Verse One Like those 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 reward ‘Tis not of efforts that we have made; the price was paid by the Lord So let praises from far and near ring From 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
“The Trinity” is a human term that does not appear in Scripture But truths throughout the Bible paint a crystal-clear picture It and “Triune God” are phrases we use to summarize What God has revealed about himself to human ears and eyes The Trinity is present at and responsible for creation Was there at Christ’s baptism and seen in Revelation A very convincing verse is 2 Corinthians 13:14 The Son’s grace, the Father’s love, and the Spirit’s fellowship are seen In Isaiah 44, the Lord says “there’s no other God besides me” It’s also true that the Father, Son, and Spirit share divinity But, the Spirit is not the Father, the Father is not the Son The Son is not the Spirit, yet they are Three in One We don’t serve many, no we serve one God in Three Persons Yes, one Being alone is worthy of all creation’s worship The God we serve is self-sufficient, in eternal community He said, “Let us make man in our image,” all for his glory God the Father, Son, and Spirit didn’t create out of need We contribute nothing to God, he is perfectly complete The Trinity does not change, doesn’t improve or get better Oh, but the Triune God changes us; the Three work together The Father purposed it, the Son, Jesus, purchased salvation The Spirit produces it to make the one once dead a new creation Changed, our thoughts of God rightly regard knowing him as serious But God doesn’t illuminate everything; his ways are still mysterious You can’t explain the Trinity, though some will try it still They’ll point you to the simple apple—the seeds, the flesh, the peel They take one thing with several parts to try and achieve their goal And say, “God is like this apple here; the three parts make the whole” They might even say, “Thinking of the Trinity as water will suffice” “God is like it in its three forms of vapor, liquid, and ice” But God the Trinity does not exist in equal parts divided Coming together as the One True God only when united As for thinking of the Triune God as forms like states of matter Is that liberty or just wrong? I’m afraid that it’s the latter You might be saying, “Hey, these words you’re bringing here are brutal” But explaining the Infinite God with finite things is entirely futile We could try forever to give a metaphor or a simile But none are adequate, so I’ll just say, “God is One in Three” God didn’t reveal more to us because this is how he planned it And at least on this side of heaven we’ll never understand it But doesn’t it make more sense that God’s beyond our comprehension? It’s not an issue to struggle with how Three are One without division And just how the Three could be one God, one being, and one essence Maybe I’ll be able to wrap my mind around when in his presence No matter what, when faith is sight from down on bended knee I’ll worship my great Savior, the Triune God of one and three
Consider the beauty of the truth known as imputation It’s how God chose to deal with our sin and its implications devastation Yes, in order to comprehend why this doctrine is so great First, we gotta understand those born of man’s original state And for that we go back to the only man never born To Adam, the First Man, whom Genesis says God formed From the dust of the ground and then breathed into him life Gave him dominion over the earth and even gave him Eve, his wife But there was a serpent in the Garden, there just to cause problems But praise God, in Genesis 3, He tells us how He’s gonna solve them Before that, back to our story, the serpent said, “God should share the glory “Eat this fruit, be absolutely like Him; don’t ignore me” Eve, deceived, reached into the tree and took forbidden fruit to eat it Adam, apparently there the whole time, should have told the serpent, “Beat it!” But no, he stood there silently while his wife Eve took a bite She gave him some, he ate, and instantly they knew things weren’t right So, Adam fell and brought the stain of sin onto all humanity Because he represented us, God imputed his sin onto you and me You might say, “That’s not fair! When Eve shared we weren’t there to deny it” But I say, “Trust me on this, if you were there, you woulda tried it” In wisdom, by making the first Adam our representative federal head God is justified in the work of the Last Adam to raise His people from the dead Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin1 Righteousness comes through one man: Jesus, God’s great gift to men And just like one man’s sin is imputed onto all, thus our sin nature Righteousness is credited, or imputed, onto God’s people through the Savior And it works both ways–our sins were imputed onto Jesus. Hear this: He was made sin, who knew no sin, that we might become His righteousness2 For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners3 The many will be made righteous by the obedience of the Life Giver God’s law shows us our sin, but also the grace that abounds all the more4 So that grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Christ our Lord5 Now that you’ve heard it, you might be asking, “What’s the modern application?” Here it is: you can live for Him; Christ’s righteousness is yours through imputation
The drupes on the dogwoods that bloomed Aren’t the only red here in these shadowy woods Because the maple leaves are turning now In a few, shortening days the Almighty Will dip a big hog bristle brush into Paint the three shades of fire and let loose With a thousand foothill-wide strokes By rifle deer season, all but the evergreens Will yield to the coming winter’s turn Sunlight will reach the forest floor And the trees will give back to the earth Has it ever occurred to you That the cooling shade doesn’t fall away Until we don’t need it anymore? And boy, does it go out in style