Hymn of the week: Who is on the Lord’s side

I am not a huge fan of hymns with a military image, but this Sunday I made an exception and chose this as the last hymn. I was preaching on Joshua 24, the story of Joshua remaking the covenant at Shechem, with the people’s declaration “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” (Joshua 24:24) and this hymn fits very well with the theme of choosing to serve the Lord.

Its author Francis Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) was the evangelical daughter of an Anglican clergyman. She wrote a number of hymns which are still in current use, of which the most familiar is probably ‘Take my life and let it be’. Written two years before her death, the hymn was titled ‘Home Missions’ and headed with a quotation from 1 Chronicles 12:18 “Thine are we, David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse.” However the first line comes from Exodus 32:26, words spoken by Moses at the gate of the camp after coming down from Mount Sinai and finding the Israelites dancing around the statue of the golden calf they had made. He was joined by the Levites, who drew their swords and promptly slaughtered 3,000 of their fellow Israelites. A story which I for one find troubling and problematic – and which illustrates the pitfalls of using military images and language in our hymns and worship.

In Hymns and Psalms the hymn is set to two strong tunes: ARMAGEDDON, based on a German melody adapted by John Goss and originally written for the hymn ‘Onward Christian soldiers’; and RACHIE by the Welsh composer Caradog Roberts. Personally I prefer the latter, especially if there are singers who can sing the parts of the last four lines, which always seem to me to evoke a brass band.

Who is on the Lord’s side?
Who will serve the King?
Who will be His helpers,
Other lives to bring?
Who will leave the world’s side?
Who will face the foe?
Who is on the Lord’s side?
Who for Him will go?
By Thy call of mercy,
By Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side
Saviour, we are Thine!

Jesus, Thou hast bought us,
Not with gold or gem,
But with Thine own life-blood,
For Thy diadem.
With Thy blessing filling
All who come to Thee,
Thou hast made us willing,
Thou hast made us free.
By Thy great redemption,
By Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side
Saviour, we are Thine!

Fierce may be the conflict,
Strong may be the foe,
But the King’s own army,
None can overthrow;
Round His standard ranging,
Victory is secure,
For His truth unchanging
Makes the triumph sure.
Joyfully enlisting,
By Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side
Saviour, we are Thine!

Chosen to be soldiers
In an alien land,
Chosen, called, and faithful,
For our Captain’s band,
In the service royal,
Let us not grow cold;
Let us be right loyal,
Noble, true and bold.
Master, Thou wilt keep us,
By Thy grace divine,
Always on the Lord’s side,
Saviour, always Thine!

Francis Ridley Havergal (1836-79)

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About Holloway Rev

Paul Weary is a Methodist minister living and working in Holloway, North London.
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