|Onward, Christian Soldiers!
by Mrs. Brigadier Harold Smith (c. 1944)
2 Timothy 2:3-4
No Man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please Him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with Truth, and having on the breastplate of Righteousness;
And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of Peace;
Above all, taking the shield of Faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
And take the helmet of Salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.
Military Service was very familiar to Paul, who wrote the lines above. Roman troops were everywhere to be seen throughout the Roman Empire. Amid the boundless corruption of society, the Roman army could still be greatly admired. In spite of the wholesale cruelties committed as it pushed onward in its conquests, it always stood for discipline and a splendid esprit de corps. It became in reality the mainstay for the order and justice against highhanded anarchy and wrong. The Roman officers mentioned in the Bible, like the Roman centurions, make a fine impression on us.
The small boy's early ambition is to be a soldier. He dons a three-cornered Napoleonic hat, toots his horn, beats his drum, marches about the yard, and a little later acquires a tin sword and a gun. The tailored uniform with its brass buttons becomes a later attraction in collage groups. But when he becomes a soldier in the army of his country and goes marching off to war, he learns from personal experience that war is more than mere parades; it is a grim reality. You must, then, be a soldier everywhere or nowhere.
Take Thy Share with Me
Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ; is rendered in the Authorized Version as follows: "Take thy share in suffering hardships as a true soldier of Jesus Christ".
The original text omits the "therefore" and inserts into the verb a syllable conveying the idea of participation. Thus enters an element of fellowship, but to suffer it in company; to meet trial, toil, and peril, not alone, but side by side with others.
The bare summons to endure is one thing. It is a cold appeal, a mere official order delivered to a military unit. But the call to come to the leader's side and share with him his own deep experiences of danger and sorrow is a very different thing. On the one hand, it brings home the inspiring thought of the leader's own large share in the soldier's lot - his own experience of the conflict; on the other hand, it discloses the leader's heart toward the follower - the captain's generous thirst for fellowship, his avowal of the help to his own courage that partnership with his subordinate will bring. There is a deep secret of hope and power in the fact of such a brotherhood of suffering under the mighty hand of God.
Whoever has in the least degree suffered in the path of obedience understands what Paul meant when he said, "Take thy share with me"; whether on the field of battle, at the post of outlook, or in the hour of critical strategy. Elijah thought he was alone, but God revealed to him that there were seven thousand others to share his suffering with him. In times or pain, let us renew the remembrance of our brotherhood and our resolve to "take our share".
That is the spirit of a true soldier of Jesus Christ. If we are His, we are called, not to a holiday, but to a campaign. Our tent is pitched, not in a garden, but on the battlefield. We are not isolated adventurers, fighting each for his own hand, but soldiers in the uniform of the King, sharing alike.
Enlighten under the Colors
"That he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier": The Greek word for "soldier" denotes one who is on active duty. As such the soldier never allows another interest to compete with his military calling. Life may in other respects and under other circumstances touch him at many points, but all this is in abeyance when he is on the hostile ground and within range of the enemy. Otherwise he would not have met the wishes of his commander, who, in the face of some dangerous and difficult task, has "chosen him to be a soldier," has selected him for this special duty.
The Christian is always on the active duty on enemy ground, and chosen into his Commander's expeditionary force. He is the Lord's soldier, first and foremost. The Christian life is a battle; you are on a campaign. There may be days of quite in your life, but you are perpetually liable to invasion. There is only one safe course for you: you must be fully armed, from top to toe, and sleeplessly vigilant.
During his imprisonments, Paul was daily accompanied by a Roman soldier; hence he found in him the type of the Christian. Every part of his armor had some moral or spiritual significance, and he saw in this soldier on active service an ample illustration of the Christian's calling.
