Churchill, Leadership and Divine Providence

I have said it before: I strongly believe God can and does providentially raise up leaders in times of great darkness and crisis to avert what looks like an utterly terrible outcome. I often cite the heroic trio of Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II who stood strong against godless communism and helped tip the balance in the Cold War.

Such leaders may not always even have been keen Christians. Think of the pagan king Darius who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. One interesting Old Testament book in this regard is the book of Esther. Even though God is nowhere mentioned in the book, his providential hand is everywhere seen. And in it we have the classic line found in Est. 4:12-14:

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Many other great leaders came to their position ‘for such a time as this’. I believe Churchill was one such person. Several weeks ago I wrote about him, and the new film looking at a short period of his life in May 1940. There I wrote about his greatness and the new film:

Well, yesterday I finally did see the movie, Darkest Hour. It was quite good, all things considered. Some liberties were taken with the historical record of course, but it did nonetheless show us a strong leader who also felt the weight of the entire free world on his shoulders.

Churchill was certainly not perfect, and he has had plenty of detractors. Many folks have offered various lengthy lists of his sins and shortcomings – real or perceived. Not all these charges are accurate, and many are disputed. But taken as a whole, this was a great man who was at the right place at the right time.

His role in helping to defeat Hitler and save Britain and all of Europe is clear. Sure, there are many factors to consider here, including the eventual entry of the US into the war. But most experts agree that without Churchill things would likely have ended up quite differently.

For nearly a decade before the war began, Churchill had been almost a lone voice, warning of the dangers of German rearmament, Hitler and the Nazis. His pleas mainly fell on deaf ears. Recall that in late September 1938 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement in Berlin with Hitler and other leaders. He then proclaimed, “I have returned from Germany with peace for our time”.

Of course less than a year later Hitler invaded Poland, starting WWII. Had people listened to Churchill earlier things would likely have turned out quite differently. Plenty of authorities could be consulted here. Indeed, the books and biographies on Churchill seem endless.

I mentioned some of the better ones in my recent piece. Let me just run with a few of the newer books I listed there. Boris Johnson’s quite well-written and well-received 2014 volume The Churchill Factor makes this point repeatedly. As he writes:

These days we dimly believe that the Second World War was won with Russian blood and American money; and though that is in some ways true, it is also true that, without Churchill, Hitler would almost certainly have won….
Churchill matters today because he saved our civilisation. And the important point is that only he could have done it. He is the resounding human rebuttal to all Marxist historians who think history is the story of vast and impersonal economic forces. The point of the Churchill Factor is that one man can make all the difference.
It was thanks to Churchill – and at crucial moments, thanks to him alone – that Britain did hang on. It is clear that there was something utterly magical about his leadership that summer. With his poetic and sometimes Shakespearean diction he made people feel noble, exalted – that what they were doing was better and more important than anything they had done before.
He mentally elided ideas of Englishness and freedom, and it helped that the weather was fine, because there is nowhere lovelier than England in June; and perhaps that gentle beauty sharpened the general sentiment he encouraged: that the threat must be repelled, and that this was an island to fight and to die for. He gave the people an image of themselves: as a tiny band of heroes – analogous to the tiny band of RAF pilots – holding out against tyranny and against the odds, the story from Thermopylae to Rorke’s Drift – the eternal and uplifting story of the few against the many.

Just how much he was personally responsible for the defeat of Hitler and the salvation of his nation – and Europe – of course continues to be discussed and debated. In another somewhat recent biography we have another take on all this. In Paul Johnson’s 2009 volume Churchill, he asks the question: “Did Churchill personally save Britain?”

He offers ten factors to consider in answering this question, including “the concentration of power in Churchill’s person, with the backing of all parties”; his furious productivity and relentless energy (not bad for a 65-year-old); his incredible oratory; his constant lookout for allies; and his “uncanny gift for getting priorities right”.

Johnson then concludes: “The answer must be yes. No one else could have done it. This was what was felt at the time by the great majority of the British people, and it has been since confirmed by the facts and documents at our disposal.”

All this and more could be mentioned of course about the great man. But one newer book may offer us the most important factor of all: his strong sense of destiny and providence. The great-grandson of Winston Churchill, Jonathan Sandys, along with Wallace Henley, penned an important book on this in 2015 entitled God & Churchill (Tyndale).

The subtitle gives us what we are looking for: “How the great leader’s sense of divine destiny changed his troubled world and offers hope for ours.” The 250-page book is well worth reading. It dispels the notion that Churchill was just a dogged secularist who had no place for God and the supernatural.

To the contrary, he read the Bible and prayed often, and saw his role as one in which he was providently led to. As the authors carefully document, his parents certainly did not give him what he needed, spiritually speaking, but his nanny with a simple faith helped instil some essential values and beliefs into young Winston.

