The Biblical Illustrator
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
Parents and children
I. Duties of children to parents.
1. Children owe to their parents an inward affection and regard. Their obedience should flow from love, gratitude, and esteem.
2. Children are to honour their parents by external tokens of respect.
3. Children are to obey the just commands of their parents.
4. Children are not only to obey the express commands of parents while under their authority, but to receive with decent and humble regard, the instructions, counsels, and reproofs which they may see fit to communicate afterward.
5. Children are to remember, and, if there is occasion, also to remunerate, the favours they have received from their parents.
II. Duties of parents to children.
1. Parents are to instruct their children in the doctrines and duties of religion.
2. Parents must not content themselves with giving their children good instructions; but endeavour, by arguments, exhortations, and reproofs, to form their lives according to their instructions.
3. Parents must regulate the diversions of their children.
4. Parents should maintain the worship of God in their houses.
5. Let parents set their children a good example in everything. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
I. The precept.
1. Observe the persons to whom the commandment is addressed “children.”
2. Observe what is commanded as the especial duty of children in reference to parents--“obey,” and “honour.”
3. The limitation of the precept--“in the Lord.” The parent’s stronghold is here, when he says, “I must have you obedient, because I am responsible to God for your being so.” And the child’s strong encouragement is in the same thought: “In obeying my parents, I am doing that which is pleasing to God, and I do it because the Lord so bids me.”
II. The sanction.
1. To obey parents is right.
2. There is a promise annexed to obedience. God undertakes that His blessing shall be given. (James Cohen, M. A.)
Our fathers and mothers
Now this short text is a message to us about our duty to them.
I. Notice whom you are to obey and honour. Your “parents”--your “father and mother.”
II. What it is to honour and obey them.
1. We must respect and reverence them. We should regard them as those to whose love and government God Himself has committed us. I have read of two sons who saved their aged parents at the sacrifice of all they possessed and at the risk of their own lives. The city was on fire, and they were in the middle of it; they had gold in the cellar and plate in the cupboard; but one took his father on his back, and the other his mother, and away they ran through the scorching streets and falling houses, till they got outside the walls! Those lads loved their parents with perfect love. How different to the wretched heathen who leave their old fathers and mothers to perish! Mr. Moffat, an African missionary, found a poor woman under a tree; she was a mere skeleton, and the bloodthirsty wolves were bowling around her! She said her children had got tired of her because she was sick; they had been gone some days, and she must sit there till she died.
2. To honour and obey our parents means that we are to do whatever will make them happy, even though they do not enjoin it upon us.
3. To honour and obey them means that we are to do whatever they tell us. Their commands are to be laws with us. A soldier is ordered to do this and that by his officer--it may be to carry a letter through the enemy’s country, it may be to take the place of a comrade who has just been shot down at a gun, but he knows that he may not hesitate for a moment; if he refused, his character as a soldier would be gone, and he would be drummed out of the army. But what claim has an officer on a soldier, compared with the claim of a parent on a child?
III. How far we are to honour and obey our parents (see Colossians 3:20). We are to obey our parents in everything so far as their commands agree with those of God, and no further; if they required us to steal, or lie, or cheat, or do anything wrong, we should not be called to obey them. But, dear children, it is not probable that your beloved parents will ever require you to do anything of this kind; and in all other cases you are bound to obey them. I press that “all,” because many boys and girls will pick and choose amongst duties as they would amongst apples; they will do what is easy and pleasant to them. Now, it seems to me that difficult things are just the test of obedience. Some things are no test at all. Suppose a father were to say to his son, “Run and buy yourself a dozen raspberry tarts”; not one boy in a hundred but would run to the shop as fast as his legs could carry him; but for all that, he might be a disobedient boy at heart. Now, let us try him again; “Leave off your play, and take this note to the doctor’s for me.” Look at him now! He pretends not to hear, or he puts it on his younger brother, or he flies into a passion, or he says right out, “Father, I can’t.” But if, instead of this, he at once cried, “Father, I’ll be ready in a minute,” and pulled on his jacket, and went skipping down the street with a smiling face, I should mark him in my pocket book for a thoroughly obedient lad.
IV. Why you are to honour and obey them.
1. Because God has told us to do it. And God is so wise and good that whatever he bids us do should be done unhesitatingly; His command and our obedience to it should follow one another as quickly as the clap of thunder follows the flash of lightning.
2. Because we owe, under God, our existence to them.
3. Because they are our superiors. If, directly we were born, we were as strong and as wise as they are; then it would be different--we would manage for ourselves: but just look how it is. We come into the world the most helpless of creatures--far more helpless than a lamb, for it can stand by itself--far more helpless than a chicken, for it can pick up its own food. There we are, unable to do one single thing for ourselves; we know nothing at all; we have not a particle of experience! When a boy gets into a boat for the first time, all is strange to him. What should we think of him if he declared that he was going to start for New Zealand, just as he was? We should cry out, “You are mad!” But if he embarked in a large ship under a tried and skilful captain, then there would be no danger. Now, our parents are tried and skilful captains; they have sailed on the rough ocean of life in many directions; they understand all about its winds, and tides, and currents; they have sounded here, and anchored there; they have marked rocks in one place and shoals in other, and whirlpools in another. They have travelled the dangerous road of life for years; they have learnt the right turnings and the best inns; they know the spots where robbers lurk and wild beasts prowl; they know which fruits may be eaten, and which are poisonous; they know who are safe companions, and who will lead astray: In other words, having read so much, and heard so much, and seen so much, and suffered so much, they are able to guide us; they can tell us how to avoid what is harmful, and how to secure what is valuable; they can train us up “in the way in which we should go.”
4. Because they are our nearest and dearest friends.
5. Because it will be good for us. It is the “first commandment with promise”; and the promise is, “Thy days shall be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” No doubt this referred more particularly to Jewish children, because, as we have seen, those of them who were disobedient were stoned to death, and thus their days were short in the land; whilst those of them who were obedient lived on. But many Christians think that this promise is still fulfilled to dutiful sons and daughters. And, as a fact, they do live longer. For disobedient children soon fall into wicked ways and among wicked associates, and rain their health, and come to an untimely end. “The ungodly shall not live out half their days.” So it was with the sons of Eli; so it was with Absalom; so it has been with many youths whom I have known. On the other hand, how different it is with the obedient child; he has his parents’ praise, which is an ever-flowing fountain of joy! He has their most fervent prayers! “The smell of their son is to them as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed.” Often as they embrace him, their bowels yearn over him, as they say, “God be gracious unto thee, my son!” or, “God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine.” A blameless childhood blossoms into a graceful manhood! (J. Bolton, B. A.)
Children ought to render to their parents--
1. The obedience of love.
2. The obedience of reverence. It is “honour thy father and thy mother.” There may be much love, much fondness, and much real obedience, yet I have sometimes seen a most lamentable deficiency in this veneration for parents. If I look into the Word of God, there I see the principle exhibited. I see Joseph, in the forty-sixth of Genesis, meeting with his old father--Joseph who was next on the throne to Pharaoh, a great man in Egypt, with thousands at his beck: yet I find, in the twenty-ninth verse, “Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goschen, and presented himself unto him; and he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while.” And if I turn to another passage, it is still more striking: in the case of Bathsheba and Solomon. It is in the second chapter of the First Book of Kings, and the nineteenth verse. “Bathsheba therefore went unto King Solomon, to speak unto him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her, and bowed himself unto her, and sat down on his throne, and caused a seat to be set for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right hand.”
3. The obedience of gratitude.
4. The obedience of submission. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
Fatal result of disobedience
Many years ago, a minister lived in a cottage near some very high, rocky hills, which rose abruptly from the vale below. He had two sons, who were not as obedient as boys ought to be. They fancied themselves wiser than their father, and often treated his commands with contempt. Now this good minister knew that the cliffs were not very safe for the boys to venture on. They were too perpendicular, and had too few places for the feet, to be climbed or descended by anyone without great risk of life or limbs. He pointed out this danger to his sons, and repeatedly said to them, “Be sure you never venture down the face of the cliffs.” You can see that this was good advice, and the boys ought to have given due heed to it. But I am sorry to be forced to tell you these boys were wilful, and disobeyed. They said “yes” to their father when he gave them this command, and then went out and broke it. Many birds built their nests in the holes among the rocks, and these bad boys would venture down in search of their eggs. They did this so frequently without meeting with any mishap, that they grew bold in their disobedience, and often laughed at their father for being so particular and old-fogyish. One day, however, these boys did not go home to dinner. Their parents wondered where they were, but made no search until tea time. Then the non-appearance of the boys troubled them. They sent, round the village to inquire for them, but they had not been seen since noon, when they were dismissed from school. The minister and his wife were now very much alarmed. They sent messengers in every direction. Their good father’s heart trembled with fear lest they had tumbled over the cliffs. He went down a gorge which led to the vale below, and there, to his dismay, he found them cold, mangled, and dead! Their disobedience had proved their destruction,
The root of heaven, or hell, struck in the nursery
All vice and crime may be traced to the nursery. The foundations of reverence are either earnestly laid, or perilously sapped, in the very first years. In the first act of disobedience the child commits himself to a downward course. The assertion of self-will in a disobedient act, is evidence enough that the powers of darkness have prevailed to lay the foundation of hell in the young soul. The parents who tolerate, or mildly pass over the disobedience of their children, tolerate what constitutes the beginning of all evil, and the root of eternal evil. The children who are permitted to make light of the authority of their father and mother, will in all probability grow up to make light of the authority of God. In dishonouring their parents, they have already dishonoured God. They have disgraced themselves, impaired their own moral sense, given their consent to evil spirits as their allies, and entered on the way which leads them to destruction. Children should be made to obey long before they can understand why they should obey. Their hearts should beat, their muscles grow, and their nerves vibrate and play, under the necessity of obedience. From the beginning, their freedom should be freedom in obedience. As soon as they can understand it, they should be taught that reverence for their parents, manifested by unhesitating obedience, is God’s command. And children who obey their parents because God commands it, are in the straight way wherein they shall not stumble. It shall be “well with them,” both for time and eternity. They are in “the Way that they should go”--the Way that leadeth unto life eternal, “and when they are old they will not depart from it.” They have begun to do “right.” The foundation of God is in them, and it shall stand forever, and they shall be built up forever. “Children, obey your parents, in the Lord, for this is right.” It is right, not because it is commanded; but it is commanded because it is right, and it is right because it is essentially good, safe, and prosperous. In the law and ordinance of each child’s creation, God has made a provision for the reverence of fathers and mothers. Parents are taken into the secrecy of His creative council, that no child may receive his existence immediately from Himself, but from Him, through them. Irreverent and disobedient children, therefore, do violence to the very spring and ground of their own nature; they rupture the covenant which God has made with obedient children; they cut themselves off from all part in His promises; they dissolve their connection with all blessed spirits and angels, and give pledges to Satan. (J. Pulsford.)
A daughter’s obedience
A missionary was passing along the streets of London, and he saw a little girl lying asleep on the steps in the night, the rain beating in her face, and he awakened her and said, “My little girl, what do you here?” “Oh!” she replied, “my father drove me out, and I am waiting until he is asleep, and then I am going in.” Then she told the story of her father’s drunkenness. That night after her father was asleep, she went back and laid down in the house. In the morning she was up early, preparing the meal, and her father turned over, waking up from his scene of drunkenness and debauch, and he saw his little child preparing breakfast, and he said to her, “Mary, why do you stay with me?” “Oh!” she said, “father, it is because I love you.” “Well,” he said, “why do you love me when everybody despises me? and why do you stay with me?” “Well,” she said, “father, you remember when mother was dying, she said to me: ‘Mary, never forsake your father; the rum fiend will some day go out, and he will be very good and kind to you, and my dying charge is, don’t forsake your father’; and I never will, father, I never will. Mother said I must not, and I never will.”
An excellent proof
While driving along the street one day last winter in my sleigh, a little boy, six or seven years old, asked me the usual question, “Please, may I ride?” I answered him, “Yes, if you are a good boy.” He climbed into the sleigh; and when I again asked, “Are you a good boy?” he looked up pleasantly and said, “Yes, sir.” “Can you prove it?” “Yes, sir.” “By whom?” “Why, by my mother,” said he, promptly. I thought to myself, here is a lesson for boys and girls. When a child feels and knows that mother not only loves, but has confidence in him or her, and can prove obedience, truthfulness, and honesty, by mother, they are pretty safe. That boy will be a joy to his mother while she lives.
Obedience and character
A tradesman once advertised in the morning papers for a boy to work in his store, run errands, and make himself generally useful. The next morning the store was thronged with boys of all ages and sizes trying to get the place. The storekeeper only wanted one boy, and as he was at a loss to know how to get the right one out of so large a crowd, he thought he must find out some plan to lessen the number of boys and to be sure of getting a good one. So he sent them all away till he could think over the matter a little. The next day the papers contained this advertisement: “Wanted--a boy who obeys his mother.” And out of the crowd who were there the day before, how many do you suppose came to get that place? Only two. Whichever of these two the storekeeper chose we may be very certain would prove a good boy. Jesus was pleasing His Father in heaven all the time that He was obeying His mother on earth. And so it is always. The boys who learn to obey at home are the boys who will be most wanted for places in business, and who will be most useful and successful in them. (Dr. Newton.)
How to bring up children
The late Dr. Henry Ware, when once asked by a parent to draw up some set of rules for government of children, replied by an anecdote: “Dr. Hitchcock,” he said, “was settled in Sandwich; and, when he made his first exchange with the Plymouth minister, he must needs pass through the Plymouth Woods, a nine miles’ wilderness, where travellers almost always got lost, and frequently came out at the point they started from. Dr. Hitchcock, on entering this much dreaded labyrinth, met an old woman, and asked her to give him some directions for getting through the wood so as to fetch up at Plymouth, rather than Sandwich. ‘Certainly,’ she said, ‘I will tell you all about it with the greatest pleasure. You will just keep right on till you get some ways into the woods, and you will come to a place where several roads branch off. Then you must Stop and consider, and take the one that seems to you most likely to bring you out right.’ He did so, and came out right.” Dr. Ware added, “I have always followed the worthy and sensible old lady’s advice in bringing up my children. I do not think anybody can do better: at any rate, I cannot.” Good common sense, doubtless, is often better than all set rules; but the thing is to have it.
Early impressions abide
Some years ago, a native Greenlander came to the United States. It was too hot for him there; so he made up his mind to return home, and took passage on a ship that was going that way; but he died before he got back, and, as he was dying, he turned to those who were around him, and said, “Go on deck and see if you can see ice.” “What a strange thing!” some would say. It was not a strange thing at all. When that man was a baby the first thing he saw, after his mother, was ice. His house was made of ice. The window was a slab of ice. He was cradled in ice. The water that he drank was melted ice. If he ever sat at a table, it was a table of ice. The scenery about his home was ice. The mountains were of ice. The fields were filled with ice. And when he became a man he had a sledge and twelve dogs that ran him fifty miles a day over ice. And many a day he stooped over a hole in the ice twenty-four hours to put his spear in the head of any seal that might come there. He had always been accustomed to see ice, and he knew that if his companions on the ship could see ice it would be evidence that he was near home. The thought of ice was the very last thought in his mind, as it was the very first impression made there. The earliest impressions are the deepest. Those things which are instilled into the hearts of children endure forever and forever.
