On the contrary, always, from the very beginning of history, and throughout the ages, He and His cause are manifested in the midst of and over against the world that lieth in darkness. For from the beginning of the world even unto the end the Son of God gathers His church. That church is His body, as we have already shown from Holy Writ. In that church He lives. That church He redeems and makes worthy of eternal life, He delivers and sanctifies even unto perfection. To that church He gives His Word, that she might proclaim it. He calls her out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, in order that she may walk in the light. He draws her out of the alliance with the prince of this world by His efficacious grace and into the blessed covenant of God’s friendship. Yet, though calling her out of the world in the spiritual sense He nevertheless leaves His church in the world, that she may represent the cause of God’s covenant, the cause of the Son of God, as “sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” Phil. 2:15. And as thus Christ becomes manifest in the church, the head is represented in and by the body. And the latter is called by sovereign grace to stand for the cause of the Son of God in the midst of the world of darkness. The Word of Christ is realized in her: “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 his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” That is the battle of the church.
This battle is, on the part of the church, a purely spiritual battle. It is by no means superfluous to remind ourselves of this fact. It cannot be compared with the wars and battles of this world. Even as it cannot be explained from worldly and historical causes, so it does not aim at natural or earthly ends. It does not aim at world power or world conquest. The battle is not fought for aggrandizement or human glory. The courage of its heroes is not physical, but is always spiritual. Nor does its victory depend at all upon the numerical strength of the armies or upon its mighty equipment. This battle can, strictly speaking, not even be fought with material means and physical weapons. Its mightiest warrior, the Captain of our salvation, had no place where to lay His head. He refused in the darkest hour of the battle the help of heavenly hosts, and forbade the use of the sword. He died on the accursed tree. There He fought the fiercest battle. And, paradoxical though it may seem from the viewpoint of the warfare of this world, His death was His victory. The battle of the church, therefore, is not physical, but purely spiritual. It has a spiritual cause, the conflict between light and darkness. It has a spiritual purpose and aim, the glory of God and the cause of the Son of God. It is fought by spiritual power and with spiritual weapons: the power of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. For the battle of the church is the Lord’s, never mans.
Superficially considered, it might seem as if during the old dispensation, especially when the church assumed the form of Israel’s national existence, this was different, and as if the battle of Jehovah could indeed be fought with material weapons and with physical power. For Israel had its battle hosts, and fought physical battles against physical enemies with sword and spear, with bow and arrow; and there was much bloodshed connected with the battles of Jehovah. Yet it is a mistake to think that in the old dispensation the battle was essentially physical, and fought by material means. For even though, due to the fact that the line of demarcation between the people of God and the world was national in the old dispensation, the battle of the church in those days assumed a physical aspect, yet it was nevertheless essentially intensely spiritual. Israel was the church. Its kingdom was the kingdom of God. The king on Mt. Zion was a type and representative of Christ. Jerusalem was the city of God. The land of Canaan was typical of the heavenly country. And the underlying motive of all the hatred of the nations against Israel, of all the battles it fought, of all the sufferings it endured, was the cause of the Son of God. And therefore, it is noteworthy that although Israel indeed had its battle hosts and fought with sword and spear, on these the outcome of the battle never hinged. In as far as Israel fought Jehovah’s battle, the Son of God, the true captain of Israel’s hosts, gave them the victory. And if they departed from their God, trusted in chariots and horses, and fought their own battles, they were surely defeated and destroyed. One could chase a thousand, and two could put ten thousand to light. Without the strength of arms Jehovah delivered them out of the land of Egypt. And while without faith they could not enter into the land of Canaan, by faith they finally entered; and the Lord literally gave them the land, causing the walls of Jericho to collapse, raining destruction upon the enemies, and stopping the sun in the heavens and the moon in its course. With three hundred men Gideon gained the victory over the host of the Midianites. And with a sling-stone a mere shepherd killed the mighty warrior of the Philistines. But when Israel forsook Jehovah and walked after the abominations of the heathen it was the same God that otherwise gave them the victory who now delivered them over into the hands of the enemy. For also Israel’s war the battle of Jehovah. They represented the cause of the Son of God.
