Posted by: rcottrill | February 14, 2014

Fling Out the Banner

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Words: George Washington Doane (b. May 27, 1799; d. Apr. ___, 1859)
Music: Waltham (or Calkin), by John Baptiste Calkin (b. Mar. 16, 1827; d. May 15, 1905)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Notes: Doane was an Episcopal (Anglican) college professor and a pastor. He was christened George Washington Doane, as he was born in the year America’s beloved first president died. After 1832, he served as the bishop of New Jersey, for the Protestant Episcopal Church, and he helped to found St. Mary’s School in that state. The school is still in existence as a private school for children up to the twelfth grade. They continue to use a beautiful evening hymn by Dr. Doane, Softly Now the Light of Day.

In 1848, at the request of the students, Doane produced another song for the flag raising of the school, the present hymn called Fling Out the Banner. For him the flag became a symbol of the gospel. Because of his keen interest in foreign missions, he was known as “The Missionary Bishop of America.” He incorporated that theme in the new song, and called it “The Banner of the Cross,” though that title is now generally given to another gospel song by D. W. Whittle.

The tune by John Calkin was composed for Doane’s words. One further point: The Cyber Hymnal, for some reason, transposes the second and third stanzas. The usual order I’ve seen is: CH-1, 3, 2, etc.

Dr. Doane’s son wrote of his father:

“My father’s poetical writings were simple necessities. He could not help them. His heart was so full of song, it oozed out in his conversation, in his sermons, in everything that he did….With his heart so full of it, nothing ever touched it but it pressed some out.” (The Gospel in Hymns, pp. 484-485)

Of this particular hymn, David R. Breed wrote, in 1903, in his book The History and Use of Hymns and Hymn Tunes:

“What can be more stirring, more ringing, than these triumphant notes. Surely the missionary spirit–the spirit of the widest evangelization, is not subsiding while such triumphant notes are sounded….If this hymn has not been assigned the first rank among missionary hymns it is because it has been strangely overlooked” ( p. 205).

CH-1) Fling out the banner! let it float
Skyward and seaward, high and wide;
The sun that lights its shining folds,
The cross, on which the Saviour died.

B anners are spoken a number of times in the Bible. David declared, “We will rejoice in your salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners” (Ps. 20:5). And when the Lord called for judgment to fall on the Babylonians, He declared, “Lift up a banner on the high mountain” (Isa. 13:1-2). When a young peasant woman from the hills of Ephraim was married to King Solomon, she testified, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love” (S. of S. 2:4). Solomon, in turn, compared the beauty and majesty of his beloved to “an army with banners” (6:4, 10).

When the Messiah’s coming is promised in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah says He will “stand as a banner [or ensign] to the people” (Isa. 11:10). And Psalm 60:4 says, “You have given a banner [a rallying flag] to those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of the truth [i.e. when it is realized the enemy is approaching].” It is not difficult to see an application of this text to the Person of Christ, and to His cross. He and His Calvary work are the Christian’s rallying point. As the Apostle Paul says, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).

There are some skillful poetic phrases and pertinent allusions in Dr. Doane’s hymn. For example, in CH-3 we see angels that “vainly seek to comprehend the wonders of the love divine,” something that Peter speaks of in his first epistle (I Pet. 1:10-12). “Nations crowding to be born” is a colourful phrase, and it perhaps represents Doane’s nearness to the birth of America, in the years before his birth.

The lines about sin sick souls touching in faith the radiant hem of the banner, and receiving eternal life (CH-4) alludes to the healing of the woman with a chronic bleeding problem. She touched the fringe of Christ’s garment in faith, and found physical healing (Lk. 8:43-48), just as the act of faith today, in looking to the cross, brings spiritual healing.

Conquering in the sign of the cross (CH-6) is a historical allusion to the emperor Constantine. Before the battle of the Milvian Bridge near Rome (AD 312), the emperor claimed (whether true or not) that he had seen a cross, blazing in the sky, with the words “In hoc signo vinces” (By this sign thou shalt conquer). He became, at least in name, a Christian emperor. Doane makes a more powerful point with this, insisting that the power of the gospel lies in the saving work of the cross, not in the skill, might, or merit of the evangelist (cf. I Cor. 2:1-5; Gal. 6:14).

CH-6) Fling out the banner! wide and high,
Seaward and skyward, let it shine;
Nor skill, nor might, nor merit ours;
We conquer only in that sign.

1) What other symbols are connected with the gospel in the Bible or in our hymns?

2) What, in your view, are the best of our missionary hymns?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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