Posted by: rcottrill | November 8, 2017

Lead Us, O Father

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Words: William Henry Burleigh (b. Feb. 12, 1812; d. Mar. 18, 1871)
Music: Langran, by James Langran (b. Nov. 10, 1835; d. June 8, 1909)

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Just after the Civil War, American poet, editor, and abolitionist William Henry Burleigh wrote a hymn, owning the nation’s weakness and appealing to God for help. While I don’t agree with his Unitarian theology, there are some good things in this hymn, which Burleigh entitled “Prayer for Guidance.” It could work as a New Year’s hymn.

It’s usually a mistake to criticize other people’s children–especially to the parents. We may think we’re being constructive and helpful, but it’s often not well received.

The same can be said for pointing out the faults of another nation. They may be justified in retorting, “That’s none of your business! Mind your own affairs!” But having said that, it might be legitimate to use another country’s troubles, with due humility, to discern instructive lessons for our own situation.

To the point, the United States, as I write this, has been facing a steady cataract of disaster and heart-wrenching tragedy. There was hurricane Harvey, followed quickly by hurricane Irma, bringing widespread destruction and flooding to southern Texas and Florida. Then came hurricane Maria, which leveled whole communities of Puerto Rico. And, as if that weren’t more than enough to bear, the worst mass shooting in modern American history was inflicted on an outdoor concert venue in Las Vegas.

Where does the fault lie for all of this? With certain individuals? With the government, or a political party? Or possibly more broadly still? Some see national disasters as a judgment of God on the spiritual drift of the nation as a whole. We must be careful of saying we can discern the mind and purposes of God in every case, but it’s true that there are times when the Lord allows adversity to get our attention, and turn our hearts toward Him.

The Bible says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach [a shame] to any people” (Prov. 14:34). And, “Happy [blessed] are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Ps. 144:15). The history of Israel shows what happens when that’s not the case (Jud. 2:12, 14). Possibly there are other more recent examples.

In 2012, historian Stephen Mansfield published a remarkable book called Lincoln’s Battle with God. In it he traces the development of President Abraham Lincoln’s faith, from his early days as an atheist and a mocker of God’s Word, through a gradual acceptance of biblical truth and to his personal commitment to the Lord.

In the years before his assassination, the president grieved over the war that was dividing his country and bringing suffering to so many. He came to believe that neither the North nor the South was free of wrongdoing in the matter, but that the calamity of war was the punishment of a righteous God upon a sinning nation, especially because of slavery. He called his people to a day of “national humiliation, fasting and prayer,” with words which likely no politician would dare to use today. He sounds a warning that has echoes of what Moses said to Israel (Deut. 8:11-20). Lincoln said:

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us.

We have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

In light of this, William Burleigh’s hymn seems especially relevant, and it surely has a message for America, and Canada, and other nations, in our own day. Especially in the second stanza (and a fourth stanza, not included here) there is an appeal at the individual level, both to young and old.

CH-1) Lead us, O Father, in the paths of peace:
Without Thy guiding hand we go astray,
And doubts appall, and sorrows still increase;
Lead us through Christ, the true and living Way.

CH-2) Lead us, O Father, in the paths of truth:
Unhelped by Thee, in error’s name we grope,
While passion stains, and folly dims our youth,
And age comes on, uncheered by faith or hope.

CH-3) Lead us, O Father, in the paths of right:
Blindly we stumble when we walk alone,
Involved in shadows of a darksome night;
Only with Thee we journey safely on.

1) What does the Lord expect of our nation’s leaders?

2) How can we as individuals help to guide our nation in a wise and righteous path?

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal


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