Hymn History: “Sound the Battle Cry”

2 min

BOOM! Some of the soldiers froze, staring skyward as another shrapnel-filled cannonball shot across the battlefield and exploded midair! The noise was deafening. Metal shards flew through the air! Amidst the confusion, the alert commander simultaneously tracked the enemy’s movement while strategically positioning his own army. Suddenly, he shouted, “Forward, men!” Lifting high his silver sword gleaming in the sunlight, he sounded the battle cry!

Surprised, the enemy began retreating! With renewed vigor, the attacking army advanced. The men were fully convinced that victory was theirs! 

Several years after the American Civil War ended, a new hymn was written that reminded Christians of a different war still being waged. The hymn’s writer, William F. Sherwin, was born in 1826 in Massachusetts. As a young man, he had studied under the famous composer Lowell Mason. Later, Mr. Sherwin taught at the New England Conservatory of Music. He was also a voice instructor and congregational music director who had become known for his hymn-writing abilities. The rallying new hymn, “Sound the Battle Cry,” was one of his many works. 

In this particular hymn, Mr. Sherwin focused on the spiritual warfare Christians face. The words urge believers to give up comfortable, passive living to instead be alert and ready to engage in spiritual battle for Christ’s Kingdom. The lyrics parallel the Apostle Paul’s description of the Christian’s spiritual combat. Mr. Sherwin’s hymn exhorts believers: “Gird your armor on, Stand firm . . . upon His holy Word.” His words echo Paul’s in Ephesians chapter six, declaring the importance of alertness, which is “being aware of that which is taking place around me so that I can have the right response to it.” 

Mr. Sherwin lived in obedience to God’s leading, willing to be a soldier for Christ and to fight the good fight. His musical training equipped him for a vibrant outreach movement that met yearly at the beautiful Lake Chautauqua (shuh-TAW-kwuh) in upper New York.
Due to his extraordinary talent in organizing and leading amateur chorus groups, Mr. Sherwin was selected to serve as the first music director at the Chautauqua Assembly camp meetings. His adept conducting yielded
melodious music from enthusiastic but untrained thousands who attended. Many people were drawn to hear the speakers and musicians at the meetings, which offered religious education and cultural enrichment. At its peak, this influential movement sponsored concerts and lectures throughout the nation. President Theodore Roosevelt called it “the most American thing in America.” Using his talents for Christ in the Chautauqua movement was one way Mr. Sherwin encouraged believers in the spiritual battle for Christ. 

Are you alert to the spiritual battle going on? Is your armor on? Stand firm on God’s Word and sing wholeheartedly “Sound the Battle Cry”!

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