Patriotism and Military Service — A Letter by John N. Darby


I have thought much of the danger which threatens us by being carried away with all that is passing in the world at the present time.

A great deal is said as to our being patriotic, and one desires to have grace from God to do all that is right according to Him towards our fellows everywhere and towards the King as supreme; but we, that is, all Christians, belong to another country, namely, a heavenly, for our citizenship is in heaven.

We have a city, a metropolis which outshines in splendour the most glorious capital that the world has ever seen. We have received a kingdom which cannot be moved. He who is supreme in that kingdom has said: “My kingdom is not of this world, if … would my servants fight.” He has been refused His rights here, but He has been received up into glory, and for a moment the government has been transferred to heaven, for all power in heaven and in earth is in His hands.

We would be patriots, but of the country that is ours. It is beneath the dignity of the saints, the sons of God, to take a place among the potsherds of the earth. The following letter, written by Mr. Darby in the year 1870, is so much to the point that one is prompted to insert it here: —

(from the French).

*** It is clear to me that a Christian, free to do as he will, could never be a soldier, unless he were at the very bottom of the scale, and ignorant of the christian position. It is another thing when one is forced to it. In such a case the question is this: is the conscience so strongly implicated on the negative side of the question, that one could not be a soldier without violating that which is the rule for conscience – the word of God? In that case we bear the consequences; we must be faithful.

What pains me is the manner in which the idea of one’s country has taken possession of the hearts of some brethren. I quite understand that the sentiment of patriotism may be strong in the heart of a man. I do not think that the heart is capable of affection towards the whole world. At bottom, human affection must have a centre, which is “I.” I can say, “My country,” and it is not that of a stranger. I say, “My children,” “My friend,” and it is not a purely selfish “I”. One would sacrifice one’s life – everything (not oneself, or one’s honour) for one’s country, one’s friend. I cannot say, “My world”; there is no appropriation. We appropriate something to ourselves that it may not be ourselves. But God delivers us from the “I”; He makes of God, and of God in Christ, the centre of all; and the Christian, if consistent, declares plainly that he seeks a country – a better, that is to say, a heavenly country. His affections, his ties, his citizenship are above. He withdraws into the shade in this world, as outside the vortex which surges there, to engulph and carry everything away. The Lord is a sanctuary.

That a Christian should hesitate whether he ought to obey or not, I understand: I respect his conscience; but that he should allow himself to be carried away by what is called patriotism – that is what is not of heaven. “My kingdom,” said Jesus, “is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.” It is the spirit of the world under an honourable and attractive form, but wars come from “lusts that war in your members.”

As a man, I would have fought obstinately for my country, and would never have given way, God knows; but as a Christian I believe and feel myself to be outside all; these things move me no more. The hand of God is in them; I recognise it; He has ordered all beforehand. I bow my head before that will. If England were to be invaded to-morrow, I should trust in Him. It would be a chastisement upon this people who have never seen war, but I would bend before His will.

Many Christians are labouring in the scene of the war; large sums of money have been sent to them. All this does not attract me. God be praised that so many poor creatures have been relieved; but I would rather see the brethren penetrating the lanes of the city, and seeking the poor where they are found every day. There is far more self-abnegation, more hidden service in such work. We are not of this world, but we are the representatives of Christ in the midst of the world. May God graciously keep His own.

Letters, Volume 2, page 110.  (Preface remarks by Russell Besley in 1916)

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