Ethelbert Dudley Warfield (1861-1936) was the younger brother of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (visit their pages to see how alike their pictures are!). After studying and practicing law, E.D. Warfield would go on to serve in other capacities such as a Presbyterian minister and ruling elder, and as president of Miami (Ohio) University, Lafayette College and Wilson College, as well as a director of Princeton Theological Seminary.
Among his varied and interesting writings, many of which are fascinating histories, today we highlight At the Evening Hour: Simple Talks on Spiritual Subjects (1898) and, in particular, a story that he tells at the beginning, which is inspirational. This and other stories from this volume are derived from his Sabbath afternoon addresses to the students at Lafayette College, and were published with the aim to “bring a message of cheer to others who are seeking to live for Christ and his service.”
In April 1512, Warfield tells us, the French were facing a Spanish-Papal States alliance in Italy, at Ravenna, as part of the War of the Holy League. Gaston de Foix, Duke of Nemours, and nephew of King Louis XII of France, led the French forces as an extremely capable military commander, and though young (in his early twenties), he was known as “the Thunderbolt of Italy,” and was beloved by his men. De Foix died an heroic, gallant death in this battle, even as he led his soldiers to victory (though the French would soon be forced to vacate Italy).
The battle was waged with varying fortune. At length, when the triumph of the French seemed assured, there came a change in the tide of battle. Two battalions of the Spanish infantry, the wonder of the age, were about to break through their all but victorious foemen. The young general determined to avert this, and prepared to lead a charge. Those about him strove to prevent so hazardous an adventure, but in vain. As they still urged him, pressing round him on the field, he suddenly broke from them, crying, "Let him who loves me follow me!" and spurred upon the foe. For a moment they paused. Then every gentleman of France, every battle-scarred mercenary, every stout burgher and peasant pikeman, followed where he led, with that brave call, "Let him who loves me follow me!" ringing in his ears.
The Spaniards, not used to falter, faltered at that shock; the lions of Aragon and the castles of Castile gave way before the lilies of France, and the trumpets and clarions pealed forth gladly the notes of triumph. But the noblest lay round their leader slain. They had heard his call, "Let him who loves me follow me!" and they had followed him to "death and glorious victory." They followed him, even unto death, for the love they bore him. They followed him, they died with him, though with them perished the cause they served.
Louis, when he heard the story of that fatal field, exclaimed that he would rather have lost Italy than that gallant boy. Well might he say so, for in losing him he lost Italy.
Across the centuries comes the call of one who hath loved us unto the death, bidding us follow him. We have not loved him first, but he has loved us, even from the foundation of the world. He saith to us, "If any man will come after me, let him . . . take up his cross, and follow me."
Who is this that speaks to us thus? He is the Captain of our salvation. His right to our allegiance is absolute, because he is the Son of God. But he does not base his call on this claim, which he might justly assert, but on the character of the service. It is a good service, a service in itself joyous, in which those who are employed are ennobled by the cause they serve, and in which victory is sure.
The men who followed Gaston de Foix on that memorable day knew that they were doing a foolhardy thing; they did not know that it would be a thing remembered through many generations. They knew it was to end in almost certain death; they did not know that it was to be crowned with glory. They followed, not for glory, nor for the fruits of victory, but for the love of him who called them. Theirs was a hard service, and its reward was death.
Those who follow Christ know that they are doing the wisest possible act; they are able to read in the countless examples of men in many generations the results of such a following of him. They know that it means effort, constant, unfailing courage, boldness, faithfulness. They know that it means the giving up of all sinful pleasures; but they know also that it means, even in this world, triumph; that the Christian wins from all good men respect and confidence, and wrings from bad men even a grudging, but no less real, trust and acknowledgment of qualities which they do not covet, yet must needs admire; and, at the end, fearless death, and, as we confidently believe, endless life beyond the grave. The Christian does not need to take thought how he shall die bravely, for he who has lived well need take no thought how he shall die.