In the new dispensation, however, the battle of the church does no longer assume a physical aspect whatsoever. It is purely spiritual. For no longer is the church a nation in the midst of other nations. It is the gathering of those that are called out of every nation. No longer is the cause of the Son of God represented by mighty battle hosts or valiant warriors. Nor can its battle be fought with sword and spear, with bomb and shell, nor by the strength of unions or associations, by strikes and boycotts. The battle of the church is a battle between light and darkness, of righteousness and unrighteousness, of Christ and Belial. It is the battle between the cause of the Son of God and the cause of the dragon. In this battle we certainly must be strong, but we must be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. We must not attempt even to be strong in our own strength. For fact is that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spiritual wickednesses in high places. Ephesians 6:10. This spiritual battle must be fought in the world, and in every department of the life of the world. But it must also be fought in the church itself. For always the powers of darkness intrude into the church. For the rest, it must be fought, as we have already said, in every department of life: in the family, in society, in the school, in labor and industry, in business and commerce, in the state. Always and everywhere the holy catholic church must live from the principle of the rebirth and according to the Word of God. Hence, the believer must put on the whole armor of God, the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the sandals of the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Cf. Ephesians 6:10-17. The only strength of this battle host is the strength of faith. For the battle is the Lord’s; and by the power of faith we are united with Him.
In this battle the church certainly has the complete victory. We usually make a distinction between the church militant and the church triumphant. This distinction, however, is not quite correct. It is true, of course, that the church in the world is militant. But even so, it is also triumphant: not in the sense that the church shall gain the world for Christ, for that is absolutely impossible. In the world the church shall have tribulation. They must expect that, measured by the criterion of outward success, they shall suffer defeat. For almost throughout the history of .the world the church has but little strength and is composed of small numbers. The world-power is usually in the hands of the opposition. And because of this, the church shall have to suffer reproach and shame for Christ’s sake. In fact, the time is coming, and is perhaps not far distant, when they shall be outcasts and shall not be able to buy or sell, unless they consent to receive the mark of the beast. Even so, however, the church shall have the victory. For faith is the victory that overcometh the world. In their spiritual warfare they are of the party of the living God, the Potentate of potentates. The Son of God is the Captain of the hosts, who has overcome the world, and in whose strength we also always overcome the world. For all the universe—the heavenly hosts, the stars in their courses, and the groaning creation—fight on the side of the holy catholic church in her battle for the cause of the Son of God. For the Captain of our salvation is exalted at the right hand of God, and is clothed with all power in heaven and on earth. All things work together for good to them that love God.
Nevertheless, we can make the distinction between the church militant and the church triumphant, even though in a sense the church in the world is also victorious. The victory of the whole church is already attained in principle. It is a certain victory, and it can never fail. Though nations rage, and though the people imagine in vain thing, and though the kings of the earth set themselves and rise up against God’s Anointed, yea, though all hell break loose, and all the spiritual wickedness in high places furiously attack the church, He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. The decree concerning His Son shall stand forever. And therefore, the entire church, in heaven as well as on earth, and in earth as well as in heaven, has the sure victory. For the Son of God came in the fullness of time; and He fought the battle of the Lord alone and to the very end. He overcame the powers of darkness. He battled against the prince of the world until the devil was cast out. He waged His battle against the dominion of sin in the way of God’s righteousness. For He Himself assumed the guilt and responsibility for the sin of His own, and bore the wrath of God even unto the death of the cross. He atoned and satisfied the demands of God’s justice. He removed the guilt of sin and obtained for the church everlasting righteousness and life. And thus He deprived sin of its power, and forever broke the yoke of her dominion. And God raised Him from the dead, thereby condemning the world and justifying the cause of the Son of God. God exalted Him into the highest heavens at His own right hand, and gave Him all power in heaven and on earth. He has a name above all names. He has dominion over all. By His grace and Spirit our victorious Lord rules in and over the church. And by His mighty power the Lord of lords is over the world, so that even the powers of darkness are made subservient unto His purpose in spite of themselves. Christ has the victory. Christ has overcome the world. From His throne on Mt. Zion in heaven He reigns over all things, powers and principalities being made subject unto Him. And the church, both in heaven and earth, has her victory in Christ; by faith.
