THE KING OF FIGHTING MEN
A Portrait of Jesus Christ,
Liberator of enslaved mankind,
Champion of the helpless and oppressed,
Saviour of the World.
The Reverend Calvin McQuesten, B.A.
Box 04-028 THE KING OF FIGHTING MEN
Oct 10 1920
BRED ON A BATTLEFIED
The King of Fighting Men may quite truly be said to have been bred on a battlefield. For within sight of the hill on which His home-town was built lay some of the most famous battlegrounds of the Ancient World.
It has fallen to the lot of two little countries to be the cockpits of the world's greatest conflicts. These two little countries are the Holy Land and the Low Countries.
In the Low Countries we have a little patch of ground, including part of France as well as Belgium and the Netherlands, facing the south-east cost of England, but not half the size of England, nor a hundredth part of Europe, which in the last six centuries has staged more of the decisive battles of the world than all the rest of Europe put together.
It was the field of Crecy, in France near the border of Belgium, which in 1346 saw the beginning of the downfall of mediaeval feudalism, when the English bowmen and the light-armed footmen of Ireland and Wales, put to rout the steel-clad: knights of France, and demonstrated the possibility of a military basis for democracy. As John Richard Green, that prince of English historians put it:
The lesson which England had learned at Bannockburn she taught the world at Crecy. The whole social fabric of the Middle Ages rested on a military basis; and its base was suddenly withdrawn. The church had struck down the noble; the bondsman proved more than a match in sheer hard fighting for the knight. From the day of Crecy, feudalism tottered slowly but surely to its grave.
Within modern gunshot of Crecy, and north of the River Somme, lies the field of Agincourt, the most brilliant battle of the closing years of the Hundred Years War, as Crecy was of its opening years.
In the days of the Reformation, it was in the Low Countries that the bloodiest and most determined conflicts of those bitter religious wars took place.
And it was at the same time, when the thirst for power of King Philip of Spain threatened the liberty of the entire world, that it became evident, as never before, that the freedom of England was bound up with the freedom of this part of Europe lying so close to her and separated from her by so narrow a channel.
When religious bigotry and his passion for supreme dominion led Philip to send the Duke of Alba to tread underfoot the constitutional freedom of the Low Countries and to purge them of Protestantism by sword and stake, Alba and his Spanish soldiers rivaled Von Bissing and Hitler in the frightfulness of the atrocities by which he strove to crush the heroic people of this ill-fated land. And even while the cold self-interest of Queen Elizabeth kept England as a nation from giving aid to the gallant Prince of Orange in the unequal struggle, she recognized the revolt of the Netherlands as the "bridle of Spain which kept war out of our gates."
The relentless hanging drawing and quartering of thousands of Jesuit priests in England, and the horrors suffered by English sailors in the Spanish inquisition, lashed the people of England and Spain into a fury of religious fanaticism. And thousands of English volunteers stole across the Channel to fight in the ranks of William the Silent. But it was only after the assassination of William of Orange left Flanders at the mercy of the Prince of Parma, Alba's successor, that the tall of Antwerp convinced even Elizabeth that England must act, if the one "bridle of Spain which kept war out of our gates" was to be saved.
Lord Leicester was hurried to Flanders with 8,000 men. And it was this landing of an English army in Flanders, together with the dispatching of fresh batches of priests to the gibbet in England, and the death of Mary, Queen of Scots, who bequeathed her rights in the English crown to Philip, as the nearest heir in blood of the Roman Catholic faith, that broke down the caution and hesitation of Philip, and led him to equip the great Armada for the conquest of England.
It was at Dunkirk, immortalized by the glorious evacuation of the British forces in the last World War that Parma gathered 30,000 men for the coming invasion, collected a fleet of flat-bottomed transports, and waited impatiently for his crossing to be protected by the Armada -- that "Invincible Armada," whose defeat by Drake's "contemptible little fleet," in August 1588, and whose destruction by a Mightier Foe than Drake, began a series of victories which broke the power of Spain and changed the political aspect of the world.
One cannot pass from this great epoch without at least a brief reference to Sir Philip Sidney, that finest flower of a golden age, who flung away his life to save the English army at
Zutphen in Lord Leicester's campaign in Flanders, and thus became a sort of first bloom in that brilliant blossoming of gallant hearts and gifted minds who have fallen on Flanders fields. Sidney was the nephew of Lord Leicester. And Green says, "He was the idol of his time, and perhaps no figure reflects the age more fully and more beautifully."
