Onward, Christian Soldiers

I decided a few years ago that I could no longer sing this hymn in good conscience, even though I always liked the music. Then, earlier this year, D Fletcher suggested that I rewrite it. Slowly, and with his able editorial assistance, I’ve done so. I decided that the hymn gets its theology of the cross all wrong, choosing the cross of Constantine and the Crusaders over Paul’s “scandalous” one. Thus, my rewrite owes quite a bit to 1 Corinthians, where Paul’s theology of the cross receives its best articulation.

Onward, Christian soldiers,
March in Jesus’ peace,
Bearing acts of mercy
‘Til oppression cease.
Christ our gentle Master
Leads us in the way;
With His grace upon us,
We’ll be kind today.

Chorus:
Onward, Christian soldiers,
March in Jesus’ peace,
Bearing acts of mercy
‘Til oppression cease.

This whole world in chaos,
Wounding every heart,
Calls to all God’s children:
“Do the Savior’s part!”
Seeing so much sorrow,
We have much to give:
On, then, Christian soldiers,
Love and let them live.
Chorus

From one loaf we’ve eaten,
Drunk the selfsame cup;
Called into one body,
Christ we’re raising up.
Honoring the weaker
Is our Christian care;
Let the cross’s scandal
Be our chosen share.
Chorus

Onward, then, dear neighbor:
Join our loving feast!
You’ll become our treasure,
Never counted least.
We will serve our Jesus,
Love His every child,
Caring for each other
‘Til we’re reconciled.
Chorus

Comments

  1. Oh, to God, this were our anthem!

  2. Spectacular! I echo Christian’s desire that this might be sung in Mormon wards around the globe. We’ll be singing it in family home evening and family devotionals for sure.

  3. Something interesting about this hymn that I didn’t learn until recently is that when Teddy Roosevelt ran in 1912 in the Bull Moose Party, he used “Onward, Christian Soldiers” as a song to rally support

  4. I do support the rewrite of this song, since I feel that it better supports the message that the Gospel has: love and unity in Christ.

  5. I’ve sung it and cried.

  6. Mike R. says:

    I love everything you added. Soldiers marching for peace, mercy, and an end to oppression seem incongruous to me — I’m not sure that’s what soldiers are best known for — but it’s the “soldiers” part from the original that I’m uncomfortable with, not your additions. I’m glad you got rid of the whole “going to war, led by the cross” imagery.

  7. Jason K. says:

    In my initial draft, I dropped “soldiers” and replaced it with “children,” but D rightly pointed out that the music is a march. I think that preserving some of the original is necessary to the overall effect.

  8. Michelle M says:

    I like how it keeps the original soldiers and reframes them as well… Kudos to you on what was surely a labor of love. If someone with more musical talent than I were to record it, I’d put it on repeat- please post a link. As it is, I’ll begin learning it to be a lullaby for my 2 year old. He’s become quite good at several obscure hymns I’ve taught him (Mormon and non-) and I think this will be a lovely addition to his repertoire. Thank you.

  9. D. Fletcher says:

    I thought that two things needed to be retained, the title “Onward Christian Soldiers” and the idea of “marching.” Does one march for peace? I think so.

  10. Jason K. says:

    MLK did.

  11. I’ve printed out the words and slipped them into my church bag. Now I can’t wait for the next time we sing it in church!

  12. Mike R. says:

    It’s certainly a march. Does one march for peace? I think so too. MLK marching for peace is exactly why I’m uncomfortable with “soldiers.” Marching for peace is something you can do without the violent, military metaphor. I guess taking “soldiers” out in favor of “people” or “children” or some other noun would screw with the title, but we’ve done that before. I have to think more about what Michelle M says about reframing or subverting, though…

  13. I like this rewrite. I still like the original, but I also agree that it gets the cross all wrong. I deal with that by re-purposing its imagery of warfare to myself as warfare against temptation and appetites, war against the weakness of the flesh.

  14. Jason K. says:

    Thanks, Mike. Fwiw, I consider this post more of a final workshop than a final draft, so I’m listening to your suggestions.

