Havelock’s hopes for army promotion were frequently dashed. But he was convinced that constantly badgering the powers-that-be for promotion was unbecoming.
It was not only in his professional career that he had to wrestle. He struggled with personal disaster also. His son, Ettrick, died in infancy in 1834. In 1836 the home in which his wife and family were staying was burned down. Hannah was horribly burned trying to save the children. The baby died soon after the fire, because a panicked nurse did not have the sense to flee with her; and one of the boys was badly injured too.
At that time, in a gesture of fraternity, the men of his regiment asked to forfeit a month’s pay each to make up Havelock’s financial loss. Hannah herself barely survived and it was a long time before she substantially recovered.
Confidence in God
And yet through his history there runs a glowing thread of confidence in God. At a time of separation from his family and significant military setback at the siege of Jalalabad, Havelock wrote: ‘God’s special providence alone can extricate us from these difficulties. We trust through his goodness that our spirits will rise instead of sinking under them and that we shall be strengthened to retrieve gloriously’ (John Pollock, The way to glory: Major-General Sir Henry Havelock: the Christian soldier, Christian Focus; p.84).
Such convictions did not render him an apathetic pietist. Later, during the same siege, following an earthquake which wrecked their earthworks, he told his men that it was ‘the voice of the great “I am”, telling us not to put our trust in the big guns and mud walls, but to trust in him, our God! At the same time, we must get to work to get the guns up’ (p.97).
Havelock, like another great soldier before him, knew that he must both trust in God and keep his powder dry. Toward the end of the siege, writing what he feared was his last letter, he again confirmed that ‘all is in the hands of God’ (p.102).
Leading a column out to attack the siege force, Havelock found himself in an exposed position and behaved with striking coolness. Like certain other Christian warriors, such as Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, Havelock was at peace in war. One young soldier wrote that ‘he was as calm under fire as if he stood in a drawing room full of ladies, a man fit to live or die’ (p.106).
Even when the time came for him to die, far from the comforts and adulation of home, he told his son, ‘The hand of death is upon me. God Almighty has seen fit to afflict me, for some good purpose’ (p.285).
This confidence in the providential care of a heavenly Father — not a mere fatalistic ‘providence’ detached from the supreme government of a God of love and mercy, wisdom and power, but a ‘protecting and guiding providence’ (p.162) — sustained Havelock, even when he himself could only marvel at God’s kindness.
‘Why have I always been such a monument of mercy?’ he wrote, after surviving a charge he led on an enemy position (p.119).
He might have said the same on the number of occasions when horses were shot under him and he remained unharmed (including twice in one battle). But his testimony was clear: ‘It is a happy thing beyond description to have a heavenly Father and a powerful Friend in whom to put our trust’ (p.293).
At the same time, his faith was not a complete antidote to the periods of lowness and lethargy which he suffered when, depleted of strength in mind and body, he seemed to feel aimlessness and failure. He claimed that one of his sons had ‘inherited from me the evil habit of letting his cogitations and anticipations too often assume a gloomy aspect’ (p.155, footnote).
He did not always find it easy to accept the dispensations of God’s providence, especially when he lacked the means of other men to secure his longed-for advancement.
It would be no bad thing to learn from Havelock an antidote to the casual and fatalistic approach to life of many modern Christians. At his best, he marks a proper line between the lethargy and laziness of some and the obsession with rank and acclaim of others.
Havelock was eager — perhaps too eager, at times — to make his way in life. At the same time, he was determined to do as well as he could at everything to which he set his hand. And yet he learned to bow to God in it all.
Therefore, while certainly conscious of himself and his place, Havelock lacked pomposity. After one battle in which he had personally led the troops into the hottest enemy fire before commending them for their courage, an officer wrote home in this way: ‘Like all lofty natures superior to egotism, he seemed to forget the greatness of his own example whilst recognising our prowess. Well is such a leader calculated to inspire confidence, secure esteem and lead us on to victory; or if need be, to death’ (p.213).
Perhaps the most important lesson we might learn from Havelock — easier to speak about than to do — is that the providence of God prepares men and women for and guides them into the times and places in which he intends to use them.
God’s guiding hand
We may not be destined for the kind of crisis and subsequent greatness which found Havelock’s name on the lips of a nation, but we should believe that the Lord is preparing and guiding each one of his people to serve him in their callings as their situations demand.
This may be a bewildering and even painful reality to the flesh, but it is a profitable meditation to the soul. It has been suggested that ‘the courage of a Christian man consists in an assurance of God’s presence with him, his certainty of a righteous cause, and his confidence in God’s providence with regard to outcomes’ (George McDearmon, A study in Christian manhood, 1 ‘Courage: the comprehensive virtue’; www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=1231048224). Havelock demonstrated this well.
The third noteworthy feature of Havelock’s life as a public Christian is his personal, family and corporate pursuit of godliness. Although this might seem counter-intuitive to some, the fact that private cultivation of godliness lies behind public devotion to Christ should be no surprise.
It is in the secret place that the character of a man is formed and sustained, in the domestic sphere that it is tempered and in the body of Christ that it is developed. In all these points, Havelock has much to teach those who are willing to learn. He demonstrated that a time of crisis does not form a man’s character, so much as reveal it.
He was marked for his practice of private worship, even when living out of a tent in the field. A fellow-officer recorded that Havelock ‘invariably secured two hours in the morning for reading the Scriptures and private prayer. If the march began at six, he rose at four; if at four, he rose at two’ (p.67). He maintained that pattern even during the long and wearying march from Allahabad to Lucknow.
To be concluded
The author is pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, West Sussex