Fair as he was brave, quick of wit as of affection, noble and generous in temper dear to Elizabeth as to Spenser, the carling of the Court and of the camp, his learning and his genius made him the centre of the literary world, which was springing into birth on English soil. He had travelled in France and Italy. He was master alike of the older learning and of the new discoveries of astronomy. Bruno dedicated to him as to a friend his metaphysical speculations; he was familiar with the drama of Spain, the poems of Ronsard, and the sonnets of Italy. He combined the wisdom of a grave councilor[s.i.c] with the romantic chivalry of a knight-errant. "I never heard the old story of Percy and Douglas," he says, "that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet."
The fight at Zutphen, in which Sir Philip Sidney received his death-wound, was like Balaclava, a glorious blunder, in which five hundred English horse and foot undertook to engage thirty-five hundred Spaniards. Three times a handful of English knights broke through the Spanish ranks. And in the last charge, Sir Philip Sidney, who at the beginning of the action had lent the thigh plates of his armour[sic] to Sir William Pelham, was struck in the exposed part by a musket-ball, shattering the thigh-bone. As he rode reluctantly to the rear, suffering extreme pain, his attendants brought him a bottle of water to quench his raging thirst. At that moment a wounded English soldier, "who had eaten his last at the same feast," looked up wistfully into his face; when Sidney instantly handed him the flask, explaining, "Thy necessity is even greater than mine."
The century following the Armada saw France rise to be the dominant power in Christendom. The religious wars which began with the Reformation broke the strength of the nations around her. England, under Cromwell, whose Ironsides raised war to the level of a holy calling and renewed in Flanders the glories of Crecy and of Agincourt, promised for a moment to take the lead in Europe, but sank under Charles and James into a dependency of France.
In France, meantime, the wise policy of Henry IV in securing religious peace by granting toleration to the Protestants, gave scope to the quick and industrious temper of the French people while her wealth and energy was placed by the centralizing administration of Henry, of Richelieu, and of Mazarin, almost absolutely in the hands of the Crown. Under these three great statesmen, her ambition was steadily directed to the same purpose of territorial aggrandizement. But it was under Louis XIV that France rose to the height of her power. In wealth she was easily first; and that wealth enabled her to set on foot forces such as had never been seen in Europe since the downfall of Rome. Her statesmen were in knowledge and ability without rival in Europe. No diplomatist could compare with Lionne, no war minister with Louvois, no financier with Colbert. Her King's arrogance was unbounded. Lorraine was turned into a subject state. Genoa was bombarded, and its Doge forced to seek pardon in the antechambers of Versailles. The Pope was humiliated by the march of an army upon Rome to avenge a slight offered to the French ambassador. The Empire was outraged by a shameless seizure of imperial fiefs in Alsace and elsewhere. And the whole Protestant World was defied by the horrible massacre on St. Bartholomew's Eve, 1572.
Once more it the was in the Netherlands that arrogance and outrage received their first check, and again it was a Prince of Orange who gave it --- William, Prince of Orange and King of England. When, after years of patient and masterly diplomacy in
organizing the Grand Alliance, he crossed to Flanders in the spring of 1691; it was the first time since the days of Henry VIII that an English king appeared on the continent at the head of English army. But the slowness of his allies baffled William's
hopes. He was forced to look on with a small army while a hundred thousand Frenchmen closed suddenly around Mons, the strongest fortress of the Netherlands, and made themselves master of it in the presence of Louis. But the dauntless spirit of William, housed in a week and sickly body shaken by a constant cough, ever rose to its best in times of ruin and dismay.
Like his great ancestor William the silent, he was a luckless commander. But he profited by defeat as other men profit by victory. Ordinarily cold and even repulsive in demeanor a strange light flashed from his eyes as soon as he was under fire, and in the terror and confusion of defeat his manners took on an ease and gaiety that changed every soldier around him. And, when in the following year the French fleet was shattered by Admiral Russell and ship after ship burned under the eyes of the French army gathered for the invasion at England, the spell of French triumph was broken; and Louis for the first time in his long career of prosperity bent his pride to seek peace at the sacrifice of his conquests. And France was forced, for the first time since Richelieu's day, to consent to a disadvantageous peace.
