Marion’s Men

Last Lord’s Day evening, I had the great joy of preaching at the ordination and installation of two new elders in the Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church (Kokomo, Indiana). The event was special because I was involved in the Kokomo work from age six through high school. And the event was doubly special because I was able to lay hands on my father-in-law, Joe Marcisz, and Scott Hunt, a friend of many years. Finally, the Lord encouraged us that evening because the congregation is looking forward, in time, to church planting in the city of Marion, Indiana, which is 30 miles east of Kokomo. These two men are the first to be ordained to the office of elder who live in Marion. They will focus especially on leading the outreach ministry in Marion and on shepherding members who live there. This makes them the first of Marion’s Men.

That title, Marion’s Men, rings a bell for students of American history. Marion, Indiana, along with 34 other cities and towns in the United States, bears the name of Revolutionary War hero Brigadier General Francis Marion (1732-1795). Sixteen counties and hundreds of other schools, streets, parks, rivers, and lakes also bear his name, making him the most so-decorated Revolutionary War hero after George Washington.

Marion was the grandson of French Huguenot refugees who emigrated to South Carolina in 1685 after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He played in swamps as a child and learned to fight against the Cherokee as a youth. The guerrilla warfare tactics he learned in those battles he applied in his nation’s struggle for liberty.

In 1780, the British took Charleston and then pressed northward, scattering the Continental Army. The future of the new nation was bleak. Washington was far to the north, Britain controlled the seas, and they seemed poised to surge northward, gaining strength to crush the Continental Army. For over a year, Marion and his men provided the lone military activity for the Patriots in South Carolina.

They lurked in the swamps, worked without pay, supplied their own horses, arms, and often their own food. They were such an odd bunch that they were known as “The Irregulars.” The British always outnumbered them, and they were constantly threatened by local Tories. Marion inspired his men to great deeds through demonstrations of wit, cunning, and boldness. He and his men, who began as fewer than twenty in number, disrupted supply lines, kept the British on their heels, and generally proved to be a thorn in Cornwallis’ side. He knew his men, he knew the swamp, he knew his enemy, and he knew why he was fighting.

Because he was so persistent and elusive, the British Colonel Banastre Tarleton described Marion as a fox, leading to his famous nickname “The Swamp Fox.” Those who served with him became affectionately known as Marion’s Men: a band that stuck together, refused to quit, and would do anything for their general and their nation. Their efforts kept hope alive for Americans, and eventually helped turned the tide of the war.

We can learn from examples such as Marion and his men, because they simply copy models God has already provided in his word. In Second Samuel 23, God provides us the record of David and his mighty men.

The first seven verses of the chapter present David as the type of the eternal king whose kingdom would be established forever. Here at the end of his life, David was able to say: “The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth. For does not my house stand so with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. For will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?” (2 Samuel 23:3-5 ESV).

The mighty men listed in the second section of the chapter had seen God dawn upon them in the beauty and salvation of their king, the anointed of the God of Jacob. Consequently, they were willing to do anything for the sake of their king. Through their labors, God established David’s kingdom.

My charge to the first of Marion’s Men was to see the beauty and salvation of their King, Jesus Christ, and to be ready to give everything they have for the sake of their King.

I  charged the new elders to follow the example of David’s “irregulars,” those who had probably gathered at the cave of Adullam who were distressed, in debt, and bitter in soul. Given that few have every considered Reformed Presbyterians “regular,” we ought to be able to relate fairly well. From these color portraits in Second Samuel 23, I charged these two new elders, Marion’s Men, to give everything for the sake of the king in these ways:

  1. Following Josheb-basshebeth a Tahchemonite  (v. 8)and Abishai (v. 18): Put the spear in your hand.
  2. Following Eleazar (v. 9-10): Persevere until your weary hand clings to the sword.
  3. Following Shammah (v. 11-12): Protect the food of the kingdom.
  4. Following the anonymous three (v. 13-17): Procure a cup of cold water for the King when he desires it.
  5. Following Benaiah (v. 20-23): Pattern your ministry after the King’s ministry.

And what will be the result when the first of Marion’s Men see the beauty and salvation of their King, Jesus Christ, and give everything they have for his sake? We return again to the story of Francis Marion.

William Cullen Bryant’s poem, Song of Marion’s Men, celebrates their commitment to their leader. He wrote: “Their hearts are all with Marion, For Marion are their prayers.” Because of that commitment, when people saw Marion’s Men, they saw Marion and his cause.

In early 1781, a British officer went to negotiate an exchange of prisoners with Marion at his camp on Snow’s Island. The scene in the swamp is depicted in a famous oil painting by John Blake White which now hangs in the U.S. Capitol Building.  According to tradition, Marion, invited the British soldier to share breakfast with he and his men after the negotiations. To the disgust and amazement of the officer, the menu consisted of nothing but sweet potatoes and water! White’s painting includes Marion’s slave, Oscar, kneeling on the left of the picture as he fetches sweet potatoes from the fire for Marion. Oscar was singularly known for his faithfulness – his willingness to do anything necessary to serve Francis Marion, whom he loved. The British officer was surprised and somewhat taken aback by the dreadful condition of Marion’s troops. They were working without pay, clothed in rags, and living in the middle of swampland. The British officer was so inspired by the resourcefulness and dedication of Marion’s Men, despite adequate provisions, supplies or proper uniforms, that he returned to his own troops and said: “What chance have we against such men!” According to legend, he promptly switched sides and supported American independence.

David’s mighty men served the way they did because they saw him as God’s anointed and knew that he was worth everything they could give – because he had already given himself to them. When people saw David’s mighty men, they saw something of the King. Through their service, we still see the King today shining forth in Second Samuel 23. We pray and trust that as the first of Marion’s Men in our day give all that they have for their King, others will see him too and will humbly recognize that they have no chance of success but to bow the need and switch sides in this great spiritual battle.

We largely forget the names of David’s mighty men. But we remember David. Future generations will forget us, even the first of Marion’s Men, but they will remember Jesus Christ and the beauty of his salvation. In that, we will rejoice.

So, please pray for the church in Kokomo, for the work in Marion, and for Marion’s Men – Joe Marcisz and Scott Hunt –  as they take up their new work in Christ’s kingdom.

3 Comments

  1. Pastor Brad Johnston December 7, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    What a wonderful sermon, James. I was blessed to read it, and so wish I could have been at this important ordination. Our family has long and precious roots in Marion, and I’m praying the Reformed faith will make deep and permanent inroads in that community. FYI – I found a link to the painting your mentioned: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/General_Marion.jpg

  2. Wendy Brant December 7, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    Wendy Brant-

    A very encouraging message. God does all things well. Psalm 78:79: David, God’s chosen servant…”So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.”

  3. Ron Visser December 7, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    A wonderful evening for sure! I have appreciated working alongside Scott on the deaconate, and have been blessed to have known Joe for the years he has been with us at Sycamore. May God richly bless them and His kingdom in Marion and all over the world.

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