Forward! be our watchword

“Forward!” be our watchword,
  Steps and voices joined;
Seek the things before us,
  Not a look behind;
Burns the fiery pillar
  At our army’s head;
Who shall dream of shrinking,
  By our Captain led?
Forward through the desert,
  Through the toil and fight;
Heaven’s Kingdom waits us,
  Forward into light.
Glories upon glories
  Hath our God prepared,
By the souls that love Him,
  One day to be shared:
Eye hath not beheld them,
  Ear hath never heard;
Nor of these hath uttered
  Thought or speech or word;
Forward, marching forward
  Where the kingdom’s bright,
Till the veil be lifted,
  Till our faith be sight!
Ana Lara

Storrs, Connecticut, United States

Henry Alford was born in London in 1810. He was nurtured by Christian parents, and though he lost his mother at a young age, he was greatly influenced by a father and grandfather, who were Anglican pastors. Their example guided him into a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. His spiritual development was such that he wrote an outstanding, short sermon at age 10. After he graduated from Trinity College and was ordained in 1833, he combined his ministry work with teaching, and founded a choral group for the development of music and the performance of oratorios in the Canterbury Cathedral. Henry could play the piano, the organ, and possessed a good singing voice. He also published a few Latin odes and an account of Jewish history. One of his greatest works was the Greek Testament in four volumes, published in 1849, which is still available today. Henry married his cousin Fanny Alford in 1836. Together they had four children. However, his two sons died at an early age but his daughters lived and were married during his lifetime. Alford was eventually appointed Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, known as the mother church of England. He composed one of the most memorable songs of Thanksgiving, in the hymn, “Come Ye Thankful People Come. ” It reflects on the harvest; the Lord’s second coming.

In 1870, Henry Alford suffered a physical breakdown due to his strenuous activities in the ministry and died the following year. His death at age 61 left a void in the hearts of many whom God had touched through his ministry.

The Christian harvest festival in England is a special occasion of Thanksgiving to the Lord for the abundant harvest. For this particular occasion, Alford was inspired to write, ”Come Ye Thankful People Come. ” It first appeared in the book, “Psalms and Hymns. ”

L. Codington

Sunny Olatunji


Hallelujah... AMEN

Steve Miller

Detroit, MI, United States

Dean of Canterbury, Henry Alford, was born in London. He wrote Latin odes and a history of the Jews before he was 10. At the age of 16 he wrote in his Bible: "I do this day, in the presence of God and my own soul, renew my covenant with God, and solemnly determine henceforth to become His, and to do His work as far as in me lies." Although he prepared a hymn book, which contained 55 of his own hymns, he is mainly known for his monumental commentary, "The Greek New Testament", which took him 20 years to complete. Alford was requested to write "Forward be our watchword", to be used as a processional in Canterbury Cathedral. He composed this song as he marched up and down the aisles. He died before this hymn was sung for the 1st time by the Canterbury choirs. The original has 8 stanzas. - Songs of the Spirt by Martin


The 1st 8 lines of the original 1st stanza are the same as, but the last 4 lines differ:

1 Forward! be our watchword,

steps and voices joined;

Seek the things before us,

not a look behind;

Burns the fiery pillar

at our army’s head;

Who shall dream of shrinking,

by our Captain led?

Forward through the desert,

through the toil and fight;

Jordan flows before us;

Zion beams with light.


2 Forward! When in childhood

buds the infant mind;

All through youth and manhood

not a thought behind;

Speed through realms of nature,

climb the steps of grace;

Faint not, till in glory,

gleams our Father’s face.

Forward, all the lifetime,

climb from height to height,

Till the head be hoary,

till the eve be light.


3 Forward! flock of Jesus,

salt of all the earth,

Till each yearning purpose

spring to glorious birth:

Sick, they ask for healing;

blind, they grope for day;

Pour upon the nations

wisdom’s loving ray.

Forward, out of error,

leave behind the night;

Forward through the darkness,

forward into light!


The original 4th stanza is the 2nd stanza. It is the same except for the 9th and 10th lines:

4 Glories upon glories

hath our God prepared,

By the souls that love Him

one day to be shared;

Eye hath not beheld them,

ear hath never heard;

Nor of these hath uttered

thought or speech a word;

Forward, marching eastward,

where the heaven is bright,

Till the veil be lifted,

till our faith be sight.


5 Far o’er yon horizon

rise the city towers

Where our God abideth;

that fair home is ours:

Flash the streets with jasper,

shine the gates with gold;

Flows the gladdening river

shedding joys untold.

Thither, onward, thither,

in the Spirit’s might;

Pilgrims to your country,

forward into light!


6 Into God’s high temple,

onward as we press,

Beauty spreads around us,

born of holiness;

Arch, and vault, and carving,

lights of varied tone,

Softened words and holy,

prayer and praise alone.

Every thought upraising

to our city bright,

Where the tribes assemble

round the throne of light.


7 Naught that city needeth

of these aisles of stone;

Where the Godhead dwelleth,

temple there is none;

All the saints that ever

in these courts have stood,

Are but babes, and feeding

on the children’s food.

On through sign and token,

stars amidst the night,

Forward through the darkness,

forward into light.


8 To th’eternal Father

loudest anthems raise;

To the Son and Spirit

echo songs of praise;

To the Lord of glory,

blessed Three in One,

Be by men and angels

endless honor done.

Weak are earthly praises,

dull the songs of night:

Forward into triumph,

forward into light!