Yes, you read the title correctly. In this post I will be discussing the hymn “We Rest on Thee” (Tune: Finlandia) and how it is indeed a clarion call to heroism and reliance upon God and also an inspiration to men and women of faith to strive forward into the world as warrior princes and princesses, battling for the truth.
This hymn has a history behind it as well that I’d like to elaborate on. In 1956, five missionaries, Jim Elliot of Portland, Oregon, Nate Saint of Philadelphia, Ed McCulley of Milwaukee, Pete Fleming of Seattle, and Roger Youderian of Montana, sang this hymn in praise before venturing deeper into the forests of Brazil, hoping that they would have a breakthrough with the Auca Indian tribe that they had come to offer the gospel to. They were killed the next morning, dying as heroes for Christ. To quote from Elisebeth Elliot’s biography of her husband, Shadow of the Almighty (another companion book is called Through Gates of Splendour, in direct reference to the song.)
Before four-thirty that afternoon the quiet waters of the Cuarary flowed over the bodies of the five comrades, slain by the men they had come to win for Christ, whose banner they had borne. The world called it a nightmare of tragedy. The world did not recognise the truth of the second clause of Jim Elliot’s credo: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
(Shadow of the Almighty, pg 19)
This song has long been one of my favourite hymns for a variety of reasons: the tune is lilting and memorable, the words brisk and clear, with an underlying sense of comfort underpinning them. Yet when one looks deeper the hymn isn’t just a song to sing during “the dark night of the soul” (as in fact, I have oft done) but a stirring ballad that affirms our position as warriors – princes and princesses – holding high the standard for our Saviour, although admittedly we all have different means of doing so; a few of us will use the art of writing as a means to fight for Christ in the world, whilst others will actively minister by other word or deed, drawing people to the love of Christ by their very love for others, and others may show the face and affections of Christ through service as a stay-at-home mother, and some of us – like the Iranian pastor who has refused to recant his faith and is now under the death penalty – will die for him, and by their ultimate denial of self for their friend, commander, lover, on the battlefield of the world, being a “white flame of sacrifice” Christians like pastor Yousef Nadarkhani stand out among them as worthy princes and princesses of the Kingdom, and this hymn is definitely an inspiration to be one of them.
And be honest with yourself, lads and lasses, in your heart of hearts, haven’t you longed to be a prince or princess, living in disguise, fighting to reconquer the Kingdom your Father reigns over? Haven’t you longed to a be prince or princess, (who were often warriors – just read the barest amount of history and that will be very evident) yearned to be a part of something beyond yourself? Well, you can and we are, if we are Christians “following where our Saviour trod!”
Now for the first and second verses of the hymn:
“We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender!
We go not forth alone against the foe,
Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender,
We rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go.”
“Yea, in Thy name, O Captain of Salvation!
In Thy dear name, all other names above,
Jesus our Righteousness, our sure Foundation,
Our Prince of Glory, and our King of Love.”
These are only the first and second lines (unfortunately I can’t quote the whole song!) , but they will work for this analysis. As I mentioned previously, this song is accessible on two levels – for both comfort and rallying as-if-to-battle. To put it another way, it’s like singing a lullaby to discover that it originally employed as a song to hearten troops before first contact. (Although I have never heard of such a thing, but it’s a pretty good analogy. Hopefully.
A line in the second verse of the hymn mentions Christ being the “Captain of Salvation” (My mind immediately went to “Joshua” after writing down “Salvation” and for those of you who don’t know why this is relevant, I will leave thee guessing.) A “Captain” is normally a war leader, the lowest rank in the hierarchy of authority in the army, but his position is still very essential, since it is most often the Captains who lead the charge, as Christ did for us by his act of denying himself even to death on a cross for our sins. The first verse also mentions that we rest on God, who is our “Shield” an instrument used to protect and defend and even fight with if necessary, and in Ephesians 6:16, the shield we must gird ourselves with is the shield of faith – and what else is faith besides simple, childlike faith in our Captain that he will see us safely through the perils of the battle or the rough storms at sea as we voyage alongside him, following in his footsteps?
“We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each Thy grace to know,
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
“We rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go.
We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender!
Thine is the battle, thine shall be the praise,
When passing through the gates of pearly splendour,
Victors, we rest with Thee for endless days.”
In the army, soldiers have been documented as having experienced “battle fatigue” a condition that is characterized by weakness, slower reaction to events, indecision, and disconnection from one’s surroundings. In our own lives due to times of either great anxiety or pain or stress, it might seem like we are also experiencing battle fatigue, which is a very dispiriting incident to have to undergo and it discloses our weaknesses like a scalpel creating a fine incision on a patient, but in spite of that, there is still hope – at the end of it all there will be a procession (which in archaic Roman terms, is what a “triumph” actually is) of conquest and celebration and hard-won victory, with Jesus at the forefront of it all, and it will be the most glorious parade that ever was, since the whole of creation will be joining in as songs peal from our mouths and joy bathes everyone from head to foot.
The last verse mentions “Victors” and how “Thine is the battle” which is a fascinating inclusion to a hymn that seems to be totally focussed on resting on Christ, but not actively fighting for him – but how else can a person be a victor unless they fight for something? The etymology of the word has that as its implication – a Victor is a conqueror.
And since Christ conquered for us, and has given us status as princes and princesses of his Kingdom, despite all the anxieties and fears and the struggles and the pain, we are called to be heroes for him – Victors. He expects nothing less.
- What the Bible Teaches About God’s Protection (verticalviewer.wordpress.com)
- 2 Timothy (mybiblereadingplan.wordpress.com)
- Hymn of the day – Joy Overflowing (livesharp.org)
- Irreverence (coetuselectorum.wordpress.com)