Onward, Christian Soldiers

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Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war

Author: S. Baring-Gould
Songs of Response
Published in 1636 hymnals

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Representative Text

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 banner go!

Onward, Christian soldiers,
marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
going on before!

2 At the sign of triumph
Satan's host doth flee;
On, then, Christian soldiers,
on to victory!
Hell's foundations quiver
at the shout of praise;
Brothers, lift your voices,
loud your anthems raise! [Refrain]

3 Like a mighty army
moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading
where the saints have trod;
We are not divided;
all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine,
one in charity. [Refrain]

4 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 thro' countless ages
men and angels sing. [Refrain]

Baptist Hymnal, 1991

Author: S. Baring-Gould

Baring-Gould, Sabine, M.A., eldest son of Mr. Edward Baring-Gould, of Lew Trenchard, Devon, b. at Exeter, Jan. 28, 1834, and educated at Clare College, Cambridge, B.A. 1857, M.A. 1860. Taking Holy Orders in 1864, he held the curacy of Horbury, near Wakefield, until 1807, when he was preferred to the incumbency of Dalton, Yorks. In 1871 he became rector of East Mersea, Essex, and in 1881 rector of Lew Trenchard, Devon. His works are numerous, the most important of which are, Lives of the Saints, 15 vols., 1872-77; Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, 2 series, 1866-68; The Origin and Development of Religious Belief, 2 vols., 1869-1870; and various volumes of sermons. His hymns, original and translated, appeared in the Church Times; Hymns Ancien… Go to person page >

Text Information

First Line: Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war
Title: Onward, Christian Soldiers
Author: S. Baring-Gould
Meter: D with refrain
Language: English
Copyright: Public Domain
Liturgical Use: Songs of Response


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, 1987



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…

Go to tune page >



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