“Believe me when I tell you that men will always listen if you talk to them about Jesus Christ.”
A Canadian Army chaplain played a key role in the backstory to We Never Stood Alone. Lloyd Robins and Ned Powell were brought to faith though a dedicated layman – Pete Miller – and through a chaplain, Padre Martin. In the next volume of the Stokely Chronicle the chaplaincy will also play a role, and I’ve enjoyed researching it. One of the neatest things I’ve run across is a distinctly spiritual component to chaplain training.
Christianity, according to many British historians, was on a steep decline between the wars, with a growing nominalism in the middle and upper classes and a deep neglect of both church and faith among the lower classes. And in fact, with rare exceptions like Rees Howells, C. S. Lewis, and Martin Lloyd-Jones, it is hard to find evidence of vital Christianity in the U. K. in these years. This decline, according to Michael Snape (God and the British Soldier) led to the predominance of a low-information ‘civil religion’ among the soldiers of World War 2 (which he thinks was better than nothing. Hymns in particular, he says, supported the troops when things got tough.)
But in digging a little deeper, I was gratified to find evidence of true spiritual life among British Army chaplains. In particular, I contacted David Blake, the curator of the Museum of Army Chaplaincy and asked about chaplain training during the war. His gracious response led me to a collection of ten messages by Ronald Sinclair (one of the two seated officers pictured), given to chaplains in their brief training rotation at Chester College. I found a few of these messages online and found their Christ-focus to be encouraging. In one, Sinclair says that chaplains must be a bridge, not a pier, connected to both God and the men, not just to one or the other. He closes with the following thoughts:
One last word this morning. These odd addresses of mine, such as they are, rough and unpolished, have as their burden, and as their only burden, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Men have the oddest ideas about God. God is an unknown quantity to the vast bulk of our manhood. The word ‘God’ may mean nothing to them; but, believe me when I tell you that men will always listen if you talk to them about Jesus Christ. Whatever they may believe about Him, He always draws men to Himself. It is quite astonishing, that.
Jesus Christ is the burden of our message. You can talk to men about a thing, or a system, and leave them cold, bored, shuffling, and coughing. You can talk to them about a cut and dried scheme of theology and make no contact with them at all. But you can talk to them about Jesus Christ, and a hush will fall upon them. And so there is no need for me to apologize for the fact that the burden of these addresses here is the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why? Because He is the Bridge: the great Bridge; the wonderful Bridge between the divine and the human, between God and man, between the ideal and the actual, bridging the gulf between the eternal and the temporal. He is, as our Creed tells us: ‘God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By Whom all things were made’: . . . He is all that—indescribably divine— beyond any words of Creed. And yet He is most human. Nothing has ever been seen or heard more beautiful, more lovely, more exquisite, than the humanity of the Son of God. He was not an ecclesiastic on earth. His associations in our minds are not with the Temple or synagogue, but with a carpenter’s bench, with a lakeside, with fisher-folk at their work, with walking-tours, with the open-air, with a market-place, with home, with those who were considered to be beyond the pale, with suffering, and death itself. That is His sphere of work: most human. The Word did, indeed, become Flesh, ‘and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’
And, please God, by the time that this course is over, you and I together in this chapel, which has become a sacred place for so many of your predecessors, will have been able to see a little more of the glory of God, in the face, the most human face, of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!
Timeless truth, needed in our time.