In 1519, Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés left Cuba with just over 500 soldiers on eleven ships to sail to Mexico and conquer the Aztec Empire. The promise of riches and glory that would ensure his place in history drove him to take on incredible odds. In fact, that same lure prompted the Governor of Cuba to revoke Cortés’ commission at the last minute, so he could have that glory all for himself. Cortés, knowing this was an opportunity of a lifetime embarked anyway, now under the threat of mutiny, with the loyalty of his men split with the Governor.
When they landed in Veracruz and saw the thick jungle and harsh conditions none of the men were focused on the conquest and some were conspiring to seize ships and return to Cuba. The story goes that Cortés gathered the men on the beach and ordered all the ships to be burned. Seeing the fleet destroyed they had only one option, to move forward, to succeed or die. Because there was no turning back, those men went on to conquer a nation.
If you study more about Cortés you soon learn that he is not an example of Christian character, but the legend of his ‘burning the boats’ is exactly the kind of resolve that Erasmus calls for in the second rule for the Christian Knight. You will recall that the first rule is to rely on your faith and increase it. The second rule is to act on that faith, with your whole heart, no matter the cost, with no turning back.
Here is an interpretation of Erasmus’ Rule #2. (Click here to see a direct translation of the Latin text).
Rely on the promises of God and act on them without hesitating.
The world suffers violence and a lazy man will be lost.
You must be ready to fight, with confidence, with purpose, with all your heart.
Resolve to act – even if it means you could lose everything.
Friends, possessions, status, personal comfort –let nothing stand in your way.
You must not turn back.
Act now – even if it seems a little reckless.
Flee from the things that are holding you back from fully pursuing your faith.
Don’t focus on what you are leaving behind, but on what is ahead.
Trust God, not yourself.
You cannot serve God and love the things in the world.
God wants you to be fully his.
There are only two paths for you to take.
The path to perdition; following the comfort and pleasure of the world.
The path to life; following God – increasing your faith and acting in obedience.
There is no third path.
Few men walk the path that Christ took, the choice to please God.
Do not be deceived, you must choose.
There are many excuses:
I am not sure about God and life is too busy to think too much about it, or
I believe in God, but don’t really have time for the Bible or church, or
I go to church, pray and even read the Bible – but this message is too extreme for me, or
I am young, wealthy, have an important job –I have more pressing things to worry about, or
These things may have been important to the apostles, but not to me, not today.
These are all delusions. The truth is that nothing is more important than pursuing Christ.
The sky, earth and sea is the world for all of us,
But, if ambition, lust, desire for honor, authority or pleasure, are your world, you are lost.
Christ spoke indifferently to all men,
Whoever would not take up His cross and follow Him could not be His disciple.
If living by His Spirit is not important to you, dying for Christ does not pertain to you either.
If to be crucified, to be buried and to rise in Glory have no meaning to you, what does?
If his humility, poverty, persecution, labor and agony mean nothing, neither does His kingdom.
What could be more unfair than to expect the same reward as those who offer greater sacrifice?
It is foolish to expect great reward from Christ when you are not willing to suffer with Him now?
Do not flatter yourself by comparing yourself to others.
Dying to sin is nearly impossible, yet we are all sworn to it.
Whether a knight or a pauper there is no vow more sacred.
Even though we will never reach Christ-like perfection in life.
This is the goal we must strive for with your hands, feet and all your heart.
A Christian Knight’s actions must follow his heart and his heart must fully follow Christ.
For a biblical example Erasmus looks at Lot and the destruction of Sodom. Lot was a good man who lived in a bad city, a city that had gotten so evil that it had to be destroyed. Because Lot was righteous God allowed him to be spared and given just enough warning to save himself and his loved ones. Lot’s problem was, although a good man, he had become accustomed to the wealth and luxury of the city and he had drifted from God. He did not directly partake in the depravity around him, but he had become tolerant of it and influenced by it. Lot did not have an increasing faith, the opposite was true. Over time as he became immersed in the world his faith was relegated to a smaller and smaller part of his life and his godly influence on the people around him decreased with it.
Now Lot found himself faced with his ‘burn the boats’ moment. What God had to say was not a complex message that was difficult to apply to his life – his city was about to be destroyed, his family about to be killed, he had to act immediately or die. So he took the life-or-death warning to his sons-in-law and began paying the price for his lack of faith and influence, they laughed at him and he was ignored. Lot’s wife responded a little better by following him out of the city, but she longed for what was being left behind. She did not want to leave her life in the city – her boat had not burned – she tried to go back and was also lost.
Lot was a good man who got caught up in the world and it distracted him from God. His faith did not really matter to him until the end when it was too late. How different could things have been for Lot if he had been ‘walking his talk’ before the day he had to deliver that hard message? The day that mattered most for Lot came up without warning and the cost for living in spiritual compromise was high. Your day may come without warning too. What do you need to do to begin to act on your faith? What are the things in your life that rival God for your heart? Do you need to leave some things behind? Is it time for you to burn some ships and move forward?
If you want to go deeper on this, I recommend this message from Scott Chapman, Senior Pastor at The Chapel (Lake County, IL). I don’t know what Scott knows of Erasmus, but 500 years apart they are preaching the same message. You can change the century but you can’t change the truth. You will also see where I borrowed the Cortés illustration, which Erasmus could not have used since it hadn’t quite happened for him yet.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.