Fiery Gospel: Analysis of Verse 3 of the Battle Hymn of the Republic

The third is perhaps the most curious verse of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic". It speaks of a "fiery gospel".

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."

The fiery gospel of which she speaks is not a direct reference to any Bible passage. This verse continues the idea from verse one that it is Julia Ward Howe herself having the revelation much as did John of Patmos (as relayed in the final book of the Christian Bible). It appears she herself saw this message in the bayonets of the Union army. Indeed, she saw the Civil War as a just war. She saw the instrument of God's justice to be the Union army.

The entire hymn moves in a parabolic arc from God's wrath in verse one, to the army in general, down to the rows of bayonets. As the verses speed by, Mrs. Howe becomes more and more specific, until finally, in the final verse, she will become quite personal and speak of "you and me".

This, the third verse of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic", is quite commonly left out of Protestant hymnals. In The Celebration Hymnal, commonly used in Presbyterian churches, the verse is left out, but a final verse by Gary Rhodes added:

We can almost hear the trumpet sound, the Lord's return is hear;
There are still so many people lost, His message they must hear;
Father, give us one more moment, one more day, just one more year-
With God we're marching on.1

This verse by Mr. Rhodes strikes a discordant note, entirely changing the timbre of the song. What begins as a song about the grim justice of God, ends in a plea for time to evangelize the world. This addition made in 1988 speaks somewhat to the change in emphasis of the church. The church, then, wishes to change to focus of this hymn from divine retribution on evil doers to evangelism, from fighting to talking.

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  1. The Celbration Hymnal 1997, Word/Integrity

Interesting Fact:

The third verse of the Battle Hymn of the Republic is often left out of hymnals.

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