"LIFE is a battle," some one has truly said. We see amongst the brute creation a constant struggle for existence, and it is the same with humanity. In business competition it is a battle; in politics the strife goes on continually; in the family, between the parents and the children, there is frequently strife for mastery; and throughout the world it is largely each family for itself and each individual for himself, all this strife being along the lines of ambition and selfishness, sometimes almost to the extent of necessity.
The Lord's soldiers were recruited from these miserable conditions, but to another and different warfare—a war against selfishness, avarice, covetousness and all unrighteous, all unloving methods, all sin.—The Captain of our Salvation is our exemplar, whose methods of warfare we are to copy. Although he was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners, [R3273 : page 421] he was an inveterate foe to sin, and laid down his life in opposing it. All who would be accepted as followers of the cross must follow his example—"faithful even unto death"—if they would have the great prize, the crown of life.
As we look at the world of which we once were a part, "Children of wrath even as others," we see that all of its strife is for some purpose. The politician strives for emoluments and sometimes for honor; the merchant strives for affluence and wealth; the struggles in the social arena are for place and influence. These are their prizes, and in their efforts to attain their ideals many are the sacrifices that are endured, many are the risks that are run, many are the night vigils and careful plans and schemes and plottings. Nevertheless, few of those who strive ever attain to their hearts' desires. The prize eludes their grasp; and the more fortunate ones who do grasp the prizes find that there is much bitterness connected with the success, much disappointment as to the real pleasure accompanying them. The Apostle compares these earthly ambitions of the world with the higher ambitions of the soldiers of the Lord's army. He points out that those who strive in earthly matters, either as race runners or as prize fighters in any department of the strife of earth, put themselves to certain tests of patience, endurance and self-denial in their endeavors to attain their ambitions; and he indicates that much more the soldiers of the cross should highly esteem the great prize for which we are called to fight the good fight—the prize of life eternal. The Apostle says, "Every man that striveth is temperate in all things: now they do it to attain a corruptible crown [reward], but we an incorruptible."
These who strive for earthly prizes do so in the face of much uncertainty. Every politician admits the strong probability of his defeat; every one who seeks wealth will acknowledge a strong probability that he will fail in his fight for it; but not so with the soldiers of the cross. The prize is not only superlatively great and grand and incorruptible, but it is a certainty, as the Apostle adds, "I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air." We know that faithfulness as followers of our Captain will bring results not only blessed to ourselves, but results which will be under the Lord's providences a blessing to all the families of the earth. It is in view of this certainty on our part as to the results and the grandeur thereof that the Apostle intimates that we, as soldiers of the cross, should be willing to endure much greater hardness and self-denial and buffeting for the sake of the cause we represent than would those who strive for the earthly crowns and prizes. And if they practice self-denial and disciplines late and early, in season and out of season, when convenient and when inconvenient, whether of food and drink if preparing for some physical contest, or of comforts and conveniences and pleasures if for political or business contests, much more should we not be slothful in our business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, fighting the good fight of faith, laying hold on eternal life as a sure thing, not an uncertainty. The Apostle applies this thought too, saying, "I keep my body under [its ambitions, appetites, desires], and bring it into subjection [to the new mind]: lest by any means when I have preached to others I myself should be a castaway [rejected from being a member of the little flock]."—1 Cor. 9:25-28.
The first essential in becoming a soldier of the cross is a proper understanding of the only terms of enlistment—that it is not for an occasion, nor for a year, but for life. Many err on this point, and after fighting faithfully in a few skirmishes they seem to have the impression that they have fulfilled the conditions of their enlistment, and drift into some other service, some other kind of fighting, or into a slothful, indifferent ease in the presence of the enemy and the evil against which they pledged themselves to war a good warfare even unto death. Such occasionally get revived under the stimulus of the Gospel or mental excitement, and for a time fight a little more, only to relapse again into indifference and slothfulness. Some even plume themselves upon these repeated reenlistments and purpose further reenlistments before they die, not discerning that this is a wrong view of the situation—that no volunteers are accepted save upon the terms of the Captain: "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." Such need to see that participation in a few battles is not the condition of our call and enlistment, and that the rewards—glory, honor and immortality—which the Lord has promised to the faithful cannot be expected by those who do not fight the good fight faithfully and continuously. We are not here discussing what portion will come to those who are careless in respect to the terms of their enlistment. We are not saying whether their portion will be in the "great company" or elsewhere; but we are seeking to make clear that none can be counted worthy of a place in the little flock, in the glory of the Kingdom, unless he shall have the proper appreciation of his enlistment, and have been, at heart at least, thoroughly loyal to and active in the defence of the principles for which his covenant stands committed—the principles of righteousness at any cost, even unto death.
