Worthy of Our Best Efforts
April 19, 2011
In 1839, as now, the British Army was engaged in Afghanistan. Among them was a young soldier called Henry Havelock, a devoted Christian and an outstanding man of valour. Struggling up the ranks (he was then a captain), he had recently been promoted aide-de-camp to Sir Willoughby Cotton, and was among "the Army of the Indus" that marched into Afghanistan under General Sir John Keane to accomplish, among other things, the capture of a fort called Ghuznee. One biographer of Havelock says,
It should be remembered that the strength of Ghuznee was the boast of the Affghans, and that it was the design of Dost Mahomed [who then sat on the throne of Kabul, the Afghan capital] that Afsal Khan and Hyder Khan, having suffered our army to advance a march or two beyond Ghuznee should fall on its rear, while Dost Mahomed himself should give us battle in the front. (William Owen, The Good Soldier, 72)
In other words, Ghuznee was not expected to fall. The British Army reached Ghuznee having suffered much affliction by the terrain and the climate, including painful deprivations of food and water on the march toward the fortress. On their arrival, they discovered that their intelligence had not been of the highest quality and that the fortress, which they were informed was the scene of a retreat by the Afghan forces, was - in Havelock's words - "now evidently occupied by a numerous garrison, from whose minds nothing seemed to be further removed than thoughts of retreat" (Owen, 74). The enemy were entrenched in the fortress, and displayed no small skill with their artillery during British reconnaissance. Havelock sums up the scene in these stirring words:
Ghuznee, one front of which we had thus satisfactorily reconnoitred, certainly far exceeded our expectations, and the tenor of all the reports we had received as regarded the solidity, lofty profile, and state of repair of its walls and citadel; and now we saw that we had at last before us an enterprise worthy of our best efforts. (Owen, 74-75)
Havelock's response was the reaction of a principled man of courage. Constitutionally, most men are cowards; culturally, we are increasingly trained to give up at the sight of obstacles, to capitulate to circumstances, to look for easy options and to circumvent with lazy ease anything that seems to oppose us. Too often, the church of Christ is crippled by just such a constitutional and cultural cowardice and love of ease. We see great obstacles before us and our immediate response is to find something easier, to look for a way out or a way round, to find some easier sphere of service, less dangerous and less demanding.
How different was Havelock's response: "we saw that we had at last before us an enterprise worthy of our best efforts." What a lesson this is for those enlisted not in the armies of this world but in the armies of the Lamb!
The Christian faces greater fortresses than Ghuznee. We are called to pull down "strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2Cor 10.4-5). The fortified places of men's minds and hearts are the object of the gospel soldier. The believer, in the name of Christ Jesus, assaults the very gates of Hades (Mt 16.18) with the intention of rescuing the lost and advancing the kingdom of Christ. How solid, high and severe are these fortresses, how well-defended, how seemingly insurmountable the obstacles! The people with whom we have to deal, the service we have to perform, the tasks we have to contemplate all militate against a righteous and rigorous response.
The Christian faces greater foes than the armies of Ghuznee. "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6.12). Our primary enemies are not men as such, but the forces of spiritual wickedness who stand ranged against Christ and his people. Our great Adversary is no mere man, but that Satan whose rage, violence, malice and deceit ought to be bywords, and whose minions partake of all his unholy character and endeavour. These foes are found within and without. We are called to defend against them and to assault them, and we know that they will ask and give no quarter in the combat.
But the Christian has a greater Captain than Sir John Keane. The Captain of our salvation is none other than Emmanuel, the Crown Prince of heaven. His personal courage cannot be doubted. His spoils of war are already assured. His wisdom for strategy and tactics cannot be distrusted. Not one of his soldiers fights alone, for he is with them in every exhausting assault and every desperate defence. His honours and triumphs are already writ large, and he will ultimately tread down every foe.
The Christian has a greater cause than the defence of empire or "the Great Game." Our King is Christ, and it is his kingdom for which we contend. His kingdom is not of this world. If it were, his people would fight as do the servants of this world's kingdoms, but his kingdom is not from here (Jn 18.26). It is for his glory and not our own that we fight, for the name of Jesus that we contend, for the good of the needy that we strive, for the bringing in of the otherwise eternally lost into a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Though now for a little while we have been grieved by various trials, it is that "the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love" (1Pt 1:6-8).
The Christian has greater weapons than artillery and small arms: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled" (2Cor 10.4-6). We do not use the world's weapons to accomplish earthly ends, but the mighty weapons of heaven to accomplish Christ's purposes. "Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints - and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak" (Eph 6.13-20).
All things considered, the Christian faces a far greater fight than the Army of the Indus. Consider the fortresses and foes against which you stand. There will be difficult days, hard times, and painful occasions. There will be unlovely people to love, ungrateful people to serve, antagonistic people who will fight against the very medicine that will alone deliver their souls from death. There will be difficult saints to esteem and serve, challenges to the church, new vistas to explore, new ground to break, greater wickedness to overcome, greater needs to meet, and in it all great enemies that will come boldly against us or snipe at us from the fringes.
How will we respond? How will you respond? Consider your Captain and your cause. We have before us "an enterprise worthy of our best efforts." We should be stirred up by it to great endeavour, not crippled by it into craven fear and retreat. The day we are in calls not for cowardice and capitulation, but for courage and conviction. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" The challenges of the hour will soon be upon us; there will come into our orbit enterprises worthy of our best efforts, and we must take up the divine weaponry and go forth conquering and to conquer in the name of Christ. Honours are now given to the heroes of this world's battles. Our medals and honours will not be the medals and honours of the world, but the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to all who have loved and longed for his appearing (2Tim 4.8). Now is the time to fight the good fight of faith (1Tim 6.12); when Christ returns in glory, then we will see and enjoy the consummation of his victory and all its spoils.