It remained for Marlborough, illustrious progenitor of the still famous family of Churchill, whom the dying William appointed to the command of the English forces, and who took his place as the organizing and military genius of the European Alliance, to put an effective end to the French monarchy's dream of world domination, in the brilliant victories of Ramillies and Oudenarde and to add two more deathless names to the list of Belgium's battlefields.
Of these we will mention only one other, and that the greatest, before passing on to speak of the two titanic struggles of the present century. For in the battle of Waterloo, near Brussels, Napoleon, the greatest of modern generals, met his final defeat; and there fell to the ground the most successful effort at world despotism that history has known since the Caesars.
The memories of the World War of 1914-18 are still too vivid to require refreshing. It requires only a glance at the map, from which leap out to meet the eye the names of the Marne and the Somme, of Ypres, Amiens and Verdun, to remind us that once more the Low Countries became the tomb of threatened tyranny, the graveyard of grasping ambition, where the last and most arrogant of the Raisers spent his humiliating exile after his utter defeat.
Still again in the last World War, although the successful invasion of Western Europe, which concluded the long struggle, commenced on the beaches of Normandy, the Low Countries still held an equally conspicuous place. By Dunkirk took place one of the most glorious retreats in the history of war. The first attempt at invasion made at Dieppe, while it failed in its principal purpose, was splendid in its heroism and richly constructive in its contributions to the final spectacular success.
And after Normandy had furnished the scene for the first phase of the invasion, the most bitter and dogged fighting of the second phase took place in the Low Countries.
The possession of the huge port of Antwerp was essential to the offensive, which was planned to carry the Allied armies into Germany. We already had a string of ports as supply bases, but they were not sufficient for all offensive needs of the gigantic force mustered in Holland, Belgium and on the frontiers of the Reich.
We had Cherbourg, Brest, Le Havre operating in addition to the miraculous artificial port off the beaches at Avromanches in Normandy. Ostend and Dieppe were being used as well; and Boulogne and Calais were being cleared of mines. But the supply lines from most of these ports to the Western Front were too long. The supply problem in relation to a new offensive was grave. Antwerp was the answer.
For twenty-two miles, more than twenty huge docks sprawl along the Schelde in the Antwerp area, and in the other river there are three and a half miles of quays. In peacetime 202 different shipping lines were based on Antwerp, This vast dock area practically in the backyard of General Eisenhower's forces was the ideal supply base.
The early-September capture of Antwerp by British armour, was a brilliant piece of strategy: in the confusion of their withdrawal into Holland, the Germans were not prepared for the sudden sweep to Antwerp, and they had no time to destroy any of the habour installations, in preventing which the anti-sabotage teams of Belgium's secret army were a big factor. Caught entirely off balance, they simply could not carry out any demolitions. Failing in this, they made a tremendous effort to hold the Schelde estuary to prevent us using Antwerp, and their armies were pledged to fight to the death to achieve this.
To the Canadians under General Crerar, with the British, Polish, American, Dutch and Belgian formations also under his command, fell the terrible task of clearing the Germans out of the Schelde Estuary. Not only was the fighting fierce and bitter, but the dikes having been opened, the battle-ground was deep with mud in which the infantry slithered and slide from dike to dike. Troops spent whole days and nights in water-filled slit-trenches from which the fierceness of the enemy fire prevented them from emerging. And frequent fog deprived them of support from the air. But in less than a month the Germans were cleared from the Estuary, and the vast undamaged dock area was available as a supply base.
It was large enough to meet all the requirements of the armies in the west; while without it, only limited operations could have been carried out during the late fall and winter.
In the final phase of the war, the Canadians were assigned the task of liberating Northern Holland, and there followed six hectic weeks. On May 7th, 1945, documents of unconditional surrender for all German forces everywhere were signed, and the Canadians moved into Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague to the acclaim of millions of liberated Dutch people. The curtain had fallen on yet another great war, a vital part of which was staged in the Low Countries-the cockpit of Europe.
Now just as the Low Countries were the Cockpit of Europe so the Holy Land was the Cockpit of the Orient. In her case it was even more inevitable that she should be so. For through her lay the only land route to Africa from either Europe or Asia. Here lay the cross-roads of three continents, an open channel of war for nearly the whole world, the highroad of civilizations and the battlefield of empires.
