The Battle Hymn of the Republic

Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:34-36).

As we enter another Fourth of July in the US I reflect back on a time of great conflict and turmoil, the American civil war. Growing up in the twentieth century south I didn’t fully understand why it was most important for the Union (still United States) to prevail. I enjoyed my southern heritage; in fact I still do, mostly. The song Dixie brings a smile to my face. Yet, I am not proud that slavery of people was used or condoned to make some men rich.

So amidst the inhumane conflict of slave versus free arose turmoil. As we know a civil war erupted. Great suffering and death followed for over four years as the Confederate states waged war against the Union. Both armies had marching songs, fight songs too. Such is now, almost a coincidence, The Battle Hymn of the Republic came about during the early party of the war to go on to be the most enduring song of the Union. Some people today say America is not a Christian nation. Perhaps it is not today but listening to the lyrics of The Battle Hymn of the Republic I have no doubt that the united United States exhibited and rested on Christian ideas in 1861. Have we forsaken those footings? Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people (Prov 14:34).

The Battle Hymn of the Republic was sung by an army fighting to make men free on earth. The Union did! But the hymn also tells about Christ defeating the serpent do that we can be free from sun. How eloquent the words are. This phrase from the second verse is a direct paraphrase from Genesis 3:15: Let the hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel. The third verse calls us to repent, so that we may be set free from the slavery of sin. For all (you and me, everyone) have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved, freed (Rom 10:13).

Julia Ward Howe penned the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic in November 1861 and set to a popular tune written around 1856 by William Steffe; this tune had been (and continued to be) used for another Union march song, John Brown’s Body. We see which song survived 150 years later. The history of The Battle Hymn of the Republic is fascinating; read about it here as well as a discussion of Biblical references related to the hymn. Happy Independence Day America!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.


I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contempters, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.”


He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.


In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die
(modern version says live) to make men free,
While God is marching on


Source: King James Version of the Bible

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