Christians In The Army?

Dear Sir,

I have often wondered how a gracious person can live in the army, and, along with wicked soldiers, enter into severe engagements with the enemy.

Is he not a murderer according to Galatians 5:21?

Does he not deliberately act contrary to the Saviour’s instructions as recorded in Matthew 5:44?

Is it right or scriptural for a gracious person to take up arms at all against his fellow creatures?

A gracious soldier, in time of war and in engagements with the enemy, must be in a very deplorable situation. An answer will oblige Yours,



Answer by J.C. Philpot

Beyond all question, war, viewed in itself, is inconsistent with the gospel of peace and righteousness, and there is necessarily in the very profession of a soldier that which must shock every truly Christian heart.

So far we are fully agreed with our correspondent; but he seems to have confused two things, which we cannot but consider very different.

It surely is one thing, being a Christian, to go into the army, and another, being a Christian, to continue in the army.

We can hardly think that any man possessed of a tender conscience and the life of God in his soul would deliberately enlist as a private soldier, or purchase a commission as an officer.

But take the first case, with which we seem- more immediately concerned, that of a soldier in the ranks. A wild, reckless youth, in a moment of excitement, perhaps half drunk, or driven to it by poverty and destitution, enlists into a marching regiment.

After he has been some time in the ranks, the Lord is pleased to quicken his soul into spiritual life; and to doubt this is ever the case is to doubt the sovereignty of grace, and to deny positive facts.

Besides the burden of a guilty conscience, our poor unhappy youth has now to endure all the misery and wretchedness, the filth and wickedness, and probably the persecution of a barrack life, which has been called by those who know it, “A hell upon earth.”

But what is the poor man to do?

He is like a mouse in a trap; he is in, but how is he to get out?

There are but two ways out; one he must not take, and the other he most probably cannot. These two ways are desertion or discharge. Surely J. H. would not recommend the former—at best a most terrible and perilous experiment, and subjecting a man to the disgrace and punishment of a felon.

This way, then, being thoroughly blocked out, can he avail himself of the second?

His discharge will cost him at least £40; and if he be a thoroughly good soldier, the probability is that the colonel will not part with him at any price. It is calculated that every soldier landed in India is worth to Government £100, and has probably cost twice that sum.

How will the commanding officer let that man purchase his discharge for £40?

But suppose the colonel were willing to let him go, can he always or often raise the
sum required for his discharge?

Then what alternative has he but to stay in his regiment?

Now, suppose the regiment is ordered off to India, and suppose it is sent on to Delhi or Lucknow, and suppose, as is most probable, it has to go into action against the sepoys, what is our Christian soldier to do?

Is he to refuse to march in the ranks, or not fire his Enfield rifle when the word is given to fire, or lie down on the ground when his fellow soldiers are rushing on to the charge?

It is fearful to think that he has to shed blood, but he has no alternative; and apart from his general duty as a soldier, if his comrade is about to be cut down by a sepoy, is he not to protect him, though in doing so he take the life of the enemy?

But examine the matter upon scriptural grounds.

Have we no instances of godly soldiers in the New Testament?

What was the centurion, (Matthew 8) of whom the Lord himself testified that He “had not found so great faith, no, not in Israel,” but a soldier, or
rather what we should call a captain, in the Roman army, then occupying Judaea, as our troops are stationed in India?

And that this centurion was a saved man is evident from what the Lord added:

“And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

He had come from the west to sit first at the Redeemer’s feet, and will sit down hereafter to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

And who was the first Gentile to whose house salvation came after the Lord had risen from the dead but Cornelius, “a centurion of the band called the Italian band?” — just as we might say, however odd it may sound to the ear, ” A Captain in the Scotch Greys,” or “A Lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards.”

On this Roman captain, whom J. H. would almost call “a murderer,” and if so he could not have “eternal life abiding in him,” (1 John 3:15,) the Holy Ghost fell, and he was baptized in the name of the Lord, being the first Gentile Baptist.

It appears also that he was not alone in the Italian band, for “a devout soldier waited on him continually,” being what we should now call “the orderly” of this gracious, God-fearing captain.

Now, suppose that this godly captain had lived for about thirty years after his baptism, which might easily have been the case, it would have found him in the very heat of that tremendous war which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army under Titus; and suppose he was at – the siege of that city, as Baker might have been at the siege of Delhi; now, if there had been what is called a “sortie,” that is, a rush from the city of the besieged Jews, and our godly captain had been at the head of his troop, must he have fought or fled?

And if the devout soldier who waited on him, his “orderly,” had been at his side, and seen a Jewish desperado aiming a blow at his captain’s head, might he save his life, even though he had to kill the Jewish soldier?

And would, in this case, this devout soldier have been “a murderer,” and so been cut off from eternal life?”

Nor do we want modern instances. Colonel Gardner, a man favored with one of the most remarkable experiences on record, continued in the army after his call by grace, and, in fact, died with his sword in his hand, for he was cut down at the battle of Preston Pans by the scythe of a Highlander, when fighting bravely in defence of his king, his country, and, we may add, his religion; for Pope and Pretender had conspired to rob England both of liberty and religion.

Was Colonel Gardener “a murderer,” and is he now in hell?

If so, he was awfully deceived; for, if we remember right, he had a most blessed visit from his dear Lord a night or two before the battle, and a sweet assurance from his own lips that he should shortly be with him.

Though we have thus written, let it not be supposed that we are vindicating war, or justifying a godly man for going into the army.

We are merely taking up the question, whether it be possible for a man to be in such a position, and yet be a partaker of grace.

At the present moment, the question assumes to us a greater degree of interest, as, from the letter which we inserted in the October No., from a soldier in India, and another to be found in our present pages, we have every reason to believe there are a few who fear God in our Indian army.

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