BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC written in 1862
Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) wrote these words while the nation was in the midst of some of the hottest battles of the Civil War. She sent the words to the Atlantic Monthly magazine, and received an honorarium of $5. But the money wasn’t her concern. Her purpose had been to provide some more wholesome lyrics for the tune “John Brown’s Body Lies a-Moldin’ in the Grave”. (Seriously. Who would write a song and name it that?) She accomplished what she had set out to do… and more. When President Abraham Lincoln first heard her hymn, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, he asked to have it sung again. Soon the entire nation was singing this song.
The text is filled with biblical symbolism. It seems to flow back and forth between Old Testament prophecy, end times judgment, and the War the nation was immersed in. The “grapes of wrath” refers to Revelation 14:19. The “sounding trumpet” is probably from Revelation 8. For Christians, the message of this song is that God’s truth is eternal… and will win out. Though circumstances may appear overwhelmingly difficult, God will still accomplish His purposes, and His truth will endure.
This hymn is sometimes called “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”. But, I must confess… of all the patriotic hymns that are sometimes sung in church, this one is BY FAR my least favorite…
Read this hymn, and – today – look to God, even in the toughest of times.
Though this hymn has been added to and taken from many times since its writing, here is the original version, as Julia wrote it.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
they have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps: His day is marching on. (Chorus)
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you My grace shall deal”;
let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel, since God is marching on. (Chorus)
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet! Our God is marching on. (Chorus)
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
with a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free* while God is marching on. (Chorus)
* Many modern recordings of the Battle Hymn of the Republic use the lyric “As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free” as opposed to the lyric originally written by Julia Ward Howe.