Posted by: rcottrill | December 29, 2017

We Thank Thee, Lord, for This Fair Earth

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Words: George Edward Lynch Cotton (b. Oct. 29, 1813; d. Oct. 6, 1866)
Music: Ernan, by Lowell Mason (b. Jan. 8, 1792; d. Aug. 11, 1872)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: George Cotton was an English clergyman who is known for one hymn only. He was appointed bishop of Calcutta, India, at the age of fifty-three, but he never reached his post. He was drowned while disembarking from his ship.

Charles Dickens’ historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, was published in 1859. It deals with events surrounding the French Revolution, more than a century before the author’s time, and with the effect of that violent upheaval on characters living in two major cities of the day, London and Paris.

The story tells us about Sydney Carton, an English lawyer, who is a depressed and cynical alcoholic, though he shines, later in the book, in an act of self sacrifice that saves the life of another man, Charles Darnay. (Carton speaks the oft quoted words, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.”) A third character, Lucie Mannette, is called in the tale “the golden thread,” because her love and her actions tie the other two characters together.

Though not ranked among the best of Dickens’ novels, it’s still a work of genius, highlighting the themes of noble sacrifice and, what was a particular passion of the author’s, the need for social justice. It gives us a look at two different worlds, how they are intertwined, and how the characters live in each, and are affected by each.

The Christian, too, is a citizen of two cities, in fact of two different worlds. We have, in a real sense, dual citizenship. Paul was able to say, “I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city” (Acts 21:39) and, at the same time, tell the Philippian believers, “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).

A major difference is that the characters in A Tale of Two Cities were able to travel back and forth between London and Paris, but that is not so for us. We learn something about the heavenly kingdom in the Scriptures, and we look forward to being there, but for the present we are firmly grounded on planet earth.

Yet the eternal kingdom has an influence over us. We are to espouse its values, and live as those who will one day take up residence there. The Lord Jesus told His hearers to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20), and “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (vs. 33). Since believers will one day go to live with Him there, “Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I Jn. 3:3).

We must, of course, consider our allegiance to earthly rulers, and live within the boundaries of earthly laws, and the Bible exhorts us to do that. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1).

“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men–as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honour all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (I Pet. 2:13-17).

But where there is a significant conflict between man’s laws and God’s, the Christian has needs to consider his allegiance to a higher Authority. When forbidden to preach the gospel, Peter and the other apostles said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), and they were willing to suffer for that choice.

“When they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:40-42).

Cotton’s hymn, published in 1856, is We Thank Thee, Lord, for This Fair Earth. It provides a gentle reminder that, though there are many things on earth that are “fair,” we must never lose sight of God’s kingdom, and should live with spiritual and eternal values in view.

CH-1) We thank Thee, Lord, for this fair earth,
The glittering sky, the silver sea;
For all their beauty, all their worth,
Their light and glory, come from Thee.

CH-2) Thine are the flowers that clothe the ground,
The trees that wave their arms above,
The hills that gird our dwellings round,
As Thou dost gird Thine own with love.

CH-3) Yet teach us still how far more fair,
More glorious, Father, in Thy sight,
Is one pure deed, one holy prayer,
One heart that owns Thy Spirit’s might.

CH-4) So while we gaze with thoughtful eye
On all the gifts Thy love has given,
Help us in Thee to live and die,
By Thee to rise from earth to heav’n.

Questions:
1) How can we keep a balance between enjoying the things of this earth and keeping our eyes on eternity and its values?

2) What experience recently reminded you of the need to live by spiritual and eternal values, rather than those of this world?

Links:


Responses

  1. You ask great questions! The Lord has taught me so many lessons regarding question #2. Many, many times I have been confronted with this thought: are you willing for your blessings to be primarily spiritual? I am not saying that the Lord has not blessed me in the material realm because He has, but at the same time there have been many, many earthly difficulties and sorrows. Loss of relationships (including children and grandchildren), betrayals, a child who walked away from their profession of Christ, loss of health, etc.

    If I was an unbeliever this would have been totally devastating. These are the things that the world lives for and loves. But because of the Lord graciously saving me and helping me, upholding me and giving me hope in Him, I have been sustained through it all. I cannot put my hope in earthly things because in many cases they have been taken away, and yet what I have left is so much greater – spiritual blessings in Christ. Eternal salvation that cannot perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven.

    The loss of earthly things makes the spiritual riches more real and perhaps more valued? The world is seen for what it truly is a sinful, broken place. I am thankful that heaven is my true home, that Christ will be there and nothing can take this away from me. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Scripture is a treasure because it tells us the truth about these things. Praise the Lord!

    Trials all have a purpose, like it says in 1 Peter 1:6-7, “Now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

    • Eloquently said. Thanks for sharing. This is the kind of perspective on life we need. We can enjoy the good things of this life, but see it for what it is, flawed, and temporary. Better to root our value system in eternal values. God bless.


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