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"Fight the Good Fight"
J. S. B. Monsell
I guess you can say that a clergyman’s a hard worker when he has written eleven volumes of poetry and three hundred hymns, when he’s a regular correspondent with the longtime Prime Minister of his country, when he has built or rebuilt three churches, and he dies of his injuries after falling off the roof of the last one. You couldn’t get the Reverend John Samuel Bewley Monsell to sit down and take things easy. When he wasn’t writing hymns and poems, he was publishing sermons, reflections on the Christian life, and a book called the Winton Catechism. But then, his whole family was like that, and John’s portrait does suggest an active and gregarious man. And perhaps, when he wrote our Hymn of the Week, “Fight the Good Fight,” he wasn’t thinking of himself, but of his eldest son Thomas, a lieutenant in the British Navy, who died at the tender age of 18, on his way to the Crimea, to fight in Britain’s war against Russia.
I hold no brief for that alliance in favor of the doddering Ottoman Empire, nor did Gladstone himself, who believed that the expense of war was a healthy check against empire-builders and ambitious generals. Still, when the soldier is called to fight, he fights, and that’s why we honor him. We know that, whatever else we may say about him, good or bad, he will put his life on the line, and will give it up rather than turn tail and abandon his mates in the field or the trenches. How much more glorious is it, then, and more worthy of honor, when we are talking about what Saint Paul calls “the good fight,” that which all Christians are called to take up? I don’t know of any braver and more calmly confident words than Paul’s, when he writes to Timothy, knowing that he will soon be put to death: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” It isn’t the only time Paul speaks about fighting, either. We’re to put on the full armor of God. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. The very word of God is a double-edged sword, says the writer to the Hebrews, cleaving between the marrow and the bone.
All these calls to take the field cheer my heart and strengthen my arm. The battle is the Lord’s, whether we seem to lose today or seem to win; what counts, for the soldier, is that he do his duty — that’s our Word of the Week — and do it with a will. It is his way of fulfilling the great commandment, to love the Lord God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength. He fights not because he hates, but because he loves. He fights not to die but to live eternally. And who is at his side? Not the politician, not the general seeking to make a name for himself, but Christ himself, who is both the light to his path, and the face he seeks to behold, as we may well hope that the boy Thomas Monsell beheld, when he was brought from the storms of the Mediterranean unto glory.
Fight the good fight will all thy might, Christ is thy strength, and Christ thy right; Lay hold on life, and it shall be Thy joy and crown eternally. Run the straight race through God's good grace, Lift up thine eyes, and seek his face; Life with its way before us lies, Christ is the path, and Christ the prize. Cast care aside, upon thy Guide Lean, and his mercy will provide; Lean, and the trusting soul shall prove Christ is its life, and Christ its love. Faint not nor fear, his arms are near, He changeth not, and thou art dear; Only believe, and thou shalt see That Christ is all in all to thee.
Here is “Fight the Good Fight” by the Ralph Carmichael Choir, with their beautiful old-fashioned harmonization set to the tune, Pentecost.
ord & Song is an online magazine devoted to reclaiming the good, the beautiful, and the true. We publish six essays each week, on words, classic hymn, poems, films, and popular songs, as well a weekly podcast, alternately Poetry Aloud or Anthony Esolen Speaks. To support this project, please join us as a free or paid subscriber.