Salvation by battle, one of the recognized doctrines of heathendom, was stated afresh by non-Christian authorities in England during the Great War.  Sir Pertab Singh:- "If I die fighting, I go straight to GOD; that is how every Rajput wants to die" (Times, July 10, 1916). The Maharajah of Bikanir :- "European teachers are ordinarily aware of the strong belief of the Mohammedan world that death in battle for a righteous cause ensures immediate entry into Paradise.  The Hindus have a similar confidence, for, according to their great law-giver, Manu, the soldier slain on the battlefield has made the highest sacrifice, and his purification is complete" (Times, April 21, 1917).  So a wounded Indian rifleman, telling of a charge in Flanders, says :- "As we rushed we cried, Allah! and soon there were no Germans left - and some of our men had won Paradise."  Not only is salvation by battle thus a dogma of the non-Christian world, but the Japanese actually deify the dead soldier.  "All the spirits of our officers, soldiers, and sailors," says Gonnoske Komai, a distinguished Japanese author, when recently in London, "are deified and worshipped." (Times, March 11, 1916).


But, far more novel and infinitely more grave, it is voices within the Church of CHRIST that affirm salvation by battle.  In the Pastoral of Cardinal Mercier, which was banned by the German authorities, he says:- "If I am asked what I think of the eternal salvation of a brave man who has consciously given his life in defence of his country’s honour and in vindication of violated justice, I shall not hesitate to reply that without any doubt whatever Christ crowns his military valour, and that death, accepted in this Christian spirit, assures the safety of that man’s soul.  This is the virtue of a single act of perfect charity - it cancels a whole lifetime of sins; it transforms a sinful man into a saint."


So the Bishop of London, Dr. A. F. Winnington-Ingram, in a sermon in St. Paul’s Cathedral on August, 1914, said:- "If it so happens that some dear boy, the darling of your home, passes with unsullied honour, and to uphold the nation’s name, into the presence of the Unseen, you will find him there, waiting for you, when your time comes, one of God’s own children and kept most safely in His care.  If a heathen poet with only a vague belief in another world could say: ‘a sweet and pleasant thing it is to die for your country’, with how much more conviction should a Christian parent say the same?"


Nonconformist voices were equally explicit.  Dr. Fort Newton, of the City Temple, says:- "According to some old standards of theology many of the lads who have given their lives were not regenerated, not converted - and, therefore, are lost.  That is to say, they have given not only their lives but their souls, for all eternity, for us.  It is incredible!  It is horrible, impossible!  That dogma has been killed.  No man can speak of it in the presence of the innumerable company of the dead" (Christian Commonwealth, Oct. 30, 1918). Dr. David Smith, writing officially for the British Weekly(March 11, 1915), the chief organ of Nonconformity, says:- "St. Thomas Aquinas taught that where the baptism of water was lacking the ‘Baptism of Blood’ availed. And to my mind it is a serious defect in our theology if it finds no room for the gracious truth which St. Thomas proclaimed.* There is redeeming efficacy in every act of self-renunciation."


[* So many errors around us, which plume themselves on their novelty, and imagine that they are brilliant inventions of the modern mind, are merely old heresies refurbished.  Salvation by martyrdom - which has at least the advantage of a direct and deliberate death for Christ - is thus stated by Aretas, one of the early Fathers:- "The shedding of their blood for Christ’s sake delivered them from every stain; for being baptized in their own blood, they came up white from the laver."  Nor is the idea always confined to heroic death.  When a trooper in Napoleon III's Guards, who had robbed a jeweller, cut up his body into seventy-eight pieces, and thrown them down various drain-pipes, was guillotined, he exclaimed:- "I am quite ready to die, for my own blood spilt will not be too much to wash away my crimes."]


So that actually Christian preachers are not only proclaiming salvation by battle, but making the soldier’s death part of the Atonement.  Says the Christian Commonwealth (Oct. 16, 1918) :- "I do not in the least shrink from the implication of what I said about the Calvary of this war.  The soldier is a victim: he is the guiltless sacrifice, not the guilty sinner.  The blood of the boys poured forth is the atoning Christ-life reconciling the world to God."


