Posted by: rcottrill | May 4, 2012

God of Our Fathers

Words: Daniel Crane Roberts (b. Nov. 5, 1841; d. Oct. 31, 1907)
Music: National Hymn, by George William Warren (b. Aug. 17, 1828; d. Mar. 17. 1902)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The revisionists are troubled by the use of “fathers” in the opening line. One hymnal has amended this to “God of the ages.” Pardon me, but this is silliness! It’s clear that forefathers are in view–a common designation for ancestors. Given that the song was written for the American Centennial in 1876, possibly the author had men such as George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson specifically in mind–the nation’s founding “fathers.”

Daniel Roberts called himself a simple “country parson,” and submitted his hymn to the Centennial planning committee anonymously. He was happy to stay in the background. Though Pastor Roberts suggested an old tune that could be used, George Warren was asked to compose one especially for the hymn. With its unique trumpet fanfare before each stanza, it provides a superb setting for the text.

Though there is no mention of Christ and the foundational importance of the gospel of grace, this remains a truly magnificent national hymn. It was written by a Christian clergyman, and when he speaks of God’s love, God’s Word, and the One who should receive the glory for blessings enjoyed (CH-2), there is no question what he means. This is a hymn that can (and should) be sung by all Christians, even in countries other than the United States, since there are no explicit references in it to that nation.

In our day, the concept of “the separation of church and state” has been grossly misapplied. In the United States Constitution, the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion [i.e. creating an official state church], or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This is abundantly clear. And there was no intention of utterly secularizing all of public life.

But it has now been warped to mean that there can be no expression of religious faith at government sanctioned events, in public schools, and more. Other nations have followed the same prohibition, removing virtually any admission that our blessings come from God, and we are accountable to Him for how we use them. This is not a step forward!

It’s certainly not in keeping with the strong statement made by Daniel Roberts’ hymn. Even a brief look at the lyrics will show it is solidly biblical, and says some significant things.

CH-1. God created an immense and beautiful universe of stars and planets, and He holds them in their place (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 19:1; Col. 1:16-17). To Him we are grateful, and lift our songs to praise to the throne of the Almighty.

CH-2. We can look back on the way God has led us, and blessed our nation with freedom. We desire that the Lord be our Ruler still, guarding and guiding us day by day. For this to happen, we realize that we must obey His Word, and do His will.

CH-3. We call upon God to protect us from our enemies, and from those natural disasters that threaten us. May we continue to experience the Lord’s “bounteous goodness” in a land of peace and lawful order.

We want what Daniel Roberts calls God’s “true religion” to be expressed in our society. “Religion” may be defined as what believers do for God. It isn’t religion that saves us. Only in the finished work of Christ on the cross can do that, through personal faith in Him (Jn. 3:16). But religion involves the application of Christian principles, and consistent godly conduct by the people of God. James puts it this way:

“If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (Jas. 1:26-27).

CH-4) We need to experience the grace of God (His enablement) if we are to express His love to those around us. Life isn’t always easy. We need the daily blessing of divine refreshment, as we look forward to a better day to come. And I would argue Scripture teaches that ultimately that “better day” will be ushered in when the Lord Jesus Christ, “the Prince of Peace” returns to reign, to His great glory (Isa. 2:4; 9:6-7).

CH-1) God of our fathers, whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendour through the skies
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

CH-2) Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast,
Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay,
Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

1) What particular national blessings do you thank the Lord for?

2) What can you do to counteract the sad secularizing of the government, the media, and so on?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Hi Robert, I love this post and this site. Your articles are impeccably researched and well written. Thank you for all you do in leaving a wonderful history of hymns.

    God Bless You.


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