As I prepare for a couple of weeks vacation before we head off to Louisville for our weeklong series of nightly broadcasts from the National Quartet Convention … we turn this space over to Reverend Mark Adams, Senior Pastor of Redland Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland, for another thoughtful message:
In 1875 this man, a British poet named William Ernest Henley, published a short poem that expressed one way to cope with life’s circumstances. The poem, called “Invictus,” ended with these famous lines: “I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul.”
In popular culture, those last two lines usually represent some kind of heroic and self-sufficient stand against evil and injustice without submitting to God. The journalist Daniel Hannan called the poem “…a final and terrible act of defiance. The Horror might indeed have awaited [Henley], but he would go there on his own terms, leaving the spittle sliding down his Maker’s face.”
In her book, Come, Sit, Stay, Ellen Vaughn reminds us that for over a hundred years, Henley’s poem has inspired many people. In the 1980s, the poem encouraged former South African president Nelson Mandela throughout the dark days of his imprisonment. Years later, Clint Eastwood used it as the title for his popular film about the South African rugby team.
Sadly, it was also a great influence on Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was responsible for the deaths of 168 men, women, and children, and the injuries of 800 more. He scribbled out the words of “Invictus” and handed it to authorities as his last words before his execution.
Sixteen years after Henley first published “Invictus,” the British preacher Charles Spurgeon offered another philosophy of life. On June 7, 1891, in the closing words of his final sermon, Spurgeon urged people to submit to a better “Captain” for our soul. Spurgeon said: “Every [person] must serve somebody: we have no choice as to that fact. Those who have no master are slaves to themselves. Depend upon it, you will either serve Satan or Christ. Either self or the Savior. You will find sin, self, Satan, and the world to be hard masters; but if you wear the uniform of Christ, you will find him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. If you could see our Captain, you would go down on your knees and beg him to let you enter the ranks of those who follow him. It is heaven to serve Jesus.”
Joshua made a similar statement in his own final sermon. Shortly before his death, he challenged the Hebrew people by saying, “If serving the Lord seems desirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
When you think of it, the choice we all face as to who we will serve is not a difficult one. As Spurgeon implied, it is literally Hell to proudly reject God—and Heaven (both now and through eternity) to humbly serve Him. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:5-7)
© Mark Adams
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