By Beverly Carradine
The apostle had illustrated the Christian life by the Grecian race and wrestling match, and now describes it again under a military figure. It is a forcible illustration and as true as it is powerful. Among other things he says we must "endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." We draw several reflections from his statement.
First, the Christian life is a warfare.
There never was such a war as the one now raging on this planet. We trust there never will be such another. Look at it from any standpoint and its magnitude impresses. Some wars of earth have lasted thirty years but this one has been raging for sixty centuries. It really seems to have begun before that. Some wars cover in their progress several nations or countries before ending, but this has penetrated three worlds to our certain knowledge and may have gone into more. It is certain that one great battle had been fought in another planet before the struggle began on earth in Eden.
As for the forces engaged in earthly battles, the number rarely exceeds two hundred thousand; but in the war we speak of every angel in the skies or in hell, and every being born in the world has to take and does take a part. Whether men admit it or not, all are fighting on one side or the other.
If you notice the questions and interests involved in this conflict, it is not such things as a few cities or strips of country changing hands, with indemnities of several millions of dollars, but the issue is life or death, salvation or damnation, eternal happiness or everlasting misery, heaven or hell.
To many Christians this war is both internal and external, both a civil and foreign conflict. But there is a blessing which transfers the battle altogether to the outside. This is a blessed relief, but still the war rages there, and so there is need for sleepless vigilance, unbroken faith and heavenly courage.
Second, in this war God calls for volunteers.
Such is the character of this combat, and such the nature of the combatants, that there can be no conscripting or drafting into service. Force is not allowed and indeed cannot be. Christ never compels a man to follow Him. God never drives people into heaven. We must be volunteers; we must prefer to follow the Lord and choose Him and His side above all others. The day of judgment and the system of rewards and punishment are based on the fact of man's freedom of moral choice or power to enlist on either side. Men find themselves in that place in eternity for which they prepared themselves. No one is driven into hell or heaven. Men elect their future eternal abode. The volunteer system is beheld on both sides.
Third, in this war there can be no substitute.
In the Civil War in this country some men paid another man to go to the front in their place. He was a substitute and stood, marched and sometimes was shot down in his employer's place.
In the conflict between heaven and hell, where the earth is the main battle ground, there can be no such thing, although it is tried, as many of us see. Some men make their wives a substitute, others their preachers and priests. We have seen still others give their money to the church, but ask to be excused from the regular service of a soldier of Jesus Christ. But this is impossible. We are to be judged and rewarded for what we do. We are told to present our bodies, not another's. We are exhorted to do with our might what our hands find to do.
A substitute can do this for himself but not for another also. The wife must stand for herself alone; the preacher will be examined on his own merits. There is no overplus of faithfulness, or work of supererogation that can be transferred from one human account to another.
The fact that stares us in the face in the Bible is that every one must shoulder a gun and buckle on a knapsack and march to the front. As it was written of Gideon's band, it must be said of us, that "every man stood in his own place."
Fourth, in this war there should be no furlough.
In the armies of the nations the leave of absence for days or weeks is nothing uncommon. Sickness, fear of a coming battle, business matters, and a longing for home and loved ones, are the reasons for which furloughs are requested and granted.
In the Christian warfare furloughs are not to be allowed. Sometimes men take them, and then it is not properly a leave of absence but a desertion.
In the moral conflict or character war the battle is always on. Sudden assaults of still more terrible character may take place at any moment. Every one must be at the front. No one can be spared. Christians like the faithful Nehemiah and his company work and sleep and eat with their swords buckled to their sides and spears in their hands.
The fact that a tired Christian worker takes a few weeks in the mountains or at the seaside for recuperation does not put him out of the battle line necessarily. The hosts of hell are often in the sick chamber, and a man is called to be true to God and fight for heaven in the quiet summer retreat as well as in the noise and rush of a great protracted meeting in a large city.
The furlough system we strike at is when the man retires from Christian service. He lets down. He excuses himself from duty. He forsakes church, prayer meeting, Sunday-school, and class meeting. He gives up family prayer, religious reading and spiritual conversation. He has gone to the rear.
