Scripture Verse

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire. Exodus 13:21


Henry Alford (1810–1871)
National Portrait Gallery


Words: Hen­ry Al­ford, 1871. This hymn was writ­ten for the Tenth Fes­tiv­al of the Pa­ro­chi­al Choirs of the Can­ter­bu­ry Dio­ces­an Un­ion, held in Can­ter­bury Ca­thed­ral, Eng­land.

Music: St. Bo­ni­face (Gad­sby) Hen­ry R. Gad­sby, 1875 (🔊 pdf nwc).

Alternate Tunes:

Henry R. Gadsby (1842–1907)

In Hymns and Their Au­thors (Lon­don: Hod­der and Stough­ton, 1902), Fran­cis Jones gives the fol­low­ing in­for­ma­tion, from Al­ford’s son-in-law, H. E. T. Cru­soe:

It is re­lat­ed in the life of the Rev. J. G. Wood that Mr. Wood once asked the Dean [Al­ford] to write a pro­cess­ion­al hymn for a cho­ral fes­tiv­al, and to com­pose the mu­sic al­so.

The Dean was at first a li­ttle ov­er­come by the au­da­ci­ty of the pro­pos­al, but fin­al­ly con­sent­ed, and wrote a ve­ry ad­mi­ra­ble hymn.

But, good as it was, it was not the kind of hymn want­ed, and so Mr. Wood wrote off again to the Dean, point­ing out that the hymn was not well adapt­ed to sing on the march.

Would he, there­fore, go in­to his ca­thed­ral, walk slow­ly along the course the pro­cess­ion would take, and com­pose an­oth­er hymn as he did so?

The Dean, not in the least of­fend­ed, did as he was bid, and the re­sult was that grand hymn be­gin­ning 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;
Jordan flows be­fore us;
Zion beams with light.

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.

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.

To th’eter­nal Fa­ther
Loudest an­thems raise;
To the Son and Spir­it
Echo songs of praise;
To the Lord of glo­ry,
Blessèd 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!