If there is going to be a war, men must be ready to fight. This is the lesson of the first battle of Manassas (or Bull Run), the first major engagement of the American Civil War.
There had been talk of war for months, ever since South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter in early April of 1861. Both the North and the South hurriedly prepared for the conflict. By early July, each side was ready for war and certain of an easy victory. When Union general Irvin McDowell addressed his troops on the eve of battle, his only fear was that the enemy would be unable to put up a good fight.
The first shots were fired in northern Virginia late on the 8th of July. News of the skirmish reached Washington by nightfall. Since a Union victory seemed inevitable, the battle was treated as the social event of the summer. The next morning, the ladies and gentlemen of high society gaily packed their hampers, piled into carriages, and rode to Bull Run for a picnic.
But the day turned out to be anything but festive. The scene of battle was one of unimagined chaos and horror. The commanders were unaccustomed to warfare on such a grand scale. The armies did not so much engage as collide. The fighting was fierce until Stonewall Jackson led the Confederate soldiers on a bayonet charge. The Union was routed, with three thousand soldiers left dead or bleeding on the battlefield. The Washington socialites ran for their lives, their army defeated because it was not ready to fight.
IN THE LORD’S ARMY
The apostle Paul did not want Timothy to go so unprepared into battle. He knew the invisible war between God and Satan is no picnic, but a struggle to the death. So he ordered his young assistant to prepare for spiritual combat: “wage the good warfare” (1 Tim. 1:18), or as other translations have it, “fight the good fight.”
Paul speaks to Timothy partly as a father in the faith, but especially as a general: “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy” (1 Tim. 1:18). These are Timothy’s marching orders, for Paul’s charge is Timothy’s command. The orders come through God’s field general (the apostle Paul) from the Commander-in-Chief of Christ’s army, who is God himself.
Spiritually speaking, Timothy was no longer a civilian, but a soldier in God’s army. He could sing the old children’s song from Sunday school: “I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery; I may never fly over the enemy, but I’m in the Lord’s army, yes, sir!” Here at the end of chapter 1, Timothy is told to report for duty. And since he is a minister of the gospel, he is not simply a foot-soldier, but a standard-bearer.
Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Timothy, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Daniel M. Doriani, and Philip Graham Ryken, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 44–45.
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