Monday, May 2, 2011

The Christian “Stonewall”

A while back I was discussing with someone how there are certain issues we may can give or take on, while there are some things we should be immoveable on and stand for “like a stonewall.” Being another Confederate buff, the person I was writing would recognize this as referring to Stonewall Jackson. Ever since then I have been thinking about how this applies to a Christian “Stonewall.”

During the first battle of Manassas when “defeat seemed imminent and hearts were failing,” General Jackson’s brigade formed a line along the Confederate gap and Brigadier-General Barnard Bee encouraged his broken company with the shout, “Look! There is Jackson standing like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!” They did rally, and the field was eventually won. (Stonewall Jackson And The American Civil War by G. F. R. Henderson)

We need some “Stonewalls” in the Christian brigade. If there are things God has revealed to you in His Holy Word, things which you believe to be true, then stand for them. Stand for them like a stone wall. Though Satan may heavily assault you, be uncompromising, unwavering, unmovable - unmovable as a stone wall. There are promising youths of sixteen or seventeen who totally turn against what they stood for by the time they are twenty-six or twenty-seven. I liked this article “Greater Expectations” by Anna Sofia Botkin and can echo her statement, “over the years I‘ve seen many whom I counted as friends and allies change course dramatically and walk away from the principles that they fought alongside me to defend.”

Things do not work out the way a young person thinks, expects, or by the time they had anticipated, and they are ready to “galvanize.” (war term for changing to the enemy’s side) If what you believed at seventeen was true, it will be true when you are thirty-seven. We may change, but truth never changes. Sometimes we may have believed wrong, or not seen clearly, and growth is necessary. All too often though, the change is not from a Berean study of the Scriptures, but is simply because the going is rougher than they predicted. Our Lord tell us, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” Luke 9:62. The young make a nice looking brigade when all they have to do is march in parades and drill on safe camp grounds, but if they turn and run when under enemy fire, they are useless. True faith stands to its post of duty when it “sees the elephant,” or when it becomes necessary to pour the sand on the floor.

There is always room for growth. A good line to remember humility is, “Are you sure that you are Right? How fine and strong! But were you ever just as sure - and wrong?” If we find like the Pharisees, we have been “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” and have been keeping our “own tradition” Mark7:7,8, then we should correct the error. This is not what I am referring to. I am thinking of ones like Demas who forsook the Apostle Paul “having loved this present world better.” II Timothy 4:10 Most young people change simply because they love this present world better. In Andrew Murray’s book, School of Obedience, he stresses when we become Christians we are to be “obedient unto death.” Our lives are not our own. They have been bought with Jesus’ blood. We are to obey in everything unto death, or to be a “living sacrifice.” Often it is harder to be a “living sacrifice” than it is to give one’s life in death for a cause. Yet to be a living sacrifice is our “reasonable service.” Romans 12:1 While we give no ground to the enemy, we are to have “Absolute Surrender” to God. How well it would be if we could live as the Romans did of whom Paul wrote, “your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf.”

Sometimes we are prone to weigh the consequences of our beliefs and look into the future asking, “Can I really live this and endure the consequences of declaring this stand for the rest of my life?” This is the wrong question. We should not question ourselves, “Is this hard? Is it difficult? Is this what I want? Will I still be able to hold to this ten years from now?” Instead we should ask ourselves, “Is this truth?” By God’s grace we should always stand for solid truth, saying with Stonewall Jackson, “Duty is ours. Consequences are God’s.” Again, Anna S. Botkin wrote, “If we believe something because we know it’s true, then we will keep believing — even when it becomes hard, inconvenient, socially unacceptable, and appears to be costing, not paying.”

Though we call Stonewall Jackson’s un-flinching stand before the fire “bravery,” it is a different and more difficult kind we look for in a “Christian Stonewall.” On page 18 and 19 of Hopes and helps for the young of both sexes, G. S. Weaver writes:

