Let’s Talk About: Favorite Hymn

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 banner go!

Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war.

With the cross of Jesus going on before. 

I’d bet that most every 19th century hymnal, Catholic or Protestant, carried this beloved hymn. I’d bet that many of my ancestors and yours loudly sang these lyrics.

The words were written by Sabine Baring-Gould (1832-1924)q`, a Roman Catholic priest, in 1865 to be a processional for children walking from the church were he was curate to a nearby church in Yorkshire. “It was written on great haste,” Baring-Gould related, “and I am afraid that come of the lines are faulty.” 

The song/hymn became popular after the lyrics were put to the music of Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) in 1870. 

The hymn has been associated with war: soldiers going to war, beginning with the Civil War (as shown in John Paul Strain’s painting). In 1912, presidential candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, included this song and said his party was “going to battle for the Lord.”

When Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met in August 1941 on the battleship HMS Prince of Wales to agree to the Atlantic Charter, Churchill chose this hymn for their onboard church service. 

As I energetically sing that hymn today, I do imagine my forebears belting it out with gusto. Bet yours did too. 

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