“Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle, See, His banners go.”
So we sing, but not too often do we mean it. The next stanza begins with the words, “Like a mighty army, Moves the Church of God: Brothers we are treading Where the saints have trod.” There was a time when the Church of God did consider itself an army. Today there is a universal tendency to deny that fact. And it is not because of the next sentence in that hymn, “We are not divided, All one body we, One in hope and doctrine, One in charity.” There is a strong and universal movement to be one in doctrine at the expense of the truth, with loathing to fight for the truth and to foster a love or charity that does not love the truth but the flesh of men.
What is so easily overlooked and even denied today is that the Church here on earth is still the Church Militant. Onward Christian Soldiers expresses that fact, and it is one of the more often sung hymns at that. But that militant calling and position of the Church today, we do so readily deny. O, we do not wish to deny that the Church here on earth is already the Church Triumphant! She most assuredly is. Paul declares that we are more than conquerors in Romans 8:37. Does he not in that same connection declare that all things work—work right now—together for our good? Does he not close this song of triumph with the comforting truth that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ? We have that love. Nothing is able to separate us from it. We are the Church Triumphant now. In that same vein, John says in I John 5:4 that faith is, not realizes, but is the victory. And that faith we now have; therefore that victory we now have. To be sure, there is a richer manifestation and enjoyment of that victory. But the victory is ours already in this life. We are the Church Triumphant. But although it can be said of the Church in this world that she is already triumphant, although it is true that in this life she is both the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, it is only in this life that she is the Church Militant. In the new Jerusalem we shall never sing, “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war . . .” The war will be over.
But now today we are still in the struggle. That struggle began the very day that man fell into sin and a kingdom of darkness was organized. The whole human race in Adam decided to set up, as suggested by Satan, a kingdom that would be opposed to the living God and His kingdom of light. Man decided not to live under God and be His willing subject, His friend-servant, but instead to stand next to Him and in opposition to Him, to decide for himself what is good and what is evil. And that very thought and desire was evil, for by it he already set himself up in opposition to the God who made him, and whom he was obliged to serve. We still would have no struggle, however, if that were all. But God comes with His regenerating grace and implants in the hearts of His people a new life, the life of His kingdom in Christ; and therefore He declares to Satan that there will be a struggle and enmity between seed and seed, a battle through all the ages, a spiritual warfare that does not cease until God sends His Son at the end of time to bring it to an end. It is a struggle in which the Church suffers persecution, and the Son of God in flesh, which He receives from the seed of the woman, is brutally and with a hypocritical cry of piety nailed to the tree of the cross. Not on the feast days. No appearance in the judgment seat itself, lest they sin against God! What folly! What hypocrisy! And yet the seed of the serpent is seeking to kill The Seed of the woman!
Because of this Christ all the Christians became a mighty army, marching, not as to war, but unto war. It is war. Jesus says, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:34-37.
Because we are God’s prophets and know Him in the revelation that He gave of Himself we find ourselves in this struggle. If we did not believe the truth, the seed of the serpent would look very pleasing and friendly to us. We could give our sons and our daughters to their sons and daughters. We could live in peace and work together for some common goal. But we are, and our covenant seed are, the prophets of God. And the lie fills us with righteous wrath and drives us away from the ungodly. We find it necessary to oppose the world in that lie. Notice that in this passage of Matthew 10 Jesus had prefaced the words which we quoted above with the statement, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” As prophets of the living God, we surely will not deny Him. Instead we confess Him and oppose the lie which the world propagates. Doing so we will soon find ourselves on the battlefield, “Marching unto war, like a mighty army.”
And because we are His priests who are dedicated unto Him in love, because we are presenting our bodies a living sacrifice, we will find that we have to fight the lie, the world, the devil and his host, the antichrist and his followers and our own sinful flesh. Being dedicated unto God we cannot possibly give ourselves over to sin. Being dedicated to Him we give ourselves and all that which we have to the glory of His name. And since sin always denies Him this glory, and we live in a sinful world, we find that there is always this warfare that we must wage. We will find it as soon as we wake up in the morning. Every step of our earthly way we will meet the enemy. And the enemy will recognize us also as its enemy. Truly the Church is a mighty army always marching unto war from paradise to the parousia.