It will be found a great help to the weaknesses of the fallen nature to have understandingly made a full consecration of the will,—a full enlistment of every power and talent of mind and of body. He who takes this proper view of his consecration to the Lord and [R3273 : page 422] enlistment in the Lord's army, realizes that he has nothing more to give to the Lord, and hence, whatever struggle of the will he may have is all ended when he has finally decided—"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." The others, who do not so recognize the matter, have continually a battle with their wills before they can engage in any measure in defence of the Truth. How important it is, therefore, that all the soldiers realize that the term of the enlistment is until death, and that there is no room for even considering any suggestion to withdraw from the battle and cease even for an hour to fight the good fight of faith.
The new recruits to the Lord's army frequently have difficulty with themselves because of the very different kind of fighting to which the Lord's soldiers are called. Used to fighting in the battle of life as members of the fallen race, a battle for the Lord along the same lines is the natural tendency—with carnal weapons, carnal objects, actions, methods, etc. Such, however, are to heed the voice of the Captain, to fight only as he directs—for righteousness instead of unrighteousness, for love and generosity, and against selfishness instead of for selfishness. They may not even take the suggestions of certain moral reformers and begin a battle for pure politics nor for total abstinence nor for social uplift—because the Captain's commands have not been along these lines. They may, nay they should, feel a deep sympathy with all of these commendable efforts, and should smile rather than frown upon them; but their time, their influence, their talents may not go in these directions, however much their sympathy may go toward them, because they are under the orders of the Captain. They are not fighting at their own charges nor to accomplish their own wills; they are not the heads of the army, but the subordinate members, and thus look for their directions to the Captain. He has called them for a special purpose, and has given them particular instructions respecting the same, and their every energy and talent, not absorbed in procuring the necessities of life, must be considered as devoted and beyond their control.
After enlistment each soldier should expect his share of the provided armor—helmet, breastplate, sandals, shield and sword; and his first work must be to put on this armor—to prepare himself. The armory from which these articles can be obtained is the Word of God, which is so well stocked that "The man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto every good word and work." (2 Tim. 3:17.) He who rushes into a fight without waiting to hear the Captain's command and without waiting to put on the armor provided, is certain to meet with measurable defeat and a disaster more or less consequential. Would that every soldier who enlists could realize the necessity for hearkening to the Word of God, and appropriating to himself the armor of Truth which it provides. The helmet, representing the Truth, which would fortify the Lord's soldiers intellectually by giving them a clear and intelligent appreciation of his plan, is necessary; the breastplate, which represents the knowledge of righteousness and an appreciation of God's provision for our covering in the great redemptive sacrifice, is also essential as a covering for our hearts, for our spiritual protection; the sandals, representing our expectation of trials and difficulties in the narrow way and our readiness to accept them all, with the assurance that they would all work for our good, are indispensable; also the shield of faith, which grows larger and larger in proportion as it is handled and used, is very important; no soldier can possibly acquit himself acceptably to the Captain except he have such a shield—without it he would be exposed to the darts of the enemy. Notwithstanding his having on the whole armor, the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, must not be forgotten. He who has not on part of the armor will be unable to keep the foes of righteousness at a respectful distance; and this sword becomes stronger and larger in the hands of the soldier as he [R3274 : page 422] grasps it firmly at the hilt and uses it in his battles for the Lord and the Truth.
