Francis Scott Key penned the immortal lines of our National Anthem amidst trying circumstances aboard an enemy ship in Chesapeake Bay in the year 1814. Amazingly, it was not until 1931 that the U.S. Congress officially made The Star-Spangled Banner our National Anthem. It was with great tension that the issue was resolved. But eventually, after the words had been tried in the fires of political debate and the controversial melody discussed by musician and historian alike, the far-ranging tune was officially mated to Key's impassioned lyrics.
Francis Scott Key would have been consigned to the dust of obscurity, had it not been for two important poems he authored. One is well-known and is a national monument; the other is almost unknown and is a personal testimony. Perhaps it was the significance of the latter that gave prominence to the former.
It was a rare person indeed who set sail down the Patapsco River in search of the British Fleet. Key was a devout young lawyer on government business, an errand of compassion jeopardizing his life, to plead mercy for a friend. Before his brief voyage would end, unknown to himself, he would etch the national archives, emblazon our cause in history, tap the deepest patriotic emotions, and earn a niche as a giant among the poets of all time.
America was young in 1814, too young for adequate self-defense, thought the English, who only a few years before had seen their colonial hopes end at Yorktown. Now the conflict was on again over who controlled the high seas. The battle led to Washington where the pillaging British burned the White House, recently abandoned by the fleeing President James Madison. A downpour saved the White House from total destruction, but it would take something more dramatic to deliver Baltimore, next on the Redcoat's list of war targets.
During the battle of Washington, Dr. William Beanes, a close friend of Francis Key, tended the wounds of British soldiers. The departing soldiers warned Beanes that no other weapons of war, beside his humble medical tools, were to be used until the invading force was fully removed. A few careless soldiers needlessly plundered Beanes' hometown and he retaliated violently. For this, he was taken prisoner aboard a British vessel, now part of the gathering force assembling to attack Baltimore.
So it was that President James Madison sent Francis Scott Key and a companion to deliver a plea of mercy on Dr. Beanes' behalf. The two men sailed past Fort McHenry, Baltimore's chief defense, on their way to a huge convoy out in the Bay. Hopes and fears mingled in their hearts as they saw the enormous United States flag fluttering over the Fort. Their fears mounted as they eventually met the enemy convoy of some 70 ships massing for a stunning attack on Fort McHenry and then Baltimore. Received with all the cold courtesy of truce-bearers in wartime, they learned that their request would be honored after the battle of Baltimore, for now they possessed strategic intelligence about the British strength.
On August 13, 1814, at the end of a six days' ship arrest, Francis Scott Key watched through the twilight hours as the frenzied artillery barrage on Fort McHenry dragged on. After sunset, near misses illuminated the lonely flag. This flickering hope alone sustained the anxious patriot through the long night. At length, the cannon fell silent. The battle was resolved. But how? The preoccupied Key did not comprehend the meaning of the many soldiers coming aboard the flotilla. At the first crack of dawn, Key saw "Old Glory" still atop the pole. Then he knew. The land force had been beaten back because Fort McHenry had held.
Pulling an old envelope from his pocket, he commenced marshaling those scenes and his own commentary into a poem which would live again at every Fourth of July celebration, at sporting events, at graduations, at every major gathering of patriotic consequence. Francis Scott Key was scribbling the first draft of The Star-Spangled Banner. Later he thought it would fade; people would forget and his lines would be lost as so many others he had written. But it refused to die, and in the gathering enthusiasm, what Key thought was but a passing patriotic passion grew into our National Anthem.
When Francis Scott Key set down the last verse, he reverted to his religious views. Mr. Key was not merely harnessing the penchant for civil religion, he was expressing personal conviction. He was looking beyond the sea and the sky and the flag and the battle and the nation - he was gazing into the face of the God he loved and trusted. Key wrote:
"Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand Between their loved homes and the war's desolation! Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation. Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just, And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.' And The Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"
That was not the appendage but the whole body. His conviction came naturally and wholesomely, the even flow of a personal relationship with God. What few know is that another of Key's poems has survived. Of a slender volume of Key poems published in 1857, only one has endured. And that arose out of a devout life. Francis Scott Key was a lay reader in the Episcopal Church, regularly taught a young men's Bible class and constantly visited the sick. Further, he held family devotions twice each day, requiring his hired servants to attend. In 1817, only three years after writing our National Anthem, he penned these fascinating lines:
Lord, with glowing heart I'd praise thee
For the bliss thy love bestows,
For the pardoning grace that saves me,
And the peace that from it flows:
Help, O God, my weak endeavor;
This dull soul to rapture raise:
Thou must light the flame, or never
Can my love be warmed to praise.
