At church on Sunday we were singing the familiar patriotic song “America the Beautiful”. I must admit how often I have sung those famous words without really thinking about their meaning. I am sure many others do so as well.
Katherine Lee Bates wrote these words after a trip across the country culminating in a visit to Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs. There she was awed by the beauty and majesty of our country and was moved to write the famous poem which was published in 1895. It was set to music and published as a song in 1910.
Several phrases of the song struck me, especially as I considered the gospel truths in the message I was about to present in the morning service.
One phrase is repeated several times throughout the song, “God shed His grace on thee…” We know that God shed His grace on us through our Savior, Jesus Christ. Certainly we believe in “common grace” and ask for God’s blessing and protection of our nation in a general sense. However, God’s grace can only be genuinely shed upon our nation through the message of the Gospel. (1 Cor. 1:4)
In the second stanza, Bates asks God “to mend thy every flaw…” I doubt Katherine Bates could have even imagined the flaws we see in our nation today. The only thing that can mend the flaws in our own lives, in our communities, and in our nation is the life changing power of the gospel. (2 Cor. 5:17) The “flaws” are sin, and the only way this can be “mended” is through repentance and faith in what Christ has done on the cross.
In the third stanza is the request that “May God thy gold refine…” Scripture speaks of the refining process coming through trials and persecution. The nation of Israel was refined as silver or gold (Is. 48:10; Ps. 66:10; Mal. 3:2-3) Peter vividly writes of our faith being proven, “though tested by fire” (1 Peter 1:7). Our nation has certainly seen some trials with 9/11, natural disasters, and the recent economic difficulties. We should ask God to use these and other coming trials and difficulties to turn our hearts towards Christ in order to refine our own lives, refine the church, and thereby refine our nation.
I am not certain that this is what Katherine Bates had in mind as she penned these words. Her father was a congregational minister, though he died when she was very young. She was raised in the Congregational faith; however there is evidence to suggest she may not have been a genuine believer. Regardless, careful thought of her famous tribute to our nation will remind us what America really needs—the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are actually several other stanzas to the poem rarely read or sung. You can find the entire poem here.