Romans 1:18ff is a downer in a book of good news. It is the longest list of sin in the Scripture and it ends with God giving the people mentioned over to self-destruction (v. 24, 26, 28). How does this descent into darkness begin? “Although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him” (v. 21). Failing to honor and thank God—my guess is that these are two things that are not on our list of sins we must avoid at all cost. If this is the case, it might be time to revise our list.
The Battle of Arras took place in 1917 during WWI. Arras is located in northern France and German forces had established a stronghold outside the city the British referred to as “The Hindenburg Line.” The Allies hoped their offensive would make a significant breech in the German position and speed the end of the war. To that end, they constructed a network of tunnels that would allow 24,000 troops to come within close distance of the line without being detected. To weaken the German position before the attack, almost 3 million shells rained down it. And while the initial stage of the attack was quite successful, the Allies failed to press their advantage and allowed the German forces to recover. As a result, the battle turned into a stalemate that lasted over a month with combined casualties of over 500,000.
Near the end of the fighting, Hamish Samson led C Company in a charge that was heavily resisted. Samson and other Scotsmen were part of the British 6th Battalion. The attack was unsuccessful and resulted in the loss of many lives. Samson was initially missing in action. An eyewitness later reported that he had fallen during the charge and his parents were officially notified of his death.
Almost three months after the battle, a letter from Samson arrived. Was it his final letter written sometime before the battle? We can only try to imagine the trembling hands that opened the letter and the eager eyes that read it.
But it was not his final letter—it was written after the battle from a prisoner of war hospital. Hamish Samson was alive. He had been shot in the arm and side but was recovering from his wounds and hopeful of soon seeing his family. A little over a year later the war was over and Samson returned to Scotland. In gratitude his family made a large donation to their church than enabled them to build a chancel. On the back wall there is an inscription that says:
To the glory of God this chancel was given by Mr. and Mrs. John Samson of Glascock, Cumnock as a thank-offering for the preservation of the life of their son, Hamish Weir Samson, M.C. during the Great War, and in special remembrance of 3rd, May, 1917.
This too is our story. We were dead in our sins when God, who is rich in mercy, raised us up with Christ and gave us new life (Ephesians 2). High on our list of responses should be to do what the Samson family did and what the people of Romans 1:18ff didn’t do—to honor God and thank Him. You can look at the failure to do this as the first step down the slippery slope of moving away from God. Or, you can look at it as a major step in anchoring ourselves in the grace of God. Either way, what we do or don’t do has far reaching consequences in our life.