Some cessation of Christian work through lack of physical strength is right, and is not a furlough as we have just shown. There is another forsaking of spiritual labor that is reprehensible, and which is really the obtaining of a furlough for fear of a coming battle. Conscience will help the reader here. There are many vacant pulpits and empty churches, where the explanation is found in the furlough. Preacher and people all in excellent health have gone off for a vacation. On the door of one of these large forsaken city churches was a placard with the words "Closed For The Summer."
A mischievous person removed it one night and hung another with a picture of a sneering devil, and the words underneath, "I Take No Vacation."
Fifth, in this war there can be no discharge until death.
We enlist for a lifetime. The Spirit of God mustered us in, and death alone is allowed to muster us out. We get our discharge when struck by the "last enemy," the breath leaves the body, and the sword falls from the hand. Men may desert the ranks before then, but there is a great difference between a deserter and a soldier honorably discharged from service.
The war lasts through our lifetime. Some of the fiercest battles will take place in ripe manhood and even in old age. It was thus with David, Solomon, Gideon, Jephtha, Samson and others in the Bible; and so it will be with many reading these lines now.
You are in peril still although you have won a thousand victories. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." You may yet go down in full sight of heaven. Keep the armor bright, do not lay aside the shield of faith and sword of the Spirit until death knock them from your grasp.
Some men in our late Civil War entered for nine months, two years, etc. But in this war we enlist for a lifetime. Some people seem to go into the conflict for a few months, and some for a few years, and some quite a number of years, and yet give up at last before the final victory and discharge. The church is filled today with people who entered for six and twelve months; for one, two and three years. They got tired, discouraged, and discharged themselves, or in other words deserted.
If Paul had given up in the Mediterranean storm when he was clinging to the wreck of the old corn ship, he would have lost all he had gained in previous years of suffering, labor, achievement and victory.
If Peter had grown discouraged by his treatment in prison and on the cross, vain for him would have been all his early battles and triumphs for the cross. Vain the weeping in the night, and the restoration on the banks of lake Galilee. Vain everything.
To be faithful fifty years, and unfaithful to God on the fifty-first year, is to go down at last. This is like Solomon serving God in his prime, and in later life losing his glory and sinking out of sight among the false gods of his thousand wives and concubines. Such a spectacle is like that of a ship that had sailed all around the world, had weathered scores of storms and escaped hundreds of dangers, and was now in full sight of the home port on the English coast, when suddenly it struck a hidden rock and went down into the deep before the horrified gaze of thousands of people.
Hear the word, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."
Sixth, in this war we may expect hardness.
In our late Civil War many went to the front expecting a kind of picnic and holiday. They were sorely undeceived when real service began, and in marching, countermarching, trench digging, exposure to the elements, and a ghastly rain of shot and shell they found out in mud and blood, in hunger, exhaustion and wounds what war meant. Hundreds came back home to return no more to the front. The true and tried remained.
There is a hardness in the Christian life. The real warfare is not seen in skin deep union revival services, talkative preachers' meetings, and great conventions of a social order, where hundreds of delegates skim through the land in coaches gayly festooned with streamers. This is ecclesiastical hobnobbing and picnicking.
There is a hardness in the true soldier life of our religion, known to comparatively few, made up of self-denial, cross-bearing, loneliness, persecution, hand to hand work with sinners and protracted and exhausting labors in the gospel.
The disciples were in the war. So were Luther, Wesley, and their followers. The Salvation Army is in the war, they are enduring hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. The Holiness Movement is in the war, sin is denounced, hell is attacked, and sinners are being saved.
It is sadly amusing to look at some churches today which think they are in the war, when they are simply on dress parade. They think they are marching when they are simply "marking time." Some of them in their Sunday services remind me of "sham battles" on land, and "mimic fights" on the sea. The preacher shoots from the pulpit, the choir returns a volley from the loft, the people sit in rows listening for an hour, and then go home, and they call this war. Not a sinner has been slain, not a mourner at the altar, not a conversion in the whole service on Sabbath, and perhaps the entire year. Marking time, sham fighting, dress parade, playing at Christianity.
