The battle of the ages is another way to describe the antithesis. The antithesis, as I explained in a series of articles (now in pamphlet form) means the opposite ways that regenerated and saved Christians, who are children of God’s covenant, live holy lives in the wicked world in which God has placed them. It is the great battle that began in Paradise and will not be finished till Christ comes again.
The battle of the ages is a battle because the wicked world is under General Satan and has billions of demons on its side as well as all wicked men. Their purpose is to make God’s earthly creation their own country and push God out of it. God’s covenant people, however, have Christ as the Captain of their salvation. They are called to fight the enemy by representing God’s cause in the world. They invade enemy territory and make soldiers warriors in the armies of Christ of those who are born and enlisted in the devil’s army. While the enemy uses everything in God’s world to sin, Christ’s soldiers use everything to fight the enemy: computers, refrigerators, medicine, hand phones, automobiles – everything.
Yet all these battles are skirmishes: the main battle is the battle over truth versus the lie. This phase of the battle is the subject of this article. I shall say a number of things about that battle.
God Himself told Adam that his wife and all God’s chosen soldiers who would be born would have to fight a battle: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman and thy seed and her seed”… (Gen. 3:15). In that battle the forces of Christ would often be wounded, but wonder of wonders, the head of Satan and his forces are smashed: their head is crushed (Col. 2:15).
The soldiers of Christ fight a battle that is already won for them by their Captain. It is like two armies in the world who fight a decisive battle (as was Gettysburg in our own Civil War), and win that war so that the enemy are defeated, although the battle goes on a while longer. All we Christians have to do is “mop up” small pockets of resistance and secure the territory of this creation. John says that faith is the victory that overcomes the world: faith in Christ (1 Jn. 5:4). Paul writes that we are, even while in the world, “more than conquerors through Christ” (Rom. 8:37).
Think of that, young people! We are conquerors; that is certain. Faith is our victory. But we are “more than conquerors!” How can that be? It is a wonder so great that it catches our breath. The Captain of our Salvation, our Christ, is so highly exalted that He sits in the headquarters of the enemy and directs them all – not to help the enemy but to help His people win! This great battle of the ages is not a battle that can be won or lost. Christ, the Captain of our salvation went into the very headquarters of the commander- in-chief of the world and fought him and crushed his head.
They do not know it; they are quick to deny it. But the joke is on them. Read Psalm 2. They rage against God and foam at their mouths in their fury. They are determined to break the yoke of God and Christ. But He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. I can hear that laugh of God in the rolling thunder of a severe storm. Why does God laugh? Because God has set His Son on the holy hill of Zion, where He reigns supreme. Everything the enemy does helps Christ and helps His church.
The battle is not with planes and guns, battleships and tanks, bombs and bullets. You must stop at this point and read something Paul writes in Ephesians 6:10-17. Our warfare is spiritual and our armour and weapons are spiritual. If you read carefully the description of these pieces of armour and the sword we wield, you will notice that every one of the items Paul mentions refers to a particular use of the Word of God.
We must be sure of this, for many Christians deny this. In our own country many advocate defeating the enemies of liberalism, for example, by creating a Christian political party and voting for a Christian candidate. A noted theologian even advised Christians, if the liberals win control of the country, to retreat to the Rocky Mountains and fight a guerrilla war with guns and bombs.
The decisive battle is the battle between the truth and the lie. The battle is decisive because the enemy attacks the truth constantly. And if Christ’s soldiers would lose the truth, the whole battle would be lost, for Christ’s soldiers are put in the world to represent God’s cause and God’s cause is the truth concerning God Himself.
The devil does this in many ways. Usually he works within the church itself by finding those who are not Christ’s soldiers, but are spies who do not serve Christ, but serve themselves. They begin their heresy in subtle ways. They sometimes attack the Bible itself, because it is the only source of the truth. They claim that in whole or in part the Bible is not really the word of God, but it is also, at least partly, the word of man.
Sometimes they create a spirit of indifference to the truth and say that doctrinal differences are not important: the one important virtue is sincerity in confessing that one believes in Jesus as his personal Saviour. (But who can judge sincerity in another?) Sometimes people claim that they are only trying to express the truth in different and more effective and modern ways. And in this way they introduce heresy into the church. Sometimes people claim that doctrine is not important; we must have more emphasis on how we are to live. (But to live in godliness is to know and understand the truth.) They say that God is love; that, therefore, He loves all men; and therefore Christ died for all men.
When Christ’s soldiers defend the faith, they are often accused of being narrow-minded, bigoted, proud, falsely claiming that they think they are the only ones who are going to heaven and that they are the only ones who understand the Bible. These accusations hurt and sometimes frighten us to the extent that we are very quiet about our faith and, as Jesus put it, hide our light of the truth under a bushel. But then we are not fighting, but letting the enemy have his way.
The battle for the truth is not an intellectual battle only. It is profoundly spiritual. God has taken those who are soldiers of the cross into His own covenant fellowship in Christ Jesus. A bond of love exists between God and His people. When we are called to defend the truth, it is a defence of the God we love whose name and reputation are at stake. We are, so to speak, defending our spiritual family and particularly our Father.
