Thursday, November 18, 2010

Christians in The Army?

Dear Sir,

I have often wondered how a gracious person can live in the army, and, along with wicked soldiers, enter into severe engagements with the enemy.

Is he not a murderer according to Galatians 5:21?

Does he not deliberately act contrary to the Saviour's instructions as recorded in Matthew 5:44?

Is it right or scriptural for a gracious person to take up arms at all against his fellow creatures?

A gracious soldier, in time of war and in engagements with the enemy, must be in a very deplorable situation. An answer will oblige Yours,



Answer by J.C. Philpot

Beyond all question, war, viewed in itself, is inconsistent with the gospel of peace and righteousness, and there is necessarily in the very profession of a soldier that which must shock every truly Christian heart.

So far we are fully agreed with our correspondent; but he seems to have confused two things, which we cannot but consider very different.

It surely is one thing, being a Christian, to go into the army, and another, being a Christian, to continue in the army.

We can hardly think that any man possessed of a tender conscience and the life of God in his soul would deliberately enlist as a private soldier, or purchase a commission as an officer.

But take the first case, with which we seem- more immediately concerned, that of a soldier in the ranks. A wild, reckless youth, in a moment of excitement, perhaps half drunk, or driven to it by poverty and destitution, enlists into a marching regiment.

After he has been some time in the ranks, the Lord is pleased to quicken his soul into spiritual life; and to doubt this is ever the case is to doubt the sovereignty of grace, and to deny positive facts.

Besides the burden of a guilty conscience, our poor unhappy youth has now to endure all the misery and wretchedness, the filth and wickedness, and probably the persecution of a barrack life, which has been called by those who know it, "A hell upon earth."

But what is the poor man to do?

He is like a mouse in a trap; he is in, but how is he to get out?

There are but two ways out; one he must not take, and the other he most probably cannot. These two ways are desertion or discharge. Surely J. H. would not recommend the former—at best a most terrible and perilous experiment, and subjecting a man to the disgrace and punishment of a felon.

This way, then, being thoroughly blocked out, can he avail himself of the second?

His discharge will cost him at least £40; and if he be a thoroughly good soldier, the probability is that the colonel will not part with him at any price. It is calculated that every soldier landed in India is worth to Government £100, and has probably cost twice that sum.

How will the commanding officer let that man purchase his discharge for £40?

But suppose the colonel were willing to let him go, can he always or often raise the
sum required for his discharge?

Then what alternative has he but to stay in his regiment?

Now, suppose the regiment is ordered off to India, and suppose it is sent on to Delhi or Lucknow, and suppose, as is most probable, it has to go into action against the sepoys, what is our Christian soldier to do?

Is he to refuse to march in the ranks, or not fire his Enfield rifle when the word is given to fire, or lie down on the ground when his fellow soldiers are rushing on to the charge?

It is fearful to think that he has to shed blood, but he has no alternative; and apart from his general duty as a soldier, if his comrade is about to be cut down by a sepoy, is he not to protect him, though in doing so he take the life of the enemy?

But examine the matter upon scriptural grounds.

Have we no instances of godly soldiers in the New Testament?

What was the centurion, (Matthew 8) of whom the Lord himself testified that He "had not found so great faith, no, not in Israel," but a soldier, or
rather what we should call a captain, in the Roman army, then occupying Judaea, as our troops are stationed in India?

And that this centurion was a saved man is evident from what the Lord added:

"And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."

He had come from the west to sit first at the Redeemer's feet, and will sit down hereafter to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

And who was the first Gentile to whose house salvation came after the Lord had risen from the dead but Cornelius, "a centurion of the band called the Italian band?" — just as we might say, however odd it may sound to the ear, " A Captain in the Scotch Greys," or "A Lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards."

On this Roman captain, whom J. H. would almost call "a murderer," and if so he could not have "eternal life abiding in him," (1 John 3:15,) the Holy Ghost fell, and he was baptized in the name of the Lord, being the first Gentile Baptist.

It appears also that he was not alone in the Italian band, for "a devout soldier waited on him continually," being what we should now call "the orderly" of this gracious, God-fearing captain.

Now, suppose that this godly captain had lived for about thirty years after his baptism, which might easily have been the case, it would have found him in the very heat of that tremendous war which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army under Titus; and suppose he was at - the siege of that city, as Baker might have been at the siege of Delhi; now, if there had been what is called a "sortie," that is, a rush from the city of the besieged Jews, and our godly captain had been at the head of his troop, must he have fought or fled?

And if the devout soldier who waited on him, his "orderly," had been at his side, and seen a Jewish desperado aiming a blow at his captain's head, might he save his life, even though he had to kill the Jewish soldier?

And would, in this case, this devout soldier have been "a murderer," and so been cut off from eternal life?"

