Hymn of the Week: "America"
My Country 'Tis of Thee
In recognition of Independence Day, our hymn this week is the simple and stately “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” whose melody we took from the British hymn “God Save the King,” and re-named as AMERICA. The poem, written by a young seminarian, Samuel Francis Smith, in 1831, was intended to be a hymn, and it really is a hymn. The first stanza reminds us of the sacrifices, even unto death, that our fathers made to establish this land, so that freedom might ring “from every mountainside.” The second stanza brings that ringing joy near to home, making it more intimate, and quiet, and holy. It isn’t just Pikes Peak and the Mississippi River that move us. “I love thy rocks and rills,” we sing, “Thy woods and templed hills.” Think of the beauty of the rolling countryside of Ohio, or the evergreen forests of New England. The hills are like temples, where you go to worship God. And the holiness is there to touch you: “My heart with rapture thrills, Like that above.”
In the third stanza, Smith calls for what is downright miraculous, the sign of a new world. He is thinking of what Jesus says to the Pharisees, when he enters Jerusalem and the people strew his way with palms, crying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” The Pharisees grumble and ask Jesus to tell the people to shut up, but Jesus replies, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Lk. 19:40). See what Smith has done? We Americans do not need an earthly king, because we acknowledge our heavenly king. America is meant to herald a purer way of life, a more genuine liberty than men have ever known before, because we derive our liberty from God.
That leads us to the final and climactic stanza, where Smith has been aiming his thoughts all along. The God of our fathers is the Author of liberty. Smith is using his words precisely. The author, Latin auctor, gives increase, because he has the authority to do so; and the liberty that God gives is authentic, and not mere license, which enslaves. Since we want to be free, we beg our freedom from Him alone who can set us free, raising us up to what Saint Paul calls the glorious liberty of the children of God. And the last line clinches it all, when we make the identification that the hymn has been leading up to: “Great God, our King!”
The above is excerpted from “Sing, America!” To read the full article, visit our friends at
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