But it is also because we are kings of the most high God that we find ourselves in this relentless struggle. In fact it is as kings that we fight and wherein we have our calling to fight. We pointed out before that the Heidelberg Catechism says of Christ, as far as His kingly phase of His threefold office is concerned, that He “governs us by His word and Spirit, and . . . defends and preserves us in (the enjoyment of) that salvation, He has purchased for us.” And in regard to our calling as kings, it likewise states, “and also that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life.” When, as Christian soldiers, marching unto war, we fight the good fight of faith, we are serving God as His kings. Because as prophets our minds are filled with the truth concerning Him and are controlled by that truth, and because as priests we are dedicated in love unto Him and desire to be pleasing in His sight in all that which we do, we will as kings fight this good fight of faith.
Then we do not love father and mother, brother and sister more than God, and we do not practice a false love, but we fight for the glory of this God Whom we love. Then we are not first concerned with hurting the brother’s feelings but with denying God His glory. Then we are not first concerned with making the Church a “mighty army” but with keeping the enemy out of our ranks for the truth’s sake and for the glory of God’s sake: A word of warning might be in order: Be careful what your attitude is toward the man who desires doctrinally to cross every t and dot every i, to oppose every threat against the truth of the Word of God. Before you join the army of the devil and call such narrow-minded, just sit down and ask yourself how narrow-minded God reveals Himself to be in His Word. He slew Uzzah who—we would say—meant so well when he sought to keep the ark from falling off the cart. He forbade Moses to enter Canaan, after forty years of taking the dirt and insult of the Israelites, because of one rash deed into which he fell after almost unbearable temptation and grief at the hands of the far more wicked Israelites. He is the God Who moved and guided men to write His Word so that it would be recorded exactly as it was written. He is the God who will say in the day of days, “Depart from me ye workers of iniquity” to many who will cry that they did this and that and so many other things in His name and for His glory. Matthew 7:21-23. Why is it that those who want to stress so strongly this love for man and for the brother are so, lacking in showing it to those who are so deeply concerned with the glory of God? These above all should be the object of our love. Why is it that men have such a passion for the souls of far-off heathen in strange lands and cannot speak respectfully of confessing brethren who want to be sure that in their doctrine they are pure, because they know that God is pure and can be glorified only by the truth? Why sneeringly call them Calvinists or even Hyper-Calvinists? Those whom they know to harbor false doctrines they can treat in the most friendly terms under the banner of a love we must show to all men. These heretical tendencies must be ignored to manifest the love of God to the brother. But the man who seeks in every possible way to avoid heresy must be avoided and be ridiculed, maligned and hated. It does not make sense. And it is not an act of onward Christian soldiers, marching to the war to which God has called them.
It is not living as God’s royal priesthood. It is not functioning in the kingly phase of the threefold office of every believer. And it does not serve a healthy and proper ecumenicity. A king who favors those who advocate harm to his own citizens is not doing his kingdom any good. A king must defend and preserve and not promote harm to his kingdom. And the Kingdom of God is not served by watering down doctrinal distinctions to find a common ground on which all can stand, but exactly by stating it more and more specifically as new problems and new denials arise. When we talk love, love, love to the brethren, let us be sure that we are not showing hatred to those who love God and desire to speak doctrinally as He speaks. If we are going to fight, and as His royal priesthood we must, let us not fight against God and His glory but rather for His glory.
Our calling as His kings is not to lie upon a bed of roses and rock away in our easy chair. Our calling is as soldiers to be on the battlefield, ever alert for the enemy in no, matter what form he comes. We are to look for the infiltrators as carefully in this battle as in any physical warfare. We are to have our passwords and identification signs. Let us beware lest we in our personal Ambitions for ecumenicity and bigness take into the Church fifth columnists and spies who now from within can attack our children, the covenant seed, with our sanction and so that we are helpless to get rid of them after they reveal their ambitions. If we love our children, and if we serve our kingly phase of our threefold office, we will fight the lie in every form and we will welcome the help of others to fight for the truth. We will not shun them, malign and ridicule them, but we will say with them, Onward Christian soldiers, marching to the war. In His fear let us seek the glory of the God whose royal priesthood we are!