Reginald Heber was an Anglican pastor, bishop, traveler, poet and hymn-writer (1783 – 1826). For most of his career he served as a congregational pastor in Great Britain and then, for three years, until his death at the age of 42, on the India mission field as Anglican Bishop of Calcutta. Monuments were erected in his memory in India and in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. A collection of the hymns he wrote was published about the same time. One of these, “Holy, Holy, Holy“, is a greatly loved hymn for Trinity Sunday. But it is a lesser known work, “The Son of God Goes Forth to War” (1812) that touches my heart most deeply. Its significant message was even embraced by author Rudyard Kipling in 1888 for his novella, The Man Who Would Be King.
The Son of God Goes Forth to War
The Son of God goes forth to war a kingly crown to gain.
His blood-red banner streams afar; who follows in His train?
Who best can drink His cup of woe, triumphant over pain,
Who patient bears His cross below– he follows in His train.
The martyr first whose eagle eye could pierce beyond the grave,
Who saw His Master in the sky and called on Him to save.
Like Him, with pardon on His tongue, in midst of mortal pain,
He prayed for them that did the wrong–who follows in His train?
A glorious band, the chosen few, on whom the Spirit came,
Twelve valiant saints; their hope they knew and mocked the cross and flame.
They met the tyrant’s brandished steel, the lion’s gory mane;
They bowed their necks the death to feel–who follows in their train?
A noble army, men and boys, the matron and the maid,
Around the Savior’s throne rejoice, in robes of light arrayed.
They climbed the steep ascent of heav’n thro’ peril, toil, and pain.
O God, to us may grace be giv’n to follow in their train!
Hymn #452, The Lutheran Hymnal
Author: Reginald Heber, Composer: Henry S. Cutler
Tune: “All Saints New”
Heber’s lyrics tell a story of the Church Militant. It is the Church engaged in the great tribulation of Revelation 7:14, a struggle that most Christians in the world live every day. These militant believers stand counter-culturally in a time between the times – between their salvation and their ultimate victory in the glories of heaven. It gives meaning to the words “pick up your cross and follow” Jesus; often resulting in sacrifice and martyrdom. It is a faith that challenges the American church to set aside its ease and to join in living the contrast. To consider taking that step makes us look for strength and guidance in an unfamiliar journey, to draw on the examples of those who have walked this way before us, the average men and women of God who, despite their circumstances, leave footprints for us to follow. If we will look, we will find comfort and encouragement in their example. They invite us to experience a trust that is “without borders” and a faith that is deeper than our “feet could ever wander” (Oceans, Hillsong United). God invites us to follow in their train.
Whenever I can, I take my mission teams to Macau in southern China, an hour hydrofoil ride from Hong Kong, to a Portuguese cemetery where we stand at the grave of the first Protestant Missionary to China, Robert Morrison (1782 – 1834). Like most missionaries of his time Morrison packed his belongings in a coffin when he left England, certain that he would give his life in service of his Savior. Morrison served for 27 years in China with only one furlough home to England. For 25 of those years he worked to translate the Bible into Chinese and baptized just ten believers. When Morrison was asked shortly after his arrival in China if he expected to have any spiritual impact on the Chinese, he answered, “No sir, but I expect God will!”
Morrison influenced many of his contemporaries, one of which was Samuel Dyer, a typographer, who created a steel typeface for Chinese characters, replacing traditional wood blocks, and enabling the printing of Morrison’s Chinese Bible. Dyer is buried next to Morrison in Macau. When Dyer’s wife, Maria died three years after her husband, they left three young orphans, one of which, Maria Jane Dyer – greatly influenced by the work of her parents – spent her life on the China field as the wife of Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission. Robert Morrison’s pioneering courage opened the door for others.
They followed in his train.