Christ and War
April 13th, 1965 @ 12:00 PM
CHRIST AND WAR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-13-65 12:00 p.m.
Any time that you have to leave, everybody understands. This is not like going to church. If you leave in the middle of the sermon there, you are most conspicuous. And I have never been enthusiastic about post-invocationists and pre-benedictionists at church. But this is a busy lunch hour for our people who work downtown and who come to share this holy service with us. And if in the middle of a sentence, or almost toward the end, or being here three minutes you have to leave, it is all right. Everybody understands.
The theme for this year is “Christ Today: The Contemporary Christ,” our Lord who looks down upon us from heaven today. And the themes concern these vital topics and subjects that are a part of our very and present existence. Yesterday it was Christ and Government, Christ and Law, Christ and Politics; tomorrow it shall be Christ and Modern Science; and the next day, Christ and Communism; and the last day, Christ and Death.
I left the service yesterday to conduct a funeral service. I shall leave the service tomorrow to conduct a memorial service. We live in the presence of death, and no family but shall know ultimately its broken-hearted sorrow and bereavement. And God has a message for us. God speaks today, and these series of services concern, what does God say?
Now the message at this noon hour is Christ and War. In the very heart of the apocalyptic discourse of our Savior, in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, He said:
And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
It is not connected with that, for our Lord says that wars shall characterize all human history; all of it. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel, that prophet who foresaw the course of history to the consummation of the age, in that prophecy Daniel said, “Wars are determined unto the end” [Daniel 9:26], and our Lord, commenting upon it, said:
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom:
and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes.
All these things are the beginning of sorrows.
There is a heartache, an indescribable sorrow, connected with the clash of arms and the contest of armed might beyond anything known to the human heart. And Jesus said unto them, “When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked you anything?” And His disciples said, “Nothing, Lord” [Luke 22:35].
Then said Jesus unto them:
But now, but now I say unto you, Ye that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip:
and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
[Luke 22: 36]
Christ and war; the lament of the weeping prophet, Jeremiah. “O my soul, the sound of the trumpet and the alarm of war” [Jeremiah 4:19], has been the lament of all nations and of all families through all human history. We do not change, nor do the ages change. Murder, and bloodshed, and carnage, and war have characterized human story since the days of Cain and Abel [Genesis 4:8-10]. In the Paleolithic age, in the Stone Age, they fought one another with a wooden club and a stone ax. Today, we fight those same wars with jet bombers and guided missiles. And tomorrow we shall fight those wars from satellites and platforms that circle the planets of this universe.
And there is in war this conflict of national life and indescribable heartache and sorrow. There is nothing comparable to it in the earth. Visit the beautiful park at Vicksburg. Here stood the federal forces in this awful war between our states. Here were lined our federal forces, and here was Robert E. Lee and our Confederate men. In Vicksburg, in the national monument there, carved, chiseled against marble relief is a scene of the on-rush of the surging solders. And the carriage of a gun has just rolled over the prostrate form of a boy that has fallen, and in the foreground is the soldier on the opposite side who has picked up in his arms the prostrate figure, and underneath are carved, “And he recognizes his brother.”
In my life I have lived through two terrible world wars. And in the second one, pastor in Oklahoma and pastor in Dallas, I had that heartbreaking assignment of carrying a telegram from the War Department that began with those familiar words: “We regret to inform you…” and then sit there or stand there and listen to the lament and the broken-hearted cry of a mother and a father, or little children left orphaned in the arms of their widowed mother. You never get away or drown, in the passing of years, the memory of those heartaches and those tears.
And there is in this national armed might and contest of arms—there is a certain futility, a certain exasperating hopelessness that has characterized all of them. In the Church of the Invalidese on the banks of Seine River in Paris, I stood and watched little children, little French children, guided by their teachers, passing in awe and in reverence the tomb of the great emperor Napoleon. And it just happened to be that a day or two after, I stood in St. Paul’s Cathedral on the banks of the Thames in London and watched again little English children, guided by their teachers, passing in awe and in reverence the tomb of the great Iron Duke of Wellington.
