My Country, ‘Tis of Thee: The Story Behind the Song
“Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants.” — William Penn
Moved deeply by the desire to create a national hymn that would allow the American people to offer praise to God for our wonderful land, a 24-year-old theological student, Samuel Francis Smith, penned these lines on a scrap of paper in less than 30 minutes in 1832. Yet even today many consider My Country, ‘Tis of Thee their favorite patriotic hymn and call it our “unofficial national anthem.”
The easily singable words of the song are matched with a popular international melody used by many nations, including England, where it accompanies “God Save the King/Queen.” The emotionally powerful ideas that Smith expressed had an immediate response. The hymn soon became a national favorite. The stirring tributes to our fatherland in the first three stanzas lead to a worshipful climax of gratefulness to God and a prayer for His continued guidance.
Following his graduation from Harvard and the Andover Theological Seminary, Samuel Smith became an outstanding minister in several Baptist churches in the East. He composed 150 hymns during his 87 years and helped compile the leading Baptist hymnal of his day. He was also editor of a missionary magazine through which he exerted a strong influence in promoting the cause of missions. Later he became the secretary of the Baptist Missionary Union and spent considerable time visiting various foreign fields. Samuel Smith was truly a distinctive representative of both his country and his God.
My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From ev’ry mountain side let freedom ring!
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.
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.
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!
Blowing up the Fourth of July
by John UpChurch, crosswalk.com
I nearly blew up the Fourth of July. Well, not the holiday, just the block party we had when I was a kid. For a couple of years when I was young, the residents of our neighborhood would congregate at an open lot on the corner. Many of the families would bring bags and boxes of giant bottle rockets, roman candles, sparklers, fountains, and other color-shooting fare. They’d dump them on a ratty blanket and sit in the grass. Most of them took turns launching the flaming orbs into the air, littering the ground with the paper and cardboard of spent fireworks, and filling the night with acrid smoke.
It was glorious, and I wanted to make a huge splash (cue the dramatic music).
Before descending upon the second—and last—of our block parties, I scanned the aisles of the fireworks tent not far from our house. Just shooting flaming balls or seeing a pretty sparkly pop in the sky wasn’t enough. I wanted to go big. There’d be nothing mundane for my moment of greatness this year.
And that’s when I found the perfect Chinese-made, powder-stuffed wonder. I have no idea what it was called, but it was a green plastic tube longer than my hand with fins sticking out from either end. The packaging promised showers of sparks as it rose into the sky, a loud report (code for explosion), and an unforgettable display of color. Some might say spending three bucks on one moment of awesome is a bit excessive. I just saw it as a small price to pay for a green wonder.
When we arrived at the party, I plopped that bad boy on the blanket and waited. The dozen or so puny pops and whistles made me all the more eager to get to my pièce de résistance. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the lightshow, but they didn’t know what real excitement awaited them.
Finally, my time came, my moment of triumph. Although I was too young to do the lighting (so said my parents), I marched with my firework contraption to the middle of the road and placed it exactly in the center. This green wonder needed the perfect launching pad, after all.
I hurried away when the host of the party lit the fuse. To this day, I have no idea what happened exactly. I followed the instructions on the wrapper, and yet the green wonder’s shower of sparks weren’t enough to get it off the ground. Instead, it limped across the road with a pathetic whimper and shot toward the blanket full of fireworks.
Neighbors scattered. People screamed. God had mercy. At least, that’s the best way I can explain how a shower of sparks and flame didn’t set off any of the other fireworks or burn anyone.
2 Kings 4:1-3 1The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” 2Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a little oil.” 3Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.
There are times when a faithful man of God will fall into financial difficulty. It does not mean he has been unfaithful or does not have faith. It is a test of faith. This man who served in the company of the prophets died in debt. His widow was afraid the collectors would take the sons as slaves in payment for the debt. She asked the prophet of God, Elisha, what to do. He had nothing to give her. When he was called by God, he left everything behind and used his yoke for wood and his plow oxen as a sacrifice.
The man of God asked what she had left. Sometimes we only have a little for God to work with, but He can do a lot with a little. If we are willing to demonstrate our faith by putting that little bit into His hands, He multiplies it. Do you remember the fish and loaves and the widow who fed Elijah? Tell me, what do you have in your house? Come on, voice it! Most of us have plenty. Will we put it in God’s hands?
Elisha tells her to borrow as many jars as she can from her neighbors. Faith takes a big basket to market. Expect God to answer in a big way. She began pouring the little oil she had left and it kept coming out of that jar. It continued to flow until every last jar was full. If she had a million more, they would have all been full. The miracle stops at the end of our faith. When you expect God to move, prepare in a big way. If God has directed it, you will wish that you had prepared more jars. The oil was sold to pay their debts and provide a pension.
Remember: Though the righteous fall into difficulty, God will provide when they place their trust in Him.
“Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” – Psalm 127:1 KJV
In 1776, a small group of men from throughout the American colonies gathered in Philadelphia to debate the question of declaring independence. Emotions were high on both sides. On July 1 as the debate intensified, Massachusetts delegate John Adams proclaimed his conviction, “before God, I believe the hour has come … I am for the Declaration.”
In their book The Light and the Glory, Peter Marshall and David Manuel describe how a deadlock existed. The outcome was in doubt. But at the last minute, Caesar Rodney, the third Delaware delegate, arrived from his farm and cast the deciding vote for Delaware in favor of independence. Soon, every colony but New York voted for independence.
After the vote had been taken, John Adams’s brother, Samuel, spoke about the importance of God in their decisions: “We have this day restored the Sovereign, to whom alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven and…from the rising to the setting sun, may His Kingdom come.”
Today, we remember the boldness and faith of those men who risked everything because of their passion for freedom. We remember that they recognized that their efforts only could be successful if God blessed them. We too must remember that all our efforts are “in vain” unless “the Lord builds the house.”
Right now, pray for our country and our leaders. Pray that as a country, we would turn to God and serve Him wholeheartedly.