The Sword: Advice for Christians Today
I wish to encourage members, ministers, elders and deacons in the churches to hold fast to “the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) in a day of compromise and lack of love for the truth. I will bring out some spiritual comparisons and parallels from a striking incident in nineteenth-century military history.
During the Crimean War (1853-1856), in which the United Kingdom, France, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia-Piedmont fought against the Russian Empire, there was an epic cavalry attack in the Battle of Balaclava immortalized in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1854). The poem records a stirring exhibition of valour and daring. Yet I will not focus on the battle itself but rather on an incident that took place within it.
At the end of the attack, a British lancer was found dead, killed in the battle. This was not unusual, for the British cavalry suffered very heavy casualties in this charge. Nevertheless, there was something unique about this lancer and his circumstances.
He was found alone with no fellow lancers with him, though his corpse was surrounded by dozens of enemy dead whom he had slain. He had evidently lost his horse, which had probably been shot from under him, and had charged at the nearest enemy position to engage them with his sword.
Now what was it that enabled this lancer to slay so many of the enemy? Was it his greater strength and longer reach than the Russians? Was it that he was armed with a sword and they were not? No, this lancer was as were all in the light brigade: light. He was not tall or muscular. Instead, it was the Russian artillery troops who were big and strong. They had to be in order to lug the heavy artillery pieces around the battlefield. They would have had the longer reach and they too were armed with swords.
On investigation, those who found the dead lancer discovered that on his body were over fifty strike marks made by Russian swords, twenty of which were on his head. Yet they had failed in most cases to draw blood. He was more bruised than cut. In contrast, the enemies had life-ending wounds inflicted upon them. Thus it became apparent that the lancer’s main advantage was that, whereas the enemies’ swords were blunt and ineffective, his sabre was sharp and clinically efficient.
Many times the lancer was told during training, “Your sword is the means of your staying alive and you must let it do its work. Keep your sword sharp and do not rely on your own strength. If you rely on your own strength, your weakness will let you down. Trust your sword!” He would have been taught to sharpen the sword using a whetstone, a leather strop and chamois leather until it was honed to perfection. The scabbard was to protect the sword’s edge, not to protect the user from cutting himself, as it is commonly thought today.
The lancer’s second advantage was the experience of his predecessors written down in a manual detailing how to use the sword skilfully. A sharp sword without the necessary skill to use it is of little use. Our lancer would have been warned not to lean on his own understanding but rather to follow what had been handed down in the manual, reinforced by practice, practice, practice!
We read in Hebrews 4:12 that “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword.” The comparison here is highly significant. Unlike a physical sword, Scripture is already sharp, as well as being powerful and even living! Let the Word of God do its work! Put your trust in it as Jehovah’s own mighty weapon. However, if you lack the skills to use it, it will be wielded as if it were blunt and ineffective.
Over the years, through assiduous study, tough experience, doctrinal controversies, much prayer and faithful councils, assemblies and synods, something akin to spiritual swordsmanship manuals has been written: the great catechisms, creeds and confessions of the churches! Here the theological professor, pastor, elder, deacon, seminarian and church member learn how to use the sword skilfully.
Those churches which have ignored and forsaken the creeds have forgotten how to wield the sword, so that for them it is now rusty and blunt. In the day of battle, they will be ineffective and will be defeated easily.
I humbly urge all God’s people to remain steadfast, when a great falling away is blatantly obvious in the vast majority of churches in the British Isles and across the world. Do not try to make the blade of “the sword of the Spirit” “smooth” (Eph. 6:17; Isa. 30:10). Maintain the ecumenical and Reformed creeds faithfully. Do not weaken the teaching and training of Christian adults, covenant children or future ministers, but rather be diligent to be even sharper than ever before. Let the sword do its work!
After the charge of the light brigade was over, the surviving Protestants from the island of Ireland held a worship service in a cave to praise their sovereign God. They also recalled a Dutchman, William of Orange, who brought them the liberty to worship free from Roman Catholic tyranny at the Glorious Revolution (1688) and through the Battle of the Boyne (1690) in their homeland.
As Christians, we recall with honour the worthies in Old Testament (cf. Heb. 11) and New Testament days, as well as the great saints whom God has raised up since, like Athanasius, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Francis Turretin and Herman Hoeksema, to teach and defend the beloved truth of which we witness.
Most importantly, we remember and worship our glorious Saviour who brought spiritual freedom to His beloved people through His atoning sacrifice, the Christ from whose mouth proceeds “a sharp twoedged sword” (Rev. 1:16; cf. Isa. 49:2; Rev. 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21). Remember, “the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (II Tim. 2:19). Elder Brian Crossett