No one who has entered upon the Christian life can fail to see the appropriateness of the soldier figure of speech in these days. Our life is a tremendously serious business, a critical business, no holiday excursion, but a great campaign, in which carelessness, boastfulness, and underrating of the enemy's may lead to disastrous and fatal results. It is a war in which a man may lose or gain everything, according to his faithfulness or faithlessness. It is a campaign that has its evil days, its hardships, and its agony. That is why Paul throws out in quick succession those striking expressions: "the whole armor of God," "the wiles of the enemy," "the hosts of wickedness," "the darts with red-hot points, or swathed in burning tow, so that they fly thick and fast through the air".
The forward to Lloyd Douglass' Disputed Passage says: "Have you learned lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed the passage with you?" John Wesley Beaven, the young medical student in Disputed Passage learned his first lesson right there; and, although he was a disputed passage from straight to finish, he fought though to a great success.
A very young chaplain in the last war, newly arrived overseas, talked with a sergeant one day, asking how best to go out among the men. The sergeant took him to the top of a hill and pointed out the field of action. "Look around; see those batteries on the right and the men at their guns. Hear the roar of the cannon. Look where you will, all are in earnest around here. Every man knows this is a life-and-death struggle. If we do not conquer the enemy, they will conquer us. We are not playing at soldiers; we are in dead earnest. If you would do good, you must be earnest too. An earnest man always wins his way".
The Enemy to Be Met
Paul recognized that, from old associations and former tastes, many difficulties would spring up for these Ephesians to whom he was writing. Moreover, beyond all these influences, there was the great master spirit of evil, with hosts of wickedness at his command, who had access to the hearts of the Christians in Ephesus. "We wrestle, not against flesh and blood," but against a power more subtle, more wily, more deadly. Flesh and blood outside the man can never hurt the soul; all the damage they can inflect upon the man cannot touch the center of his of his being. "Be not afraid of them that kill the body and after that have no more that they can do" (Luke 12:4).
Every true Christian knows that there is a power outside himself that makes for righteousness. Just as surely is there a power, not himself, that makes for unrighteousness, which defeats and overthrows our best purposes, desiring and working ill instead of go in our lives.
In past wars, our nation has learned something of the fatal folly of over-security - of underrating the enemy's and overrating our own strength, of going into battle unprepared, under-armed, and undermanned. Through the wiles of a resourceful, persistent enemy, our soldiers have been trapped and the flower of our men cut down. When asked why it was that he was generally on the side of victory, the Duke of Wellington replied: "I never despise an enemy".
In Christian life, the same thing constantly happens. Men have not put their lowly trust in the Devine powers; instead they have relaxed their watchfulness, have grown self-satisfied and self-assured, and have gone down. Half the godly force within them has been slain; the rest has capitulated. They are lead captive by the spirit of the world and have been made incapable of fighting the battle of Christ. Earnestness for the salvation of others, passion for the righteousness, willingness to make sacrifices, intense hatred of evil, zeal for personal holiness of life - all these are gone. They have not been able to stand in the evil day. Some have fallen into grievous sin; others have ceased to fight, to lift up their hand against the power of evil. They are mere spectators in the strife. It is difficult to tell on which side they belong.
Naturalists tell us that in order to escape detection, the chameleon turns green as it stretches itself on the grass to catch flies and grasshoppers; and that the polypus takes on the color of the rock under which he lurks in order that the fish may come within his reach without suspicion of danger. Though one stand alone against great odds, he may yet stand.
In the war with the Austrians, a French grenadier was in charge of a small fort commanding a narrow gorge up which only two of the enemy could climb at a time. When the defenders of the fort heard that the enemy was near, being few in number, they deserted, leaving the grenadier alone. Refusing to give up the place without a struggle, he barred the door, raised the drawbridge, and loaded all the muskets left behind by his comrades.
Early in the morning, with great labor, the enemy brought up a gun from the valley and laid it against the fort. The grenadier made such good use of his muskets that the men in charge of the gun could not hold their position and were forced to retire. He kept them at bay all day long.
At night they came again to demand the fort's surrender, with the treat that otherwise the garrison would be staved out. The grenadier asked for a night's consideration, and the next morning declared the garrison might leave with all the honors of war.
