The present prolonged and ruthless strife on the Continent of Europe is making manifest the thoughts of the hearts of many regarding the intervention of God in human affairs, especially with relation to the interest He is supposed to take in the government of the world. Does He at all concern Himself with the things that transpire upon the earth? Is it true that a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without Him? Is it a fact that the very hairs upon the heads of His people are all numbered? Can it be really so that He keeps a record of the deeds of men, and that He will bring every work into judgment with every secret thing whether it be good or bad? Can we believe that not only the act, but the thought that prompted the act, will be taken account of in the day of judgment? Is there to be a day of judgment at all? Or has He framed the universe, and set it in motion, to run according to laws that must inevitably lead to certain disaster? Is He experimenting in some special way with this planet, and the beings that inhabit it, not knowing what may be the ultimate issue of the experiment? Will these things result in good to all? Will they go on for ever as they move at present? Or will everyone some day arise up and cut the throat of his neighbour, so that the whole population of the world will fall down together, every one of them a murdered murderer? Is there a God at all?
Not one of these questions could by any possibility arise in the heart that in simple faith takes the Holy Scriptures as God’s revelation to His people, even though the slaughter of human beings, at present taking place so close to the peaceful shores of these islands, were twice as great as it is. War is always a cruel thing, and hateful to all who love God, and hateful also to Him who has said, “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9); and He is “the God of peace” (Rom. 16:20). His children also are exhorted to pray for kings and for all that rule in this world, that we may be able to live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty (1 Tim. 2:2). But when the world rejected the only One who could make wars to cease (Ps. 46:9) it drove the possibility of peace from the earth, until the time appointed for His intervention in power, when He will “scatter the people that delight in war” (Ps. 68:30), and bring in a reign of peace. Then “out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shalt they learn war any more” (Isa. 2:3-4). Until then, as far as the kings of the earth are concerned, the word is, “Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: and it shall be no more, until He come whose right it is; and I will give it Him” (Ezek. 21:26-27).
The crown is Christ’s: it is His by right, and He shall have it, in spite of the hostility of this evil world, and in spite of all the powers of the infernal forces, But until He gets it, crowns must be cast down into the dust, kingdoms overthrown, nations found tearing one another to pieces, multitudes sweating in the munition factories, and continents constantly being cast into the melting pot.
And until that day there shall be no improvement in the relation of kingdoms, one to the other. The entente allies are fighting against militarism, and expecting to crush that spirit in the German nation, but instead of producing this result, every nation will find that, to safeguard its own interests, it will have to nourish and stimulate that very spirit in its own people; and every individual in every kingdom upon earth will find it to be a necessity that he should take his place among the fighting forces of his country. This war is frightful to contemplate, but it is not even “the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 34:8). Worse is coming.
Men ask, “Why does not God stop this war?” “Why does He allow this cruel strife and bloodshed to continue?” But were He to put the question to all as to how they would desire it to be settled, I do not doubt that each of the nations engaged in combat would only desire to have it brought to a conclusion in the way of victory for its armies. Each nation is only desirous for the intervention of God in its own behalf. None of them desires the war to be brought to an end by its defeat. It is not only the Germans that desire to have “Gott mit uns,” but all the others desire the same for themselves. That is to say, all want the thing settled in their own way; and if God is not going to settle it in that way, they would prefer Him to keep out of it altogether.
To speak candidly, I should be very sorry to see the British nation defeated and brought under the power of any other country. But that is because of the peace and tranquillity that the people of God have enjoyed under that flag. Comparatively speaking (for we can speak in no other way in an evil world), there have been just laws, judges of integrity, merciful administrators, throughout these islands, and we owe it all to the goodness of God. Under the British flag the child of God has hitherto been able to serve the Lord without coming into conflict with the powers that be: I could not say so much about any other kingdom in this world. Therefore my sympathies are with the British nation.
The persecution of the children of God has taken place in this land before now, and it will take place again, and for this we must be prepared; but whether it will be much in this dispensation, that is, before He removes His church to heaven, I cannot say; but I can see things moving in a direction that is certain to bring it about; and things move very fast in these days. Of course I mean persecution in the sense of imprisonment and death, not the kind of persecution to which all that will live godly in Christ Jesus are always exposed, even where, as far as the law of the land goes, liberty of conscience is allowed.
The normal circumstances of the children of God in this world are those of persecution. Our Lord told His disciples that their pathway to glory must be lined with the hatred of the world; and the fact of the world in these lands having put on the outward garb of Christian profession has not changed its heart the children of God. It is the same old God-hating and Christ-persecuting world as it was when “the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers took counsel together, against the LORD, and against His anointed” (Ps. 2; Acts 4:24-27), and it will not change its character until the day He comes upon it in judgment. But we cannot be too thankful for the tranquillity enjoyed by the people of God in this favoured British nation.
We must also keep in mind, if we are to have right thoughts about all that is going on at present, that the prophets of both the Old and New Testaments set before us the history of the powers that be, during the “times of the Gentiles,” under the symbols of wild beasts, creatures without any intelligent link with God. We cannot be surprised, therefore, to find them continually snarling at one another and tearing one another to pieces. If there is peace at times it comes about by the overruling hand of God, for the normal state of things in a world like this is cruel war and bloodshed.
