"GLORY! GLORY! HALLELUJAH!"
"For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His holy angels" (Matt. 16:27)
INTRO.: A hymn which can be used to remind us that the Son of man will come in the glory of His Father with His holy angels is "Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!" (#571 in Hymns for Worship, original edition only). The text was written by Julia Ward Howe, who was born on May 28, 1819, in New York City, NY. In 1848 she married Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, who in his younger days had fought in the Greek War of Independence and wrote a book about his experiences entitled Historical Sketches of the Greek Revolution. Director of the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, MA, Mr. Howe was greatly interested in humanitarian causes, and his wife followed his lead in support of such causes, including abolition. Also, she was active as a writer, and published three volumes of poetry, Passion Flowers in 1854, Words of the Hour in 1856, and Later Lyrics in 1866.
In December of 1861, eighteen months after the American Civil War had begun, Mrs. Howe, her husband, and their minister, James Freeman Clarke, all of Boston, were visiting Washington, DC, with Gov. Andrews of Massachusetts and his wife. They were invited to watch a military review at a Union Army camp on the Potomac River some distance from the city where the federal troops were singing, "John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave." The visitors noted the stirring character of the music, and Clarke suggested that Mrs. Howe could pen better lyrics for the melody. During that night, the words came to her and the poem was completed before daybreak, and she showed it to Clarke the next day. When she returned to Boston, Mrs.Howe also showed it to James T. FIelds, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, who published it in the Feb., 1862, edition under the title "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The tune (Battle Hymn or John Brown’s Body) is of obscure origin. Often it is attributed to John William Steffe (d. 1911). He claimed to have composed it in 1855 or 1856 with the words, "Say, bummers, will you meet us," for the Goodwill Fire Company of Philadelphia, PA, whose members were known as "Bummers." However, most experts regard it as a nineteenth century American folk melody dating at least 1851 or 1852, when it was used as a campmeeting song, "Say, brothers, won’t you meet us in Canaan’s happy land," and maybe as early as 1820.
Apparently, Steffe simply adapted the music to the words that he penned for the firemen. According to Louis Elson in National Music of America, it was known in the South long before the Civil War. perhaps originating in South Carolina. The tune was first printed with Howe’s text in the 1862 Aeolian Harp Collection edited by John Dadman. It attracted little attention until Chaplain C. C. McCabe, who later became a Methodist bishop, heard it and taught it to the 122nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. From there it spread to other troops and quickly came into use throughout the North as an expression of the patriotic emotion of the period. In later life, Mrs. Howe, a member of the Unitarian Church, became an influential public speaker and was a pioneer in women’s suffrage, social work, and pacifism. In 1870 she proposed that all the women of the world could organize to end war for all time. She died on Oct. 17, 1910, at Newport, RI.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song was not used in very many of the historic ones. The index to the 1927 revised edition of the 1921 Cross and Resurrection in Song edited by S. H. and Flavil Hall lists it at #271. However, it is not at #271; nor is anywhere in the 270s, at #261, or at #281. It might be at #217, but my copy has #s 217-221 torn out. Today it may be found in 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 as altered by the editor; the 1973 Great Inspirational Songs edited by Albert E. Brumley; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; and Ellis J. Crum’s 1997 edition of the 1961 Best Loved Songs and Hymns edited by Ruth Winsett Shelton; as well as the original edition of Hymns for Worship, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat (the latter using Alton Howard’s alteration). The 1977 Special Sacred Selections also edited by E. J. Crum has the same tune with a hymn, "His Church Is Marching On," by James E. Gibbons.
Some have objected to this hymn because of its origin as a Northern battle song during the Civil War, but the words can be separated from that and sung in view of Christ’s second coming and final judgment. In fact, we once visited a congregation which used the original edition of Hymns for Worship, and this song was led in the Sunday morning service. While singing, I was reminded that while we usually associate the hymn with our nation’s history and recognize Mrs. Howe’s belief that God was judging the South for its slavery, the language is drawn directly from the scriptures so that it can be sung with regard to God’s judgment in general without reference to any specific historical event.
I. The first stanza pictures the Lord’s coming
"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."
A. It was promised that Jesus would come again: Acts 1:11
B. When He comes, He will judge the world, symbolized by the trampling out of the winepress of His wrath, just as He has done to various nations in history: Isa. 63:1-5, Rev. 14:17-20 & 19:15
C. And He will loose the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword, which is the word of God by which we shall be judged: Jn. 12:48, Eph. 6:17, Heb. 4:12-13
II. The second stanza pictures the Lord’s people
"I have seen Him in the watchfires 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."
A. Like an army, they are in a hundred circling camps, even as God’s people in the wilderness were encamped around the tabernacle: Exo. 14:19
B. The building of an alter symbolizes submission to God’s will: Gen. 8:20 & 12:7, Exo. 20:24
C. Thus, these Old Testament scenes help us to visualize the need for preparing to attack the forces of evil by keeping God and His will before our eyes. His righteous sentence for us is that "we are more than conquerors through Him who
loved us": Rom. 8:37
III. The third stanza pictures the Lord’s anger
"I have read the fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
‘As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal.’
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on."