Nor do we want modern instances. Colonel Gardner, a man favored with one of the most remarkable experiences on record, continued in the army after his call by grace, and, in fact, died with his sword in his hand, for he was cut down at the battle of Preston Pans by the scythe of a Highlander, when fighting bravely in defence of his king, his country, and, we may add, his religion; for Pope and Pretender had conspired to rob England both of liberty and religion.

Was Colonel Gardener "a murderer," and is he now in hell?

If so, he was awfully deceived; for, if we remember right, he had a most blessed visit from his dear Lord a night or two before the battle, and a sweet assurance from his own lips that he should shortly be with him.

Though we have thus written, let it not be supposed that we are vindicating war, or justifying a godly man for going into the army.

We are merely taking up the question, whether it be possible for a man to be in such a position, and yet be a partaker of grace.

At the present moment, the question assumes to us a greater degree of interest, as, from the letter which we inserted in the October No., from a soldier in India, and another to be found in our present pages, we have every reason to believe there are a few who fear God in our Indian army.


Did Christ o'er sinners weep?
And shall our cheeks be dry?
Let floods of penitential grief
Burst forth from every eye.

The Son of God in tears
The angels wondering see;
Hast thou no wonder, O my soul?
He shed those tears for thee!

He wept that we might weep,
Might weep our sin and shame;
He wept to show his love for us,
And bid us love the same.

Then tender be our hearts,
Our eyes in sorrow dim,
Till every tear from every eye
Is wiped away by him.


Are trials and afflictions necessarily chastisements for sin; in other words, are they always visitations for some particular disobedience?

Heavenly wisdom, holy caution, and spiritual experience, we feel, are deeply needed to handle these two subjects scripturally and experimentally, so as to clear God in all his dealings, not to darken counsel by words without knowledge, or advance anything inconsistent with the truth of God as revealed in the scripture, or made
known in the hearts of his people. We, therefore, crave the kind consideration of our readers if we fall short of handling them to their full satisfaction, as they are by no means so clear as most points of doctrine or experience.

1. The first point is, "How far trials and afflictions are necessarily chastisements for sin; in other words, whether they are always visitations for some particular disobedience?"

To clear up this point we offer the following considerations:

1. Would there be any trials and afflictions if there were no sin?

Were there any, could there have been any, in Paradise, in man's primitive, unfallen state?

Certainly not.

Then trials and afflictions imply sin, and the continuance of afflictions implies the continuance of sin.

Apply this general truth to particular cases.

1. Here is a child of God afflicted in mind, or body, or family, or circumstances, under the hidings of God's face, assaulted and buffeted by Satan, in heavy bondage, much cast down and distressed in his soul, or tried in any of those various ways which make up tribulation's rough and thorny path.

Now, in most cases, he will not have far to look for the cause of this rod; for in very many instances, the affliction will either so follow upon the heels of the sin, or be so specially marked by circumstances for it, that there will be almost as if there were a voice in the trial declaring what it is sent for.

In this case, therefore, the matter is plain enough that the rod is for some slip, or fall, or departure from the right ways of the Lord.

There is no difficulty here. If the rod be not heard, it is not because the rod has no voice, but because the conscience has as yet no ear.

2. But let us assume that there has been no slip, no foolish action, inconsistent conduct, unbecoming words, hastiness of temper, strife or contention, no unkindness to a brother or sister in the Lord, no indulgence in pride, worldliness, and covetousness, no secret rebellion, fretfulness, or unthankfulness; assume there has been a freedom from these things, (and how many are free or for any length of
time?) may not afflictions yet come as a rod for sins that lie deeper still?

How often, where there has been no open breach made in conscience by the guilt of the above evils, there has been perhaps for weeks or months a coldness and deadness, a lukewarmness and barrenness in the things of God, a backsliding in heart and affection, a worldliness and carelessness, an ease and a self-indulgence, which for a time conscience may not loudly testify against, but which are all very contrary to the life and spirit of vital godliness.

A man may keep up all the form of private prayer, reading the scriptures with diligence and attention, attending the preached word at every available opportunity, and even at times have a few softenings and meltings, some transient feelings of sorrow and compunction for his comness and deadness, and yet be for the most part in a very barren and unhealthy state of soul.

Now, to chastise us for this backsliding in heart, as well as to bring us out of it, the Lord often sends some trial and affliction. Why it comes we may not see at first, and that it is sent as a scourge for our carnality and carelessness; but after a time, as the medicine works and the rod produces the peaceable fruits of righteousness, we are brought, as it were, to our senses by it; and, as the blessed Spirit works more sensibly and powerfully in and by it, we are led to see and feel more clearly and deeply into what a cold, carnal, lifeless, miserable spot we had got.

This feeling softening the heart brings forth confession, humiliation, penitence, and self-reproach; and when any sense of the Lord's mercy is manifested, godly sorrow, self loathing, earnestness, looking upon Him whom we have pierced, and, through all these working together to one aim and end, the blessed Spirit brings about a revival of faith, hope, and love, and a deliverance from the barrenness and death before experienced. In this case also we see that afflictions and trials bespeak the rod for sin, as well as instrumentally bring out of it.

