Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hymn For The Week: Onward Christian Soldiers

Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them: for the Lord will be with you(2 Chronicles 20:17)

Onward Christian Soldiers

Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould was born in Exeter in 1834. His father an officer with the East India Company, had a disabling carriage accident and decided that if he couldn't work, he could at least travel. As a result, little Sabine was dragged from one end of Europe to the other, year after year. It gave him an unsettled childhood, spotty schooling, and a wanderlust he never outgrew. He later managed to scrape through Cambridge, but for the most part he is remembered as a brilliant, self-taught scholar. That helps explain why he developed certain eccentric habits. When he taught school, for example, he kept a pet on his shoulder.

From Sabine's original mind flowed an endless number of books, articles, poems, hymns, and tracts. This particular hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers," was written on a Whitsunday's evening in the mid-1960s. Whitsunday is better known as Pentecost Sunday. It got its "Nickname" because it became a popular day for new Christians to be baptized. The baptismal candidates marched to the rivers or fonts wearing robes of white. Thus it came to be called "White Sunday" or Whitsunday.

It was on this day in 1865, in the little town of Horbury, England, that Sabine stayed up late searching through hymnbooks for a martial-type hymn for children. The next day, Monday, all the village children were marching to the neighboring town for a Sunday School rally. Sabine wanted to give them a "marching song" for the trip. Searching his hymnals and finding with words, dashing off lines until he had written a hymn of his own just for the occasion:    Onward, Christian soldiers,/Marching as to war,.....

"It was written in great haste." he later said, "and I am afraid some of the rhymes are faulty. Certainly, nothing has surprised me more than its popularity."

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