And their age—Great men are to a certain extent the product of their day and generation. They are thrust out upon the arena of some crisis. At any other period of America's history than the Revolution, George Washington would have been just a well-to-do Virginia planter. At any other period than that of the great dispute over slavery and union, Lincoln would have been a successful country lawyer, or if by any chance elected to the presidency, just another one of the presidents.
The same is true of the great men of the Bible. Moses appears when Israel needs a deliverer out of Egypt. Elijah appears when all but seven thousand in Israel have bowed the knee to Baal. Likewise Gideon. He appeared as a deliverer when the whole land was groaning under the hand of the Midianites.
The biographies of great men reveal how, in almost every instance, back of the great man, hidden in the shadow, stood some wise friend who comforted him in trouble and counseled him with precepts of virtue and wisdom. Alexander the Great had his Clitus, his friend in youth, the savior of his life at the battle of Granicus—who fell at Alexander's hand in a drunken quarrel. David was no exception to this rule, for he had a Jonathan whose love to him was wonderful, "passing the love of women" (II Sam. 1:26), and who, at a critical hour in his life, renewed his courage and his faith.
How often it has been true that great men have been aided and put forward by others who are little heard of. Grant would never have lasted through his first campaigns had it not been for two men—one his chief of staff, John A. Rawlins, who kept him from intemperance; and the other Washburne, congressman from Illinois, who was Grant's spokesman at court. And going back into the history of the Church, there is its greatest figure—Paul, who when in obscurity and unable to get a hearing as a preacher of the gospel, was vouched for by Barnabas and introduced to his great work at Antioch. At first it was Barnabas and Paul, then Paul and Barnabas. After a little Barnabas disappeared altogether.
In the Church there are just a few Pauls and Peters and Luthers, Knoxes and Wesleys and Whitefields, Chalmers and Beechers—but back of them is the great army of the humble, inconspicuous, but faithful workers and witnesses: ministers, most of whom toil in obscure places; elders; Sunday school workers; and teachers. Paul always went out of his way to recognize those faithful friends and workers who helped him to do his work, and he is proud to speak of them as his yokefellows and fellow soldiers of Christ: Epaphroditus, whose name means "charming," and who brought the gift of the church of Philippi to Paul when he was in prison at Rome; and all the others, whose names, Paul says, are in the Book of Life, written there as clearly and distinctly and as indelibly as the name of Paul himself.