After some demur, this was agreed upon. Presently the Austrian army below saw a single soldier descending the height with a whole sheaf of muskets on his shoulder. He marched through their lines and then threw down his arms. "Where is the garrison?," asked the Austrian commander in astonishment. "I am the garrison," said the grenadier. His brave resistance so delighted the enemy that their whole army saluted him, and he was afterward called "the first grenadier of France".
The Whole Armor of God
Without arms men who fight can accomplish nothing. Fighting men of today are naturally interested in the fighting men of yesterday and the arms they bore. Paul had in mind a definite soldier with definite weapons - shield, sword, helmet, and brazen boots.
To be a good soldier of Christ, much strength and courage are needed; but just as essential are a complete armor and skill to use it. Even though we let evil alone, it will not leave us alone. It encroached upon our lives, and hence we must master it.
The defensive armor of the Christian soldier is fivefold: his loins are girt about the Truth; his breast is covered with the breastplate of Righteousness; his feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of Peace; in his hand he bears the shield of Faith; and his head is protected by the helmet of Salvation.
"The loins girt about the Truth." The loins were encircled by a girdle, which served to brace the armor tight to the body and to support the daggers, short swords, and similar weapons that were frequently struck into it.
Truth is our girdle. The Gospel of Christ is the Truth of God, and unless this be known and conscientiously believed, none can enter spiritual warfare with any advantage or prospect of success. By this we discover our enemies and learn their plan of attack; by this we learn where our own strength lies. Therefore we must gird ourselves with Truth.
"The Truth shall make you free." Many a young soldier has made his future service in the Army more valuable and happier because he has avowed his Christian stand and shown his colors at the outset.
"The breastplate of Righteousness." The breastplate consisted of two parts, called wings. One covered the whole region of the thorax, or breast, in which the main vital organs are contained; and the other covered the back, as far down as the front part extended. Thus the breastplate guarded the vital parts of man and preserved him from being mortally wounded or killed outright. This is the moral rectitude that enables a man to confront the whole world without fear, blameless before God, a conscience void of offense.
"Feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace." The brazen boots covered the shin or front of the leg; a kind of sole was often used that covered the sole and laced about the instep, thus preventing the foot from being wounded by thorns, stones, and other objects. If the feet become wounded, a man could neither stand nor resist; he could neither pursue the enemy nor flee if necessary.
Strong military sandals represent a readiness to march in the cause of Christ, obedience to the Gospel, and a glad response to publish the good tidings. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of them that preach the gospel of Peace and bring tidings of good things!
The safety of a mountain climber depends on his being well shod. Therefore Swiss guides wear shoes with sharp spikes in the shoes.
One bright July morning, a famous English scientist started with two friends to ascend a lofty mountain in Switzerland. Although experienced climbers, the party took Jenni, the boldest guide in that district, with them. Having reached the summit, they started back. When they came to a step snow-covered slope, they were lashed together with a strong rope, which was tied to each man's waist. "Keep carefully in my steps," said the guide. "A false step here might start the snow and send us down in an avalanche."
Scarcely had he spoken when a whole field of snow began to slide down the icy mountainside, carrying the unfortunate climbers with it at a terrible pace. A steeper slope lay before them, and at the end of that a precipice. The three foremost men were almost buried in the whirling snow. Below were the jaws of death.
Everything depended on getting a foothold. Jenni, the guide, shouted loudly: "Halt, halt!" With desperate energy, he drove his iron-nailed boots into the firm ice beneath the moving snow. Within a few rods of the precipice, Jenni got a hold with his feet and was able to bring the party up all standing. A few more and they would have been swept into the chasm.
"The shield of Faith." The shield was usually made of wood covered with bullocks' hides. The fiery darts spoken of were headed with lead, in or about which some combustible stuff was placed that caught fire in the passage of the arrow through the air. They were calculated to stick into the shields and set them on fire, but often also set fire to the enemy's ship, engines, and other equipment. Shields were usually covered with metal on the outside to prevent them from catching fire, but when these fiery darts stuck on the shield of other composition, the soldier was obliged to cast his shield away, thus becoming defenseless. Christian faith is our shield upon which the temptations of the Evil One, like the ancient arrows tipped with inflammable substances, alight harmlessly and lose their deadly point. Satan does annoy and makes us doubt above all, but faith protects against the attack.