Many soldiers in the Lord's army are surprised to learn that the Captain's name is the Prince of Peace, and that all the enlisted ones are expected to battle for peace. The matter seems at first to be contradictory. Battling is warfare, peace is the result; we are called to be soldiers and called to be peacemakers. Many of the soldiers, without waiting to learn the rules and commands of the Captain, without waiting to study the proper use of the sword of the Spirit, spring courageously into the fight and begin to wound their neighbors, their friends, and sometimes their fellow soldiers in the Lord's army. This is a great mistake: this is an attempt to use the spiritual weapons in a carnal manner and is contrary to the example and word of our Captain. All such would do best to put up their swords again—to refrain from using the word of God in a belligerent manner, in a smiting way against those with whom they have to do. We must learn who is our foe, and not recklessly and blindly smite down any and everything opposing us.
But some one inquires, Are we not to smite down error, and does not this mean the smiting of those who uphold the error? We answer that those all about us who are upholding error, and those who despitefully use us and persecute us because we are on the Lord's side, are blinded by ignorance, and it is not the Lord's intention that we should fight against them;—rather we would fight for them to lift them out of their ignorance and blindness, their superstition. So the Lord expressed it when he said, "The Son of man came [R3274 : page 423] not to destroy men's lives," but that they might have life, and that more abundantly. He has not changed in the interim; he still has the same generous sentiment toward the poor world that he had when he died, when he tasted death for every man. The Apostle will instruct us who are our foes. He says, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers and wicked spirits in exalted positions."—Eph. 6:12.
Ah, then, our real opponents are the fallen angels, the demons; and our poor fallen fellow creatures who oppose us and who oppose righteousness do so because they are under the power of Satan, more or less blinded by his sophistries and deceptions,—as it is written, "The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not"—has deceived the whole world.—(2 Cor. 4:4; Rev. 20:2,3.) Our sentiment against all opposers of righteousness amongst men should therefore be that of benevolence and compassion, realizing that they are under the Adversary's power, though they know it not. And if we suffer at their hands as soldiers of the cross, our sentiments should be, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do."—"Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." As the Apostle Peter explained respecting those who crucified the Lord Jesus, that in ignorance they did it, so we should regard that present oppositions to righteousness and to those who are on the Lord's side are largely the results of ignorance and superstition, and of the blindness which comes from the great deceiver against whom we are enlisted and seeking to fight a good fight.
Our good fight of faith, as the Apostle explains, consists in a considerable measure in our defense of the Word of God, which includes also our defence of the character of God. This is implied in the Apostle's words, "Contend [fight earnestly] for the faith once delivered unto the saints." This will mean our willingness to stand for the Truth at any cost and against any number of assailants—against the creeds and theories of men, which would misrepresent the good tidings of great joy which the Lord and the Apostles have announced, and which shall, thank God, yet be unto all people. As the Apostle again says, "I am set for the defence of the Truth." We can do no less than defend the Truth. The Truth is God's representative, Christ's representative, and hence our standard, and as true soldiers we must defend our standard, even unto death. Not every truth, however; for although we may feel in sympathy with all truth yet we are enlisted under a Captain whose command indicates that it is one special line of truth that we are to defend with our lives—the truth of divine revelation—the divine message, the Gospel, the good tidings of redemption through the precious blood, forgiveness of sins, and in general the divine plan of salvation as set forth in the inspired Word. It will be noticed that his measurably ignores truth on other lines, on mathematics, on astronomy, geology, not to mention other sciences falsely so called, respecting which the Lord has given us no revelation—respecting which, therefore, his sword of Truth has never been sent offensively nor defensively. It is for the "faith once delivered unto the saints," and that only, that the soldiers of the cross are to battle.
We have already noticed that the contesting is not to be with carnal weapons, even when it is for the faith once delivered unto the saints; and by carnal weapons we understand more to be meant than many at first surmise. Not merely are swords, spears and guns carnal weapons, but anger, malice, hatred, strife and a general contesting and combative spirit are all carnal weapons; and whenever these are used in defence of the Lord's good cause they do it injury instead of benefit, whatever the users may intend. It is important to remember that all the soldiers fighting in this battle for the Truth win not by injuring others, but by showing to others such noble examples of fidelity to the principles of righteousness (truth) even unto death, as will commend to them the Lord and his cause. Those who fight with anger and malice and strife, who fight carnally, misrepresent the Captain, however unintentionally, and do injury to his cause. There are many of these fighters who are not warring a good warfare, not fighting a good fight, and who will consequently fail of the chief reward—the glory, honor, immortality and joint-heirship with the Lord in the Kingdom.
