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Words: George Heath (b. Dec. 3, 1745; d. Feb. 23, 1822)
Music: Laban, by Lowell Mason (b. Jan. 8, 1792; d. Aug. 11:1872)
Note: Little is known of George Heath, and what is know is uncertain. In English Hymns: Their Authors and History (1886), Samuel Duffield describes him as “long untraced and unknown.” Regarding the date of his birth, Dick Adams writes in the Cyber Hymnal, “The majority of evidence shows Heath was born December 3, 1745,” though hymn historian Robert McCutchan says he was born in 1750. The Cyber Hymnal gives the date of his death as February 23. In the Wordwise Hymns link, I have his death the day before.
His theological position is as uncertain as the rest. He seems to have begun as an Independent clergyman. He then became the pastor of a Presbyterian church in 1770, only to be dismissed “for cause.” He then joined the Unitarians (who deny the deity of Christ). Perhaps he had some Unitarian leanings from the beginning that made his ministry incompatible with the Presbyterians.
Duffield, however, offers a gracious possibility. Since this, the only hymn we have of his in current use, was published in 1781, the author suggests that perhaps “this was one of the fruits of true penitence,” showing that he began to think more biblically on some major issues. Heath called his hymn simply “Steadfastness.”
In fencing, “En garde” is a warning to protect oneself. It means, take a defensive position, be prepared for the attack of your opponent. A similar readiness is a valuable asset for all of life. For over a century the Scout Motto has been, “Be prepared.” Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941), the founder of the movement, explained that this meant: “You are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.” That is an excellent principle to live by.
Do you remember the little poem about the disaster that can occur when even minor details are neglected.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
During World War II, those lines were framed and hung on the wall of the Anglo-American Supply Headquarters in London
Being prepared is an asset in the spiritual realm as well. The prophet Amos delivers the stark warning, “Prepare to meet your God” (Amos 4:12). Do those things before the day of accounting comes that will enable you to face the day of judgment with confidence. In sad contrast, we read of King Rehoboam that “he did not prepare his heart to seek the Lord” (II Chron. 12:14).
This implies that there is a window of opportunity for us to deal with our relationship with God. God’s grace and mercy are boundless, but not endless in the face of rejection. He will not leave the door open indefinitely. We are to “seek the LORD while He may be found, [and] call upon Him while He is near” (Isa. 55:6).
The matter of such preparedness is logically connected many times with the return of Christ. The Lord Jesus warned, “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect….”Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matt. 24:44; 25:13).
Meanwhile, the Bible exhorts that spiritual preparation be made to ward off the devil’s malicious attacks. Satan and his demonic minions are constantly at work against the people and purposes of God. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Pet. 5:8). Therefore, we are to “put on the whole armour of God, that [we] may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11; cf. vs. 14-17).
CH-1) My soul, be on thy guard;
Ten thousand foes arise;
The hosts of sin are pressing hard
To draw thee from the skies.
CH-2) O watch, and fight, and pray;
The battle ne’er give o’er;
Renew it boldly every day,
And help divine implore.
It is a cautionary word, a challenge to spiritual watchfulness and steadfastness that all of us would do well to heed. The words of the Lord Jesus come to mind: “What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mk. 13:37). Be prepared!
CH-3) Ne’er think the victory won,
Nor lay thine armour down;
The work of faith will not be done,
Till thou obtain the crown.
CH-4) Fight on, my soul, till death
Shall bring thee to thy God;
He’ll take thee, at thy parting breath,
To His divine abode.
1) Is the tone of this hymn encouraging or overly negative in your view?
2) Depending on the view you take, what truths would you clarify, or give more emphasis than the hymn does?