If we would overhear a trio of people mocking and speaking evil about our earthly father, we would not let that rest, but would tell those slanderers to stop; we would even fight if they continued. Wouldn’t we do much more for our heavenly Father, who loves us and has saved us from hell? Any heresy is a slander of our God, for the Bible is a record of our Father’s revelation in Jesus Christ.
I knew an aged man once who was in a large hospital ward on the Lord’s Day had to endure a TV program in which there was swearing and laughing over things spiritual. He told the other patients, “Will you please turn off the TV? That is the God whom I love who is being mocked. They only laughed at him. The result was that laboriously and with pain he crawled out of bed, crawled on his hands and knees to the TV, turned it off and returned to his bed, barely able to crawl back in. None of them dared to turn it back on.
I have seen denominations become apostate churches. It happens this way very often. Some heretic begins to teach heresy of some sort. He is challenged by some in the church. But he and those in agreement with him beg the church to let them have their opinion and tolerate it because they are only exploring implications of the truth. The church tolerates these heresies, fails to put them out of the church, allows them to continue to teach wrong doctrine and soon loses the battle altogether.
I have seen true churches join with churches that do not hold to the truth in various endeavours, such as the war against abortion. Joining others is to allow soldiers of the enemy into the camp. The reason for the battle may be ever so good, but association with others who hold not the truth brings the errors of others into the church.
When Jehoshaphat joined Ahab against the Syrians to save Israel from foreign domination, Jehoshaphat may have justified his alliance with Ahab on the grounds that Syria was also an enemy of Judah; that there were believers yet in the Northern Kingdom, and that by cooperating in this venture the result could be a union of the ten tribes with the Southern Kingdom.
But the prophet Jehu told Jehoshaphat: “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee before the Lord” (2 Chron. 19:2). I can mention in passing that Jehu is saying that the northern kingdom hates the Lord – even though there were still people of God in the nation.
The words of God to Israel through Moses before the Israelites conquered Canaan are true for us: “Israel shall dwell in safety alone” (Deut. 33:28).
The heathen nations that attacked Israel almost constantly were attacks against the Old Testament church to destroy the one nation that belonged to God and carried Christ in her. When they joined with enemies and idol worshippers they were overcome by the enemy – as in the days of the judges and kings. They were safe as long as they worshipped God in the way that He commanded.
God’s truth that has to be defended is the glorious truth of the absolute sovereignty of God in all things – in history, in the world including the wicked, in providence, in the whole creation of heaven and earth, and in the salvation of the church. He is sovereign because God does all things for the glory and praise of His own name. Read Romans 11:33-36.
To defend the truth is a grand and glorious calling. It is the highest calling one can have. It is, after all, the salvation of the church. Who, a part of the church, would not want to fight for that?
It is a long and bitter struggle. The devil never gives up. It is a life and death battle. It often seems as if the enemy has won, for the church is small: a hut in a garden of cucumbers, a besieged city, a very small remnant, small groups of huddled sheep surrounded by ravening wolves. But it is victorious in the end when its cause is publicly justified by Christ Himself.
There are many blessings that come to those who defend the truth in this warfare.
The church that proclaims the truth is the church God uses to gather other members of the church: the children of believers born in the church (who swear a vow at baptism that they will bring up their children in the true doctrines of Scripture), the remnant among those who have forsaken the truth, and the elect among the heathen nations. What a glorious task that is!
Under the pressures of false doctrine the church is forced to defend herself; and to do so the church develops the truth and grows richer in the knowledge of God.
The truths of the trinity and the divinity of our Lord were developed under the pressures of the heresies of Arianism and Semi-Arianism. That truth is found in our Nicene Creed. The truth of God’s sovereign grace in salvation, along with such truths as the particular redemption of Christ’s cross, election and reprobation, total depravity, were all developed in the 4th and 5th centuries by the great church father Augustine when he defended the truth against Pelagius and the Roman Catholic Church. The truths of God’s glory in all His works as the sovereign God who alone saves His people were developed by the Reformers and their successors against the bitter attack of the Arminians who almost destroyed the church. The crucial truth of an unconditional covenant (that has meant so much to the PRC, the CERC, the CPRC, the Berean PRC and its sister congregations in the Philippines) was developed over against those who taught a conditional covenant in which man had the decisive vote in being a member of that covenant. A sturdy and unwavering determination to defend the truth of God’s creation against the horrible error of evolutionism has given the saints a richer understanding of God’s mighty works in creation and history.
But the battle is fierce and deadly. Many are the soldiers of Christ who waver in the battle, retreat before the threats and assaults of the enemy, and even fall dead on the corpse-strewn battlefield of history. Many faithful soldiers are captured and tortured in vain efforts to persuade them to join the enemy, and history runs red with the blood of faithful soldiers of the cross.
But to return to the figure Paul uses in Ephesians 6: the faithful warrior, armed with the armour of God remains standing. He may be weary beyond description; his arm may ache so badly that he can barely lift his sword; his helmet may be knocked askew, his shield pierced with many arrows, his body streaming with the blood of a thousand wounds, but when all the enemy are destroyed and the battlefield swept clean of all the forces of the enemy, he is still standing. When the Captain of his salvation comes to carry him off to his eternal rest, he hears his Captain say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter though into the joys of thy Lord”. I cannot imagine anything more wonderful than to hear those blessed words of the Saviour.
Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko