The Gospel Sandals
“And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace”
by Bishop Edward Malcolm
I want to encourage you to stand firm, in peace, in the Gospel. The third piece of armour which the Christian soldier is to put on is footwear. The words ‘put on!’ are a military order. They ring out with the clear note of a bugle summoning to the fight without delay. The picture is of the Roman heavy infantryman, ten cohorts of whom provided the principal strength of an imperial legion. You, as a soldier of Jesus Christ, are compared to such a man, not to the lightly armed skirmisher, or the soldier in barracks to whom Paul was chained. Among the ten cohorts, you have chosen the post of honour, the thickest part of the fight, one of those eleven hundred and five soldiers of the first cohort, the guardians of the sacred eagle, the most approved for valour and fidelity. That is the Apostle’s comparison here, not to the Jewish warrior, even though Judah the Lion was and is formidable in the fight.
You have chosen, having done all, to stand and fight just where the devil is attacking, the most exposed place, the most criticized, marginalized, pitied, and despised. Hear what Martin Luther said. “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle front besides is mere flight and disgrace – if he flinches at that point.”
I say from my heart that you are the ones who have taken a logical position, where you can stand. Many are attempting to shut doors through which the horse has already bolted. I say this after many years of watching the situation: it is impossible to stand foursquare for the Gospel being preserved in the Church of England if your position involves some degree of unreality, or fighting at some other front than the hottest part of the battle. What is at stake is not some minor matter; it is the Gospel of peace as we know it.
1. Your sandals are for the defence of the Gospel
Notice here the word ‘preparation’. One meaning is ‘preparedness’, defence being the foremost idea. But the word is not just that, it is more. It is the attack by the Christians with the Gospel. The Roman Empire had long frontiers facing the barbarian hordes. They despised as weakness keeping the legions in fortified cities. No! Instead they placed them on the frontiers in the open field, apparently in maximum danger. In fact it was wisdom, it gave them mobility, showing the barbarians they were not afraid, but would rush out like a swarm of bees if provoked. Preparedness thus is not just a prepared foundation. It is that, for we know and depend on the Gospel to give us peace and stability of life and conscience. But it is more, we stand unmoved against the foe, ready to defend ourselves and the Gospel at any moment. That is the great need today.
2. You have Gospel sandals for fluidity
The old Greek phalanx stood shoulder to shoulder, each man’s shield covering the next. The legions beat the Greeks by opening out the lines, three feet between each man, eight feet between the ranks. This gave room for long, rapid charges and room to weave and fight, and to run in reinforcements among the exhausted legionaries during long, hard-fought battles. The sandal speaks of disciplined manœvering.
The Gospel is under a thousand attacks today from every quarter. How quickly the devil can change his appearance, weapons and dispositions. He appears to hold the initiative, and we are always forced to respond. However, shod with gospel sandals we can move as fast as he. The gentle, quick movements of the Gospel are like the feet of a Roman soldier in the thick of the fight, turning this way and that as fresh waves of attackers come on, never taken at a disadvantage.
The movements of the National Church appear to me to be those of men responding – always one step behind the devil, always reacting, while he always advances. Now I say this, if they would only trust the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, they would take the initiative from the devil, and the world. The church behaves like the back wheel of a bicycle whose front wheel is the world. By this Gospel, in peace, not continual bickering over baptisms, services, an almost endless list, with clever men taking the chance to show their superior knowledge; but in peace, the Gospel makes us the front wheel.
3. You have Gospel Sandals to give great swiftness
The central meaning of the word ‘preparation’ is ‘equipment’, meaning what makes the soldier prepared, ready. THE great mark of the Roman legion was speed, and that depended on the sandal. Caesar won his wars like Alexander or Napoleon, by the sandal! Again and again advancing so rapidly that the enemy were caught when they thought there was plenty of time yet to set up defensive lines. The first and great use of the nail-studded Roman sandal was to march – nearly 20 miles in the first six hours, 40 a day normally, over all types of terrain, in all weathers. The meaning is simple: swiftness of movement in response is the best method of defence.
4. You have Gospel Sandals because you are in conflict
The idea Paul has in mind is wrestling with the devil, standing firm against all his many tricks, stratagems and powers. We have withstood the headlong rush of the devil’s troops, and now we are in the thick of it. Unless we stand in the Gospel of peace, we shall fall and be beaten. The sandal was designed to keep the soldier on his feet on blood-soaked, slippery, muddy ground, in the thick of battle, or running to the ramparts of the overnight fort to repel a surprise attack of the barbarians under cover of darkness. It included carrying the battle to the enemy in disciplined advance, preserving the battle lines, carrying all before.
5. At all times you need these Gospel sandals
Soldiers’ winter quarters had great sheds in which the Romans fulfilled their motto: prepare for war in time of peace. Here they fought daily, the only difference to the battlefield being the lack of blood. They had five years of exercises when training, which included endurance and agility training designed to learn to keep one’s feet in the thick of a fight. You must always remain fit and active, never let up.
Have we a definite position? Do we know what we stand for? The Romans reduced warfare to an art, teaching tactics, especially knowing how to choose their ground on which to make their stand. Here we stand, this is our chosen position. Will we yield, move away, compromise? Many are saying, why do the various different Continuing Churches not combine? That would give numbers, unity, strength. At present there are at least 20, from Anglo-Catholic to Protestant, from Traditionalist to ourselves. Our answer is, we have no wish to interpret ‘stand’ as immobility, stubborn refusal to be reasonable, but we do mean we have taken our stand on both doctrine and practice, and have no wish to get into contradictory positions. Indeed the call is to accept certain anti-gospel traits of others, so as to include everyone. But above all we are in earnest, and as I look around, many are simply playing with words, lacking deep seriousness, taking a step back from reality and seeming to shrug off responsibility. My answer is, better to reduce one’s army from 32,000 to 300 with Gideon, all determined to stand, for the devil is roaring today. Like Luther let us say: ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’.