The children’s life in Christ
I sometimes meet with men and women who tell me that they cannot remember the time when they began to love and trust and obey Christ, just as they cannot remember the time when they began to love and trust and obey their parents. If we had a more vivid and a more devout faith in the truth that every Christian family is according to God’s idea and purpose a part of the kingdom of heaven, this happy experience would be more common. The law of Christ is the rule of human conduct in childhood as well as in manhood; and as in Christ’s kingdom grace precedes law, the grace of Christ is near to a child in its very earliest years to enable it to keep the law, and the child’s earliest moral life may be a life in Christ. Christ’s relationship to men cannot be a relationship of authority merely. His authority is the authority of One who has assumed our nature and died for our sins. He is our Prince that He may be our Saviour. These truths are assumed in the precept that children are to “obey” their parents “in the Lord.” Every child, apart from its choice and before it is capable of choice, is environed by the laws of Christ. It is equally true that every child, apart from its choice and before it is capable of choice, is environed by. Christ’s protection and grace in this life, and is the heir of eternal blessings in the life to come. Christ died and rose again for the race. Children may “obey” their parents “in the Lord,” before they are able to understand any Christian doctrine; they may discharge every childish duty, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, before they have so much as heard whether the Spirit of God has been given; they may live in the “light of God before they know that the true light always comes from heaven. And as men and women, who are consciously relying on God to enable them to do His will, appropriate God’s grace and make it more fully their own by keeping His commandments, so the almost unconscious virtues of devout children make the life of Christ more completely theirs. Like Christ Himself, who in His childhood was subject to Joseph and Mary, as they advance in stature they advance in wisdom and in favour with God and men. This is the ideal Christian life. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
The difficulties of obedience are usually greatest in the troubled years between childhood and manhood; and not unfrequently these difficulties are increased rather than diminished when during these years the religious life begins to be active. To a boy or girl of fifteen the discovery of God sometimes seems to dissolve all human relationships. The earthly order vanishes in the glory of the infinite and the Divine. There is also a sudden realization of the sacredness and dignity of the personal life, and whatever authority comes between the individual soul and God is felt to be a usurpation. At this stage in the development of the higher life the first commandment is also the only commandment that has any real authority. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” seems to exhaust all human duty, and life has no place for any inferior obligations. I have a very deep sympathy with those young people who are trying, and trying very unsuccessfully, to adjust what seem to them the conflicting claims of the seen and the unseen, of earth and heaven. They have to remember that we live in two worlds, that both belong to God; and that we do not escape from the inferior order when the glory of eternal and Divine things is revealed to us. We still have to plough, and to sow, and to reap; to build houses; to work in iron, and brass, and silver and gold. The old world with its day and night, its sunshine and its clouds, its rain and snow, its heat and cold, is still our home. In things seen and temporal we have to do the will of the invisible and eternal God, and to be disciplined for our final perfection and glory. As God determined the laws of the physical universe, so He determined the limitations of human life, and the conditions upon which human duty is to be discharged. The family, the State, and the Church are Divine institutions: and the obligations which they create are rooted in the will of God. The family and the State belong to the natural order, but they are not less Divine in their origin than the Church, nor are their claims upon us less sacred. In the family the parents by Divine appointment exercise authority, and children are under Divine obligations to obedience. The ends for which the family exists are defeated if authority is not exercised on the one side, if obedience is not conceded on the other; just as the ends for which the State exists are defeated if rulers do not assert and enforce the law, if subjects habitually violate it. Children are to obey their parents, “for this is right”; right, according to the natural constitution and order of human affairs; right, according to the laws of natural morality; right, according to the natural conscience and apart from supernatural revelation. But in the discharge of this natural duty the supernatural life is to be revealed. Children are to obey their parents “in the Lord,” in the Spirit and in the strength of Christ. Obedience to parents is part of the service which Christ claims from us; it is a large province of the Christian life. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
The extent of parental authority
It is not enough that children obey their parents in those things which would have obligation apart from parental authority. To be truthful, honest, kindly, temperate, courageous, industrious, are duties whether a parent enforces them or not. They may be sanctioned and sustained by parental authority, but to discharge duties of this kind may be no proof of filial obedience; a child may discharge them without any regard to the authority of his parents. It is when the parent requires obedience in things which are neither right nor wrong in themselves, or which appear to the child neither right nor wrong in themselves, that the authority of the parents is unambiguously recognized. A parent may require obedience in things of this kind for the good of the child himself, for the sake of his health, for the sake of his intellectual vigour and growth, for the sake of his moral safety, or for the sake of his future success in life. Before the parents’ authority is exerted the child is free; but afterwards, whether the child sees the wisdom of the requirement or not, he is bound to obey. Or parental authority may be exerted for the sake of the family generally. Regulations intended to secure the order of the household, to prevent confusion, to lessen trouble, and to lessen expense, are often felt by young people to be extremely irksome. The regulations appear to be unreasonable, and to have no other object than to place vexatious restraints on personal liberty. Sometimes, no doubt, they are really unwise and unnecessary. But children are not the most competent judges; and in any case it is the parents, not the children, that are responsible for making the rules. The parents may be unwise in imposing them; but the children are more than unwise if they are restive under them and wilfully break them. To submit to restraints which are seen to be expedient and reasonable is a poor test of obedience; the real proof of filial virtue is given when there is loyal submission to restraints which appear unnecessary. There is less difficulty when a child is required to render personal service to a parent. The obligation is so obvious, that unless the child is intensely selfish the claim will be met with cheerfulness as well as with submission. Affection, gratitude, and a certain pride in being able to contribute to a parent’s ease or comfort, will make obedience a delight. To be of use satisfies one of the strongest cravings of a generous and noble nature, and that satisfaction is all the more complete if the act of service involves real labour and a real sacrifice of personal enjoyment. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
Family discipline and State security
The duty of obedience to parents, which is a natural duty, a duty arising out of the natural constitution of human life, was enforced in Jewish times by a Divine commandment. And this commandment had a place of special dignity in Jewish legislation; it was “the first commandment with promise.” Paul was not thinking of the Ten Commandments as if they stood apart from the rest of the laws which God gave to the Jewish people, or else he would have said that this was the only commandment that was strengthened by the assurance of a special reward to obedience. He meant that of all the Jewish laws this was the first that had a promise attached to it. The promise was a national promise. It was not an assurance that every child that obeyed his parents would escape sickness and poverty, would be prosperous, and would live to a good old age; it was a declaration that the prosperity, the stability, and the permanence of the nation depended upon the reverence of children for their parents. The discipline of the family was intimately related to the order, the security, and the greatness of the State. Bad children would make bad citizens. If there was a want of reverence for parental authority, there would be a want of reverence for public authority. If there was disorder in the home, there would be disorder in the nation; and national disorder would lead to the destruction of national life. But if children honoured their parents the elect nation would be prosperous, and would retain possession of the country which it had received from the hands of God. The greatness of the promise attached to this commandment, the fact that it was the first commandment that had any promise attached to it, revealed the Divine estimate of the obligations of filial duty. And although Jewish institutions have passed away, the revelation of God’s judgment concerning the importance of this duty remains. And the promise with which it was sanctioned is the revelation of a universal law. The family is the germ cell of the nation. If children honour their parents, men and women will be trained to those habits of order and obedience which are the true security of the public peace, and are among the most necessary elements of commercial and military supremacy; they will be disciplined to self-control, and will have strength to resist many of the vices which are the cause of national corruption and ruin. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
Honour is more than obedience
The commandment which Paul quotes requires children to “honour” their parents; “honour” includes obedience and something more. We may obey because we are afraid of the penalties of disobedience; and in that case the obedience though exact will be reluctant, without cheerfulness and without grace. We may obey under terror, or we may obey from motives of self-interest. We may think that the man to whom we are compelled to submit is in no sense our superior, that he is at best our equal, and that it is mere accident that gives him authority over us. But children are required to remember that their parents are their superiors, not their equals; that they have to “honour” parental dignity as well as to obey parental commands, that honour is to blend with obedience and to make it free and beautiful. The child that honours his parents will yield a real deference to their judgment and wishes when there is no definite and authoritative command; will respect even their prejudices; will chivalrously conceal their infirmities and faults; will keenly resent any disparagement of their claims to consideration; will resent still more keenly any assault on their character. In a family where this precept is obeyed, parents will be treated with uniform courtesy. There is a tradition that whenever Jonathan Edwards came into a room where his children were sitting, they rose as they would have risen at the entrance of a visitor. Forms of respect of this kind are alien from modern manners; but the spirit of which they were the expression still survives in well-bred families, I mean in families which inherit and preserve good traditions, whatever social rank they may belong to. Nor is it to parents alone that children should show this spirit of consideration and respect; brothers and sisters should show it to each other; and both among the rich and the poor it may be taken as a sure sign of vulgarity, inherited or acquired, if courtesy is reserved for strangers, and has no place in the life of the family. Children are to “honour” their parents, and if they honour their parents they are likely to be courteous to each other. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
Duty of parents to children
Paul had a sensitive sympathy with the wrongs which children sometimes suffer, and a strong sense of their claims to consideration. Children are to “obey” and to “honour” even unreasonable, capricious, and unjust parents; but it is the duty of parents not to be unreasonable, capricious, or unjust. Parents are sometimes wanting in courtesy to children as well as children to parents, speak to them roughly, violently, insultingly--and so inflict painful wounds on their self-respect. Parents sometimes recur with cruel iteration to the faults and follies of their children, faults and follies of which the children are already ashamed, and which it would be not only kind but just to forget. Parents are sometimes guilty of a brutal want of consideration; they allude in jest to personal defects to which the children are keenly sensitive, remind them mockingly of failures by which they have been deeply humiliated, speak cynically of pursuits in which their children have a passionate or romantic interest, and contemptuously and scornfully of companions and friends that their children enthusiastically admire and love. Parents are sometimes tyrannical, wilfully thwarting their children’s plans, needlessly interfering with their pleasures, and imposing on them unreasonable and fruitless sacrifices. Parents who desire to be loved and honoured and cheerfully obeyed should lay to heart the apostle’s warning: “Provoke not your children to wrath.” Then follows the positive precept, “But nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.” This covers the whole province of Christian education.
1. The precept implies a real and serious faith on the part of the parents that their children belong to Christ, and are under Christ’s care. The children are Christ’s subjects, and have to be trained to loyal obedience to His authority. Their earliest impressions of God should assure them that God loves them with an infinite and eternal love, and that He has blessed them with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.
2. The education of which the apostle is thinking is practical rather than speculative; it has to do with life and character, rather than with knowledge. The order of a child’s life is determined by its parents, and is to be determined under Christ’s authority, so that the child may be trained to all Christian virtues. In the earlier years of childhood this training will be, in a sense, mechanical. The child will not know why certain acts and habits are required of it, or why other acts and habits are forbidden. There will be no appeal to the child’s conscience or reason; the parents’ conscience and the parents’ reason will assume the responsibility of guiding the child’s conduct.
3. If it is the duty of a child to obey, it is the duty of parents to rule. There can be no obedience where there is no authority; and if a child is not disciplined to obedience it suffers a moral loss which can hardly ever be completely remedied in later years. The religious as well as the moral life is injured by the relaxation of parental rule. Obedience to the personal authority of parents disciplines us to obey the personal authority of God.
4. Children should be trained to the surrender of their own pleasure and comfort to the pleasure and comfort of others. Parents who have sacrificed themselves without reserve to their children’s gratification are sometimes bitterly disappointed that their children grow up selfish. They wonder and feel aggrieved that their devotion receives no response, that their children are not so eager to serve them as they have been to serve their children. On the other hand, parents who with equal affection have made themselves, not their children, the centre of the family life, seem to have been more fortunate. Not selfishly, harshly, or tyrannically, but firmly and consistently, they have required their children to take a secondary position. The comfort of the children and their pleasures were amply provided for, but the children were not led to think that everything in the house must give way to them, that all the sacrifices were to be made by their parents, none by themselves. They were trained to serve, and not merely to receive service. This seems to be the truer discipline of the Christian spirit and character.
5. In relation to the higher elements of the Christian life, to those elements which are distinctively Christian and spiritual, more depends upon the real character of the parents than upon anything besides. In relation to these the power of personal influence is supreme. If the parents really obey the will of Christ as their supreme law, if they accept His judgments about human affairs and about the ends of human life, if they live under the control of the invisible and eternal world, the children will know it, and are likely to yield to the influence of it. But if the parents, though animated by religious faith, are not completely Christian, if some of their most conspicuous habits of thought and conduct are not penetrated by the force of Christ’s spirit and teaching, the children are in great danger; they are as likely to yield to what is base and worldly in the life of their parents as to what is Divine. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
Parents and children
Family life has its origin with God. A more sacred position than that of father or mother it is impossible to occupy. And this because the highest revelation of God presents Him to us as a Parent. He is the Father of men. In every family, therefore, where love abounds and holy authority rules, there is a reflection of God. Then, further, according to a law of our Maker, children are a gift.
I. Try to estimate the worth of children. They are budding men and women.
II. Try to understand their individual characters. Careful study is needed for this. A family is a little world: each member of it has a personality of his or her own.
III. Try to appreciate the power of your influence. This can hardly be exaggerated, especially in the formative years of childhood. They are always learning from us, and being influenced by us. We can do nothing and say nothing but what leaves some kind of impression upon their young characters. We are their books, and they study US with keenest eyes, and reproduce us with a ludicrous accuracy.
IV. Try to recognize the limits of your authority.
1. It is bounded by the will of God.
2. It is limited by time. (Wm. Braden.)
I. The nature of this duty.
1. Parents are required to impart to their children the instruction or wisdom of the Lord Jesus.
2. Parents must subject their children to the discipline of the Lord Jesus.
II. The importance of this duty. This may be proved from--
1. The state of prospects of the children themselves.
2. The circumstances and prospects of the Church of Christ. The hope of the Church in the future depends always upon the rising generation.
3. The state and necessities of the world at large.
III. The consistent, Christ-like temper in which these duties must be performed. (John Hannah, D. D.)
1. Avoid harshness and severity of demeanour.
2. Do not overstrain the necessity of obedience.
3. Avoid the habit of constantly finding fault.
1. Exalt the Word of God. That must be the basis, foundation, rule and guide of everything. The great standard of right and wrong.
2. Exalt Christ.
3. Exalt the Spirit of God.
4. Maintain a godly jealousy of the world. (James Cohen, M. A.)
The nurture and admonition of the Lord
1. The first thing to consider is the basis of the culture--the Lord. To make a child understand fully what that means is the Alpha and Omega of Christian education. To train children of old in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord” was to teach them to comprehend the meaning and bearing of the great spiritual truths which the gospel brought into the world.
2. The next question concerns the method of the culture, which is described in the significant term, “the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Some have supposed that in the double term there is a reference to the dual parentage, and that it describes the blending of the manly and womanly influence in the rule and culture of the home. But the original hardly looks that way. Our Revised Version has it, “nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.” So that the word nurture in the Authorised Version in the original bears the sterner meaning; and refers to the discipline which comes through correction; while admonition suggests counsel, advice, reproof, exhortation, and all the intellectual and moral influences whereby a young soul may be trained for its work. It is wonderful how the fatherly and motherly influences blend in Christ; the tenderest nurture, the firmest correction, the sternest chastisement, in which no child can ever miss the love. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Religious teaching of the young
The terms translated, “nurture and admonition,” were very familiar words to the Greeks. They were proud of their system of education, and, viewed from a moral point, they had reason to be so; their plans were admirably constituted for the development of the body, the culture of intellect, and the refining of the aristocratic taste in society. But between man and God there was the greatest deficiency: the vital deficiency was that which is supplied here by the apostle when he used these words, and said, “In the nurture and admonition of the Lord”; for it is Christianity alone which touches the mainspring of our nature, which brings all its parts into harmony with themselves, and restores, as a whole, man to the friendship and communion of God.
I. Look at some of the encouragement which we learn in the endeavour to bring them up to the Lord.
1. I would find encouragement in the general belief in a “Present God.” This may be said to be the starting point of a religious education.
2. We have in children comparative tenderness of conscience.
3. There is in children a comparatively prompt appreciation of the love of Christ. To a child it is not so difficult to believe in that complete self-abandonment for the good of others which was manifested in the Cross of Jesus Christ. He can more thoroughly understand in that early part of his life even than he can at a later period, when the shadows of the world are cast upon that Cross--can appreciate the love which prompted the giving Himself for us, and can return it far more than at any later period of his existence.
II. The means to be used for this purpose.
1. Instruction. It is knowledge, not ignorance, that is the mother of our devotion. We must seek, therefore, to illumine the understanding--to present to it those great objects of faith upon which the soul reposes.
2. Example. The instruction of the family is neither better nor worse than the conduct of its members: if the lessons are high and the conduct low, the effect will be low; if the lessons are imperfect, but the conduct excellent, the effect will be excellent.
3. These means must be applied and sustained in power by prayer. (C. M. Birrell.)
Parents and children
A parent is bound to his child by a tie which cannot be severed. He may delegate some of that work in which he is sure, intentionally or undesignedly, himself to bear so large a part, to tutors and governors, but he does not by that divest himself of his responsibility. This relationship is unalterable. It is not even affected by the conduct of the child. The bond is indestructible, and the duty as lasting as the bond.
I. The nature and extent of parental influence. It is evident that there is no relation in which a man exerts so much power for good or evil. There is no other from whom the child receives so many of the ideas, impressions, and habits, which are most abiding, as from his parents. The opinions which a man holds, the party with which he identifies himself, the friendships he cultivates, and the particular line of conduct he observes, all impress themselves on the mind of his child; and his views of them are affected partly by the feelings he has to his father, and partly by the opinions which they have had upon his father’s character and life. Very early is the observing power of the child awakened, and from the time that it is roused to consciousness every day adds something to its ever-increasing store. Words and looks, as well as actions, have their effect; and thus, unconsciously to themselves, the parents are constantly educating their children--educating them when they have no thought at all of the serious work which they are doing; when they are going on the way of life in their own accustomed course without recollecting that there are eager young eyes watching every movement, and listening young ears drinking in every word that is spoken, and impressible young hearts which are being trained to good or to evil by that which is thus passing before them.
II. The spirit and manner in which this responsibility should be discharged.
1. To make the unconscious influence which a man exerts a blessing, the one thing which is necessary is high-toned Christian principle. The power which goes forth from a man will be according to the spirit that is in him.
2. In the direct work of training, the first essential is that you should clearly set before your own mind the object which you have in view.
3. The exercise of authority is another of the means by which a parent may fulfil his duty. The one power on earth which is of Divine right in his. It is essential to the right government of the family and the proper discipline of the child. It meets him at the beginning of life with the idea, so necessary for all to realize, that in this world no human will is meant to be absolute and supreme, and that the first lesson--which everyone is to learn--is the difficult but necessary one of obedience.
3. No Christian parent will need to be reminded that he must pray for and with his children. (J. G. Begets, B. A.)
Jesus Christ the pattern, means, and end of parental training
“In the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The Lord brings up His disciples; He takes them at their new birth, and educates them; He instructs and teaches them, but He does more than this, He brings them up; He forms and developes a godly character; He conforms them, by discipline and training, to the Divine image; He leads His disciples into true manhood of soul and of life. There is a nurture and admonition which the Lord adopts, and which may, with immense advantage, be imitated by every parent. The Lord exhorts, warns, and restrains. There is nurture, and there is admonition, in the bringing up of Christ’s disciples by their Lord. He is not like Eli, who was chargeable with great neglect, because he did not restrain his sons when they made themselves vile. The Lord Jesus Christ does restrain His disciples. When they sin He corrects them, yet He does not always chide, neither does He keep His anger for ever. He leaves some faults to wear themselves out, and other faults to die under indirect influences; but He takes care that every fault comes under some destructive influence. The Lord teaches and trains partly by His own example. Hence, when He is spoken of under the similitude of a Shepherd, it is said of Him, that He goes before His disciples, leading them, by showing them the path in which they should walk--showing them, not by His lips merely, but showing them by His own steps. Further, the Lord unites with Himself, by trust and love, those whom He brings up. His influence over them is not through the understanding and the reason merely--not simply through the intellectual faculties--but by the heart. What a melancholy sight it is in families, to see children growing up like roots in dry ground. They have hold of nothing in the home, and nothing in the home has hold upon them; there is nothing there that is congenial, just because there is nothing genial--for the genial to early life will always be congenial. Brethren, speaking of “the nurture and admonition of the Lord” mentioned in the text, we may really call it the nurture and admonition which the Lord adopts. We do not say that Paul had this thought when he wrote; we think he had another thought, which we shall presently try to give you: but still the thought that we now suggest is inseparably associated with that which we shall presently suggest--and therefore the remarks we have been making appear to us to be quite to the point. And if you would bring up your children aright, just see how the Lord brings you up, and imitate your heavenly Educator. But, speaking textually, “the nurture and admonition of the Lord” is that which the Lord directs--it is that which has the Lord for its subject, and the Lord for its object. “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” means--Let your instruction and your training have the Lord’s teaching, the Lord’s warnings, the Lord’s doctrines, for their means, and the Lord Himself for their end. Let the Lord be the end of education; and let the Lord’s resources be the means of education. And will you also observe that both parents are charged--for the word “fathers” is used here, not in the specific sense, but in the generic sense: so that we may read the passage, “Ye parents, train up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The day was, when the mother had nothing, or very little, to do directly with instruction and education. But so soon as the position of the wife and the mother was improved and righted, so soon as she stood in her proper place by the side of the husband and father, then the father began to give her an undue share of the responsibility in bringing up the children. And what do we see now? We see the mother in many cases doing the whole work, and the father most grievously and sinfully neglecting it. This is not right. In the first place there is something due to the mother, and to the wife; why should she take a greater burden than she is able to bear? In the next place there is something due to the children. Look, further, at the common danger to parents that is here recognized--the abuse of power. The power of a parent is very great; and there is very little to check it; even the State does little here, unless the abuse of power be extraordinary. The power of a parent is, as we scarcely need remind you, almost unbounded. Do you see that the text recognizes the danger of this power being abused? “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.” Power, more than anything else, tempts to cruelty; it is an exceedingly dangerous thing to possess--and no man in his senses will ever covet it; he will rather ask God to give him very little of it, than desire to possess it. Those who have right views of power will never be ambitious for it: but they will rather, like some of the old prophets (like Jeremiah, for instance), tremble to take it even when God puts it into their hands. We often see power make the most tender natures cruel, and the most gentle natures fierce. How often have women been rendered cruel by an increase of authority, and an increase of influence! There is danger to parents of caprice, and harshness; of giving commands, and precepts, and prohibitions, for the sake of maintaining their position, and of upholding their authority. And that is the point of the words, “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up.” The child is to be nourished; it is not to be driven--it is to be cherished; it is not to be forced. The incitement and the impulsion which are likely to distress and dishearten the child, are distinctly forbidden in the text. The force of the contrast must be manifest to you in a moment. The bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, is placed in contrast with provoking them to wrath. The child’s faults are to be corrected; but still, correction is to be so administered as not to sink the child into despondency, or drive him to despair--as not to wean the heart of the child either from father or from mother. And the education required is to be marked, as you will have seen throughout the course of these remarks, by the following features. The Lord Jesus, the Son of God, is to be its end. Children are to brought up for the Lord; for subjects in His kingdom; that is to be the ultimate end. Christ’s teaching is to be the means of education. The precepts and the prohibitions that are to regulate the general conduct are to be taken from Christ’s lips, and are to be delivered to the child in Christ’s name. Christ’s resources are to be the support of education. The parent is not supposed to be able himself to do this work; but there are put at his disposal the unsearchable riches of Christ; and if he cannot nourish his children with that which he has, he may nourish them by the wealth of his Master and Lord. The education required is to have Christ’s example for its standard--the parent is to: “bring up” as Christ brings up His followers. And it is to have Christ’s temper for its spirit--the educator must be meek and lowly in heart. (S. Martin, D. D.)
