A story of sacrifice

Charles Spurgeon on the need for courage and sacrifice in the midst of theological controversy:

The well-known story of Arnold you Winkelried occurs to us as admirably illustrating our present position. The tale shall be told, and then we will append its moral. The Austrian duke, determined to make vassals of the Swiss cantons, had marched an army of well-armed knights and nobles to attack the city of Lucerne, against which the giant Swiss could only send into the field a few ill-accoutered warriors. Armor was scarce among the Swiss; some had only boards fastened on their arms by way of shields, some had halberts which had been used by their sires at the battle of Morgarten, and others wielded two-handed swords and battle-axes; they formed themselves into a wedge, and strove with useless valor to break the bristling line of spears presented by the Austrian knights, whose gay shields and polished impenetrable armor stood like a glittering wall quite out of the Switzer’s reach. Nothing availed against the Austrian phalanx, while death thinned the ranks of the patriots. It was a moment when some unusual deed was needed, and the deed was done. Winkelried saw at a glance the only means of saving his country, and promptly made himself a sacrifice to secure her liberties. Sir Walter Scott, in a worthy translation of the poem of Albert Tchudi, sings of the hero’s valiant self-sacrifice : —

“‘I have a virtuous wife at home,
A wife and infant son
I leave them to my country’s care,—
This field shall soon be won.

These nobles lay their spears right thick,
And keep full firm array,
Yet shall my charge their order break,
And make my brethren way.’

He rush’d against the Austrian band
In desperate career,
And with his body, breast, and hand,
Bore down each hostile spear.

Four lances splinter’d on his crest,
Six shiver’d in his side;
Still on the serried files he press’d —
He broke their ranks, and died.

This patriot’s self-devoted deed
First tamed the Lion’s mood,
And the four forest cantons freed
From thraldom by his blood.

Right where his charge had made a lane,
His valiant comrades burst,
With sword, and ax, and partisan,
And hack, and stab, and thrust.”

When fairly mingled in the fray, the unwieldy length of their weapons and cumbrous weight of their defensive armor rendered the Austrian men-at-arms a very unequal match for the valiant mountaineers, and the liberties of Switzerland were secured by the slaughter of her foes.

All great movements need the entire self-sacrifice of some one man who, careless of consequences, will throw himself upon the spears of the enemy. Providence has usually raised up such a one just when he was, needed, and we may look for such a person to come suddenly to the front now. Meanwhile, is there not a man of the sort to be found in our churches? We believe there are many, and to aid in identifying them we will sketch the man required. He must be simple-minded, outspoken, bold and fearless of consequences. To him courage must be instead of prudence, and faith instead of policy. He must be prepared to be apparently despised and really hated, because intensely dreaded. He must reckon upon having every sentence he utters distorted, and every action misrepresented, but in this he must rejoice so long as his blows tell and his utterances win a hearing. Ease, reputation, comfort, he must renounce, and be content so long as he lives to dwell without the world’s camp. Standing at the point of the wedge he must be ambitious to bury as many spears as possible in his own bosom that others may win the victory. Now who is the man who should naturally take up this position? Who in our churches is most called to it? Is it not the minister of Christ? Who should lead the van of the Lord’s host but the preacher of the Word? In our measure, such being our calling, we are willing so to act as the Lord may enable us, for such is well becoming in a soldier of Jesus Christ.

From The Sword and the Trowel, August 1866.