“The noblest bravery in the world is moral bravery, that which meets disappointment, trial, affliction, failure, misfortune, sickness, and all the varied ills of life with a determined and vigorous composure and a stern and trained self-reliance, [maybe “a reliance on God” would be better wording than “self-reliance”] which enable its possessor to pursue his even course undismayed, and add to, rather than detract from, his strength. Such a bravery is a lofty moral heroism, as great as that which nerved the martyrs’ hearts and bared the reformers’ stalwart arms. The bravery that faces the cannon’s mouth is often the fear of public rebuke or love of public praise. Seldom is true bravery exhibited on the field of battle, or in any of the great conflicts of arms or minds carried on in the audience of the world. It is more generally ambition, fear of censure, love of gain, animal excitement, or the madness of narcotic or stimulating drugs or drinks. These supply the place of bravery, and the world knows not the difference. But there is a bravery that is true. It is the proudest, sublimest of human virtues. It is that bravery which dares be true to duty though the heavens come down; true when the world knows it not; true in the calm resolve of the midnight hour, when no eye but God’s looks into the soul; true when the world would applaud for being false, and every worldly interest should seem to offer a price for cowardice. The bravery that under these circumstances is the same calm, undismayed, unreduced, dauntless vigor and determination of soul, is worthy the name, and is a godlike grandeur of moral greatness worthy a place in the calendar of the sublimest heroism. Our youth want more of this heroism. There is a fearful deficiency everywhere. It is as much needed in the common walks of life, as in the higher or highest pursuits, and often more so; for in public life the world often sustains the martyr, or the defender of humanity, or her injured rights; but in common life it is often that the severest trials have to be borne in solitary silence, while the contumely of neighbors, unjustly given, adds another trial scarcely less severe. To suppress the mutiny of the passions, to silence the clamors of lust, avarice, and ambition, to moderate the vehemence of desire, to check the repining of sorrow, to disperse the gloom of disappointment, and suppress the dark spirits of despondency, requires a degree of vigorous moral courage that is not so often possessed as it is needed. It is everywhere needed, and very seldom possessed to a very great degree.”

One reason this “moral bravery” is more difficult is because we are ever in danger of losing the proper balance. While we need to be rock solid as a stone wall in our beliefs and not, “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,” we are also to speak “the truth in love” Ephesians 4:14,15. While holding fast to those things which call us to “be true to duty though the heavens come down,” there must still be patience with others and a remembrance that having compassion is also a duty. “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous” I Peter 3:8. The years have deepened my adherence to some truths, while at the same time it has taught me to be more sympathetic and more understanding when a friend turns with their sorrow and pain looking for solace. Being true to duty need not make us callous and uncaring. As the Confederates sang from Bayard Taylor’s "Song of the Camp,”
“Ah, soldiers! To your honoured rest
Your truth and valour wearing:
The bravest are the tenderest,--
The loving are the daring.”
A friend of J. R. Miller gave him this description, “. . .He was as gentle as a child, yet firm as a rock. . .” This is difficult ground to achieve. The naturally kind, gentle, and mild, can tend to compromise, ever weakening their standards in a natural desire to please and for fear of hurting someone’s feelings; while the “stone walls,” the true and faithful to duty, can tend to stern rigidness forgetting to temper justice with mercy, forbearance, and compassion. While we learn to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” II Timothy 2:3, may we ever endeavor to keep our hearts softened to the pain, grief and struggles of others, yet never to the point of doing wrong or condoning sin. Dr. Channing says, “It is worth of especial remark, that without this moral energy, resisting passion and impulse, our tenderest attachments degenerate more or less into weaknesses and immoralities; sometimes prompting us to sympathize with those whom we love in their errors, prejudices, and evil passions; sometimes inciting us to heap upon them injurious praises and indulgences; sometimes urging us to wrong or neglect others, that we may the more enjoy or serve our favorites; and sometimes poisoning our breasts with jealousy or envy, because our affection is not returned with equal warmth. The principle of love, whether exercised toward our relatives or our country, whether manifested in courtesy or compassion, can only become virtue, can only acquire purity, consistency, serenity, dignity, when imbued, swayed, cherished, enlarged by the power of a virtuous will, by a self-denying energy.” p. 40 Hopes and Helps

Just as a stone wall is made up of numerous individual stones, there are many truths, which call us to stand like a stone wall. Stone by stone, truth upon truth, we must build our wall. C. H. Spurgeon notes a few of these stones in his sermon “The Broken Fence.” Here is a small portion of his thoughts:

