Christ, not man, Is King; written on Oliver Cromwell’s tomb and his credo
Oliver Cromwell; a Man for All Seasons?
Oliver Cromwell. Hated or idealized for centuries. Hated and glorified, by race or creed, depending on whether you were Royalist or Parliamentary, Catholic or Protestant, Irish or English, or descended there of. To our present generation, one which has apparent difficulty in seeing any tie between past history and present, it’s no wonder that the memory of a man as enigmatic as Cromwell has begun to fade into obscurity. He is a frightening figure to secularists and culturally acclimated Christians alike. Both groups which have thrived in the fish bowl of religious and political freedom that his strenuous efforts more than helped to create.
Who was Oliver Cromwell? He was a Puritan farmer that raised an army of like minded farmers and tradesmen, trained them, and then led them to victory in wars against professional armies, in England and Scotland. He overthrew and reluctantly killed a King of England. He also led the first English army to conquer Ireland. And these are only some of his military accomplishments that have earned his place in history. He had many other non-military impacts upon English history, the consequences which would have effect on much of the world, certainly on America as well.
Was he unique? The following quote alone should suffice to show his uniqueness, at least in comparison to this age. When asked what kind of men he wanted to lead his troops, this was his reply;
“ I beseech you be careful what captains of horse you choose, what men to be mounted; a few honest men are better than numbers…If you choose godly honest men to be captains of horse, honest men will follow them, and they will be careful to mount such…. I had rather have a plain russet coated captain that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that what you call a gentleman and is nothing else. I honour a gentleman that is so indeed.”
Eventually Cromwell would see to it that only the most zealous and godly men would lead into battle irregardless of their military experience. Cromwell actually believed that if you were pure in your reasons for going into a fight and had submitted the outcome to the God of the Bible, than lesser numbers and training would actually work in your favor. The Biblical God would delight in using the few and weak to confound the many and mighty.
The idea of trying to get God or the gods on your side before battle surely wasn’t new in human history. But Oliver was concerned with why the war was being fought and in what manner it was to go forth. He felt assuredly that if the King was not defeated, the Protestants of England would be wiped out (and King Charles was gathering an army in Ireland to lead against the Puritans). And few generals since Gideon of the Bible have been willing to sacrifice the edge of numbers and experience when going into battle against a superior force. Cromwell did both, and was so sure of himself that he was seen laughing to himself as he sallied forth to battle at Naseby and was quoting scriptures from 1st Corinthians, “God has chosen the weak things to bring to naught the strong…”
Cromwell would put an end to the banishment of the Jewish people in England and became the first champion of religious freedom through out Europe and the Americas. Indeed, it was the Puritan concept of religious freedom that underlies and precipitated ours in the United States. He secured education for the non-noble “ordinary class” and created an atmosphere where scientific and mechanical growth thrived. His protection and promotion of the parliamentary system by the overthrow of the king set the pattern for future democracies and spelled the end of at least the monarchy style of dictatorships. In other words he laid the groundwork and foundation for the modern democracies.
While disparaged for abuses and civilian deaths in his Irish campaigns, new historical research by the Irish themselves, has began to cast Cromwell in a light that is much more complementary to his known English behavior.( see Tom Reilly’s book, Cromwell an honourable enemy) On his death bed he was overheard to pray;
“…My work is done but God will be with His people. Thou hast made me, though very unworthy, a mean instrument to do them some good…”
If nothing else, Oliver Cromwell is proof that God, the God of the Bible, still and always delights to choose,
“the lowly things of the world, and the things which are not, to bring to not the things that are.” 1Cor.1:28
The question remains then, which among us are willing to take up his mantle?