The father’s charge
I. The duties which parents owe to their children.
1. Children are weak and helpless, and totally incapable of caring for themselves; and hence arises the first duty which parents owe them--that of feeding and clothing them.
2. Children are ignorant, and without understanding; hence they should not only be fed, but taught. Children should be taught--
3. Children are unruly, and therefore must; be governed.
4. Children are prone to evil, and therefore must be restrained.
II. The obligations which parents are under to practise those duties.
1. They should do it for their own sake. For the credit of their own characters.
2. They should do it for their children’s sake.
3. They should do it for society’s sake.
4. They should do it for God’s sake.
1. Learn how careful the apostles were to instruct their converts, not only in the matters of faith, but rules of conduct descending even to the most particular duties of domestic life.
2. The practicability of a religious education.
3. How awful is the responsibility of parents. (Theological Sketchbook.)
The duty of Christian parents
I. The tie that binds the parent to his child. It is one of the most affecting of all ties. But see the deep responsibility connected with it--to say nothing of the closeness, the tenderness, and the unchangeableness of the tie--my bone, and my flesh, and my blood.
II. But observe the exhortation that is here given. At first sight it seems a sort of strange exhortation to parents, “not to provoke their children to wrath.” Yet there is infinite love and infinite wisdom in it; because of the very love that parents have for their children. Observe, they are not exhorted to love their children; that is not the exhortation given to them. It is supposed that they love their children; and yet, though they love their children, they may “provoke them to wrath.” Because there may be, and often is, an exhibition of love that does “provoke them to wrath.” Oh! beloved, a system of perpetual, endless, unrequired, austere restriction does it; a perpetual restriction, in which there is a practical forgetfulness of the parent’s duty to make his children happy. Beware of a system of perpetually finding fault. This results from the other; if there be a system of perpetual restriction in all things. But now let us come to that which is the precept before us. “But,” says he, instead of doing so, “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” “Bring them up”--the same word occurs in the twenty-ninth verse of the former chapter; it is the same as “nourish.” It implies all tenderness, all feeling with, all feeling for, all care, all gentleness, and all love. “Bring them up”: just as you nourish your own flesh, caring for its life, for its welfare, and its true well-being--so “bring them up.” “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Here are two points for our consideration. Here is, first of all, the bringing them up, instructing them in Divine truth; and then there is educating them in Divine things. First of all, to instruct them in Divine truth. And this, too, not in a dictatorial way, as a schoolmaster teaches his lessons; but as a father should teach his children. A “good minister” is one who is “nourished up in the words of faith, and of good doctrine.” Nourished up, by little and little, just as he is able to bear it. Besides this, beloved, there is in education--and there can hardly be, I should think, a greater mistake than to suppose that instruction in the truth, and education, mean the same things--there is in education the “bringing up” of a child in those principles in which he has been instructed out of God’s Word. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
Early religious instruction
When a lady once told Archbishop Sharpe that she would not communicate religious instruction to her children until they had attained the years of discretion, the shrewd prelate replied, “Madam, if you do not teach them, the devil will!” (J. Whitecross.)
Be very vigilant over thy child in the April of his understanding, lest the frost of May nip his blossoms, While he is a tender twig, straighten him; whilst he is a new vessel, season him; such as thou makest him, such commonly shalt thou find him. Let his first lesson be obedience, and his second shall be what thou wilt. Give him education in good letters, to the utmost of thy ability and his capacity. Season his youth with the love of his Creator, and make the fear of his God the beginning of his knowledge. If he have an active spirit, rather rectify than curb it; but reckon idleness among his chiefest faults. As his judgment ripens, observe his inclination, and tender him a calling that shall not cross it. Forced marriages and callings seldom prosper. Show him both the mow and the plough; and prepare him as well for the danger of the skirmish, as possess him with the honour of the prize. (F. Quarles.)
Correction of children
By directing a child’s attention to a fault, and thus giving it a local habitation and a name, you may often fix it in him more firmly; when, by drawing his thoughts and affections to other things, and seeking to foster an opposite grace, you would be much more likely to subdue it. In like manner a jealous disposition is often strengthened when notice is taken of it, while the endeavour to cherish a spirit of love would do much toward casting it out. (Hare.)
The time for religious education
Seize the opportunity while it lasts, before the child is inured to evil, and the sinful habit is formed. Act like the skilful physician, who tells you to apply for medical aid while the disease is in its incipient state, and not to delay until the malady has seized upon the vital organs, and is out of the reach of medicine. Now is the time to apply the moral medicine (for there is balm in Gilead, end there is a Physician there), and let it be so applied as that it work freely in these young hearts, for their healing and salvation. (Dr. R. Newton.)
Youth is the best season for communicating knowledge
If, for instance, you wish your son to learn a business, you send him to acquire it in the period of his youth; if languages are to be mastered, you admit the advantage of beginning them while young; and so it is with trades and professions. Now, men know this, and act accordingly in matters relating to this life. And shall men of this world be “wiser in their generation than the children of light”? Surely Christianity is a science, whose interest and importance are immeasurably above every other. Christianity is the Divine science of human salvation. O! then, begin to teach your children this Divine science while they are yet young. (Dr. R. Newton.)
Right habits must be inculcated in youth
If man be trained in early life to right habits--habits of religion, habits of virtue, truth, righteousness, and piety--it is to be expected that these habits, being truly formed, will grow with his growth, and strengthen with his strength. We have seen this principle repeatedly illustrated. For example, you have perhaps inserted characters in the tender bark of the young tree; and if you return to the tree in the next season, you then find that these characters have become wider and deeper than they were when you placed them there. So it is with the character of truth imprinted in the young and tender mind. It has been remarked that a vessel generally retains the savour of the liquid with which it was first seasoned so long as any part of the vessel remains. How true does this observation apply to the mental constitution of youth! And how important, then, that it should have the seasoning of the right kind--the seasoning of true piety, love to God, and love to man! A distinguished metaphysician had observed that “of all the men passing through life, nine out of ten are what they are, virtuous or vicious, religious or irreligious, according to their education during the period of childhood and youth.” (Dr. R. Newton.)
Religious training should begin early
If you should certainly know that in five years hence your boy, who is now a little child, would fall into a deep river all alone, you would not wait till the event should happen ere you prepared to meet it. You would begin now the process which would be safety then. Your child cannot swim, and you are not qualified to teach him; but forthwith you would acquire the art yourself, that you might communicate it to him, and that he might be prepared to meet the emergency. Now, beyond all peradventure, your child, if he survive, will in a few years be plunged into a sea of wickedness, through which he must swim for his life. Nothing but right moral principles, obtained from the Bible, and indurated by early training into a confirmed habit, will give him the necessary buoyancy. Hence, as you would preserve your child from sinking through the sea of sin into final perdition, you are hound to qualify yourself for training him up in the way he should go. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Training not to wait for years of discretion
Thalwell thought it very unfair to influence a child’s mind by inculcating any opinions before it had come to years of discretion to choose for itself. I showed him my garden, and told him that it was a botanical garden. “How so?” said he; “it is covered with weeds.” “Oh,” I replied, “that is only because it has not yet come to its age of discretion and choice. The weeds, you see, have taken the liberty to grow, and thought it unfair in me to prejudice the soil towards roses and strawberries.” (S. T. Coleridge.)
Early devotion to God
It is of the last importance to season the passions of a child with devotion, which seldom dies in a mind that has received an early tincture of it. Though it may seem extinguished for a while by the cares of the world, the heats of youth, or the allurements of vice, it generally breaks out and discovers itself again as soon as discretion, consideration, age, or misfortunes have brought the man to himself. The fire may be covered and overlaid, hut cannot be entirely quenched and smothered. (Addison.)
Obedience to parents
I. An urgent command. Do your duty to your father and mother. This may be taken to include those who occupy the place of a parent--a grandfather or grandmother, or uncle or aunt, or friend or guardian. I shall try to bring out the spirit of this command in a few short remarks.
1. Honour your parents. Our words to our parents should be respectful: we should honour them in our speaking. I am amazed and grieved to hear how some children speak to their fathers and mothers--to hear the pert, disrespectful, impudent answers they sometimes give them. Our looks and gestures should be respectful. Do you see that little fellow, who has been found fault with, or has not got what he wanted? What a face he puts on--what ill-nature shows itself in these pouting lips--what revenge and defiance there is in that fiery eye--what a scowl on his young face! But he does not say anything; perhaps he does not dare. I wish you would remember that your eye and lips may sin, as well as your tongue and hand. Our actions--our general conduct and behaviour towards them, should be respectful We may do things, that are right in themselves, in a very disrespectful way--ungraciously, offensively. Where there is some infirmity--where, for instance, a parent is deaf, or lame, or sick, or ill-behaved, this is very apt to be. We do what is asked or wished, but we do it with a very bad grace. The same may be said of the way in which we receive and treat their instructions, it may be carelessly, heartlessly. Then there is such a thing as being ashamed of our parents--when they are poor, when they are not so well educated as we are. It was not so with Joseph, one of the first princes of Egypt, when he presented his old shepherd-father to the king, and was as proud of him as if he had been a king too.
2. Obey your parents. It is not enough to pay them respect, in a general way: they must be obeyed. To say “No” to a parent, is to run directly in the face of God’s law. And we may not choose what commands we shall obey, and what we shall not. And so I shall pass on to say something about the kind of obedience that should be rendered.
3. Love your parents. It is not enough to pay them outward respect--to make a point of obeying them: you must love them. They love you, and nothing will satisfy them but your love in return. A poor woman once came to me, almost broken-hearted, and told me this story. She had been calling on her daughter, a young servant girl, in a good situation. When the daughter opened the door and saw who was there, she threw a shilling to her, as if she had been a beggar, said she was afraid lest her mistress should come, and shut the door in her mother’s face, leaving her staggering under the rebuff. I think I see that mother yet, as she said to me, “What was my daughter’s money to me, when I had lost her love?”
4. Be kind to your parents. If you really love them, you will be kind to them. Anticipate their wishes, and give them a pleasant surprise. I might mention many beautiful instances of kindness to parents. I have heard of an American Indian chief who was taken prisoner with his son, and, with heavy chains on his limbs, was cast into prison. The chief whose prisoner he is, has no child, and wishes to adopt the boy as his son. He brings out rich ornaments for the wrists and ankles, such as the Indians delight to wear, and tells him to choose whatever he likes. One by one the boy takes them up and looks at them; but his thoughts go back to his father in his dungeon, and for him he gives up all. “As you give me my choice,” his reply is, “I had rather wear such as my father wears”--a chain! See that youth, respectable and well educated, who has been unable to get money otherwise, and now offers to enlist as a soldier, provided he gets a good bounty. What does the lad mean? His old father is in prison for debt: the son would do anything to get him released; he gets the bounty asked, and though it may cost him many a year of hardship and danger, he hurries to the well-known cell, takes his father in his arms, and tells him he is free! Or look into this humble home. On a bed lies a sick man, so helpless that his wife can do little else than wait upon him. She cannot go out to wash or work. People wonder how they live, for they get no parish aid. Do you see that little girl of twelve? How nimbly her fingers are going! Every morning she is up at four; it is nothing but stitch, stitch, stitch with her, all the day. She is the little bread winner for the household.
5. Value your parents. Well you may. You will never find the like of them again. You will not have them long. Prize them while you have them. And here let me put in a word for aged parents. When a father or a mother grows old, the duty to support and show kindness to and bear with them, becomes increasingly binding.
II. A precious promise--“That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.” I can but touch on this.
1. God says, Obedience will be pleasing to Him. It is implied in the promise, that God will approve it.
2. God says, It will be a blessing to yourself. “It shall be well with thee: thou shalt live long,” etc. (J. H. Wilson.)
Counsels for education
I. The first thing to which we invite your attention, is, the best method of communicating religious knowledge.
1. Now, among the first rules we would give for the communication of religious knowledge to children, we would say, avoid bringing before them all points of abstract doctrine. Do not suppose it needful that you should bring under their notice any system of divinity, as a system. Be careful to impress upon their minds those moral facts, which lead to the doctrines, rather than to state the doctrines and then prove them by the facts.
2. There is another direction, which I think very important, with regard to the instruction of the young; and that is, that in all our statements of truth, and in all our illustrations of doctrine, we should be careful that every illustration we employ be as circumscribed, as confined, as narrow in its range, as possible.
3. There is one general direction more that we would give with regard to the inculcation of religious knowledge; and that is, that we should do all we can to encourage habits of inquiry, of reflection, and of moral thoughtfulness.
II. We now proceed to the second part of our subject, where the observations, it is obvious, will apply to those of a more advanced age, as well as to children. We mean, the offering rules for persuading them to a religious practice.
1. The first rule we would give, is this: that you make the service of God appear delightful service.
2. Another direction is, that you acquire the habit of turning passing events to a spiritual account.
3. Another direction is, that you endeavour to find out their first and strongest tendency to evil.
4. Another direction we would give, is, that you administer reproof on Bible principles, and in a Bible spirit.
5. One more direction is, that ye encourage the small beginnings of the good work. Two practical directions for yourselves, in conclusion, will finish our subject. First, let your exhortations be strengthened by example; secondly, let your example be sanctified by your prayers. (D. Moore, M. A.)
I. First, allow me to direct your attention to the nature of parental claims.
1. In the first place, then, parental claims require implicit; obedience so long as the child is dependent on the parent.
2. Secondly, parental claims require affectionate and reverential deference in every period of life.
3. In the third place, parental claims extend to support in times of weakness, sickness, and old age.
II. In the second place, then, let us consider the authority by which these claims are enforced.
1. First, they are enforced by the decisions of the moral law. You know that one of the most prominent and oft-repeated of the ancient commandments delivered by Moses to the Jewish nation, was this, “Honour thy father and thy mother.”
2. Secondly, this duty is enforced by the principles and precepts of the New Testament dispensation. Thus, when the Saviour came, the record concerning Him was that He “went down and was subject to His parents.”
3. In the third place, iris enforced by the nature and claims of human society. Society is but an aggregate of individuals, and men are just what they are at home.
4. In the fourth place, it is enforced by the important connection which this duty has with the formation of individual character. Any individual who has been remarkable as an excellent son, will become a good father, a good husband, a good friend, a good member of society, in whatever place he may be found.
5. In the last place, it is enforced by the strongest commands of gratitude.
III. Allow me, then, in the third place, to notice some of those restrictions by which these claims are limited.
1. First, then, they are modified by the claims of religion. The gospel in every respect is supreme. Our allegiance to the Deity is higher and of more importance than our allegiance to any and all the forms of domestic and social life.
2. In the second place, it is restricted by the laws of society of which the individual may be a member, and by the principles of unchanging morals, every individual feels that society at large is of much more importance, and therefore has a greater claim, than the domestic circle. Consequently, if a law in itself right or necessary for social existence shall enjoin anything, parental authority shall not countervail it.
3. In the third place, their claims are marked and modified by the usages and constitutions of society. All our domestic arrangements partake, to a greater or less extent, of the nature of law. In many countries you know children are, or have been, regarded as the property of their parents. So long as the parent survives, it is impossible for them to hold property of any kind, or to command the services, excepting subordinate and secondary, of any agent. It has been impossible that they should devote themselves to this or that enterprise, except at the suggestion and determination of the parent’s will. In fact they are slaves--complete slaves; body, soul, and spirit regarded as the goods and chattels of the parent. We feel that this runs counter to the everlasting law; that it is not right that slavery in any form should exist; and consequently we should not feel ourselves bound essentially on such a principle as that, merely on its own account, if there were no other supervening law to enforce duty under those circumstances upon us. In the East, for example, and among the Jews, till a young man attained thirty years of age, this parental control was most complete; it extended to such physical chastisement as the parent should demand, while it was regarded as the highest crime to resist or oppose that chastisement, however condign, afflictive, or humiliating it might be. Under such circumstances as these, we feel our feelings would revolt.
4. In the last place, these claims are modified by individual character and conduct. I do not mean to say that improper conduct on the part of the parent essentially vitiates, much less destroys, the claims which the parent has for obedience and reverence. But I do mean to say that there is a law of nature which acting invariably will, if it does not destroy, greatly modify those claims, in the responses with which they shall be met. If the conscience is not controlled, if the understanding is not convinced, the very moment such is the case the claims of the individual are to a great extent modified. Now, it is just so in the domestic circle. If your example shall be contrary to righteousness and truth, two things will follow: first, your authority will be vitiated, because all true obedience, such as is connected with affection and reverence, must be secured, in greater or less measure, by the action of moral influence; but a corrupt father cannot exercise such influence, and consequently full and true obedience cannot by him be secured. The external form may remain, but the inward life and power must be wanting. A second thing will ensue; example speaks louder than words: there will be two authorities, two commandments. Further: if your commands shall be unduly severe--if they shall be, moreover, manifestly intended to secure exclusively your own interest--if they shall savour of selfishness in every utterance and in every demand, you may secure obedience, perhaps, but you cannot secure love. (J. Aldis.)
