The following is an excerpt from the sermon delivered, May 1, 1859, by British Reformed Baptist preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon, on the heels of a new round of war in the Italian War of Independence.
The European royal families and their armies of France, Sardinia, and the provinces of Italy would wage war upon Austria, all of which were on the heels of the Crimean War against the Russians, known for its international brutality (in which Karl Marx famously observed, “There they are, the French doing nothing and the British helping them as fast as possible.”).
The Crimean War, October 1853 – March 1856, lasted nearly two and a half years, and saw more than half a million casualties. Russia and the Eastern Orthodox Church were fighting for the rights of the Christian minorities in the Holy Land under persecution of the Sunni Islamic Ottoman Empire. Britain and France were concerned about Russian aggression and takeover of Ottoman territory then.
There was no telling how long this new round of Italian wars would last when Spurgeon delivered the sermon. It ended up lasting just a few months.
There is great truth and wisdom here. Too few eyes will see. Too few hearts will break over the decay of their own souls and so wars will continue to rage because men have little courage to reflect on their own lives and evil. History will recycle because the one thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.
“…At the present crisis, the minds of men are exceedingly agitated with direful prospects of a terrible struggle. We know not whereunto this matter may grow. The signs of the times are dark and direful. We fear that the vials of God’s wrath are about to be poured out, and that the earth will be deluged with blood. As long as there remains a hope, let us pray for peace, nay, even in the time of war let us still beseech the throne of God, crying, that he would “send us peace in our days.”
The war will be looked upon by different persons with different feelings. The Italian will consider, all through the controversy, his own country; the Sardinian will be looking continually to the progress or to the defeat of his own nation; while the German, having sympathy with his own race, will be continually anxious to understand the state of affairs.
There is one power however, which is not represented in the congress and which seems to be silent, because the ears of men are deaf to aught that it hath to say To that power all our sympathies will be given, and our hearts will follow it with interest; and all through the war, the one question that we shall ask, will be “How will that kingdom prosper? “You all know to which kingdom I refer—it is the kingdom of Jesus Christ upon earth; that little one which is even at this time growing, and which is to become a thousand, which is to break in pieces all the monarchies of earth, and to seat itself upon their ruins, proclaiming universal liberty and peace, under the banner of Jesus Christ.
I am sure that we shall think far more of the interests of religion than of anything else, and our prayer will be, “O Lord, do what thou wilt with the earthen pitchers of men’s monarchies, but let thy kingdom come, and let thy will be done on earth, even as it is in heaven!”
While, however, we shall anxiously watch the contest, it will be quite as well if we mingle in it ourselves. Not that this nation of England should touch it; God forbid. If tyrants fight, let them fight; let free men stand aloof. Why should England have aught to do with all the coming battles? As God has cut us off from Europe by a boisterous sea, so let us be kept apart from all the broils and turmoils into which tyrants and their slaves may fall. I speak now, after a spiritual manner, to the church of Christ. I say, “Let us mingle in the fray; let us have something to do. We cannot be neutral; we never have been. Our host is ever in hostility to sin and Satan. “My voice is still for war.” The senate of Christ’s church can never talk of peace. For thus it is written: “The Lord will have war.”
This will bring us to the text, and here I shall consider first of all, the Lord’s battles; we are not to fight our own; secondly, the Lord’s soldiers; and thirdly, the King’s command, “Fight the Lord’s battles.”
I. First, THE LORD’S BATTLES, what are they? Not the garment rolled in blood, not the noise, and smoke, and din of human slaughter. These may be the devil’s battles, if you please, but not the Lord’s. They may be days of God’s vengeance but in their strife the servant of Jesus may not mingle. We stand aloof. Our kingdom is not of this world; else would God’s servants fight with sword and spear. Ours is a spiritual kingdom, and the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual, and mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds.
What are God’s battles? Let us here carefully distinguish between the battles of God, and our own. Oh, my brethren and sisters in Christ, it is not your business to fight your own battles, not even in defense of your own character. If you be maligned and slandered, let the slanderer alone. His malignity will but be increased by any attempt that you shall make to defend yourself. As a soldier of Christ you are to fight for your Master, not for yourself. You are not to carry on a private warfare for your own honor, but all your time and all your power is to be given to his defense and his war. You are not to have a word to speak for yourselves. Full often, when we get into little tempers, and our blood is roused, we are apt to think that we are fighting the cause of truth, when we are really maintaining our own pride. We imagine that we are defending our Master, but we are defending our own little selves. Too often the anger rises against an adversary not because his words reflect dishonor upon the glorious Christ, but because they dishonor us. Oh! let us not be so little as to fight our own battles! Depend upon it, the noblest means of conquest for a Christian in the matter of calumny and falsehood, is to stand still and see the salvation of God. Sheathe thine own sword, put away all thine own weapons, when thou comest to fight thine own battle, and let God fight for thee, and thou shalt be more than conqueror.
