Francis Scott Key: Christian Patriot
This is a bulletin insert written by Western Reformed Seminary‘s professor of History Chris Lensch. Enjoy your weekend (especially if it is of the 3-day variety).
“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 heav’n 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!”
The poem above is the fourth and final verse to our national anthem. It was sketched on the back of an envelope by Francis Scott Key in the summer of 1814 during the Battle of Fort McHenry outside the Baltimore Harbor. Mr. Key, who had been involved in negotiating the release of American prisoners, was being detained by the British invaders until after the attack since he had seen the strength of the English force.
For 25 anxious hours the young lawyer paced the deck of the British warship that held him and his companions, worrying and wondering whether the American fort could hold out. The thunderous bombardment against Ft. McHenry lasted a day and a night. The harbor air was streaked with rocket smoke. Over 1500 cannonballs, some weighing up to 220 pounds each, were lobbed at the Americans; the fort took many hits, and one bombshell actually fell into the fort’s powder magazine and could have spelled the end — thankfully, it was a dud! By night the English rockets illumined the American defenses, and in the morning, Key found inspiration in the sight of Old Glory fluttering defiantly.
Francis Scott Key’s ultimate belief, however, was not grounded in mere ideals of American freedom and bravery. His personal hope was in Jesus Christ! As a devout Christian he led his household in prayer twice each day and ensured that those under his roof were at Sunday services. A member of the Episcopal Church, he actively promoted the gospel message and methods of the evangelical “low church” wing. For a while he even considered the ministry, but he remained an attorney, using his legal skills and vast connections to serve the cause of Christ.
As district attorney in Washington, D.C., he argued several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and he moved among the power-brokers of the nation’s capitol. When his political friend, John Randolph, was toying with atheism, Francis turned John’s thinking through a chain of correspondence that patiently and persistently “preached” the only hope of mankind. As a Christian apologist, Key “attributed calamities to the wrath of God and believed in the unseen hand of the Lord at work to chastise the wicked and reward the worthy.”
One of his other poems captures Francis Scott Key’s devotion to Christ:
“Lord, with glowing heart I’d praise thee
For the bliss they love bestows,
For the pard’ning 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 they Saviour God that drew thee
To that cross, new life to give,
Held a blood-sealed pardon to thee,
Bade thee look o him and live;
Praise the grace whose threats alarmed thee,
Roused thee from they fatal ease,
Praise the grace whose promise warmed thee,
Praise the grace that whispered peace.”
As we celebrate our nation’s freedom on Independence Day, let us thank God for Christian patriots like Francis Scott Key whose influence shaped the course of America’s Christian heritage. His stirring poem written in the midst of armed conflict became our national anthem in 1931. Only in 1956 was Key’s dream for a God-honoring national motto realized when President Eisenhower signed over-due legislation approving “In God We Trust” as America’s official motto.