Most persons speak of the acts of those who in battle may storm forts or stand undaunted before the enemy’s fire, as “very brave,” or possessed of “true courage.” And yet, in many instances, it may be ambition for honor, or a selfish pride which actuates such in their course. Let them examine carefully their own hearts, and they may find that a desire for earthly glory, and to gain the applause of their fellow men is the mainspring of their actions. That is really true courage, which is apparent in those who choose the right, although the course they pursue may call down the frowns of their fellow men upon them. All candid people can but admire the answer of the great Kossuth in his reply to the Sultan of Turkey, who offered him wealth and power if he would embrace the Moslem faith. Said Kossuth, “Welcome if need be the axe or gibbet; but curses on the tongue that dares to make to me so infamous a proposal!” This he said when and where the Sultan might kill him if he saw fit.
Of a similar nature also, is the answer that Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, gave the Papists when they offered him wealth and honor if he would adhere to the Romish faith. “Do not think that for any money I would suppress a single syllable of the truth.”
Here are cases of true moral courage. No honor or worldly praise did they expect for the words they said; but to say what they did was placing them in jeopardy of their own lives.
Christ has laid down what I will call a great rule of true courage. It is this: “He that seeks to save his life shall lose it, but he that will lose his life shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25). Again, He says: “He that will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). To follow in a course, which is in perfect harmony with all around us, does not so test our courage as to be brought to the knowledge of truths which clearly point out to us duties, which in many respects are at variance with the habits and customs of the people around us. This is the self-denial of Christ’s cause.
When duties are presented for our acceptance that conflict with our natural feelings of ease seeking, then is the time to dare to do right, and to be true, to our convictions of duty, let the consequences be what they may. We have heard many sing with zeal the old hymn,
“Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
Whilst others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?”
And especially as they came to the stanza:
“I’ll bear the cross, endure the shame
Supported by Thy Word.”
One would think, to hear them sing, that they were about to be burned at the stake; but alas! when their courage is tested, as to their readiness to deny self or make a real sacrifice in the cause of God, they are found wanting.
How many such we meet who, when the clear light of truth comes, and they see the claims of God’s law, and admit them all binding, and even admit that it is their duty to keep His commandments, and yet refuse to obey because it conflicts with their business. Let me ask right here, “Can a man who fails to deny self for the purpose of obeying God in what he knows and admits to be right, be of that class who would lose their lives for God’s cause?”
The words of Christ are forcible right here, “He that is faithful in the least is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10). That is, that he would deny himself for God’s cause; might possibly die for it if necessary. While he who will not deny himself for the sake of obeying the truth, never need talk of dying for his faith, until some other principle actuates him.
It’s not many months since I heard a very earnest person in a social meeting, make remarks like the following: “God knows I would be willing to give Him my head in His cause.” Again he said, “I would be ready to die in a minute for my faith in God.” It was not many days after this, however, that this same person was brought to see a point of duty, relative to the keeping of the fourth commandment. What did he do? Admitted his duty to keep it, and then said, “I cannot keep the Sabbath of the fourth commandment, because it conflicts with my business.” I wonder if he had stopped to think how it would conflict with his business to die for his faith, and be obliged to leave all his business. Here is where true courage is needed.
In conclusion, I would say, we must learn to call that true courage which leaves a person to do that this his judgment and an enlightened conscious show him to be right, if all the world frowns upon him.
N. Loughborough, The Signs of the Times, June 25, 1874.