THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG

I am the song leader in my church. I am not very proficient as a musician or a choral director. I pray that, someday soon, God will send someone more capable, to take this ministry from me. But for the time being it is my responsibility to select the music and lead the congregation in the singing every week.

I take that responsibility seriously. The hymns and songs that I select must be doctrinally sound, they must be appropriate for worship with a God-centered worldview, and, withing those parameters, I try to select music that will reinforce and, support the text and subject of my pastor’s messages.

Some of us have been singing the hymns for years; the words roll off our lips but the messages often don't engage our minds or penetrate our hearts. With the apostle Paul, I want the congregation to "sing with understanding."

So for the past couple years, it has been my practice to select one hymn each week, research it, and then highlight it with a short introductory commentary so that the congregation will be more informed regarding the origin, the author's testimony, or the doctrinal significance of the hymns we sing.

It is my intention here with this blog, to archive these hymn commentaries for my reference and to make them freely available to other church song leaders. For ease of reference, all the hymn commentaries in this blog will be titled IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Other posts (which will be music ministry related opinion pieces) will be printed in lower case letters.

I know that some of the comments contain traces of my unique style, but please feel free to adapt them and use the content any way you can for the edification of your congregation and to the glory of God.

All I ask is that you leave a little comment should you find something helpful.


Ralph M. Petersen

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Monday, August 29, 2016

CROWN HIM WITH MANY CROWNS

Probably one of the biggest issues that divide Christians, churches, and denominations is commonly called “Worship Wars.”   It has to do with how and what music is used in congregational worship.

This is a touchy subject.  There is so much contemporary Christian music available today and much of it is doctrinally weak or unsound.  But that’s not new; it just seems more prevalent because of the instant access we have to information through the internet.  Throughout the history of the Christian church, most of the songs that were written did not stand musical or doctrinal scrutiny.  We know that to be true because, in spite of the fact that many of history’s most prolific hymn writers wrote thousands of songs, only a few are preserved in our hymnbooks today.
 
There are lots of arguments in the worship wars.  Should we sing Psalms only?  Should we not use any instrumental or digital accompaniment?  Should we avoid all special music?

Those are all questions of methodology.  But that is not what I want to address here.   There are disagreements about whether or not we should use songs that are written or performed by people who have no authentic Christian faith or who hold to errant or heretical beliefs.
 
Today there is a very popular praise and worship publishing and performance arm of a major, worldwide evangelical church that is considered, by most fundamental Christians, to be errant. Furthermore, many of the leaders and performers are involved in unrepentant sin. So I understand when some church leaders avoid their music.  Immature or undiscerning Christians might be misled into doctrinal error by looking to the personal lives or beliefs of the artists or the false doctrines of the church.

About thirty years ago, one of my favorite Christian singers was B. J. Thomas.  I listened to his music and I sang some of his songs.  But then, one day, I read an interview in a Christian magazine.  When asked about his Christian faith, he remarked, “Well, if you are asking me if I am a ‘born again’ Christian, the answer is no.”

Another recent example is that of a popular trio who perform excellent and God-honoring, Christian music but they are members of a Christian cult that reject the doctrine of the Trinity.

So how does that affect worship music here at our church?  The simple answer is, I try to avoid using any music that is currently associated with any controversial musicians who are tainted by openly sinful lifestyles or are overtly errant in fundamental biblical doctrines.

But celebrities fade and people quickly forget, and in a few generations, there remains no more negative context for the music. 

The good news is that God’s truth is unchanging.  And it is always true no matter who utters it.

And that has been the case on numerous occasions here in our own worship services.  We have sung some great hymns of faith and truth that have been written by authors whose faith or practices have been questionable or shameful, yet the songs have survived beyond their reputations and have been used by God’s people for His glory.
 
Which brings me to today’s opening hymn.   This was one of those songs.

It was originally written in 1851 by Matthew Bridges who once wrote a book condemning the errors of Roman Catholic theology.  But then later he converted to and embraced Roman Catholicism. Bridges wrote six stanzas, based upon Revelation 19:12, “His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns.”  But his testimony was conflicted and his doctrine was compromised.

