Hymn Stories - Rev’d John S. B. Monsell
Fight the good fight with all thy might;
Christ is thy Strength and Christ thy Right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.
John Samuel Bewly Monsell, born in Ireland in 1811, was educated at Trinity College,
Dublin, graduating in 1832. His first post was as curate of Templemore, Derry (1834-1836),
and, after holding a number of ecclesiastical positions, including vicar of Egham,
Surrey, he became rector of St Nicholas’s Church, Guildford, in 1870, and Chaplain
to Queen Victoria (1870-1875).
He was a prolific poet and hymn writer, publishing eleven volumes of poetry and approximately
three hundred hymns. His books included Hymns and Miscellaneous Poems (1837) and
Litany Hymns (1870), but he is best remembered for the hymn Fight the good fight
with all thy might which first appeared in 1863. Only this and three of his other
hymns are still sung today.
Despite the first line, this hymn is not a Christian battle-song in the style of
Onward Christian Soldiers or Soldiers of Christ arise. Rather, it is a call to faithfulness.
Each of the verses is based on a verse from the Epistles. The first echoes 1 Timothy
6:12, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.” The second, with
its athletic connotation, follows Hebrews 12:1, “Let us run with perseverance the
race marked out for us.”
Run the straight race through God's good grace,
Lift up thine eyes and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the Path and Christ the Prize.
The third verse is from 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all anxiety on him, for he cares for you”;
and the fourth from Colossians 3:11, “Christ is all, and is in all.”
Monsell believed that hymns should be enthusiastically sung and full of joy. He wrote:
“We are too distant and reserved in our praises.” In 1875, whilst supervising the
rebuilding of St. Nicholas Church, Guildford, he slipped and fell from the roof,
and died shortly afterwards from his injuries.