Beloved Protestant Reformed young people:
I count it a privilege that I may speak to you tonight. It has been several years since I have spoken at a convention. And to be perfectly honest, I am always a little bit jealous when someone else has this privilege, and I do not. The reason is not that I think myself to be such a topnotch speaker, but that I love you Protestant Reformed young people and welcome the opportunity to talk to you. So, thanks for the invitation.
I am particularly happy to speak on the theme which you have chosen for this year’s convention. For the times in which we live, I think that the theme for this convention could hardly be better chosen. We live in an age when the tendency in
Christianity at large is to be spiritually pacifist. And that is wrong, dead wrong! And therefore I am glad that your convention purposes to emphasize that we are militant, that we are at war, that we are soldiers of Christ.
And I want to begin right there with a direct question: Are you of Christ? That is, are you a Christian?
If so, then you are a soldier. Mind you, you are a soldier, not for Christ: because Christ has no need of anyone to fight for Him. But you are a soldier of Christ, a soldier in His cause, the cause of the victorious Son of God in the midst of the world. Those two are inseparable: Christian and soldier. If you are a Christian, you are a soldier of Christ. If you are not a soldier, you are not a Christian. The two are inseparably connected.
Further, if you are a soldier, you have a fight on your hands. And I mean it just exactly in that way: not that you may have to fight, not that you must merely prepare to fight, not that you must look forward to fighting sometime in the future. But you do have a fight on your hands now, and all your life. It is a fight, further, in which there is no quarter, no truce, no cease-fire, until Christ comes again. And it is a fight, too, in which there is no neutral ground anywhere.
To be able to fight that fight you must know four things. First of all, you must know who the enemy is, and must be able to recognize him. In the second place, you must know what kind of battle you fight in. Thirdly, you must know where the enemy is. And, finally, you must know what your position in the battle and in the battle-line is. This is true in any worldly battle, any this-earthly battle. If you do not know the enemy, if you are not able to recognize the enemy, if you do not know his character, if you do not know the kind of battle you are fighting, and if you do not know where the enemy is, you cannot properly fight. And this is true for our battle, too. And so it falls to me tonight to introduce that aspect of the theme of your convention. And I speak to you on:
THE ENEMY IN BATTLE
- The Identify of the Enemy
- The Nature of the Battle
- Your Position in the Battle
The Identity of the Enemy
We may very well be guided here by the passage of Scripture which is the theme- passage of this convention, Ephesians 6:11, ff. And then we ought to note, first of all, that we wrestle not against flesh and blood. The Bible talks about these things here not so much in order to tell us that we must prepare for the battle, but in order rather to show us wherein the proper battle-readiness consists. How must we prepare? And how must we be prepared? And in order to know this, we must understand for what we must be prepared. This is very important. If you are going to fight a battle against disease, you have to know that you do not fight disease with rat poison, but with antibiotics. If you are going to fight a battle against mosquitoes, you have to know the nature of that enemy, so that you may know that you do not fight mosquitoes with atomic bombs. Thus, in the spiritual sense, you have to know your enemy in order to know how to fight him. And you have to know, first of all, that you do not fight against flesh and blood. It is necessary to know this, and history shows this to be necessary. There have been people who took the position that we fight against flesh and blood. There have been people, for example, who have tried to fight the battle by forsaking the world physically: and they crawled into cloisters and monasteries, not realizing that they took the world right along with them. That kind of battle didn’t help. It was actually world-flight, rather than world-fight. Others have tried to fight the battle with physical means, and they still do that. There have been those in past history who tried to compel men to be baptized at the point of a sword. That also was of no use. They were not fighting with the right weapons and in the right battle. Others have sought the way out in self-improvement and in their own strength. But that also was of no profit. Hence, we must point out the character of the enemy. We must know the enemy in order to be able to fight him. We must be able to recognize him, recognize his character, his strength, his weapons.