Consequently, there is in war a hopeless and a helpless disillusionment that is ever an aftermath. In World War I, that I can so distinctly remember—in World War I, fought for so many things that were promised by Woodrow Wilson. And in the years that followed, the heartache and the disillusionment of that conflict was registered time and again in the poetry of our American people. Here is one; it is entitled “The Unknown Soldier Speaks.” And if you have been in Arlington Cemetery and have seen those guards marching day and night, up and down in front of that sarcophagus—listen, as the Unknown Soldier speaks:
Listen, youngster, you who thrill so
To the sound of marching feet,
To the call of bugles blending
With the drum’s rhythmatic beat;
Listen to those bands a-playing
‘Neath your country’s flag a-flying,
But listen, youngster, I am praying:
There’s no glory in your dying.
Listen, youngster, you who love so
All the glamour of parade.
Buttons do not shine so brightly
When you are standing sick, afraid,
In the thick of war’s inferno,
When your flag is drenched in blood—
Blood of comrades—swaying, praying,
Knee-deep in a trench of mud.
Listen, youngster: bands cease playing
In the hell-fire of the fight.
Screaming shells shall be your music,
Singing hymns of death and fright;
Shells that kill and make you beggars,
Legless on some city street;
Men with tin cups in a doorway—
Ask them, son, if war is sweet.
Here I lie, the Unknown Soldier.
Wreaths of nations line my bed.
Honors have been heaped upon me,
But, listen, youngster: “I am dead.”
Somewhere in this land you love so,
Someone’s waiting for me still;
Wonders, could I be their loved one?
Forever wonders, ever will.
Listen, youngster, you who thrill so
When plumes and bayonets sparkle bright.
There is no beauty in death’s plumage;
Only bones, bleached bare and white.
Listen, youngster, you want glory;
I have had glory-honors spread
Above my tomb in countless numbers,
But, listen, youngster: “I am dead.”
[“The Unknown Soldier Speaks,” quoted by Clare Hazelwood in the Fulton Patriot, May 31, 1934]
Anybody could sense the frustrated hopelessness written in that poem. Out of a thousand others, just one more: “The Parade.”
There is nothing on earth with the thrill,
Or more thunder, more pomp,
Or more splendor, more zeal, than a great parade.
How they march, the colonel,
The major, the captain, and private,
In brilliance of metal, and luster of leather arrayed.
Oh! The fervor and glory,
The faith and the courage
Their resolute faces show,
And the cheering of people,
The singing, the clapping,
The flowers, the sidelines throw.
There is nothing on earth
More shattered, more weary
After a war is done,
Than a ward full of soldiers
Forgotten and stumping,
Cursing the fife and the gun.
[“The Parade,” Marcia Masters]
So after World War I, when our great president Woodrow Wilson said, “This is the war to end war, and we are planning to make the world safe for democracy,” then came 1939, when Hitler loosed his hordes eastward against Poland. Then came 1941, when the Japanese bombed our unheeding forces in Pearl Harbor, and we were thrust again into a horrible war.
In World War I, I remember the songs that were sung on every lips: “Johnny, Get Your Gun, Get Your Gun”; “Over There, Over There”; “Joan of Arc”; “They Are Calling You”; but in World War II there were no songs—none! And when the conflict was done, we found ourselves comrades in arms with Joseph Stalin in Russia, and with Mao Tse-tung in China, and facing an overwhelming sea of communism!
And today—this hour, this minute—we have no other recourse except to resist, unto blood and unto death! Somewhere, sometime, there has to be a demarcation, a line, where the free forces of America and her allies say, “Thus far, and no further!” The day will come—if we do not—when there will be no other place to retreat to, and no place to run to. Somewhere, retreat must stop, and somewhere, a line must be drawn! Where shall it be? In South Vietnam? Or shall we retreat again and draw the line at Laos and Thailand? Or shall we retreat again and draw the line at Formosa? Or shall we retreat again and draw the line at the Philippines? Or shall we retreat again and draw the line at Australia and New Zealand? Or shall we retreat again and draw the line at Wake, and Guam, and the islands of the Pacific? Or shall we retreat again and draw the line at Hawaii? Or shall we retreat again and draw the line at Alaska and California? Or shall we retreat again and deliver into their hands without resistance our beloved and sacred land?
What would my grandfather, who fought in the War Between the States, for a cause that he felt was righteous, though he lost it—what would our forefathers, who fought in the Revolutionary War; what would my great-grandfather, who fought in the War of Independence for Texas; what would all of the martyred soldiers who have laid down their lives for their country think of us, if we surrendered it to the atheistic forces of communism today?
