In 1 Corinthians 16.13, the apostle Paul told the Corinthian brethren, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” These four admonitions would have been calls to the Corinthians to get about the things they needed to be doing. This would have been received much like a military commander marshaling his troops. My Bible cross-references this verse to 1 Samuel 4.9, where the Philistines rallied themselves by calling out, “Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.” The idea is for the Corinthians (and us) not to shrink back from the battle before them.
There is always a need for God’s people to step forward and take action. This starts with men of God doing what they need to be doing. The hymn, “Rise Up, O Men of God” (PHASS #516) was written by William P. Merrill, a Presbyterian pastor who ran a men’s program at his church. This hymn was intended to act as a rallying call for men to fill the voids in leadership that Merrill saw in his day, and that we frequently see in ours.
Because of the non-inclusiveness of “men” in this text, the song has been rendered in various ways. “Church” and “saints” have been used frequently as replacement words. The hymnal, Hymns for Worship, uses “child.” Even with the original word choice, it may be understood in the same sense as 1 Corinthians 16, or it may be understood that women singing it are doing so as to admonish the men of the congregation.
Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and soul and mind and strength
To serve the King of kings.
The first verse calls men of God to commit themselves fully to the Lord’s service. The admonition to “have done with lesser things” is a call to set aside all the mundane things of the world that distract us from our spiritual service. Let’s face it. There are a lot of things that we are called to do today that really have nothing to do with the work of the Lord. Such things are not necessarily sinful of themselves, but too many times we let ourselves get consumed with those things so that we have no time for the Lord.
Merrill invokes the greatest command: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12.30). If we are to rise up as men of God, we must give everything we have to the service of our King.
Rise up, O men of God!
His kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong.
The second verse takes a little bit of digesting and understanding. As it would have been understood by Merrill, this verse reeks of millennialism, particularly postmillennialism. The second line, “His kingdom tarries long,” means in more vernacular English that the kingdom is delayed in its coming. Thus, the point of this verse is for men of God to do their part to prepare the earth for Jesus’ return and His earthly reign (the “day of brotherhood”), especially through the tribulation (the “night of wrong”).
Obviously, for amillennialists such as myself, this won’t do. Can this be understood in a Scriptural sense? It can, if we understand that there is a way in which the Bible refers to the kingdom of God as still coming. Consider passages like 2 Timothy 4.18 (“The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom”) and 2 Peter 1.11 (“For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”), and the passages that talk about us inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6.9-11; Gal 5.21). The ultimate manifestation of the rule of God, the eternal kingdom in heaven with all of those who submit themselves to the will of God physically present (whatever it means at that point to be “physically” present) with God, still waits. That hasn’t happened yet, and until it does, we need to be doing all we can to work toward that day.
Rise up, O men of God!
The church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task.
Rise up and make her great!
I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I didn’t really think about the doctrinal implications of the second verse until today. This verse, however, has been bugging me for awhile. Think about the suggestion that the church’s strength is unequal (i.e., insufficient) to her task. The use of the feminine pronoun suggests that Merrill is thinking about the church in the sense of the bride of Christ; of course, that gives the inclusivists a bit more to gripe about if they want to contemplate the church as a woman with strength unequal to her task, but I digress. If we’re talking about the church in this universal, all-time, bride of Christ sense, then we have a problem. The church in that all-time, idealized sense, is equal to what God designed it for. It perfectly fits the role of the body of Christ.
So what do we do with this one? There is another sense of the word church that normally grates on me because the way we use it really confuses what the church is. A lot of time, when we talk about “the church” in some kind of universal sense, we’re not really talking about the entire body of the saved, but about all the people here on earth today who have submitted to the will of God. If we think about the church as a sphere or some other object, we’re talking about the cross-section (i.e., the circle) that represents the present. In that sense, we can say that the church’s strength is unequal to her task. Why? Because all of us here today that are part of the church have some growing to do. As Paul points out in several of his letters, we aren’t perfect!
So, what this verse says is that all of us (or the men, if you want to stick with that audience, but it’s really all of us) need to step up and fulfill our role in the body of Christ in order to make it stronger.
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!
Ultimately, the way we “rise up” is by imitating Christ (1 Cor 11.1, etc.). This verse brings to mind the image of the disciple, who, as is Jewish Mishnah suggests, would be covered in the dust kicked up by his teacher’s feet. While the idea that Merrill likely was trying to promote was fraternity and brotherhood (see also v.2), “brothers of the Son of Man” probably isn’t the most consistent imagery here. Actually, one of the inclusive versions of this song gets it better, as “followers” of the Son of Man. The “children of the Son of Man” choice to be consistent with “child of God” is a complete head-scratcher. Since “Son of Man” is a specific reference to Jesus, the only ways we get children of the Son of Man (that I know of) are by inference of Isaiah 9.6 (“and his name shall be called…Everlasting Father”) or by us being God’s children (which is usually understood in the specific sense of God the Father, but theoretically could be a generic reference to God) and Jesus being God. Either way, it’s a messy use of eight syllables.
This last verse is where the more inclusive renderings of the titular phrase fall short. There is a poetry to using the title of Jesus as the “Son of Man.” Jesus is the Son of Man, and as men of God we are rising up. That repetition is lost with the other word choices, and except for the children/child rewording already mentioned, none of them that I know make an effort to recapture it.
It was a pleasure to use this song this morning in this particular sense of encouraging men to rise up and do the work of God. The congregation where I worship appointed elders today, and as part of that, one of the men led this song. Regardless of how we choose to interpret its message, the point remains that we need to rise up and serve the King of kings.