Strength And Courage
Our beloved and aged brother, Dr. Carl Armerding, whose former contributions to Ministry in Focus were much enjoyed, is now resident at the Western Assemblies Home for Senior Christians. In 1926 he participated in an unprecedented event in the non-Sectarian, State-supported University of New Mexico. By the choice of his class, with the accord of the President and Board of Regents, he as a member of the class, preached the Baccalaureate Sermon.
We are honoured by permission to reproduce this sermon, and so do to comply with the request of friends and as a message for the beginning of another year.
The transition from one stage of life to another is generally so gradual that we hardly notice the change. But those of us who have been devoting the last few years wholly to study will find the change from school to business somewhat more abrupt. Some of us will find that it was far easier to face the desk than to speak from behind it. We have been taking in; now we shall have to reverse the order and give out. And instead of being able to carry our troubles to our teachers, we shall find that others will be bringing their problems to us. It will all be so different.
I wish, this afternoon, to liken this change to that which the Israelites experienced when they finally crossed the Jordan and entered the promised land. For forty years they had been looking forward to the fulfillment of the promise of Jehovah. During those forty years they had enjoyed the able leadership of Moses, the man of God. For forty years he had borne practically all of their burdens. But now the Lord has called His servant home to a well-earned rest. And the responsibility of actually leading Israel into the enjoyment of their inheritance falls on younger shoulders. For this purpose God made choice of one who had shared, in a most intimate way, the work of the great leader; one who had had training under Moses himself. In this connection, allow me to quote from a recent article by Julian Hawthorne, who says: “The influence of a good and wise teacher upon the mind and character of his pupil is lifelong; it purifies ideals and kindles worthy ambitions; and it supplies an education broader and deeper and more useful for the whole of life than is the training in specialties which is now in vogue. Of the myriads who emerge from our universities every year, barely a handful possess culture — that is, are sound all-round men, equipped for all emergencies, with an outlook at least over all fields of knowledge and of conduct.
The modern way is of course inevitable, the turn taken by civilization demands specialists. Time spent on Latin and Greek seems time wasted, because no money making result is obvious from it. The question confronting the graduate is not, What are you? — but, What can you do? Science promises us longer life; but it will never be long enough for leisure, which, rightly used, is the only thing worth living for, because only in leisure can the sediment of existence settle and its true values become clear.
The instructors of a former age were… older men, and their conception of success was less concrete and more spiritual … We pay perfunctory homage to our Emersons, Hawthornes and Longfellows, but we can’t afford to make any more of them. Once was enough; there is no longer place or need for them.
Nevertheless when God made choice of a successor to Moses He chose Joshua because he was “full of the spirit of wisdom” (Deut. 14:9). He had the spiritual qualifications necessary for leadership. When in later years God made choice of a king for this same nation, you will remember that He instructed the prophet, Samuel, not to look on the countenance nor the stature, “for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). The future sovereign of Israel must be more than fair to look upon; he must be spiritually qualified if he is to govern his people successfully. And it was David, the youngest, the most insignificant of all of Jesse’s sons, that had the spiritual qualifications necessary to rule over the greatest nation of his time. And such qualifications are just as essential to leadership today as they were then. Times may have changed, but human nature has not. Generations come and go but the spiritual needs of men are immutable.
The passing of Moses is merely the close of a chapter in Israel’s history. The old leader is no more. Never again will the thousands of Israel hear his commanding voice ringing down thru the host. The Lord has put the seal of silence on his lips and has removed him so completely from sight that no man knoweth of his grave to this day. But Joshua is called to step into the place of the one whose attendant and pupil he had been for many years. Nevertheless Joshua’s task is different from that of Moses; it is one of leadership to be sure, but to lead the people to the border of their inheritance is one thing; to cause them to inherit is another. And so it will be with us; not a mere matter of repeating what we have learned but rather using what we have learned to do the bigger task that lies just before us. The same idea is expressed in the words of our Lord Jesus, Who promised His disciples that the works He did they should do also and greater works than those (John 14:12). In other words, we are not merely to mark time, we are expected to go forward, to make progress.
Listen to the command of the Lord to Joshua. “Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give them” (Josh. 1:2). I like the way this is put — “Arise,” and “go over this Jordan,” not “go under.” Jordan was the last barrier between them and their inheritance. It was like a final examination. But there is not even a suggestion of their not being able to pass it. Joshua is commanded to “go over” it — and he does. There is no hesitancy. His training and experience have prepared him for this occasion. He has the proper background as we say. He is “full of the spirit of wisdom.” But background only is not sufficient. There must be a foreground also; and incentive. And this we find now in the promises to Joshua. First of all there is the promise of actual possession based on actual conquest. Says the Lord, “every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given you, as I said unto Moses.” These words imply that he is expected to go forward, not to stand still, nor yet to sit still. This is no sitting down job. “Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon,” means active conquest. We do not actually possess anything that we are not actually treading upon with the soles of our feet, to use the language of the Scripture. Mere looking into the inheritance will not suffice, we must walk in it, live in it, if we would make it really our own. And there is plenty of room here. “From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.” This immense stretch of territory was never fully occupied by Israel. Nor have we in any sense fully occupied our inheritance. Yet, how often we hear that such and such a field is over-crowded. It may be from a certain point of view. But if you and I have learned anything worth while here, we should have learned to take the broadest possible view of life. When we do so, we shall find that there are little corners here and there that are over-crowded, but oh the vast unoccupied stretches that still remain to be possessed!
