Onward, Christian Soldiers

Words by Sabine Baring-Gould; music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, 1865–71

What are some metaphors used in this song? List the metaphors that use war terminology. What actions are "Christian soldiers" being urged to take?

Why might the reformers during this era see themselves as fighting a battle? One group, in particular adapted military images: how did the Salvation Army use the "army" and "war" metaphors? What battles did they fight? What "weapons" did they use?

What "battles" were some of the other reformers—settlement house workers, temperance workers, suffragettes, or labor and farm organizers—fighting? What "weapons" did they use in their work? What are some of the "victories" they won? In what battles were they defeated? Which movements were motivated by religion? What were some of the other motives of the reformers?

This song has gone out of favor now. Why don't churches use it as much now as they did sixty or seventy years ago? What events happened since then that might have change perceptions of this song? Vietnam, holy wars in the Mideast.

When people today want to reform something in society, how do they go about it? Which strategies from 100 years ago are still used today? What are some new strategies people use?

"Onward Christian Soldiers" performed by an unidentified vocal group accompanied by band.

This song was often arranged for band and highlighted by brass to emphasize its military aspects. This is an Edison recording made pre-1924.

View the lyrics for "Onward Christian Soldiers."

View the published score.

Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould
Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould

The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (1834–1924) maintained a parish in West Devon, England, but was also a notable collector of English folk songs. A prolific writer, he is credited with over 211 publications, including fiction and non-fiction.

Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900) is best known for his comic operas produced in collaboration with W. S. Gilbert. Born in London, Sullivan demonstrated prodigious musical talent at an early age, including an ability to play several instruments and sing with great skill. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and also in Germany, learning traditional compositional techniques at the Leipzig Conservatory of Music. Sullivan began his career by composing serious works, such as oratorios, symphonies, and other orchestral pieces. He wrote several short hymns and songs, the most well-known of which are "The Lost Chord" and "Onward, Christian Soldiers." Although Sullivan endeavored to make a name for himself through the composition of serious music, it was the lighthearted music of his collaborations with Gilbert that ultimately made him famous. Consistently described as academic and uninspired, his attempts at classical genres are rarely performed. It was ultimately his operatic fame that prompted Queen Victoria to knight Sullivan in 1879.

Baring-Gould originally entitled this song "Hymn for Procession with Cross and Banners," and it is still listed among processional pieces in hymnals. The Salvation Army, one of many reform movements of this era, played stirring songs like these to marshal support of their social agenda.

Vote on a social "ill" that students want to "fight." Make a "battle plan" and create or adapt a song to rally support for your cause.


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