  15. D. Fletcher says:

    Just googled Soldiers for Peace, and found this:

    WHAT IS A PEACE SOLDIER
    A peace soldier is someone, anyone, who can activate awareness on those who abuse basic human rights. They are individuals who use education and understanding as their only weapons in generating a peaceful environment. They use their gifted skills, in music, medicine, sports, every area and possibility, to educate and bring peaceful change.

    Our nuclear bomb is love. Work with us in the explosion!

  16. Jason K. says:

    That’s awesome!

  17. Or “Soldier of Love”? :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXs0r47STuY

  18. Outstanding, Jason! Thanks so much for sharing this!

  19. love it. make it plural: oppressions?

  20. Jason K. says:

    I like the idea, but the s would get lost in singing, since the next word is “cease.”

  21. I really love this.

    Still, I don’t there’s anything inherently problematic in the original. BOTH banners make sense from a Christian standpoint.

    “The divine can mean no single quality, it must mean a group of qualities, by being champions of which in alternation, different men may all find worthy missions. Each attitude being a syllable in human nature’s total message, it takes the whole of us to spell the meaning out completely. So a “god of battles” must be allowed to be the god for one kind of person, a god of peace and heaven and home, the god for another.” – William James, Varieties of Religious Experience

  22. Jason K. says:

    I can agree with that.

  23. The military analogy for discipleship can be abused, but it has positive aspects. It can be useful, within certain limitations.

  24. the other Marie says:

    I wouldn’t have a particular problem using war/conflict as a spiritual metaphor for tearing down oppressive institutions, especially spiritually oppressive ones–think Jesus’s confrontational style with the Pharisees and Paul’s militaristic language–if I were confident that everyone in the church knew it was just a metaphor. But I do worry that the military-themed LDS hymns (of which there are more than a few) feed our generally pro-military church culture. That as we sing them we might start superimposing the spiritual war on the physical wars and thereby looking to justify more physical wars.

  25. D. Fletcher says:

    An army suggests an enemy. My chief complaint of the lyric of the original is this line: “Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;” Christ has a foe? I think Jason has wisely kept the word “soldiers,” as in “soldiering on,” continuing on the path of charity, for eternity.

  26. “My chief complaint of the lyric of the original is this line: “Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;” Christ has a foe?” Yes, Christ has a foe! Was that sarcasm that I missed?

    And just as Christ has a foe, that foe also has “soldiers” of his own who are just as opening and aware of their opposition to our cause.

    I liked that changes but also very much enjoy singing the original as well. I would never want to destroy or remove the war symbolism in the church/scriptures. Do we want to remove the whole armor of God? Or would we denigrate the “sword of the spirit” because the sword is a weapon? I liked this version. But I think the Stripling Warriors marched for peace and participated in a real war as well as a spiritual one.

  27. Jason K. says:

    I understand that war is a reality of our world, including spiritual war, but I consider it a lamentable one. I like your example of the Stripling Warriors fighting for peace. It sounds paradoxical, and it can open the door for unfortunate self-justification, but it can also serve as a corrective against letting war become an occasion for self-glorification in all its myriad forms.

  28. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I’ve always thought that the militaristic language and imagery within the Church was hard to tap into as a woman. Of course there are notable exceptions, but war has always been and still remains a predominantly male occupation. I appreciate this text, and can see in my mind’s eye a host of righteous women and children, tending to the wounded and weary. Well done.

  29. Jason K. says:

    “A host of righteous women and children.”

    YES.

  30. “I consider it a lamentable one” … sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn’t the violence that is lamentable, but the need for it. For instance, if a woman kills an intruder to protect her family then the violence isn’t lamentable, but the need for it is. This can scale up to cover WWII as well. The woman living in terror of an abusive spouse is lamentable; far more so than the one who uses violence to end the threat.

  31. Jason K. says:

    I agree with that.

  32. good soldier says:

    Maybe early verses could address the irony more directly, e.g.

    Onward Christian soldiers
    Seek no battlefield
    Nor resist an evil
    With a sword or shield
    Join the unarmed army
    With a flag unfurled
    Blazoned with words “Our kingdom
    Is not of this world.”

    Go thou Christian soldier
    With two smitten cheeks
    Give thy coat and cloak to
    Anyone who seeks
    Follow thine oppressor
    Not one mile but twain
    Love and heal thine enemies
    Then pray for them again.

    etc.

  33. Jason K. says:

    Sounds like a start on your own rewrite!

