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Playground or Battleground?
By A.W. Tozer, Harry Verploegh
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1989 Zur Ltd.
All rights reserved.
This World: Playground or Battleground?
Things are for us not only what they are—they are what we hold them to be. That is to say, our attitude toward things is likely in the long run to be more important than the things themselves. This is a common coin of knowledge, like an old dime worn smooth by use, yet it bears upon it the stamp of truth and must not be rejected simply because it is familiar.
It is strange how a fact may remain fixed, while our interpretation of the fact changes with the generations and the years. One such fact is the world in which we live. It is here and has been here through the centuries. It is a stable fact, quite unchanged by the passage of time, but how different is modern man's view of it from the view our fathers held! Here we see plainly how great is the power of interpretation. The world is for all of us not only what it is—it is what we believe it to be. And a tremendous load of woe or weal rides on the soundness of our interpretation.
Going back no further than the times of the founding and early development of our country, we are able to see the wide gulf between our modern attitudes and those of our fathers. In the early days, when Christianity exercised a dominant influence over American thinking, men conceived the world to be a battleground. Our fathers believed in sin and the devil and hell as constituting one force, and they believed in God and righteousness and heaven as the other. By their very nature, these forces were opposed to each other forever in deep, grave, irreconcilable hostility. Man, our fathers held, had to choose sides—he could not be neutral. For him it must be life or death, heaven or hell, and if he chose to come out on God's side, he could expect open war with God's enemies. The fight would be real and deadly and would last as long as life continued here below. Men looked forward to heaven as a return from the wars, a laying down of the sword to enjoy in peace the home prepared for them.
Sermons and songs in those days often had a martial quality about them, or perhaps a trace of homesickness. The Christian soldier thought of home and rest and reunion, and his voice grew plaintive as he sang of battle ended and victory won. But whether he was charging into enemy guns or dreaming of war's end and the Father's welcome home, he never forgot what kind of world he lived in—it was a battleground, and many were wounded and slain.
That view is unquestionably scriptural. Allowing for the figures and metaphors with which the Scriptures abound, it is still a solid Bible doctrine that tremendous spiritual forces are present in the world. Man, because of his spiritual nature, is caught in the middle. The evil powers are bent upon destroying him, while Christ is present to save him through the power of the gospel. To obtain deliverance he must come out on God's side in faith and obedience. That in brief is what our fathers thought, and that, we believe, is what the Bible teaches.
How different today. The fact remains the same, but the interpretation has changed completely. Men think of the world not as a battleground, but as a playground. We are not here to fight; we are here to frolic. We are not in a foreign land; we are at home. We are not getting ready to live, but we are already living, and the best we can do is rid ourselves of our inhibitions and our frustrations and live this life to the full. This, we believe, is a fair summary of the religious philosophy of modern man, openly professed by millions and tacitly held by many more millions who live out that philosophy without having given it verbal expression.
This changed attitude toward the world has had and is having its effect upon Christians, even gospel Christians who profess the faith of the Bible. By a curious juggling of the figures, they manage to add up the column wrong and yet claim to have the right answer. It sounds fantastic, but it is true.
The idea that this world is a playground instead of a battleground has now been accepted in practice by the vast majority of fundamentalist Christians. They might hedge around the question if they were asked bluntly to declare their position, but their conduct gives them away. They are facing both ways, enjoying Christ and the world, gleefully telling everyone that accepting Jesus does not require them to give up their fun—Christianity is just the jolliest thing imaginable. The "worship" growing out of such a view of life is as far off center as the view itself—a sort of sanctified nightclub without the champagne and the dressed-up drunks.
This whole thing has grown to be so serious that it is now the bound duty of all Christians to reexamine their spiritual philosophy in the light of the Bible. Having discovered the scriptural way, they must follow it, even if to do so, they must separate themselves from much that they had accepted as real, but which now in the light of truth is seen to be false.