Now we turn to men actually at the battle front.  It is upon a heroism recognized by the Holy Ghost that this monstrous perversion of the Gospel is boldly built.  Paul recognizes self-sacrifice for a loved and noble friend, or devotion to death for a just and holy cause, as a rare but remarkable able proof of devotion.  "Scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man" - or the good cause - "some one would even dare to die" (Rom. 5: 7).  It is on this noble instinct that Satan has grafted one of his most daring and deadly deceits.  A Canadian General, Sir A. W. Currie, issued this Army Order:- "Under the orders of your devoted officers in the coming battle you will advance or fall where you stand facing the enemy.  To those who fall, I say, ‘You will not die, but step into immortality.  Your mothers will not lament your fate, but will be proud to have borne such sons.  Your names will be revered for ever and ever by your grateful country, and God will take you unto Himself.’" One effect of all this upon the men is strikingly revealed by an Army chaplain. He says:- "Some time ago I put up an announcement in an officers’ mess to the effect that on the four ensuing Sundays I would attempt to answer the following questions: (1) Does a soldier who dies in battle go straight to heaven?  (2) Is there an everlasting Hell?  (3) Is Christianity a failure?  (4) Does it matter what a man believes?  Before I had time to deal with the first one I was interested to discover that all the officers had been discussing the questions, and had unanimously given these answers: To the first, Yes; to the second, No; to the third, Yes; and to the fourth, No. That, I think, may be given as representing popular opinion in the Army."


Against this, however, we can put a letter which came from the trenches - a remarkable letter signed by nineteen soldiers representing eleven denominations.  Addressed "to the Churches at home," it ran thus:- "Out of gratitude to us the Church is losing thousands of us.  If you fought by our sides you would know that ‘sacrifice’ is not our saving grace as we are carelessly told, which belittles our Saviour’s great Sacrifice when He gave Himself, not only a dead, but a living, Sacrifice for us. He laid down His life, with all its moments and days: we out here ‘walk-blindly’, gambling, drinking, cursing, into death.  We cannot tell you all, but we pray to God that you will understand, as leaders of the Churches.  Is it compromise we need now, and when we come home, or is it a Saviour and examples of manhood?  For the Master’s sake do something, if only to appeal to your chaplains and teachers out here upon this grave question, to show us what the giving of our lives to God through Jesus Christ means.  We sign this letter to the leaders of the Churches, as a band of Christians of many units, who, although few in number, are banded together to show one another, and also our comrades, Jesus."


One critical passage - for the Bible always has a Scripture which immediately settles a controversy - dissipates this pagan error. "For the good man someone would even dare to die; but" - here is a vaster prodigy, an unheard of love - "GOD commendeth" - proves, establishes beyond question, throws up into sharp contrast - "his own love" - a love altogether unlike human love, and a love absolutely peculiar to Himself - "that while we were yet sinners" - that is, while not an inch nearer meriting such a love - "Christ died for us."  That which man will hardly do for what is noble and right, God has done for what is unutterably abhorrent to His sensitive holiness.  Which of us would lay down his life for a low blackguard, or a vile and dangerous criminal? but this is what Christ did.  But the contrast is still sharper.  "For while we were enemies" - not simply godless and careless, but machine-gun enemies of God - "we were reconciled to God through the death of His SON."  If a man murdered your son, would he not be your enemy? so around the Cross, men-civilians and soldiers, priests and people, governors and citizens, Jews and Gentiles - all appeared, not only at their worst, but at their most malignant and murderous, at the very moment that Christ was dying for them.  Here is the vast and impassable gulf between the two sacrifices.  No Englishman in the Great War ever cast himself on a bursting bomb to save the lives of a German platoon; no Austrian submarine ever scuttled itself and sank in the Mediterranean rather than torpedo an Italian cruiser; no Turk ever filled an Armenian grave with his own corpse: yet this is the miracle of love God wrought on Calvary.


For so He left the mountain top,

that none but He had found,

And He descended that abyss,

that none but He could sound;

still downward, downward, amid night,

that only He had known,

‘Mid deathly horrors still He went,

unaided and alone,

‘Mid awful terrors, dark and grim,

that only He could dare,

And when He reached the end

He found a grave was waiting there.


A Christian lady visited a soldier terribly wounded, lying in the ward of a large military hospital.  A nurse, entering, said to him:- "You have no need to worry over your sins; anyone who gives his life for his country, as you have, is all right." The man smiled faintly, but he shook his head and said:- "Ah! lady, that is a mistake!  When I lay out there in the open, I knew I had done my bit.  I hadn’t failed King and Country; but that didn’t help me to face God.  I wasn’t fit to die, and I knew it, and it has been an awful trouble to me every day since.  But just now, as I heard that lady’s prayer, I saw that the Lord Jesus had been punished for all my sins, and I might go free, and such a peace has come into my heart. How wonderful of Him to die for the likes of me!  No, I’ll not be afraid to die now, because He has forgiven me." *


[*The heathen conception is brought up to date by an incident (New Statesman, Jan. 27, 1940) in China. Chu-Hsin-Kong, the literary editor of a Chinese paper, received (by post) a death-sentence for criticizing Wang-Chin-wei, the Japanese ‘puppet’ Premier. He replied:- "If the will of God is not wiped out, Heaven will bless me. Jesus died on the cross to save the world. I may not be compared with Jesus, but my reason for sacrifice is the same as His."  He was assassinated shortly after.]