It may be inquired, then, How can these soldiers expect to have any battle if they abstain from carnal warfare either with their hands or their tongues, speaking only that which is good, and endeavoring so much as lieth in them to live peaceably with all men? How can such soldiers have any battle at all? who would contend with them? Surely, says one, it is not supposable that the world would battle or in any wise injure or oppose those who seek only its good, its welfare, its blessing, its peace. Nay but, we answer, the Master suffered for his fidelity to the faith once delivered, and forewarned us, saying, "Marvel not if the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." "The world loveth darkness rather than light." Guided by the Master's words, we look to see what constituted the world from his standpoint. We perceive that he could not have meant that the enemies of the saints would be wholly nor chiefly the hoodlum element of society, the thieves and thugs and murderers. Not from these are we to expect the [R3274 : page 424] hatred and persecution which, the Lord forewarned us, all true soldiers would experience from the world. When the Master said that the world hated him, we perceive that it was not the heathen or Gentile world, but the religious world as we might term it—the churchianity of his day—the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees who took counsel against him and who finally secured his execution. It was the same professedly religious world that through the dark ages persecuted the light and the Truth even unto death, and it is the same nominally religious world, deficient in the Spirit of the Lord surely, and more or less blinded by the god of this world, which will continue to be the persecuting power against the soldiers of the cross down to the very close of this dispensation—until the last soldier of the cross shall have proven faithful unto death and the elect company shall be finished.
Here we get the broad view that the heathen religions are all of Satan, that he has misled the heathen people into gross darkness, and that whatever measure of superstition and darkness still clings to Christianity is so much the power of Satan working in and through those who are nominally and professedly the Lord's people. The soldiers of the cross all down through this Gospel age, following the example of the Captain and of his lieutenants, the apostles, have held up the banner of Truth, the light, not aggressively but defensively, and have been considered faithful in proportion as they have endured hardness with meekness and patience and long-suffering, brotherly kindness and love, not rendering evil for evil, slander for slander, reviling for reviling, but, like the Master, when reviled reviled not again, but blessed their enemies, and did good to those who despitefully used them and persecuted them, praying for them and hoping for them divine mercy in the future, to the opening of the eyes of their understanding. So also we must expect it to be today.
Doubtless, in harmony with the Scriptural declaration, we may expect that in the near future all the soldiers of the cross will be exposed to much more severe attacks from the great Adversary and those whom he has blinded. The attacks are to be so severe that, according to Scriptural declaration, a thousand shall fall at our side to one who will stand—the merely nominal soldiers will fall. Only the faithful, the overcoming ones, the very elect, will be able to stand in that evil day, and they because they will have on the whole armor of God provided for their protection. The Apostle mentions all deceivableness of unrighteousness in the perishing ones as being one of the characteristics of Satan's manifestation in our time. We see some of this deceivableness manifested in the many wonderful works, healings, etc., performed by Spiritualists, Mormons, Christian Scientists and others—calculated to deceive if possible the very elect. But it will not be possible to deceive this overcoming [R3275 : page 424] class, because the true soldier will take careful heed to the instructions of the Captain and will have on the whole armor of his Word for their defence and protection from all the wiles of the Adversary, who, now that his kingdom is tottering to its fall, is forced to bolster it up by feigning works of mercy and goodness as a garment of light.—Matt. 12:26; 2 Cor. 11:14.
Foregoing we have considered the outward battlings of the Lord's soldiers; let us now notice the more secret drillings and battlings which come to each individual soldier, to test his loyalty and to develop his character.