Religious instruction for children
Would mathematical science thrive if Euclid and the Principia were to cease from the studies of our youth: Would the public watchfulness of the people over their rulers thrive if they were to refrain from perusing the daily intelligence, and conversing of public affairs? Will religion thrive if the Word of God be not studied and its topics conferred on? If at that season when our youth of first family and ambition are preparing their minds for guiding affairs, by courses of early discipline in public schools, and those of second rank are entered to the various professions of life, if then no pains be taken to draw their attention to the sacred writings, and impress principles of piety and virtue upon their minds, how can it be expected that religion should even have a chance? One cannot always be learning; youth is for learning, manhood for acting, and old age for enjoying the fruits of both. I ask, Why, when the future lawyer is studying Blackstone or Lyttleton; the future physician, Hippocrates and Sydenham; the future economist, Smith and Malthus; the future statesman, Locke and Sydney; each that he may prepare for filling a reputable station in the present world--Why is the future immortal not at the same time studying the two Testaments of God, in order to prepare for the world to come, in which every one of us hath a more valuable stake? If immortality be nothing but the conjuration of priests to cheat the world, then let it pass, and our books go to the wind like the sibyl’s leaves; but if immortality be neither the dream of fond enthusiasts, nor the trick of artful priests, but the revelation of the righteous God; then let us have the literature and the science, and the practice for the long after-stage of our being, as well as for the present time, which is but its porch. These pleadings are to men who believe immortality; therefore justify your belief, and show your gratitude by taking thought and pains about the great concerns of that immortality which you believe. (Irving.)
Children should look to Jesus
Godly children are God’s workmanship, created by Jesus Christ, and if we would be the means of leading children into true godliness, we must bid them to look to our Saviour Jesus. I say to Him, not at Him. Some who have to do with the religious instruction of children, require them to look at Christ instead of to Him. There is a vast difference between these things. The child looks at the queen, when he goes to see her proceed in state to open the Parliament; but he looks to his mother, when he relies on her for the supply of his daily wants. We look at the statue, say of Jenner, or of Abernethy; but we look to our medical attendant for advice and healing. We look at Pitt or Fox, as they now stand before us in marble or stone; but we look to the Prime Minister of the day for the conduct of our national affairs. We Christians know for ourselves, that it is not by looking at Jesus, as at a great sight, but we are saved; but by looking to Him, as to a loving, personal Redeemer; therefore, in speaking to children of the Son of God, it is important to speak of Him, not as of a Being to be looked at, but looked unto. (Samuel Martin, D. D.)
Treatment of children
There is in all things, and in all souls, an element which should rather be allayed than stirred up. It is well that the force is there, for the feeding and enlivening of all the powers. Latent and under command, it is invaluable; but when it assumes authority, and mounts into self-manifestation, it is harmful and destructive. Parents, therefore, must carefully abstain from provoking the evil element which is in their children. Show them by their own example how the wrathful power can be made subservient to their energy and cheerfulness, and at the same time kept under perfect control. When, instead of possessing your soul in patience, you lose yourselves in a ferment of excitement, you suffer a serious loss of dignity in the eyes of your children. The force of your authority is gone. How can children honour from the heart that which is destitute of honour? How can they reverence you, if you lose your majesty? God calls you to the high and blessed office of representing Him and heaven to your children. There is in your children not only the wrathful element from you, but also a spirit of great sweetness from their Heavenly Father. The Jesus-Spirit is God’s seed, and it is sown in all the race. No child of Adam is wholly the seed of the serpent: “the seed of the woman” is in every man that cometh into the world. “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” The Jesus-Spirit is the essential Spirit of humanity, without which salvation were an impossibility. Parents and teachers, address yourselves to this Divine ground in your children. (J. Pulsford.)
A lesson to parents
“Oh, mamma; don’t take my pretty broom to sweep the stairs, please don’t!” This came in shrill tones from Bessie, as she danced into the front hall and came suddenly in front of her mother, who considered that she had found an excellent tool in the shape of her daughter’s new broom. It was a present to Bessie from the old broom maker round the corner, and because he had taken great pains in its manufacture it was an unusually good one and pleasant for anybody to use. As might be supposed, its chief merit to a six-year-old child was its gaily painted handle. She had always kept it among her treasures, and was horrified now to find it in use, like any common broom. The work Mrs. Allen had laid out for that day was enough for three days. There was a cake to be made, and everything to be put in perfect order for company to tea. Perfect order, in the mind of this fastidious woman, meant a great amount of labour. With no help but an inexperienced girl, not a moment was to be lost. So she worked in nervous haste, taking no notice of Bessie’s protest, except to say: “Be quiet, child; you will be heard in the street.” “I want my broom, please, mamma,” persisted Bessie. “What a selfish little girl! For shame!” her mother said, sharply, sweeping vigorously at the same time. “Oh, don’t use it so hard, my dear little broom,” pleaded Bessie--tears rolling down her cheeks. “You’ll spoil it, mamma; you truly will.” “If I spoil it I’ll get you another. Get out of my way now, quick!” “Another broom won’t do,” sobbed Bessie, growing more excited at this suggestion. “I want to keep this one always, ‘cause old Mr. Strong made it for me, and he likes me. It sha’n’t be used, I shall put it away”;--and, springing up the stairs, she clasped her arms about her treasure. The mother’s patience was by this time quite exhausted. She angrily wrenched the broom from Bessie’s hands, then seized and half carried her up the stairs, and thrust her into the room in no gentle manner, bidding her to stay until she called her. Bessie was not a difficult child to manage, nor was her mother a hard woman. It needed but a little loving tact on her part, and the little girl would have been happy in lending her broom. But, poor mother, she had allowed herself to become nervous and tired and heated through much serving, and so she forgot that she was outraging an innate sense of justice which the Lord Himself had placed in the child’s heart--forgot, too, that it had been written, “Provoke not your children to wrath.” Her worries and cares and the entertaining of friends so absorbed Mrs. Allen that she gave her little daughter but slight attention during the rest of the day. It was not until evening that she discovered Bessie to be in a burning fever, and complaining of a sore throat. She remembered then with a pang that the usually amiable child had been irritable all day, which should have led her to suspect something wrong. All through the night they watched the little one while she tossed and moaned, murmuring words in delirium that pierced the mother’s heart like a knife, for it was all about a little broom, pitiful pleadings--“Please, mamma, please don’t”; then drawing her white brow into frowns, would scream out, “It’s mine, I say; you must not take my broom!” The best medical skill and the tenderest nursing could not avail. For two days they fought with the terrible disease, and then they gathered about the darling to give her the last kiss. They thought she would never speak again, but the blue eyes suddenly opened; they looked lovingly into her mother’s, and Bessie said: “Mamma, good-bye! You may take my little broom: you may keep if forever--forgive Bessie ‘cause she was naughty”; and then the sweet mouth was put up for a kiss. The next instant the mother’s kiss fell on still lips. Do you wonder that for many years afterwards the most torturing, heart breaking sight to her in all the world was a little broom? Oh, dear mothers, it is well to be fine housekeepers and to entertain one’s friends handsomely; but as we go bustling about, let us not load ourselves with such a weight of harassing cares that we have no time to be just, and tender, and patient with even the little whims and fancies of our darlings. When we come to lay them down to their last sleep, our sorrow will be keen enough without the stabs which memory with cruel faithfulness will inflict. Not a harsh word or unjust action will be forgotten then. (Christian Globe.)
Repression and fault finding
Life for some children is one perpetual “don’t.” Our sympathies were recently enlisted for Freddie, a little fellow of five, who had been kept within doors during a long storm. His mother, a gentle woman, sat quietly sewing, as she chatted with a friend. “Don’t do that, Freddie,” she said, as the child’s whip handle beat a light tattoo on the carpet. The whip dropped. A block castle rose--and fell with a crash. “Don’t make a noise, Freddie.” The boy turned to the window, the restless fingers making vague pictures on the damp pane. “Don’t mark the window, Freddie,” interposed his mother; and “Don’t go into the hall,” she added, as he opened the door to escape. The “don’ts” continued at brief intervals. At length the small man, seating himself with a pathetically resigned air, remained perfectly still for about a minute. Then, with a long drawn sigh, he asked, “Mamma, is there anything that I can do?” Sometimes “don’t” seems a mere mechanical utterance, unheeded by the child, and unenforced by the parent. “Don’t do that, my dear”; and the little girl, tossing over the fine engravings on a friend’s table, pauses an instant. The mother goes on talking with her friend, the child resumes her occupation, and no notice is taken of it, except, after awhile, the prohibition is carelessly repeated, only to be ignored. A forgetful mother makes a forgetful child. Authority is weakened by reiterated commands. (Christian Age.)
The claims of children
Dr. Leonard Bacon once preached a sermon on what he called the obverse side of the Fifth Commandment--the duty of parents to be worthy of honour. The child is born into the world with this right. His pure eyes look to his elders for example. His soul waits for impulse and inspiration from them. Woe unto that parent who, by unworthy character, causes one of these little ones to stumble; it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea. (Christian Union)
Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.
A sermon to servants
Understand your calling as the servants of Christ. You are His servants before you are any earthly master’s, and every work you do, every duty you fulfil, every command you obey, is really obedience to Him. He says, do this and this, by the lips of the earthly master; do it bravely, cheerfully, thoroughly; it is done for Me, not for him. All that is menial in that case vanishes out of your daffy tasks. Behind the human master there is a higher Master; there is no humiliation even in bondage to Him.
I. Be faithful for the sake of Christ your Lord. I mean, be loyal to the trust reposed in you; repay it by strict fidelity, incorruptible honesty, and steady devotion to those interests of the household committed to your charge.
II. Be diligent. Give to your service the energy that you would give to Christ; put it on the highest and firmest ground. Give your best, because it is the Lord’s work you are doing; it is the Lord’s “Well done” you are winning; it is the Lord’s wage you will receive at last.
III. Be patient. Many commands may seem unreasonable; many tempers you have to do with, irritable and arrogant. Take it up into a higher region. See how far the thought of Christ will enable you to do and bear. Be always more ready to obey than to question, to work than to wrangle, to submit than to rebel; and you will do well. And do not be always thinking that you can better yourself; be patient, and “rather bear the ills you have, than fly to others that you know not of.”
IV. Be cheerful. Nothing makes such sunlight on earth as cheerful, joyful fulfilment of duty. We have never mastered the lesson of life till we can sing to our tasks, and smile as we sing. Make it your study daily to wear a cheerful aspect as you go about your duty, and to make your life a willing, joyful service to your heavenly King.
V. Be sure that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. No work done for Christ ever fails of a blessing. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Respective duties of masters and servants
I. Let us consider the duties of servants, as they are represented to us in Scripture.
1. The first point, then, which is enforced in every passage relating to this subject, is obedience (Colossians 3:22; Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18). Such obedience does not rest on any mere law or custom of man, but on the plain word of Almighty God. There cannot be any disgrace in homing the place of a servant. Can there be shame in that, to which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Lord of glory, submitted? (Philippians 2:6-8; Hebrews 5:8.) But of what kind should your obedience be? The apostle has taught you that as to its extent it should be universal. “Obey in all things your masters,” that is, in all things which are not contrary to the higher law of your heavenly Master: in all else obey readily and without limitation (Philippians 2:14). In small things as well as great. As servants should show obedience to their masters in all lawful things, so should they show it with reverence and meekness, or, as it is expressed in the text, “with fear and trembling,” lest ye should offend them.
2. Another duty of a servant is to add to his obedience a constant endeavour to please. Let your services be seen to flow not from necessity or interest alone, but from the attachment of a willing heart.
3. A third duty is strict faithfulness and honesty. An unfaithful servant is in itself a term of deep reproach. He owes much to those into whose service he enters. He is sheltered beneath their roof; he shares the comforts of their home, is placed beyond the reach of want, eats of his master’s bread, and drinks of his master’s cup. Much is confided to him. His master’s goods are placed beneath his care, and are justly required at his hand.
II. The duties of a master (see Colossians 4:1).
1. A master is bound in justice to keep to the full the terms of his agreement--to give to his apprentice the needful instruction in his business, and to pay his servant the stipulated wages (Deuteronomy 24:14-15; James 5:4).
2. The law of equity may be considered as binding a master to kindness, forbearance, and concern for the souls of his servants. It bids him show kindness, and thus extends further than the strict rule of justice. Reason and conscience are its umpires.
III. Mutual are the obligations under which masters and servants are placed to each other. Highly important are their respective duties, and each may truly glorify God in the sphere assigned them. But what are the motives, what is the principle that can produce such blessed fruit? It is summed up in the consideration--Ye have both a Master in heaven. “Ye are not your own”; “ye are bought with a price,” even the precious blood of Christ. Servants l how powerfully is this motive pressed on you! “Be obedient to them that are your masters … in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to mere” How happy are you, if you have indeed become the servants of Christ. Then will it be your foremost desire and endeavour to adorn the doctrine of God your Saviour in all things. And, behold, how true religion can ennoble every station! Masters! “your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with Him.” Ye and your servants are fellow servants of the Lord; you are members of the same body--His Church; you must speedily stand together before His judgment seat. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
Servants and masters
Paul takes the institutions of society as they stand, and defines the duties of those who acknowledge the authority of Christ. He teaches that the State is a Divine institution as well as the Church. Political government is necessary to the existence of human society; a bad government is better than no government at all. Governors might be unjust; but Christian people, with no political authority or power, are not responsible for the injustice, nor are they able to remedy it. Government itself is sanctioned by God, and submission is part of the duty which Christian people owe to Him. Domestic and industrial institutions are also necessary for the existence of society. By the Divine constitution of human life we have to serve each other in many ways, and if the service is to be effective it must be organized. In apostolic times slavery existed in every part of the Roman empire. It was a form of domestic and industrial organization created by the social condition of the ancient world. It was the growth of the history and mutual relations of the races under the Roman authority. To practical statesmen in those days it would have seemed impossible to organize the domestic and industrial life of nations in any other way, as impossible as it seems to modern statesmen to organize commerce on any other principle than that of competition. Christian people were not responsible for its existence, and had no power to abolish it. Their true duty was to consider how, as masters and slaves, they were to do the will of Christ. Paul transfigures the institution. He applies to it the great principle which underlies all Christian ethics; Christ is the true Lord of human life; whatever we do we are to do for Him; we are all His servants. Slaves live in the eye of God. They are to do their work for Him. All that is hard, all that is ignominious, in their earthly condition is suddenly lit up with the glory of Divine and eternal things. “Servants, be obedient unto them that according to the flesh are your masters, with fear and trembling”--with that zeal which is ever keenly apprehensive of not doing enough--“in singleness of your heart,” with no double purpose, but with an honest and earnest desire to do your work well, “as unto Christ.” This will redeem them from the common vice of slaves; if they accept their tasks as from Christ, and try to be faithful to Him, they will not be diligent and careful only when their masters are watching them, “in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers,” but will be always faithful “as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” They will cherish no resentment against their earthly masters, and will not serve them merely to avoid punishment, but, regarding their work as work for Christ, will do it cheerfully with real kindliness for those whom they have to serve, “with goodwill doing service, as unto the Lord and not unto men.” Their earthly masters may deny them the just rewards of their labour, may fail to recognize their integrity and their zeal, may treat them harshly and cruelly; but as Christ’s servants they will not miss their recompense; they are to work, “knowing that whatsoever good thing each one doeth,” that very thing “shall he receive again from the Lord, whether he be bond or free.” No good works will be forgotten; the rewards which are withheld on earth will be conferred in heaven. Masters are to act towards their servants in the same spirit, and under the government of the same Divine laws. “Ye masters, do the same things unto them.” As slaves are warned against the special vices of their order, and charged to do their work, not reluctantly, but “with goodwill,” “not in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers,” but “from the heart,” so masters are warned against the special vice of which masters were habitually guilty; they are not to be rough, violent, and abusive, but are to “forbear threatening.” They are reminded that their authority is only subordinate and temporary; the true Master of their slaves is Christ, and Christ is their Master too; He will leave no wrong unredressed. Before earthly tribunals a slave might appeal in vain for justice, but “there is no respect of persons with Him.” (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
Relation of the gospel to slavery
These precepts may be met with the objection that slavery was a cruel tyranny, and that no moral duties could be created by social relations which were an outrage at once on human rights and on Divine laws; the masters had one duty, and only one--to emancipate their slaves; the slaves were grossly oppressed, and were under no moral obligations to their masters. But the objection is untenable. The worst injuries may be inflicted upon me by an individual or by the State, but it does not follow that I am released from obligations either to the man or to the community that wrongs me. I may be unjustly imprisoned, imprisoned by an iniquitous law or by a corrupt judge; but it may be my duty to observe the regulations of the jail; I ought not to be in prison at all, but being there it may be my duty neither to try to escape nor to disturb the order of the place. And though a man ought not to be a slave at all, he may be under moral obligations to those who hold him in slavery. So, on the other hand, I may be a jailer, and may have prisoners under my care who, in my belief, have committed no crime, and yet it may be my duty to keep them safely. To take an extreme case: the governor of a jail may be fully convinced that a man in his charge who has been condemned to be hung for murder is innocent of the crime, but if he were to let the man escape he would be guilty of a grave breach of trust. We may say of slavery what John Wesley said of the slave trade, that “it is the sum of all villanies,” and yet a servile revolt may be a great and flagrant crime. While the institution exists and a real and permanent improvement in the organization of society is impossible, it is the duty of the slave to bear his wrongs patiently. Circumstances may be easily imagined in which the position of a master, if he be a Christian, would be in some respects more difficult than that of a slave. Some of the miserable creatures whom he owns may have lost, or never possessed, the energy, the forethought, the self-reliance, the self-control, necessary for a life of freedom. In the organization of society there may be no place for them among free citizens. To emancipate them would be to deprive them of a home, to give them up to starvation, to drive them to a life of crime. In such circumstances a Christian master might think it his duty to retain his authority for the sake of society, and for the sake of the slaves themselves; but would resolve to use his power with as much gentleness and kindness as the hateful institution permitted. But it may be further objected that there are no indications in the New Testament that the apostles saw the hatefulness of the institution, or desired its disappearance. They certainly did not denounce it. I suppose that if Paul had been asked for his judgment on it he would have said that slavery was part of the order of this present evil world. If he had been pressed more closely and asked to say whether he thought it just or not, he would probably have answered that in a world which had forgotten God, and was in open revolt against Him, all the relations between man and man were necessarily thrown into disorder. It was not slavery alone that violated the true and ideal organization of human society; the whole constitution of the world was evil; and no great and real reform was possible apart from the moral and religious regeneration of the race. When the golden age came, and the love and power of Christ had won a final victory over human sin, the order of the world would be changed. Under the reign of Christ, tyranny, slavery, war, and poverty, would be unknown. Meanwhile, and in the actual condition of mankind, the work of the Christian Church was not to assault institutions, but to try to make individual men loyal to Christ. It was not Christ’s plan to effect an external revolution, but to change the moral and spiritual life of the race … We are happily free from the curse and crime of slavery; but even the social order of England, which we are accustomed, very inconsiderately, to call a Christian country, does not perfectly realize the ideal of social justice. There are no slaves among us, but there are tens of thousands of Christian people who feel, and have a right to feel, that their lot is a very hard one. They are inadequately paid for their work; they are badly fed, badly clothed, badly housed. They are never free from anxiety, they are always on the edge of misery and of ruin. They are without any hope of improving their condition. If by self-denial and forethought they are able in good times to save a little from their poor wages, illness, depression of trade, and loss of work soon sweep their little store away. They have to endure harsh and unkindly treatment from men whose control they cannot escape. But their position is not worse than the condition of slaves in apostolic times, and they should resolve with the help of Christ to obey the apostolic law. Let them do their laborious and ill-paid work as work for Christ. Let them look above and beyond their earthly masters to Him; cherishing no resentment against the men who treat them roughly and tyrannically, but “with goodwill doing service as unto the Lord and not unto men.” Let them never yield to the base temptation to work badly because they are paid badly; their true wages do not come to them on Friday night or Saturday morning; they are Christ’s servants, and He will not forget their fidelity. Masters have not yet escaped from their old vice. Their position of power encourages an arbitrary and despotic temper, and those who employ a few men seem to be in just as much danger as those who employ hundreds and thousands. They are to be not only just but courteous. They are to remember that the relations between the master and his workmen, the merchant and his clerks, the tradesman and his assistants, are accidental and temporary. They have all one Master in heaven, and to Him the supreme question in reference to every man’s life is not whether he is rich or poor, whether he rules or serves, but whether by justice, industry, temperance, and kindliness he is trying to do the will of God. The great revelation which has come to us through Christ abolished slavery; it ought to lift up our whole social and industrial life into the very light of God, and to fill the works, the warehouses, and the shops of this great town with the very spirit which gives beauty and sanctity to the palaces of heaven. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
“Robert,” said a man, winking slyly to a clerk of his acquaintance, “you must give me good measure; your master is not in.” Robert looked solemnly into the man’s face, and replied, “My Master is always in.” Robert’s Master was the all-seeing God. (New Handbook of Illustration.)
