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Considering Early Army Hymnology & Theology
by Major Terence Hale

It has often been said that what a people sing becomes the DNA of their theology, or perhaps more accurately, the DNA of one’s theology is revealed in what a faith community sings. I hold that it truly is a two-way street of sorts, but no matter what angle you approach it from, the theology of the people is embodied in the songs of the people. This can clearly be applied to the early Salvation Army. In short, we can assume when exploring the hymns of the early Salvation Army that they sang what they believed and they believed it because they sang it. Indeed, in the introduction of the 1930 edition of The Salvation Army Song Book, General Edward Higgins included the words of William Booth that implored the worshipper to “take in the meaning of every song.” He continues, “here is a great treasury of truth… be determined that by God’s grace you will never sing what you do not really mean and that you will be fit to sing all you find here.”[1]


Booth was not alone in this assertion. In recent history, Resch, in the introduction to his article, Hymnody as Teacher of the Faith, writes that, “Hymns are teachers…. The teaching influence of hymnody is important because … both young and old learn about matters such as theology through the texts which they sing.”[2] For the poor masses of Victorian England, hymns, which in the Army’s case were set to familiar secular tunes, would have been key tools for the transmission and learning of theological concepts. Anthony Baker offers support for this idea. Baker explores the connection between poetry and theology, and while agreeing with C.S. Lewis that theology is not poetry, and actually belongs in an entirely different category, he lays out an argument that poetry can be theology or at least serve as a gateway for the human soul into theological understanding.[3]


With this in mind, what is very telling is that the early Army song book,[4] and sung worship, was full of themes concerning the fire, the Presence of God, or the Holy Spirit, which served the role of empowering, transforming, and setting apart His people for service, mission, and sacrifice. In the same song book introduction already referenced, Booth writes, “let us persevere in our singing of the simple old truths … that God has already blessed so widely to the Salvation of souls and the making and training of red-hot Soldiers.”[5] Early Salvation Army theology and mission was very pragmatic and utilitarian. What was not necessary, and seen as key to moving the mission forward, was eventually jettisoned from the movement. The sacraments are a case in point.[6] As the early years of the movement progressed much of traditional ecclesiastical practice was abandoned, if even adopted to begin with, while other more useful ideas and practices became solidified into its outlook.


Theologically, it is striking in this light how far the idea of the holiness and the fire of God, leading into power and sanctification, was kept and celebrated, testifying to its central importance to early Salvationists. The hymnology of the early Army accordingly reflects the pragmatic and utilitarian nature of theological thought within the movement. The majority of songs could be grouped into three themes, salvation, consecration, and, what would become a hallmark[7] of Army sung worship, warfare. Sandall notes that in an early hymn book, of the then Christian Mission, there were twenty-five entries of ‘the type of “Soldiers of Christ, arise!”’[8] In another work he adds that in his opinion The Salvation Army owed as much of its “astonishing success” to its hymns as it did to its disciplines.[9]


It is unnecessary for us in this context to delve completely into early Army hymnology, which, for instance, would have to consider the inclusion of many hymns by Charles Wesley, so for our purposes we can focus primarily on the works of just two writers, William Booth himself, and Commissioner John Lawley. Booth has not been remembered in history as a song writer, and indeed there are only two songs penned by him in the present edition of the Song Book. However, the two songs that he is remembered for are profound, and one in particular reveals his understanding of the role of sanctification in mission. In 1894 William Booth wrote the following song, entitled “Send the Fire”:

Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,

Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire

Thy blood bought gift today we claim,

Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

Look down and see this waiting host,

Give us the promised Holy Ghost;

We want another Pentecost,

Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!


God of Elijah, hear our cry:

Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

To make us fit to live or die,

Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

To burn up every trace of sin,

To bring the light and glory in,

The revolution now begin,

Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!


’Tis fire we want, for fire we plead,

Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

The fire will meet our every need,

Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

For strength to ever do the right,

For grace to conquer in the fight,

For power to walk the world in white,

Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!