We have already noticed that the soldier is the New Creature and not the flesh, that the enlistment was a surrender of the fleshly will and the acceptance of the headship or captaincy of the Redeemer. From that moment of full surrender to the Captain, enlistment under his orders and in the service of righteousness, the New Creature has experienced a conflict with its mortal body and its weaknesses, passions and tendencies for sin. The new will cannot free itself from the fleshly body, and although the reward promised by the Captain is a new body, perfect and in full harmony with himself and with righteousness, nevertheless the new will is required to demonstrate its loyalty to the Captain and to righteousness by its faithful combat with the flesh—with the desires and propensities of its own mortal body.
Here is the great and continual battle, for although the new will asserts itself and puts the body under and compels its subjection to the new mind, nevertheless the mortal body, not being actually dead, is continually coming into contact with the world and the Adversary and is continually being stimulated by these and reinvigorated with earthly cares, ambitions, methods, strivings, conflicts and insubordination to our new will. No saint is without experiences of this kind—fightings without and within. It must be a fight to the finish or the great prize for which we fight will not be gained. For although the New Creature masters the mortal body by the Lord's grace and strength repeatedly, nevertheless until death there can be no cessation of the conflict, for the "flesh lusteth [desireth, striveth] against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would."—Gal. 5:17.
The Apostle urges that we do not seek for the cooperation of the flesh, but rather anticipate in advance its opposition and proceed at once to mortify [put to death] the flesh with its affections and its desires, assuring us that as the death of the flesh will result in our begetting to the new nature, so the death of the flesh actually will be a precedent to our attaining [R3275 : page 425] the birth of the Spirit. The Apostle's words along this line are comforting to us. He says: "For which cause we faint not [in our battlings]; but though the outward man perish, the inward man is renewed day by day [we become stronger in the Lord and in the power of his might], for our light afflictions [trials, etc., which may include these battlings with our own flesh], which are but for a moment [as compared with the eternity we hope to gain], work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."—2 Cor. 4:16-18.
It is because the Adversary works in the hearts of the children of disobedience, and because the children of the light, the soldiers of the cross, are in contact in the flesh with the children of this world, that thus the Adversary is able to work powerfully against them and repeatedly to resuscitate their flesh, so that all need to follow the Apostle's course as expressed in his words, "I keep my body under"—the thought being that there is a tendency for the body, the flesh, to arise from its condition of reckoned deadness, and that hence the new nature needs to be continually on the alert to maintain its ascendency, to fight the good fight of faith and to gain the prize as an overcomer. These battlings of the new mind against the flesh are a good fight in the sense that they are fightings against sin and weaknesses that belong to the fallen nature. They are a fight of faith in the sense that the entire course of the New Creature is a course of faith as the Apostle says, "We walk by faith and not by sight." The New Creature has faith in the Word of God, in the promises therein contained, and with the eye of faith sees the heavenly city and the crown of righteousness which the Lord has in reservation for the overcomers, joint-heirship with the Redeemer. It is a fight of faith in the sense that no one could keep up this battle against his own flesh and its propensities and desires, and come off conqueror, except as he can exercise faith in the promises and in the Lord as his helper.
Considering particularly what some of these battles of the new nature are, we suggest that many of them pertain to the weaknesses of the flesh through heredity—sin working in our mortal bodies and seeking to bring us more and more into captivity and to separate us from the Lord and the righteousness which he in every way represents. In proportion as the Lord's people receive the new mind, the gross sins of the flesh become distasteful to them—for instance, robbery, dishonesty, murder, filthy communications, etc., and when these are put away unquestionably a large victory has been gained—a great advance over what was in some hearts when first they heard the voice of the Lord. But the spirit of murder and the spirit of dishonesty often lurk in the hearts of those who have become thoroughly the Lord's people, and these dispositions hide themselves, cloak themselves in such a manner that they frequently deceive the new will, which indeed needs to be educated up to an appreciation of principles.
It is an advance lesson in the school of Christ that gives us to understand that he that hateth his brother is a murderer, and hence that those who enlist as soldiers of the cross are not only to hate murder but are to hate the murder spirit and to cast it out entirely, so that they would have nothing but love in their hearts for any, even their enemies. Only the more advanced and better drilled of the soldiers of the Lord see clearly and distinctly the meaning of the Apostle's words when he denominates anger, malice, hatred, strife, envyings and evil speakings to be all works of the flesh and of the devil.