His love of the King James Bible and of “Christian civilisation” was largely learned from her. By his early teenage years he had a clear sense of divine destiny. Consider this amazing conversation with a friend from 1891 when he was just sixteen years old:

“I have a wonderful idea of where I shall be eventually. I have dreams about it.”
“Where is that?”
“Well, I can see vast changes coming over a now peaceful world; great upheavals. terrible struggles; wars such as one cannot imagine; and I tell you London will be in danger – London will be attacked and I shall be very prominent in the defence of London. This country will be subjected somehow, to a tremendous invasion, by what means I do not know, but I tell you I shall be in command of the defences of London and I shall save London and England from disaster.”

Image of God & Churchill: How the Great Leader's Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and Offers Hope for Ours
God & Churchill: How the Great Leader's Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and Offers Hope for Ours by Sandys, Jonathan (Author), Henley, Wallace (Author), Baker, James (Foreword) Amazon logo

Wow. There were of course many setbacks along the way before getting to that place, but he certainly became the man for the hour, as this book and the new film make clear. By May 1940 he was just where he was meant to be. And the rest is indeed history.

As the history books – and this new film – show, Churchill knew his destiny and that of his beloved country would certainly be one involving great sacrifice. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” as he put it in his May 13,1940 House of Commons speech. The authors state:

The great weight that Churchill carried was, to his mind, nothing less than the survival of “Christian civilization” against the greatest threat it had ever faced. Churchill knew it was not just Britain’s survival that had been laid upon him, but also all the values of justice, freedom, respect for humanity, and peace inherent in Western culture. He sensed that, if he failed, the world would become hellish. It was indeed an “intolerable burden,” but one that Winston Churchill was willing not only to tolerate but to carry all the way to victory – or, if need be, to death.

And it was his faith and his sense of divine destiny that helped carry him through all those years, including his wilderness years before May 1940. As Sandys and Hendley write:

Winston Churchill was not an overtly religious man, but he was a man of faith. He believed in God’s ultimate providential care—for himself and for his nation. Such a faith was foundational to his internal fortitude when all external signs pointed to disaster….
Churchill did not regard Providence as an impersonal force; he saw it as the guiding hand of God. In his very first speech as prime minister, Churchill said that the policy of his new government would be to wage war against Hitler “with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us.”

They close their important volume with this vital question: “Has God placed a Churchill among us in our turbulent times, when once again the survival of Judeo-Christian civilization is at stake?”

That indeed may be the question of the hour. And the answer to it may well make all the difference.

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15 Replies to “Churchill, Leadership and Divine Providence”

  1. Thank you, Bill, for your reflections on Winston Churchill’s heroism in saving Western civilisation.
    As you mention in your article, Churchill’s great-grandson Jonathan Sandys poses the question: “Has God placed a Churchill among us in our turbulent times?” If so, then I’m afraid that “a Churchill among us” may not be obvious to many. For a start, he is unlikely to be popular with the mainstream media.
    Furthermore, God will subject him to many tests, as He did with Joseph, Daniel and Esther in the Old Testament. The career of a Churchill-like figure will be anything but an effortless rise to the top. He will inevitably be opposed by buffoons and timeservers, and will suffer setbacks and calamities that would break a lesser person.
    He won’t be swayed by popular opinion, but will often find it necessary to tell the public some uncomfortable truths. For this he will be widely misunderstood and misrepresented, and probably banished to spend many years in the political wilderness.
    Only when a great crisis occurs will his country – perhaps reluctantly – turn to him.

  2. Dear Bill,

    Thank you for the article. I will be going to see the film Darkest Hour as soon as I can. As you say like all human beings he wasn’t perfect but he was the best the British Isles had at the time and that is all that mattered. He may not have been an over religious Christian but he believed in the value of a Christian civilisation. I also think he would understand perfectly the folly of legalising SSM and the harm it would bring to a Christian civilisation. The world is in big mess now but I am afraid I don’t see a political leader on the horizon of the same calibre as Churchill. All I see are a mob of empty headed lemmings running blindly towards the nearest cliff.

  3. John Ballantyne@

    On those matters Ted Cruz stands head and shoulders above the rest, and he’s only 49 from memory. It won’t be anyone less. Trump of course is currently trying to help right the ship, but his time is now, Netanyahu also.

  4. Thanks Dave, but to be honest it always disturbs me a bit when I want to single out some good things a person has done, and someone comes along wanting to pick a fight and say, “Yeah, but what about this and that?” Other such critics have come here doing the same. Um, there are no perfect leaders, and all of them have made mistakes along the way. One of my main points here was simply to show the truth that were it not for Churchill, you and I might be speaking German or Japanese today.

    As to Dresden, it is a large and separate debate, with pros and cons that have been debated to death already, and I am not going to try to sort the entire issue out here of course in a brief comment. I may write an article or two on this at some point, so you will just have to wait till then if you really want to know my full view on all this.

    But a few very quick points, and then we will leave it at that: First, the war was far from over in Europe in Feb 1945 of course. So it can be argued that this may have helped to speed up the end of the war.

