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 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
I can’t recall as much of what I read as I used to, and I don’t have the time to study and build up knowledge as I would like. So, I read Scripture for songwriting, sermons, and personal study; and read books and articles by those with far greater knowledge and education than I, and I wind up thinking, “Why am I even trying to contribute? I know so little!”
Thankfully, I know as long as I preach and sing according to God’s Word, even if it is on the simple side, God uses it. God uses me. ME! as a means for his glory.