Not against flesh and blood do we fight. “Flesh and blood” does not mean our corrupt, sinful nature. For this corrupt nature is exactly an ally of our enemy, and we do indeed have to fight against it all our life long. Nor does “flesh and blood” simply mean men. We may depend on it that then the Bible would simply use the word “men” in the text. Besides, we do sometimes have our battle with men, that is, in as far as they are in alliance with the devil. We fight them then, and we have to fight them. But by “flesh and blood,” we must understand all that is of man, all that is visible, all that is earthly, all that is material. We do not have our fight with that as such. And we do not have our fight with natural powers as such. And therefore, we do not fight a merely natural, human battle; and we do not fight with natural physical strength. It is not a fight of physical prowess against physical prowess. It is not a battle of numbers against numbers. It is not a battle merely of mind against mind, or of will against will. It may very well be that flesh and blood can serve and are used in the camp of the enemy. But the battle is not against flesh and blood as such.
Positively speaking, we do battle against the legions of the devil.
Our chief enemy is the devil himself, Satan.
We must not make the mistake, now, of denying the existence of the devil, or of making the existence of the devil something vague and abstract, something that is not real. This is done, you know. The devil is the power of evil in your own heart, according to some. Or the devil is the power of evil in your surroundings, the power of evil in your environment. That is a very serious mistake. There is not a mistake that is more fatal for an army or for a soldier than to think that the enemy does not exist. You surely will not fight then! It is a fatal mistake to think that the enemy is someone else or something else than he really is.
We must understand that the devil is real. He is a definite person. He is an individual who has a mind and a will. He is a spiritual person; but just because he is a spiritual person, he is not less real. Originally the devil was one of the greatest of the angels, if not the greatest. He was an angel ranking in power and glory with Michael, the archangel. And therefore the devil is a highly gifted creature, a highly gifted, very real individual. But that devil is fallen into a state of absolute enmity against God, so that he employs all his great powers and all his great gifts — which he has kept, even though he has fallen — against God. That enmity against God is the great principle of all the devil’s actions. He hates God, and he hates all that is of the Lord our God. He is a liar. He speaks the lie of himself, and he is the father of the lie. He is Satan, God’s adversary!
That devil is the prince of this world. He is prince, not in the sense that he owns the world: for he does not own it. He is prince, not in the sense that he is legally appointed and created head of this world. That is not his position; he has no right to be prince of this world. But he is prince thus, that in the spiritual sense he and his principle of enmity against God reign in all this created world. And his purpose is, remember, not to destroy this world. The devil does not want that. But he wants to reign over the world; and he wants to have all things in all creation and in all of mankind and in all of the activity of mankind develop apart from and over against God, and for himself. That came about because man, the created world-king, submitted to that devil at the time of the fall in Paradise.
That is our chief enemy.
That devil is not alone, but has a whole host of evil spirits with him. The devil needs such a host. For you must remember the devil is a creature. The devil is not omnipresent, as God is. And the devil is not almighty either, as God is. And so he cannot do things alone, but needs an entire host of evil spirits to help him and to do his bidding. That host of the devil is described here in the theme-passage of your convention: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world (or better: against the world rulers of this darkness), against spiritual wickedness in high places.” You see, this passage is talking about the spiritual world: about wickedness “in high places,” heavenly places, in the air. It is not speaking here of an enemy of this world and of this earth, but of an enemy who is of the spiritual world. And there is a vast number of devils under the prince of the devils. We do not know how many. We know that in one woman, Mary Magdalene, there were seven devils at one time. We know that in the man at the Sea of Galilee there was a legion of devils: just in one man. We do not know exactly how many devils there are under the prince of the devils. It is not impossible, I think, that there are more devils than there are men living on the earth at any given time. That is not impossible, I say, though I do not know. Not only that, but they are a battle-host: they are organized. There are differences of rank and power among the devils. There are principalities: chief demons. There are powers: leaders, rulers, princes among the devils. And that presupposes, of course, that there is an entire host under them, the common foot soldiers — the infantry, if you will — of the devil. There is an entire host! And together all those devils constitute one tremendous power of opposition against God and all that is of God.
