(Article for publication week of 10-9-2014 AD)
"When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to them that followed, 'verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel' " (Matthew 8: 10). We have been considering the Roman centurion as an example of "great faith." The whole account is found in Matthew 8:5-13, and Luke also records this incident in Luke 7:1-10. We noted in the two previous articles of the Narrow Way that this man's faith was marked by humility and complete confidence and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. We also noted that this faith was found in an unlikely and surprising character, a Gentile.
Now, let us note well that this faith is also surprising in that it is found in a soldier. Our Lord found greater faith in this Gentile Roman than He did in the Israel of His day, including (apparently) His Own disciples. This was surprising, but equally surprising that it would be found in a professional military man. Saving faith is always a rare thing (Matthew 7:13-14), but it is especially rare in the military. Soldiers are more noted for their drunkenness, profanity, gambling and whore-mongering than for faith in Christ and a holy life. There are of course notable exceptions, like Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson who were men noted for piety and led their men in the worship of Christ as well as in battle. Another notable exception would be Oliver Cromwell who led the Parliamentarian Army in the English Civil War. The Roman Centurion is an example of God's sovereign grace that often surprises us. God sometimes saves the most unlikely characters (in our eyes at least).
Our lesson is a good place to point out that our Lord never commanded us to be pacifists. If it were a sin to be a soldier, this would have been a good place for our Lord to rebuke the centurion and command him to resign his commission. By our Lord's silence concerning the man's earthly station, He gives His approbation of men serving in the military. Not only was our Lord silent regarding the man being a soldier, but He commended him for his faith which was "great." Another example of a military man who was saved by grace and became a Christian was Cornelius in Acts 10. Peter baptised him, but did not command him to seek to get out of the Roman army. Many other scriptures (in both Testaments) and examples of Godly men who were warriors could be cited, along with the text before us show us that the scriptures do not require pacifism.
But, I must also point out that while the military may be a lawful calling, it is a dangerous one. I mean it is dangerous spiritually, for the military life exposes a man to many temptations. Our Lord taught us to pray for deliverance from temptation, not to run headlong into it. It is one thing to join the army when your home is invaded as our Southern Forefathers did, but it is quite another to join the army as a mercenary to fight in unjust, unconstitutional, undeclared wars on other continents. When I have been asked , I have advised and urged the young men with whom I have been associated to stay out of the military. And I will continue so to do. Being in the military is a spiritually dangerous life (though lawful) in the best of situations. But the fact is that the US military has not been engaged in a lawful war (at least) since the Second World War. That was the last war that was constitutionally declared and the politicians who were and are active and passive in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans and innocent civilians abroad will give an account at the Day of Judgment to receive in their bodies the just recompense of their reward. I hope the congressman from this district is reading.