Hold the Line!

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It was on a stiflingly hot day in July that Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain found himself on a wooded hillside in Southern Pennsylvania. Positioned there by his superior officer with 300 men, the remnant of the 20th Maine Regiment, his task was to defend Little Round Top, a small hill that protected the left flank of the Army of the Potomac. To lose this ground would mean the loss of the battle, loss of the army, the loss of the war, the loss of the Union. It was the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War.

He took stock of his assets and liabilities. The 20th Maine held the superior position. Chamberlain’s men were experienced war veterans and were committed to their cause. On the other hand, their ammunition was limited, and they were facing a force of unknown strength. Their attackers were also experienced in battle and had the advantage of extreme confidence, born of their many victories against the larger and better equipped Union Army.

Shortly, Confederate troops were seen advancing up the slope. Although outnumbered, Chamberlain’s tactical advantages allowed the 20th Maine to repel the initial attack and the second and third assaults.

Attempting to flank the Union position, the 15th Alabama prepared for a fourth assault on the hill. The 20th Maine was now nearly out of ammunition and had lost a third of its complement. Chamberlain quickly convened a meeting with his officers and told them his plan to meet the next assault. The 20th Maine would redeploy the line and then, with bayonets fixed, they would charge the advancing Confederates.

Here is Chamberlain’s account of the bayonet charge:

“Ranks were broken; some retired before us somewhat hastily; some threw their muskets to the ground—even loaded; sunk on their knees, threw up their hands calling out, ‘We surrender. Don’t kill us!’”

Those 200 men with empty rifles routed the 500 men of the 15th Alabama. Their dogged determination to hold their position defeated the enemy and made them flee before the advancing tide of fixed bayonets.

The inspiring example of the 20th Maine’s stand on Little Round Top contains lessons for the Christian. Christians are at war and we have been admonished to fight. We have an adversary, the devil.

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

He is a ruthless killer who seeks to deny us eternal life. Christ describes him as a murderer.

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).

Like the Confederate attack on Little Round Top, Satan attacks us with wave after wave of persecution, troubles, attacks on faith, character assassination, and temptations to give up the Christian way. He tempts us to disobey God. He pressures us to renounce our relationship with God and to accuse him of evil. He delights in destroying good relationships among people. His goal is to force us to relinquish our position, to give up our tactical advantage against him.

But we hold the high ground.

“The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower” (Psalm 18:2).

Like Chamberlain’s unit, God has placed us where we can fight, in a high tower, a fortress. We have protection from God, our shield and buckler. God outfits us for battle with spiritual armor. Ephesians 6 describes our equipment for spiritual warfare: the truth; righteousness (obedience to the commandments); the firm footing or foundation of the Gospel (the good news of God’s coming Kingdom); faith; the hope of salvation; the Word of God; and prayer.

Christ entered into single combat with and defeated Satan at the beginning of his earthly ministry. The record of this battle is in Luke 4:1. A study of this encounter with the enemy will show that Christ was wearing his battle dress, the armor of God that Paul described, and that his weapons were gleaming and ready. He defended himself with prayer, with the truth, with his knowledge of the Gospel of the Kingdom, with righteousness. He used his sword, the Word of God, to parry Satan’s strokes. In the end, Satan had to retreat, defeated. Christ knew he was on the high ground with a significant tactical advantage. He didn’t relinquish this advantage, he exploited it to win the battle. He didn’t give Satan a chance! He did this to show us that we could do it too!

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We have all of God’s ammunition, but it’s invisible. Remember, the tide of battle does not depend on the physical resources we can see. Satan will manipulate physical circumstances to demoralize us. The battle is in the mental and spiritual realms, not the physical one. This is where we must fight him. Stubbornly hold on to faith and hope and trust in God and His righteousness.

“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck” (1 Timothy 1:18-19).

We can hold the line against Satan and when we do, he has to retreat from us as he retreated from Jesus. He will retreat like the Rebel soldiers on Little Round Top. That sounds amazing, but James tells us it is so:

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

The devil wants us to relinquish the bond of unity among ourselves. He wants us to back away from our relationship with God. Don’t do it, don’t give an inch! Don’t ever give up! Hold the line!

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Image Credits: Joel Montes de Oca