Eccles. viii. 8.
"And there is no discharge in that war"
DEATH is the immediate enemy spoken of in this verse; but the language of all Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, warrants us in extending its meaning to every enemy who assaults the peace of man or the life of nations, and, above all, to Sin—to that spiritual wickedness of which the world's ruin was the immediate result, which gives to the grave its victory, and to death its sting.
The war, then, in which there is no discharge is the war against Sin. It is this holy war of which Scripture is full. Not only were many of its saints actual warriors, but, with a signal and startling frequency of recurrence, its very metaphors are chosen from the scenes and images of war. How is the Christian's life described ? He is to stand fast in the conflict; he is to war a good warfare ; Christ is to be the captain of his salvation. Though the weapons of his warfare are not carnal, they are weapons still—the armour of God, the armour of light, the armour of righteousness; righteousness is to be his breastplate, and faith his shield, and salvation his helmet, and his sword is to be the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. His hope in the present is to be victory, through God's grace, over the world, the flesh, and the devil; and in the future, victory over the thraldom of death, and the dust and darkness of the grave. Life, then, is of necessity a battle-field; and hence it is, that even the innocent and new-born babe is ushered into the militant Church with the watchword of strife; over the smiling features and on the baby brow we sprinkle the baptismal dew, and " do sign him with the sign of the cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under His banner against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto his life's end".
History, too, is a battle, and its greatest men have been fighters. Such, in Scripture, were Gideon, and Barak, and Samson, and Jephthah, and David; such were the great Maccabean princes, such were many of the Christian legions of Constantine, and the holy warriors of Christendom ; such were many of the iron soldiers of the Commonwealth, and of the stout Covenanters of Cameron; and such, thank God, have been and are many and many of the gallant soldiers of England, both of those who are living now, and of those whose graves, like the graves of Vicars and Havelock, lie far away on the bleak shores of the Euxine or under the burning sun of Hindostan. Nor are soldiers the only heroes. In Scripture, Samuel and the prophets are ranked with warriors and kings. St. Paul, the gentlest-hearted of men, of an affection well-nigh womanly in its tenderness, and with a voice which breaks with tears, fought with lions, and with men fiercer than lions, and chose as the fit expression for the close of a long career, " I have fought a good fight." For, even in history, the fight against bigotry, and ignorance, and error—against evil customs, and favourite idols, and victorious lies—is a harder and a deadlier fight, and requires a more dauntless courage and a more unshaken faith, than the fight against armed hosts. And such warrior-heroes have been all the glorious army who came out of great tribulation, and washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Such heroes were many of the fathers, and martyrs, and confessors of the Church in every age. Ay, and it is not too much to say that you will not find one great man, in our own or any history, who did not fight in the teeth of clenched antagonisms with the stern courage of a heart that could dare dauntlessly in the cause of God, or of freedom, or of truth.
Think not that that Divine teaching of Christ's Sermon on the Mount contradicts any one word of truths like these. " Blessed are the peacemakers ; " yet he who loves peace most must fight for it, when the need has come; and as for gentleness and love, would they even be possible without the warm spirit of scorn for that which is contemptible, and detestation for what is wrong ? Many of our best and most resistless fighters have been men whose hearts could tremble with the tenderest pity at the wrongs done to a dumb animal, and blaze out with the fiercest wrath at him who should cause the tears of a woman, or the wailing of a child. As the spirit of the lightning lies in the dewdrop, so a power of righteous anger often slumbers in the noblest breasts, like a fire of God, side by side with meekness and compassion. Even in Him our Lord, our Teacher, our Saviour, our Divine Example, in dwelling on His forgiveness, His lowly-heartedness, His longsuffering, His love, His patience, forget not that there was another side to His character as well. He who wept at the grave of Lazarus also knotted a scourge of small cords, and overturned the tables of the money-changers, and drove forth those who had made the House of His Father a den of thieves. He whose love would have gathered the children of Jerusalem together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yet scathed and laid bare the seared consciences of Priest and Pharisee, and dropped the molten lead of His scorn and indignation upon the souls of the formalist and the hypocrite. He who, out of His great love for all mankind, never shrank from touching the white sores of the leper, and who suffered the penitent harlot to weep her hot tears upon his feet, and wipe them with the hairs of her head, yet faced unflinchingly the fury of an excited synagogue, and sent back a contemptuous message to a reckless and blood-stained king.
We have need, then, of the dauntless spirit and the tried nerve of the soldier, even in the Christian's course. Easy, indeed, it were to slink through life, lapped in silken effeminacies, never to strike a blow for hated truths, never to stand by a maligned man, or an unpopular opinion, never to face obloquy, never to defy ridicule, never to brave opposition, never to smite at folly, never to confront tyranny, never to denounce injustice, never to rebuke vice. It were easy to spend our lives in getting food and clothing, and in hoarding our little dues of money, or in using it for such paltry comforts and mean enjoyments as we are fit for — forgetting all but our petty selves, forgetting that we are Christians and citizens, forgetting that we are Englishmen, forgetting the blood and race of which we came. Yes, easy and common too, but for all that contemptible. Let us never dignify such wretched selfishness by the name of Christian quietude, or deck out our slavish pusillanimity in the guise of religion. He to whom the whole round of heaven and earth is shut up in his farm or his merchandise, is only fit to live as a traitor or a slave. But he who would be a good soldier of God, and the worthy citizen of a glorious and Christian land, if there be in his spirit one spark of what is noble, or generous, or manly, must, when occasion comes—whether it be for God, or for truth, or for pity, or for right, or for home and native land—must, I say, when the occasion comes, fight, and fight hard—strike, and strike home. Let no one dare to disintegrate Christianity from that manliness, that freeborn courage, which in the ancient languages is the very synonym of virtue, and which is the might and glory of a man. Timidity is no Christian virtue, but the fitting legacy left by sin and shame. Let the cheat, and the liar, and the drunkard, and the adulterer be haunted through a shivering life by the phantoms of remorse and fear; to the Christian soldier belong the high glance, and the free carriage, and the fearless soul. " The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous is bold as a lion".
The meekness of the Christian must never bear the brand of the coward; nor should we suffer the servants of Satan to boast and swagger, as though all the daring and all the strength were theirs alone.
My brethren, and you, above all, young men, who walk in the pride of your strength, hardly knowing as yet how many are the snares and pitfalls of life, believe me, this is no easy battle—believe me, it is a warfare in which there is no discharge. To live lives of heroic devotion to all that is brave, and honest, and true—to live in temperance, soberness, and chastity — to avoid those dark and slippery ways which are the ways of death, and that alluring banquet where the dead, and those who are hated of God, are guests — to be in such charity with all men as to scorn all petty malignities, whether of word or deed — to loathe every form and shape of impurity or falsehood—to love the Lord Jesus Christ with all our hearts, and never to grieve the Holy Spirit of God by sin wilfully indulged—this is the hardest of all tasks, the longest and the sternest of all toils. To this, as God's minister, I exhort you; to this, not God's ministers only, but your own consciences, which speak with the voice of God within you, and the words of Scripture, and the lessons of life, and the hopes of immortality. Oh, shut not your ears to these voices of God. Resolve, if you have not done so hitherto, resolve this day to be true and pure, and to fight manfully under your Saviour's banner against the world, the flesh, and the devil. If in that warfare there be no discharge, nevertheless in that struggle there is no failure; and thus, more than by any service, will you be the living columns of your country's prosperity.
The Fall of Man, p. 214.