Secondly, Joshua has the promise that “there shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee. I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.” He was to be invincible. What more did he want, what more could he ask? Fear is our worst enemy. There are times when it makes cowards of the bravest. But for the habitual coward neither God nor man has any use.
“In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!”
It is God Himself who exhorts us to be strong and of a good courage. And so important is this that we find it here repeated three times, each time in an interesting connection. First, in connection with our relationship to others; second, in connection with our personal conduct; and lastly in connection with our relationship to God.
First then as to our relationship to others, we are told, “Be strong and of a good courage, because thou shalt cause the people to inherit the land which I sware unto their father to give them” (vs. 6). Ah yes, that takes strength and courage. Let him try it who thinks otherwise. Every true leader has ever found it to be so. Fear, ignorance, superstition, tradition, prejudice — these all require much courage to overcome. Truth and freedom have never wanted champions, ‘tis true, but every champion of the truth, every emancipator has stood in jeopardy every hour. Behold the outstanding example— our Lord Jesus Christ. In fulfillment of the prophecy, He came to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to announce deliverance to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty them that are crushed (cf. Luke 1:18). But what was the response to it all? Admitting that He spake as never man spake, and that He did all things well, yet they rejected Him and crucified Him. But knowing full well what was before Him, He set His face as a flint. He had come to lead us into an inheritance of which Canaan was but a type. The land that flowed with milk and honey was but a shadow of good things to come — the spiritual blessings with which we have been blessed who have acknowledged Him as our own personal Lord and Saviour.
But if He was treated thus, we who follow Him need not expect anything better. Human nature is still the same. “And the servant is not above his Lord.” Therefore you must not be surprised if in seeking to lead others to higher and better things — in leading them from the barren wastes of life up into its more glorious and fertile stretches — you are misunderstood, yes even hated because of it. “Be strong and of a good courage.”
The second time we find these words here, they are used in connection, not with that which concerns my relationship to others, but rather with that which has to do with my personal conduct. “Be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses My servant commanded thee; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest.” It takes courage and strength for freemen to obey, especially so when the authority to which they are subject does not have universal recognition as such. Days were when men did not presume to tamper with the Bible. Divine authority was at least respected, if not obeyed. But today sophomoric youngsters arise to tell us that the Bible is out of date. They prefer the still-born theories of a “science falsely so-called” to the living truths of the Word of God. No wonder then that we see a breaking down of authority in other realms as well, for they who regard not God’s laws very soon come to regard not the laws of society either.
It is the lack of respect for the authority of the Word of God that is responsible for the breakdown in morals and religion that is so prevalent today. And I refuse to be dubbed a pessimist because I say this. There is hope. Our chances for recovery are not lost if we will but embrace afresh the faith of our fathers and observe to do all that our Lord had asked of us. A knowledge of His will is far more important than all the knowledge outside of that. “I thoroughly believe in university education for both men and women,” writes Professor William Lyon Phelps of Yale, “but I believe a knowledge of the Bible without a college course is more valuable than a college course without the Bible. Western civilization is founded upon the Bible; our ideas, our wisdom, our philosophy, our literature, our art, our ideals come more from the Bible than from all other books put together.” “Such an imposing statement, from a source of recognized authority,” comments another, “behooves us to think twice before we set aside as another bit of pious talk the plea for more adequate training in the Bible, for a more intelligent study of the Bible.”
Joshua is told to let the law of God govern his acts, his speech and his thoughts, for he is not only to observe to do it, but also it must not depart out of his mouth, and he is to meditate in it day and night. It is sufficient for word, and thought and deed. And this is the secret of true success. For the promise is, “then shalt thou make thy way prosperous, and then shalt thou have good success.”
Finally we are told to be strong and of a good courage in connection with our relationship to God. That such a relationship is possible will not be denied by any who profess faith in God. “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). But “there is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” And He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6). These texts will be sufficient to show us that a personal relationship to God is possible. And not only possible but absolutely essential to a life which is really life. You can not do without the Lord. But the other side of that truth is that He does not wish to do without you. How comforting that is as we face the untried paths of life! How soothing to have Him say, “The Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest!” The companionship of God! Who can estimate the value of that?
“The sweet companionship of One
Who once the desert trod;
The glorious fellowship with One
Upon the throne of God.”
It is this that we need for every department of our being. Without it we could never fulfill the purpose for which we have entered the world, and wanting it we would not be prepared to leave it. Science and learning may make us a bit more self-confident, a little better prepared perhaps to make our way thru this world, but the Lord thy God alone can say to thee, in every place whither thou goest, “Be strong and of a good courage.”
“What more can He say, than to you He hath said —
To you, who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not —I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell, should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never — no never — no never forsake!”
Therefore, let us be strong and of a good courage. Amen!