We recall what was once said in our hearing of a prominent minister in a certain denomination who was a very eloquent and popular divine. It was said of him that he never struck an evil from his pulpit that had not been dead two thousand years. No wonder he was popular. If men want to know what war is in the spiritual life, let him follow Christ as he prayed all night and preached all day, besieged with hating Pharisees, who tried to entrap him in his words. See Him sweating blood in the garden, forsaken by many of His followers, and casting out devils from men and boys who foamed at the mouth and wallowed on the ground before Him. See Him assaulted by all the powers of hell, and the forces of a dead backslidden church. See him calm, loving, patient, faithful, and fearless under it all, pressing on the way of duty, ridiculed, despised and rejected to the last. Here was war indeed. What a contrast to what we see going on in much of the church life today.
Truly it is well for the truth's sake that the hymn " Am I a soldier of the Cross?" is in the interrogative form. Certainly it would never do for the great body of church members, as we see them today, to sing it affirmatively, "I am a soldier of the Cross!" Lord help us.
Seventh, in this war we do not always know the plans of our Captain.
There is a great difference of opinion among Christian soldiers as to some things our blessed Leader is going to do. They are divided in view as to whether the world is to grow better or worse before Jesus comes. They dispute among themselves whether Christ is to appear before the millennium or after the millennium. Whether He will come to a straightened up world, or come and straighten it up Himself.
In some quarters the altercation is "so sharp between Paul and Barnabas'' that we venture to express a hope that the brethren will not get to blows. Thus far they have simply belabored each other with tongues, and stabbed each other with pens; while devils looked on and laughed with infernal glee. The columns of some papers remind me of rows of bayonets and actually set for the friends of Christ who happen to differ in opinion about the return of Christ. It is impossible to walk amid the editorial jottings, without being reminded of open pen-knives planted point upward for passing feet. After patiently enduring for months the jeering and sneering thrusts, the sickened heart finds itself excused at last in quietly laying such papers aside to be read no more.
The Captain has not made his plans so clear, but there is an honest difference of opinion among his soldiers. Doubtless it is best that it should be so. It would not do for the devil and bad men to understand what Christ is going to do, so the plan in the Bible concerning the future movements of the Son of God is necessarily and properly made obscure. It is safest and wisest. This obscurity creates the difference of opinion about the second coming as to its when and how and why. The very best and wisest of men are on both sides. There is Scripture for both sides. We wonder how Christians can war about it. We know for ourselves, although no premillenarianist, we would be glad if the Lord Jesus would come today. We do not see how any child of God can feel stirred up or angry over the thought of a speedily returning Christ.
Eighth, in this war our Captain is bound to win.
This cannot be said of any other leader, for all others are finite, and have gone down and will go down under mighty opposition and general uprisings.
But Christ has all power. Hell trembles before Him. It was nothing for Him to cast out a thousand devils with a word. Sickness skulked away from His presence, and the grave itself had to obey Him and yield up the dead. Even when he was bound, men fell down before Him; and, although spiked on the cross, His murderers vaguely felt the slumbering power in Him which He would not exercise. His very dying cry frightened them! What will they do when they hear His triumphant voice in the clouds as He comes in judgment, power and glory?
We would be frightened to death if we were on the other side, which is already doomed and will be damned, if they do not repent. Jesus is certain to win. Sinners apprehend it, devils know it, the Bible teaches it, and real Christians feel it, and rejoice in it. The triumph is already in our soul. The general sweeping victory that is to snatch the world from Satan and bad men, and fill it with millennial glory, is yet to come. But it is coming. The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ. Glory to God for the promise, the prophecy and the coming literal fulfilment:
"Jesus shall reign where'er the sun Doth his succesive journeys run His kingdom stretch from shore to shore Till moons shall wax and wane no more."
Amen and amen! Even so come Lord Jesus.