    Also, Christians, military experts, ethicists and historians can and do have differing views on this matter, as well as the broader matter of any military campaign against cities. For example, this debate is similar to the one over the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan some months later. See my thoughts on that here:

    But let me finish by offering just two quotes here from other experts, which I will greatly expand upon if I do write a piece on this:

    “The fact is, Dresden was NOT some innocent, idyllic city far removed from the brutality of war. According to the Nazis’ own files, it had almost 130 factories supplying the German army with materials, from poison gas to anti-aircraft guns. Dresden was also of strategic importance for funnelling Nazi troops to take on the advancing forces of the Red Army. In other words, Dresden – described in an official German guide as ‘one of the foremost industrial locations of the Reich’ – was indeed a legitimate military target.”

    And of course Churchill was not all that happy with it anyway. As he wrote in a memo in March 1945: “It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land. The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.”

  5. Thanks Bill for your comments, I do appreciate your view, thank you.
    As for speaking German, no problem, my ancestors were from the Rhineland.
    God bless you Bill and keep up the good work in your ministery.

  6. I agree Churchill was right where he was meant to be. And I also believe the intercessor Rees Howells was also instrumental in saving Britain from the Nazis.

  7. In his book We Have a Guardian, W B Grant quotes Churchill as saying in 1942: “I have a feeling sometimes that some Guiding Hand has interfered. I have a feeling that we have a Guardian because we have a great Cause.”

    Grant also notes that “the history of the English-speaking people abounds with deliverances which can be accounted for in no other way than acts of Divine Intervention.” As an example he cites the defeat in 1588 of the Spanish Armada, which had sought to invade England but was thwarted by violent winds. The English Queen, Elizabeth 1, acknowledged this divine deliverance with an inscription “He blew and they were scattered.” Grant also sees Napoleon’s attempt to conquer England as something which was averted through a series of timely interventions by God.

    One could add to this the extraordinary evacuation of 335,500 British troops from Dunkirk in 1940 in the face of certain defeat by the advancing German army. On May 27 the German High Command asserted that “The British Army is encircled, our troops are proceeding to its annihilation.” The preceding day, however, had been called as a National Day of Prayer at the instigation of King George VI, who called on the people of Britain and its Empire to commit their cause to God. In response millions attended church, with the King and members of the British Cabinet attending a service at Westminster Abbey. A few days later people were talking about the “Miracle of Dunkirk”, and an article in The Daily Telegraph noted “that the prayers of the nation were answered and that the God of Hosts Himself supported the valiant men of the British Expeditionary Force.” Two providential weather events played an important part in this evacuation: one was a great storm in Flanders that prevented aerial attack of the British troops approaching Dunkirk, and the other was a rare period of great calmness on the English Channel which allowed tiny boats to go back and forth in safety between Dunkirk and England.

    I believe God has placed His hand in a special way on the history of countries like Britain, the US and Australia. These countries have been extraordinarily blessed with economic prosperity and with protection in times of war, and they have had the social, political and spiritual benefits of Bible-based Christian culture. It is so sad to see these blessings being thrown away by a new generation that, to a large extent, wants to banish God from our national life and to attack those who try to uphold Christian standards.

  8. Great article – you should focus on Northern Ireland sometime – the great righteous and modern republic to our south is intent on importing its ways on to us (same sex marriage/ abortion) – a new cultural war and one in which we are made to fee like cavemen, all in pursuit of equal rights led by those paradigms of virtue Sinn Fein, Marxists, murderers and now proponents of all sorts of rights – none of it right. It is taking hold of our younger people now and it won’t be long before all resistance is defeated – the only hope is that the DUP remain dominant…oh for a great leader just once more.

  9. Thanks, Bill. I just finished the 8 volume Biography of Churchill by Randolph Churchill, Martin Gilbert and Larry Arnn. Everything you have cited was also cited by them. One of the endearing things about this great man is that no one was more aware of his faults than he – and no one apologized quicker when challenged for them. Also, he never shifted the blame for something that didn’t work to someone else. The record shows, for instance, that he had the right plan for Gallipoli – but it was rejected by Lord Kitchener, mainly, and others under his influence. Yet, Churchill was in charge – and took the rap, placing no blame on anyone else. The record stands in his defence.

    One of the things that stood out most was his enduring and never ending love for his wife, and her love for him. She was in love with his intellect, his wealth of knowledge, his character and all of the things history records of him. But she was also undaunted in challenging him when she thought he had taken a wrong path. In her hands he was strong and malleable, as is the finest clay. Shapeable, but not unchangeable.

    I also saw the movie back in September, and it is indeed powerful. In reality it only covers a very brief period of that darkest hour, but it delivers to us a great characiture of the man.

    I remember the impact he was still having on the Cold War from 1951 or 52 (when I first understood who he was) until his death. His personna has never diminished in my mind. I think no man in the 20th century played a greater role in preserving freedom – and certainly without him, that great triumverate of Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II would not likely have happened.

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