Further, they are the world-rulers of this darkness. As an organized host, under Satan, they rule over this world. They ride over the world in as far as the spiritual principle of darkness is concerned. And in spiritual darkness, in hatred against God, they aim at completing and maintaining the rule of their chief, Satan. Concretely speaking, when they have finally achieved their goal — that is, in as far as that is possible — then you will have the final manifestation of the Antichristian Kingdom.
That, in brief, is the enemy.
The Nature of the Battle
That character of the enemy, as over against the character of the Christian soldier, determines to a large extent the nature of the battle. Also that nature of the battle you have to understand in order to fight. This is necessary. Our soldiers, for example, knew that when they had to go and fight in Vietnam. You could not go and fight in Vietnam in the jungles against the Viet Cong, who could do a disappearing act in just a little while, in the same way in which they could fight during World War II in Europe against the Panzer Divisions of Adolf Hitler. That was a different kind of battle. So it is spiritually, too. You have to understand the battle in order to be able to fight.
There are the following things which we ought to understand about the nature of that battle.
In the first place, we ought to understand very clearly the cause of the battle: its essential cause and its spiritual cause.
Essentially that battle takes place because, according to His counsel of predestination, God has His people in Christ: a people who are of His party, who are of the light, who have the love of God in them. And God has His people, and wants to have them, for a time in the midst of the world of sin and darkness, in the midst of the enemy. That is what God wants. That is why the battle takes place. God wants to have a people who are in the world, but not of the world, for His own glory.
From a spiritual point of view, that battle is caused, on the part of the enemy, the devil and his host, by the principle that I have already mentioned, the principle of hatred against God. And, on the part of the Christian soldier, that battle has its cause in the fact that we are of the light and have the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. And that means that the battle involves the sharpest conflict conceivable. There are two forces in that battle that are absolute opposites spiritually.
And therefore the battle is inevitable: it cannot be avoided. That is why I said in the very beginning of my speech that if you are a Christian, you are a soldier. And if you are a soldier, you fight. The spiritual host of wickedness and the church, the saints, are absolute antagonists. They cannot agree! They cannot bear the sight of one another! They are as opposite and as exclusive as light and darkness. Even then, of course, you would not have a fight yet, you would not have a conflict. You would not have a fight if only those two antagonists lived in entirely separate worlds, entirely separate spheres. But they do not! They live in the same world. They lead the same life of this world. They live in the same sphere. They come into contact with one another in that world. And because they necessarily come into contact with one another in this world, they come into conflict. Hence, they must necessarily clash.
The host of darkness and the soldiers of Christ demand the same things, you see. Both demand the glory of God: the devil does so, and we do so. The devil and his host demand the glory of God, in order to destroy it. We demand the glory of God, in order to maintain it and to stand for it. We both demand the same Word of God. The devil demands the Word of God, in order to gainsay it and to place his lie instead of it. We demand the Word of God, in order to defend it and to live by its light in doctrine and walk. They both demand the same righteousness of God. The devil demands that righteousness of God, in order to trample it. We demand that righteousness of God, in order to glorify it. They both demand the same world and all that it contains, all its life. The devil demands that world, in order to make that world and keep that world a world of darkness for himself. We demand that same world, in order to claim it for God and Christ, and in order to live all our life in it for Him.
That is the battle, the inevitable battle. The name, the glory, the righteousness, the holiness, the Word, the ordinances of God — all these are at stake in the battle. And the conflict is inevitable. The devil cannot leave God’s people alone; neither can God’s people leave the devil alone. That is the second aspect of the battle that we must understand.
