Posted by: rcottrill | August 17, 2016

“Forward” Be Our Watchword

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Words: Henry Alford (b. Oct. 7, 1810; d. Jan. 12, 1871)
Music: Forward (or Smart), by Henry Thomas Smart (b. Oct. 26, 1813; d. July 6, 1879)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Henry Alford)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Henry Alford was Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, a great Greek scholar, and a hymn writer. He gave us Come, Ye Thankful People, Come, and Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand, the latter being a wonderful description of the victorious saints in heaven.

The dean was asked to write a processional hymn for the Tenth Choral Festival of the massed choirs of the Canterbury Diocese, and he did so–but not without difficulty. He sent in a hymn, and it was returned, with a note saying the poetry was fine, but the rhythm wasn’t suitable for marching. The suggestion was made that the dean go into the cathedral, walk slowly down the aisle the procession was to take, and compose a hymn as he did so! Apparently, that worked.

Picture the spectacle of about a thousand choristers coming in procession into the great Cathedral, singing Dean Alford’s hymn. It took a full half hour for them all to process in, and it must have been a stirring sight and sound! (Henry Alford died before the event, so he never got to witness it.)

For army troops, commands such as the old “Charge!” or “Forward march!” mean they are to go onward immediately, to move ahead, to advance or progress from where they are.

There may be difficulties and dangers to be confronted, battles to be fought, obstacles to overcome, but on they go. Of course, sometimes there is a retreat. But that’s not always a sign of failure. It may be strategic and temporary, for the sake of defense. regrouping, or drawing the enemy into an ambush (cf. Josh. 8:3-7).

A well-trained army will instantly follow the order given to advance. They’re not asked to take a vote on whether they think what the commander asks of them is a good idea. But there have been times when foolish orders or faulty reconnaissance have led to a tragic loss of life.

During the Crimean War, in the Battle of Balaclava (1854), British light cavalry, armed with swords, were ordered to charge a Russian emplacement of heavy artillery, a fatal mistake. In 1876, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn (popularly called Custer’s Last Stand), Lieutenant Colonel George Custer led his troops into an engagement based on wrong information about the strength of the enemy he faced. Both incidents led to overwhelming defeat and death.

Soldiers are trained to obey the orders of their commanding officer. But it’s a helpful thing, before enlisting, to learn something of the principles and goals that form the basis of what the troops will be called upon to do. And to know something about the quality of those in command.

Apply that to the Christian life. The Bible is quite clear that we’re in a spiritual war against Satan, and against this evil world system that he controls. Our Commander is the Lord (Col. 3:24). The Apostle Paul says, of Him, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able” (II Tim. 1:12).

Against error and corruption, we are to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). We’re to be “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might….and “take up the whole armour of God, that [we] may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:10, 13).

Paul himself set an example for others, saying, “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). And his testimony, near the end of his life was, “I have fought the good fight…I have kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:7).

There are Old Testament examples too, of God’s “Forward march!” When Moses led the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, they were pursued by Pharaoh’s chariots, and seemed to be trapped on the shores of the Red Sea. But God commanded, “Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (Exod. 14:15). Then, in a mighty miracle, the Lord opened up the sea before them, and they escaped. Then the returning waters drowned the Egyptians (Exod. 14:13-29).

CH-1) Forward! be our watchword, steps and voices joined;
Seek the things before us, not a look behind;
Burns the fiery pillar at our army’s head;
Who shall dream of shrinking, by our Captain led?
Forward through the desert, through the toil and fight;
Jordan flows before us; Zion beams with light.

CH-2) Forward! When in childhood buds the infant mind;
All through youth and manhood not a thought behind;
Speed through realms of nature, climb the steps of grace;
Faint not, till in glory, gleams our Father’s face.
Forward, all the lifetime, climb from height to height,
Till the head be hoary, till the eve be light.

CH-5) Far o’er yon horizon rise the city towers
Where our God abideth; that fair home is ours:
Flash the streets with jasper, shine the gates with gold;
Flows the gladdening river shedding joys untold.
Thither, onward, thither, in the Spirit’s might;
Pilgrims to your country, forward into light!

Questions:
1) What did the Lord mean when He said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:62)?

2) What does it mean in practical terms to focus our attention forward, and not keep looking back on the past?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Henry Alford)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org


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