There is probably no older road in all the world than that used by caravans from the Eurphrates to the Nile, through Damascus, Galilee, Esdraelon, the Maritime Plain, and Gaza. It is doubtful whether history has to record any great campaigns -- as distinguished from tribal wars -- earlier than those, which Egypt and Assyria waged against each other across her whole extent and continued to wage down to the sixth century before Christ.
But more distant powers than these broke across this land, from both Asia and Africa. The Hitties[sic] came south from Asia Minor over Mount Taurus, and the Ethiopians came north from their conquest of the Nile. Toward the end of the great duel between Assyria and
Egypt, the Scythians from north of the Caucasus devastated Palestine. When the Babylonian Empire fell, the Persians made her a province of their empire, and marched across her to Egypt. At the beginning of our era, she was overrun by the Parthians. The Persions invaded her a second time just before the Moslem invasion of the seventh century; she fell, of course, under the Seljuk Turks in the eleventh, and in the thirteenth and fourteenth the Mongols thrice swept through her.
Into this almost constant stream of empires and races, which swept through Palestine from the earliest ages, Europe was drawn under Alexander the Great; and now that the West began to invade the East, Palestine was found to be as central between them as between Asia and Africa. She was Alexander's pathway to Egypt, 332 B.C. She was scoured during the following centuries by the wars of the Seleucids and Ptolemies. Pompey brought her under the Roman Empire, B.C.65; and in this she remained till the Arabs took her in 634 A.D. The Crusaders held her for a century, 1098-1187, and parts of her for a century more. And Napoleon the Great made her the pathway of his ambition towards that Empire on the Euphrates and Indus whose fate was decided on her plains in 1799.
The World War of 1914-18 saw the Holy Land liberated from the Turkish yoke by British forces under General Allenby. And after cease-fire had sounded for the rest of the world at the close of the last World War, Jew and Arab carried on a bitter struggle to obtain possession of her.
But for our present study, interest centres in the wars of Israel itself.
What schoolboy of today has studied his nation's history with such a map at hand as that which spread itself before the boy Jesus, when He climbed after school hours to the top of the village hill.
To the west of, him, beneath the wooded slopes of Tabor, he could see the spot where Barak mustered the northern clans to break the yoke of the Canaanite war lord (Judges 4:10). In His ears would ring the words of the fierce prophetess Deborah to Barak, "Up, for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the Lord gone before thee?"
And He would trace with his eyes the course of that wild highland charge in which Barak and his footmen flung themselves upon the long line of chariots laboring across the Kishon-flooded plain below, and cut them to pieces, while their leader fled for hiding to the tent of a woman.
To the south of Him across the battle-scarred plain rose Mount Gilboa, where Gideon rallied the hunted remnant of Israel and turned back the marauding hordes of Arabs who crowded the valley of Jezreel below like grasshoppers for multitude (judges 6).
At the foot of the mountain sparkled the bursting waters of the well of Harod, where Gideon applied that shrewd test of alertness, by which he chose the three hundred men for that historic night-raid upon the lines of the enemy.
Once more the youthful Jesus heard the roar of the three hundred trumpets, and the crash of the three hundred breaking pitchers, and saw the three hundred lamps flashing into the terrified faces of the panic-stricken host, as the shout "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon " hurried them into headlong flight.
It was on these same slopes of Mount Gilboa, that Saul, fear-haunted by his seance with the Witch of Endor and the spirit message from the dead prophet Samuel, predicting the death of Saul and his sons in that day's battle (I Samuel 28:7), saw his army scattered before the Philistines; and his sons having been slain and himself sore wounded of the archers, the defeated king fell upon. his own sword and thus swept clear the throne for David, the founder of that royal house whose Most Illustrious Son now gazed upon the scene with kindling eye from Nazareth's hill-top.
And, as He gazed, the lines of David's Dirge came back to Him (II Samuel 1:17):
How are the mighty fallen!
Tell it not in Gath,
Publish it not in the streets of Askelon;
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives,
And in death they were not divided:
They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan:
Very pleasant hast thou been unto me:
Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
A few miles to the west of Mount Gilboa and slightly nearer to Nazareth, the young student of his nation's history could see Megiddo, where Josiah, king of Judah, in a heroic attempt to prevent the violation of his country's neutrality, was defeated and mortally wounded by Pharaoh Necho, who was marching through Palestine to invade Assyria.
