The Safety of Yesterday’s Wars
How to Avoid the Fiercest Battles
“If you faint in the day of adversity,” the king instructed his son, “your strength is small” (Proverbs 24:10). No man longs for small strength. No godly man can stomach the thought of fainting before adversity, when he should otherwise stand firm for his family, his church, and his Lord.
Alternatively, this king gives his son a different duty:
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. (Proverbs 24:11)
He trains his son to be a strong man of God. A man who risks his own comforts to rescue others. A man who exerts his mind, his will, and his heart to restrain those stumbling toward destruction. Every sword fight in the back yard, every dream of battling dragons, every ache of valor, testifies that even fallen man has not completely forgotten his purpose. It’s in his blood.
But then again, adversity is adversity. No man wants to be weak; but strength comes at a price. Danger and hardship await those who do not faint — devils fight those who do not play dead. Men want to be strong, and yet no man wants to suffer.
Offering to Fight the Elderly
Thus, it is a menace to all good men in every generation to travel the path that seems to be the hard way and yet requires nothing but small strength.
One such shortcut today is to ride your horse triumphantly into yesterday’s battles. This path avoiding the today of adversity — that dangerous, frightful, unpredictable place of here and now — allows one to still make a show of strength by combating the yesterday of adversity.
This path doesn’t seek to learn from our forefather’s gravest sins as it does to attack and cancel them. It gains moral superiority condemning those not here to defend themselves. It spits upon graves, topples statues, and wonders aloud for all to hear, “How could they?”
This, to many eyes, has the appearance of courage. But is it? Chesterton, for one, would not be impressed:
There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one’s grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers. (What’s Wrong with the World, 33)
How many of us are tempted to be men who fight grandmothers instead of face living giants? We all can position ourselves on the right side of history retroactively, instead of putting on the uniform of those drawing fire today. It is easier, of course, to shoot arrows onto a battlefield that has already cooled, at an enemy that has already left. “Were I around back then,” we are tempted to bluster, “I would have done thus and thus.” We denounce our ancestors’ blind spots but say comparatively little about our own.
God Knows We Know
Today, unlike yesterday, is full of tyrannies that will strike back. You can lose face, lose platforms, lose your job, and more. It is less troublesome, we discover, to smash everyone else’s idols but our own. The crowd cheering us for scolding our grandparents swiftly turns on us if we speak of their darling sins.
Thus, the adversity of today will ever require strong men (and undaunted women, Proverbs 31:25) of today. Feigning ignorance of the evils of our times, though convenient, will not absolve us. The king continues,
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work? (Proverbs 24:12)
God knows the characteristic sins of every crooked and twisted generation. He knows well our current abominations. And more than that, God knows we know about them too. If we try and say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
He knows, for example, we are murdering our children at the altar of the goddess Choice. Ours is a civilized, efficient barbarity hushed in clinics all across our nation. And some shouting down their grandfather’s evils are also the loudest advocates for this generation’s more heinous abomination. Standing before the judgment seat of God, we can say we did not care, but none can say we did not know.
Are we the same men we question from former generations — the ones who sat around and did nothing while evil prevailed? Being men of great strength for today’s challenges will require us to be willing to fight where the battle rages, to be ready to suffer for the truth, and to live with Christ, without the comfort of being welcomed in the world.
Fight Where the Battle Rages
The foe we fail to meet at the gate in our own generation is the foe we let into the city for the next. Fail to show up on divorce, marriage, manhood and womanhood, and sexuality today, and the camp will be overrun tomorrow.
English poet Elizabeth Charles (1828–1896) wrote so forcefully of Martin Luther that her words are often misattributed to him,
It is the truth which is assailed in any age which tests our fidelity. It is to confess we are called, not merely to profess. If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.
Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved. Every generation has its specific questions for the prophets of the age to answer. Previous generations have asked, Is war moral? What kind of God would allow a plague? Are all endowed with unalienable rights by their Creator? And so today, we ask, What is a man, and what is a woman? What is marriage? What is human life, and why must it be protected? What is the nature of “justice,” and who defines what it is?
It is here, before Pharaoh’s courts, that God commands us, “Cast your staff there” (see Exodus 7:9). And no matter how many serpents the sorcerers of secularism may conjure, God’s wisdom will have the world’s tail showing from its mouth just before it disappears entirely. History divulges a pattern in which ideologies come and go; “gods” come and go, but the words of the one true God remain. So, God gives us the sobering task of destroying our generation’s arguments and capturing the lofty opinions of men raised against the knowledge of God to obey Christ.
Be Ready to Suffer
We are not promised safety in such warfare. The apostle bids Timothy, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3).
This can startle us, especially in the comfortable West. We quickly forget that war is raging outside the castle. We are tempted to live as citizens of this world, to entangle ourselves in civilian pursuits (2 Timothy 2:4). When one soldier among us lifts up his voice to rally a charge out into the violent unknown, we may even label him a radical, a puritan, an extremist. War? What is this fellow talking about? Why does he walk about in armor like that?
The Christian life requires great strength — the Lord’s, in fact. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). This is because being strong will cost us. Christians are generally a suffering people. Our men often have spilled their blood to speak of our God. Blasphemies are the world’s love language. Plain truth, spoken unapologetically, is the only heresy remaining. And the world persecutes its heretics.
Live for Christ, Outside the Camp
I myself have imagined the heroes of yesterday were loved by their contemporaries. Some were; many were not. “We admire a man who was firm in the faith, say four hundred years ago,” Spurgeon observed, “but such a man today is a nuisance, and must be put down.” A prophet may not only go without honor in his hometown, but also in his generation.
Perhaps it is fortunate that we did not live in the days of our heroes. Their grip might have crumbled us. To meet a Luther, Spurgeon, Augustine, Athanasius, or the likes of Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, Ezra, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul — or Jesus himself — would expose us. We love our heroes like many love lions — in the zoo, at a safe distance, on the other side of the glass.
It was harder to be such heroes than we first imagine. Just read their stories. They lived outside the camp of their own generation. They were outcasts, oddities, strangers — and so is our calling. We too must make peace with not being at peace with our generation, content to live outside the camp of carnal security, because we seek a different home: “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:12–14).
Why Sorrows Fester
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, “They that know have grown afraid to speak. That is why sorrows that used to purify now only fester.” In every day of adversity, sorrows fester when men who know the truth grow afraid to speak. When they faint, when they grow weary, hopeless, unwilling, listless, the vulnerable and victimized are not rescued. Evil gains a foothold.
No man longs for small strength. But then again, who among us loves so deeply, believes so fiercely, trusts Christ so unshakably that he will not — cannot — faint with so much at stake? Today, souls will be lost. Today, children will be murdered. Today, Satan launches assaults on the church, and blinds the minds of unbelievers from the glory of Christ. Today is the only day we have — and it, not tomorrow, is the day of salvation.
Will we fight today’s battles? Will we speak, or let sorrows fester? Men of God, we were forged for adversity. We were remade to fight battles, to extend God’s kingdom, to war with devils. Our society, our families, our churches will not survive without us — without men molded for such a time as this.