A right view of God and the world to come requires that we have a right view of the world in which we live and of our relationship to it. So much depends upon this that we cannot afford to be careless about it.CHAPTER 2
A Scared World Needs a Fearless Church
No one can blame people for being afraid. The world is in for a baptism of fire, and whether or not this present conflict is the beginning of the ordeal, such a baptism will surely come sooner or later. God declares this by the voice of all the holy prophets since time began—there is no escaping it.
But are not we Christians a people of another order? Do we not claim a place in the purpose of God altogether above the uncertainties of time and chance in which the sons of this world are caught? Have we not been given a prophetic preview off all those things that are to come upon the earth? Can anything take us unaware?
Surely Bible-reading Christians should be the last persons on earth to give way to hysteria. They are redeemed from their past offenses, kept in their present circumstances by the power of an all-powerful God, and their future is safe in His hands. God has promised to support them in the flood, protect them in the fire, feed them in famine, shield them against their enemies, hide them in His safe chambers until the indignation is past and receive them at last into eternal tabernacles.
If we are called upon to suffer, we may be perfectly sure that we shall be rewarded for every pain and blessed for every tear. Underneath will be the Everlasting Arms and within will be the deep assurance that all is well with our souls. Nothing can separate us from the love of God—not death, nor life, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature.
This is a big old world, and it is full of the habitations of darkness, but nowhere in its vast expanse is there one thing of which a real Christian need be afraid. Surely a fear-ridden Christian has never examined his or her defenses.
A fear-stricken church cannot help a scared world. We who are in the secret place of safety must begin to talk and act like it. We, above all who dwell upon the earth, should be calm, hopeful, buoyant and cheerful. We'll never convince the scared world that there is peace at the Cross if we continue to exhibit the same fears as those who make no profession of Christianity.CHAPTER 3
We Face Tomorrow without Fear
Every new year is an uncharted and unknown sea. No ship has ever sailed this way before. The wisest of earth's sons and daughters cannot tell us what we may encounter on this journey. Familarity with the past may afford us a general idea of what we may expect, but just where the rocks lie hidden beneath the surface or when that "tempestuous wind called Euroclydon" may sweep down upon us suddenly, no one can say with certainty.
Conditions over the world are so grave that no one who thinks at all is able any longer to maintain a spirit of optimism. The world's philosophers have long ago ceased to preach peace, except as a goal toward which the nations should frantically struggle even while they have but little hope of attaining it. The best brains of the world have gone into the production of tools with which to destroy the world. And if they do such things in the green tree, what shall they do in the dry?
When Pharaoh was faced with trouble, he sent for Joseph; Nebuchadnezzar in distress called upon Daniel. These enlightened men of God knew the score—they could predict the future and point the way to safety. They were wise with a wisdom not of this world and so were able to face the future with cheerfulness even when they knew how dark and troubled that future would be.
Today also there are a few men and women who can face the coming year without discouragement or terror. They are Christians. They are not smiling optimists who draw their comfort from a denial of the facts or base their hopes upon false expectations of peaceful intentions among nations. Rather, they are of all men the truest realists. They will have nothing to do with fantasy—they demand to know the facts, whether those facts are good or bad. They insist upon squaring their beliefs with the truth, and do not hesitate to face up to any truth wherever it is found.
Now more than at any other time in generations, the believer is in a position to go on the offensive. The world is lost on a wide sea, and the Christian alone knows the way to the desired haven. While things were going well, the world scorned him with his Bible and his hymns, but now they need him desperately, and they need that despised Bible, too. For in the Bible, and there only, is found the chart to tell us where we are on this rough and unknown ocean. The day when the Christian should meekly apologize is over—he can get the world's attention not by trying to please, but by boldly declaring the truth of divine revelation. He can make himself heard not by compromise, but by taking the affirmative and sturdily declaring, "Thus saith the LORD" (Exodus 4:22).
Whatever the world does in the years ahead, and whatever happens among mankind, true Christians have no cause for worry. They are safe forever by a covenant of blood and are dearer to God than the apple of His eye. No night can be dark enough to put out their light, no fire hot enough to burn them, no flood severe enough to drown them on their journey. The winds and waves are their friends and the stars in their courses fight for them. God is at their right hand, and they shall not be moved.