Godfrey Thring was a devout clergyman who was concerned that this popular new hymn was being sung by protestant congregations.  That was a problem because it contained some subtle, aberrant Catholic doctrines (specifically about the virgin, Mary).   So he wrote six new verses.


Apparently, some of his weren’t all that great either because, through the years, the twelve stanzas have been combined, culled, and edited. 

What remains is one of the great classic hymns of the faith (usually containing six stanzas).  Crown Him With Many Crowns has become an important praise and worship staple of the Christian church.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

LOVE DIVINE (He, The Pearly Gates, Will Open)


Fred Blom was an immigrant from Sweden early in the 1890s and he served as an officer in the Salvation Army in the city of Chicago. Later, he went on to pastor a church.

But his life took a radical downward turn around 1915.  Through circumstances that are not quite clear, he had fallen into sin and a life of crime and was eventually sentenced to prison. It was there, sick in soul and body, that he turned to Christ.  That’s when he wrote the words of this song.  It was his expression of joy in the fact that God had “healed his backsliding” and forgiven all his sin.

LOVE DIVINE (HE THE PEARLY GATES WILL OPEN)
         
         Love divine, so great and wondrous,   
                 Deep and mighty, pure, sublime,
         Coming from the heart of Jesus.   
                 Just the same through tests of time!

         Like a dove when hunted, frightened.    
                As a wounded fawn was I;
         Brokenhearted, yet He healed me.    
                He will heed the sinner's cry.

         Love divine, so great and wondrous,    
                All my sins He then forgave;
         I will sing His praise forever,    
                For His blood, His power to save.  

         In life's eventide at twilight,    
               At His door, I'll knock and wait;
         By the precious love of Jesus,   
               I shall enter heaven's gate.

         {Chorus:}
         He the pearly gates will open,    
               So that I may enter in;
         For He purchased my redemption  
               And forgave me all my sin.

The message of this song is simple. It is about God’s saving GRACE in the life of one who has gone astray.  Because of the love of God expressed in Christ, our sins are forgiven, our lives are changed and we look forward to the day we make a joyful entrance into heaven.

It is said that Fred Blom was never released from prison; he died in the custody of the law.  While the gates of prison did not open for him, he knew that Heaven's pearly gates would be swung wide for him by his Redeemer.

Was Fred Blom really saved before his fall or did God save him while he was in prison?  I don’t know.  But I do know one thing; I am no better than Fred Blom.

I am thankful that God is strong enough to destroy my will, my desires, and even my miserable life because left to myself, I would never have chosen Him. 

When I was running away, He sought me.  He bought me; He owns me; He keeps me, and He cleanses me.   He does whatever is necessary or  to bring me to repentance and make me fit for heaven. 

It was all His doing.  I had nothing to do with the transaction.  I am saved by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone and not by any effort or merit of my own.  


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

HOW GREAT THOU ART

Whenever I have sung or led the congregation in singing, How Great Thou Art, I have usually omitted verse two.  I often wondered how such a great hymn would have an inane and irrelevant verse about meadows, brooks and singing birds right in the middle of some of the greatest hymn lyrics ever written. But when I researched the events that inspired the writer, verse two suddenly has relevance.

Carl Gustaf Boberg, a Swedish pastor, editor, and member of the Swedish parliament, was out walking one day when a severe wind began to blow and suddenly, a fierce, crashing thunderstorm came out of nowhere.
  
After the storm passed, he gazed out over the beauty of the landscape and the calm, clear bay.   Then he heard a church bell in the distance and the chirping of the birds around him.  He must have sensed the power of God in that storm much the way the writer of Psalm 29 did when he wrote: "The God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.”

And with the sudden calmness and peace at the end of the storm, the words to a poem began to form in his mind.
   
In 1886, Carl Boberg published his original, nine-verse poem, titled, “O Store Gud” (O Great God) in a weekly newspaper that he edited.  Then he sold the rights to the Mission Covenant Church in Sweden but it never got much public attention. 