“Protection to character is also found in the fact that solid doctrines have been learned. This is a fine stone wall. Many among us have been taught the gospel of the grace of God, and they have learned it well, so that they are able to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. Happy are they who have a religion that is grounded upon a clear knowledge of eternal verities. A religion which is all excitement, and has little instruction in it, may serve for transient use; but for permanent life-purposes there must be a knowledge of those great doctrines which are fundamental to the gospel system. I tremble when I hear of a man's giving up, one by one, the vital principles of the gospel and boasting of his liberality. I hear him say, "These are my views, but others have a right to their views also." That is a very proper expression in reference to mere "views," but we may not thus speak of truth itself as revealed by God: that is one and unalterable, and all are bound to receive it. It is not your view of truth, for that is a dim thing; but the very truth itself which will save you if your faith embraces it. I will readily yield my way of stating a doctrine, but not the doctrine itself. One man may put it in this way, and one in another; but the truth itself must never be given up. The spirit of the Broad School robs us of everything like certainty. I should like to ask some great men of that order whether they believe that anything is taught in the Scriptures which it would be worth while for a person to die for, and whether the martyrs were not great fools for laying down their lives for mere opinions which might be right or might be wrong? This Broad-churchism is a breaking down of stone walls, and it will let in the devil and all his crew, and do infinite harm to the church of God, if it be not stopped. A loose state of belief does great damage to any man's mind.

"…Lately we have seen few men with backbone; the most have been of the jelly-fish order. I have lived in times in which I should have said, "Be liberal, and shake off all narrowness"; but now I am obliged to alter my tone and cry, "Be steadfast in the truth." The faith once delivered to the saints is now all the more attractive to me because it is called narrow, for I am weary of that breadth which comes of broken hedges. There are fixed points of truth, and definite certainties of creed, and woe to you if you allow these stone walls to crumble down. I fear me that the slothful are a numerous band, and that ages to come may have to deplore the laxity which has been applauded by this negligent generation. 
"There is yet another stone wall which I will mention, namely, firmness of character. Our holy faith teaches a man to be decided in the cause of Christ, and to be resolute in getting rid of evil habits. "If thine eye offend thee"—wear a shade? No; "pluck it out." "If thine arm offend thee"—hang it in a sling? No; "cut it off and cast it from thee." True religion is very thorough in what it recommends. It says to us, "touch not the unclean thing." But many persons are so idle in the ways of God that they have no mind of their own: evil companions tempt them, and they cannot say, "No." They need a stone wall made up of noes. Here are the stones "no, no, NO." Dare to be singular. Resolve to keep close to Christ. Make a stern determination to permit nothing in your life, however gainful or pleasurable, if it would dishonour the name of Jesus. Be dogmatically true, obstinately holy, immovably honest, desperately kind, fixedly upright. If God's grace sets up this hedge around you, even Satan will feel that he cannot get in, and will complain to God ‘hast thou not set a hedge about him?’”

To those who are older than my age group, we need you to take the Bible truths and, “stand like a stone wall!” It encourages us to rally again. My age group must also stand like a stone wall, for there are those younger that are looking to us. We must also be faithful, dependable reinforcements to the older “Stonewall brigade.” To those younger than my age group, we need you learning and searching for the truths which you should learn to stand for like a stone wall. Knowing you are there to fill the ranks when our faithful fall is an encouragement to us.

A Christian should live for Jesus Christ his Lord and Master and be steadfast to duty “though none go with me.” Yet as much as we should live for the Lord if we were the only one who was not turning back, human nature tends to look on other humans for support and encouragement. Even God’s man Elijah was perhaps discouraged when as far as he could see, he stood alone. By God’s grace one can make it, but two or more is always better. The Preacher tell us in Eccl. 4, “Two are better than one. . .For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. . . And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Christ sent out the disciples in pairs of two. While Paul was in prison, he was encouraged by those who were standing despite the persecution. He wanted the Philippians to hold true so “that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries” Philippians 1:27,28.
Youth especially searches for someone to look up to, someone who has already traveled the path, someone who is not merely pointing to the path, but leading up the path. Yes, they can find this in the older grey headed saints, but they naturally look closer to their own age group to whom they can relate. They look for someone like young Timothy whom Paul exhorted, “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” I Timothy 4:12 They will complain to their parents and elders that they have no fellow comrades in the fight. If indeed those around have turned back, how strong is the discouragement. Yet how blessed it is and such an encouragement when “defeat seems imminent and hearts are failing,” if an elder can point to someone who stands for Bible truths, unwavering amidst the onslaught and say, “Look! There is _____ standing like a stone wall!”

“I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction."—Proverbs 24:30-32.

1 comment:

  1. The county is Missouri where I live was named for Stonewall Jackson! I've been reading some on the battles of the border & Civil War between Kansas and Missouri and it was really hard times then. Even Christians were divided . . .