I Vow To Thee My Country

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Right now I can relate to Cecil Spring-Rice, who as a British diplomat in Stockholm was wont to pine after his country across the sea. Sitting at the airport terminal, waiting to be called to my flight to take me across the ocean and to my home, I also hear ‘my country calling’. It is a powerful emotion, to be removed from a people and a place that one loves, and a powerful desire that can beckon a man home.

I Vow To Thee My Country - often sung on Remembrance Day across the country
I Vow To Thee My Country – often sung on Remembrance Day across the country

Spring-Rice wrote this poem, which was later turned into a hymn with music added by Holst  (Jupiter from The Planets), before amending it to include the atrocities of World War One, a war that ravaged this nation and altered the world.

Motivated by a Higher Calling

Several years ago I was in Asia, working with YWAM and seeing many people come to faith. Exotic countries rich in Christian missionary memory were now seeing whole swathes of their populations come to know Christ. Whilst thankful to God for this, my heart began to pine for my country. We may not have been facing the same level of conflict of 1914-1918, but spiritually it could said indeed that ’round her feet are lying the dying and the dead’.

And so I went home. Beckoned, as young men are want to be, by my ‘duty’. No more visas; no learning the language. I wanted to roll up my sleeves and join in the fight on home turf.

‘Where the battle rages’ was my war cry. My motivation was a ‘not on my watch’ resolve.

I am thankful that I was born in Great Britain. I am thankful for our incredible history which includes enormous blessing from and to the whole world. I am in awe of the moves of God in these small islands. I am indebted to faithful saints who have gone before.

But soon I realised that love of country will get you only so far. God creates nations and it is proper to serve them to the best of our abilities. But for the Christian, our allegiance ultimately goes higher than nation. As the hymn speaks of, there’s ‘another country’ – the Kingdom of God – and our allegiance is fixed therein.

When we serve nations before God we produce culturally-defined imitations of Christianity that at best look like the manmade religions of the rest of the world. Only with a higher, unifying, holy Kingdom are we free to serve – and not be enslaved to – the countries that God has pre-determined we be born and live in.

Deeper than the patriotic call of a nation comes a voice from Heaven, calling us Home. Can you hear Heaven’s call? It is strong and it is purposeful and when we listen for it we are led by it. It may lead us to cross oceans to far flung corners of this world. It may call us to lay down our life. But it will absolutely call you to change the nation you’re in by advancing the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is on the move, as the last line says,

‘And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase, And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.’

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