A few years later, when he visited a church in Varmland, he heard the congregation singing the words, of his poem, to a traditional Swedish folk melody.  In 1891, Carl quickly published his poem again in his own newspaper, this time, with the musical notations added.

It was later translated into German and then in 1927, it was published in a Russian version of the German text.

But it was a man named Stuart Hine, who has been credited for the text of the song as we know it today.

It was in the 1930’s when Stuart Hine first heard the song (in Russian) while in Poland.  He translated it into English, tweaked the musical arrangement, and some of the lyrics.  He added verse three and then took it home to sing it in an evangelistic meeting in England During World War I.

A few years later, Hine, who was also an editor, published the first three verses (in both English and Russian) in his Russian evangelistic paper, Grace and Peace.  

At the beginning of World War II, the Hine family was forced to move back to London, where they continued to evangelize among war refugees who were terrorized by the German blitz. The scriptural promise of deliverance at Christ's Second Coming inspired Hine to write the fourth and final verse.  About that verse, Stuart Hine said: “When we reach that heavenly home, we will fully understand the greatness of God, and will bow in humble adoration, saying to Him, O Lord my God, how great thou art.”

But that’s not the end of the story; In the 1940’s, Dr. J. Edwin Orr (you might remember; he was the man who brought us the Polynesian melody for his hymn, Cleanse Me), heard this new version of the song being sung by native tribal people in India, and he brought the song back to the United States.

And yet, the hymn remained relatively unknown.  One of the world’s greatest hymns had a very long and difficult beginning until it was copyrighted and published by Dr. Cyrus Nelson of Gospel Light Publications, and sung, by George Beverly Shea, at Billy Graham’s London Crusade of 1954.  George sang it over 100 times during Billy Graham’s 1957 crusade meetings in New York.  

In 1959 it became Bev Shea’s signature song and the theme song for Billy Graham’s weekly radio broadcast.  Finally, “How Great Thou Art” achieved international recognition and has been popularized by many other notable performers including Elvis Presley, Carrie Underwood, and The Statler Brothers.

In nearly every listing of the greatest hymns ever written, the number one hymn is almost always Amazing Grace.   But, How Great Thou Art, is consistently ranked as number two probably because, sadly, number one has, in many publications, become so adulterated by politically correct language that is not offensive to the egocentric sensitivities of the unregenerate masses.  For example, the phrase, “…that saved a wretch like me,” has been changed to, “…that saved and set me free.”  Apparently, most people, today, have a hard time agreeing with God about their wretchedness.  Amazing Grace is the secular world’s favorite hymn; it can be safely sung without any acknowledgment of sin or any reference to a specific deity.  And besides, it sounds good when played on the bagpipes at funerals.  But all of this is digression; How Great Thou Art should be number one, in my humble opinion.


That is not the case with How Great Thou Art, which is truly one of the world’s most magnificent Hymns of praise to the awesome power of our great God, and our hope in His soon return.  And right between those two themes, is the incredible Gospel message of verse three: “And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in, that on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.” 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

CLEANSE ME (Search Me, O God)

Dr. James Edwin Orr was a well-known Baptist minister, historian, lecturer, author, and revivalist. He was a participant in the Great New Zealand Revival of 1936.  In one of those meetings, a speaker preached from the text of Psalm 139 “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:  And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Near the end of the meetings, Dr. Orr overheard some Maori girls singing the Maori or (Polynesian) Farewell Song.   You may be familiar with its English translation, “Now Is The Hour When We Must Say Goodbye.” 

It is a beautiful Polynesian melody and, after hearing it, Dr. Orr set the words of Psalm 139: 23-24 to the music.
 
The text is David’s humble prayer petitioning God to examine him; to search his heart and his mind, and to expose any sin that might hinder his relationship with God.

The Bible has a lot to say about our need to be regularly and continuously cleansed from sin.  So, like David, we should make similar prayers that God would give us the sensitivity to really see the sinfulness of our hearts or our conduct.
   
And if we do pray that way, how would we expect God to answer?
Well, we shouldn’t expect a booming voice from Heaven, or visit from an angel, or a new prophetic revelation, or a sign; the true and simple answer is this; God reveals our sins in, and He cleanses us with His Word.

