Is War in the Will of God? / W.A. Criswell
by Dr. W. A. Criswell
Text: Rev. 19.11-16
This is a business lunch hour for you…any time that you have to leave, you feel free to go. You will not bother me at all, and all of us present in this sanctuary will understand.
This is the sixty-fourth year that our church has conducted these pre-Easter noonday services. For the time that we had a downtown theater, they were convened in those central locations in the business district. When all the theaters were destroyed or demolished, we moved the services here about two years ago. The theme for this year is preeminently patriotic. It is entitled “God Speaks to America.” Tomorrow: The Red in the Flag is Blood; Wednesday: The Cancer that Consumes Us; Thursday: Slavery or Freedom; and Friday: The Saving of the Nation; today: Is War in the Will of God?
In the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, beginning at verse 11:
I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; He that sat upon him was Faithful and True, in righteousness He doth judge and make war.
His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns…
He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood, the blood of His enemies: His name is called The Word of God.
The armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses…
…He shall rule the nations with a rod of iron: and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
He hath on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, THE KING OF KINGS, AND THE LORD OF LORDS.
…And I heard a great voice from heaven, an angel crying, saying, Come…
That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and captains, mighty men…
And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him that sat on the horse, and against His army.
And they were taken, the beast, the false prophet, these that were fighting, with the enemies of God. And they were cast into the lake of fire.
And the remnant were slain with the sword of Him that sat upon the horse…and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.
It is not necessary for me to point out to you that the whole panoply and imagery of this passage is one of war. I suppose one of the tremendous literary masterpieces of all time is Edward Gibbon’s, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And there’s not a schoolboy but that knows that the tremendous thesis of that history of ancient Rome is this: that it fell not because of the superior enemy on the outside but because of the tragic decay of Rome on the inside.
Thus, the Vandals, a Germanic, Teutonic race, came down out of the north and the east of Europe, and they ravaged a great circle around the Imperial City: Gaul, Spain, crossing over to North Africa, and finally to Carthage. Then in 455 BC, they crossed over the narrow bridge from Carthage to Sicily to Italy itself. And in the face of that desperate invasion, the young men of Rome declared, “Hell no, we won’t go.”
And in 455 AD, Rome fell to the ravages of the Vandals. They put the population to the edge of the sword. They carried the remainder into captivity, and they carted off to Carthage all of the movable treasures of that great capital of the Roman Empire. It’s hard for us to realize that for almost centuries, Rome was a small, devastated city.
We have a like spirit in America today. America was a signatory to the SEATO treaty, Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, that if one of us were attacked by a communist force, all the rest of us would join in defense. And the day came when [North] Vietnam invaded South Vietnam, the member of that SEATO organization. And America, true to its commitment, arose to defend the sovereignty of the free nation of South Vietnam.
General Westmoreland said, “I can bring victory to the forces of freedom and to the armies of America within six weeks if I am but privileged to go on the offensive.” But the Jane Fonda—one of the most contemptible females I’ve ever heard in my life—the Jane Fonda had rallies all over America, and Senator Fulbright, who headed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—these and others like them divided the nation of America with the consequence that forty-seven thousand American soldiers died in vain. One hundred thousand more were maimed for naught, and for the first time in the history of America, our flag was furled in disgrace, and our troops came back home in shame and in defeat.
The same spirit pervades America today. It is published that if the draft goes through and if the young men are called to arms, one-half of them will say, “Hell no, I won’t go.” And gradually, we are seeing the encirclement of America by one communist-fallen nation after another. Is war in the will of God? Is it right to resist? Is it?
Poring through the pages of the Bible, there is something you cannot help but notice in the New Testament. It is this: wherever a soldier appears in the record, he appears in appreciation and in commendation. There is no exception to it.
In the preaching of John the Baptist in the Jordan River, it was the Roman soldiers present who were repenting and baptized of John in the Jordan. Five Roman centurions appeared in the story of the first Christian preaching of the gospel.
One is a centurion in Capernaum who had built a synagogue for the Jewish nation, and of whom our Lord said: “I have not found such faith, no, not in Israel as in this Roman centurion” [Matthew 8:10]. A second was the Roman centurion who under law presided over the execution and crucifixion of our Lord, and as he saw the frame and heard the words of the Lord Jesus, he said, “This man is none other than the Son of God!” [Matthew 27:54].