The large oblong shields covered nearly the whole body of the wearer. The Spartan mother used to charge her son: "Take care that you return with your shield or upon it." The shield was large enough to be the bier of a dead man, or large enough to cover the body of a live man.
"The helmet of Salvation." This was the armor for the head. Helmets were made in various forms and embossed with great variety of figures. The crest or ridge of the helmet was always embossed with emblematic figures to strike terror - the winged lion, the griffin, the chimera. Paul refers to one that bore the emblem of hope - hope that that the person who wore it should be safe, prosperous in all his engagements, and ever escape safe from the battle.
The soldier's helmet pointed upward to the skies, a natural figure of the Christian hope directed toward a higher and better world. John Knox had a lifelong struggle for existence, rowing as a galley slave and wandering in exile. It was a sore fight, but he won. "Have you hope?" he was asked, as he lay dying. He could no longer speak, but he lifted his finger and pointed upward, and so he died.
"The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." This is the only weapon given to the Christen soldier in the way of offensive armor, and we must learn how to use it. It is not to be hung up and admired because of the delicate tracing of the scabbard, the jewels on the state occasions. This armor is of no avail if not used. Without God's mighty power, man can do nothing. Unless man put on the whole armor of God, God will do nothing.
With this sword at our side, we win safety and victory in the day of battle. On the battlefields of conscience, the sword of the Spirit pierces. It is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, and as such is the power of God to save everyone that believes. Common weapons smite the body only, but this pierces even to the inmost soul.
Edward VI had a high esteem for the Scriptures. At his coronation, when the swords were delivered to him as King of England, France and Ireland, he said: "There is yet another sword to be delivered to me." Perplexed, the lords looked wonderingly at each other. "I mean the sacred Bible," replied the King, "which is the sword of the Spirit and without which we are nothing, neither can we do anything."
Thus girded, thus clad, thus shod, thus guarded, thus covered, thus armed, the Christian may well meet his foes bravely and without fear.
Inspiration of a True Leader
The personal magnetism of a good general over his soldiers has been demonstrated over and over again in this present conflict. A good leader makes good soldiers. He infuses his own spirit into them and leads them on to victory. A true Christian warrior possesses that loyal devotion to Christ that comes from love of Him. Put yourself into His hands; He will make you a good soldier.
The common soldier knows little or nothing of the plan of battle, of why he is left in such a place or led into such a position. But the general knows, and the soldier must have full confidence in the one who is directing movements.
When Alexander the Great was leading his army over some mountains, they found the path blocked with ice and snow. The soldiers were tired out with marching, and so disheartened with difficulties before them that they halted and preferred to lie down and die rather than to go on.
When he saw that, Alexander did not scold or storm at them. Instead, the great general dismounted from his horse, laid aside his cloak, took up a pickax and began quietly to dig up the ice. The officers followed suit, and soon the men, forgetting how tired and weary they were, went to work with a will. And so they got through the ice and snow. Good soldiers will follow the lead of their general. The very name of our Leader, Jesus Christ, should inspire hope, faith, and courage. Be willing to say as Napoleon's soldiers boasted: "We may die, but we will never yield!"
At a critical moment in the Battle of Waterloo, when everything depended on steadiness of the soldiery, courier after courier kept dashing into the presence of the Duke of Wellington, saying that unless the troops at an important point were immediately relieved or withdrawn, they must yield before the impetuous onset of the French. By all couriers Wellington sent back the same spirit-stirring message: "Stand firm!"
"But we shall perish!" remonstrated an officer.
"Stand firm," answered Wellington.
"You'll find us there!" gallantly replied the other, as he fiercely galloped away.
Every man of that doomed brigade fell, fighting bravely at his post. But the victory was won! "Having done all that, to stand."
"Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ."