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History
It Was Just After 5am...
G Plug - 14 November 2015


It was just after 5.00 AM, 11 November 1918. For three days the world had breathlessly waited while a small group of Allied and German military leaders negotiated in a railway car parked in a French forest near the front line. Finally the message was dispatched: 'Hostilities will cease on the entire front on 11 November, at 11 AM French time.'

So ended one of the bloodiest conflicts the world had ever known; four years of incomprehensible slaughter. When the numbers were finally tallied up on both sides, casualties (the dead and wounded, military and civilian) came to a staggering 37 million.

From the account of one of the officers on the front line we read this: 'All over the world people were celebrating – but not at the front where I was. As night came the quietness, unearthly in its penetration, began to eat into their soul. The men sat around fires, the first they had ever had on the front, trying to reassure themselves that there were no enemy batteries spying on them from the next hill; they talked in low tones – nervous. After long months of intense strain under daily mortal danger, the abrupt release was agony. Some began to hope . . . some suffered nervous collapse . . . some could think only of the crude crosses marking the graves of their comrades. . .

. . . Through their teeming memories paraded that swiftly moving cavalcade of those who had gone before . . .'
[1]

And so they left the devastated battle fields of France, where peaceful farms and villages had been transformed into a wasteland of churned up soil, smashed up forests, and gaping, skeletal remains of buildings; where the only signs of life were the infestations of rats and fleas and lice; where they had been confronted with the miserable depths of fallen humanity.

MISPLACED OPTIMISM

Thousands of soldiers had left home with a sense of exultation, brought on by the feeling that they were part of something bigger than themselves. Bigger than country, bigger even than 'King and Empire'. Perhaps they felt something of what H.G. Wells wrote: 'This is a conflict of cultures, and nothing else in the world. All the world-wide pain and weariness, fear and anxieties, the bloodshed and destruction . . . are but the material consequences of a false philosophy and foolish thinking. We fight not to destroy a nation, but a nest of evil ideas . . . This is now a war for peace . . . Every soldier who fights against Germany now is a crusader against war. This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war—it is the last war!'[2] Perhaps, even, some of the last vestiges of their idealism remained, as they dealt with the memories.

An optimism shared by many in the immediate aftermath of the war; that perhaps, through the insanity of the slaughter, humanity would come to its senses and understand that war would never resolve conflicts between nations and peoples. Among them was President Woodrow Wilson, with his plan for peace. His brain-child, the League of Nations, was conceived as the solution to resolving conflicts between nations – a world-wide organisation in which diplomacy would be 'a definite guarantee of peace. A definite guarantee by word against aggression. A definite guarantee against the things which have just come near bringing the whole structure of civilization into ruin'[3].

Sadly, the guarantees given by mere man were not worth much. The record of the twentieth century and beyond, speaks for itself. The Treaty for peace after the 'War to end war' became the 'Peace to end peace'. Scarcely twenty years later, the world plunged into another war, even more destructive and costly in terms of human suffering than the first. It began with Germany's ferocious attacks across Europe, but spread to the Soviet Union, China, Japan and the United States. Once more, the litany of horror was beyond comprehension: saturation bombing over countless cities; the unspeakable crime of the Holocaust; the siege of Stalingrad; the rape of Nanjing; savage, inhumane crimes against prisoners of war; the unleashing of atomic terror over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Once more, the condition of mankind was starkly revealed – to be reconfirmed over and over again; in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia; in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. There are no guarantees for peace in this present world – only conflict, strife and tension.

THE CAUSE OF WAR

In September 1940, a year after war had been declared on Germany, the London blitz began. For months London endured the 'fury of nightly attacks – the boom, crump, crump, crump, of the heavy bombs at their work of tearing buildings apart . . . London stabbed with great fires, shaken by explosions, its dark regions along the Thames sparkling with the pin-points of white-hot bombs, all of it roofed over with a ceiling of pink that held bursting shells, flares and the grind of vicious engines.'[4]

In the midst of the horror, disillusioned and vulnerable people asked the age-old questions: why? In a century of undisputable progress, of education, reasoning and understanding, why could man still not attain peace and universal happiness? Why doesn't God do everything he can to restrain and prevent war?

In that same city, God sent a preacher to comfort, encourage and prepare a people for war. Martin Lloyd-Jones had just arrived at the Westminster Chapel, a church in the shadow of Buckingham Palace. There he opened God's Word and gave the age-old answer: War is as old as sin. And because the answer is as relevant now as then, the next few paragraphs will draw heavily on the sermons Lloyd-Jones gave in that time of palpable tension before the blitz.

God has not promised us a world without war, but has actually taught us to expect the very kind of world in which we are living today! James 4: 1. Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? The ultimate cause of war is lust and desire. It is the root cause of jealousy and envy, leading to personal quarrels and also wars between nations. War, Lloyd-Jones argued, is a consequence of sin in precisely the same way as all other consequences – albeit perhaps more spectacular! War is not an isolated and separate spiritual and religious problem. It is just a part and expression of the great central problem of sin.

Further, God allows war to show what sin really is. When times are easy, optimistic views of human nature abound, but war reveals exactly the essential sinfulness of human nature. In times of peace, it's easy to reject the biblical diagnosis of sin, but war gives no cause for idealism – it exposes the real state of the human heart, on a national and international scale.

By the grace of God, the lesson of war does not stop there. The folly and bankruptcy of mankind, exposed in the darkness of war, has an answer in the Gospel of Christ. War has the purpose of leading us back to God.

When Lloyd-Jones contemplated the reality of human nature and human life, what astonished him was not that God allowed and permitted war, but the patience of God. Why His restraining grace which set a limit to evil and sin? And it caused him to break out in amazement:

'Oh, the patience of God with this sinful world! How wondrous is His love! He has sent the Son of His love to our world to die for our sins and to save us; and because men cannot and will not see this, He permits and allows such things as war to chastise us; to teach us and convict us of our sins; and above all, to call us to repentance . . . the question for us is to make sure we are learning the lesson, and repenting before God for the sin in our own hearts, and in the entire human race.'[5]

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Lloyd-George preached to a people whose vulnerabilities were totally exposed by the realities of war. By God's grace, few of us born since 1945 have experienced the same turmoil of war. But let's not make the mistake of finding a false security in the freedom we currently enjoy. Peace is something for which we pray and for which we give thanks. Not to avoid the hardships of war, or to enjoy uninterrupted pleasures of life, but that 'we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence (1 Timothy 2 :2)'. That is the gift of peace.

Meanwhile, we live in a world dominated by wars and rumours of wars. But we also have a vision. For a time when people and nations 'shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. When nations shall no longer lift up their swords against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isaiah 2: 4)'. And unlike the slogan of World War One, this is no empty prophecy! Unlike the 'guarantees' of the League of Nations, this is the guarantee given by Almighty God and Father. Following the final judgment on an unrepentant world, there will be an everlasting peace. A peace made possible through the redemptive work of the Son who restores the hearts of His people and brings healing to the nations.

May our prayers multiply for the arrival of that perfect peace.


Footnotes:

1. Colonel Gowenlock's account appears in Gowenlock, Thomas R., Soldiers of Darkness (1936).
2. H.G. Wells, The War That Will End War (1914).
3. W. Wilson, The League of Nations https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/ww38.htm
4. "The London Blitz, 1940", EyeWitness to History, http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2001).
5. M Lloyd-Jones Why does God Allow War http://www.ccc138.org/uploads/8/1/0/0/8100742/why_does_god_allow_war.pdf


 
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