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We Stand on Guard for Thee

Figure 1 Canada's Coat of Arms

O Canada We Stand on Guard for Thee is a line taken from Canada’s National Anthem, and in a few weeks, it will be sung everywhere throughout our nation as we celebrate the significance of Canada Day. Canada Day was once referred to as “Dominion Day,” an allusion to the motto on the Canadian Coat of Arms that was established in 1921, and as shown in the image at the top of my blog.

The Latin phrase on the Coat of Arms, A Mari Usque Ad Mare (English: From Sea to Sea), comes from the Latin translation of Psalm 72:8 of the Bible: “Et dominabitur a mari usque ad mare, et a flumine usque ad terminos terrae.” “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.”[1]

Such a reference reminds us of a time in our past when Biblical passages and ethic were openly referenced to guide our nation, and to inform her laws and society. Raymond J. de Sousa says, Canada’s history, and its status as an independent country, depend essentially, though not exclusively, on both the altar and the throne. Without the early explorers, religiously animated, and the missionaries, the British Crown and the French fact preserved by the Catholic Church, Canada likely would not have survived the 18th century, let alone the 19th, as independent.[2]

Although the motto may have had political insinuations too, its spiritual intent was clearly meant to be front and center; as many of those leaders who advocated for its adoption, were professing Christians. Were they perfect Christians? Why, no. So, let's not try to make them so. As imperfect as they were though, they did get something right. They sought to humbly acknowledge God’s sovereignty over their nation and their lives.

One early proponent was George Monro Grant. Grant was a secretary to Sir Sandford Fleming, who oversaw the surveying of the Pacific railway project. Grant was also a Presbyterian minister. He apparently preached several sermons in various places, using Psalm 72:8 as his text, promoting national unity under the slogan, “from sea to sea.”[2]

Perhaps many of my readers may not know that our national anthem is really a part of a hymn that has four verses. While we rarely sing all four verses, let me draw your attention to the last verse:

Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,

Hold our dominion within thy loving care; Help us to find, O God, in thee A lasting, rich reward, As waiting for the Better Day, We ever stand on guard.

So, what exactly then does it mean to sing the phrase, We Stand on Guard for Thee? It’s not a reference to our military prowess. It’s not a reference to our economic strength, our diversity or equity outcomes. It has nothing to do with climate change initiatives or our immigration quotas. We have been led to believe that these issues and other matters represent all things Canadian. But as this last verse clearly indicates – Standing on Guard for Thee means going to the Ruler Supreme in humble prayer for our nation.

Now, that may sound like a novel idea to some – praying to God for our nation. But it means just that. We should be praying to God, asking Him to hold the dominion of Canada within His loving care and that we would not do this independently of Him. But alas – I fear we do this often – ignoring God’s sovereignty over our nation.

It's not that other matters are not important in the governance of our nation such as personal commitment and vigilance to protect and sustain the beauty of our nation’s values, the richness of her resources, the wealth of her ecosystems and economies, or the dignities of all her inhabitants. It’s just that without acknowledging God as the Supreme Ruler over our nation, we run the danger of what Paul warned in Romans chapter 1 of flipping things upside down – forgetting to acknowledge God as our Creator – we end up worshipping his creation instead. For instance, Paul said:

“But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So, they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.”

What Paul is trying to tell us is that when a nation doesn’t acknowledge God’s sovereignty, it comes up with foolish ideas about what God is like or not like at all. It can get caught up with worshipping His creation instead the Creator Himself. Like the ancient Greek philosopher, Protagoras, the world begins to believe that “man is the measure of all things” – where truth and value are determined by human standards, not by God our Creator. Many, unfortuantely, have embraced Protagoras’ relativism ever since.

But relativism is an abject failure in that it fails to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over our nation and over our lives. It presents no absolute standard by which we can regulate and govern ourselves. And, if there is no absolute moral standard, then none of us can say with certainty that anything is either right or wrong. If God had not given us absolute truth that consistently applies, then there could be no final appeal. The world would be left with nothing but endless and ever-changing subjective human opinions. I fear it is these ever-changing subjective opinions that our now guiding our government and our courts.

The phrase from our National Anthem – True North strong and free – implies the hope that as a nation we would have an ethical compass pointing to True North – to God alone. It means to recognize that though we all originate from far and wide – we are all nevertheless called to stand on guard for Canada. Thus, we sing that last refrain:

“God keep our land glorious and free! O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.” Let this be a solemn reminder, that without God, our nation will cease to be glorious and free! And there is plenty indication that our chersished freedom is already beginning to disappear.

Do you remember which great American once said that anyone who tries to undermine religion in their nation disqualifies himself as a patriot? Hint: He was not a preacher, a radio talk show host, or officially affiliated with a political party. Here's his exact quote:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness.”[3]

If you said America’s first president, George Washington, you would be right. The quote is from his Farewell Address in 1796. He was near the end of his second term and was planning for these to be his parting words to the nation as he left public life.

Should we find ourselves singing Canada’s National Anthem in the next few weeks, maybe it’s time to see it’s lyrics through a fresh set of lenses. As patriots, let us not be guilty of singing words we do not mean or being indifferent to their meaning altogether. Let’s prayerfully and passionately submit ourselves to God and stand on guard for our nation and its freedom.

It wasn’t long ago that one of our nations Prime Minister’s the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker said on July 1, 1960, “I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” [4]

Diefenbaker was right. But that freedom comes not from our government but from God Himself. The minute our government begins to think and act like it's god – and there are many who seem willing to acknowledge them as such – then our freedom disappears and our country is headed into a moral abyss.

We must acknowledge God’s sovereignty as a nation if we cherish our freedom, otherwise evil will be called good and good will be called evil. (see Isaiah 5:20) When this happens, and there are signs of this already in our nation, we will resemble Israel of old. Isaiah described their situation as follows:

For our sins are piled up before God and testify against us. Yes, we know what sinners we are. We know we have rebelled and have denied the Lord. We have turned our backs on our God. We know how unfair and oppressive we have been, carefully planning our deceitful lies. Our courts oppose the righteous, and justice is nowhere to be found. Truth stumbles in the streets, and honesty has been outlawed. Yes, truth is gone, and anyone who renounces evil is attacked ( Isaiah 59:12-15)

Imagine a world in which truth is gone and justice is nowhere to be found. Imagine a scenario where the courts oppose or punish the righteous. Perhaps you dont have to imagine those scenarios anymore, as they are now prevalent everywhere in our nation. When God's sovereignty is not acknowledged evil will be called good and good will be called evil.

The very reason our nation or any other nation exists is so that we might acknowledge God. Paul explains this in Acts 17: 24-28:

He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist.

God has sovereignly allowed the creation all the nations in our world, including Canada. He decides which nations rise and which ones fall. His purpose was “for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist.”

May our nation feel its way toward its Creator and find Him. May it prayerfully submit to Him and stand on guard. For the sooner our nation realizes that in Him we move and have our existence the better Canada and its people we will be. That means the very breath you just breathed while reading this blog came form your Creator.


[1] [2]Raymond J. De Sousa, "Let’s tell the rich religious stories that are a critical part of Canadian history", National Post, June 30, 2015.

[3] Subby Szterszky, [4] Yale Law School, The Avalon Project, [5]

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