Original Hymn: A Better Country

Feel free to sing this hymn in your church without changes, addition, or omission. Let me know all about it in the comments or via message here or on social media.

SHEET MUSIC

Intro ends at 00:12

A Better Country | Words: Ryan Cornett | Music: Scottish Folk Melody YE BANKS AND BRAES

Verse One
Caused to be born again to living hope
Through Jesus, the firstborn from the dead
To an inheritance that shall not end
Our Savior secured by his bloodshed
The homeland we’re seeking is not of this world
For God has prepared for his own a city
When faith is sight and the Lord is our light
A better country we shall see

Verse Two
Our faith, assurance of things we hope for
Conviction of things we have not seen
By this we know all was made by God’s word
Like those of old, also we believe
The promises unseen, we greet from afar
The home we’re awaiting now is heavenly
When faith is sight and the Lord is our light
A better country we shall see

Verse Three
When New Jerusalem comes down from God
May we hear the voice from his throne say:
“Behold, the dwelling of God is with man
And all former things have passed away”
For now we are strangers and exiles on earth
Soon people of Zion for eternity
When faith is sight and the Lord is our light
A better country we shall see

THE STORY

When reading through the Bible in 2018, I was struck by this passage in Hebrews 11:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

The writer of Hebrews is talking about saints of old–Abel, Abraham, Sarah–who believed God and his promises even though they wouldn’t witness the fulfillment on this earth. Their desire was for fulfillment in the form of “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”

A Better Country. That description leapt off the page and stayed with me for months. Further reading of Hebrews and Revelation 21 helped me understand what we’re awaiting and how God will fulfill his promises, restore Creation, and usher in his everlasting Kingdom of which we blessed saints are subjects. That is the hope Old Testament believers had; that is the end of one story and beginning of another they sought. And so should we.

Unlike other hymns I’ve written, I didn’t compose this tune. The tune is a traditional Scottish folk melody named “Ye Banks and Braes.” The name comes from a heartrendingly beautiful poem written by Robert Burns. A few years after he wrote the poem in 1791, Scots started singing it to the tune with which it is now associated.

Ye banks and braes of Bonnie Doon
How can ye bloom so fresh and fair
How can ye chant, ye warbling bird
And I so weary, full of care!

It’ll break my heart, that warbling bird
That wantons on the flowering thorn
It ‘minds me of departed joys
Departed never to return

I discovered the tune through my love for old-time folk music and clawhammer-style banjo. As I began to write hymns and consider using tunes composed by others, I immediately thought of it. And I’m not the first hymn writer to do so. The hymn “We Cannot Measure How You Heal” is set to “Ye Banks and Braes.” I had never heard “We Cannot Measure,” and neither had anyone I know. It seems to be quite obscure.

So, when writing the lyrics inspired by Hebrews 11 and Revelation 21, I used the cadence and meter of “Ye Banks and Braes.” The sense of longing the tune conveys is perfect for the words of “A Better Country” that hint of a homesickness for the New Earth.

INSPIRATION

The Book of Hebrews, specifically chapter 11
Revelation 21
1 Peter 1

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