Onward, Christian Soldiers
Sabine Baring-Gould, 183A-19Z4
Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.
Catholics have a centuries-old tradition—teaching their children that they are Christian soldiers. Commissioned to defend the faith.To stand firm in the face of opposition.To join the long procession of kingdom witnesses marching behind the cross, under the banner of Christ.
As a fourth-grader, Beth was sobered by the church's challenge—and by her older sister's exaggerated warning of Beth's upcoming confirmation service: "The bishop smacks you. Don't worry about it, but you've got to be ready."
Actually, says Beth, the bishop simply laid a light hand on her cheek—a symbol of a formerly formidable slap, itself a symbolic reminder of the opposition a believer could expect. As a sobered soldier, says Beth, "I knew I had a job to do; I had to uphold the faith."
Though Beth is no longer a Catholic, the bishop's underlying message stuck. Beth's significant hymn—to this day? "Onward, Christian Soldiers."
Militaristic metaphors of the church are out of fashion. And in this day of political polarity, one might be wise to use the biblical army images with discretion, lest we be justifiably accused of reckless sniping and pillage. And yet as a church---as believers—we do have enemies to wage war against; using spiritual armor and gear that "are not the weapons of the world" (2 Corinthians 10:4), we are to fight "not against flesh and blood, but against ... the spiritual forces of evil" (Ephesians 6:12). And we do well to teach and show our children that the Christian faith is full of paradox. Yes, we are sheep safely grazing under the watchful eye of the Good Shepherd. At the same time we are called to choose whom we will serve; we are called to bear witness to our allegiance to the King of Kings. I think Sabine Baring-Gould, an Anglican pastor serving his first year at his first church—the small wool-mill town of Horbury Bridge,Yorkshire—must have understood the mysteries. For his parish children he wrote the assuring, lulling "Now the Day Is Over" and the rousing "Onward, Christian Soldiers." Baring-Gould, a prolific writer, left us his own account of the origins of his marching processional, originally sung—in May 1864—not to "our" tune but to the then-familiar theme of the slow movement of Haydn's Symphony in D. One Whitmonday it was arranged that our school should join its forces with that of a neighboring village. I wanted the children to sing when marching from one village to the other, but couldn't think of anything quite suitable, so I sat up at night resolved to write something myself. "Onward, Christian Soldiers" was the result. It was written in great haste. Certainly nothing has surprised me more than its popularity. Whitmonday? Translation please? Let's start with Whit-sun, a Britishism for Pentecost; as a concession to the cold weather, in northern England, Easter baptisms were postponed fifty days until "White Sunday," so called because of the white robes worn by the new converts. The holiday lasted through Monday (Whitmonday orWhitmon).
And in Yorkshire, the holy day was the occasion for an annual "procession of witness": Children paraded the streets. Following a leader lifting high a cross. Carrying banners that made their allegiance evident to the wider community.
Christ, the royal Master,
Leads against the foe; Forward into battle,
See his banners go!
Several stanzas of Baring-Gould's warhorse are forgettable, but bis finale stands still as an invitation to all—young or old—to accept the commission, to spread the Good News, to join the procession of kingdom witnesses. Maybe marching, fighting, sobered here and now. For a season. But surely not for long. Come along. Fall in. Forward, march.
Onward then ye people, Join our happy throng; Blend with ours your voices, In the triumph song; "Glory, laud, and honor, Unto Christ the King!" This through countless ages Men and angels sing. . . .
With the cross of Jesus Going on before.
From the book "Spiritual Moments with the Great Hymns" by Evelyn Bence
I BELIEVE THIS HYMN SHOULD BE A PART OF THE HYMNAL OF THE CHURCH OF GOD, SABBATH KEEPERS. BUT I ADD THE WORDS "WITH THE CROSS OF JESUS" BE CHANGED TO "WITH THE WORD OF JESUS." THE SOLDIER OF CHRIST CARRIES HIS WORD; HIS ENTIRE LIFE, NOT JUST HIS DEATH, THAT THE CROSS WOULD SIGNIFY TO MOST PEOPLE. THE WORD OF JESUS SIGNIFIES WHAT HE TAUGHT AND DIED FOR, AND WAS RAISED UP AGAIN FOR.....IT IS THE COMPLETE JESUS; LIFE, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION.