Posted by: rcottrill | August 27, 2018

Am I a Soldier of the Cross?

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Words: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: Arlington, by Thomas Augustine Arne (b. Mar. 12, 1710; d. Mar. 5, 1778)

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The Cyber Hymnal currently uses a tune by Ira Sankey for this hymn, which includes a refrain. Much more common is the use of Thomas Arne’s tune Arlington, taken from his 1762 opera Artaxerxes.

In Canada, compulsory military service (conscription) was a debated issue in both the First and Second World Wars. Some felt Canadians had no responsibility for what was happening “over there.” Nonetheless, eventually a law was passed, and Canadian citizens were compelled to serve in both wars. The United States has had conscription, known commonly as the draft, in every major conflict since the Revolutionary War.

And what of the spiritual realm? Satan’s long war against the Almighty began when he coveted the throne of God for himself (Isa. 14:12-15). Thwarted in his evil aspirations, he has focused his malice on this world, and man, the crown of the Lord’s earthly creation. He seduced our first parents in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-6), and their sin has brought calamity on all who followed them.

Satan, also known as the devil, determined to enslave and destroy us all, but the Lord provided a means of deliverance. God the Son took on our humanity, and died to take upon Himself the punishment for our sins. Through faith in Christ our Saviour, we are spiritually reborn into the family of God (Jn. 1:12-13). Our sins are forgiven, and we receive the gift of eternal life (Jn. 3:16: Eph. 1:7). We’re turned “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18).

That is the Christian gospel (I Cor. 15:1-4). And “behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (I Jn. 3:1). However, though the devil has lost us as his slaves, he continues to war against us. “Your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Pet. 5:8).

“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. 6:12-13).

Against the enemy we are to wield “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (vs. 17). “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12).

We are in a battle, a titanic struggle against a powerful enemy. To put it plainly, all believers have been conscripted into the army of the Lord.

“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).

The Apostle Paul was able to say, at the end of his life, “I have fought a good fight…I have kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:7). But what about each of us who is a believer, yet is not doing our part? To use a modern term, are we draft dodgers, as far as the spiritual conflict is concerned?

In the words of pastor and hymn writer Isaac Watts, “Thou must meet this adversary [Satan] shortly, O my soul. Labour therefore daily to get courage and victory.” To accompany a sermon on First Corinthians 16:13 (“Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.”), Dr. Watts wrote the following hymn. It asks some challenging questions!

CH-1) Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?

CH-2) Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?

CH-3) Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?

CH-4) Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the cross, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.

Dr. Watt’s original word in line 3 of the fourth stanza was likely “cross” (as I have it) rather than “toil”–which is more common today. And using the word cross certainly ties in with his original question: “Am I a soldier of the cross.”

He also wrote two more stanzas which aren’t used today. They bring the battle on to a heavenly victory scene.

5) The saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
And seize it with their eye.

6) When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine,
In robes of vict’ry through the skies,
The glory shall by Thine.

1) What is your answer to the penetrating questions of this hymn?

2) What does the line “Supported by Thy Word” mean in practical terms?

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Wonderful, rich meditation. The second and third stanzas really grabbed me. There is a battle, true enough. We know this to be true. To the extent we aren’t experiencing the daily reality of the struggle, to that extent we are blind and need to appeal to our King for eyes to see and a heart willing to speedily respond.

    I am a new visitor to your blog. I see it’s been many faithful years. I appreciate that and encouraged to find this site. Thank you and please continue the fight. 🙂

    • Great to hear from another “soldier of the cross.” I’ve been studying hymns and gospel songs for over 50 years now. They continue to come to mind and bless me, day after day. Thanks for getting in touch.


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