Posted by: rcottrill | June 15, 2011

The Banner of the Cross

Words: Daniel Webster Whittle (b. Nov. 22, 1840; d. Mar. 4, 1901)
Music: James McGranahan (b. July 4, 1840; d. July 9, 1907)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Major Whittle, a Civil War veteran, sometimes used one of several pen names in writing his gospel songs: El Nathan, Elias Nathan, and W.W.D.

Banners are used today in a variety of ways, in political or patriotic gatherings, at sporting events, and so on. They can be a declaration of loyalty to a person or a cause, or be a rallying point to stir up new hope and greater efforts. A moment’s thought will show how this description could be applied to God Himself. It is to Him we rally, with new hope and greater effort, when we realize all He has done for us, through Christ. And in our own witness, we lift Him up as a banner, declaring our loyalty to Him, and proclaiming the gospel.

One of the great compound names giving to the Lord in the Old Testament is Jehovah [or Yahweh] Nissi, meaning the Lord is My Banner. When the Amalekites attacked Israel in the wilderness, the Lord gave the people the power to defeat them (Exod. 17:8-13). Afterward, the He promised to completely destroy the Amalekites (vs. 14). Claiming that promise, “Moses built an altar and called its name, ‘The-Lord-is-My-Banner,’ for he said, ‘Because the Lord has sworn: the Lord will have war with Amelek from generation to generation’” (Exod. 17:15-16).

In a passage that prophesies the coming of Israel’s Messiah-King, and the setting up of His earthly kingdom, the word “banner” is again applied to Him. “In that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him [“the nations will rally to Him,” NIV], and His resting place [His dwelling] shall be glorious” (Isa. 11:10).

It is easy to see how Daniel Whittle saw the cross of Christ in a similar way. The Lord Jesus said, “I, if I am lifted up, from the earth [on the cross], will draw all peoples to Myself” (Jn. 12:32). That is, not every single person without exception, but people from every tribe and tongue and nation will turn to Christ. The cross itself thus becomes a kind of banner, a rallying point, giving new hope, and motivating loyal service. “We preach Christ crucified,” says Paul. That is the Christian’s banner.

There’s a royal banner given for display
To the soldiers of the King;
As an ensign fair we lift it up today,
While as ransomed ones we sing.

Marching on, marching on,
For Christ count everything but loss!
And to crown Him King, we’ll toil and sing,
’Neath the banner of the cross!

Some, today, seem to feel that portraying the Christian life as involving warfare is not politically correct. All must be love, and caring for one another. Well, that is part of it too, of course. But the Bible is quite clear that we are in a battle, against Satan and his hosts, and the forces of evil in this world that are part of his weaponry.

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:10-13; cf. II Tim. 2:3-4).

The Apostle Paul challenged young Timothy to “Fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim. 6:12). And as he neared death, Paul was able to testify, “I have fought the good fight” (II Tim. 4:7). The question now is, will our testimony be the same?

Though the foe may rage and gather as the flood,
Let the standard be displayed;
And beneath its folds, as soldiers of the Lord,
For the truth be not dismayed!

For a detailed discussion of the armour God provides for each believer, see Christian Armour.

1) In what ways is the Christian life a spiritual war?

2) What does Scripture mean when it says, “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life” (II Tim.2:4)? How can the believer avoid this, and still live out his life on earth?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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