Every couple of years, I’m privileged to teach my course on Whittaker Chambers. As this semester nears its end, students are also getting near the end of Chambers’s masterful autobiography entitled Witness.
Why that title? Chambers, as he shared what he knew about the communist underground of which he had been a part for many years, was a witness. Another word for a witness is a martyr—one who is willing to lay down his life for what he knows to be true.
Chambers took a great chance in providing information; he might have been the one indicted for his past activities. Yet he came forward regardless because integrity demanded it; he sought to help Western civilization understand the threat it faced, not just from an outward manifestation called communism, but from an inner loss of spirit due to its increasing denial of Christian faith.
Chambers made a distinction between making a witness and simply giving a testimony. “The testimony and the witness must not be confused,” he wrote. “They were not the same.” He explained further,
The testimony fixed specific, relevant crimes. The witness fixed the effort of the soul to rise above sin and crime, and not for its own sake first, but because of others’ need, that the witness to sin and crime might be turned against both.
Chambers, in confessing his sins and crimes, was hoping to help the world understand the deeper truths. Yet he was concerned “that the world would see only the shocking facts of the testimony and not the meaning of the witness.”
He expressed his concern in words that reverberate down to our day—elegant words, words wrought out of the depth of his soul:
To those for whom the intellect alone has force, such a witness has little or no force. It bewilders and exasperates them. It challenges them to suppose that there is something greater about man than his ability to add and subtract.
It submits that that something is the soul.
Plain men understood the witness easily. It speaks directly to their condition. For it is peculiarly the Christian witness. They still hear it, whenever it truly reaches their ears, the ring of those glad tidings that once stirred mankind with an immense hope.
What does the Christian hope offer to men? I love how Chambers ends this short soliloquy:
For it frees them from the trap of irreversible Fate at the point of which it whispers to them that each soul is individually responsible to God, that it has only to assert that responsibility, and out of man’s weakness will come strength, out of his corruption incorruption, out of his evil good, and out of what is false invulnerable truth.
Chambers’s words remind me of chapter 4 of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. . . .
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Be a witness today, even if you feel weak. God uses whatever we offer Him for His glory.