The willing service of the heart
There is no moral good or moral evil in a work which is not my own--I mean no moral good or evil to me. A work which I do not myself perform may be creditable or discreditable to somebody else, it is neither to me. Take an illustration. In the Square of St. Mark, at Venice, at certain hours the bell of the clock is struck by two bronze figures as large as life, wielding hammers. Now, nobody ever thought of presenting thanks to those bronze men for the diligence with which they have struck the hours; of course, they cannot help it, they are wrought upon by machinery, and they strike the hours from necessity. Some years ago a stranger was upon the top of the tower, and incautiously went too near one of these bronze men; his time was come to strike the hour, he knocked the stranger from the battlement of the tower and killed him; nobody said the bronze man ought to be hanged; nobody ever laid it to his charge at all. There was no moral good or moral evil, because there was no will in the concern. It was not a moral act, because no mind and heart gave consent to it. Am I to believe that grace reduces men to this? I tell you, sirs, if you think to glorify the grace of God by such a theory, you know not what you do. To carve blocks, and move logs, is small glory, but this is the glory of God’s grace, that without violating the human will, He yet achieves His own purposes, and treating men as men, He conquers their hearts with love, and wins their affections by His grace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The duties of servants
I. The duties they owe to themselves:
2. Regard for truth.
These duties they owe partly to masters, but by their non-performance they damage themselves alone.
II. Those which they owe to their employers:
1. Reverence and honour for them as superiors.
3. Good temper.
4. Fidelity--with regard to their property, their time, and their reputation.
6. Gratitude for kindness.
III. Those which they owe to each other--peacefulness--temperateness--kindness. (J. A. James.)
The Christian servants at Ephesus, who first read this letter of the apostle, were, probably, many of them slaves. Some, no doubt, were hired servants; but perhaps the greater part were in a state of absolute bondage to heathen masters.
I. Let us look, first, at the precepts and directions given to servants. And one is struck with this: there is no hint thrown out, no suggestion whatever offered, as to its being right or necessary to quit one’s occupation in order to serve Christ and promote His cause in the world. It is not an infrequent thought, in the minds especially of young men, when brought to the Lord, that they must give up their worldly occupation, and devote themselves wholly and exclusively to minister in holy things. And now let us notice the particulars which the apostle expressly mentions for a Christian servant to attend to.
1. Observe the first command is obedience: “Servants, be obedient to your masters according to the flesh.”
2. Further, in this preceptive part of his address, notice, secondly, how he enjoins a thorough devotedness to his master’s interests. This will appear in making manifest your thorough trustworthiness and faithfulness. I do not speak of mere honesty; the apostle means much more than this, when he speaks of “showing all good fidelity.” There is such a thing as seeking just to go through the daily routine with the spirit of a hireling, who will do no more than he must; who needs to be well looked after, or he will leave much neglected. Quite different is the spirit of a Christian servant: he will try his very utmost to please his employer; but he has a higher aim. What a pattern of this was Abraham’s servant Eleazar, and Jacob in Laban’s house, and Joseph in his captivity, first, in Potiphar’s house, and then in his dungeon: his master “left all he had in Joseph’s hand; he knew not ought he had, save the bread he did eat.” No terms could more emphatically give the idea of perfect freedom from all care, produced and maintained by the perfect assurance of ability, assiduity, and incorruptible rectitude.
II. But let us proceed to notice, secondly, the motive which the apostle holds up as the governing principle, the ruling motive of a truly Christian servant: “As the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily: as to the Lord, and not unto men”; “for ye serve the Lord Christ.” Again: “That ye may adorn”--ye servants, plain, humble, unnoticed, who have little to set you off in the eyes of the world--“that ye may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.” In a word, let there be at the root of all--godliness: “Setting the Lord always before you.”
1. Now, first, what a comprehensive principle is this! It reminds us of those wonderful triumphs of mechanical skill by which the same engine can be applied to lift the most ponderous masses, or to drive with the utmost delicacy, as with the feeble blow of an infant, the slenderest pin into its place. So with this principle of doing all as to the Lord.
2. And then, secondly, how ennobling and elevating a motive it is! The highest archangel knows no higher.
3. And then, thirdly, how consoling and comforting a motive is this to the humble Christian! “I am poor and needy, but the Lord careth for me” may he say. “One need not be in high station to serve the Saviour.”
III. And then, thirdly, let us not forget the promise annexed to it. “Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.” Oh! how often this is manifested even here in this life! Many are the houses where the pious servant has been the first to introduce the gospel, and by his “patient continuance in well-doing,” has demonstrated its reality and power. (J. Cohen, M. A.)
Not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.
Not with eye-service
This exhortation is addressed to “servants,” i.e., to those who serve, whatever their position as servants may be; whether in the position of bond slaves as in the days of Paul, or of hired servants as in our own day, or of merchants, physicians, lawyers, ministers, or young men, who, for remuneration of any kind, undertake to serve individuals or the public, To all such the exhortation of our text is, that they should discharge their duties, “not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as unto Christ.” But the exhortation of our text is of far wider application. It is equally applicable to “masters”--to those who are served, as truly as to those who serve. For immediately after addressing himself to “servants,” or “slaves,” Paul said (Ephesians 6:9), “And ye masters, do the same things unto them.” Paul had “the same rule for masters and for servants. And he gave the reason of this, saying, “Ye masters, do the same things unto them, knowing that your Master also is in heaven”--or, as in the margin, “knowing that your and their Master is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with Him.”
I. The manner in which we should discharge our duties to our fellow men.
1. Negatively--how it should not be done. “Not with eye-service.” This is a word which Paul coined and struck in the royal mint of his own ardent and honest mind. I am not aware that it was ever heard before. But it is a word so true and graphic that it tells its own meaning. “Eye-service” is either service done only to please the eye, but which cannot bear to be tested; or it is good and real service, but only given when the eye of a master sees it. “Not with eye-service” is happily associated with that other word, “not as men-pleasers.” For “eye-servants” care only to “please men.” The rule of their duty is, not what is fair and honourable, nor even what may reasonably be expected from them, but only as much as will please the eye of their employers. All else is neglected and left undone, if only the failure in service does not appear to be in them. How much there is of eye-service and men-pleasing in all classes!
2. The positive description of our duty--how it should be done: “With fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as unto Christ.” “With fear and trembling.” From other parts of Scripture where this expression is found, it is plain that it does not mean “with fear” of punishment, as the slave fears the lash, nor “with trembling” before men, as the slave trembles before his master, but that it means with anxious and tremulous desire to do our duty. And as this “anxiety” to discharge our duty is the opposite of “eye-service,” so also, “In singleness of heart as to Christ” is the opposite or contrary to, “as men-pleasers.” “Not as men-pleasers,” but “in singleness of heart, as to Christ.”
II. The motive by which Paul calls us to the discharge of our ordinary earthly duties. He exhorts us to sanctify, to hallow, to ennoble our earthly duties, by doing them “not as to men, but as unto the Lord.” Now, consider this motive.
1. Observe, it is addressed to the disciples of Christ--to those who knew and owned Him as their “Lord”; to the blood bought, the redeemed, the renewed disciples of Christ; to those who, believing in Him, have been pardoned for all past transgressions, and have been born again of His Holy Spirit. It is not now the Law with its lash and its rewords urging men in general, and saying, “Do this and live”--do it or die. It is Christ the Saviour who speaks to His saved ones, and says, “Ye live, therefore do this--Ye live through Me, do this to Me.”
2. Mark how this motive sweetens, sanctifies, ennobles our earthly work. It then becomes a part of our worship. Animated by such a thought, the school boy diligently, joyfully applies himself to his task. The clerk needs no other master’s eye over him to keep him to his work. The tradesman carefully executes his orders to the last stitch, when he feels that he works not merely for men, but for Christ. The merchant no longer sells spurious or adulterated goods, when he feels that he sells, not to men, but to the Lord Himself. The minister, the physician, the lawyer, are no longer content with a formal or perfunctory discharge of duty. The creditor, presenting his account, asks no more than is really due, and the debtor faithfully pays it. And now, in conclusion, you can understand why the apostle specially and formally addressed this exhortation to servants--nay, to “slaves.” The exhortation is equally applicable to masters. Why, then, did Paul primarily and formally address it to slaves? There was wisdom and tenderness in this. Paul saw and pitied the irksome lot of slaves. He could not break their chains, but he sought to gild and lighten them. He told them that they could make their irksome task pleasant by “doing it to the Lord.” He sweetened their lot by showing them that the Lord did not despise them, and would “reward them for the good” they might do. It was a tender and touching thing in Paul first to stoop to wipe the sweat from the brow of slaves. But it was also wisely and well done. For when thus, by enjoining obedience on slaves, he had gained the ear and propitiated the heart of their masters, turning to them he could say with power, “And ye masters, do the same things to them, knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven,” who demands the same obedience from you. Paul could not emancipate the slaves; but in that appeal to masters he sowed the seed corn, small as a grain of mustard seed, which has produced the harvest of emancipation in every land to which the gospel has come in power. (W. Grant.)
I saw two boys at work addressing envelopes--or rather, one was at work, while the other, with his pen in his hand, was looking out of the window. Their employer was seated near by; and when he caught my eye he smiled. “Which of the two boys is the better workman, and the most valued, do you think?” he asked me in a low voice. “The one at work, I should suppose,” I rejoined. “No, sir; that lad who is looking from the window now, does so, because he thinks there is no harm in it--does it, you see, under my eyes. On the other hand, while my eye is on them, the other boy is the most industrious; but I find that in my absence he does nothing. So you see he adds deceit to his fault. I would not trust him out of my sight.” “It seems to me that neither of them is worth much.” “To be sure,” came the immediate answer, “a boy who attended to his duties at all times would be best; but a boy who renders eye-service merely, who cannot be trusted to work without watching, is not to be tolerated.” The man who said this had seen much of the world; he knew whereof he spoke.
The reward of service
There comes over to our shores a poor stonecutter. The times are so bad at home that he is scarcely able to earn bread enough to eat; and by a whole year’s stinting economy he manages to get together just enough to pay for a steerage passage to this country. He comes, homeless and acquaintanceless, and lands in New York, and wanders over to Brooklyn and seeks employment. He is ashamed to beg bread; and yet he is hungry. The yards are all full; but, still, as he is an expert stonecutter, a man, out of charity, says, “Well, I will give you a little work--enough to enable you to pay for your board.” And he shows him a block of stone to work on. What is it? One of many parts which are to form some ornament. Here is just a querl or fern, and there is a branch of what is probably to be a flower. He goes to work on this stone and most patiently shapes it. He carves that bit of a fern, putting all his skill and taste into it. And by and by the master says, “Well done,” and takes it away, and gives him another block, and tells him to work on that. And so he works on that, from the rising of the sun till the going down of the same, and he only knows that he is earning his bread. And he continues to put all his skill and taste into his work. He has no idea what use will be made of those few stems which he has been carving, until afterwards, when, one day, walking along the street, and looking up at the front of the Art Gallery, he sees the stones upon which he has worked. He did not know what they were for; but the architect did. And as he stands looking at his work on that structure which is the beauty of the whole street, the tears drop down from his eyes, and he says, “I am glad I did it well.” And every day as he passes that way he says to himself, exultingly, “I did it well.” He did not draw the design nor plan the building, and he knew nothing of what use was to be made of his work; but he took pains in cutting those stems; and when he saw that they were a part of that magnificent structure, his soul rejoiced. Dear brethren, though the work which you are doing seems small, put your heart in it; do the best you can wherever you are; and by and by God will show you where He has put that work. And when you see it stand in that great structure which He is building you will rejoice in every single moment of fidelity with which you wrought. Do not let the seeming littleness of what you are doing now damp your fidelity. (H. W. Beecher.)
With goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.
The honour of serving
Is it not possible that a man can look upon all the inequalities of human life, and upon the varieties of condition out of which come such discontent, such hardship, such injustice, and such torment, and say, “I am not a servant of these things; I am a servant of my God; and wherever He puts me, I am going to stand for His sake. Whatever may be the experience of that position, I am going to take it as becomes a child of God”? A poor woman washes for a living, and has a flock of children to support; and it is for her to split the wood, to draw the water, to wash the clothes, rubbing on the soap, and putting in the blueing, and to shove the iron; and what does she do all these things for? What is the stimulus that enables her to cheerfully perform all these duties? It is the thought of those dear children. There is not an hour when she does not think, “I am working for my darlings.” It is hard for her to get up at four o’clock in the morning, but she thinks of her children, and of the warm meals, and pleasant fire, and cheerful light that she will be able to supply for them; and these thoughts are her consolation. Whatever she does, she does for her children. Now, seeing it in this humbler sphere and lower instance, can you not magnify it and carry it up, and think that a man can come to a state in which he thinks that the world, nature, life, human society, all the endless events into which time and the experiences of men are broken up, are God’s, and that out of the vast and mighty mixture are being evolved final qualities, and say, “I will do all things to the honour and glory of God, and whether I eat or drink, work or rest, go or stay, whether I am in prosperity or adversity (and more in adversity, because, that being harder to bear, shows more manhood), I am God’s child; and loving Him, and being loved of Him, all these things are easy and noble to me”? (H. W. Beecher.)
The fruits of life
You have heard of the old deaf musician who used to sit in twilight and roll from his instrument the most wonderful symphonies and harmonies that seemed to run down to the very source and centre of all things, and that, emerging, bore upon them all sweet treasures of melody. Though he heard not one note of it, it was poured out, and poured out upon the darkness and upon the silence sometimes to select listening ears. We are like musicians playing in the dark who are deaf to the sounds which they produce in human conduct, and which run clear through to the other life. The fruits of life are not to be recognized here; but they are sounding, and sounding forever. Whatever right thing you do, here is the endorsement of the Lord for it: “Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.” (H. W. Beecher.)
Notice well that the Holy Spirit does not bid us leave our stations in order to serve the Lord. Our great Captain would not have you hope to win the victory by leaving your post. Grace does not transplant the tree, but bids it overshadow the old house at home as before, and bring forth good fruit where it is. Grace does not make us unearthly, though it makes us unworldly. Grace makes us the servants of God while still we are the servants of men; it enables us to do the business of heaven while we are attending to the business of earth.
I. Our subject opens with this reflection, that if henceforth whether we live, we live unto the Lord, or whether we die, we die unto the Lord, this consecration will greatly influence our entire work.
1. You will have to live with a single eye to God’s glory. The Lord Jesus is a most engrossing Master. He will have everything or nothing. As no dog can follow two hares at one time, or he will lose both, certainly no man can follow two contrary objects and hope to secure either of them.
2. To do service to the Lord we must live with holy carefulness. In the service of God we should use great care to accomplish our very best, and we should feel a deep anxiety to please Him in all things, There is a trade called paper staining, in which a man flings colours upon the paper to make common wall decorations, and by rapid processes acres of paper can be speedily finished. Suppose that the paper stainer should laugh at an eminent artist because he had covered such a little space, having been stippling and shading a little tiny piece of his picture by the hour together, such ridicule would itself be ridiculous. Now the world’s way of religion is the paper stainer’s way, the daubing way; there is plenty of it, and it is quickly done; but God’s way, the narrow way, is a careful matter: there is but little of it, and it costs thought, effort, watchfulness, and care. Yet see how precious is the work of art when it is done, and how long it lasts, and you will not wonder that a man spends his time upon it; even so true godliness is acceptable with God, and it endures forever, and therefore it well repays the earnest effort of the man of God. The miniature painter has to be very careful of every touch and tint, for a very little may spoil his work. Let our life be miniature painting; “with fear and trembling” let it be wrought out.
3. Further, if henceforth our desire is to live “as to the Lord, and not unto men,” then what we do must be done with the heart. “in singleness of your heart,” says the context; and again in the sixth verse, “As the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” Our work for Jesus must be the outgrowth of the soil of the heart. Our service must not be performed as a matter of routine; there must be vigour, power, freshness, reality, eagerness, and warmth about it, or it will be good for nothing.
4. Under subjection. Doing the will of God--not our own. The freedom of a Christian lies in what I will venture to call an absolute slavery to Christ; we never become truly free till every thought is brought into subjection to the will of the Most High.
5. Again, we must do all this under a sense of the Divine oversight. Notice in Ephesians 6:6 it is said of servants, “Not with eye-service, as men-pleasers.” What a mean and beggarly thing it is for a man only to do his work well when he is watched. Such oversight is for boys at school and mere hirelings. You never think of watching noble-spirited men. Here is a young apprentice set to copy a picture: his master stands over him and looks over each line, for the young scapegrace will grow careless and spoil his work, or take to his games if he be not well looked after. Did anybody thus dream of supervising Raphael and Michael Angelo to keep them to their work? No, the master artist requires no eye to urge him on.
6. One more thought, and it is this. If henceforth we are to serve the Lord, and not men, then we must look to the Lord for our reward, and not to men. “Knowing,” saith the eighth verse, “that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.” Wage! Is that the motive of a Christian? Yes, in the highest sense, for the greatest of the saints, such as Moses, have “had respect unto the recompense of the reward,” and it were like despising the reward which God promises to His people if we had no respect whatever for it.
