Hymn text by Anonymous, 18th century-. View the full text of this hymn.

union jack

With American Independence Day coming up, we’re considering the hymns on patriotism here at the Beesley Project. And we’re starting off with the one hymn of the bunch that isn’t expressly American-themed: “God Save the King.” I’ve always thought it was interesting that a church as globally-minded as the LDS Church doesn’t include any other national anthems in its English edition (no “O Canada”?), although the hymnal does indicate that, with priesthood approval, local national anthems may be sung in church meetings.

But why include them at all, and even more to the point, why include the U.S. national anthem, two generically patriotic American songs, and the anthem of the United Kingdom? What doctrine can we hope to learn from a song extolling the virtues of the British Isles? Let’s listen to the first verse and see what we can find out. You know the tune, even if you don’t think you do; it’s the same as “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”

God save our gracious king!
Long live our noble king!
God save the king!
Send him victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to rule over us;
God save the king!

This is a change from our normal approach to the hymns. We nearly always sing praise to the Lord (with one notable exception), but here, we praise the king (or queen, as is currently the case). We sing of his grace, his nobility, and we wish for his reign to continue. Normally, we reserve that sort of praise for God in the hymns. Shouldn’t we be expressing our hopes that God can continue to rule over us and that we can become subject to His will?

Well, yes, of course, but I think that in a way, we’re already doing that. You see, while we sing our praises to the king, our prayers are directed toward our God. We pray that our God will protect the king as he protects us. It might be different if “Rule, Britannia!” were in the hymnal, a song that expressly glorifies the nation and not its God. The second verse makes even clearer the relationship between the king and God, as well as their hierarchy:

Thy choices gifts in store
On him be pleased to pour;
Long may he reign!
May he defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the king!

God pours His blessings on the rulers of nations and supports them. We sing our praises to Him for so doing. In fact, we see hints in this verse that while our rulers currently reign over us, they may not always do so if they fall out of line with His teachings. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught that while nations will have their rulers, anyone who raises up a king against the Lord–which is to say, raises up a king that defies His laws–shall perish, for “the Lord, the king of heaven, will be their king.” We will be His people, and He will be our God.

This hymn makes that relationship clear. We have our own appointed leader. He or she is one of our own that we have chosen to lead us, but though he or she may be our king or queen, he or she is not our King. There is One who rules over us, and it is His blessings we invoke on those we choose as our leaders here on earth. And as those blessings are bestowed, and as our leaders do their best to lead us in righteousness, we may ever have cause to shout, “God save the king!”

Image credit: “Union Jack,” flickr user blu-news.org.

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