Defined, a hero is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. Old English proverbs say, “A hero is a man who is afraid to run away.” I want us to journey back to a true-life account in our nation’s history.
Back to New York City on Sept. 11, where we find that New York is under attack. Now, it’s not the 9/11 you are thinking of in 2001, but to Sept. 11, 1776.
The setting: A few months after our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence pledging their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor and committing our nation to fight the greatest military power on the planet. In September, Washington is able to free Boston without firing a shot; now all eyes are now on New York City.
The British won the battle of Staten Island and Long Island and they pushed Washington back to Manhattan. He doesn’t want to lose all of New York and realizes that he needs some intelligence; he needs a spy.
When I say the word spy, you immediately think of some suave clandestine operative who is calm and cool in the face of danger. A perfect shot, perfect physical specimen that can handle any situation possible. They can walk down the side of a mile-high building, and kill with a toothpick! All the while with that perfect suit hair and sophisticated look. In 1776 however, being a spy was not cool! They were the lowest of low, the dredges of society who would sell you out as quickly as they would help you. Nobody trusted them or liked them in the least.
Washington tasks Col. Tom Nolten with finding just the right man for the job. These were the first army rangers... I mean, they were Chuck Norris, John Wayne and The Rock all rolled into one and with a pony tail no less!
The problem was that dying as a spy was not viewed as noble. Dying in battle, yes, but as a spy, you would ruin not only your life, but the reputation of your family as well. Nolten makes the appeal but there are no takers! He is ready to give up when a young man steps forward and says, “I will go! I will undertake the mission.” His name was Nathan Hale.
Nathan Hale graduated from Yale at 18 and was going to study to be a minister. He decided to be a teacher in Connecticut and was there when the war broke out in Lexington and Concord in April of 1775.
At 19, he joined the service. After he volunteers, his friend, William Hull, walks outside with him and tries to talk him out of this. “You will be a terrible spy, you can’t lie. You’ll ruin your life and for that matter your future is done!” Hale replied, “Duty demands that I go. Our general needs me; the cause needs me. Duty demands it... there is honor in that.”
He dresses as a teacher grabs his Yale diploma and goes across enemy lines supposedly looking for work. He scouts out the information needed and writes it down, puts it in his boot and tries to go back across enemy lines. He is quickly captured and sentenced to hang for treason the next day.
That night, he comes to terms with his failure as a spy. He asks for a Bible and is denied. He asks for a clergyman and is denied. He asks for paper to write letters back home. As he writes, he purposes in his heart to do the one thing left that he could do.
The next morning, they marches him out into the crowd for his hanging. Nathan Hale, at the age of 21, gave an impassioned speech about the cause of freedom and liberty in the face of his enemies and many who were heckling him. The most memorable part being when he said, “I only regret that I have but one live to give for my country.”
Nathan Hale’s life... motivated by duty and surrendered totally reminds me of an Old Testament leader by the name of Joshua. Listen to what God said to him as he began to lead Israel, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua’s obedience and faithfulness inspires us yet today. I pray that the Pastors of America find inspiration is this hour to stand firm for righteousness and truth.
In 1898, Bishop Charles Galloway reviewed the role of preachers in the American Revolution. Here is his summary: “Mighty men they were. Men of iron nerve and strong hand and unblanched cheek and a heart aflame…God needed not reeds shaken by the wind or men clothed in soft raiment but he needed heroes of hearty hood and lofty courage and such were the sons of the mighty who responded to the divine call…” Nathan Hale wished he had more to give... May we each have that same desire.
Tim Throckmorton is the Midwest Director of Ministry for the Family Research Council, who writes a weekly column published in The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.