Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
“Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” Psalm 27:14
There are three qualities, says Emerson in a familiar essay, which attracts the wonder and reverence of mankind. The first is disinterestedness, the second is practical power, and the third is courage. Every mythology has its Hercules. Every history it’s Wallace. There is nothing that men will not forgive one who has exhibited conspicuous gallantry. Even the dumb animals are ranked by us according to their possession of this quality, the bravest being nature’s aristocracy. There are people who make a joke of truth, but there are no people who make a joke of courage. The love of it, from Orient to Occident, is the touch of nature which makes the whole world kin. And that is why war will never cease to fascinate in spite of all proofs of its illogicality because there is in war a matchless stage for the display of courage.
The Universal Need of Courage
Nor can we wonder at this admiration when we remember the universal need of courage. There is no lot, no rank, no occupation, in which one of the first requirements is not fortitude.
When we are young we admire the showy virtues, and we put the emphasis upon the brilliant gifts. We are all enamored of what is glittering then, and we think that life is to grow great that way. But as the years roll on and life unfolds itself and we look on some who rise and some who fall, we come to revise our estimates a little. Then we discover that a certain doggedness is far more likely to succeed than brilliance. Then we discover that cleverness means much, but the courage which can persist means more. Then we discover what the master meant when at the close of the long years of toil, he said, Well done, not good and brilliant, but Well done, thou good and faithful servant.
Courage is needed by the mother in the home; it is needed by the young man in the office. Courage is needed for the hills of youth and for the dusty levels of our middle age. There is a courage peculiar to the pulpit, and another peculiar to the football field, and another peculiar to that darkened chamber where the head is throbbing and the lips are parched.
Let a man have all the talents without courage, and he will accomplish little in the world. Let a man have the one talent and a courageous heart, and no one can tell what things he may not do. Probably when the stories of our lives are written, our gifts will be found less diverse than we thought, and it will be seen that what set us each apart is the distinguishing quality of courage.
Courage–the Basis of Other Virtues
Courage is not an isolated virtue so much as the ground and basis of the virtues. It is like the tingling of health in a man’s body which makes itself felt in every activity.
I cannot help but wonder at electric current. It drives an engine; it lights the house in the evening; it rings a bell. One single energy and yet that single energy shows itself powerful in all these different forces, and so are the forces which God has given a man fed by the single energy of courage.
If could we get deep enough down among our vices, we would probably find they had a common source. Somewhere deep down in the unfathomed darkness there is one spark of hell that sets them all afire. So with our virtues and all that makes us men, there is one spirit that kindles and sustains them, and that enkindling energy is fortitude. For we never can be patient without courage, and without courage, we never can be pure. It calls for a little courage to be truthful, and it calls for a little courage to be kind. And sometimes it takes a great deal of courage just to say what we ought to say, and sometimes it takes more courage to say nothing.
My brothers and sisters, in this strange life of ours, never forget that fortitude is a victory. There is no final failure for the man who can say I am the master of my fate. Never to tremble at the looming shadow, never to shrink from the unwelcome duty, never to despair when things seem hopeless, is the one road to the music and the crown.
Do you know the commonest command in Scripture? The commonest command in Scripture is Fear not. Times without number in the Word of God it rings out upon us, Thou shalt not be afraid. For courage is at the roots of life, and it is the soil in which every virtue flourishes; it is no isolated or independent grace but is the nursing mother of them all.
The Quiet Courage
Now if this is so, it is at once apparent that the truest courage is an unobtrusive thing. There is nothing spectacular or scenical about it; it sounds no trumpet before it in the streets. I can agree there come moments in some lives when courage flashes into dramatic splendor. When the soldier kneels to save a wounded comrade–when the fireman risks his life to save a child–there is something in that which strangely moves the heart. That is the courage which thrills, and it is splendid, but the courage which thrills is rarely that which tells. No voices cheer it; no papers give its story; no medals reach it from any millionaire. It moves in the shadow of our dreary streets and dwells in the shelter of our humble homes and carries in a quiet and happy and victorious way the crosses which every morning brings. I suppose there was never anyone on earth quite so courageous as our Saviour Jesus Christ. Yet give a pagan that life of His to read, and I do not think he would say, How brave He was! He would say, How loving He was–how infinitely patient–how radiantly peaceful in the teeth of calumny; yet love and patience and radiance and peace were but His matchless courage in disguise. The courage which tells is not the courage which clamors. The courage which tells is the courage which is quiet. It sounds no trumpet; does not strive nor cry; never lifts up its voice in any street. It does things when it feels least like them, anoints the head for every hour of fasting, comes to the cross in such a smiling manner that others scarce suspect the cross is there.
Courage Is the Conquest of Fear
We see also along this line a thought that courage is different from insensibility. Courage is not the absence of fear; courage is the conquest of fear. One man, in some hour of peril, may feel that his heart is beating like a sledgehammer. Another, in an hour precisely similar, may scarcely be conscious of a quickened pulse. And yet the former may be the braver man if he does resolutely what the hour demands of him, for he has felt what the other never felt and feeling it, has brought it to subjection.
I often think of that fine old story of Henry IV, King of France. At the siege of Cahors, when he was young and in arms, his body began to tremble like an aspen. And he cried to his body so that all who were near him heard, “Vile carcass,” he cried, “thou tremblest, but thou wouldst tremble worse if thou but knew where I am going to take thee in a moment.” So saying, with a body trembling like an aspen, he flung himself into the thickest of the fight.