  34. Emily U says:

    I’m for keeping “soldiers.” I agree it goes with the music. I also agree that the original text is problematic and should no longer be sung. On the Sunday after the US started bombing Iraq in March, 2003, an unfortunate ward music director had chosen this hymn for sacrament meeting. Maybe some hearts soared with it, but others died just a little bit, unable to sing at the thought of Muslims dying at the hands of Christian soldiers.

    I would be thrilled if the next edition of the hymnal took the direction of many mainline protestant hymnals, included new texts to existing hymn tunes, and converted everything to gender-inclusive language. I’m not holding my breath, though.

  35. Jason K. says:

    Unfortunately, I have it from a reliable source that there will not be a new hymn book anytime soon. I’m with you, though.

  36. Seth R. says:

    Problem is – sometimes God actually does want you to fight a war and bring destruction upon certain enemies. You may not like it – but there it is.

    If you eliminate all mention of that from our theology – aside from being rather head-in-the-sand revisionist about our heritage – aren’t you kind of neutering the whole thing and damaging it’s ability to stand firm when war is actually needed?

    Focusing only on the kumbaya verses in the Bible, seems just a tad too convenient for sheltered middle-Americans who’ve never actually had to fight a real war.

  37. Jason K. says:

    See, I don’t think that God does want that. Sure, you can pull out your Old Testament verses commanding the Israelites to slaughter all the inhabitants of the land, but you’ll be hard pressed to find examples in the New Testament or in modern scripture advocating such a thing. The Nephites fight plenty of wars, but they’re defensive wars–never the result of a divine command to go and kill. Where they do go on the offensive, the text condemns them.

    Jesus said that the sign of our being his disciples is that we love one another, not that we slaughter infidels in his name. Christians have done that, to be sure, but I believe that they have blasphemed in doing so. Modern scripture even tells us that God weeps because we hate our own flesh. God weeps over the dead at Acre, the dead at Mountain Meadows, the dead at the Somme, the dead in Orlando, and the dead in Istanbul. So much killing, when the two great commandments both involve love. And the miscegenated infidel, incidentally, is your neighbor, whom you ought to love as yourself

    Are there times when fighting back is necessary? Probably so, although Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. Still, they are occasions to be lamented, not dignified with the patina of divine command. God weeps at them, and so should we.

  38. Seth R. says:

    See, I don’t really think the original hymn is the sort of thing that has to be read as approving of wars of aggression.

    For the record, I do happen to think God wishes we had the spine to go die for his children in Syria right now. And I don’t think he’d disagree with killing quite a few evil people over there.

    But as John Stuart Mill said:

    “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

  39. Jason K. says:

    The imagery of the original hymn derives from the Crusades, which are a difficult set of wars to justify, even in the terms you offer. I agree that the text can be read metaphorically, as others in this thread have done. That doesn’t work for me personally, though.

    I agree that we need to be willing to fight when necessary, which means having a decent sense that more good than harm will come out of it. As terrible as the situation in Syria is, the record of American military intervention in the Middle East suggests that our odds of improving the situation rather than aggravating it are low. You may disagree, which is fine, but now we’re talking foreign policy, rather than the gospel.

    I do think that God wants us to do whatever we can to relieve the suffering of our Syrian sisters and brothers, which is why the Relief Society push to care for refugees and Elder Kearon’s talk were so inspiring. Caring for refugees rather than denigrating them as potential terrorists does involve a fight of sorts in our current political environment, but the weapons are words and votes and meals and clothing and shelter, not bullets. That’s the kind of fight I’m willing to have. Working for peace and love takes courage, too, and I hope that my rewritten hymn calls people into action. We can’t just assume that someone else will make the person who doesn’t quite fit in feel welcome at Church, for instance; we need to get our own butts out of the pew and do it!