From a testimony of a Christian governor in the Philippines, Governor Marcelo Adduru in a prayer that he prayed, he said: “It is my sincere belief, Father, that one is not fit to live if he is not willing to die for his country.”
And in an editorial in one of our papers, speaking of President Johnson’s policy in Southeast Asia, he pointed out—our president pointed out again that this country has not sought conflict with North Vietnam or Red China, nor does it desire to maintain a permanent presence in Southeast Asia. But the editorial closes, “But there are worse things than war. Dishonor is one, and slavery is another.”
It is unthinkable that free men would stand without protest and without resistance the taking over of their nation, and their homes, and their families, and their government by an atheistic, blasphemous Soviet or Chinese communist army. Why, there is not a man who lives, who loves what we love that wouldn’t stand and offer his life and his blood in resistance unto death! It is not a choice for us to make.
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart within him never burned,
As homeward his weary footsteps turned,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
[“Lay of the Last Minstrel,” Sir Walter Scott]
Soon after the Second World War, I went through Germany. In a beautiful meadow, scattered everywhere were the armaments left behind after that cruel and merciless conflict, and on one of the tanks, there was written in big words around the turret, “England Forever.” And as I stood and looked at that tank, I thought of Rupert Brooke, England’s sweet poet, who lost his sweet life in the First World War, and the words that he penned:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner in a foreign field
That is forever England—forever England.
And there shall be in that rich earth
A richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore . . .
Gave . . . her ways to roam,
A body that is England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blessed by the suns of home.
[“The Soldier,” Rupert Brooke]
I think it to be true, that the last thing that the congress, the legislature, the president, the cabinet, the citizenship, the people—the last thing that America wants is war! But:
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man.
When duty whispers low, “Thou must.”
The youth replies, “I can.”
[from “Voluntaries,” Ralph Waldo Emerson]
And if it comes to war and blood for the defense of our country, and our homes, and our people, by the uncounted millions—America and her allies offer their lives for the freedom of the world.
And in that awful choice, does God care? Does God see? And does God understand? Soon after coming to the pastorate of the church here in Dallas, they brought back from beyond the seas a Marine who had fallen in battle. In an unusual procedure, his chaplain came with him to conduct the service in our church. I assisted the Marine chaplain, as the pastor of the family. He did something that I had never seen before. He had a printed program of the memorial service, and on the front of his printed program, beautifully done, was a picture of the awfulness of that war: the bombs bursting, the men in deadly combat, and in the foreground, the picture of a Marine, mortally wounded and falling to the earth. But in the picture, as the Marine, mortally hurt, was falling to the earth, he lifted up his face and his eyes, and there, silhouetted against the background of smoke, and fire, and blood, and battle, was our blessed Savior, the Lord Jesus, with hands extended and arms outstretched to receive the soul of the lad.
No Christian minister who reflected the spirit of our Lord would put an approval upon bloodshed, and war, and murder, and destruction. He’d never do it. It is antithetical to the spirit of Christ. But we live in that kind of a world, and our Lord understands.
Someday—please, God—someday, according to the holy prophecies of this precious Book, someday, there will be a new age, and a new kingdom, and a new government, a new life, a new hope, a new world.
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But every man shall sit, each under his vine and under his fig tree; and there shall be none to make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid . . . .
And the lion shall eat straw like an ox . . . .
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all of
God’s holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
No more shall the war cry sever,
Or the winding river run red;
We banish our anger forever
When we laurel the graves of the dead.
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day,
Love and tears for the Blue,
Tears and love for the Gray.
[“The Blue and the Gray,” Francis Miles Finch]
Our Lord, hardly anyone of adult age but knows the heartaches, the tears, and the sorrow of armed conflict, but, Lord, we live in this kind of a world, and there are principles, and there are truths, and there are freedoms, both of life and of conscience, for which we are willing to lay down our lives. And if we are wrong in this, blessed Jesus, forgive us.
Oh! According to an infinite wisdom into which we could never enter, may God bless our people, our country, and all of the countries of the world; mothers there, as here; sons and daughters there, as here. O Lord, hasten the day when Thy kingdom come and Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven [Matthew 6:10]. In the precious spirit and love and mercy of Jesus, and in His holy name, amen.