“To Teach Them War” (4) Knowing War’s Origin: In God

Previous article in this series: October 1, 2014, p. 18.

By way of introduction in this series, we have, first, sounded the bugle-call to battle. Second, we have proved the necessity of viewing the Christian life as one of warfare. Third, we have defined the holy war in which we are engaged. We proceed now to our first main topic in treatment of the subject of Christian warfare, namely war’s origin.

A proper understanding of any subject demands an examination of its origin. In Heidelberg Catechism class, prior to studying Lord’s Day 1, we ask and answer concerning the writing of the Catechism, “Who? Where? When? Why?” That is, what is the origin of our Catechism? The answer to that question helps us understand the Catechism. In the same way, we want to know the origin of our holy war, and really, the origin of all war. There is and must be an explanation for war. History textbooks trace warfare back to the dawn of the small-scale raids of club-wielding, prehistoric, yet-evolving Neanderthals. We trace warfare back to God.

Romans 11:36 says of God, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.” God is the eternal Source, providential Governor, and transcendent Goal of all things. Warfare belongs to the all-comprehensive class of “all things” in Romans 11:36. Thus we may understand, “For of God is warfare.” Any understanding of the origin of warfare that leaves out the triune God is not only fundamentally impoverished but hopelessly flawed. Instead of beginning with a club, or a shot heard round the world, or man’s heart of hatred and envy, or nations, or angels, or the devil, or with the fall of Adam, we begin with God. The origin of war is in God.

The Eternal Godhead of the Three Persons: Peace not War

When we trace the origin of war back to God eternally, that is, when we begin with God as the eternal source of war, we do not mean that war or conflict began in God among the persons of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Accepting the truth that God exists eternally as a plurality of persons, it is philosophically conceivable to imagine conflict among the three persons. For, according to our own experience, any time there is a plurality of persons, there is the possibility (and often reality) of conflict. A husband and wife fight. A boyfriend and girlfriend fight. Brothers fight. Sisters fight. Neighbors fight. Best friends since kindergarten fight. Because Christ dwells within the members of the church there will be repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation (powerful cross!). Yet the truth remains, whenever there is a plurality of persons, even in the church, there is always the possibility of sinful actions, words, and expressed attitudes that generate strife. Thus, it is philosophically conceivable that there could have been conflict among the Persons of the Godhead.

Philosophically conceivable. Biblically inconceivable. For the man of faith, unthinkable. God is God! There cannot be war in the Godhead. The attributes and names of God we learn in the Essentials catechism class forbid any conception of warfare among the Persons of our triune God.

For example, God is one (Deut. 6:4)—three Persons perfectly and eternally united in one being. Even the hint of an adversarial spirit in any Person of the Godhead— Father, Son, or Holy Ghost—would deny God’s fundamental unity. God is love (I John 4:8)—the Father and Son, through the Spirit eternally contemplate one another with the greatest delight. God is Jehovah, the “I Am That I Am” (Ex. 3:13-15). “I Am That I Am” is, in English, a collection of five of the simplest words in human language, and yet a deeper expression of perfect unity there could not be. God is what He is. God is not what one person desires to be in opposition to the others. God is nothing other than what He is. Then consider that the Son of God incarnate takes the name Jesus (“Jehovah salvation”). Not only is Jesus the divine Son who is one with the Father in essence (John 10:30) but one with the Father in will, perfectly obedient even when He must lay down His life (Matt. 26:42, John 5:30). God’s attributes of oneness and love, and His name Jehovah are only three examples that clearly demonstrate that God is eternally, in Himself, a God of peace, not war. Therefore, when we trace the origin of war back to God, we do not mean that warfare arises out of the relationship of the three Persons of the Godhead.

Before we continue, pause. Contemplate. Say in worship, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” In our holy war may this contemplation be, today, the sword of the Spirit to slay the old man of pride and hatred in us. What a covenant life is the eternal life of our God! Three Persons. Yet, no jealousy, no fighting, no bickering, no deliberate avoiding and looking the other way, no evil glares, no dissimulation, no tension, but perfect, uninterrupted peace and communion. Bless Him! Adore Him! And God is willing to shew us His covenant and through Jesus draw us into that life? What grace! To Him be glory forever. Amen.

The Eternal Counsel of God: War Ordained

When we say that the origin of war can be found in God, we mean first of all, that God in His eternal counsel ordained all warfare. No war takes place apart from God’s decretive will. The very idea of war was ordained by God. Only faith in the decreeing God truly understands the origin of war.