I have heard of two young men who had a cliff to scale, and one of them was white around the cheeks. And the other looked at him and with a sneer said, “Why, I believe you are afraid.”
“Yes,” he replied, “I am afraid, and if you were half as afraid as I am, you’d go home.”
The fact is, that as you rise in being you rise in the nobility of courage. It is those who are capable of being most afraid who are capable of being most courageous. And that is why the courage of a woman is something loftier than that of any beast, for she has a heart that by the touch of God has been made sensitive to every shadow. You will never fathom the bravery of Christ unless you bear in mind that Christ was sinless. For sin is always coarsening and deadening–“it hardens all within and petrifies the feeling.” And it is when we think that Jesus Christ was sinless, and being sinless was exquisitely sensitive, that we come to realize the matchless fortitude that carried Him without a falter to the cross.
I beg of you not for one moment to believe that because you feel afraid you are a coward. Moses and Paul and Jesus Christ Himself knew in its bitterness the shrinking of the flesh. Courage is not the absence of dismay; courage is the conquest of dismay. It is how a man deals and grapples with his trembling that makes the difference between strong and weak.
Courage Increases as Life Advances
It is one of the happy things, too, in human life, that courage grows easier as life advances. If we are living well and doing our work faithfully, we grow equal to our problem over the years. A child begins by fearing almost everything because it begins by knowing almost nothing. Every shadow may be a horrid specter and every dark room is full of ghosts. But the years pass and we enter many a shadow, and the abhorred specters are not there, and so our childish terrors pass away.
I knew an officer who in the thick of battle was reckoned among the bravest of the brave, and yet that man would blanch like any girl if he found himself in the presence of diphtheria. And I know scores of ministers within our city, our islands who would never think twice of visiting a diphtheria patient or an HIV/AIDS patient, and yet I am certain they would be ghastly spectacles within the fighting lines of Adrianople. The fact is that far more than we imagine, courage is a result of habit. The soldier who trembled in his first battle will enter his twentieth without a thought.
And so God is kind to us as life advances, and the fiery ardor’s of our youth decay with ripening knowledge some things become harder, but it does not become harder to be brave. The dash is gone. The youthful fire is gone. We are not heroic as at twenty-one. The old man cannot storm the heights of life with the reckless enthusiasm of the cadet. But he has seen such goodness of the Lord to him and had such sustainment in trial and difficulty, that he can lift up his heart and go forward gently where youth would despair in tragedy.
There are two open secrets of true courage to which I would call attention as I close, and one of them is self-forgetfulness. Just as the open secret of all happiness is never to think of happiness at all but to forget it and do our duty quietly and take the long road that leads through Galilee, so the open secret of all courage is to forget there is such a thing as courage in the gladness and the glow of an idea.
When David fought with the lion and the bear, he never thought of the lion and the bear. He only remembered that he was a shepherd and that his duty was to guard the sheep. So doing his duty in brave forgetfulness, courage came to him like a bird upon the wing and sang its morning music in his heart.
When Captain John Brown, that fine American hero, was asked why others were conquered by his regiment, “Well,” he replied, after a moment’s thought, “I suppose it is because they lacked a cause.” They had nothing to fight for that was worth a stroke, and having nothing to fight for or to die for, it followed “as the night the day” that they were ineffectual in battle.
The timidest creature will face tremendous odds when danger threatens its defenseless offspring. The Roman slave-girl will throw herself to martyrdom when she is animated by the faith of Christ. The woman, in her self-forgetful love for the infant that she has nursed at her bosom, will dare to starve and even dare to die. That is why love is such a nurse of courage, and that is where love is different from passion. For passion is selfish and seeks its own delight and will ruin another if it is only gratified. But love is unselfish and seeketh not her own and hopeth all things and believeth all things, and like John Brown’s regiment is always ready because for the battle it never lacks a cause.
Desdemona, in a play of Shakespeare, is
A maiden never bold
Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion
Blushed at herself
yet standing at Othello’s side, Desdemona confronts her father and her world, and she confronts them because she loves Othello so.
Love for her fledgling makes the wild bird brave. And now comes Christ, and by His life and death writes that word love upon the gate of heaven. And so He has made it possible for thousands, who otherwise would have faltered in the shadow, to pluck up heart again and play the man and to be strong and of good courage by the way.
The Sense of God
The other secret of true courage is a strong and overmastering sense of God. When you get deep enough, I think you always find that in every life that has been brave. When Peter was separated from his Lord for a while, then he denied Him with a fisherman’s curses. With no one near but the soldiers and the servants, he was as a reed shaken with the wind.
But when the Lord came in and looked on Peter, Peter went out into the night and wept; and so repentant, became a man again. When I can go to my labours saying God is with me–when I can lie on my sickbed saying God is here–when I can meet my difficulties saying, This is God–when dying I can whisper He is mine–then in communion with that power and goodness I am no longer tossed and tempest-driven, but in the storm and shadow I am strong. It is that conviction Jesus Christ has brought to the weakest heart in the most dreary street. Prophets and psalmists might believe it once, but the poorest soul can believe it now.
To be in communion with God through Jesus Christ–to know that He is ours and we are His–is the victory which overcomes the world. Such courage is not based on fancied power. It is based on the absolute and the eternal. It is not kindled by any glow of anger. It is kindled and kept by the eternal spirit. So can the weakest dare to stand alone, and dare to live alone, and dare to die alone, saying The best of all is, God is with us.