THE SON OF GOD GOES FORTH TO WAR
Reginald Heber, 1783–1826
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)
This text was written in 1812 by Reginald Heber, an important 19th century Anglican church hymn writer. Heber wrote it especially for use on St. Stephen’s Day, which occurs the first day after Christmas. On this day the liturgical churches honor the memory of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
The hymn’s first stanza portrays Christ as the leader of a great army going forth to win His kingly crown. The challenge is given: “Who follows in His train?” The response: Those who demonstrate that they can bear the cross patiently here below.
The second stanza reminds us of Stephen’s martyrdom. The scriptural account tells us that Stephen saw Jesus “standing at God’s right hand,” with Stephen praying for his murderers, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:54–60).
The third stanza refers to the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given to “the chosen few.” The verse then reminds us of the twelve apostles and their martyrdom for the sake of the gospel. The final stanza is a picture in heaven of the noble martyrs throughout the ages before God’s throne—men, boys, matrons, maids—dressed in robes of white.
The Son of God goes forth to war, a kingly crown to gain: His blood-red banner streams afar: Who follows in His train? Who best can drink His cup of woe, (Christ’s suffering on the cross) triumphant over pain? Who patient bears His cross below, he follows in His train.
The martyr first, whose eagle eye could pierce beyond the grave, who saw His Master in the sky and called on Him to save—Like Him, with pardon on his tongue in midst of mortal pain, he prayed for them that did the wrong: Who follows in his train?
A glorious band, the chosen few on whom the Spirit came, twelve valiant saints, their hope they knew, and mocked the cross and flame—They met the tyrant’s brandished steel, the lion’s gory mane. They bowed their necks the death to feel: Who follows in their train?
A noble army, men and boys, the matron and the maid, around the Savior’s throne rejoice, in robes of light arrayed—They climbed the steep ascent of heav’n thru peril, toil and pain: O GOD, TO US MAY GRACE BE GIVEN TO FOLLOW IN THEIR TRAIN!
For Today: Ephesians 6:10–20; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:3, 4
Let this musical statement be your response of faith—