2 Chronicles 19:11
And, behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the LORD; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael…
Probably few of us ever sufficiently consider the value and need of courage in order to any high condition of character. There are to be found in one of the letters of one of the most interesting men of modern times these words, "How rare is it to have a friend who will defend you thoroughly and boldly! Mr. — missed an opportunity of doing this for me, and has not the courage to do it now as he ought to do, leaving me in consequence defenceless against a slander, though I put the proof into his hands. How indispensable strength is for high goodness-strength moral or intellectual, neither depending necessarily on physical strength." Many a man neglects to live a Christian life not because he lacks Christian sympathies, sentiments, and feelings, not even because he has no Christian ideas, but simply for lack of courage to put himself where he properly belongs. This lack of courage denotes, of course, either want of confidence in himself or want of depth of feeling as to religious truth, or fear of some man or men, which fear has too much influence over him to allow him to act conscientiously and in the line of his best sympathies.
1. In speaking of courage let us recognise that there is animal courage as well as intellectual and moral courage. Animal courage is of the lowest kind. Oftentimes it is nothing more than bull-dog ferocity. It oftentimes makes men good soldiers, successful pugilists, stalwart seamen — even daring adventurers. Men may have it without any intellectual or moral courage. A little of it is good. An excess tends to brutality. This form of courage — the courage to take physical punishment without flinching — is of a kind which the most uncultured and unrefined can appreciate. It will always have an attraction for the coarse, undeveloped, and unrespectable classes of society.
2. Intellectual courage is of another order, and indicates a superior type of man. It means practically the ability to think for one's self, and to follow out one's thinkings to their inevitable conclusions. It is necessary, however, to guard this language. Taking opinions into one's mind is not thinking. There is a period in our life when we have more conceit than wisdom, and more independence than politeness. We say to ourselves and others that "we mean to do our own thinking," which often amounts to this — that we mean to assert ourselves as not agreeing with certain persons who are said to be narrow and exclusive, and agreeing with those who shake themselves free from everybody else except a few intellectual rakes and dandies. Alas, how silly it all seems when we get a little older! Then it appears to us that it was the want of ability to think which made us so impertinent and ridiculous. Of course all young birds have to learn to do their own flying, and, after rolling and tumbling about for awhile, they settle down to do it precisely after the fashion of the old birds. So, also, with thinking. From the beginning even until now it has been done in exactly the same way. The process has consisted of the discernments of comparisons and contrasts, likenesses and unlikenesses, of induction, deduction, and inference. Every man has to do his own thinking to some extent, as every man has to do his own sating and his own digesting. There is no possibility of any one eating our food for us, or digesting it for us. And no man can possibly begin at the beginning of things, and think out each problem of life as if no one had been on the earth before him. The present is so related to the past, as that the past is in it and the future is in it. Everything is in the present. We inherit the earth, not as it first came out from the hands of the Creator before man was on it, but as it is, modified by man's co-operation with God. So of everything — that which is moral and mental as well as that which is material. In each department of things there are men who have thinking power and erudition far, far beyond what is possible to us. In each department they are our helpers, our instructors; yes, our masters. That independence which we assume in youth is only ignorance, foolishness, unthinkingness. The greatest men the world has ever known have been the most receptive and dependent men; the most diligent students, the aptest learners. If I am to learn painting it would be folly indeed if I said, "I am going to be independent of Murillo and Raphael, of Turner and Correggio and Rubens and all other artists who have gone before me." So in music the man who thinks for himself and never appropriates the science of others is idiotic. So everywhere in all departments. Not less so in theology, the revelation of God and of man, and of the relation of the human to the Divine. If I set up on my own account, and did not open my mind to the thinkings of others, the name of "Verdant Green" would be the only name that could fit me. I would have our younger people distinguish between two ideas which are very distinct, and yet are often confounded the one with the other — viz., thinking for one's self and cultivating a spirit of truth. The truth is that which corresponds to the fact. As a fact reports itself to your mind that is the truth for you. By and by as your mind grows it may report itself somewhat differently, then there will be something added to the original impression, and that will be the truth. Now, intellectual courage consists in this perfect truthfulness — this faithfulness to report what you see and recognise. It may sometimes put you in seeming inconsistency with yourself. It may subject you to being accused of inconsistency. But never mind. God does not ask us to be consistent — on that shallow view of consistency — but to be faithful and true. There is a deeper consistency — a nobler consistency. If I see a thing very partially in youth, because of the undeveloped condition of my mind, and see it more completely in manhood, because I have had more experience and more vision; if I truly say what I saw then and truly say what I see now, though I see now more than I saw then, am I not consistent — more nobly consistent — than I should be if I were afraid, under more experience, to contradict my former self? What is life for if not to educate us into deeper and larger views of truth? Only we must take good heed that they are deeper and larger. Many people change, but their change is not growth. Let us recognise that, in order to be assured of the leading of the Spirit of God into all truth, we must have intellectual courage — the courage to follow the truth wherever it leads and to own up to believing that it is the truth. Often it takes even sublime courage to do it. Every child ought to read the story of the martyrs of old. It is dreadful to think how little the religion of some of us means. The loss of the ability to grow deep-rooted convictions, and the loss of courage to be faithful in owning to them, is, wherever it occurs, a dreadful loss. It means the loss of that nobility of soul the possession of which is one of the surest marks of our being children of God.