  40. I remain unconvinced that the imagery of the original hymn derives from the Crusades, though it has often been understood that way and the original hymn has been used/abused as a war-cry. The lyric was written as a processional hymn for children walking from Horbury Bridge, where Baring-Gould was curate, to Horbury St Peter’s Church near Wakefield, Yorkshire, at Whitsuntide in 1865. It was originally entitled, “Hymn for Procession with Cross and Banners.” Such an Anglican procession would have been led by one carrying a cross; the “soldiers” were children enlisted in the cause of Christ. Satan is often described as the foe. The hymn’s theme is taken from references in the New Testament to the Christian being a soldier for Christ, for example II Timothy 2:3 (KJV): “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” and Ephesians 6:10-18 (KJV) “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil….” It seems to me that the lack of understanding of the original hymn’s Anglican origin and the common distortion of its message by its use as a war-cry against other peoples rather than against the temptations of Satan have led to unnecessary criticisms. But the misuse of the hymn has become such a part of our culture that the rewrite is appropriate. The kind of fight Jason K. is willing to have is, in the end, the same kind of fight that seems to have been contemplated by Baring-Gould. Unfortunately, for contemporary ears and failure of metaphorical thinking consistent with the New Testament, Baring-Gould’s text has become misleading. Jason K’s is wonderful. I will love and use it.

  41. Seth R. says:

    I seriously doubt the hymn has anything to do with the Crusades.

    That’s largely a 21st century secularist hobby-horse.

    My first impulse was abolition, or whatever patriotic war happened to be happening in any given decade – which of course was assumed to be a “good Christian war.”

  42. Jason K. says:

    It seems to me that the notion of an army marching “with the cross of Jesus going on before” owes inevitably to Constantine’s “in hoc signo vinces,” the Crusades, and Christian imperialism generally, and that as a basic matter of historical fact. Without those events the image would hardly suggest itself. The NT passages in question do not reference the cross, which Paul understood in altogether different terms, as the scandalous symbol of Jesus’ kenotic weakness and as the structuring metaphor for Christian community. Calling this critique secularist just seems silly, unless you’re willing to apply that term to the likes of N. T. Wright, who influenced my thinking about Paul’s theology of the cross..

    I do appreciate the Anglican processional context of the original—it’s what inspired “children” in my first draft—and yet JLR rightly points out that the text itself does not immediately suggest its original context, especially when known by its incipit rather than the original title. 19th-century Britain was hardly innocent of Christian imperialism, after all, and, whatever Baring-Gould’s metaphorical intentions might have been, that context helped give the imagery its resonance.

    It’s the notion of applying the label of “good Christian war” to whatever we happen to think lies in the national interest that worries me. I get that people who did such things in the past may have been perfectly sincere, but that doesn’t mean they were right.

  43. Seth R. says:

    Well it worries me too. I think a good deal of the wars dubbed “good Christian wars” were anything but.

    But that’s not to say no such thing exists – and that we are never going to actually genuinely need a theology of warfare.

  44. “It seems to me that the notion of an army marching ‘with the cross of Jesus going on before’ owes inevitably to Constantine’s ‘in hoc signo vinces,’ the Crusades, and Christian imperialism generally, and that as a basic matter of historical fact.”

    It is not inevitable, though it may be difficult for one steeped in the history of Christian imperialism more than in Anglican tradition to see that. For an Anglican cleric like Baring-Gould, there was a centuries-old liturgical tradition of processions following the cross in a way that had nothing to do with the Crusades. It has been theorized that that ritual may have grown out of scriptures like Mark 8:34. The cross being an Anglican (and others’) symbol of Christ as well as Christianity, such a procession is also in anticpation of being a part of the armies of heaven following Christ in the war made by the “dragon” against those who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”Revelation 12:17; 19:11, 14, 19. These scriptures, with 1 Timothy 1:18 and 2 Timothy 2:4, are a fully sufficient source of the notion of an army following Jesus (or the cross as a symbol of Jesus) even if the Crusades and Christian imperialism had never happened. Unfortunately, they did, and that fact informs the responses to the hymn of those aware of that history and unable to set it aside in favor of a more appropriate Anglican/New Testament interpretation.

    By the way, it has always seemed strange to me that recent Church leaders have so resoundingly rejected the cross as a symbol of Christ while we continue to use the hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers. Curiously, back when we sang a hymn in the endowment ceremony, as if we were a congregation listening to (and receiving) the teachings of one acting the role of a protestant minister based on the Westminster Confession, Onward, Christian Soldiers was one of the two hymns I ever heard in that context. (The other was a well-known American Protestant hymn (I think, Holy Manna, but that memory is unreliable) not well-known to Mormons who never heard it except in that endowment context.) Singing Onward, Christian Soldiers in that context always made me feel like we were somehow making fun of the hymn despite its appearance in our hymnal and its common use in sacrament meetings. Perhaps that feeling was a response to the then teaching emphasis on not using the cross as a symbol of Christ or Christianity.