In the book of the Exodus, …the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing.  You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar.  And you shall put water in it, for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it.   When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water, lest they die.  So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die.  And it shall be a statute forever to them—to him and his descendants throughout their generations.”

The Laver is a Picture or a type of the Word of God and its sanctifying affect on the Believer.  It was a washbasin located in the outer court where the priests were required to cleanse themselves before they could enter or come near the Holy Place in the tabernacle to worship or offer sacrifices to God.
  
The cleansing was not for their justification; it was for their continuous sanctification. And it was made from the highly polished brass looking glasses that the women in the assembly used for their mirrors.

And the significance of those mirrors is revealed in James 1:23-25, …If anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man seeing his natural face in a mirror: for he sees himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.  But he who looks into the perfect Law of Liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

Now I know we all do this from time to time; we may be walking along somewhere and we catch a glimpse of our reflection in a window or a mirror.  And we notice something is not quite right; a smudge on your cheek or a wisp of hair out of place.  What is our reaction?  We Wash or we make an adjustment and we double check our reflections in the mirror to make sure everything is right.

So when we look in the mirror of God’s Word, we see the blemishes of our sin revealed. And what should be our natural reaction?  We must be cleansed!

The water in the laver is also a type of the Word of God: Psalm 119:9 asks, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy Word.”

We have all heard many times, that we need to keep short accounts with God.  Every day, we will go places and do things in this world that stain us or corrupt us and, in order to prevent sin from gaining a foothold in our lives, we need to take a look in the mirror often, and then deal with it as quickly as God reveals it. 


And here is His promise to us: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Monday, August 1, 2016

A tribute to the Music and Faith of Charles Gabriel

(This was another service in which I featured the testimony and music of a prolific hymn writer.  All of the songs, in this service, were written by Charles Gabriel.) 


Opening Song, “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart” 
      
The Apostle Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek [or Gentile]” (Rom. 1:16).

Charles Gabriel wrote “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart” in the spring of 1914 and it was taught to those gathered for a series of Billy Sunday evangelistic meetings in Philadelphia, the following year.  A police officer, named Fowler, had been assigned to the meetings, each night, to maintain order.  God used the message of this song to convict and convert him.  Not only did he put his faith in the Savior, but during the remaining two weeks of meetings, he convinced many of his fellow officers to attend, and more than a hundred of them professed their faith in Christ.

The theme of the song is the transforming power of the gospel; Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Cor. 5:17).  When God saves us, He works a “wonderful change” in our lives.  That is one of the evidences of true salvation.


“My Savior’s Love”

Charles H. Gabriel was born on a farm in Iowa in 1856 and, like typical farm children, he rose before dawn to do chores before going to school.  And after school, there were more chores to be done and he often worked until dark.

When he was a teenager, Charles taught himself to play the family’s reed organ.  At age seventeen he left home and began organizing singing schools.  He had a great love for Sunday school, and although he was writing hymns, he also wrote many songs and published 24 books of music for Sunday School classes and evangelistic ministries.  He has been credited with writing between 6 and 7 thousand songs.  One of the remarkable things about Charles is that, as a self-taught musician, not only could he write good songs, he also wrote great music scores for many of them.
  
My Savior’s Love is one of our finest hymns of praise.  In it, Gabriel captured the humiliation of the Savior in His work for our salvation.  He suffered and died a terrible death under the wrath of God, as our substitute, so that we, through faith in Him, might be forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life.  “How marvelous, how wonderful is my Savior's love for me.”


“He Lifted Me”

There are many people, today, who think it’s cool to sneer at those stuffy old hymnbooks; they want to sing a lot of contemporary, ego-centric, songs that make them feel all warm and fuzzy about themselves.

Well, He Lifted Me is not one of those songs.  It is a classic, long-forgotten treasure that I had rediscovered just a few years ago.

Psalm 40:2 says,  "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings."
 
I was discussing this great song with a friend who explained it something like this:

“It's not like we were in danger of drowning and God threw us a lifeline to grab so that

we could save ourselves.  NO, we were hopelessly buried in the deepest sea, helplessly mired in the sand and mud.  We were dead.   And God reached down, picked us up, brought us up, and breathed new life into us.”