3. But of all kinds of courage, moral courage is the noblest. Of course it enters into intellectual courage. The two are not distinct, and yet while intellectual courage implies thinking power and faithful following where the light seems to be, moral courage does not necessarily mean the courage of the crack thinker, but the courage of character; the courage which acts conscientiously in trying circumstances. For instance, the liar is always the coward. A man lies because he has not the courage to speak the truth and take the consequences. There is one exception to that rule. It is conceivable that a really truthful man might need courage to tell a lie which he thought would shelter a friend from injury or harm. My intellect may sometimes stand in contradiction to my conscience, "but conscience is given me to act by. In matters of duty, therefore, I am bound to obey my conscience rather than my intellect." Hence moral courage amounts pretty much to this — the steady, persistent following of the light which is in conscience. It involves, of course, the bringing of the conscience into the light, where it may be illuminated, for conscience is a light receiver, not a light originator. Courage, and much of it, is needed to act always and everywhere conscientiously. Intelligence is needed to distinguish between conscience and prejudice. Many a man assumes to be acting conscientiously when he is really acting only from prejudice and feeling. If he quietly took himself to task, he would recognise his true motive. Conscience represents God's judgment throne. The very fact that a man condemns himself in spite of his natural unwillingness to do it, proves that the voice of conscience is not his own voice.
4. But how are we to get the courage we need — intellectual courage to follow the truth wherever it leads, to utter it always in love, but to utter it; and the moral courage to obey conscience? Where did those apostles in the early Christian days get theirs? Few of them were more than average men. At the approach of calamity all the disciples forsook Jesus and fled. If there was an exception it was John. Peter disgraced himself pitifully. Yet within a few weeks we find men of such sublime courage that we hardly recognise them as the same men. Not Luther himself at the Diet of Worms, challenging the old ecclesiastical order of centuries, was braver. Not the Prince de Conde was braver as he stood before the King of France when given the choice of three things — first, to go to Mass; second, to die; third, to be imprisoned for life. He replied with regard to the first, "I am fully determined never to go to Mass; as to the other two I am so perfectly indifferent that I leave the choice to your Majesty." These are illustrations of the noble courage of noble men. They seem phenomenal and unusual. But there may be here amongst us men and women, yes, and children, capable of as determined a courage if put in similar circumstances. None of us can tell what we should do in any condition till we get there. It requires as much courage to suffer and be quiet and self-controlled as it does to act. Nothing is more admirable than the quiet domestic courage which many illustrate. I am inclined to adopt and endorse the words of one who has written, "few persons have courage enough to appear as good as they really are." That is the essence of moral courage. The religious life of business men is very shy and timid. There are men in this and every congregation who feel and believe more — far more — than they act. Sydney Smith has said that a great deal of talent is lost to the world for the want of a little courage. With more truth still we may say that a great deal of influence is lost to the Church for want of a little courage. I believe that few persons have the courage to appear as good as they really are. Courage is opposed to the spirit of compromise — the spirit of indolence — the spirit of silence when silence will be interpreted as consent on our part to what we do not believe. The spirit of fear, of indolence, of compromise, of guilty silence has to be overcome. How? The Spirit of God is granted to every seeking soul that the soul may overcome.
(Reuen Thomas, D.D.).
Parallel VersesKJV: And, behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the LORD; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, for all the king's matters: also the Levites shall be officers before you. Deal courageously, and the LORD shall be with the good.
WEB: Behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of Yahweh; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, in all the king's matters: also the Levites shall be officers before you. Deal courageously, and may Yahweh be with the good."