THERE are some days everyone remembers. Everyone seems to know exactly where they were and what they were doing the day President Kennedy was assassinated or when ‘the Berlin wall came down. This observation has become almost trite. Another such day was a September Sunday morning. It was the 3rd day of the month and the year was 1939. This would have been almost like any other Sunday, except for the fact that two days previously Hitler had invaded Poland. He had done so without warning, using huge numbers of troops. This one act sent the British government into a flat spin. Whilst Prime Minister Chamberlain was still talking about negotiation, Germany was bombing Warsaw. After much dithering, an ultimatum demanding immediate withdrawal from Poland was sent to Berlin. The ultimatum expired at 9 am on this sunny Sunday morning and no response had been received. Many heard the news from the pulpit whilst sitting in Church; others heard it on the wireless. Great Britain was at war with Germany.
Poor Neville Chamberlain, he always gets such a bad press! Perhaps we ought not to be so hard on him. As Prime Minister he would have been more aware than anyone else as to precisely how ill prepared Britain was to fight a war. Just twenty years had elapsed since the devastation that was World War I. Yet, anger and aggressive words did not amount to guns. In the winter that followed the declaration of war no one would have thought Britain was a country at war. The period became known as the ‘phoney’ war. Life went on much as before. There were some differences. Rationing was introduced for food that was still reasonably plentiful. Children were evacuated from towns and cities to avoid bombs that never fell. Well-meaning patriotic volunteers for military service were taught to ride horses at Aldershot rather than to drive the tanks we did not possess.
Elsewhere there was no ‘phoney’ war. These were bitter days for the Poles, Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Finns, Danes and Norwegians, who successively suffered invasion, defeat, and humiliation at the hands of their foe. At sea the few German submarines there were at that time began to attack British shipping. With heads full of fantasy, mouths full of fine words, Great Britain had entered into a war for which she was ill-prepared and at the beginning hardly realised she was fighting. This came to a sudden end in May 1940 when Hitler invaded the Low Countries and then France. The ignominious defeat of Chamberlain in the House of Commons marked the end of this unreal war; events were now to become fearfully serious.
The first thing that strikes us about those days is of being deliberately involved in a war for which there had been no preparation, but for which the enemy had been planning and preparing for a long time. Second, there is the inconsistency between the reality of a war that was already causing misery and havoc elsewhere and the contrasting apparent normality of life in Britain itself. Third, the preparations and precautions that were being taken in Britain were largely inappropriate and incommensurate with the real danger with which the British people were confronted. They were left exposed and in great danger. Fourth, there came a time when the fact of war had to be faced. The heat of battle became too close for comfort and the ‘phoney’ war was over.
There are always wars going on somewhere in the world, but to concentrate our thoughts on these alone would be to lose sight of the all-embracing and much more horrendous underlying reality. The truth is that the whole world is at war, divided into two irreconcilable camps. Furthermore, we each and every one are all involved, no one is excused, there are no conscientious objectors. There is no neutral ground from where we can observe the progress of the struggle. There is no middle ground, no no-man’s land, where those unwilling to fight can flee for refuge, no secret underground bunkers safe from the conflict, no isolated island in the sun where we can remain forgotten. There is no country to which we can retire, where this fight to the death is not underway, there is no place anywhere on earth where peace reigns save in the hearts of those who love God and even here there are continual armed sallies by the enemy. There is not one spot on earth the rule over which is not disputed by these two opposing parties. This struggle covers every part of life and we are all affected by it whether we like it or not. The ravages of this war are more horrific by far than any fought between the nations. No machine-gun batteries, no bombs can inflict such damage. No napalm, no atomic bomb, bestows such devastation. Those who would seek to escape cannot do so, for though they would hide, close their eyes; although they may sleep through the noise, this terrible conflict will still descend about them bringing with it eternal calamity and torture that no earthly war has ever done. This life and death struggle can end only in the defeat and destruction of one side and victory and eternal glory for the other.
The Bible is full of militaristic terminology. The Christian’s sojourn in this world is portrayed as a warfare. Paul exhorts us to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). He tells us towards the end of his life that he has himself “fought a good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7). This is not, ofcourse, a fleshly, physical war. It is not the ‘holy war’ of false religions. Every false religion is compelled to use worldly force to gain its worldly ends. The Lord Jesus said,
“My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.” (John 18:36)
We are involved in a quite different struggle than a purely physical one, yet one that is just as real but far more horrifying in both its unfolding and its end. Paul writes to the Ephesians,
“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.” (Ephesians 6:12)
We all know these verses, but to most Christians it is a ‘phoney’ war. They are ill prepared for it, so the enemy has the advantage. Many more do not even realise what is going on, they live as though no war were raging, preferring instead to live at ease in Zion. Where there is some consciousness of the conflict, the kind of preparations being made, the wrong battles being fought. The activities being pursued are generally inappropriate, a total waste of time. Often they belong rather to an amusement than a theatre of bitter war. We fiddle while hell burns. Many are learning irrelevant skills and are failing to “put on the whole armour of God”. So many professing to follow Christ are prayerless and ignorant of the Word of God. They do not know how to use the Bible because they neglect it. Give a sharp and heavy sword to a toddler and he is more likely to slice up his own limbs than to inflict any real damage on an opponent. Worse are those treacherous church leaders who perpetually try to sue for peace, to negotiate with the world, the flesh, and the Devil. They do the enemy’s work for him. They wave aloft their scraps of paper, “peace in our time”, the disastrous reward of parleying with the foe in the vain hope of avoiding conflict, cost what it will — and cost it most certainly will! They are false prophets who say, “Conflict, what conflict? There is nothing wrong, everything is OK!” They cry, “Peace, Peace; when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14: 8:11). The people are unprepared and exposed to danger. One day the heat of battle will reach us, one day we shall be shaken out of our lethargy.
We are all on one side or the other; each one of us is a subject of the one kingdom or of the other. It is no phoney war, no game, and we must know whose side we are on. The first of these kingdoms is the kingdom of God under the rule of Christ, the Light of the world; the second is the kingdom of Satan under the tyranny of Satan, prince of darkness. It was Satan who persuaded our first parents to enter into an alliance with him against God. This thick dividing line runs through churches, it runs through families. Every person with whom we have to do, in whatever walk of life we meet them, is either under the rule of Christ or under the rule of Satan. Christ divides. There is no ground between. The Lord Jesus said, and we know these words:
“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.” (Matthew 10:34-36)
A father, a mother, a son or a daughter — are they outside Christ? They are in the enemy’s camp and are in desperate need of rescue. Natural affection is proper and healthy, but it must not blind us to this painful reality. Indeed, it ought to urge us to yet more fervent prayer. All outside Christ make common cause with the enemy, this we must remember when talking with them. Ultimately they remain foes, working against Christ for as long as they remain outside Christ.
There is unity and singleness of purpose within each camp. We are either one in Christ Jesus, or we are one with all who oppose Him. No one can have a foot in both camps. Many there are who profess to follow Christ, and yet others believe they do, but who are in reality self-deluded. Sadly, churches are full of such people. Of these we must ever be especially aware for when they speak, they will speak for their true master, Satan. When they speak of Scripture, even in its defence, their underlying purpose will be its ultimate destruction. Even those who would otherwise be at loggerheads with each other are made friends in a single purpose, in their rejection of Christ, even as were Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:12). Those who fight my immediate enemy are not necessarily my friends. We cannot align ourselves with those who represent Satan’s cause without at the same time being traitors to Christ ourselves.
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His Name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.
Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
By faith’s discerning eye.
When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of victory through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine.
(Isaac Watts 1674-1748)
David W. Norris