But perhaps no part of all this matchless panorama fanned the fighting spirit of the young King of Righteousness to a fiercer flame than did the sight of Carmel's mount, where Elijah, that fearless prophet of Jehovah, faced single-handed the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, entrenched in the powerful favour of the brutal queen Jezebel, and put them to an utter rout.
It may be said that these battles of the Hebrews were but the petty skirmishes of small half-savage tribes. In one sense that is true. But these same skirmishes gave body to a living, vitalizing literature that has been the chief inspiration and source of strength of those who have fought for righteousness ever since.
How the rude notes of Deborah's song of victory stir the fighting blood in our veins (Judges 5)!
Then sang Deborah and Barak saying -
'Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.
'Awake, awake, Deborah:
Awake, awake, utter a song:
Arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Ahinoam.
'The princes of Issacher were with Deborah;
Issacher and Barak; into the valley they rushed at his feet.
'For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.
Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds? To hear the bleatings of the flock?'
'Zebulon and Naphthali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.'
'There was fighting from heaven;
The stars in their courses fought against Sisera.
The torrent of Kishon swept then away,
Torrent of spates, torrent Kishon.
0 my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.
Then were the horse-hoofs broken
By, reason of the plungings, the plungings of their strong ones.
Curse ye Meroy, said the angel of the Lord,
Curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof;
Because they came not to the help of the Lord,
To the help of the Lord against the mighty.
The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice:
'Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why tarry the wheels of his chariot?'
So let all thine enemies perish, 0 Lord;
But let them that love Him be as the sun, as the sun goeth forth in his might.
When, in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds against us, we are tempted to compromise with evil, what will put iron in our blood like the memory of that great scene on Carmel's height when Elijah, the great lone fighter, undaunted by the presence of Jezebel that ruthless queen, and her half-battalion of fanatic priests, threw down that cutting challenge to the people? (I Kings 18:21).
"How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, follow him!"
The number of men engaged in these Hebrew wards may have been small compared with the vast armies of the great conquerors of secular history, and their military efficiency may have been insignificant. But when you measure them as vital forces in the world today, the inequality is completely reversed and there is no comparison at all between them.
How many soldiers today can even name a single victory of Cyrus or of Caesar, of Marlborough or of Napoleon? But the raw boy quivering in the dark of the trenches as he waits for the command to go over the top on his first night-raid, remembers the word of the Lord to Gideon (Judges 6:14) "Go in this thy might.... have I hot sent thee"; and is strengthened by a power that is more than muscular. The divine assurance, "Surely I will be with thee and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man," comes to him as his own, and his thumping heart beats quietly again, while he grips his rifle with a serene confidence.
When we feel as if we could bear the stress and strain of war no longer, and an arrogant enemy flings insulting peace terms in our faces, it is in the old chronicle of King Hezekiah that we find new courage and calmness. For we read that when he received a tyrant's taunting message, he went up into the house of the Lord and spread the letter before the Lord. "And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said, '0 Lord God.... thou art the God, even thou above, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth. Lord, bow down thine ear and hear; open, Lord, thine eyes and see: and hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God..... Now therefore, 0 Lord our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord God, even thou only." (II Kings 19).
And when we read of the way in which this prayer was answered in the removal of the enemy forces, we are reminded afresh that ''more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.
No sane man questions the necessity of putting forth our utmost effort to provide men and munitions. But it was our naval and military leaders themselves who insisted that the last war and the one before it would not be won without a revival of religion and prayer.
And it was upon the inspired narrative of these Hebrew wars that we based our surest hope of divine assistance and intervention.
Nor was the acquaintance of the people of Nazareth limited to the mere sight of these' strangers. Men of all nationalities mingled with them on the village streets, seeking lodgings or fresh supplies of provisions. And who can tell how many races of men the Young Carpenter had speech with, as they waited for him to mend some piece of broken gear.
1 The Table of contents of Calvin's book can be found with letter W-MCP2-3b.035.
For chapter 2, see Box 04-029.
For chapter 3, see Box 04-030.
For chapter 4, see Box 04-031.
For chapter 5, see Box 04-031.
For chapter 6, see Box 04-033.