Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
Bookmark and Share

The Sword: Advice for the Church Today

Elder Brian Crossett


This article was to have been the content of a speech I was to give to the 2017 Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) in Hudsonville, Michigan, USA. Since there was an extraordinary amount of business to be conducted, including the examination of seven theological students, etc., I decided not to deliver it orally but to write it up later.

I hope in the following words to give encouragement to the professors, ministers, elders, deacons and members in the PRC to hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints in a day of compromise and lack of love for the truth. I will bring out some spiritual comparisons and parallels from a striking incident in nineteenth-century, military history.

During the Crimean War (1853-1856), in which the British and others fought against the Russians, there was an epic cavalry charge in the Battle of Balaclava immortalised in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1854). The poem records a stirring exhibition of valour and daring. Yet I do not so much wish to focus on the battle itself but rather on an incident that took place within it.

At the end of the charge, a British lancer was found dead, killed in the battle. This was not unusual, for the British cavalry suffered very heavy casualties in this charge. Nevertheless, there was something unique about this lancer and his circumstances.

He was found alone with no fellow lancers with him, though he was surrounded by dozens of enemy dead. They had all been slain by this lancer and they were lying in heaps all around his corpse. He had evidently lost his horse, which had probably been shot from under him, and had charged at the nearest enemy position to engage them with his sword.

Now what was it that enabled this lancer to slay so many of the enemy? Was it his great strength and long reach, with the Russians being shorter and weaker? Was it that he was armed with a sword and they were not? No, this lancer was as were all in the light brigade: light. He was not very tall nor muscular. Instead, it was the Russian artillery troops who were big and strong. They had to be in order to lug the heavy artillery pieces around the battlefield. They would have had the longer reach and they too were armed with swords.

On investigation, those who found the dead lancer discovered that on his body were over fifty strike marks made by Russian swords, twenty of which were on his head. Yet they had failed in most cases to draw blood. He was more bruised than cut. In contrast, the enemy had life-ending wounds inflicted upon them. Thus it became apparent that the lancer's main advantage was that, whereas the enemies' swords were blunt and ineffective, his sabre was sharp and clinically efficient.

Many times the lancer was told during training, “Your sword is the means of your staying alive and you must let it do its work. Keep your sword sharp and do not rely on your own strength. If you rely on your own strength, your weakness will let you down. Trust your sword!” He would have been taught to sharpen the sword using a whetstone, a leather strop and chamois leather until it was honed to perfection. The scabbard was to protect the sword's edge, not to protect the user from cutting himself, as it is commonly thought today.

The lancer's second advantage was the experience of his predecessors written down in a manual detailing how to use the sword skilfully. A sharp sword without the necessary skill to use it would be of little use. Our lancer would have been warned not to lean on his own understanding but rather to follow what had been handed down in the manual, reinforced by practice, practice, practice!

We read in Hebrews 4:12 that “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword.” The comparison here is relevant. Unlike a physical sword, Scripture is already sharp, powerful and quick (or living). Let the Word of God do its work! Put your trust in it as God's own mighty weapon. However, if you lack the skills to use it, it will be wielded as if it were blunt and ineffective.

Over the years, through assiduous study, tough experience, doctrinal controversies and faithful synods, something akin to spiritual swordsmanship manuals has been written: the creeds of the churches! Here the professor, minister, elder, deacon, seminarian and church member learn how to use the sword skilfully.

Those churches which have ignored and forsaken the creeds have forgotten how to wield the sword, so that for them it is now rusty and blunt. In the day of battle, they will be ineffective and will be defeated easily.

I humbly urge the Protestant Reformed Churches to remain steadfast, when the great falling away is blatantly obvious in the vast majority of churches across the world. Keep the sword of the Spirit sharp and maintain the Three Forms of Unity (and “The Declaration of Principles”). Do not weaken the training of the future ministers but rather be diligent to be even sharper than ever before. Let the sword do its work!

After the charge of the light brigade was over, the surviving Protestants from Ireland held a worship service in a cave to praise their sovereign God. They also recalled a Dutchman, William of Orange, who brought them the liberty to worship free from Roman Catholic tyranny at the Glorious Revolution (1688) and through the Battle of the Boyne (1690) in their homeland. The Protestant Reformed Churches remember another Dutchman, Herman Hoeksema, who won for them the truth they so dearly love and teach.

Most importantly, we all ought to remember the One who brought spiritual freedom to His beloved people through His atoning sacrifice, the One from whose mouth proceeds a “sharp twoedged sword” (Rev. 1:16; cf. Isa. 49:2; Rev. 19:15, 21). “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (II Tim. 2:19).