A HYMN OF GLORY LET US SING (THIRTY-Third IN A SERIES)
History indicates that nations or governments almost never last more than five hundred years. By that measure, the United States of America today would be considered middle-aged. Although she may seem a great power that can never be toppled, so did the Roman Empire at one time. And remember the old saying, “The sun never sets on the British Empire”? Well, it does now. Therefore we would do well to keep the nation in our prayers because one of these years she could be gone—along with all our treasured security and freedoms.
Prayers for our country are always appropriate, as the Apostle Paul indicates: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV84) So one may hear national and patriotic hymns in church, especially during the first week of July. One of the most stirring of these is the prayer expressed by the poem “God Bless Our Native Land” (TLH 577).
It seems the lyrics originated around 1745, perhaps from a Latin text, although it is uncertain. Appearing initially in English as “God Save the King,” Siegfried Mahlmann, a German poet, adapted it for his own country’s use (“God Save Saxony”). Later (1834), Charles Brooks of Massachusetts adapted the first verse again for use in America, and the text was modified yet again about ten years later by then well-known musician and writer John Sullivan Dwight (1813-1893), giving us the hymn with which we are now familiar: God bless our native land! / Firm may she ever stand / Thro’ storm and night; / When the wild tempests rave, / Ruler of wind and wave, / Do Thou our country save / By Thy great might.
We call upon God to protect our nation by His almighty power. Surely He who is able to control the weather, the wind and the waves, is able to do this! After all, “He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes. He hurls down his hail like pebbles. … He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.” (Psalm 147:16-18 NIV84) We recognize, too, that no country can stand by its own strength, for it is not the wisdom and power of human governments which ultimately uphold a nation, but rather it is God’s great might (see Daniel 2:21; Romans 13:1). We pray with the confidence that He will use that might in the wisest possible way for the benefit of His redeemed children, His believers in Christ Jesus.
In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther explains well the good habit of praying for the nation because through her God gives us needed blessings. “There is, indeed, the greatest need to pray for temporal authority and government, as that by which most of all God preserves to us our daily bread and all the comforts of this life. For though we have received of God all good things in abundance, we are not able to retain any of them or use them in security and happiness, if He did not give us a permanent and peaceful government. For where there are dissension, strife, and war, there the daily bread is already taken away, or at least checked” (Luther’s Small Catechism Lord’s Prayer, Fourth Petition, paragraph 74).
The hymn’s majestic tune (the origin of which is also unknown) has been quoted in the compositions of many world-famous composers and is the national or royal anthem of over a dozen countries. One can scarcely pray the words without imagining or hearing at the same time the immortal melody. Listen: For her our prayer shall rise / To God above the skies; / On Him we wait. / Thou who art ever nigh, / Guarding with watchful eye, / To Thee aloud we cry, / God save the State!
David Schaller is pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sister Lakes, Michigan. He also prepares the ‘Bread of Life’ devotions for the Lutheran Spokesman.