughly engraved upon our hearts and minds that yes, it is our great God, the Almighty, our Sovereign Lord and King, who chose to redeem us through His Son’s blood, who is ultimately our Protector. And yet we as a nation continue to rely on our own “strengths” and drift ever further from beneath the shadow of His wings. May we repent and may His mercy come swiftly to meet us.

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