Let us then face tomorrow with praise and song; let us live in a state of perpetual worship. For are we not kept by the power of God "unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:5)? And the "last time" may be nearer than we think.CHAPTER 4
We Must Have True Faith
To many Christians, Christ is little more than an idea, or at best an ideal—He is not a fact. Millions of professed believers talk as if He were real and act as if He were not. Our actual position is always to be discovered by the way we act, not by the way we talk.
We can prove our faith by our commitment to it and in no other way. Any belief that does not command the one who holds it is not a real belief—it is only a pseudo- belief. It might shock some of us profoundly if we were suddenly brought face-to-face with our beliefs and forced to test them in the fires of practical living.
Many of us have become extremely skillful in arranging our lives so as to admit the truth of Christianity without being embarrassed by its implications. We fix things so that we can get on well enough without divine aid, while at the same time ostensibly seeking it. We boast in the Lord but carefully watch that we never get caught depending on Him. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).
Pseudo-faith always arranges a way out in case God fails. Real faith knows only one way and gladly allows itself to be stripped of any second ways or makeshift substitutes. For true faith, it is either God or total collapse. And since Adam first stood up on the earth, God has not failed a single man or woman who trusted Him.
Those of pseudo-faith will fight for their verbal creed but flatly refuse to allow themselves to get into a predicament where their future depends upon that creed being true. They always provide themselves with secondary ways of escape so they will have a way out if the roof caves in.
What we need these days is a company of Christians who are prepared to trust God as completely now as they know they must at the last day. For each of us the time is surely coming when we shall have nothing but God. Health and wealth and friends and hiding places will all be swept away and we shall have only God. To those of pseudo-faith that is a terrifying thought, but to real faith it is one of the most comforting thoughts the heart can entertain.
It would be tragedy indeed to come to the place where we have nothing but God and find that we had not been trusting God at all during the days of our earthly sojourn. It would be better to invite God now to remove every false trust, to disengage our hearts from all secret hiding places and to bring us out into the open where we can discover for ourselves whether or not we really trust Him. That is a harsh cure for our troubles, but it is a sure one. Gentler cures may be too weak to do the work, and time is running out on us.CHAPTER 5
"When All Thy Mercies, O My God"
Not many of the literary great have attained to prominence in the Church of the Firstborn. There have, however, been a few exceptions. Among those we would put John Milton, George Herbert and Joseph Addison.
Among the gems left us by Addison is a Thanksgiving hymn, When All Thy Mercies, O My God. This hymn appears in the better hymnals and is sung wherever men love to bring exquisite poetry to the service of praise.
When all Thy mercies, O my God
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I'm lost
In wonder, love and praise.
The figure of the mercies of God lying outspread like a vast and variegated landscape is beautiful enough in itself, and when we add to it the picture of the soul rising as from guilty sleep to look out in wonder over the boundless expanse, when we see that soul suddenly rapt into transports of delight with everything it sees until it finally sinks down in a kind of delightful swoon, "lost in wonder, love and praise," we have a mental image that requires music to express.
Again he sings,
Ten thousand thousand precious gifts
My daily thanks employ;
Nor is the least a cheerful heart
That tastes these gifts with joy.
Here is the true spirit of Thanksgiving. Here is understanding of what pleases God in our acceptance and use of His gifts. "A cheerful heart that tastes these gifts with joy" is the only kind of heart that can taste those gifts safely. There is the idea expressed elsewhere on these pages that our indebtedness to God is so great that nothing less than "daily thanks" will be enough to satisfy our hearts or please the heart of God.
While Addison had in mind chiefly the gifts that God showers upon us here below, he was too much of a Christian to think that God's gifts or his own praise would cease at death. So he sang,
Through every period of my life
Thy goodness I'll pursue;
And after death, in distant worlds,
The glorious theme renew.
It is quite in keeping with such a spirit that the poet should call his son-in-law to his side at the last and whisper, "See in what peace a Christian can die."
Excerpted from This World by A.W. Tozer, Harry Verploegh. Copyright © 1989 Zur Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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