Posted by: rcottrill | January 30, 2012

Onward Christian Soldiers

Words: Sabine Baring-Gould (b. Jan. 28, 1834; d. Jan. 2, 1924)
Music: St. Gertrude, by Arthur Seymour Sullivan (b. May 13, 1832; d. Nov. 22, 1900)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The original hymn had six stanzas. The now little-used CH-4 is included below for interest, but its obscure phrasing and lack of smooth poetic flow are likely the reason hymn books now leave it behind. Many seem to use four of the other five, varying between including CH-2 or CH-5.

CH-4) What the saints established, that I hold for true.
What the saints believèd, that I believe too.
Long as earth endureth, men the faith will hold,
Kingdoms, nations, empires, in destruction rolled.

The line in CH-3, “We are not divided, all one body we,” has been criticized many times. The church is hardly united, in practical terms. As the note in the Wordwise Hymns link indicates Baring-Gould himself tried to change the line, but failed. He was well aware of the divisions in the church at large. But he didn’t have that in mind when he wrote the hymn. In any event, the line is true if we are speaking of the spiritual body of Christ. “There is one body” (Eph. 4:4).

It seems as though the church militant is unpopular theme today. Everything is love and togetherness in some circles. Many aren’t happy unless they are dumbing down doctrine, and increasing the entertainment value of their services, so that sinners can feel right at home. Well, it is one thing to give a warm welcome to all who come, but this seems rather like the tail wagging the dog.

In any case, the Bible says enough about Christian warfare to assure us that this and other such songs in our hymnody are quite appropriate. In America, phrases in this hymn have been unfairly co-opted by the religious right, but the Bible (and hymns such as this one) aren’t talking about politics. They’re describing an ongoing battle with an evil kingdom headed by Satan. However, it is quite true that Satan will use human agents to oppose us.

In church doctrine and policies, unity at all costs is not a viable option. Nor is it in our individual walk. The Lord Jesus warned, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34; and see vs. 35-37). Therefore, we are urged:

“Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour 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 armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:10-13).

As the apostle urged young Timothy, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (II Tim. 2:3-4). Paul’s testimony, near the end of his life, was, “I have fought the good fight” (II Tim. 4:7). It was a battle that he exhorted others to join. “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare” (I Tim. 1:18).

CH-1) Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

CH-2) At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.

1) There are times when we can and should avoid conflict (Rom. 12:18). What limits would you place on this?

2) What harm do you think is being done by those who claim to be spiritual pacifists, willing to make peace at all costs?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal<


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