120 years ago an English teacher, Katharine Lee Bates, wrote a poem about the beauty of America’s skies, pilgrims, heroes, and patriots. Everyone knows the song as sung by Ray Charles.
What you may not know is that the lyrics were put to the tune of an old hymn called “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem“. Samuel Ward wrote the music, but the words had been around for centuries.
America the Beautiful became more popular than the hymn about the heavenly Jerusalem, and its lyrics of “purple mountains majesty” and “amber waves of grain” evoked greater sentiment than the shining “turrets” and “carbuncles” of an unseen Jerusalem.
Like many hymns about Jerusalem, the writer wrongly confused the church, the body of Christ, with Israel and her earthly promises. Perhaps replacing Jerusalem with America in a national hymn was symbolic of American covenantalists wrongly replacing Israel with America from the pulpit.
Nevertheless, we can join Bates in singing about what our country needs more than anything else: “God shed his grace on thee.”
What will bring salvation and good change to this country is God’s grace, not better candidates and better laws.
This salvation and change by grace starts in our churches, and the duty to bring about this change belongs to God’s ambassadors of grace. Just as America’s heroes, the church needs men “who more than self their Lord be loved” and can “see beyond the years” to pledge their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to preaching the gospel of the grace of God.
God’s grace needs be preached from sea to shining sea. It is apparent we have much work to do.
Below are modified lyrics from the old hymn about Jerusalem written for a new band of soldiers of God’s grace setting their affections on things above. It is sung to the same tune as you in America the Beautiful.
My Lord, my God, my happy home
Would God I were with thee!
Would God my woes were at an end
Thy joys that I might see!
Apostles, martyrs, prophets there
Around my Savior stand;
And soon my friends in Christ below
Will join the glorious band.
God’s grace be shed on thee,
Of Christ alone, salvation shown
From sea to shining sea