Praise my soul, the God that sought thee,
Wretched wanderer far astray;
Found thee lost, and kindly brought thee
From the paths of death away;
Praise, with love's devoutest feeling,
Him who saw thy guilt-born fear
And, the light of hope revealing,
Bade the blood-stained cross appear.
Praise thy Saviour God that drew thee
To that cross, new life to give,
Held a blood-sealed pardon to thee,
Bade thee Look to him and live:
Praise the grace whose threats alarmed thee,
Roused thee from thy fatal ease
Praise the grace whose promise warmed thee,
Praise the grace that whispered peace.
Lord, this bosom's ardent feeling
Vainly would my lips express:
Low before thy footstool kneeling,
Deign thy suppliant's prayer to bless:
Let thy love, my soul's chief treasure,
Love's pure flame within me raise:
And, since words can never measure,
Let my life show forth thy praise.
That is the national anthem of spiritual freedom. On our Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is inscribed, "... Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto the inhabitants thereof..." (Lev. 25:10)
On my desk as I write is a lovely Christmas greeting card postmarked from a federal penitentiary. It was sent in gratitude for a visit I made with the life-termer some time ago. The card has this on it: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto the inhabitants thereof." This life-termer has accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. The crimes he committed are forgiven. He is clean, he is forgiven, he is bound for heaven, he is a new creature in Christ and he is free. Jesus Christ said, "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:36) Previously, He stated, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32)
An agonizingly converted Jewish Rabbi, writing from the vantage point of glorious bondage, wrote, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free." (Gal. 5:1) Some years ago, a young actress said, "Freedom is choosing whose slave I want to be." Robert Frost declared, "Freedom is feeling comfortable in your harness." A young airline stewardess I once led to Christ, said, "For the first time in my life I am free to serve God." God's fences are not raised to hem us in but keep trouble out.
Years ago down south in Tennessee, I met a 90-year-old woman who remembered her father telling of freeing his slaves. They all left but one old man who said, "Master, I have no place to go. You've been so good to me, I can't do better elsewhere. Take me back,. just like before. I'll serve you until I die ... now because I want to and not because I have to."
The old man was free to choose whose slave he wanted to be. He was free, yet a slave - a wonderful combination. And that's what freedom is all about. It's what Francis Scott Key really meant when he wrote three years after the bombardment of Fort McHenry, "Praise thy Savior God that drew thee To that cross, new life to give, Held a blood-sealed pardon to thee, Bade thee look to him and live...."
Christian gentleman Francis Scott Key knew that his young nation's respite from invasion and it's subsequent peace provided a unique time for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what our spiritual and political freedoms are all about!
CONSIDER THE UNIQUENESS OF THE UNITED STATES
The United States of America is a Political Miracle:
Never had a revolution like ours succeeded.
The U.S. Constitution is the oldest working one in the world, “...the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” (British statesman William Gladstone)T
There is a peaceful transition of power every four years from one administration (sometimes a different political party) to another.
We survived a civil war and continued to grow and expand. After Lincoln, we said “the United States is…” instead of “the United States are…”
It is a Geographic Miracle:
It has thousands of miles of shoreline including two oceans, the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes.
It is home to the greatest deep water port in the world (New York).
It has the world’s third largest river system and the greatest inland lake system in the world.
It has the most unique weather pattern of any land mass in the same latitude.
Its food production feeds countries overseas.
It is a Military Miracle:
The Continental Army prevailed many times because of “quirks” in weather and timing.
We have been merciful victors in war.
Until September 2001, no enemy had attacked American soil since 1814.
Since World War II, the U.S. has become a leading military power with forces stationed around the globe.
It is a Spiritual Miracle:
“The general principles on which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.” – John Adams
There were 16 Congressional proclamations for prayer and fasting during the Revolutionary War.
George Washington’s first act as president was to stoop and kiss the Bible, open to Psalm 127:1.
The U.S. became a great influence in spreading the Gospel worldwide—30% of the world’s missionaries are from the U.S.
The Star-Spangled Banner
Francis Scott Key
O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming!
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there:
O say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes.
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream:
'Tis the Star-Spangled Banner! O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the tenor of light, or the gloom of the grave:
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the Heaven-rescued land
Praise The Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!