The origin of the baseball walk-up song, music chosen to accompany a player’s approach to the batter’s box, is said to date back over a half-century to Chicago.
Nancy Faust, the White Sox’s legendary organist, began playing topically themed tunes to welcome players or respond to events inside legendary Comiskey Park. I was explaining this tradition to our boys the other day, and one of them mistakenly thought I was referring to “wake-up songs” instead. I went with it, and jokingly said to Will, “If I were choosing one for you and your brothers, I know just the one: ‘Rise Up, O Men of God.’”
We had a good laugh, but there’s truth in the jest.
Written by William Merrill in 1911, this great hymn of the faith is rarely sung anymore, and if it is, the words are often changed in a desire to be more inclusive. Instead of “Men of God” it might be sung as “Child of God” or even “Church of God.” There may be nothing intrinsically wrong with broadening the appeal, but at a time when a large percentage of men are increasingly apathetic, uninvolved, or altogether absent, a good case can be made for targeted ministry to men.
According to the song’s history, Chicago pastor William Merrill was deeply involved in the Presbyterian Brotherhood movement, an outreach where a great emphasis was given to making certain men saw a direct connection between their Christian faith and their responsibilities to the broader culture. Largely attributable to ripple effects from the YMCA success in the late 1800s, husbands, fathers, sons, and grandsons banded together in churches all across the country.
Pastor Merrill had recently read an article titled, “The Church of the Strong Men.” Having been previously told the Brotherhood needed a hymn to sing, Merrill took it upon himself to put pen to paper while riding on a Lake Michigan steamer. He initially titled the poem “To the Brotherhood” but its first line, “Rise Up, O Men of God,” prevailed. It’s been sung to numerous tunes, but the most familiar and enduring is “Festal Song” which was composed by William Henry Walter in the 1870s.
The stirring anthem unapologetically and unabashedly encourages men to stand up and serve:
Rise up, O men of God! Have done with lesser things. Give heart and mind and soul and strength To serve the King of kings.
What were the “lesser things” Merrill was referring to? We can speculate, but it’s a reminder that in every age there is a tendency to be distracted by nonessential or trivial things. Instead, we’re to focus our attention and eyes on Jesus.
Verse two is similarly timeless:
Rise up, O men of God! His kingdom tarries long. Bring in the day of brotherhood, And end the night of wrong.
We might wonder why Christ has not yet returned, but His timing is not our concern. Here Pastor Merrill calls on men of his era (and ours!) to oppose evil and work towards justice.
When you jump into verse three, it’s clear we’re to commit ourselves to the Church here on earth because she’s counting on us to do so:
Rise up, O men of God! The church for you doth wait, Her strength unequal to her task; Rise up and make her great!
Here is the catch: the Church is dependent upon Christians leaning in and living up to their responsibilities. Writing to the Church at Ephesus, Paul addressed the need for “the whole body, joined and held together by every joint” to work together (4:16).
Finally, Merrill urges us to stand strong by proclaiming Christ, even to a world seemingly uninterested in the Gospel:
Lift high the cross of Christ! Tread where His feet have trod. As brothers of the Son of Man, Rise up, O men of God!
He’s reminding us that Jesus modeled the way forward – and we must follow in His path.
Of course, this message is applicable and appropriate for women, too, but there is something especially powerful and effective about ministering specifically to men. It does not subtract from women when leaders address men alone. In fact, men’s ministry has a multiplying and compounding effect. Godly men are far more likely to pour into women, and vice-versa.
Pastor William Merrill would eventually move on to New York City, where he shepherded the Brick Presbyterian Church for over 27 years. He died in 1954.
When it comes to evangelizing and discipling, singing alone won’t get the job done, but churches and Christians who take the time and expend the resources to develop and mentor boys and men are faithfully serving well beyond the individuals themselves.
Photo from Shutterstock.