II. Should this text become the inspiration of our life, it would greatly elevate our spirits.
1. It would lift us above complaining about the hardness of our lot, or the difficulty of our service. What wonders men can do when influenced by enthusiastic love for a leader! Alexander’s troops marched thousands of miles on foot, and they would have been utterly wearied had it not been for their zeal for Alexander. He led them forth conquering and to conquer. Alexander’s presence was the life of their valour, the glory of their strength.
2. This lifts the Christian above the spirit of stinting. Christ’s servants delight to give so much as to be thought wasteful, for they feel that when they have in the judgment of others done extravagantly for Christ, they have but begun to show their heart’s love for His dear name.
3. This raises us above all boasting of our work. “Is the work good enough?” said one to his servant. The man replied, “Sir, it is good enough for the price, and it is good enough for the man who is going to have it.” Just so, and when we “serve” men we may perhaps rightly judge in that fashion, but when we come to serve Christ, is anything good enough for Him?
4. It elevates above that craving for recognition which is a disease with many. It is a sad fault in many Christians that they cannot do anything unless all the world is told of it.
5. It lifts above the discouragement which sometimes comes of human censure. The nightingale charms the ear of night. A fool passes by, and declares that he hates such distracting noises. The nightingale sings on, for it never entered the little minstrel’s head or heart that it was singing for critics; it sings because He who created it gave it this sweet faculty.
6. This, too, will elevate you above the disappointments of non-success, ay, even of the saddest kind.
7. This lifts us above disappointment in the prospect of death. We shall have to go away from our work soon, so men tell us, and we are apt to fret about it.
8. Ay, and this lifts us above the deadening influence of age and the infirmities which come with multiplied years.
III. I close by saying, that if we enter into the very spirit of this discourse, or even go beyond it--if henceforth we live for Jesus only, so as never to know pleasure apart from Him, nor to have treasure out of Him, nor honour but in His honour, nor success save in the progress of His kingdom, we shall even then have done no more than he deserves at our hands. For, first, we are God’s creatures. For whom should a creature live but for his Creator? Secondly, we are His new creatures, we are the twice-born of heaven; should we not live for Him by whom we have been begotten for glory? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening.
Treatment of servants
A party of friends setting out together upon a journey, soon find it to be the best for all sides that while they are upon the road one of the company should wait upon the rest; another ride forward to seek out lodging and entertainment; a third carry the portmanteau: a fourth take charge of the horses; a fifth bear the purse, conduct and direct the route; not forgetting, however, that, as they were equal and independent when they set out, so they are all to return to a level again at their journey’s end. The same regard and respect; the same forbearance, lenity, and reserve, in using their service; the same mildness in delivering commands; the same study to make their journey comfortable and pleasant, which he whose lot it was to direct the rest would in common decency think himself bound to observe towards them, ought we to show to those who, in the casting of the parts of human society, happen to be placed within our power, or to depend upon us. (Archdeacon Paley.)
I. Their station--one of relative superiority--limited and temporary.
II. Their duty--they must be just--kind--forbearing threatenings.
III. Their responsibility--to Christ their Master in heaven, who judges without partiality. (Dr. J. Lyth.)
Kindness to servants
The celebrated Earl of Chesterfield left, by his will, legacies to all his menial servants, equal to two years’ wages each, considering them “as his unfortunate friends, equal by birth, and only inferior by fortune.” John Claude, when on his dying bed, thus addressed his son, who, with an old servant, was kneeling before him--“Be mindful of this domestic; as you value my blessing, take care that she wants nothing as long as she lives.” (Baxendale’s Anecdotes.)
Once, when a very young girl, I was impressed by the manner and words of a good woman. She sat swaying back and forth with a puzzled look on her sweet face. She was thinking how to get rid of a petty annoyance. Arising, she rang the bell. A servant entered in a noisy way. “Sarah, you may sit down.” The girl threw herself sullenly on a chair, averting her face. “I am sorry to have to find fault in you, Sarah.” “O, yet needn’t be, for I’m quite used to hearin’ yer scold.” “I don’t think I have ever scolded you. I try to watch myself against that sin. Have I ever scolded you?” “Well, ma’am, not to say ravin’ scoldin’ as some do, but yer tells me things and makes me ashamed of meself.” “I want to be kind to you, poor girl, for you are a stranger in a strange land. I was going to ask you to try and be more pleasant to the children. It is now a whole week since a smile has been seen on your face. Now, must I lose my good girl or keep her?” Sarah looked down, and said: “I think, ma’am, if I do me work well, I might look grave-like if it suits me.” “Don’t you see my little girl will catch your sullen ways. No, Sarah, you must be a cheerful, pleasant girl if you are to stay; and now I want you to decide it for me.” “I’ll stay, ma’am.” And as the tears filled her eyes, she added: “Ye’s are the best mistress in the wide world.” Years passed, and Sarah remained a cheerful servant till a wise boy took her for a wife, and many tears fell for the loss of the faithful servant. Who shall count the value of words fitly spoken? (Christian Globe.)
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.
Why strength is needed
There is good reason for our being so often advised in the Scriptures to “be strong.” Christian character has two sides. We cease to do evil. We also learn to do well. But doing well is impossible if we are not strong. The forces of evil are many and mighty. Life is short. The love of ease is deep rooted. Unless we are strong we effect nothing. Our lives shall be mere bundles of resolves never effected, collections of impotent wishes that never come to anything. (Dr. John Hall.)
It often requires a braver man to say “No,” than to take the Cashmere Gate at Delhi. Perfect courage consists in doing without a witness all that we could do if the whole world were looking on. A poor mill girl in the north of England had been led by her clergyman’s teaching to become a regular communicant, and because of this she had to bear every kind of persecution, chiefly from members of her own family. They not only tried every kind of insult to vex her, but even blasphemed the Blessed Sacrament itself. At last the poor girl went to her clergyman, saying, “What shall I do? I cannot bear it much longer.” And he reminded her of her Saviour’s sorrow, and how that when he was reviled “He opened not His mouth.” At last, one day, this true heroine of humble life fell down dead from heart disease, and when they removed her dress, they found a piece of paper stitched inside it, on which were these words--“He opened not His mouth.” She had won her victory, and now she rests “where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.” Anyone can resent an injury, it takes a brave man to bear it patiently. (H. J. Wilmot-Baxton, M. A.)
The apostle’s humility
“Brother” is a word of equality; in calling them “brethren,” he makes himself equal unto them, though he himself were one of the principal members of Christ’s body, one of the eyes thereof, a minister of the Word, an extraordinary minister, an apostle, a spiritual father of many souls, a planter of many famous Churches, yea, the planter of this Church at Ephesus; and though many of them to whom he wrote were poor, mean men, handicraftsmen, such as laboured with their hands for their living; and many also servants, and bondmen; yet without exception of any, he terms and counts them all his brethren, and so makes himself equal to them of the lower sort. Behold his humility. For if to affect titles of superiority, as Rabbi, Doctor, Father, be a note of arrogancy (as it is, and therefore Christ in that respect taxed the Scribes and Pharisees), then to take and give titles of humility is a note of humility. The like notes of humility may be oft noted both in other Epistles of this apostle, and in the Epistles of other apostles, yea, and in all the prophets also. Well they knew that, notwithstanding there were divers officers, places, and outward degrees, among Christians; yet they all had one Father, and were fellow members of one and the same Body, and in regard of their spiritual estate all one in Christ Jesus. (William Gouge.)
Of Christian courage end resolution, wherefore necessary, and how obtained
The Christian, of all men, needs courage and resolution. Indeed, there is nothing he doth as Christian, nor can do, but is an act of valour. A cowardly spirit is beneath the lowest duty of a Christian (Joshua 1:7), “Be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest”--what? stand in battle against those warlike nations? No, but “that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses My servant commanded thee.” It requires more prowess and greatness of spirit to obey God faithfully, than to command an army of men; to be a Christian, than to be a captain. What seems less than for a Christian to pray? yet this cannot be performed aright without a princely spirit; as Jacob is said to behave himself like a prince, when he did but pray; for which he came out of the field God’s banneret. Indeed if you call that prayer which a carnal person performs, nothing more poor and dastard-like. Such a one is as great a stranger to this enterprize, as the cowardly soldier is to the exploits of a valiant chieftain. The Christian in prayer comes up close to God, with a humble boldness of faith, and takes hold of Him, wrestles with Him; yea, will not let Him go without a blessing, and all this in the face of his own sins, and Divine justice, which let fly upon him from the fiery mouth of the law; while the other’s boldness in prayer is but the child, either of ignorance in his mind, or hardness in his heart; whereby not feeling his sins, and not knowing his danger, he rushes upon duty with a blind confidence, which soon fails when conscience awakes, and gives him the alarm that his sins are upon him, as the Philistines on Samson: alas! then in a fright the poor-spirited wretch throws down his weapon, flies the presence of God with guilty Adam, and dares not look Him in the face. Indeed, there is no duty in a Christian’s whole course of walking with God, or acting for God, but is lined with many difficulties, which shoot like enemies through the hedges at the Christian, whilst he is marching towards heaven: so that he is put to dispute every inch of ground as he goes. They are only a few noble-spirited souls, who dare take heaven by force, that are fit for this calling. For the further proof of this point, see some few pieces of service that every Christian engageth in.
1. The Christian is to proclaim and prosecute an irreconcilable war against his bosom sins; those sins which have lain nearest his heart must now be trampled under his feet.
2. The Christian is to walk singularly, not after the world’s guise (Romans 12:2).
3. The Christian must keep on his way to heaven in the midst of all the scandals that are cast upon the ways of God, by the apostasy and foul falls of false professors.
4. The Christian must trust in a withdrawing God (Isaiah 50:10). This requires a holy boldness of faith.
5. The believer is to persevere in his Christian course to the end of his life; his work and his life must go off the stage together. This adds weight to every other difficulty of the Christian’s calling. We have known many who have gone into the field, and liked the work of a soldier for a battle or two, but soon have had enough, and come running home again; but few can bear it as a constant trade. Many are soon engaged in holy duties, easily persuaded to take up a profession of religion, and as easily persuaded to lay it down; like the new moon, which shines a little in the first part of the night, but is down before half the night be gone; lightsome professors in their youth, whose old age is wrapt up in thick darkness of sin and wickedness. O this persevering is a hard word! this taking up of the cross daily, this praying always, this watching night and day, and never laying aside our clothes and armour; I mean indulging ourselves to remit and unbend in our holy waiting on God, and walking with God; this sends many sorrowful away from Christ; yet this is the saint’s duty to make religion his everyday work, without any vacation from one end of the year to the other. These few instances are enough to show what need the Christian hath of resolution.
The application follows.
1. This gives us then a reason why there are so many professors and so few Christians indeed; so many go into the field against Satan, and so few come out conquerors; because all have a desire to be happy, but few have courage and resolution to grapple with the difficulties that meet them in their way to happiness.
2. Let us, then, exhort you Christians to labour for this holy resolution and prowess, which is so needful for your Christian profession, that without it you cannot be what you profess. The fearful are in the forlorn of those that march for hell (Revelation 21:1-27). The violent and valiant are they which take heaven by force; cowards never won heaven. Say not, thou hast royal blood running in thy veins, and art begotten of God, except thou canst prove thy pedigree by this heroic spirit, to dare to be holy in spite of men and devils. The eagle tries her young ones by the sun; Christ tries His children by their courage, that dare look on the face of death and danger for His sake (Mark 8:34-35). Now, Christian, if thou meanest thus courageously to bear up against all opposition, in thy march to heaven as thou shouldst do well to raise thy spirit with such generous and soul-ennobling thoughts, so in an especial manner look thy principles be well fitted, or else thy heart will be unstable; and an unstable heart is weak as water, it cannot excel in courage.
Two things are required to fix our principles.
1. An established judgment in the truth of God. He that knows not well what or whom he fights for, may soon be persuaded to change his side, or at least stand neuter. Such may be found that go for professors, that can hardly give an account what they hope for, or whom they hope in; yet Christians they must be thought, though they run before they know their errand; or if they have some principles they go upon, they are so unsettled that every wind blows them down, like loose tiles from the housetop. Blind zeal is soon put to a shameful retreat, while holy resolution, built on fast principles, lifts up its head like a rock in the midst of the waves. “Those that know their God shall be strong and do exploits” (Daniel 11:32).
2. A sincere aim at the right end in our profession. Let a man be never so knowing in the things of Christ, if his aim be not right in his profession, that man’s principles will hang very loose; he will not venture much, or far for Christ, no more, no further than he can save his own stake. A hypocrite may show some metal at hand, some courage for a moment in conquering some difficulties, but he will show himself a jade at length. He that hath a false end in his profession, will soon come to an end of his profession, when he is pinched on that toe where his corn is; I mean, called to deny that his naughty heart aimed at all this while; now his heart fails him, he can go no further. O take heed of this wistful eye to our profit, pleasure, honour, or anything beneath Christ and heaven; for they will take away your heart, as the prophet saith of wine and women; that is, our love; and if our love be taken away, there will be nothing left for Christ. (W. Gurnall, M. A.)
Strength in the Lord
The meaning of the text is--Be strong as those may be who are bound to God in Christ.
1. Our enlistment. We have been taken into Christ’s army, to fight under His banner. Not solitary knight errants; but an embattled host set in array under the banner of a Captain. This prevents our thinking too much of ourselves. The more we forget ourselves the better. The soldier in an army does not fight for himself. He fights as one of many, for a common cause. He is willing to die, for his part--to have his place filled up, and be forgotten, provided the victory be won by his commander. This is what touches us all in a soldier’s life; and it touches us first because it is an image of the true Divine law for each. To lose one’s self in the cause, and to be zealous, enduring, brave, in the service of the King and the Realm, is as much the glory of a soldier of Jesus Christ, as of the professional soldier.
2. This feeling, of the community of our service, may be strengthened much by thinking of our common enemies. There are wickedness and darkness in the world, spiritual in their nature, and to be fought against as spiritual foes. Victory is to be won over evil; over ignorance and stupidity; over malignant errors and false opinions; over vice and misery. These are the devil’s servants, ever active and encroaching, whom we are commissioned to repel. Our fighting against these enemies must be done in common. The evils are social, or rather anti-social. Every man is hindered or helped by all his neighbours. We cannot, if we would, fight alone. No man liveth or dieth to himself. We know not whom we may help by a truth, or whom we may hinder by a lie. Let us remember that our own enemies are our brother’s enemies, and that his enemies are ours, and that all victories over evil are a common gain. (J. Ll. Davies, M. A.)
A weak and cowardly soldier is a pitiful object, but a weak-kneed, cowardly Christian is still more so. I do not mean that we must be noisy and violent, and quarrelsome in our religion. None of these things are a proof of strength. A giant of power is ever the gentlest, having the hand of steel in the glove of silk. So the stronger a Christian is the more humbly he bears himself. A writer of the day says very truly, “If the world wants iron dukes, and iron men, God wants iron saints.”
I. Be strong in faith. Be quite sure that you do believe; be quite clear what you believe, and then show your faith strongly. Oar faith is not built on sand, but on a rook. It is not founded on such words as--perhaps, I suppose, I hope. No, the Creed of the Church says, “I believe.” Be ready to give a reason for the faith that is in you.
II. Be strong in your language. When Lord Nelson was going into his last battle, they wished him to cover, or lay aside, the glittering orders of victory which adorned his breast. But the hero refused, and perhaps his refusal cost him his life. Well, let us never hide the marks of our profession as Christian soldiers; even if we have to suffer, let men know that we bear about in our bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus.
III. Be strong in self-sacrifice for Jesus. We must not forget our cross. Let me tell you the stories of two simple servant maids who, under very different circumstances, gave up their life for the life of little children. The scene of the first story was in America, nearly five and twenty years ago; that of the second story was in London, quite recently. A young English girl had taken service in a family going to America, and her special duty was the charge of the three motherless children of her widowed master. One cold day in December they all embarked in a great Mississippi steamboat bound for the far Northwest. Day after day they steamed through the swollen river, where pieces of ice were already showing, past dark and gloomy shores, lined with lonely forest. One night, near the end of their voyage, the girl had seen her charges, two girls and a boy, safely asleep, and now, when all the other passengers had retired, she was reading in the saloon. Suddenly the silence was broken by a terrible cry, which told the frightened passengers that the steamboat was on fire. The captain instantly ran the vessel for the shore, and ordered the people to escape as best they could, without waiting to dress. The faithful servant had called her master, and then carried the children from their beds to the crowded deck. Quickly the blazing vessel touched the muddy bank, and the father placed the shivering children and the servant on one of the huge branches which overhung the river. A few other passengers, fifteen in all, reached other branches, the rest went down with the burning steamer. But what hope could there be for the children, just snatched from their warm beds, and now exposed unclad to the bitter December night? Their father had no clothing to cover them, and, as he spoke of another steamer which would pass by in the morning, he had little hope of his children holding out. Then the servant maid declared that if possible she would keep the little ones alive. Clinging in the darkness to the icy branches, she stripped off her own clothing, all but the thin garment next her body, and wrapped up the shivering children. Thus they passed the long, dark hours of that terrible night. I know not what prayers were spoken, but I know that Jesus, who suffered cold and hunger for our sakes, made that servant girl strong to sacrifice herself. During the night one of the children died, but in the morning, when the first light came, the little girls were still alive. Then, when her work was done, the freezing limbs of the brave girl relaxed their hold, a deadly sleep fell on her, and she dropped silently into the rushing river below. Presently a steamer came in sight, and the two children for whom she had died were safe. Only quite lately there was a great fire in London. In the burning house were a husband and wife, their children, and a servant maid. The parents perished in the flames, but the servant appeared to the sight of the crowd below, framed, as it were, in fire, at a blazing window. Loudly shouted the excited crowd, bidding the girl to save herself. But she was thinking of others. Throwing a bed from the window, she signalled to those below to stretch it out. Then, darting into the burning room, she brought one of the children of her employers, and dropped it safely on to the bed. Fiercer grew the flames, but again this humble heroine faced the fire, and saved the other children. Then the spectators, loudly cheering, begged her to save herself. But her strength was exhausted, she faltered in her jump, and was so injured that death soon came to her. My brothers, no one will raise a grand monument to Emma Willoughby, and Alice Ayres, who passed, the one through water, the other through fire, for Christ’s dear sake. But surely in God’s great Home of many mansions their names are written in letters of gold.