This is an amazing hymn.  It doesn't do much for my own self-esteem, but it does make me feel all warm and fuzzy about my Savior.


“O, That Will Be Glory”

Charles Gabriel had a good friend, a minister with the Sunshine Rescue Mission in St. Louis.  His name was Ed Card; a man with an ever smiling expression that earned him the nickname, “Old Glory Face.”  It was his custom to always end his prayers with a reference to heaven, saying, "And that will be glory for me."   Also, during sermons, he would often shout, "Glory," instead of "Amen" to express his agreement.  These recurring statements of Card's faith, hope, and joy became his characteristic “signature” and that was the inspiration that moved Gabriel to write this hymn which describes that time when we shall see the Lord as He is and be like Him. 
 

Closing Song, “Send The Light”   
   
Mr. Gabriel believed that his first, really successful, sacred song was “Send The Light.”

Today, this hymn about world evangelism is considered one of the best missionary hymns ever written.  In a four stanza outline, he notes that some need to go, some need to give, some need to pray, but all need to persevere.

The chorus urges us onward to let the light of the Gospel of Christ shine everywhere. None of us can do everything but each can do something.  We have a great God and we are all called to be His witnesses.  We can all share the message of salvation in our world of friends and acquaintances, and where we cannot go, we should do whatever else we can to "Send the Light."

Sunday, July 10, 2016

LO, HE COMES WITH CLOUDS DESCENDING

In one of his books, a very popular, contemporary pastor and book writer presented this anemic and oversimplified version of the gospel:
“First, believe that God loves you and has a purpose for your life.
Second, receive Jesus into your life as your savior.”

That was it!  Where, in that, is there any realization or threat of BAD NEWS?

By contrast, a more responsible and biblical proclamation of the Good News would carefully explain the facts of God’s requirement for absolute perfection.  It would describe our sinful condition and total inability to merit His mercy.  It would warn of His righteous judgment and the prospect of eternal torment and punishment in hell.  A message like that is Bad News but it is the truth.  But then, the proclamation would go on to present the Good News of Salvation; that Jesus suffered the wrath of God and died a horrible death for us.  And, according to Scripture, whoever trusts in Him shall be saved.

You see, good news is only GOOD NEWS when we know the BAD NEWS.

The hymn, LO, HE COMES IN CLOUDS DESCENDING, has both Good news and Bad news.  The good news is that Jesus is coming again.  The bad news is that Jesus is coming again.

The song’s theme comes from Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He comes with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and all tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen.”

I hope you don’t miss that.  Every eye shall see Him; not just those who are looking for Him, but those who hate Him as well.  So on that Day, there will be great rejoicing and there will also be great wailing.
 
The song begins and ends with a joyful exhortation to look to the coming King, Jesus Christ, and celebrate His glorious reign over all things in heaven and earth.

So what will life will be like under His rule?   The bible tells us that He is to be a just and righteous ruler.   The implication is that all injustice and wickedness will be judged.   God is everywhere and He knows everything.  And He will open and expose every deep, dark secret in the hearts of all men. 

I have mentioned before, that most modern hymnbooks have been edited so that there are very few hymns that address the judgment and wrath of God.   This hymn is one of those that has been edited and I think that is unfortunate.  We live in an age where people want to be shielded in safe spaces away from any kind of bad news.   So for our singing today, I have inserted one of the three missing stanzas back into the hymn.  Listen to these sobering words:
Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded, 
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
“Come to judgment! Come to judgment! 
Come to judgment! Come away!”

Those are terrifying words. I know they sound harsh and insensitive in our modern culture where non-judgmental tolerance is considered a virtue.  But if God is just and righteous (and He Is), He must punish all that is unjust and evil.  There can be no new heaven and new earth unless the old is destroyed.  

The centerpiece of this hymn is the Good News of the Gospel.  For those who are redeemed, God’s justice has been fully satisfied in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.

