522. Onward, Christian Soldiers

1 Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal master, leads against the foe;
forward into battle see his banners go!

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus going on before.

2 Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
let us boldly follow where the saints have trod.
We are not divided; all one body we
one in hope and doctrine, one in charity. Refrain

3 Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
but the church of Jesus constant will remain;
gates of hell can never 'gainst that church prevail.
We have Christ's own promise, and that cannot fail. Refrain

4 Onward, then, O people, join our happy throng:
blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
Glory, laud, and honor unto Christ the King,
we through countless ages with the angels sing. Refrain

Text Information
First Line: Onward, Christian soldiers
Title: Onward, Christian Soldiers
Author: Sabine Baring-Gould (1865, alt.)
Refrain First Line: Onward, Christian soldiers
Meter: 65 65 D with refrain
Language: English
Publication Date: 1987
Scripture: ; ;
Topic: Cross of Christ; Reformation; Warfare, Spiritual (5 more...)
Tune Information
Composer: Arthur S. Sullivan (1871)
Meter: 65 65 D with refrain
Key: E♭ Major

Text Information:

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Deut. 31: 6
1 Tim. 6:12
st. 2 = Eph. 4:4
st. 3 = Matt. 16:18

Sabine Baring-Gould (b. Exeter, England, 1834; d. Lew Trenchard, England, 1924), curate of a mission church at Horbury Bridge, Yorkshire, England, wrote this text in 1864 for a children's Pentecost Sunday procession. Baring-Gould said the following about his writing of the text:

For a Whitsuntide [Pentecost] procession it was arranged that our school should join forces with that of a neighboring village. I wanted the children to sing when marching from one village to another, but couldn't think of anything quite suitable, so I sat up at night and resolved to write something myself. "Onward, Christian Soldiers" was the result. It was written in great haste. . . . I am certain that nothing surprised me more than its popularity.

Entitled "Hymn for Procession with Cross and Banners," the text was published in The Church Times (Oct. 15, 1864) in six stanzas and refrain. His stanzas 1, 3, 5-6 are included with small alterations.

As indicated in the refrain, "Onward, Christian Soldiers" is a processional hymn with a cross as the head of the procession (see also 373). It is also a children's hymn; the line in stanza 2 “We are not divided; all one body we” initially referred simply to the children from the several villages (the hymn obviously does not provide a realistic analysis of church unity on a larger scale). And "Onward, Christian Soldiers" is clearly a nineteenth-century text that reveals some of the British triumphalism of that era. Its martial imagery, though drawn from biblical texts such as Ephesians 6:10-18, has often been misinterpreted as militaristic. Thus various opinions exist about the modem usefulness of this text. All agree, however, that stanza 3, which quotes Jesus' promise in Matthew 16:18, is the hymn's finest verse.

Baring-Gould is remembered today especially for this hymn, though he was also the author of some eighty volumes, including books about travel, popular theology, and English folk songs. Educated at Clare College, Cambridge, England, he was a curate and rector in the Church of England. He inherited a large estate but married a mill-hand girl after paying for her education. Many of his hymns were written for the children of his congregations, often for their marches around the village in procession with crosses and banners. Baring-Gould compiled several collections of folk songs, which were an important part of the English folk-music movement, including Songs and Ballads of the West (1889-1891) and A Garland of Country Song (1894).

Liturgical Use:
Services dealing with spiritual warfare, with greatest emphasis on stanzas 3 and 4.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Tune Information:

The popularity of this hymn is partly due to ST. GERTRUDE, the marching tune that Arthur S. Sullivan (PHH 46) composed for this text. The tune was published in the Musical Times of December 1871 in an advertisement for Joseph Barnby's (PHH 438) forthcoming Hymnary, which published both text and tune in 1872. ST. GERTRUDE is named for Gertrude Clay-Ker-Seymer, at whose home in Hanford, Dorsetshire, England, Sullivan composed the tune.

Though some will want to sing the instrumental-style harmony, try singing in unison. Be sure to sing lightly in the manner of children's voices (not like Sherman tanks!).

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

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