What a peace, thy life surrendered Won for sinners such as me And thy resurrection rendered Death a sting-less enemy
I’ve no fear of all tomorrows Thou dost ever hold me fast Soon shall end all earthly sorrows When I see thy face at last
I was listening to the Kings Kaleidoscope version of “Come Thou Fount” a few weeks ago, and had recently read Psalm 136 as part of my evening Bible reading. Verse 23 jumped out at me:
It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever;
” … remembered us in our low estate” is particularly poetic, and the wording seemed like it would be a great fit in the “Come Thou Fount” melody. Since I like to write new verses for old hymns, I got to work.
The line straight from Psalm 136:23 eventually morphed into something else, so I plan to use it in the future. But it did inspire a stanza with which I’m very pleased.
Verse One Like saints before, let us repeat “The good fight we have fought” No works did we ourselves achieve The fruit, the Spirit wrought
Refrain Laid up for us is a crown: his righteousness, our award ‘Tis not of efforts that we have made; the price was paid by the Lord That great coronation is nearing For all who have loved his appearing
Verse Two When all is done, then let us say “Praise God, we’ve run the race” For Christ we stood, by strength not ours Yes, it was all of grace
Verse Three As breath departs, may we proclaim “Through him, we kept the faith” Our boast is only in the Lord He, who alone can save
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8
When reading God’s Word, I look for phrases that are especially poetic to modern tastes and could possibly inspire an entire song. I have a list of dozens of such phrases from the Bible. One that particularly stood out and stuck with me for months was “all who have loved his appearing.” I kept coming back to it and the passage it’s in. The three things Paul lists: “fought the good fight, … finished the race, … kept the faith” seemed like a good place to start, with each victory having its own verse.
The chorus, or refrain, is inspired by my study of the doctrine of imputation. At the cross, our sins were imputed onto Christ and he bore the entirety of the punishment earned by our sin. Consequently, Christ’s righteousness can now be justly imputed, or credited to those who believe. And how glorious the thought that the Lord Jesus Christ’s righteousness is so richly, so deeply applied to us, that we are awarded for it–and with eternal life, no less! Our crown of righteousness was earned and laid up for us by our Savior Jesus. What a glorious day the Redeemed have to look forward to!
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
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.
The Book of Hebrews, specifically chapter 11 Revelation 21 1 Peter 1