To make our weak hearts strong and brave,

Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

To live a dying world to save,

Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

O see us on Thy altar lay

Our lives, our all, this very day;

To crown the offering now we pray,

Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire![10]


The sung theology is very clear here. In verse one the fire, which represents the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, is invited to come, by the merit of Christ’s redemptive work, and fill the waiting host. The second verse is an accounting of the work of sanctification in the believer, the removal of sin and the indwelling of God’s glory is directly correlated with the action of living and dying. We also see two precursors to the themes of the remaining verses, first of all, the singers are asking to be made fit, and I would suggest willing, to both and live and die for Christ, establishing the theme of sacrifice. Then secondly, revolution is requested; the revolution that is taking place spiritually is also being asked for in the world, bringing forward the theme of action. The third verse is a poignant prayer, For strength to ever do the right, For grace to conquer in the fight, For power to walk the world in white….The theme of action is brought into full view here, so that there is no mistaking what Booth is implying here, which is that the work of the Holy Spirit, the fire, translates into action. Then in the fourth verse the worshipper pledges sacrifice, O see us on Thy altar lay, our lives, our all this very day…. In this concluding verse Booth makes clear the connection between sacrifice and what he sees to be our purpose, to live a dying world to save. It takes very little effort to see outlined in this song a process and cycle of pragmatic holiness. We have in it the realization of the character of God, followed by sanctification and consecration, and then a response of action and sacrifice. 


The next songs I want to consider were penned by a much more prolific song writer. The contributions of Commissioner John Lawley have been found in every edition of The Salvation Army Song Book since very early days. John Lawley joined the Salvation Army when it was still called the Christian Mission. He was a dynamic preacher, but is remembered mainly as an accomplished song writer and private secretary to William Booth. This is worth noting as the theology that comes out in Lawley’s songs would have had full opportunity to be influenced by William Booth because of the direct and close relationship between the two men for over 20 years.


In reviewing the works of Lawley, it is striking that his songs center upon one of two themes, either the invitation to salvation, or the ideals of sanctification and consecration. For obvious reasons, it is only possible here to focus on those songs that deal with sanctification and consecration. Our focus will be on one song in particular, “Near the Cross Assembled Master,” the words are as follows: 

Near thy cross assembled, Master,
t thy feet we fall,
Seeking power to send us faster,
Hear, Lord, while we call.
Soul and body consecrating,
Leaving every sin,
Longing for a full salvation,
Victory we would win.

Fire that changes earthly craving
Into pure desire,
Fire destroying fear and doubting,
ills and saves us higher;
Fire that takes its stand for Jesus,
Seeks and saves the lost;
Fire that follows where he pleases,
Fearless of the cost.

Fire that turns men into heroes,
Makes of weakness, might;
Fire that makes us more than conquerors,
Strengthens us to fight.
Crosses bearing, dangers daring,
By the fire set free,
In my Master's suffering sharing,
Send this fire on me.

 We have in this song, as with Booth’s, the recurring focus on the fire. Again, we see a longing and invitation, or seeking, in the first verse, he writes, Near thy cross assembled, Master, At thy feet we fall, Seeking power to send us faster, Hear, Lord, while we call. This is followed by the theme of consecration, with soul and body consecrating, leaving every sin, longing for a full salvation. The focus on consecration continues into the second verse with his naming of the fire as the energy that transforms earthy craving and destroys fear and doubting. Then for the remainder of the second verse and into the third he launches fully into the ideals of sacrifice and action, with the words, fire that turns men into heroes, makes of weakness, might; fire the makes us more than conquerors, strengthens us to fight.

These themes are continued in various degrees in Lawley’s other contributions to the Song Book. A portion of his song “Wanted, Hearts Baptized with Fire states:

Wanted, hearts baptized with fire,
Hearts completely cleansed from sin;
Hearts that will go to the mire,
Hearts that dare do aught for Him;
Hearts that will be firmer, braver,
Hearts like heroes gone before;
Hearts enjoying God’s full favor,
Hearts to love Him more and more.
Hearts to hoist the colors bravely,
Hearts to share the hardest fight;
Hearts that know their duty clearly,
Hearts to dare and do the right.

Elsewhere he writes:

To the uttermost he saves,
To the uttermost he saves;
Dare you now believe
And his love receive?
To the uttermost he saves.

