A Military Sermon

If you will be soldiers, resolve to conquer or die. It is not so much skill or strength that conquers, as boldness. It is fear that loses the day, and fearlessness that wins it. The army which stands to it gets the victory, who they fight never so weakly, for if you will not run, the enemy will. And if the lives of a few be lost by courage, it usually saves the lives of many. If the cause be not worth your lives, you should not meddle with it. If it is, you should choose rather to sacrifice the, than your country.” The man of good courage, is prepared to bear up against all the hardships of the warmest service with an unbroken erect mind, when the cause of GOD and his people, shall press him into their service. The intrepid spirit, rested on the brave Nehemiah, when he exclaimed-Should such a man as I, flee? This spirit inspired that brave commander, who, when deserted by his army in the heat of battle, cried out to them saying: “Go tell the living that I die fighting, while I go and tell the dead, that you live flying.” Are the preceding observations just? We hence learn that courage is necessary in men of military character. No wonder then, that Israel’s brave commander, thus said to his army. “Be of good courage.” And no wonder that he further said, let us play the men. Q.D. Let us do that on this great, trying occasion, which MEN, reasonable creatures ought to do. In these words, there is an implication, that he himself was resolved to do that, which he called them to do-either enter into battle, or so post himself, as to direct and guide them to victory. We have no reason to suspect, but that he would readily have done the former, if the case had required it. Every good general chooses rather to sacrifice his life in battle, than his country and honor. When existing circumstances, call to a most dangerous post, he readily exposes his own person. And so will all other good military characters in places below him, when called to dangerous posts.

In these words, let us play the men, we discern civility and decency. Though the army were under this general’s absolute command, yet he addressed them not as a pack of slaves and poltroons, nor in profane language, as too many have, to the shame of humanity; but as men, his fellow creatures, whom he respected, and who had a right to civil, human treatment. Such treatment conciliates esteem, and leads to obedience from a principle of love, which is a nobler incentive to action, than fear. Playing the men, imports doing bravely and valiantly. The sacred historian, in another place narrating this speech, thus varies the phraseology, let us behave ourselves valiantly. Playing the men, and behaving valiantly, are nearly, or quite synonymous terms. To play the men in battle, none can, unless they behave valiantly.

(From A Sermon – Addressed to the 13th Regiment of Infantry in the Army of the United States of America on the Lord’s-day, August 25, 1799 – by Josiah Whitney, Pastor of the First Church of Brooklyn.)

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