Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by Rev. John H. Farmer
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Let’s have a Patriotic Birthday, America

British and European adventurers had fallen in love with this continent by the mid-1700s and self-rule was the only rule to which they would submit.

The first real test of arms between Colonial Patriots and British Loyalists was at Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775, Charlestown, Mass., and on adjacent Breed’s Hill). Even though the British claimed a tactical victory, it galvanized the radical Revolutionary troops into a dedicated, fledgling army. The skirmishes that ensued afterwards eventually brought the battle to Tidewater Virginia, where the British (under command of Lieutenant General Charles Earl Cornwallis, Yorktown, 1781) were defeated.

A patriotic knife severed our ties to the British Crown. It was a powerful time, a holy time, an awful time.

Take a quiet drive through the Yorktown Battlefield Park. Stroll down Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Glimpse upon the glass wall of fallen heroes nestled on the north end of Lee Bridge. Stand at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. They remind us that our patriotism was a life-expensive commodity in social development.

The struggle of slaves to fit into the white man’s freedom is yet another dark chapter in America’s foundation. Some of that history is now being rewritten for our study. Both Native Americans and ship-delivered human cargo may have a different history to tell, one sublimated in the fabric woven so broadly as to separate us from the Crown.

This week we will gather in sanctuaries across the Northern Neck to sing patriotic hymns, to express our appreciation for America’s ancestors. They forged freedom out of adversity. Let’s look for a few minutes at the poem-hymn of Nathaniel Niles (New England patriot-theologian, 1741–1828). Niles chalked his hymn in a style reminiscent of one of our great hymn writers, Isaac Watts. Andrew Law set the poem to music. It was a testimony celebration to Bunker Hill and later named thus. As we gather to celebrate our American Freedom let’s sample the faith and freedom movement from which our country spawned.

The American Hero, by Nathaniel Niles:

“Why should vain mortals tremble at the sight of death and destruction in the field of battle, where blood and carnage clothe the ground in crimson, sounding with death groans?

Death will invade us by means appointed and we must all bow to the king of terrors; nor am I anxious, if I am prepared, what shape he comes in.

Infinite Goodness teaches us submission, bids us be quiet under all his dealings; never repining, but forever praising God, our creator.

Well may we praise him; all his ways are perfect; though a resplendence, infinitely glowing, dazzles in glory on the sight of mortals, struck blind by lustre.

Good is Jehovah in bestowing sunshine, nor less his goodness in the storm and thunder. Mercies and judgement both proceed from kindness, infinite kindness.

O, then, exult that God forever reigneth, clouds which, around him, hinder our perception, bind us stronger to exalt his name and shout louder praises.

Then to the wisdom of my Lord and master I will commit all that I have or wish for, sweetly as babes’ sleep will I give my life up, when called to yield it.

Now Mars, I dare thee, clad in smoky pillars, bursting from bombshells, roaring from the cannon, rattling in grapeshot like a storm of hailstones, torturing ether.

Up the bleak heavens let the spreading flames rise, breaking, like Aetna, through the smoky columns, lowering, like Egypt, o’er the falling city wantonly burned down.

Let oceans waft on all your fleeting castles, fraught with destruction, horrible to nature, then, with your sails filled by a storm of vengeance, bear down to battle.

From the dire caverns made by ghostly miners, let the explosion, dreadful as volcanoes, heave the broad town, with all its wealth and people, quick to destruction.

Still shall the banner of the King of Heaven never advance where I am afraid to follow; while that precedes me, with an open bosom, War, I defy thee.

Fame and dear freedom lure me on to battle, while a fell despot, grimmer than a death’s-head, stings me with serpents, fiercer than a Medusa’s to the encounter.

Life, for my country and the cause of freedom, is but a trifle for a worm to part with; and, if preserved so great a contest, life is redoubled.”

Go here for a rousing (edited) rendition of the song: Listen and sing along where possible. It will be good exercise for your patriotism.

Throughout history old men in hallowed halls drew the battle lines, youngsters took up arms. Revolutionary speeches forged our freedom. The graves of American children secured it. This Fourth of July weekend I will be in church thanking God for my freedom and for the thousands and thousands of lives, lost on every front, it took to mature. We dare not forget.