Christ and War
March 28th, 1972 @ 12:00 PM
CHRIST AND WAR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-28-72 12:00 p.m.
Beginning in the Palace Theater, and now, since it’s been torn down, meeting for the second year here in the Majestic. The theme for this year is "Christ and Contemporary Crises." Yesterday the message concerned Christ and the State, Christ in Political Government. Tomorrow it will be Christ and Modern Science. On Thursday, Christ and Communism. On Friday, the day He was crucified, Christ and our last enemy Death. And today, Christ and War.
In the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, the apocalyptic section of the book, our Lord 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. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes. All these are the beginning of sorrows.
And what our Lord said there of the days that unfold before us, He could no less have said of the days that have preceded us; for the unchanging story of mankind, since the days of Cain and Abel [Genesis 3:8], has been one of murder, and bloodshed, and violence, and war. Jeremiah lamented, in the fourth chapter of his prophecy, “O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, and the alarm of war” [Jeremiah 4:19]. In the days of the paleolithic stone age man, they slaughtered one another with clubs and stone axes; the only genus, the only species, known to the earth that slays its own kind. Today we do it with atomic bombs and jets to deliver them, hurling lurid death from the flaming skies. And tomorrow, those same wars will be waged from space platforms that circle the heavens. The ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel said, “For war is determined unto the end” [Daniel 9:26]. The heartache of that conflict is poignant in the extreme. The sadness of war is indescribable.
In the Confederate park at Vicksburg, Mississippi, there is a picture in marble, the onrushing army with its banners and its flags, and in the foreground a cannon being drawn by the soldiers. The wheels have just passed over a soldier from the opposite side that has been shot down and left behind. And in the foreground before you, there is a soldier who has picked up the dead body, searchingly looked into his face, and the caption reads, “He Recognizes His Own Brother.”
In the last great conflict, in accordance with the habit of the war department, when a boy was slain in battle they sent the telegram to me to deliver to his father and mother. And it began with those same sad words, “We regret to inform you,” and then speak of the death of the lad.
The futility of that conflict is so often seen. Upon a day in London, in a church by the side of the River Thames, I saw little children lined up, prepared to go in to look upon the monument of the great Iron Duke Wellington. And the next day, I was in Paris, and there, unusually so, by a church on the Seine River, I saw little children lined up, prepared to go view the great monument of the French hero Napoleon.
To what end the bloodshed, and the conflict, and the sound, and the alarm of war? It is that which has so largely brought disillusionment to modern America and mostly to the civilized world. Let me illustrate that by two poems of our modern era and of this age. The disillusionment of war; this one is entitled “The Unknown Soldier Speaks.”
Listen, youngster, you who thrill so
To the sound of marching feet,
Through the call of bugles blowing
With the drum’s rythmatic 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’re standing sick, afraid,
In the thick of war’s inferno,
When your flag is drenched with blood,
Blood of comrades swaying, dying,
Knee deep in a trench of mud.
Listen, youngster, band’s cease playing
In the hell-fire of the fight;
Screaming shells will be your music,
Singing hymns of death and fright;
Shells that kill or 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’ve had glory, honors spread
Above my tomb in countless numbers,
But listen, youngster, I AM DEAD.
[from "The Unknown Soldier Speaks," quoted by Clare Hazelwood
in the Fulton Patriot, May 31, 1934]
And then, this modern poem, "The Disillusionment Of War."
There is nothing on earth with more thrill, or more thunder
More pomp or more splendor,
More zeal, than a great parade!
How they march, the colonel, the major, the captain, the private,
In brilliance of medal 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 drum.
[“The Parade,” Marcia Masters]
This last great conflict left America in the arms of our comrades. A Stalin in Soviet Russia, and a Mao Tse-tung in Red China. Is there necessity in martial conflict? To me, there is, however its heartache, and however its indescribable tragedy, there is conflict at the heart of the universe; and we feel it here in the world where we live. We retreat, we retreat, we give up, we give up before those who have planned the conquest of the world, and that includes us in our land, our nation, and our people. Where do you draw the line? Where do you say, “Thus far and no further”? Shall it be in a Vietnam? Shall it be in an Indonesia? Shall it be in a New Zealand or Australia? Shall it be in the Philippines or Formosa? Shall it be in Hawaii or Alaska? Shall it be the shore of California? Or shall it be the western boundary of Texas? Just where do you draw the line and say, “By God’s grace and in the blood of our people, no step further”? You retreat, you give up until there’s no place else to retreat and nothing else to give up.
