On July 4th I had the privilege of going to the Johnson Ferry House at Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey. The curator of that house planned special events in honor of our country's Independence Day. Outside of the Ferry House, raspberry ice cream was being made the way it would have been made in colonial days. As we stood outside, the sound of patriotic melodies with beautiful harmonies came wafting towards us and drew us inside. Several musicians and singers dressed in period costumes greeted us. We were invited to join them in song.
Singing all of the verses of the patriotic hymns moved me emotionally as I contemplated the words that describe the founding of the United States of America. Each song that we sang recognized that God is the one who has blessed us and confirmed that our forefathers truly established our nation on a godly foundation. Most of us would be familiar with the first verse of the songs we sang but not the subsequent ones. I want to record the powerful words of some of the lesser known verses of three of these songs.
America the Beautiful by Katharine Lee Bates (1859 - 1929)
Katharine Bates wrote about the message of her hymn: "We must match the greatness of our country with the goodness of personal godly living. If only we could couple the daring of the Pilgrims with the moral teachings of Moses, we would have something in this country that no one could ever take from us." I am particularly fond of the third verse of her hymn:
"O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine."
Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe (1819 - 1910)
Julia Howe wrote this hymn in the midst of the Civil War. It inspired the entire nation when it went public. The third and fourth verses speak of God's plans and the birth of Christ as our Savior:
"He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat. He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. O be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet! Our God is marching on." Refrain: "Glory! Glory! Hallelujah" (3 times) "His truth is marching on."
"In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me. As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free! While God is marching on.” Refrain: (See above.)
The Star Spangled Banner by Frances Scott Key (1779 - 1843)
It was during the War of 1812, while on the deck of a ship, that Frances Scott Key wrote what was to become our national anthem in 1931. Rarely do we sing the second verse, but I believe it is noteworthy:
"O thus be it ever, when free men shall stand between their loved homes and the war's desolation! Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just; and this be our motto: 'In God is our trust!' And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"
Psalm 33:12 says, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance." The authors of the above hymns understood this. We must add the Amen!k here to edit.
Joan E. Mathias