I Vow to Thee my Country

At our school Remembrance Service on Armistice Day this week, we sang I Vow to Thee my Country. The lads sang it well, and some of the veterans who joined us were visibly moved. This patriotic hymn has been criticised for some time for being nationalistic or glorifying war. Its first verse does seem to suggest this, promoting blind obedience to one's nation, with one willing to sacrifice all that is dear for her.

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters, she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And around her feet are lying the dying and the dead;
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns;
I haste to thee, my mother, a son among thy sons.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

The third verse alludes to our heavenly citizenship, and the real object of our loyalty. The Christian has a double citizenship, one on earth, one in heaven. Just as Jeremiah urged the Jewish exiles to pray for the prosperity of Babylon whilst still praying for Jerusalem's peace, so we may offer a loyalty to our land as well as our destiny. 

We must never glorify war, nor love our country in a way that makes us xenophobic to other peoples and nations. But may we offer loyal and active service to the nation to which providence has allotted us, and remember those who died for our present freedoms.

You can hear it sung here: