The life of the believer is all about battle, warfare and struggle. The Bible from start to finish makes this quite clear. It is ultimately a spiritual battle, but it manifests itself on so many levels of life: the political, the social, the cultural, the ideological, the philosophical, and so on.
We are in a war, and the good fight of faith does not end until we die. Yet for most Christians, at least in the West, there is not the slightest awareness that we are in a monumental war, with raging battles on all sides. They conceive of the Christian life as a life of ease, of fun, and of leisure.
They are so used to being entertained and amused, even in the churches, that most have not the foggiest notion of the spiritual battles taking place all around us. Instead of a battleground they are living in a playground, coddled with sermons about living your best life now and being a better you.
They are so soft, coddled and sheltered, that at the first hint of battle they either flee in terror or abandon the faith altogether, complaining that they were promised a rosy and happy life in Jesus. They seem never to have heard about the cruciform life, about doing battle with the devil, and about taking up their cross on a daily basis.
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Because battle and warfare is such an intrinsic part of the true disciple’s life, I always love to study human warfare, and see in graphic form some of the truths that we must remind ourselves of in the spiritual realm. The Second World War is especially of interest to me, and it has been brought home to me even more forcefully on my European and English travels.
Today for example we visited two places, both of which speak to this great conflict, and of the importance of men and women who will stand strong in the darkest of hours. Two men featured in these visits: Winston Churchill and C. S. Lewis.
Both of course lived through the war, and both had much to do with it – Churchill especially of course. Today we first went to Blenheim Palace, a bit northwest of Oxford. It is the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston, and we stood in the very room where he was born.
It is a magnificent palace and grounds, built in the early 1700s, and well worth a visit. And a week or two ago we went past Whitehall in London, which contains the Cabinet War Rooms which were so important during that period, where Churchill and his team strategised and plotted to defeat Hitler and win the war.
Our second visit today took us to The Kilns, the home of C. S. Lewis, a bit east of Oxford. Going to his old homestead may be the closest thing to a holy pilgrimage most of us Protestants will ever get to! We dutifully took a heap of pictures, and can now go to our graves knowing our life is complete – or at least our Lewis bucket list is pretty well finished.
I have written before about the role Lewis played in the war, so will not repeat myself here. See here for more on this important topic: C.S. Lewis, Wartime and Britain.
So let me finish by speaking more about Churchill, and his role in WWII. Many displays and exhibitions about this can be found at Blenheim palace. One famous poster displayed during the war said: “Keep calm and carry on”. Not a bad bit of advice when you are going through hell.
Indeed, Churchill said something about that very topic: “If you are going through hell, keep going.” And it was hell, certainly for the troops abroad, but also for the civilians back home who had to endure the Battle for Britain and other horrors.
Churchill was a most remarkable man. As one poster in the palace stated, “He had fought battles on four continents, served under six monarchs, spent over sixty years in Parliament, and published 42 volumes of memoirs and history.” Churchill knew all about battle, warfare, and the need to stand resolutely.
Simply listing some of his quotes here is a fitting way to round this off. While they of course primarily pertain to physical battles, we can get some vital spiritual truths from these as well:
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
“Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than live as slaves.”
“You ask, What is our policy? I will say; “It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.” You ask, What is our aim? I can answer with one word: Victory — victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.”
“Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”
”Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
“Every morn brings forth a noble chance, and every chance brings forth a noble knight.”
“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
Lastly, let me cite “To Winston Churchill” written by a ministerial colleague of Winston Churchill, believed published in The Times on 17 June 1945:
When half the world was deaf and mute
You told of wrath to come
When others fingered on the flute
You thundered on the drum
When fierce the fires of slaughter burned
And Europe’s hopes were few
Those who mocked your warning turned
Almost too late to you
You promised only what you gave
As refuge from the flood
You knew what only you could save
Through sweat and tears and blood
Your words upheld our courage yet
Through five remorseless years
You gave us glory in the sweat
And laughter through the tears
The storm blew by – the light broke through –
The world resumed its form
Then all our hearts went out to you –
The man who rode the storm
In England’s cloud-swept history
Never so great a debt
Was owed by all to one – and we –
God grant – will not forget.”
I quite like this, because it resonates with me a lot about the spiritual lethargy and blindness found so much in the churches today, and the need for fearless and courageous leaders. We certainly need some spiritual Churchills today who can warn us, cajole us, stir us up, and lead us on into triumph.
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