Again, we must recollect that there is such a thing as fighting the battles of our own sect, when we ought to be fighting God’s battles. We imagine that we are maintaining the church when we are only maintaining our section of it. I would always be very tender of the honor of the Christian body to which I belong, but I would rather see its honor stained, than that the glory of the entire church should be dimmed. Every soldier ought to love the peculiar legion in which he has enlisted, but better to see the colors of that legion rent to tatters, than to see the old standard of the cross trampled in the mire.
Now I trust we are ready to say of our own denomination, Let its name perish, if Christ’s name shall get ought of glory thereby.” If the extinction of our sect should be the conquest of Christ and the promoting of his kingdom, then let it be wiped out of the book of record, and let not its name be heard any more. We should, I say, each of us defend the body to which we belong, for we have conscientiously joined it believing it to be the nearest to the old standard of the church of Christ, and God forbid that we should leave it for a worse.
If we see a better, then would we sacrifice our prejudices to our convictions, but we cannot leave the old standard so long as we see it to be the very standard which floated in the hand of Paul, and which was handed by him through divers generations, through Chrysostom to Augustine, from Augustine to Calvin, and so on through the glorious race of mighty men who have not been ashamed of the gospel of Christ Jesus. But yet I say let our name. and let our sect, and let our denomination be absorbed, and let it sink, so that the battle of the Lord may but be well fought, and the time of Christ’s triumph hastened.
“Fight the Lord’s battles.” Then what are these? These are battles with sin and battles with error, and battles with war, and battles with worldliness. Fight ye these Christian. and ye shall have enough to do.
The Lord’s battle is first of all with sin. Seek grace to fight that battle in your own heart. Endeavour by divine grace to overcome those propensities which continually push you towards iniquity. On your knees wrestle against your besetting sins. As habits appear endeavor to break them by the battle-axe of strong resolution wielded by the arm of faith. Take all your lusts as they bestir themselves to the foot of the cross, and let the blood of Jesus fall upon those vipers and they must die.
The blood of Christ shall spill the blood of sin. The death of Christ shall be the death of iniquity, the cross of Christ shall be the crucifixion of transgression. Labour with yourselves to drive the Canaanites out of your hearts. Spare none, let no petty lust escape. Put down pride and sloth, and lust, and unbelief and you have now a battle before you which may fill your hands, and more than fill them. Oh! cry unto God your strength, and look unto the hills from whence cometh your help, and then fight on again, and as each sin is overcome, each evil habit broken off, each lust denied go on to the rooting up of another, and the destruction of more of them, until ail being subdued, body soul and spirit shall be consecrated to Christ as a living sacrifice, purified by his Holy Spirit.
And while this battle is being fought, ay, and while it is still fighting, go out and fight with other men’s sins. Smite them first with the weapon of holy example. Be yourselves what you would have others be. be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. Be yourselves clean ere ye can hope to be the purifiers of the world; and then, having first sought the blessing of God, go out into the world and bear your witness against sin. Let your testimony be unflinching; never let a sin pass under your eye without rebuke.
Slay utterly young and old; let not one escape. Speak sometimes sternly if the sinner be hardened in his sin, speak gently, if it be his first offense, seeking not to break his head but to break the head of his iniquity—not to break his bones or wound his feelings, but to cut his sin in twain, and leave his iniquity dead before his eyes. Go ye forth where sin is the most rampant.
Go down the dark alley, climb the creaking staircase; penetrate the dens of iniquity where the lion of the pit lies in his death lair, and go ye and pluck out of the mouth of the lion two legs and a piece of a ear, if that be all which you can save. Count it always your joy to follow the track of the lion, to beard him in his den, and fight him where he reigneth most secure. Protest daily, hourly, by act, by word, by pen, by tongue, against evil of every kind and shape. Be ye as burning and shining lights in the midst of darkness, and as two-edged swords in the midst of the hosts of sin.”
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