“Only pursuit of the beaten enemy gives the fruits of victory.” —Carl von Clausewitz, Principles of War
“Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” —Acts 5:42
In his biography of Field Marshall Viscount Allenby of Megiddo and Felixstowe, General Sir Archibald Wavell gives a very clear picture of the problems of pursuit:
“To the uninitiated, pursuit seems the easiest possible form of war. To chase a flying, presumably demoralized enemy must be a simple matter, promising much gain at the expense of some exertion and hardship, but little danger. Yet the successful or sustained pursuits of history have been few, the escapes from a lost battle many. The reasons are partly material, but mainly moral. A force retreating falls back on its depots and reinforcements; unless it is overrun, it is growing stronger all the time, and there are many expedients besides fighting by which it can gain time: bridges or roads may be blown up, defiles blocked, supplies destroyed. The pursuer soon outruns his normal resources. He may possibly be able to feed himself at the expense of his enemies or of the countryside; he is not likely to replenish his ammunition and warlike equipment in the same way. But the chief obstacle he has to overcome is psychological. The pursued has a greater incentive to haste than the pursuer, and, unless he is demoralized, a stronger urge to fight. It is only natural that the soldier who has risked his life and spent his toil in winning a battle should desire relaxation in safety as his meed of victory, and that the general and staff should feel a reaction from the strain. So that while coolness in disaster is the supreme proof of a Commander’s courage, energy in pursuit is the surest test of his strength of will. Few have carried out pursuits with such relentless determination as Allenby in 1917 and 1918” (Sir Archibald Percival Wavell, Allenby, A Study in Greatness, [New York: Oxford University Press, 1941], 217–218).
The spiritual war is not much different. If the principles of war were applied by a body of believers in any given locality, I believe there would be a great spiritual victory. The battle would be won and there would be many spiritual conversions to Jesus Christ. However, once a breakthrough for Christ is achieved, we tend to relax, as though the fight were over.
Consider Gideon’s rout of the Midianites. In Judges 7 we find that for the battle three hundred men were all that were needed to make the breakthrough. But once the battle was won and the Midianites were fleeing, Gideon called for the men he had previously sent home; three of the four tribes joined in the pursuit. He also called out the tribe of Ephriam to cut off the fleeing Midianites by seizing the fords of the Jordan. “And Gideon came to the Jordan and passed over, he and the three hundred men who were with him, faint yet pursuing” (Judg. 8:4, RSV).
The fact that 120,000 of the enemy were already slain, that Gideon had won the battle, and that he and his men were tired and hungry did not stop his pursuit. By this time, only fifteen thousand of the enemy remained:
“And Gideon went up by the caravan route east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and attacked the army; for the army was off its guard. And Zebah and Zalmunna fled; and he pursued them and took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and he threw all of the army into a panic. Then Gideon . . . returned from the battle” (vv. 11–13, RSV).
In physical warfare, the fruits of victory are conserved by pursuing the beaten enemy. The victors cannot relax or just “follow up” the prisoners of war. The pursuit will bring many prisoners in a short time, but if it is delayed, another major battle will ensue, because the defeated enemy will have time to regroup its forces.
In spiritual warfare we must think beyond the converts made in the immediate battle. We must pursue the many non-Christians who are “fleeing” in conviction of sin, but who as yet have not surrendered to Jesus Christ. In other words, we as Christians ought to consider the principle of pursuit to be as important as follow-up of the new Christians after a spiritual breakthrough. The victory has prepared many people almost to receive Jesus Christ.
It is very important to take care of prisoners of war, but it takes a minimum of men to tend disarmed prisoners. In spiritual warfare the prisoners are the converts to Jesus Christ. They are not only disarmed, they are now on our side. It should take fewer people to follow through on the new converts than are needed to pursue the great numbers who have been defeated but who have not yet surrendered to Jesus Christ. Sometimes after a major spiritual victory, follow-up is not even attempted. Still worse is the failure to press the pursuit of those who are running away from Jesus Christ.
*Excerpted from Principles of War. To purchase, visit ccmbooks.org/bookstore.