Their Finest Hour | JT 25.3
Posted by Simon Wenham on May 25, 2017
Winston Churchill was responsible for some of the most striking and memorable speeches ever delivered. The strong rhetoric he often deployed during the Second World War was of course partly out of necessity; his country desperately needed inspiration at times when the conflict was very much in the balance. One of the most famous messages he ever gave was when he sought to prepare the British citizens for the looming Battle of Britain. In his speech before The House of Commons on June 18, 1940, he implored, “Let each man search his conscience.” He closed his speech by declaring ominously that the very future of Christian civilization was at stake; thus, they needed to be ready to face the “fury and might” of an enemy that wanted to sink the world into the “abyss of a new Dark Age.” Whether or not they would succeed was uncertain, but he reiterated that if they succeeded they would be judged by history with these words: “This was their finest hour.”
The power of the message lay not only in the evocative and inspirational tone but in the strong moral language that connected the listener to a higher cause. In other words, it specifically challenged people on a personal level, like the famous war-time “Your Country Needs You” posters.
What is interesting from a Christian perspective is that Churchill’s speech communicates something similar to what the gospel message communicates, albeit in a different way. In scripture, the power doesn’t come from inspirational or moral language; rather, it comes from connecting us to the highest cause: God Himself.
Yet, if we are brutally honest, many of us feel a sense of inadequacy when it comes to living up to this higher calling. We have personal failings that continually let us (and others) down. Our lives don’t seem to be as successful as those around us; we feel ashamed by things in our past, and we harbor guilt for not doing more to help others. Such insecurities are only natural in a world that puts so much emphasis on what we achieve, but the gospel message is radically different because it applies to everyone equally, irrespective of who we are or what we have done. In fact, Christ’s unconditional love for us was so great that he even took the punishment we deserved for our wrong doing, so that we could be in a relationship with him. It’s very easy to forget just how profound this is, but he is offering us a new life. Scripture proclaims,
And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:15-17)
Furthermore, Jesus doesn’t just leave us to fend for ourselves unaided, but he offers us assistance, through his spirit, so that we can be changed. As Titus 3:5 says, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that we will all have a sudden transformation in our lives—although this certainly does happen to some—or that we will never do wrong again and things will be easy thereafter, but it makes all the difference to have God walking beside us through thick and thin as well as to know that we can be secure in our identity in Him.
Moreover, God is able to do amazing things through us, if we are open to Him. Even if we don’t think we have much to offer, we are reminded that God’s grace is not only sufficient for us, but that his power is made perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). What a promise and a hope!
In a sense, you could say that the gospel message is the ultimate challenge. It is not only much more inspirational and important than the most eloquent of political speeches, but it really does open up the prospect of us truly achieving our “finest hour.”
Simon Wenham is Research Coordinator for the Zacharias Trust in Europe.