And the third aspect is the purpose. The purpose of the enemy is to annihilate God, to get rid of God, to get rid of His Name, His cause, His honor, His people. His purpose is to subject everything to the power of darkness. That is what the enemy wants. He cannot get at God directly anymore. He is not in heaven, and has no access to heaven. And He cannot get at Christ directly anymore, because Christ has ascended to heaven. But God has His people in the world. And the purpose of the enemy is to get at God, to get at Christ, to get at God’s Name and His honor and His glory through His people. Ultimately, you know, the devil is not after you and me. He is after you and me only because he is after God and Christ! That is his purpose.
The purpose of God with that battle is the revelation of His great power and majesty and holiness, the revelation of the tremendous power of His sovereign grace in and through His people. The purpose of God is the revelation of Christ as the invincible Lord of all and the maintenance of His covenant.
And remember, young people, principally the battle is not ours, but the Lord’s. The battle is God’s, and everything and everyone in that battle serve God. The army of Satan does that in spite of itself. The army of Satan does that in its wickedness, but it nevertheless serves God and His purpose. And we serve that purpose through divine grace in the light, in the love of God, in such a way that God’s purpose becomes our purpose. But the battle is the Lord’s, and He will achieve His purpose through that battle. Do not forget that.
In the fourth place, as far as the nature of that battle is concerned, you must remember that the battle is purely spiritual.
What does that mean?
I think that too often that idea of “spiritual” is vague among us. It comes to represent in our mind something that is far off, something that is “out there,” something with which we do not have very much to do. And that is wrong. It does not mean that this battle is fought only in the realm of the spirits: angels against devils, for example. That would exactly put the battle far off from us. If we have that idea, we will never fight and never realize that we have a battle on our hands. Remember, the battle is fought not against flesh and blood. But that battle which is fought not against flesh and blood is nevertheless fought in flesh and blood. And it is fought here, right on the stage of this present world. It is fought in all of the life of this world, in every sphere of the life of this world. But that battle that is fought on the stage of this world is fought for spiritual realities. It is fought for righteousness, for truth, for light, for life, for the love of God, for the glory of God. It is not fought for money, nor fought for worldly power, not fought for position, not fought for earthly glory and honor, but for things spiritual. Moreover, it is fought with spiritual means, spiritual weapons — centrally the Word and Testimony. I am not going to say any more about that because that is for your second speaker. But remember: the battle is spiritual. Remember, that even when the enemy uses material means! Remember, even when the devil uses the sword, and fire, and prison, and persecution: what is at stake in that battle is never your earthly life and possessions, or mine. The battle concerns God, concerns Christ, concerns the spiritual treasures which through God’s grace we have in Christ. That is what the devil is after! Don’t you ever forget that! Even when he persecutes, even when he kills, he is not after your earthly life and not after your money and not after your living. That is only the means. He is after your life, after that new life that is in your heart and mine. He is after that life that is of God and that is for God’s glory. And he wants, if at all possible, to snuff out that life, because he hates God.
That means, too, that as far as we are concerned the aim in that battle is not to make the world better. You cannot do that any way. But that is not the aim, not our calling. We do not fight for that. The aim is not to gain the world for Christ either. Christ does not want this world.
The aim is not even to overcome the world. We do not have to do that: Christ has overcome it. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” Christ said. “But be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.” But the aim is simply to be and to live to the glory of God’s grace by representing tire cause of God’s Son, the cause of the light, in this world.
That brings me to the next phase of my subject: the manner of the enemy. It is very striking that the Bible here stresses the fact that the devil uses wiles. He is wily! The devil has a whole bag of tricks. He fights with wiles, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. You know, because of our sinful nature, the devil can make a direct attack. He can tempt us from within. He can have direct spiritual influence on our spirit. And that also means, by the way, that we can fight directly with a counter attack! He comes in different ways. He comes to a young man differently than he comes to an old man. He comes to a young woman differently than to a young man. He has all kinds of methods and all kinds of tricks. He knows how to judge character and time and circumstances, and to tempt accordingly. He can come with influence on your mind and on your will. He can sow in your soul or mine the lie. He can sow unbelief. He can sow doubt. He can sow in us a strong desire for the world. He can sow in us rebellion. He can sow in us all kinds of evil lusts. And thus he can influence us directly with his wiles. When you and I realize that things of this kind are welling up in us from within, we must realize that the devil is at work! We must fight it!
