We used to sing this at school, and it stirred my heart as only a 13-year old’s can be stirred. I still love the tune, composed by Thomas Williams in 1890.
It’s James Russell Lowell’s words, though, that are worth thinking through. Lowell has caught something of the heart of Christian martyrdom that may have unconsciously led Martin Luther King to quote from these words in his Address to Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church on April 4 1967…
Once to every man and nation,
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with false-hood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever,
'Twixt that darkness and that light.
Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And 'tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses,
While the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue,
Of the faith they had denied.
Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet the truth alone is strong:
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong,
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.