Today’s hymn is “O Thou Rock of Our Salvation.” If the name doesn’t ring a bell, follow that link and listen to a verse—you’ll probably recognize the tune. It was the chorus that triggered my memory:
Gather round the standard bearer;
Gather round in strength of youth.
Ev’ry day the prospect’s fairer
While we’re battling for the truth.
Military imagery is hardly uncommon in hymns. We sing about Christian soldiers and royal armies, ten thousand enlisted legions marching until the conflict is o’er. We even see it in Primary, for “we are as the armies of Helaman.”
It’s curious, though, that military imagery is so common in hymns. Relatively few modern church members will participate in a military battle; why not use a metaphor that will be familiar to more people? Why don’t we sing more about gardening, long journeys through the wilderness, or wrangling disobedient children?
Really, I don’t know the answer. I suspect that wonderful hymns could be made using any of those as a metaphor. And maybe they do exist and I just haven’t heard about them. But what I do know is that military themes aren’t limited to hymns; good portions of both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon cover military operations. Why, then? What are we to learn from these messages of battle?
Perhaps the warfare theme serves to remind us that this is a battle. In the relative comfort that many of us enjoy, it’s easy to become complacent and simply drift along with the flow of society. If our life ever feels like a battle, it’s a battle with cranky children or frustrating co-workers, not a battle for our lives, our families, or our freedom. We may have some rough days, but they rarely have the gravity of a real battle.
We a war ‘gainst sin are waging;
We’re contending for the right.
Ev’ry day the battle’s raging;
Help us, Lord, to win the fight.
When we sing about a war against sin (a “battle raging”), perhaps it’s a reminder that this really is serious business. The war against sin is not just something to be lightly brushed aside—we should constantly be alert and attentive against sin.
What does it really mean, though, to wage war against sin?
Certainly we should resist temptation and avoid sin, but I don’t believe that’s enough. We all have the responsibility to make our homes a safe refuge, a sacred place where the spirit can dwell, whether we are parents, children, or living on our own. The war against sin may also include our neighborhoods and our communities, and even social media. Wherever we are, we have taken a covenant to be a witness of Christ. This is not discarded lightly.
However, this war against sin is not fought like other wars. In the scriptural Armor of God, we find that there is only one weapon used for attacking: the Sword of the Spirit. And what are the fruits of the Spirit?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
As we battle against sin, let us do it with love and joy, gentleness and temperance. We struggle against sin, not against sinners. Indeed, the banner we bear is that of Jesus Christ, he who redeems sinners from their sins. We come with an invitation, not a condemnation. “Come unto Him,” we say. “Learn of him. Partake of his peace.” Christ is the foundation upon whom all must build if they seek peace.
Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)
The Lord has assembled a unique army, one bearing not swords but salvation. We battle against sin not so much by striking down evil as by raising up women and men, inviting all to come unto Christ. The antidote to sin is redemption.
Always, always remember Christ. He is the foundation. He is the way. He is the light.