Posted by: rcottrill | June 8, 2011

Am I a Soldier of the Cross

Words: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: Arlington, by Thomas Augustine Arne (b. Mar. 12, 1710; Mar. 5, 1778)

Wordwise Hymns (on Isaac Watts, and see Thomas Arne)
The Cyber Hymnal

In philosophy, the Socratic method (named after the Greek philosopher) uses questions to probe for the truth, and eliminate false ideas. And questions can be an effective educational tool, as any teacher will tell you. It is a method used by Isaac Watts, in our hymn. Dr. Watts asks a series of five rhetorical questions, in which the expected (or appropriate) answer is always “No.”

Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?

No! Surely not. We are called, as believers, to share in the hardships of a Christian solder (II Tim. 2:3-4). Those who take a stand for Christ can expect to face opposition (II Tim. 3:12). The kind of people who hated and opposed Christ, will have the same attitude toward us as His followers (Jn. 15:18-20). But we are urged, as Timothy was, not to be ashamed to witness for Christ (II Tim. 1:8). Others have suffered, and even died for the faith. Can we expect to be “carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease” (CH-2). Again, no!

“Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?” (CH-3). That is a penetrating question! But first we must carefully define what the “world” is. In the Bible, the word is used of the physical globe, and of the people who live on it–whom God loves, enough to send His Son to die for them (Jn. 3:16). But the word is also used to refer to this evil world system. C. I. Scofield’s definition is helpful:

“In the sense of the present world system, the ethically bad sense of the word refers to the order or arrangement under which Satan has organized the world of unbelieving mankind upon his cosmic principles of force, greed, selfishness, ambition, and pleasure….This world system is imposing and powerful with military might; is often outwardly religious, scientific, cultured, and elegant; but, seething with national and commercial [and personal] rivalries and ambitions, is upheld in any real crisis only by armed force, and is dominated by satanic principles” (The New Scofield Study Bible, p. 1542).

So, can such a system–one that is even “religious” at times–help me find God, or come into a deeper personal relationship with Him. No! Because it is truly, in Dr. Watts’s words, “vile,” and is “no friend to grace.” It stands in utter opposition to God and to the principles of His Word. That is why the Lord warns us:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (I Jn. 2:15-17; cf. Eph. 2:2).

After the questions, CH-4 gives us the response of the committed soldier of the cross:

Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.

Two stanzas (CH-5 and 6) are often omitted from our hymnals. But they provide an encouraging picture of the certain victory of the people of God. It is unfortunate that many don’t get to sing them!

Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
By faith’s discerning eye.

When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of victory through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine.

1) Sometimes, worldliness is defined as consisting of certain specific kinds of conduct to be avoided (smoking, gambling, etc.). But it is first of all an underlying spirit, or attitude. Can you explain the essential features of worldliness, as described in First John 2:16?

2) Several times the Lord Jesus speaks of His followers as not being “of the world [belonging to this evil world]” (Jn. 17:14, 16). How is it possible to live in this world and not be “of” it? How will that reveal itself in our lives?

Wordwise Hymns (on Isaac Watts, and see Thomas Arne)
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Chanticleer does and excellent setting of the text, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross” in a-capella gospel style that begins with the song leader saying, “Hymn 414 set to the common meter.” 🙂

    • Great to hear from you. I had hopes that maybe this version of the hymn was posted on YouTube, but it’s not. I contented myself with listening to their rendition of Shenandoah. Wow! Stunning! As one who sang in a male chorus about half a century ago, I can appreciate the blending of talent and hard work that goes into their performances. God bless.

      • It’s outside of both our traditions, but the Biebl setting of Ave Maria is really wonderful. The verses recount the Annunciation of Our Lord to Mary. Sadly, the refrain is half Scripture and half tradition. I know of one institution that corrected the refrain sang it in English!

      • H-m-m… Well, as to the music, the Biebl setting is well-performed by Chanticleer, but I prefer Schubert’s or Gounod’s music. A personal taste thing, but Franz Biebl’s version seems rather meandering and tuneless to me, a bit like a Gregorian Chant. It’s what one’s used to, I guess. The beauty of the other two compositions always leaves me wishing they could be detached from their Romish text, and used in other ways, but the association is too strong. Too many listeners would immediately wonder why the organist is playing Ave Maria in an evangelical Protestant church. 🙂

        As I understand it, Biebl’s text combines Ave Maria with the Angelus and, in the translation I hunted up, a lot of it is scriptural. But of course asking the “Mother of God” to pray for us, “now and in the hour of our death,” is definitely not. It not only exalts Mary to a position God has not given her, but it discounts the eternal sufficiency of the intercessory work of Christ (Heb. 7:25).

  2. I like the Gounod setting, with the melody set against Bach’s prelude. Don’t care for the Shubert, mostly because it is overdone. In Biebl’s arrangement, the Gregorian style of the verses are contrasted with the 8-part male chorus for the refrain. Of course, it’s the 2nd part of the refrain where things get real sticky!

  3. I was so pleased to come upon your blog today! “Am I A Soldier of the Cross” is one of my favorite hymns as I feel I have been led to lift up the names and identities of the forgotten Reformation era martyrs. Great job, and I’ll be returning!

    • Thanks for your encouragement, and for the work you’re doing. We sometimes forget how much others have gone through to preserve the apostolic faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” God bless.


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