But the devil can also come indirectly. He has his kingdom of darkness in the world of wicked men. And through that world of wicked men he can exert his influence through many a human servant. He can fight for his cause through all kinds of means. He can fight through the means of novels and romances and periodicals and newspapers. He can fight his cause through speeches and sermons He can fight his battle through class-lectures and human philosophy. He can fight his warfare through glittering temptations of money and power and honor and glory. Or, he can fight his battle also through the threat of the fearful sword, through persecution, through death.
But I want to emphasize that the devil, however he comes, always come with wiles! He is the deceiver, you know: that is his name. He lies in wait to deceive! His method is always to try to make the lie look true and beautiful. He always wants to make the wrong look right. He wants to make the way of sin look attractive and easy and good. He comes with deceit!
There is a further point which must be emphasized in connection with the nature of the battle in which we fight. That point is this: the scope of the battle is universal. There is no neutral ground anywhere. There is not any ground in this world, any part, any sphere, of your life and mine which does not involve the battle. In the deepest sense, even when we sleep, we are involved in the battle. Your home, your family, your dating and your courtship, your education, your job, your church, your life in society, industry, labor, the arts, entertainment — every conceivable sphere of life belongs to the battleground. And there is no ground where we and the enemy may meet in peace. There is no ground where we and the enemy may have fellowship together. What fellowship hath light with darkness? There is no area in all the world where we and the enemy may cooperate together. The battle involves every segment of our life, right down the line. Through all the departments of life there runs an absolute line of separation between friend and foe, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, righteousness and unrighteousness, God and the devil!
I want to emphasize this. For it is just exactly at this point that the devil has concocted one of his most crafty wiles: the neutrality myth. That is the myth that there is neutral ground, that there is common territory for believer and unbeliever. That is one of the choicest wiles of the devil, I say. Beware of that! There are neutral labor unions, neutral business organizations, neutral movies, neutral entertainments, neutral athletics and athletic associations — neutral this and neutral that! That is one of the choicest wiles of the devil. And Protestant Reformed soldiers of Christ, that is what being Protestant Reformed is all about. Do you understand? That is what denying common grace is all about. There is no neutrality. You are either a soldier of Christ, or you are of the enemy. There is no third possibility. I want to warn you on that score! I dare say that all of you young people are of the third or of the fourth generation away from 1924 and the common grace controversy as it was fought at that time. You are rather far away from it historically. But that is no sufficient reason to forget it. And I want to warn you particularly against the danger — and that is another wile of the devil —the danger that we deny common grace in theory, but embrace it in practice. Oh, yes, we say in theory: there is no common grace. God’s grace is particular. There is no common ground; we hold to the absolute antithesis. But when it comes to the application of that principle, we can find more reasons than Carter has pills to maintain that after all there is some ground. Be careful! Be on guard! Beware lest the devil succeed in smuggling into the camp of the saints through practice what he cannot succeed in smuggling in as far as doctrine and theory are concerned. It has always been one of the tricks of the evil one to move the church from a strong doctrinal position by attacking that position in practice.
Closely related is the myth that we must gain the world for Christ, or the myth that we must bring about improvement in the world. That is very common in this day of the social gospel. We must overcome immorality. We must overcome discrimination. Such is the battle cry of these social gospellers. That is another wile of the devil. And it is particularly subtle and crafty because it has the sound of a very idealistic battle cry. But the danger is that by his crafty guile the devil takes us away from the real battle! For if we become deeply involved in the ideals of the social gospel philosophy, we are not going to fight the true battle. For the fact of the matter is that at the basis of this philosophy is the denial of the antithesis, the theory that this world actually can be improved, let alone ought to be improved. And the result of this philosophy, if we heed it, is exactly that we begin to fight on the side of the antichristian kingdom of darkness.
