“We have a Captain…”


I have been reading some of the magazine articles of Donald Hankey, a young soldier who died in the bloodbath of the Somme one hundred years ago. The article spoke movingly of his commanding officer in words that could almost said of Jesus.

Here it is: “Somehow, gentle though he was, he was never familiar. He had a kind of innate nobility which marked hint out as above us…. We knew that he would get killed. He was so amazingly unself-conscious. For that reason, we knew that he would be absolutely fearless. He would be so keen on the job in hand, and so anxious for his men, that he would forget about his own danger. So it proved. He was a Captain when we went out to the front. Whenever there was a tiresome job to be done, he was there, in charge. If ever there were a moment of danger, he was on the spot…”

There’s a Victorian hymn by Thomas Lynch, not much sung nowadays perhaps, that contains the lines:

“I have a Captain, and the heart
Of every private man
Has drunk in valour from His eyes,
Since first the war began.”

I’m sure that this was exactly Donald Hankey’s point. His essay was even called “The Beloved Captain.” Even in the worst possible situation, (he might have said) and anticipating the horrors ahead, I have “drunk in valour from his eyes.” I am en-couraged by his example – there’s an injection of courage! He is different to me (with an “innate nobility”) but completely alert to all that I am going through. He shares it with me and so shows me how to cope.

This is how the writer to the Hebrews put it: “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

When I look at Jesus, smiling with his arms full of sprawling children; or looking down at a humiliated woman and tenderly encouraging her to stand; when I see Jesus, stirred with compassion for a confused crowd, reaching to heal, to help, to restore… standing among the broken; then it fills me with courage to live that way.

We have a captain and our hearts drink in valour from his eyes. Look to Jesus. Look to Him as He lived. Look to Him as He died:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.


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