3. But assume a third case, that the soul has been earnest, careful, and diligent, perhaps more favored with watchfulness and tenderness than usual, more spiritual, prayerful, and humble, and still affliction comes, and trials press more heavily than ever.

Can this be a rod now when there seems to be no cause for it?

But do we see things as God sees them?

Because matters are so far right and straight, may there still not be much underneath, much still lurking unseen?

The silver has to be "purified seven times" in the fire. (Psalm 12:
6.) The first or second time is not enough, no, nor the third, fourth, fifth, or sixth, to separate the dross and tin, so deeply are they hid, so intimately mixed with the pure ore. There may be much spiritual pride and self righteousness in the best of men, the most eminent for a godly life and conversation; nay, not only may there be, but there is sure to be, unless they have been in hot furnaces.

Do we want an instance?

Look at the case of Job. The Lord's own testimony of him was that there was not such another upon earth as a man who feared God and avoided evil.

Why then had Job such heavy afflictions?

Was not he watchful and prayerful, godly and upright, and all that we have assumed, the Christian to be whose case we are now describing?

But because Job was all this and more, who does not see that there was that secret spiritual pride lurking and working within, hidden indeed from Job himself, but seen by that all-seeing eye which reads all the thoughts and intents of the heart?

In this eminent saint and servant of God there was a fund of self righteousness hidden in the depths of his heart which called for the rod.

And yet there is evidently another side to the question. It would seem hardly scriptural to say that all trials and afflictions are chastisements for sin. Look at the afflictions of Jacob and the afflictions of Joseph. The former were plainly rods for transgression, but we could not say so of the latter. It was not a self righteous speech of Joseph when he said, "I have done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon."

Compare again the afflictions of David when persecuted by Saul, and his afflictions when driven from Jerusalem by Absalom. The latter were chastisements, but it would be hard to say the same of the former. Compare again the afflictions of Jonah with those of Heman (Psalm 138); or the trials of Jeremiah with those of Daniel. In Jonah and Jeremiah we can see that their backs called for strokes; but it is not so plain in the sorrows of Heman and the casting of Daniel into the den of lions.

When we come to the gospel dispensation we see this more plainly still. There is a suffering under the gospel "for Christ's sake," (Philippians 1:29); a "filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ" (Colossians 1:24); a having "fellowship with him in his sufferings,"
(Philippians 3:10); "a rejoicing in being counted worthy to suffer shame for his name," (Acts 5:41); a "glorying in tribulation," (Romans 5:3); a being afflicted for the consolation and salvation of our brethren. (2 Corinthians 1:6.)

When we read the long catalogue of the trials and afflictions of Paul (2 Corinthians 6:4-10, 11:23-29), and that the sufferings of Christ abounded in him (2 Corinthians 1:5); when we hear him say, "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong," we cannot surely call these afflictions chastisements in the strict sense of the word.

When again the Lord told the two sons of Zebedee that they "should drink of his cup and be baptized with his baptism," (Matthew 20:23); when he said to Ananias of Paul, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake," (Acts 9:16); when "the Holy Ghost witnessed in every city to the same servant of God that bonds and afflictions abode him," (Acts 20:23); when we read of "receiving the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost," (1 Thessalonians 1:6); when Paul bids Timothy "be a partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God" (2 Timothy 1:8); and when we read of the saints before the throne who "came out of great tribulation" (Revelation 7:14); it certainly would seem very harsh, legal, and foreign to the spirit of the gospel, to say that all these afflictions and sufferings were rods for sin.

We seem, therefore, brought to this conclusion that though many, perhaps the great majority, of our afflictions are chastening rods, yet that all are not so, and that, distinct from the chastisement which they procure for themselves, there is a path of tribulation and sorrow appointed for the children of God whereby they become conformed to the suffering image of Jesus, drink of his cup, partake of his baptism, and suffer with him here that they may be glorified with him hereafter.

II. The other question need not occupy us so long. Grace effectually excludes merit. Whatever in us is good, and as such well pleasing and acceptable to God, is his own work in our hearts, for he "worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure."

Nor indeed, though there is a connection between our disobedience and the Lord's frown, for if we walk contrary to him he will walk contrary to us, and so also between our obedience and his smile, yet we must beware lest in avoiding Antinomianism we run headlong into Arminianism.

In all his dealings and ways he is a sovereign.

He will sometimes smile into obedience, break down the heart with love, come over all the mountains and hills of sin and shame, and by a sense of his goodness and mercy lead to repentance. Nor must we, on the other hand, think that our obedience will necessarily draw down his smile. At the best, it is but poor and imperfect, mingled with sin and infirmity, and he may have to teach us more clearly and impress it more deeply on our hearts, that all our fresh springs are in him, and that there is no hope or help for us but in the blood and obedience of the Son of his love.

By J.C. Philpot