A. The fiery gospel is written in burnished rows of steel; it is like a burning fire in our hearts and strong like unbending steel in destroying the hosts of wickedness: Jer. 20:9, Joes 3:10
B. God’s contemners are to be dealt with by preaching the gospel to them, and the idea that so His grace with us shall deal suggests that He will be with us as we march and face His enemies: Matt. 28:18-20
C. The Hero born of woman is Jesus Christ, who came to crush the head of the serpent and punish all who do the will of Satan: Gen. 3:15
IV. The fourth stanza pictures the Lord’s judgment
"He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat.
O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on."
A. Just as God had the Israelites use trumpets, the trupmet today is the gospel message that began blowing on the day of Pentecost and ever since then has never sounded retreat: Josh. 6:20, 1 Cor. 14:8
B. The gospel is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat, leading up to that time of final reckoning: Matt. 3:12, 13:36-43
C. Thus, our souls and our feet should be swift and jubilant to spread that message far and wide to help men prepare: Rom. 10:14-17
V. The fifth stanza pictures the Lord’s purpose
"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 to make men free,
While God is marching on."
A. Christ spoke of the lilies of the field because they were a part of His surroundings, and He was born across the sea: Matt. 6:28, Lk. 2:1-7, Gal. 4:4
B. The aim of this was so that He could reveal unto us the glory of God by which we can be transfigured to be like Him: Jn. 1:14, 2 Cor. 3:18
C. And as He died to make men holy, we should be willing even to losing our own lives in death that the message of liberty might be proclaimed: Matt. 16:25, Rom. 5:8, 2 Tim. 2:11 (many modern books change the third line to read "Let us live to make men free," and one of our editors even altered it to read, "Let us teach to make men free.")
VI. The sixth stanza pictures the Lord’s blessing
"He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave.
He is wisdom to the mighty; He is honor to the brave.
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave.
Our God is marching on."
A. Some sources say that the author withdrew the sixth stanza from publication, while others regard it as an anonymous stanza later added by someone else to the other five. When the Lord comes, He will bring His people to the glory of God: Rev. 21:11, 23
B. He shall be wisdom to the mighty as He even now is: 1 Cor. 1:26-30
C. The Lord so blesses the earth because it is His footstool: Isa. 66:1
CONCL.: The chorus expresses glory to God and repeats the last line of each stanza:
"Glory! glory! hallelujah! Glory! glory! hallelujah!
Glory! glory! hallelujah! His truth is marching on."
In June, 1999, an article entitled "The Battle Hymn of the Republic: Christian Hymn or Martial Music?" by Dr. Roger Crane, whose religious affiliation or beliefs I do not know, was placed on Gary’s List. I have seen the same article posted in other places too. Dr. Crane said, "As people sing this particular piece, one must wonder whether they have understood the message? Do they realize what it is they are singing? This is not a religious song; if it were, things being as they are, it couldn’t be used in the public schools [this isn’t always exactly true, WSW]. While relying heavily on Biblical symbolism, it is clearly meant as a call for war." Could it not be a call for war against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places? Crane then went on to point out that Mrs. Howe was a Unitarian and, as such, did not believe that the Bible was inspired, that Christ was the Son of God, nor in a judgment to come. Then he gave his own, rather negative, interpretation of what she was trying to say in the song, even with a claim that it promoted the death of human beings as an atonement for sin.
Yet, not all of Dr. Crane’s conclusions are necessarily correct simply because Mrs. Howe was a Unitarian. Kenneth W. Osbeck in 101 Hymn Stories (pp. 35-36) does admit that while Julia Ward was raised in a conservative Episcoplian home, with a father who was an ardent Calvinist in his beliefs, she rebelled against such doctrines and, especially after her marriage to Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, became increasingly liberal in her religious views. Yet, he also says, "Even as a liberal thinker, however, she always maintained her belief in the presence of a personal God and His over-ruling power and truth in controlling the affairs of mankind."
Crane then concluded, "It’s unimaginable that this particular sing has gained such wide usage within churches, especially when sung in Southern. A church might want to have some type of patriotic theme on particular holidays, but it would seem that something might be preferred more in tune with traditional Christian beliefs….It would seem that they might wish to choose music that is not offensive to those with either Northern or Southern ancestry. More importantly, they might wish to choose something not offensive to Christians." Given the large number of "Christian" hymnbooks which have included the song through the years, it would appear that not everyone, and in fact not even a majority, among those who identify themselves as "Christians" share Crane’s objections.
On that same day on Gary’s list, my friend Terry Benton, a gospel preacher, responded, saying, "Often a thing of scorn and shame (the cross, a thing of shameful death) can take on an entirely different meaning when thought of in a different light. No matter what the Jews and Romans meant by the cross, Christians came to glory in it and think of it in a different light. Let us see if the song, ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ can be sung by Christians today." He then went on to give "another view" of the meaning of the song. Benton’s conclusion was, "A song so true, so full of meaning, and so full of victory reminders and so full of encouragement to march on with God, can be sung today in churches that really want to march on to certain victory with God. Southern churches need not surrender such a song just because it originally had North against South overtones, because we are in a much greater battle than the physical war between the states. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but they are mighty weapons and they assure us victory in a more significant battle….To us, it has nothing to do with physical, carnal war. It describes in a wonderful way the victory we have in Jesus. It is interesting that the song has changed hands. Who has more reason to sing this song that the church of the living God?" As we think about the battle between good and evil and the ultimate victory of God’s people at the second coming of Christ and the final judgment, we can say, "Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!"