As soon as this is perceived, the true soldier starts a campaign against these well-intrenched evils and weaknesses of his own fallen flesh, and he needs to keep continually before his mind the thought that perfect love must rule in the hearts of all who in the end will be esteemed of the Lord overcomers, worthy of a share with him in the Kingdom. He must see that perfect love worketh no ill to his neighbor (Rom. 13:10); he must see that evil speaking comes from evil thinking, because "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh;" consequently he must see that there is an evil condition still intrenched which needs eradication, and only in the name and with the assistance of the Lord can he hope to conquer fully and completely all such evil heart conditions. True, the Lord reckoned us pure in heart from the moment we made full consecration to him, and his mercy covers all the blemishes that were in us, ignorantly and unwillingly, and thus he receives us into his school, into his army—but receiving us meant our education, our instruction, our drill. As the instruction progresses, the obedience must also have made progress, else we will not have been considered in the Lord's sight as pure in heart, pure in intention. Evidently it is the divine purpose that all in this school of the Lord shall ultimately come to the place where their hearts will approve nothing but that which is approved of the Lord—noble, pure, good—however perfectly or imperfectly they may be able to express all this in their mortal flesh.
If once the soldiers of the cross could get the proper thought that slander and evil speaking are assassinations of the character of another, and that defamation is the robbery of another's good name, the sooner they will see this matter in its truly awful light as it must appear in the Lord's sight, and once seeing the matter from this true, divine standpoint must awaken the new creature to the greatest activity possible [R3275 : page 426] in the overcoming of such works of the flesh and of the devil. Each will seek to purge out the old leaven of malice and envy and strife and crookedness and evil speaking, that he may be pure in heart, a copy of the Lord.
The Scriptural declaration is "Speak evil of no man," and all who can see the matter in its true light as above set forth will feel a zeal for God and for righteousness that will burn against all such iniquity wherever it may be found, especially in his own flesh.
But if it be reprehensible to speak evil of any person, if that be contrary to the spirit of love, the Spirit of the Lord, how much more evil in the Lord's sight must it be if any of the Lord's brethren should speak evil of one another—speak evil of a member of the Lord's body! How terrible is the thought, how surely an evil-doer would lose the Captain's favor and ultimately be cut off from all relationship with him and with the body. The Lord refers to such, saying, "Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son [all of the house of sons, brethren of Christ, are figuratively represented as being the children of the Sarah covenant, the Abrahamic covenant.] These things thou hast done, and I have not kept silence; Thou thoughtest I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee."—Psa. 50:19-22.
Many have the thought that the evil speaking which the Scriptures forbid refers to false witness; but not so. The Lord certainly does not expect any of his people to have any sympathy with lies. If we might speak of sin in a cumulative way, we might say that to speak evil is a sin, and that if the matter were untrue it would be doubly sinful in the Lord's sight. The principle which underlies the matter should be clearly discerned by all of the Lord's people. It is this: The law of the New Creation is love, and whoever loves another would not only not lie to his injury, [R3276 : page 426] but would not even speak to his injury if the thing were the truth. Whoever, therefore, finds in his heart, in his own disposition, a love to tell about others something that is to their detriment, to their discredit or injury, should see that he is proportionately deficient in the spirit of love, in the Spirit of the Lord. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor, justly or unjustly; it is ready to believe all that is good, and anxious to disbelieve and avoid mentioning anything that is discreditable. Only duty would move it to speak at all of that which is to the discredit of another, and then it would be spoken only in such a manner as the Scriptures and the spirit of love would approve to those who ought to know, and with a view to the assistance of the wrong-doer.
Let us then as New Creatures be encouraged with every better understanding of the Captain's word and will respecting us, full of confidence in his wisdom and in his grace—that he is willing and able to bring us off conquerors in the full sense if we are obedient to him. Let us strive that we may be able to say with the Apostle at the close of our experiences, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge shall give me at that day."—2 Tim. 4:7,8.