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Friday, May 18, 2018

Onward Christian Soldiers

It was a popular tune when I was a kid. "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war ..." The "Christian fight song", so to speak. And, look, it's understandable. Isn't this kind of language in Scripture?
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:11-12)
Well, sure enough, there it is. We are to "put on the whole armor of God" because we're not in a mere "flesh and blood" battle, but an entire "cosmic powers" fight. The whole "onward Christian soldiers" idea right there.

Or is it?

I notice something interesting in this clear call to war.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph 6:13)
Do you see it? The text doesn't say we're supposed to "march". It doesn't appear to be an offensive. It appears to be a purely defensive war. With the armor of God, we're supposed to "be able to withstand in the evil day" and "to stand firm." Stand. Oh, stand firm, sure, but this doesn't seem to be a "take ground" battle.

It makes sense, actually. Jesus said, "I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) Paul wrote, "In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom 8:37-39) This is a done deal. It's all over but the shouting.

The story is told about when Jehoshaphat was king of Judah (2 Chron 20:1-30). A great army amassed and it looked bad. Jehoshaphat was scared. So he called up the people and they gathered for a prayer meeting. He told God the problem. "We are powerless," he ended and told God, "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You." (2 Chron 20:12) And God answered, "The battle is not yours, but God's." (2 Chron 20:15) The rest of the story is great fun. "Here's our battle plan," Jehoshaphat (essentially) tells his people. "We don't have to fight, so we'll put the choir up front and the rest of us will come along to praise God." (2 Chron 20:20-21) And God proved reliable.

Solomon wrote, "The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD." (Prov 21:31) We are told to make ready, no to take ground or overcome, but to stand firm in the power of His strength (Eph 6:10). Yes, we are at war, but it is a done deal and we're just supposed to stand. All we have to do is praise God while He works.


Craig said...

I have wondered, if there is any significance in the use of the phrase “as to war”, instead of “off to war”.

There probably isn’t, or I am reading too much into it, but it does seem like there might be a slight difference in the meeting.

David said...

One is a descriptor and the other an action. "March as if off to war" would be the way we say it, against "March off to war". One describes how they march, the other where they march.

Craig said...

That’s where I’m seeing (imagining) a difference. Marching off to war seems to imply something beyond the defense that the armor of God passage implies. If not a sense of going on the offensive.

Marching “as” seems to imply things like purpose and discipline while not implying offense.

This is not something I’m dogmatic about, and I’m open to alternatives, I’m just throwing it out.


Stan said...

I don't see "marching" -- marching "as to" or "off to" -- as "stand", which is why I see "stand firm" and "marching" as not the same concept in the Scripture in view.

Craig said...

It’s entirely possible that I’m imagining a distinction that isn’t there or seeing something that isn’t there.

I think it’s an unusual word choice, and wonder if it’s significant.

It would be one thing if the word choice was needed for rhyme or meter, but either works in this case.

Stan said...

Well, let me think. "Marching as to war" means "Let us march as if we are marching for war." The suggestion might be "We are not at war, but let's march as if we are" or "We aren't in a literal, physical war, but a spiritual one, so we should 'march' as if we're in a 'war'." ("Marching as to war" is intended, by the way, to rhyme with "With the cross of Jesus going on before.")

So, in either case, it would appear that the author of the hymn was talking about marching to war, either literally or figuratively, and in either case I would say that "marching" in any sense is not the same as "standing".

Like you, just musing out loud.

Craig said...

I guess I am getting a sense that it’s about being prepared for war fare, not so much marching out to seek it. I guess I could use the Internet and see if there’s actually an answer to this.