So the fact that God is Just and Righteous is really bad news for the wicked but it is Good news for the righteous who are, “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”  Titus 2:13



LO, HE COMES WITH CLOUDS DESCENDING
(With all seven stanzas.  Sung to the tune of “Angels from the Realms of Glory”)

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.

Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded,
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment! Come away!

Now redemption, long expected,
See in solemn pomp appear;
All His saints, by man, rejected,
Now shall meet Him in the air:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
See the day of God appear!

Answer Thine own bride and Spirit,
Hasten, Lord, the general doom!
The new Heav’n and earth t’inherit,
Take Thy pining exiles home:
All creation, all creation,
Travails! groans! and bids Thee come!

The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture, with what rapture,
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!



7-10-2016

Monday, July 4, 2016

MY COUNTRY 'TIS OF THEE (America)

Tomorrow is Independence Day so there will be a patriotic theme in some of our music this morning. 

I am somewhat concerned about all that; I know the inherent dangers and how easily our worship can become misguided and profane so I want to preface our service with a few thoughts.


First, I am a patriot of the United States republic as our founders established it and codified it in our constitution.  And I believe most of you are too.  So tomorrow, I will reflect on the greatness of this country.  I will give thanks for those who have sacrificed their lives to secure our liberties.  I will praise God for His providential guidance in its formation and I will enjoy the celebrations of our national heritage.  I may even eat a chili cheese dog or two, scarf down some watermelon, and fire off a couple dozen rounds of blanks from my .22 revolver.  That will be appropriate for the national holiday that we will celebrate tomorrow.

As for today, it is incumbent on us to remember that the purpose of our gathering together as the church of God is to honor and celebrate and worship Jesus Christ.   So I want to put our love for our country in a proper context.
 
There are many revisionist historians today, who would argue that our founding fathers were not all Christians and even if they were, it was never their intention to recognize God’s sovereignty and providence in our nation’s formation, much less establish it on biblical principles.  But they would be wrong.  Listen to the words of some of our founders:

Benjamin Franklin, “I have lived, my friends, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing the proofs I see of the truth…that God governs in the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”

Patrick Henry, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionist, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here.”

James Madison, “We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

Less than 100 years later, this country was torn apart by a terrible civil war. Abraham Lincoln wrote, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven.  We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity.  We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.  But we have forgotten God.  We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom of our own.  Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too proud to pray to the God that made us.  It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray to the God that made us!  All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope, authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less the pardon of our national sins, and restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”

In the infancy of our nation, a foreigner, a Frenchman by the name of Alexis de Tocqueville, observed and wrote about the greatness of this country.  He wrote, “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and ample rivers, and it was not there; in the fertile fields, and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there.  Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power.  America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

I hope you don’t miss that.  De Tocqueville’s words remain today as a promise or a warning depending on the direction this generation takes it.

There are two verses of Scripture that come to mind; Prov. 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  And another one is Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
 
Now I don’t know if de Tocqueville was a Christian.  But I do know that he recognized that America’s greatness was a result of her goodness, and her goodness was rooted in her reverence for God and her respect for His laws and His Gospel.  America was great because her God was Great.

And so as we sing the words to, “MY COUNTRY TIS OF THEE,” I want you to notice in the very first line, that Samuel Smith, the writer of this patriotic song, recognized that our country is a gift from God.  You might not see that because most modern editors have not capitalized the word, "Thee."  In some earlier hymnbooks, it was capitalized.  In my research, I found several explanations for the sentence as it might read without a recognition of God.  But I just can’t see that the sentence makes sense when you try to make the phrase, “'tis of Thee,” to mean “it’s for all of you, the people.”  And furthermore, the author, being a Baptist minister and a theologian, certainly would have been familiar with the difference between the singular pronoun, “thee,” and the plural pronoun, “ye.”

But regardless how modern secularists try to parse it, there is no question that in the final verse, Samuel Smith, appeals to the God of our fathers for His continuing grace, and goodness, and protection for the freedom He has granted us in this land.

Psalm 22:4 says, “In You our fathers put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them.”  So in our worship services, it is always appropriate for us to thank God for giving us this bountiful land and to praise Him for our freedom.