“The Banner of the Cross”

"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth" (Psa. 60.4).

     INTRO.: A gospel song which applies the concept of a banner to the warfare in which Christians are engaged is "The Banner of the Cross" (#133 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #219 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Daniel Webster Whittle (1840-1901). A native of Chicopee Falls, MA, he became a cashier of the Wells Fargo Bank in Chicago, IL, and then served in the Civil War, during which he obtain the rank of major. This title stuck with him the rest of his life. After the war he served as treasurer of the Elgin Watch Co. in Chicago, but in 1873 resigned and became a revival evangelist in association with Dwight L. Moody. Under the pseudonym of "El Nathan," he provided lyrics for a number of gospel hymns.

     The tune (Royal Banner) was composed by the song director for Whittle’s revival campaigns, James McGrahanan (1840-1907). Born in Adamsville, PA, he helped edit many gospel song collections during the late 1800’s, providing tunes for several authors besides Whittle. This song first appeared in the 1887 Gospel Hymns No. 5, which he compiled with Ira David Sankey and George Coles Stebbins. After his health broke down later that same year, he retired to Kinsman, OH. Two of his other well-known collaborations with Whittle were "There Shall Be Showers of Blessing" and "I Know Whom I Have Believed."

     "The Banner of the Cross" was originally in four stanzas. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, stanzas 1, 3, and 4 appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson. These three stanzas also appeared in the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3, but stanza four was rewritten by the editor, L. O. Sanderson. Since then, this is the form that is found in most other books published for use among us, including the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; as well as Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat. The exception is the 1992 Praise the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand, which has the original final stanza.

     The song talks about several aspects of our warfare as Christians.

I. Stanza 1 says that we are soldiers for a great cause
"There’s a royal banner given for display To the soldiers of the King;
And as an ensign fair we lift it up today, While as ransomed ones we sing."
 A. God wants us to be soldiers in His army: 2 Tim. 2.3-4
 B. Jesus Christ is the King under whom we serve: Jn. 18.33-37
 C. And we follow Him because we have been ransomed by His blood: Matt. 20.28, 1 Tim. 2.6

II. Stanza 2 says that we have a great enemy
"Though the foe may rage and gather as the flood, Let the standard be displayed;
And beneath its folds, as soldiers of the Lord, For the truth be not dismayed!"
 A. Our foe or enemy is Satan and all those who fight with him: 1 Pet. 5.8
 B. But just as the tribes of Israel had their standards as they journeyed in the wilderness, so we must still let our standard be
displayed: Num. 1.52, 2.2-3ff
 C. And since our standard is revealed in the word of truth, we must never be dismayed or ashamed of it: Rom. 1.16, 2 Tim. 1.8

III. Stanza 3 says that we have a great mission
"Over land and sea, wherever man may dwell, Make the glorious tidings known;
Of the crimson banner now the story tell, While the Lord shall claim His own!"
 A. We must go "over land and sea, wherever man may dwell": Mk. 16.15-16
 B. As we go, we must "make the glorious tidings known" and "of the crimson banner now the story tell": Matt. 28.18-20
 C. And when people hear the message, believe it, and come in obedience to it, "the Lord shall claim His own": Acts 18.9-10

IV. The final stanza says that we will have a great reward. Consider the orignal:
"When the glory dawns–’tis drawing very near, It is hastening day by day–
Then before our King the foe shall disappear, And the cross the world shall sway."
Now Sanderson’s alterations:
"When the Great Commander, from the vaulted sky, Sounds the resurrection day,
Then before our King the faint and foe shall die, And the saints shall march away!"
 A. The warfare will cease "When the Great Commander, from the vaulted sky, Sounds the resurrection day": 1 Cor. 15.51-52, 1 Thess. 4.16-17. I assume that this is what the author meant by "when the glory dawns."  While the Bible does not teach, necessarily, that it IS near, as some say, it does teach that it is DRAWING near, as the song suggests: Jas. 5.8
 B. At that time, the faint and foe will die; they will not "disappear" in the sense of being annihilated, and I doubt that Whittle meant that since he was fairly "orthodox" in his theology, but probably meant simply to say that they would be "die" spiritually by being punished eternally in hell: Matt. 25.41, Rev. 21.8
 C. Also at that time the saints shall march away into their eternal home: Matt. 25.34, 1 Pet. 1.3-5. The statement, "And the cross the world shall sway," was probably thought to be premillennial, since the earth will be annihilated when Jesus returns (2 Pet. 3.10); and Whittle probably did subscribe to some form of millennialism. However, "the world" may not always necessarily refer to the earth itself but to the people of the world (Jn. 3.16) and specifically those who have accepted the sway of the cross as they receive their eternal reward. Thus, Whittle’s original last stanza can be thought of in scriptural terms, but admittedly Sanderson’s revision makes it more clear and in line with Bible terminology.

     CONCL.: The chorus exhorts us to continue on in our work as soldiers of the Lord:
"Marching on, marching on, For Christ count everything but loss!
For the King of kings, (we’ll) toil and sing (Be-)’Neath the banner of the cross!"
Sanderson also made some changes in the original chorus, which read, "And to crown Him King, we’ll toil and sing." This was probably thought to be premillennial too, since Christ has already been crowned King. It has been pointed out that we might continue even today to crown Christ as King in our own hearts by our praises, and also that we help others to crown Him King in their hearts as we lead them to obey the gospel. In any event, the chorus reminds us that all of the things mentioned in the stanzas are true because we are marching beneath "The Banner of the Cross."


2 thoughts on ““The Banner of the Cross”

  1. as much as I respect Sanderson and love most of his work. I do not like his destruction of a perfectly scriptural 4th verse of There’s a Royal Banner. Furthermore in most hymnals his rewrite of the last verse and chorus is not footnoted which a no no is anyone’s book. I wish he had left the 4th verse alone and the wrote a 5th verse. The way he did forces us to sing his verse and gives no choice. He was wrong to do this and the publishers of the hymnals are wrong to allow is in their hymnals.

  2. Comments of the Crown Him King – makes no sense since other songs we leave many songs that refer to Crowning Jesus, LO just got a burr up his saddle, In now way is it premillenial nor could it ever be construed as such, Too many times some of our brethren get these burrs then try to make a mountain out of the proverbial mole hill. Such is the case here. This needs fixing to restore the original beauty of the song.


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