At first it appears that this is a song of invitation to salvation but it is not. Dating back to at least the 1930 version of the Song Book, it is included in the section on holiness under the sub section of the call to holiness. Lawley is referencing the idea of full salvation, and is challenging, daring, the believer to step into this realized consecration. Then, finally for our purposes, he issues a call for a manifestation of God’s power among Salvationists, select lines of his song “Give Us a Day of Wonders,” go as follows:

Give us a day of wonders,
Jehovah, bare thine arm…
We offer thee this temple,
With power, Lord, enter in…
Give courage for the battle,
Give strength thy foes to slay…
Give faith to fight with patience
Till fighting days are o’er.

These songs by Booth and Lawley are typical and representative of the sentiment of other early Army song writers. There is a preoccupation with the fire of the Holy Spirit leading to sanctification, and in turn leading to acts of service and sacrifice on behalf of those lost in sin. The many warfare songs such as Robert Johnson’s “Storm the Forts of Darkness,”[15] and “Marching On the Light of God”[16] that features the line marching on through the hosts of sin… victory’s mine while I’ve Christ within, can be clearly understood as an extension of the theology laid out in the songs we have already considered. 

It is interesting to note that the songs that mention “fire” that transforms, or “blood and fire,” all come from writers who were intimately connected with Booth or who were with him in the early days of the movement. The chorus of a song written by George S. Railton declares, “Salvation Army, Army of God, onward to conquer the world with fire and blood.”[17] Evangeline Booth, daughter of William and fourth General of The Salvation Army, penned these words,

The world for God! The world for God!
For this, dear Lord, give to my soul consuming fire.
Give fire that makes men heroes, turns weakness into might,
The fire that gives courage to suffer for the fight,
The fire that changes fearing to Pentecostal daring,
The fire that makes me willing for Christ to live or die;
For behold! On a hill, Calvary! Calvary!

Reading these words, one cannot help but see the similarities to both Booth’s and Lawley’s songs and wonder how much of an influence these were upon her own theology.  

There are two other songs worth noting; though they do not directly mention ‘fire’ they carry the same message as Booth and Lawley through just slightly different language. They are noteworthy not only because of the theological cues, but also because they are each written by one of Booths children. Emma Booth-Tucker wrote,

We the people of thy host,
Standing here before thee,
For thy power, O Holy Ghost,
We, as one, implore thee!

Send the power, send the power,
Sent it, we implore thee.
Fill us with the Holy Ghost,
As we bow before thee

Thine for time, and thine for aye,
Battling, conquering for thee,
Till, when ended life’s short day,
We in Heaven adore thee.

Her brother Herbert Booth penned dozens of songs, many of which are still in wide circulation within The Salvation Army today. The following is an excerpt from one of those songs that originates from the early days of the movement.

I bring to thee my heart to fill;
I feel how week I am but still
To thee for help I call.
In joy or grief, to live or die,
For earth or Heaven, this is my cry,
Be thou my all in all.

No tempest can my courage shake,
My love from thee no pain can take,
No fear my heart appall;
And where I cannot see I’ll trust,
For then I know thou surely must
Be still my all in all.

It is interesting how the songs early Salvationists sang were able to capture both their hope and their method in a succinct fashion. The following quote from Booth creates a summarizing link between their mission and worship, “so wake up all the powers of your being… and consecrate every awakened power to the great end of saving them [the unconverted]. Be a Salvationist. Rescue the perishing… Be self-sacrificing.”[21] We can conclude simply with Booth’s own words:

Let us look at it. What is this work we have in hand? To subdue a rebellious world to God. And what is the question to which many anxiously ask an answer? How is it most likely to be accomplished? Now, there are some things on which we may reckon all to be agreed:

1. That if ever the world, or any part of it is subdued, it will be by the instrumentality of men.

2. By holy men, saved, spiritual, divine men.

3. By men using substantially the same means as were used by the first Apostles, that is, preaching, praying, believing, etc.

4. That all that is effected will be by the co-operation and power of the Holy Ghost, given through and because of the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.[22]





Baker, Anthony D.  "Our grass-stained wings: an essay on poetry and theology." Anglican Theological Review 94, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 507-516. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed June 20, 2018).

