Vincere scis, Hannibal; victoria uti nescis
In my literary travellings this weekend (you can interpret that phrase to mean “reading” – I just mean to indicate I stumbled across this phrase, not that I was spending a lot of time reading ancient history) I read an interesting phrase which immediately caught my attention. It was spoken by a soldier named Maharbal in 216 BC. Maharbal was the cavalry commander who served under the great Carthaginian general Hannibal during his wars again Rome. In the battle at Cannae they fought together and won an overwhelming victory; over 60,000 Roman soldiers were killed as opposed to a mere 6,000 for the Carthaginians. But while the Romans were soundly defeated, Hannibal did not press the attack as he believed his soldiers needed a day of rest. This one day allowed Rome time to rebuild its forces, to regroup and eventually to defeat Hannibal and his army. Seeing that Hannibal would not press the attack, Maharbal said to him following the battle “Vincere scis, Hannibal; Victoria uti nescis” which translates to “You know how to win victory, Hannibal; you do not know how to use it.” Maharbal foresaw the consequences of taking a breather and of not following one victory with another.
I believe there is a lesson that Christians can learn from that phrase, for when we are drawn to Christ and come to know Him as our Savior, we are given a decisive victory over our former natures. Our hearts of stone are miraculously transformed into hearts of flesh and where formerly we had been unable not to sin, we are given the amazing ability to refrain from sinning and to begin to please God. A victory of epic proportions is won in our hearts.
But do we really use this victory as we ought? Like Hannibal we know how to win the victory and we even know that it has been won on our behalf, but do we know how to use it?
Now let’s stop here for one minute. I am not going to preach to you about “victorious living,” a concept which seems to fill the airwaves on Christian radio and pollute networks like TBN. To be honest I do not fully understand what people mean by “victorious living,” in part, I suppose, because they may each mean something different. What I do know is that the people who talk most and loudest about it are not the types of teachers I would put much faith in.
The question that I put to you, then, is how can you use the victory that has already been won in your life? If you know Christ, you know that victory, but perhaps you do not know how to use that victory to press forward.
I believe we can draw another lesson from this story of Maharbal and Hannibal. Where Maharbal wanted to press the attack immediately, Hannibal wanted to wait one day. His men were tired. He was tired. He wished to wait just one more day before completing his greatest triumph. I am reminded of Proverbs 13:27 which says “The lazy man does not roast what he took in hunting, but diligence is man’s precious possession.” Too often Christians are not diligent in pursuing godliness and in putting forth the effort to grow closer to God. They wait, allowing laziness to take hold and losing sight of the importance of the victory that has been won. They put off until the next day (and the next day, and the next), what God commands of them today.
There is nothing easy about the Christian life and this holds true when it comes to the pursuit of knowing God. We have to fight against our old natures, fight against the encroachment of our other innumerable responsibilities and fight against laziness if we want to know God. We must dedicate ourselves to the task, studying the Scripture and pouring out our hearts to God in prayer. We must joyfully make the time to study and to grow. It is so easy to put this off for just one more day, and many who profess Christ do just this, waiting one day at a time until their days are gone. No! We must press forward while it is still called “today” (to borrow a phrase from Hebrews).
While the battle has been won in our hearts, there is still a war to fight. We played no part in the first battle, for Christ won it for us while we were still dead men. But now that He has given us life, we are able to join in the battle. He has empowered us with the Spirit who fights with us as we seek to retake the ground we gave over to our sinful natures. This is a lifelong fight and one that will not be fully completed until we go to be with the Lord, but it is one we can be sure we will win. We fight this battle with the armor and weaponry given to us by God. We have the belt of truth, which is the truth of who God is; we have the breastplate of righteousness which is the righteousness of Christ inside those who believe; we have the sandals of peace, which is the inner peace of God; we have the shield of faith which is a life lived by faith in God; we have the helmet of salvation which is assurance that we have been saved, we are being saved and we will be saved; and finally we have the sword of the Spirit which is God’s Word. With this weapon, and clad in this armor, we are prepared for battle. These are not things we must wait for, but things that have been given to use from the moment we were saved. There is no reason to wait. Press on even now – know not only how to win the battle, but how to use that victory.