Since Saturday is Independence Day, there will likely be patriotic themes in some of our church music this week.
I am somewhat concerned about all that; I know the inherent dangers and how easily our worship can become misguided, if not profane, so I want to offer a few thoughts.
First, I am a proud 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 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 celebration of this national holiday.
As for our Sunday worship services, 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. Consider these words from 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 these words that seem to be appropriate for our current condition: “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.
In the great patriotic hymn, “MY COUNTRY TIS OF THEE,” I want you to take special notice of the very first line. 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 “the people” collectively. 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.”
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.
(PUB. NOTE: Ralph Petersen and his wife, Kathy are the owners of the Olde Towne Emporium, located at 212 E. Main St. In Rogersville. Your questions or comments about this column are welcome. Contact Ralph at email@example.com.)