  45. Jason K. says:

    That’s a good comment, JLR. I think that Mormons don’t use the cross because our attempts to assimilate with American society post-polygamy required cultural alignment with Protestantism, which meant imbibing its anti-Catholicism. It’s been awhile since I heard the Great and Abominable Church aligned with Catholicism (thank goodness), but rehabilitation of the cross hasn’t followed.

  46. D. Fletcher says:

    I’m sorry to say, I think “Onward Christian Soldiers” was directly informed by the British-Raj (takeover of India), which happened in 1858. The song was written in 1865. Children groomed to be Christian Soldiers, and all that. It’s more than fighting “sin,” — but actually instigating the notion of Christian superiority into children marching into church. The war metaphor must go. “Soldiers for peace and service” is an appropriate, benevolent solution, for a marching song.

    “In 1858, the British Government assumed direct control of the territories and treaty arrangements of the former East India Company. In 1876, the area, which included modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, became “The Indian Empire” (often known historically as the ‘British Raj’) with British Monarch Queen Victoria proclaimed as “Empress of India” (a title held by her successors until 1947). The British Indian Army was established and assisted Britain in many wars, including the Anglo-Afghan Wars, the Anglo-Gurkha Wars, the Anglo-Burmese Wars, the First and Second Opium Wars, and both World Wars. The British introduced the concept of racial superiority in the diverse population and proclaimed themselves as the most superior.”

  47. D. Fletcher, I think there were British wars throughout the 19th century. The takeover of India, while perhaps not initially a war since the East India Company was already in significant control, may be considered one of them. Baring-Gould could hardly have escaped noticing it! However, none of the comments here have yet cited, and I have not yet found, any evidence that Baring-Gould felt or intended his 1865 hymn to reflect the 1858 event, or the many other British military events of that century. “[I]nformed by”, stopping short of “inspired by” , is a fair assumption, but may speak more to the reader/listener’s experience than the author’s. I don’t know what “directly informed by” means unless it is an attempt to push the concept toward “inspired by.” Regardless of whether the source of Baring-Gould’s war metaphor is in the New Testament or in British wars, the metaphor seems, at least currently unhelpful, to Christian living.

    But until you excise the war and the army following Christ from the Book of Revelation and the armor of God and soldier metaphors and the concept of Satan/the dragon as Christ’s adversary or enemy (the foe) from the New Testament and the hope that the Church would come out of the wilderness “terrible as an army with banners” from the Doctrine and Covenants Sections 5, 105 and 109, and until we cease using Baring-Gould’s text, Behold, the Royal Army (Fanny Crosby’s 1894 hymn The Joyful Song), We Are All Enlisted, and perhaps other songs, it remains worthwhile to attempt to understand the metaphor consistently with the scriptures rather than insisting that it must refer to Christian imperialism by warfare.

    Incidentally, Fanny Crosby’s “army” of “soldiers” with “banner, sword, and shield”, following “their Commander” in “marching forth to conquer” the “foe” are as equally founded on Biblical scripture. Crosby was a long-time Baptist, but also attended Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal services regularly, where,, like the Anglicans and others, there is a longstanding tradition of liturgical use of banners and processions following the cross.

  48. Wonder Why says:

    Thanks for new thoughts on an old hymn.
    I haven’t read all the comments but the suggestion was made earlier to consider using “oppressions.” Although the “s” wouldn’t be heard when it’s sung, the subject/verb agreement works better with the plural subject “oppressions” and plural verb “cease.”

  49. When I read these posts I am disheartened to realize how literally everyone is interpreting the imagery. So much of the scriptures are symbolic. Christians were to do battle against the false teachings of Satan and their manifestations in worldly doctrines and practices. Have we as a people lost the ability to see that? Does it need to be translated for us? If so we have lost the ability to understand Isaiah and most of the Jewish poetry. Perhaps some additional reading the literature of the time when the song was written would help.
    Also an understanding that there have been and will yet be times when the battles must be physical, when the slaves would not be freed if the Union Army had not been willing to fight and sometimes die. That Europe would still be under Nazi control and Asia under Imperial Japan without those willing to march to real war. That all the Jews of Europe might have died.