But the question will be asked again, “Why does not God stop this war?” Perhaps this question might be better answered if we ask another, “Why should He stop it?” He sent His Son nigh two thousand years ago, that He might be presented to man in His true character, that His devil-deceived creature might get to know Him, and that He might have His rightful place in the heart and mind of Adam’s poor misguided race. At the commencement of His ministry He sets forth the nature of His mission in those wonderful words taken from the prophecy of Isaiah, which relates to Himself, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord,” and the heavenly host at His birth proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill, toward men” (Luke 4:18; 2:14). Scriptures like these set before us the intention of God in sending His Son into the world, as well as does the whole character of His subsequent ministry; “Who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). But man’s reply to this in the person of the Jew was a gibbet, and in the Gentile, to whom government was committed by God, and to whom God had given the sword, was such thorough acquiescence that he became the instrument of Jewish hatred, and murdered Him in whose favour his verdict had been given: “I find in Him no fault at all” (John 18:38).
And after such a manifest and infamous exhibition of rebellion against God, and refusal of His gracious intervention on man’s behalf, people wonder that God does not stop these wars, and give us good times, so that the covetous and godless desires of the human heart may be practised without fear of chastisement. People resent His interference with respect to the prosecution of their ungodly lusts, but cry out for His intervention, so that they may be delivered from the pains and penalties that result from the course they have so determinedly pursued.
Christ is “the salvation of God” (Luke 2:30; Acts 28:28), and there is none other; and if men will not have Him they must go on with their wars and all the terrible consequences resulting therefrom, they cannot compel God to travel in the direction which they are pleased to indicate, they must be prepared to follow in the way in which He is pleased to take, or suffer the consequences. And God’s way is Christ, and without His presence on earth there cannot be permanent peace.
But wherefore ask, “Why does not God stop this war?” Rather ask why does He not stop all wars, and why does He not stop all the evils to which flesh is heir? “Why,” says some poor broken-hearted woman, “was my boy, or my brother, or my husband stabbed through the heart with a German bayonet?” But the same question is also wrung from the broken heart of a poor German woman; and God is not indifferent to the sorrows of His poor afflicted creatures, whoever they may be. And may not some other poor woman be asking why her boy, who was the darling object of her heart, has been suffocated by the terrible diphtheritic membrane, or why her husbands lungs were torn to pieces by the bacillus tuberculosis, or why her brother’s body was burned to a cinder in the last railway disaster, or by means of a fireball from the thunder-cloud?
Where did that “HELL” that everyone who has been at the front in Flanders says he has seen spring from? It did not spring up out of the ground, neither did it fall down out of heaven. Where, then, had it its origin? It had its origin in the corrupt, selfish, covetous heart of man. James says, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain” (4:1-2). This is the secret of all contention, such as is going on in this war, and in the heart of man this “Hell” has most surely originated, and on some head, or heads, will the hand of God fall with terrific force some day. But that day has net come yet, and that is one reason why He has not shown His hand in connection with it, on one side or on the other.
That He is not indifferent to the wickedness that has brought it about, nor to the sorrows of His suffering creatures, Calvary is the mighty and overpowering witness, against which nothing that would charge Him with indifference could stand one moment, for there the love of God to His poor sinful creature was exhibited in a way that out-distances all that He has ever done in the past, and all that He could yet do in the future. In that lonely Sufferer amid the darkness of cloud-mantled Golgotha I see the veil of the temple in which God was enshrined rent in twain from top to bottom, and the heart of the Creator brought to light in such a way, that were that “hell” at the front of the battlefield ten thousand times hotter and blacker and bloodier than it is, I could say, and would say with boldness, GOD IS LOVE.
But His gospel is in this world, not to establish men in it, but to deliver man out of it, and to give him a new place in heaven with Christ, in all the relationships in which He stands to God and the Father, and in all the eternal favour and love of which He is the alone worthy Object.
For the soul that casts himself upon Christ as the Saviour of sinners all is well, whether he die upon the battlefield or upon his own bed; but for the man that rejects Him, wherever he die, it were better for him had he never been born. On the battlefield the potsherds are striving with the potsherds of the earth, but the man that rejects the Saviour declares war upon the living God, and the issue of that battle is not difficult to forecast.
The widow, the fatherless, the broken-hearted, the crippled, and all who suffer, will have the compassion of a Saviour-God, whether they know anything about it or not, for He is the Saviour of all men, though in a special way of them that believe (1 Tim. 4:10), and what a joy it is to the servant of the Lord to lead some of those poor sorrowing mortals to the knowledge of Him of whom they have such hard thoughts, when if they only knew Him their cup would run over with unspeakable joy.
May the Lord in His infinite mercy be pleased to bring this awful conflict to a speedy termination, and in the meantime may He use it to wake up the consciences of many to their utterly ruined condition and to their need of a Saviour. Amen.