Faith is the victory that overcometh the world. Of course, the church is still in the world. And the enemy attacks and persecutes her. The church is still lying in the midst of death and of the suffering of this present time. But in the battle she is invincible. And while fighting the good fight of faith, she is triumphant in the midst of the battle. As long as she is strong in the Lord, as long as she fights the spiritual battle of faith with the spiritual sword, that is, the Word of God, no power of darkness can possibly overwhelm her, even for a moment. She does not fight against a world that must still be overcome; but she is fighting against a defeated enemy. Outwardly the church may suffer; and outwardly she may even appear to suffer defeat. She may even be deprived of all earthly means. She may suffer loss of liberty and life. She may become an outcast in the world, as will be the case in the latter days. As long as she stands in the righteousness of Christ and has the testimony of the Word of God, she has the victory also in the world. Triumphant she is, and triumphantly she shouts in the midst of the battle: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter, Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” It is the victorious Lord that dwells in the church and that therefore fights in and through the church. Fighting, therefore, she has the victory. Battling, she is triumphant. And in hope she looks forward to the final revelation of her Lord and His victory in the day of His coming.
Nevertheless, it must be said that the church in heaven is victorious in a special sense of the word. Already she is delivered from the battle and from all suffering and death, from the sufferings of this present time. And therefore, the church dwells in glory. Even though it is difficult for us to form any conception of the glory of the church in heaven in the intermediate state, before the final coming of the Lord and before the resurrection, yet we may, on the basis of Scripture, make a few remarks about the triumphant church that is in heaven. First of all, there is the fact itself, that those of the saints that have gone before enjoy a state of conscious glory and bliss. They are in paradise, according to the Word of the Lord in the second cross-word. They are in the house of many mansions, in the house of God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Secondly, we must also say that they are delivered from the suffering of this present time, from the battlefield of this world, In that sense they enjoy the victory with Christ more than the church on earth. They are free from sin, and are clothed with perfect righteousness. They are free from suffering and sorrow, and have entered into heavenly bliss. They are free from death: they can die nevermore. And they have received the crown of life. They care with Christ, and they serve God in His holy temple day and night. However, the glory and victory of the church in heaven are not yet complete. For, first of all, the church is not perfect until the last of the elect shall have been redeemed and glorified. The body of Christ must be made full. Also the church in heaven has a history. There was a time when it was but very few in numbers. But all through the ages of this present time its numbers were multiplied, and its blessedness enhanced. The fullness of time, and especially the entrance of Christ into heaven, must have wrought a tremendous change in the glorified throng of believers in heaven. It was at that moment that the accuser of the brethren was cast out and that the great voice was heard in heaven, “Now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ; for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before God day and night.” Rev. 12:10. Yet, even now the victory of the church in glory is not complete. Their bodies still sleep in the dust of the earth. Their brethren in the world still suffer and are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Their final and public justification before all the world has not yet taken place. And they still cry out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that are on the earth?” Rev. 6:10. And the final salvation has not yet been revealed to them. They are indeed in glory, but the final victory they have not yet attained. Without us they shall not be saved. With the church on earth they long for the redemption of their bodies and the final revelation of the glory of Christ.
In a sense, we may say that that day is always near. The Word of God very frequently speaks of that day as the day of the Lord. We must remember that the perfection of the church is not reached in the way of gradual development. That is not the language of Scripture. The final triumph of the cause of the Son of God shall be attained and revealed in and by the final wonder of grace, the personal revelation of our glorious Lord. In that day all His and our enemies: shall be consumed by the breath of His mouth, and be brought to nought by the very glory of His appearance. Then the last enemy, that is, death, shall be swallowed up; and the whole church shall be raised incorruptible. And. through Christ our Lord, God shall judge the world in righteousness. In that day it shall be made manifest before all the world, before the angels in heaven, but also before the host of spiritual wickedness in high places, and before all that hated the church and her Lord in this world, that the cause of the Son of God is the cause of God. He alone and He always did have the victory, in spite of all appearances to the contrary. Then the church, the whole church, shall reign with Christ forever over all the work of God’s hands.