IV. Be strong in fighting the battle. You know that life is a great battlefield. Put on, then, the whole armour of God. Stand, as Christ’s soldiers, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, with your faces to the foe. When Napoleon retreated from Moscow, and the main body had passed by, the mounted Cossacks hovered around the stragglers, who, overcome by cold and fatigue, could only force their way slowly through the snow. Many a weary Frenchman thus fell beneath the Cossack lances. Presently a band of these fierce horsemen saw a dark object on the snowy plain, and dashed towards it. They were face to face with a small body of French who had formed into a square to resist them, their bayonets at the charge. The Cossacks rode round and round, seeking for a weak place for attack, and finding none. At length they charged the square, and found it formed of frozen corpses. The Frenchmen had died whilst waiting for the foe. Brothers, may death find us fighting the good fight. “Be strong in the Lord.” (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)
Christian strength is a subject which needs emphasizing. Christians have not always been strong. The mediaeval saints, with their fastings and scourgings, their pale faces and emaciated forms, in spite of much that was beautiful in their lives, were not strong. It was a false conception of the Christian life which drove them to the fancied safety of the cloister, while the voice of the great Captain was calling His soldiers, then as now, to fight the eternal battle against sin and selfishness in the glare of day and amid the temptations of the world. And in our own day how many religious biographies are but a tedious record of lives that were in no sense strong. It is scarcely surprising that the average young man’s opinion of the religious life should be that it is not a very attractive thing; at any rate, as wanting in broad, strong, cheerful humanity. And yet strength and common sense--sturdy strength and masculine common sense--have always been the characteristics of true Christianity. They are the characteristics of Christ Himself. How strong and fearless the spirit with which He went ever to the heart and core of religion! Woe unto you, ye formalists! Or look again at the life of the great apostle. Was not His religion strong and masculine, healthy and practical. Study the way in which He dealt with the vexed questions of His time, such as slavery, or mixed marriage, or meats offered to idols, or circumcision, or the larger question of the relation of Jew to Gentile; and you will find He never fails to divide the kernel from the husk, the essential from the accidental, the eternal from the temporal. You will find that freedom, and love of truth, and a great-hearted catholic sympathy from the very fibre and tissue of his teaching. And so it should be now. So it is now, with all true saints of God. Human nature is not a poor thing, but a grand thing-grand in its origin, for in His own image God created us: grand in its achievements, for men have lived and are living heroic lives by the power of Christ; grand in its destiny, for we shall one day be like Christ and see Him as He is. (W. M. Furneaux, M. A.)
Strong in prayer
“Be strong in the Lord” means Be strong in prayer: and never was the warning more needful than in our day. We live in an age of steam and electricity, of activity and bustle, of jostle and close contact: an age which is nothing if it is not practical: an age which scarcely disguises its contempt for a life of contemplation. We are all tempted to fancy that the hours which we give to prayer and meditation are wasted hours: we are all the more tempted to think so, because on every side of us are earnest men, working zealously in the cause of humanity, who do not even pretend to be in any sense men of prayer. And yet it is my profound conviction that every life, however faithfully it be spent in the services of others, falls immeasurably below what it might be, if it is not inspired by prayer. I stood a few weeks ago before the grandest creation of human art, the San Sisto Madonna of Raphael. On an easel at my side was a finished copy. It was the work of a good artist. Every line of feature, every fold of drapery, every shade and tint of colour, seemed a faithful reproduction of the great masterpiece. Yet something was lacking. The nameless something which constitutes the divine genius of the original had evaporated and perished in the copy. My brothers, it is even so with the life of a man who prays, and the life of a man who prays not. We all know men whose faces, as we look upon them, are transparent with a radiant purity: we feel that the light upon their features is a reflection from the light which falls upon the countenance of their Angel who always beholds the face of their Father in heaven: we feel that in their presence we breathe a purer atmosphere, which sends us away stronger in courage and in purpose: we feel that they have a strength which others have not, because they are men of prayer. They go forth every morning to the day’s work, refreshed and invigorated by prayer: they have learnt to turn, now and again, throughout the day, to their Master’s face. In proportion as we train ourselves, in every moment of doubt and difficulty, of trial and temptation--nay, in every little act of daily life--to look upon that Face so helpful in its calm strength, so sweet in its radiant purity, we shall lead noble lives, which shall be indeed “‘strong in the Lord.” (W. M. Furneaux, M. A.)
The need of Christian courage
Christian valour and spiritual courage is a needful grace.
1. Because of our own indisposition, timorousness, dulness, and backwardness to all holy and good duties. What Christian findeth not this by woeful experience in himself? When he would pray, etc., there is I know not what fearfulness in him; his flesh hangeth back, as a bear when he is drawn to the stake.
2. Because of those many oppositions which we are sure to meet.
All strength from God
The strength and valour whereby we are enabled to fight the Lord’s battle, is hid in the Lord, and to be had from Him. The Lord has thus reserved all strength in Himself, and would have us strong in Him, for two reasons:
1. For His own glory, that in time of need we might fly unto Him, and in all straits cast ourselves on Him; and, being preserved and delivered, acknowledge Him our Saviour, and accordingly give Him the whole praise.
2. For our comfort, that in all distresses we might be the more confident. Much more bold may we be in the Lord, than in ourselves. God’s power being infinite, it is impossible that it should be mated by any adverse power, which at the greatest is finite. Were our strength in ourselves, though for a time it might seem sufficient, yet would there be fear of decay; but being in God, we rest upon an Omnipotency, and so have a far surer prop to our faith. (William Gouge.)
God’s power is most mighty
The power of God, whereunto we are to trust, is a most mighty and strong power, a power able to protect us against the might of all other powers whatsoever. According to God’s greatness is His power--infinite, incomprehensible, unutterable, inconceivable. As a mighty wind which driveth all before it; as a swift and strong stream, against which none can swim; as a burning flaming fire which consumeth and devoureth all--so is God’s power. Whatsoever standeth before it, and is opposed against it, is but as chaff before a strong wind, or bulrushes before a swift current, or stubble before a flaming fire; for all other power, though to our weakness it seem never so mighty, can be but finite, being the power of creatures, and so a limited power, yea, a dependent power subordinate to this power of might, of His might who is Almighty, and so no proportion betwixt them.
1. A strong prop is this to our faith, and a good motive to make us trust entirely to the power of God, without wavering or doubting, notwithstanding our own weakness, or our adversaries’ power.
2. It is no matter of presumption, to be sure of victory, being strong in this mighty power, because it is the power of Almighty God. (William Gouge.)
The benefit of confidence in God
1. It will remove causeless fear (Nehemiah 6:11; Proverbs 22:13).
2. It will make bold in apparent danger (Psalms 3:6; Proverbs 28:1).
3. It will recover a man’s spirit, though he should by occasion be wounded, stricken down, and foiled; so as though at first he prevail not, yet it will make him rise up again and renew the battle (Joshua 8:3; 20:30). (William Gouge.)
A Christian’s warfare
A few general observations on the warfare of a Christian.
I. It is in its nature honourable.
1. As to what he opposes. Sin. Satan. Sinners, He.
2. As to what he aims at. God’s glory. The salvation of souls.
3. As to the parties that are with him. God. Angels. Saints.
II. It is very mysterious. As--
1. The principal agents in it are invisible.
2. None see or understand it but by experience.
3. His enemies eventually promote his victory. Job. Paul. “But I would ye should understand, brethren,” etc. (Philippians 1:12).
4. Its weapons can be used by thousands at once.
5. He dies to conquer and be crowned.
III. It is the most important.
1. Whether Christ or Satan be superior.
2. Whether he shall be saved or lost.
IV. His armour is complete.
V. His enemies are condemned, and virtually conquered.
3. Death. (H. J. Foster.)
The apostolic exhortation
2. “Be strong.”
I. The nature of the exhortation. Seen by describing a Christian soldier strong in the Lord, etc. As he has to do--
1. With the guilt of accumulated sin (Psalms 51:1, etc.).
2. With a body of indwelling sin (Romans 7:1, etc.).
3. With Satan’s temptations (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
4. With great outward trials (Job 1:1, etc.; Acts 20:23-24).
5. With death.
II. The way in which the Lord brings His people to be as He exhorts.
1. By showing them the importance of their situation. As made for eternity. As accountable to God. “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight,” etc. (Hebrews 4:13). As called to glorify God.
2. By giving them to feel that they can do nothing.
3. By showing that in the Mediator is all they want.
4. By teaching them to pray for strength.
5. By giving them to know that He dwells in them.
6. By showing them what He has done before for them and for others. (H. J. Foster.)
Strength in the Lord
What makes the strongest things in the material world--the trees, the rocks, the mountains? A law which we call the law of their gravitation. That is, they are under a law which draws first the parts one to another, and then altogether into one centre. It is the same law which does both--that attracts them to each other, and then to a common point. Hence their firmness; hence their fixedness; hence their strength. And as it is in the natural, so it is in the spiritual world. There must be, and there must be felt, a great pervading, constraining principle. This principle must fasten us altogether, and it must fasten to one deep, hidden centre. And that principle is the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. God meant that to be to the moral world what the law of gravitation is to the material world. Perhaps the chief end of the material law was to be an illustration of the spiritual. We must all follow the attractiveness of Christ. So we must each tend to Christ, and all draw to the Christ which we see in one another. And if we all drew to one common Christ, and to the Christ we see in each other, we should have true strength--we should be “strong in the Lord.” There is another truth which nature teaches. If I wish to give intensity of strength to anything,--say to the light--I gather it to a focus. And so God has constituted the human mind, it is “strong” only when it is concentrated. And to meet this necessity of our being, God has provided one great, all-absorbing object, to which the whole man is to converge. Need I say what that object is? It is His own glory. For this we were created--for this we were redeemed--for this we were sanctified. And according as we live indeed for that, we are efficient and we are happy. Divide your end--live for many ends, and immediately talents are frittered, energies wasted, the man is enervated. But be a man of one thing--bent on one purpose--and you will be astonished to find how “strong” you will become. But, besides this, there is a deep, mysterious rock of strength, which I must not leave out of the calculation. And it is essential, very essential, for no man can be “strong” who has it not. The vine and the branches shadow it out--the Lord’s Supper embodies it--every spiritual office promotes it--I mean the actual union which there is between the soul and Christ. I should be afraid to say such a thing if God had not declared it in the plainest terms--the actual oneness of a believer’s spirit with the spirit of the Lord Jesus--He in us, and we in Him--for this is the strength. Strength, then, is always flowing--just as the oil flowed from the two olive trees, which are the priestly and the kingly character of Jesus--the grace sufficient for the human mind--the strength for every day’s need--the bidden life--the innate power of God in a man. You must be always realizing and cherishing the union with the Spirit by certain acts--acts of pious thought--holy fondness--frequent participation in the Lord’s Supper--secret communion, and habitual prayer. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Strength against temptation
On the eve of one of the most eventful of England’s naval conflicts, Nelson hung aloft from the masthead that inspiring admonition, which was read with a thrill of heroic feeling by his fleet: “England expects every man to do his duty.” Not less startling and inspiring, as addressed to the young men of our land, should be the stirring admonition that comes to us from a greater leader, and at a crisis more momentous, “Be strong in the Lord.”
I. The strength required.
1. It is not primarily physical strength. The time was when this was a prime element in the estimate of a man, nor can we doubt that it is undervalued now.
2. Neither does the direction of the text apply specifically to intellectual strength. This is not without its importance, although without moral aims it is a blind giant, and with perverted aims it is a wilful giant.
3. But far more important than this is moral strength. Here, too, something depends upon original endowment. There are some whose moral natures seem made of wax. Most unfortunately there is nothing in them like flint to strike fire from. The devil shapes them at will, as a woman kneads her dough. A strong temptation bears them away, as a whirlwind does the down of a thistle. Yet sometimes where we witness this, it is not all due to nature. It would be a libel upon her to say so. There is a moral greatness, not necessarily religious, which we admire, for it is strong. It may be heathen greatness, it may be a Pagan strength, but it rests upon the basis of strong character, and the moral element of it forces our applause. There was strength, when Socrates scorned to escape from prison, and chose rather to drink the fatal hemlock. There was strength, when Joseph Reed, of Revolutionary memory, approached by bribes of British gold, nobly replied: “I am poor, very poor, but poor as I am, the King of Great Britain is not rich enough to buy me.” But how much more noble and enviable than this is the strength of religious principle, strength in God. It is not strong necessarily in muscle, in intellect, in strategy; but it is strong in resistance to moral assault, to temptations that, in winning guise and in more than carnal strength, would draw the soul to perdition. The real battle of life is with Satan and his arts and followers, and the real hero is he who wins in this conflict.
II. But whence is this strength to come? “Be strong in the Lord,” is the reply. (E. H. Gillett.)
Strength in suffering
A. B--was a young woman residing at Acton at the time I was a student for the ministry. She was heavily afflicted, paralyzed, crippled, deaf, and half blind. Her life was passed in one chamber, for the most part on one couch, but the circle of her influence had a wide radius. In the face of overwhelming infirmities she maintained a spirit of serene and cheerful contentment which no new adversity could break. When her bodily strength rallied a little she filled her room, not with wailing or complaint, but with songs of thankfulness; when the wave of physical vitality ebbed again, the unspoken praise lay in quiet sunshine on the pale but smiling face. When the benumbed fingers recovered for a few days some portion of their former nimbleness, she was happy in resuming the dainty needlework by which her bread was earned. When she could do nothing but suffer, her brave soul shone in undiminished patience. Even among women I have never known another so strong in grace--in “love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” And what, think you, was her own explanation of this noble and beautiful strength? She gave it to me one evening after I had watched her through a paroxysm of neuralgic torture: “He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength.” (W. Woods.)
The secret of strength
Many small wax lights, which of themselves burn faintly, when put into one torch or taper send forth a bright and shining flame; many tittle bells, which tinkle together to the pleasing of children, when melted and cast into one great bell do affect the ear in a more solemn and awful sound; and many single threads, which snap asunder with the least touch, when twisted together make a strong cable, which can withstand the fury and violence of a storm. So it is with the mind; the more it is scattered and divided through multiplicity of objects, the more weak it is; and the more it is fixed on one single object, the more masculine and strong are the operations of it, either for good or evil. (W. Spurstowe.)
The power of God’s might
What the power of God’s might is, we very well know. Mountains tremble, and rocks melt before it; the sea feels it, and flies; Jordan is driven back. Armies are discomfited, and cut off by a blast in the night. The world itself was produced by this power, in one instant, and may be destroyed in another. All created power, if opposed to that of the Creator, withers and falls, like a leaf in autumn, when shaken by the stormy wind and tempest. It is “in the power of this might,” that the apostle exhorts as to “be strong.” But how is this--“Hast thou an arm like God; or canst thou thunder with a voice like Him?” Yet St. Paul would never enjoin us to seek after that which could not be obtained, Our Redeemer is Almighty; He is with us by His Spirit, and His strength is ours. Look at His apostles in their natural state; ignorant, and fearful of everything: view them “endued with power from on high”; acquainted with the whole counsel of God, and bold to proclaim it through all the nations of the earth. During the persecutions of the Church in her infant state, numbers of the weaker sex, receiving strength and courage from above, in the hour of trial, patiently endured all the torments which the malice of men and devils could invent. They triumphed gloriously--“Now are they crowned, and receive palms from the Son of God whom they confessed in the world.” The promise of assistance in time of need is to us all: to us, and to our children, and to as many as the Lord our God shall call. From Thee, blessed Jesus, we learn our duty: to Thee must we look, and to thy all-powerful grace, for strength to perform it. Not in ourselves, but in Thee, and in the power of Thy might, we are strong. Without Thee, we can do nothing: with Thee we can do all things. It is this consideration which alone can support us, when we take a view of the enemies whom we must encounter. (Bishop Home.)
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
There stands on the banks of the Thames a grim old fortress, well known to all as the Tower of London. In that fortress, with its memories of Roman and Norman, of Plantagenet, Tudor, and Stuart, there is a wonderful collection of weapons and armour. As you look on those relies of bygone ages, you seem to be reading chapters from the History of England. One suit of mail recalls the rush of the Normans up the hill at Hastings, and the bloody fight at Senlac. Yonder mighty two-handed sword brings back the meeting of stern barons at Runnymead, and the signing of the great Charter. There are arms which tell of Crecy, and Poitiers, where men fled before the sable armour of the Black Prince. There, two, are weapons which remind us of the fatal wars of the Roses, the awful slaughter at Flodden, and the fight at Bosworth, where a crown was lost and won. There are gorgeous trappings which take us back to the field of the Cloth of Gold; and sturdy breastplates which bore the stroke of Cavalier sword, and Puritan pike, at Naseby and Marston Moor. But I would take you into a different armoury today, where the weapons and armour tell of yet fiercer battles, and yet more brilliant victories; where we may not only look on the armour of others, but may choose some for ourselves. This armoury is God’s, and it recalls the history of His Church militant here on earth, the battles and the triumphs of the soldiers of the Cross. O grand and glorious armoury of God! Let us enter there and choose our weapons. But, first, be sure that you have a battle to fight. There are too many of us who like the name of Christian without its responsibility. These desire to be soldiers of Christ, but not on active service. The battle may be fiercer sometimes than at others, but to the end we must be fighting. Never forget that the true service of Jesus in the world means hardness, means watchfulness, means self-denial, means, above all things, fighting.. Come then, today, into the armoury, and choose your weapons; ask Jesus to give you the whole armour of God. Cast away any untried, worthless armour, in which you have been trusting. Say with David, “I cannot go with these, for I have not proved them.” Are you trusting to your respectability? The keen arrows of temptation will pierce right through it, and wound your soul! then the good name in which you trusted will be dishonoured and disgraced. What breastplate are you wearing? Self-righteousness? You have never committed grievous sin, you say, you are not like some of your neighbours. There is the grievous sin at once, the belief that you are better than other people. The devil will strike through that breastplate as easily as through one of paper. “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” O man of the world, walking among the worldly wise, whose wisdom is not of God, gird on your armour. See that you have the breastplate of righteousness, of right dealing. Let the weapons of the false, and the knavish, and the unjust, strike there and be blunted. See that the girdle of truth is not loosened, and feel that you dare not tell a lie. O brothers and sisters, who are sorely tempted in one way or another, be among those who fight. When David was once going to battle he had no sword, and they showed him that with which he had smitten off the head of the giant. Then said David, “There is none like that, give it me.” You have such a sword, and you can trust to it. Do you remember that prayer with which you conquered that giant temptation, that impure thought, that angry passion, that wrong deed? Try it again. Say, “There is none like that, give it me.” And, finally, have on your right hand, as a gauntlet, a firm determination, a fixed resolution to hold fast to that which is right, and by God’s help to go on to the end. (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)
The Christian armour
I. Explain the nature of the Christian armour.
1. It is armour for every part, except the back, which is provided with no defence, to show that the Christian is never to quit the field, but to face his enemies.
2. The armour is of every sort, offensive and defensive, both to protect the Christian, and to annoy his enemies.
3. It is armour that has been proved.
4. This armour is spiritual, and is intended only for spiritual purposes. It is called “the armour of light,” in allusion perhaps to the bright and glittering army of the Romans, and to show that it is for ornament as well as for defence. It is also “armour of righteousness,” designed only for righteous persons and righteous purposes; it cannot therefore be rendered subservient to acts of violence and oppression. It is provided by a righteous God, and His righteous word is the rule for using it (Romans 13:12; 2 Corinthians 6:7).
