Yesterday was Independence Day here in the United States, so the hymn I’d like to focus on in this month’s entry in my series is the one item, or one of the few items, in my hymnal’s “patriotic” section that is truly a hymn and something I would choose to sing.
God of our fathers, whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies,
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.
Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast,
Be Thou our ruler, guardian, guide and stay,
Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.
From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence,
Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense;
Thy true religion in our hearts increase,
Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.
Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way,
Lead us from night to never ending day;
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.
I am generally of the opinion that hymns ought to be directly or indirectly doxological. (“Indirectly” to include hymns like “The Church’s One Foundation.”) But most of the “patriotic” section of most hymnals doesn’t fit that criterion, and instead lauds one’s native land, with occasional mentions of or a closing prayer to God.
This hymn, on the other hand, is consistently addressed to God, and makes its primary theme gratitude for his provision of every blessing our nation has enjoyed or will receive. It avoids the trap of making patriotism or the country into an idol.
I think that my favorite verse, of the four, is the second, because it articulates the crucial but largely forgotten understanding that a free land must accept God as its ruler and his Word as its law—that liberty is the freedom to choose the right, not license to do wrong.
Thanks be to God for the blessings of liberty!