“THE BANNER OF THE CROSS”

Wayne S. Walker

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

     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”).  The text was written by Daniel (not David)
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.”

     This song was originally in four stanzas.  Stanzas 1, 3, and 4
appeared in the 1937 “Great Songs of the Church No. 2” (#265) edited by
E. L. Jorgenson.  These three stanzas also appeared in the 1948
“Christian Hymns No. 2” (#429), but stanza four was rewritten by the
editor, L. O. Sanderson.  This is the form that has appeared in most
other books published among brethren since then, except the 1992 “Praise
the Lord” (#671) edited by John P. Wiegand, which has the original final
stanza.  The 1956 “Sacred Selections for the Church” (#219) has all four
stanzas, though utilizing the Sanderson revision of the fourth.

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

I. Stanza 1 says that we are soldiers for a great cause
 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, not in this book, 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. The next stanza says that we have a great mission
 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.”
 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 the glory dawning.  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 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 necessarily refer to the earth 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.:  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 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.

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