As noted, Romans 11:36 teaches that “all things” are “of God.” Moreover, the Ephesian saints were “…predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11). God works all things, including warfare, after the counsel of His own will. In the counsel of His will God ordained Assyria to be the rod of His anger and to make war with idolatrous Israel. The blame for the sin of making war with Israel lies with the king of Assyria who in pride said, “By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am prudent…” (Is. 10:13). Justly, therefore, God “…will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks” (Is. 10:12). But the origin of Assyria’s war with Jerusalem is not to be traced merely to the stout heart of the Assyrian king but to the eternally decreeing God of absolute sovereignty who says, “O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation…” (Is. 10:5-6). Behind the king’s wicked heart is Jehovah’s good providence working His good decree (cf. Ex. 9:12-16; Prov. 21:1).

Our Holy God did not ordain warfare—warfare between His kingdom of light and Satan’s kingdom of darkness, warfare between the true church and the false church allied to the world, warfare between nations and men, warfare in our own flesh—because He wickedly revels in bloodshed, ruin, and death. Our Righteous God is not to blame for the sinfulness of war, as if He were the Author of the sin of war. God is pleased to reveal His glory, power, and grace in the establishment and perfection of a kingdom of peace and righteousness in Jesus Christ. And God is pleased to ordain enemies of His kingdom, and especially victory over them in warfare, for the realization of the fullness of the glory His kingdom in Christ. Warfare has a good purpose. “For of him, and through him, and to him are all things to whom be glory forever, Amen.” Warfare is “to God.” It is for His glory. Because He, our God for Jesus’ sake, ordains warfare, “we know that all things (including war) work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Warfare is for our saving good. The rod of Assyria chastened elect Israel.

What consolation for us!

When comes the full manifestation of the kingdom of Antichrist to make war against the Lamb and us, we will be soaked with the blood of the martyrs. Our consolation? The Lamb shall overcome (Rev. 17:14). And, our God ordained this war. “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled” (Rev. 17:17). The ruling of the state in denouncing our sermons, leading us to prison, and then to the execution block is the decretive will of God that He sovereignly works through the hearts of wicked men. For their condemnation—willful sinners. For His glory. For our good. To bring the fullness of Christ’s kingdom.

The nominal church not only rejects the Reformed creeds, but with vim and vigor does all she can to eradicate the distinctively Reformed faith of the creeds and wrest it from the church. Sober-minded young people of the church lovingly and valiantly cling to their doctrinal heritage, choosing rather to suffer reproach than to allow the false church to take their treasure. This is war. War hurts. But we know God ordained this war. For His glory. For our good. To bring the fullness of Christ’s kingdom.

Should a declaration of war be issued, and the country mobilize for conflict, the believers in the land take comfort in knowing their covenant God ordained this war. Even if the young men of the church are summoned to battle, and even if the battleground includes the town in which the church institute is situated so that the newly renovated church building and accompanying parsonage are reduced to smoldering heaps of rubble, it is good. Chance did not bring this. The will of men alone did not bring this. God did. Every war, from Assyria’s attack of Jerusalem to World War I and World War II, and all the wars and rumors of wars today, is ordained by God. For His glory. For our good. To bring the fullness of Christ’s kingdom.

God has ordained the very war that takes place between our flesh and spirit. God does not glorify us at regeneration. Every believer is engaged in a vicious war to overcome the flesh and its powerful propensity toward particular sins. Suppose the sin is jealousy. The young person struggles so often and so painfully to be content with the looks, gifts, and position God has given. It is so easy to go to school and be bitter in heart toward a classmate because she is “cuter” or he is smarter. The sanctified young person hates that sin of jealousy, but has a most difficult time crucifying and overcoming it, and groans deeply beginning to question, “Will I overcome?” If we are content with our bosom sins and not struggling to overcome them, then we may take no comfort in the counsel of God. But in the way of Spirit worked warfare, we may take comfort in knowing the very warfare of our regenerated heart is ordained by God. For His glory. For our good. To bring the fullness of Christ’s kingdom.

God ordained the awful warfare among families and brethren. If we are sinfully contributing to that war we may have no comfort in God’s sovereignty. If we are fighting for truth and righteousness we, may take comfort in God’s sovereignty. He ordained this war in the family, this division in the marriage, this hatred of my relatives for me, these tongues of my brothers saying, “let us slay him, and cast him into some pit.” He ordains and works this warfare—though meant by man for evil—for our good and the coming of the kingdom of Jesus (Gen. 50:20). What consolation is afforded the believer in tracing the origin of war to the eternal counsel of Jehovah our covenant God! What glory is His who worketh warfare after the counsel of His own will! What honor will be the Lamb’s in whom all things will be gathered together in one!

Next time, in our next lesson on the origin of war we will take another look at God.