There is still another wile of the devil, a ruse which has a particular appeal, I think, to youth. That is the ruse that we must not always fight, that we do not have to fight always. We must also have our fun, our good times, our recreation. This is a favorite wile of the devil which he uses on Christian youth. It is the theory, you see, that there is after all, some area of our life which does not belong to the battle ground. And the appeal of this wile of the devil, is, of course, to the fact that youth is the time of joy and exuberance and vitality. And indeed, there is no doubt about that. But remember that even the joy and the exuberance and the vitality of Christian youth are not the same as the frivolous and vain and materialistic joy of the world’s youth. Remember that even underneath your youthful exuberance and joy must be the underlying seriousness of the battle-awareness! Indeed, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes, but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment” (Eccl. 11:9).
Such, therefore, is the battle.
Your Position in the Battle
That battle you must fight as Christian youth.
Your calling is not to have a place in the battle as little children. Nor is your position in the battle the same as that of fully mature soldiers. Nor is your position that of seasoned veterans in the battle of faith. No, your position is peculiarly that of Christian youth.
This implies many things: for the period of youth, or adolescence, is a unique period in your life. It is a period which has its own peculiar characteristic in many respects.
But if I were to mention the one, all-important aspect of your youth in connection with our subject tonight, I would stress that youth is above all the period of training, of preparation. And for you as Christian youth it is preeminently the period, therefore, of training and preparation as Christian soldiers, soldiers of Christ. It is the period in which you train to put on the whole armor of God, to wear that armor, and to use that armor in the battle of faith.
You must remember this, remember this especially with respect to your church life: your sitting under the preaching of the Word, your instruction in the catechism class, and with respect to the opportunity for training in your young people’s societies. Yours is not the position of mature and seasoned soldiers, and you must certainly not attempt to occupy that position as yet, nor act as though you have no more need of training. You must, as Christian youth, above all take advantage of this period of preparation, so that you may become thoroughly prepared, well trained, spiritually battle-ready soldiers of Christ. Then, and then only, will you be ready, when the time comes, to take your place as mature soldiers in the battle line. If you fail to do this, it can only have dire results spiritually. It will only mean that you cannot recognize the enemy, that you do not know what to do with your armor, and that you will be at a loss as to how to fight.
But the peculiar thing is that the Christian soldier must fight at the same time that he trains. He must fight from the first moment of his conscious life to the last breath of his earthly pilgrimage. He must fight even when he is in training. And the peculiar aspect of the battle for the youthful Christian soldier is exactly this that the enemy tries to prevent you from becoming trained. He tries to deter you from training. And also in this connection the devil uses wiles, and by those wiles seeks to tempt you to neglect your training, or to forsake your training, or to be wrongly trained. He has the guile of the amusement craze. He has the guile of bad literature. He uses the wiles of bad education, whereby he seeks to lead you astray from the truth and to prevent you from putting on and learning to put on the girdle of the truth. And he has the trick of leading you into bad friendships and bad associations with others. And therefore, remember: youth is above all the time of preparation, the time to train for the warfare. And in order to be properly trained in the midst of the church, whether in catechism or in your young people’s societies — which are voluntary training grounds — you must fight to be trained.
My concluding word is this. The battle is a very one-sided battle. On the one hand, it is one-sided from a physical point of view. If you look at it from that point of view, from the point of view of flesh and blood, the tide of the battle is decidedly in favor of the enemy. The majority, the power, the means, the money — all these are on the side of the enemy. And yet, on the other hand, in the deepest sense of the word — and that is what your third speaker is going to talk to you about — the tide of the battle is decidedly against the world. Christ eternally had the victory. He obtained that victory and realized that victory through His cross and resurrection. And He no’ has all power in heaven and on earth. We are soldiers of that Christ. And through faith we are victorious in that Christ!