Begbie, Harold. The Life of General William Booth: The Founder of The Salvation Army. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1920.

Resch, Richard C. "Hymnody as Teacher of the Faith." Concordia Theological Quarterly 57, no. 3 (July 1993): 161-176. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed June 20, 2018).

Rightmire, R. David. The Sacramental Journey of The Salvation Army: A Study of Holiness Foundations. Alexandria, V.A.: Crest Books, 2016.

Salvation Army Songs. London: The Salvation Army, 1899.

Salvation Army Songs. London: SP&S, 1930.

Sandall, Robert. The History of The Salvation Army; Volume One 1865-1878. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, 1947.

___________. The History of The Salvation Army; Volume Two 1878 - 1886. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, 1950.

The Salvation Army Song Book. Toronto, ON: The Salvation Army, 1930.

The Song Book of The Salvation Army. Verona, NJ: The Salvation Army, 1987.

The Song Book of The Salvation Army. London: SP&S, 1953.



[1] The Salvation Army Song Book (Toronto, ON: The Salvation Army, 1930), iv.

[2] Richard C. Resch, “Hymnody as Teacher of the Faith,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 57, no. 3 (July 1993): 161.

[3] Anthony D. Baker, "Our grass-stained wings: an essay on poetry and theology." Anglican Theological Review 94, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 516.

[4] Booth and his early comrades preferred to use the term songs oppose to hymns, as the latter lent itself too readily to the established church of their day which so many of their converts were disillusioned with, and disenfranchised from. Cf. Sandall, History of The Salvation Army; Vol. 2, 107; and Rightmire, The Sacramental Journey of The Salvation Army (Alexandria, V.A.: Crest Books, 2016), 61.

[5] The Salvation Army Song Book (1930), iii.

[6] The Sacraments were phased out very early in The Salvation Army’s development. Rightmire notes that “anything that impeded the conquest of the world for God was expendable.” Rightmire, op. cit., 75.

[7] Sandall notes the following quote by a non-Salvationist commenting on the hymns of the early Salvation Army. “Hymns under all circumstances have been spiritual meat and drink to me, but the Salvation Army songs have tapped a new mine. I have felt like an old war horse hearing the trumpet sound at mass meetings. My whole being has been stirred by the power and intensity of these wonderful compositions.” Sandall, op. cit., 108.

[8] Sandall, History of The Salvation Army; Vol. 1, 227.

[9] Sandall, History of The Salvation Army; Vol. 2, 108.

[10] The Song Book of The Salvation Army, song #203 (Verona, NJ: The Salvation Army, 1987). I have chosen for this section to reference all songs, unless otherwise noted, from the 1987 edition of The Song Book of The Salvation Army. I have done this for ease of reference for anyone wishing to see them in print or to reference the entire song where only portions have been quoted. While all the songs cited in the coming paragraphs were originally published in the earliest Song Books of The Salvation Army, finding reference copies, digital or otherwise, for review would be a very great challenge for most people wanting to explore them further. All the songs quoted, besides two, appear in the 1899 version of The Salvation Army Song Book, which was the first edition of the Song Book that was released in its 5th edition in 2015. The two songs that do not appear in the 1899 edition are We the People of Thy Host which was included in the 1930 edition, but was written prior to 1903. The second is The World for God!, which was a part of the 1953 edition, though was first published in 1937. It was written in 1934 however it is important to note that both of these songs were written by daughters of William Booth. Salvation Army Songs (London: The Salvation Army, 1899).; Salvation Army Songs (London: SP&S, 1930).; The Song Book of The Salvation Army (London: SP&S, 1953).

[11] The Song Book of The Salvation Army, song #197.

[12] Ibid., song #704.

[13] Ibid., song #413.

[14] Ibid., song #575.

[15] Ibid., song #696.

[16] Ibid., song #811.

[17] Ibid., song #802.

[18] Ibid., song #830.

[19] Ibid., song #643.

[20] Ibid., song #489.

[21] Begbie, 409.

[22] Ibid., 411.








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