There are some things that are worse than death. Dishonor is one. Slavery is one. And there are some things worth dying for. Somebody you love is one. And your country is one. And love of country, that includes love of everything dear to your heart: the grave of your fathers, the faith of your people. Love of country is one of the great moving passions of human life. Sir Walter Scott wrote in "The Lay of the Last Minstrel"
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 footsteps turned
From wandering on a foreign strand.
And nobody except a man with a heart of stone could but be moved by the words of Rupert Brooke, who as a soldier lost his life in the First World War, loving England, wrote:
If I should die, take only this of me:
That in some corner of a foreign field, there is forever England.
There shall be in that rich dust, a richer dust concealed
A dust whom England bore, who gave her ways to roam
A body that is England, breathing English air
Washed by the rivers, blessed by the sons of home.
[from "The Soldier"]
And when the hour of challenge and confrontation comes, in the heart of every loyal citizen, there rises the willingness to sacrifice and to die. As [Emerson] wrote:
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can!
And above the raging conflict and the noise of battle, there stands the Eternal God and the compassionate and sympathetic and loving Christ. Where is God? And in the hour of battle and war, does He see and does He care?
On the other side of the Pacific, in this present conflict, there was a boy in our church who lost his life, a Marine. And when the body was sent back here to Dallas for interment, to my great surprise, the armed services also sent a Marine chaplain to accompany the fallen soldier. We shared the service together. He had prepared a program, an order of service. And when it was placed in my hands, I looked at the picture on the front page. It was a picture of war and of battle. The shells were exploding, the guns were firing, the airplanes were dropping bombs; it was a frightful picture of death. And in the foreground, there was a fallen Marine, mortally wounded. As he fell to the ground, his eyes were lifted up; and there in God’s heaven was a picture of the white-robed Lord Christ, with His arms and hands extended to receive the fallen Marine.
The Scriptures say that there shall be war and conflict and desolation to the consummation, to the end of the age [Daniel 9:26, Matthew 24:6-14]. But somehow, presiding above it, sovereign above the conflicts of the nations, there is the holy and heavenly promise of a millennial coming and kingdom of our Lord [Matthew 13:41, 16:28]. There will never be peace till He comes. There’ll never be rest until the nations of the earth rest in Him. But that day, in the sovereign purpose and choice of God, is inevitably and assuredly and certainly coming. The Scriptures are full of the beautiful marvelous symbols of that incomparably glorious millennial kingdom, "When the nations shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; when they shall not lift up sword against each other, and they do not learn war anymore" [Micah 4:3; Isaiah 2:4]. "When the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; when the lion shall eat straw like an ox, when they shall not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain. When the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" [Isaiah 11:6-7, 9]. "For unto us, a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given: and the government shall rest upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. And of the increase of His government there shall be no end, upon the throne of His father David, to establish it in peace and in justice forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it" [Isaiah 9:6-7]. And someday, in that millennial reign, in the presence of the Prince of Glory, there shall come that quiet and rest to the nations of the world, as was experienced by our own America at the conclusion of the violent sanguine conflict between the states.
On Lookout Mountain, the scene of an awesome battle, there is a monument tall and stately. And on the top of the great high pedestal, there is a soldier in gray and a soldier in blue, clasping their hands around an unfurled American flag. And as I looked upon it, I thought of the words:
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.
[from "The Blue and the Gray," Francis Miles Finch]
When He shall come to be King and Lord over all the nations of the earth, whose name is the Prince of Peace.
And our Lord, in that quiet assurance, however the black headline, the discouragement of councils that have lost their hope, the preparation for war, the stockpiling of bombs, however Lord, over, beyond, above may we see the millennial promise of Christ, looking for Him who someday shall be Lord and King in peace and in justice over all the peoples of the earth. To the glory of His name, amen.
24:6-8, Luke 22:35-36
A. The unchanging ages
B. War determined to
the end (Daniel 9:26)
II. The bitter reality
A. The heartbreak
B. The oft-times
C. The disillusionment
III. The necessity
A. No other recourse
but to resist unto death
B. Somewhere a line
must be drawn
IV. Our hope
A. God’s comfort now
B. The promise of a
future day (Micah 4:3-4, Isaiah 11:6-9, 9:6-7)