It was in the home of a Roman centurion named Cornelius in Acts 10 that the Gentile Pentecost was poured out upon the earth. It was a Roman centurion by the name of Claudius Lysias, who, in Acts 23 [verses 26-27], saved the apostle Paul from death. And it was a Roman centurion in Acts 27 [verse 42-44], named Julius, who for the sake of Paul, spared all the prisoners who sought life in the escape from the shipwreck on the isle of Malta.
Without exception, all of the soldiers that appear in the New Testament appear with appreciation and commendation. And by inspiration, the apostle Paul wrote of the power of the state to defend itself: “Rulers are not a terror to good, but to evil. Wilt thou not then be afraid of the power? For he beareth not the sword in vain: he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon them that doeth evil” [Romans 13:3-4].
The power of the sword in the hand of the state is an ordination of God. And we cannot forget that the whole Christian empire was largely evangelized by Roman soldiers who carried the message of Christ everywhere.
In the Old Testament, war is so oft presented as a judgment of Almighty God. When the Lord appeared to Abraham in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, he said to Abraham that: “Your children will be captive in Egypt for four hundred years.” Then the Lord gave the reason: “Because the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet filled” [Genesis 15:13-16]. That is, after four hundred years, God took His people out of Egypt and sent them across the Jordan River into the land of Canaan [Exodus 14:21-31]. And there they were the instruments of God in bringing judgment upon a people so depraved that they could never be saved, and the Lord willed their destruction from the face of the earth [Exodus 23:23].
War: a judgment of Almighty God. And when we read the Old Testament, there are no favorite nations, and there are no respecters of persons in His divine justice. Assyria was sent down from the north to destroy Israel and Samaria and when Isaiah asked God, “Why the coming of the hasty and ruthless and bitter Assyria?” The Lord replied, “The Assyrian is the rod of Mine anger, and the staff of My indignation” [Isaiah 10:5].
In the years that passed and the Chaldeans came down in awesome ravage upon Judah, Habakkuk the prophet asked God why the Lord would allow—however Judah may have sinned, the Babylonian had sinned more blasphemously—why does God allow Judah to be ravaged by the Chaldeans, by Babylonia? And the Lord replied: “I have ordained them for judgment, and I have established them for correction” [Habakkuk 1:12].
War is a judgment of Almighty God. Jeremiah the prophet lifted up his voice to his people and cried, “Repent. Get right with God” [Jeremiah 7:3]. And the armies of Nebuchadnezzar came in 605 BC and carried away Daniel and many of the royal seed. Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried to his nation, “Repent. Get right with God.” Nebuchadnezzar came back in 598 BC and carried away Ezekiel and Jehoiakim, the king and the flower of the priests. And Jeremiah lifted up his voice once again and cried to his people, “Repent. Get right with God.” And Nebuchadnezzar came in 587 BC, and this time he didn’t have to return, for the walls were broken down, the city was laid waste, and the house of God was burned with fire.
And Jeremiah cried, “The harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and we, we are not saved [Jeremiah 8:20]. O that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” [Jeremiah 9:1].
I am not afraid of godless Russia. They can’t even feed themselves. Have you been there? Compared to America, they are a tenth-rate nation. I am not afraid of communism even though they are encircling our beloved country. But I am afraid of God! War is a judgment of God. Our deliverance lies in our repentance and in our faith, without which we face a certain confrontation and an ultimate, awesome disaster. In the story of the people of God, in the Book of Judges, always, when they repented and cried before the Lord, the Lord bowed down His ear to hear and delivered His people.
In the twentieth chapter of 2 Chronicles is one of the most marvelous stories in all the Word of the Lord. A great army shut up Jerusalem and Judah like a vise, and Jehoshaphat and his people stood before the Lord, and the Book says with their wives and with their little ones and in prayer and in confession, they asked for the intervention of God’s mighty hand from heaven [2 Chronicles 20:12-13].
And the Spirit of the Lord came upon one of God’s prophets, and He said, “Arrange the battle in array like this. First, place the priests, then place Levitical singers, and then place the people. And let them go out to face the foe singing a psalm. The mercy of the Lord endureth forever. And God caused confusion among the enemies of Judah and delivered them in a mighty hand [2 Chronicles 20: 14-25].
That is our strength and our hope, not in our armies, and not in our navies, and not in our atomic bombers, not even in our political processes. But our deliverance and our strength lies in the hand of Almighty God.
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet.
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
“Recessional,” by Rudyard Kipling, June 22, 1897
And, our Lord, in that renewed commitment to Thee, we cast our lives, our souls, and the destiny of our nation. May the Lord search us, try us, be merciful to us, and spare our people, in the saving name of our wonderful Lord, Amen.