  50. Marie, if I cared to, I could resent your use of the word “everyone”. See my earlier comments. But instead, I’ll translate it as symbolic for “the majority of the posted comments as I understand them.”

  51. Jason K. says:

    Marie: there’s a difference between not being able to understand the symbolism and disagreeing on principle with its implications. I’ve acknowledged above that war is sometimes necessary, but I do not think that it is or should be a dominant metaphor for the Christian life. At issue here is the question of what the cross represents, as a symbol, and it’s worth remembering some of the terrible things that Christians (and even Mormons) have done under the guise of battle against the “forces of evil.”

    The scriptures do have divine war imagery, but nowhere does this imagery include the cross. For Paul, the cross represents the scandal of a crucified God, one who saves us through a kind of weakness understood in direct distinction to imperial forms of power. The cross, after all, symbolized Roman domination, so embracing it as a symbol of redemption was strongly countercultural. The ethical consequences of this symbol, for Paul, are a Eucharistic community built on love, which means an obligation to honor the weaker members.

    The issue here isn’t one of symbolic or literal reading, but of which symbolic reading of the cross is more apt. My text is firmly scriptural on that point. Go re-read 1 Corinthians if you don’t believe me.

  52. To follow up a bit on my earlier comment, in light of some of the discussion that has followed, I agree with JLR that the martial/warfare analogy is very much a part of christian discourse, whether we like it or not. But I also agree with Jason’s point that these teachings can be easily abused and misunderstood as calling for opposition or even violence toward fellow children of God in service of some righteous goal, to the point where it’s worth questioning if that risk outweighs the benefit that such analogies offer. As for me, the limitation that I put on such analogies is that they only apply to the internal warfare of the spirit against the will of the flesh, not to external warfare against those that we perceive as being in the wrong. (Of course, self-defense and defense of others is always a principle that justifies an exception to the rule against violence, but that’s different, I think from the idea that we should be affirmatively engaged in warfare against an external enemy of fellow children of God).

    In that sense, I (mis)interpret the images of Christ the royal master leading against the foe and the cross of Jesus going on before, as reminders that Jesus overcame satan by submitting the will of the flesh to the will of the Spirit, and being obedient even unto death on the cross, and that his doing so leads the way for us to follow. If we are going to follow “the cross of Jesus,” we can only expect it to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, we cannot expect to find that it leads us to victory and glory–at least not in any earthly sense, and not without first passing through humiliation and death.

  53. JKC, Thanks. Your comment makes the ultimate point so much better than my comments even implied. Just what Baring-Gould meant by his lyric may still be open to question, though I infer an intention different from some others’ inference. Despite the New Testament (and Anglican tradition) foundation for my suggestions as to meaning and the necessity of teaching the spiritual meaning of the war related metaphors, I still think Jason K’s rewrite is an improvement for contemporary use. Maybe he’ll tackle Behold, the Royal Army next.

  54. What would you do with the images seen by Brigham Young, Heber C Kimball and others in 1827 when they saw armies dressed for war marching across the night sky? What meaning would assign to their vision?

  55. I am very comfortable with the imagery of the original. I find no implications in it that disagree with my Christian beliefs. I am far more uncomfortable with people who seek to redo imagery they have personally decided have implications I find tortured and silly. But to each his own.

  56. Jason K. says:

    I suppose that people have tortured in the name of peace before. Not that I approve, of course.

  57. I do not think that the rewrite in the OP or any of the further additions in the comments measurably add to the doctrine taught in the original hymn. I am sure that many people over the past 150 years have used this for inspiration to physical warfare that is outside the original meaning and that of the scriptures from which the lyrics are drawn. That does not detract from the profound spiritual message that the original conveys. Paul, John, and latter-day revelation all relate the images of physical war to the spiritual conflict that is a part of earth life.
    Fighting for imperial rule in central africa in the late 19th century is not clearly a fight against evil, but there are many examples of evil leaders that needed to be defeated or killed over the past 150 years also. Even better if evil can be defeated without a mass slaughter (Reagan in the cold war).