5. It is called “the armour of God,” to denote its transcendent excellency and usefulness, and that it is provided by His special grace.
II. Consider the necessity of putting on the whole armour of God.
1. We are in a state of warfare, exposed to innumerable enemies: and if not called to fight, we should not need to be armed.
2. We are naturally unprepared for this contest, having no means of defence, and therefore need to put on the armour of God. We must be equipped from God’s armoury, for no weapon of our own will be able to defend us.
3. Putting on this armour implies that we see our need of it, and that we use it for the purposes intended. Though we are not saved for our endeavours, yet neither can we be saved without them. We cannot exert ourselves too much in this warfare, nor depend upon our exertions too little.
4. The spiritual armour is not designed for show, like weapons that are hung up in some houses, but for use, and therefore it must be put on.
5. We must be careful to take to ourselves the “whole” armour of God, for a part of it will not avail. Such is the variety of Satan’s temptations and the world’s allurements that the whole of it is but sufficient for our defence; and should any part be left unguarded, a mortal wound might be inflicted. He is also mightier than we are, and we are no match for him, unless we put on the whole armour of God, and place our trust in His holy name. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The Christian warfare
I. The danger to which we are exposed. As in other cases, so in this: our greatest danger lies in not feeling our danger, and so not being prepared to meet it.
1. View the enemy we have to contend with. He bears an inveterate hatred against us, and seeks nothing less than our destruction and eternal overthrow.
2. He is mightier than we are; and, unless we have help from above, we are no match for him.
3. An artful enemy.
5. Near us.
6. What is worse, he has a strong party within us.
7. On the issue of this warfare depend all our hopes.
II. The armour provided for us.
1. In general, this armour is the grace of the gospel.
2. A whole or perfect armour, sufficient to defend us in every part.
3. The use to be made of it is that we may be able to withstand and face the enemy.
III. The necessity of putting on this armour, or taking it to ourselves. Armour is of no avail, unless it be used.
IV. The inducement to do this. That we may “withstand in the evil day,” etc. (Theological Sketchbook.)
The means of standing sure
1.Christians are soldiers. Our life is a warfare. The Church here is militant. God has thus disposed our state on earth for weighty reasons.
2. The graces of God’s Spirit are for safeguard and defence.
3. The Christian’s armour is the armour of God.
4. It is spiritual armour; therefore suitable for defence against spiritual foes.
5. It is a complete armour, every way sufficient.
6. Christians ought to be well furnished always, and well prepared with the graces of God’s Spirit. They must ever have them in readiness at hand to use them, and make proof of them. As armour rusting by the wall side, as fire smothered with ashes, as money cankering in chests, so are the graces of God’s Spirit if they be not employed. Though in themselves they be never so excellent, yet to us and others they are fruitless and unprofitable, without a right use of them.
7. The power of every sanctifying grace must be manifest in the life of a Christian.
8. God’s assistance and man’s endeavour are joined together. Without God’s mighty power man can do nothing; unless man put on the whole armour of God, God will do nothing. (William Gouge.)
The end and benefit of Christian armour
1.There is no hope, no possibility of remaining safe, without spiritual armour.
2. They who put on the armour of God, and use it as they ought, are safe and sure, and so may be secure.
3. Those who are without armour can have no hope to stand.
4. Those who use their armour are sure to stand. (William Gouge.)
The spiritual warfare
That such a war subsists, and is carrying on, is told us in the text, wherein the armour of God and the wiles of the devil are set in opposition the one to the other. Christ invades Satan’s kingdom, arming His servants; and Satan leaves no art untried to maintain his dominion, and restrain the progress of the conqueror.
I. Of the occasion of the war. This was partly the success of Satan upon our first parents; and partly God’s jealousy for His honour, and His pity for fallen man.
II. The designs of the one and the other. Satan has lost nothing of the pride, rage, and malice of an apostate spirit, therefore he cannot cease sinning. His revenge and rebellion against God are implacable; however much he trembles before the Son of God, yet he will not submit to Him; his proud malice is nothing abated; he roars against the government of God, seeking whom he may devour. Ceaselessly he labours to defeat the kingdom of the Redeemer, and to set up his own against it.
III. Where is the seat of action? In our hearts. There the devil has a natural right, and thence Christ would dispossess him. Satan, by the Fall, both ruined the original purity of man’s nature, and also introduced a sad defilement into both the parts of us, soul and body; rendering the one proud, and the other carnal. To destroy this work of the devil, restoring to us the image of God, taking away our pride, and spiritualizing our affections, is Christ’s business.
IV. Let us consider the manner of the fight. The weapons of Satan are carnal; those of Christ, spiritual. Those of Satan are worldly things, whereby he endeavours to gratify pride, or to nurse indulgence. Jesus, on the other hand, comes with the word of truth, and the power of the Spirit.
V. The issue of this war, on the one part and the other. This will be the triumph of the Redeemer, and the confusion of the adversary. (S. Walker, B. A.)
Christ versus Satan
I. We are to consider the method of Christ’s assault upon the kingdom: of satan in the heart of a sinner, in order to gain him out of the enemy’s hand; and also the wiles which the devil uses to disappoint the Redeemer’s attempt and to keep the sinner in his service. While I am opening this point, it will be evidently seen how the devil wars at all disadvantage; that he must set up falsehood against truth, and temporal against eternal motives; that he cannot foretell the issue of one step he takes, while all his steps are plainly seen and foreseen, in all their consequences, by the Redeemer; that while Satan hath not the least power or strength to oppose one motion of His, He can easily turn all the counsels of Satan back upon himself; in a word, that in respect of Jesus, Satan is a poor, blind, weak, insignificant enemy. What, then, gives him so much success? It is neither his power, vigilance, nor cunning; what are these in respect of the might care, and wisdom of the Redeemer? No, sinners, it is your wilfulness; it is this alone gives him advantage. Now, that I may plainly set before you the method of Christ’s attack upon Satan in the heart of a sinner, and Satan’s devices to disappoint the success of it, you must be shown the state wherein Christ finds the sinner; His methods with him; and Satan’s counterplot to defeat them.
1. The state wherein Christ finds the sinner. In sin--committing sin, an enemy to God, godliness, and godly men.
2. The methods Christ uses with the heart of the sinner, in order to dispossess Satan of his dominion over it. The Spirit working by the Word, and impressing the various motives which the Word contains effectually upon the heart.
3. Satan’s wiles to disappoint the convictions which the Redeemer, by the Word and Spirit, has made upon the heart of a sinner.
II. I am now, in the second place, more directly with the design of the text, to describe to you the wiles of the devil against Christ in the persons of believers, whereby he endeavours to shake their constancy, and to render them disserviceable to the cause wherein they are engaged; and likewise the armour Christ hath prepared for their defence, as well as for making them fit to serve successfully under Him against the kingdom of darkness. Satan hath many wiles for those who believe, and are gone over to Jesus; if He cannot draw them back he will harass them, lay bars in their way, try to render them less fruitful, and less serviceable to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. In order to resist them we must put on--
1. Truth, or sincerity.
2. Righteousness; that is, the practice of all holiness.
3. The preparation of the gospel, or firmness, readiness, and constancy in all cases.
4. Faith, namely, in the promises of God in Christ. This must be put on above, or over all, because faith preserves all other graces.
5. The hope of salvation.
6. The Word of God.
9. Supplication for all saints.
Then the Christian is prepared for all the wiles of the devil. All these he must put on, not one excepted, because one and another of these things can only preserve us from this and that wile wherewith the devil will beset us. (S. Walker, B. A.)
The Christian armour
1. A call to arms. Religious life is sometimes called “peace in believing.” But let us not forget that there is nowhere in this world any peace which has not been wrought out in stubborn conflict, which is not now the achievement of valiant service for the truth. The soldiers of the cross do not enlist to go at once into the hospital, or sit around the door of a sutler’s tent. It is to be feared that too much stress is laid upon the emotional and experimental part of piety in this easy day of ours. Too many young princes go off into dangerous Zulu-land for curious inquiry or mere love of adventure. There was (so we are told) once an English poet, who took position in a lofty tower that he might see a real battle. He seems to have had great prosperity, for the world has not yet done praising his versified description of the rushing onset, the tumult, and the carnage, “by Iser rolling rapidly.” Now, nobody need hope to become acquainted with the solemn realities of life by merely gazing out upon it from a protected belfry, as Campbell did on Hohenlinden field. We cannot make a poem out of it. There are awful certainties of exposure, and necessities of attack, which disdain figures and rhythms of mere music. And, moreover, we are combatants, not spectators; we are in the onset, and the shock is at hand. “There is no discharge in that war.”
2. It is best to avoid all confusion at once, and ascertain who are our adversaries; specially, who leads on the host. Here the apostle speaks clearly, if only people would listen: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” “Two kingdoms,” said Ignatius Loyola, “divide the world; the kingdom of Emmanuel, and the kingdom of Satan.” This the whole Bible admits; but nowhere can there be found even so much as one text which intimates that Christ and the devil are on equal terms. Satan is a created being; he had a maker, and he now has a ruler. He wages at present only a permitted warfare for a limited season. His onsets are well called “wiles,” for he shuns open fields, and deals best in ambuscades and secret plots. There is awful force in the expression, “the devil and his angels”; for it shows us Satan is not alone in his work. He is the prince fiend of a fiendish clan. I have somewhere seen a picture on which was represented a human soul in its hour of conflict. It was as if the invisible world had for a moment been made visible by the rare skill of the artist. There, around the tried and anxious man, these emissaries of Satan were gathered. Dim, ethereal forms luridly shone out on every side. One might see the tempting offer of a crown over his head; but he would have to examine, quite closely before he could discover how each braided bar of gold in the diadem was twined in so as to conceal a lurking fiend in the folds. Then there was just visible a serpent with demoniac eyes coiled in the bottom of the goblet from which he was invited to drink. Foul whispers were plying either ear. There were baleful fires of lust in the glances of those who sought his companionship. A beautiful angel drew nigh; but a skeleton of death could be traced beneath the white robes he had stolen. I cannot say it was a welcome picture; but certainly there was a lesson in it. Among the noisy critics who gaily pronounced on its characteristics, I noticed there was one thoughtful man who turned aside and wept. Perhaps he knew what it meant.
3. Is there no defence against all this? Surely, every Christian remembers the armour which Paul catalogues in detail: “Wherefore, take unto you,” etc. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
An exhortation and an argument
The words contain an exhortation enforced by an argument.
I. The argument--“That ye may,” etc. In handling the argument we will consider--The devil is one who strikes through another by slander, or false accusation. Concerning this being, observe--
1. He is very miserable.
2. He was once happy.
3. Sin has made him miserable.
4. He is very powerful, malicious, and vigilant.
5. In his person and agency, generally, invisible.
6. He has many associates.
Wiles--the arts used by a commander to take advantage of his enemy. These consist--
1. In assuming false characters.
2. In suiting himself to the age, temper, connections, and circumstances of the tempted.
3. In choosing the proper instruments to effect his purposes.
4. In giving false names to good and evil. Zeal to persecution.
5. In causing divisions in the Church.
6. In hiding that from us what only can do us good. Ability to stand against them.
1. Knowledge of them (2 Corinthians 2:11).
2. Power to oppose them.
II. The exhortation--“Put on,” etc.
I. A Christian soldier is a wonderful object. In relation to his enemies--and his defence.
II. How pleasing is our prevailing infidelity to Satan.
III. The experience of believers proves the truth of the text. (H. J. Foster.)
The Christian warfare
St. Paul was a born warrior. Most of us are what we are by ordination of circumstance. Here and there one is what he is by ordination of nature. It was Paul’s genius to be belligerent, and his life would have been an epic, lived anywhere. Even in Eden he would have done what his great ancestor neglected to do, stood against the wiles of the devil. “His life,” Martineau says, “was a battle, from which in intervals of the good fight his words arose as songs of victory.” It was the supreme feat of the gospel to convert such a man. He is the superlative trophy of the Christian Church. Paul is the miracle of Christianity, one of those incontestible evidences of Christianity that leaves the mind satisfied. It was more to make Saul over into Paul than it was to make water over into wine. Power that could do the former would be at no less to do the latter. The martial quality of this old Napoleon of the cross betrays itself in what he does and in the way he does it, and in every bend and turn of life. The record of his moving hitherward and thitherward reads like the chronicles of an Alexander. He dared difficulties like Hannibal, and grasped details with the omniscience and omnipresence of the first emperor. His visits were invasions, his letters war dispatches, and his whole life campaign. It is noticeable how easily and habitually his thought drops into forms of the camp. “He is the only man I know of,” said Cassaubon, “who wrote not with fingers, pen, and ink, but with his very heart, passion, and bare nerves.” That is Paul, the Napoleon of the cross, the mailed and helmeted belligerent of the gospel of peace. And this martial impulse, I say, is everywhere in his letters incessantly declaring itself. It is in our text, “Put on the whole armour of God.” And the whole ensuing passage is in the same vein. Truth is to be the girdle, righteousness the breastplate, the preparation of the gospel of peace the sandals, faith the shield, salvation the helmet, and the Word of God the sword. There is no beauty in Paul’s eye, but war is in his eye and everything he sees becomes the reflection of his eye, takes the colour of his thought. And now it is precisely this war spirit of Paul that helps to explain his eminence in the apostolic Church. When God chose Paul (“He is a chosen vessel unto Me,” said God)--when God chose Paul, He chose him with regard to the work to be done, and with regard to Paul’s fitness to do it. He chose the Hebrews to be His people instead of the Chinese or East Indians, because there was something in the Hebrews that was apt to His purpose. His choice of Paul was an apt choice, because Paul was an apt man, and he went on in a way to adapt Paul, because Paul was already natively adaptable. And one element of his aptness was his combativeness. A fighting Church, a Church militant, belligerent, could be humanly championed by nothing less than a fighting apostle, an apostle militant, belligerent. St. John had visions of the Church triumphant, and was, in his temper and spirit, a kind of representation and prophecy of the Church triumphant. St. Paul stands for the Church of the present, the Church upon the field, the Church in armour, and the apostle of the armed spirit is fitly the historic champion of the Church in armour. And we shall gain in many ways by contemplating Christian service under Paul’s aspect and imagery. Christianity is in its very nature and intent a crusade. Ours is a gospel of peace, but it is anything but a peaceful gospel, and the more scripturally it is put the more it betrays its animosity toward everything that in spirit contradicts the gospel; as the brighter the light, the more it differs from darkness, and the greater and swifter the inroad that it makes into darkness. Christianity is in its nature belligerent, and the peace of the gospel comes only as the fruitage of battle, and as the aftermath of victory. “What communion hath light with darkness?” asked Paul. Between sanctity and sin there is deadly enmity, which will disappear only with the extermination of one or the other of the belligerents. The moral tranquillization of the world is obtainable by no policy of compromise. Diplomacy has no role to play here. “Put on the whole armour of God.” The call is for soldiers, not diplomats, for regiments, not embassies. The victory is to be fought out, not negotiated. Of course there is courtesy in war as well as elsewhere. There is a consideration due to men as such, be they wicked or otherwise, but there is no consideration due to wickedness. Wickedness has to be handled without gloves, and designated without euphemisms. The act and the actor have to be discriminated. The two lie a little apart from each other in God’s thought. Said the Psalmist to Jehovah, “Thou wast a God that forgavest them, though Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.” Courtesy toward a wicked man is Christian; courtesy toward wickedness is poltroonery and perhaps diabolism. All such irresoluteness postpones victory, not wins it. Sooner or later the whole matter has got to be determined by the arbitrament of the sword. There are instances in which there is no evading Waterloo. The competition, of good and evil is such an instance. We may domesticate sin, and array it in terms of elegant Latinity, but sooner or later that same sin will have to be proscribed without mercy and hunted down as an outlaw. We will treat with all the beautiful tenderness of the gospel men and women that are knavish, yes, that are adulterous, but we must remember that honesty and dishonesty, purity and uncleanness, are in implacable feud, and that either righteousness or sin has got to go under before there can be peace on the earth. We want, then, the courage of our convictions to enable us to name things according to their true character, to state things as they are, to deal with things as they are, and heroically to refuse all quarter to everything that declines to be led captive into subjection to Christ. As soldiers of the Lord we want large bestowment of sanctified stubbornness. My friend, there are only two sides to this controversy, the side of Christ and the side of antichrist. You cannot be on both sides. “No man can serve two masters,” said Christ. On which one of the two sides are you? If you are not promoting godliness, you are hindering it. If you are not building up Christianity, you are breaking it down. “He that is not with Me is against Me.” (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
Scope and function of a Christian life
This is a general view of the scope and function of a Christian life. You will observe that, as here represented, a Christian is not the inheritance of a quiet possession. We enter upon a campaign. You will take notice, also, that this is a conflict which is to be waged, not by physical arms. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood”--the meaning of which is, that it is not a physical quality--“but against principalities, and spiritual wickedness in high places”--the very highest places in human governments. We war not, therefore, by sword, or by spear, but we put on the armour of God--reason, conscience, purity, courage, and faith. And these qualities, not as they are developed under the inspiration of ordinary human life, but as they are derived from the Spirit of God itself--these are the weapons with which we enter into the war. And it is, as I understand it, the comprehensive teaching here--or the recognition, if not the special teaching--that when we become Christians, we enter upon that great, worldwide, time-long battle, in which the moral sentiments of the race are arrayed against the passions. And the question is, who shall control the vast machinery of this world? Shall it be controlled by appetites, by avarice, by selfishness in its varied forms? Or shall the vast machineries of the world be inspired and controlled by men’s higher reason and their moral sentiments? That is the real battle in the most comprehensive statement of it. And we have entered into that conflict just as soon as we have entered into the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. This whole world is to be reorganized. It is the aim of Christianity to reorganize the globe, and to deduce laws, maxims, policies, and principles from the moral Sentiments. In other words, it will yet be shown that every element of human life, individual, social, and civil, can be better pursued by the inspiration of religious feeling than by the inspiration of sordid, secular feeling. Truth will be proved to be better than deceit, always, and in all circumstances. Honour will be proved to be better than infidelity to obligations, and always. The day is coming when God, the supernal good, who organized the world that it might serve Him in virtue and true piety, will make it appear to all the earth and to all the universe that He is on the side of rectitude, on the side of purity, and that providence and natural law, and, just as much national law, and social and commercial law, and industrial law, are on the side of the moral sentiments, and not on the side of the passions and the appetites. There is now a supreme incredulity in this. Though, practically, men do not, perhaps, reason upon it, there is an almost universal impression that, while men are in this world, and performing their duties, they must be as brick makers are--that they must work in dirt; and that, when they have got, through working in dirt, then they must clean up and go to church. Men think, “As long as I am in the world and doing business, I must perform my business according to the way of the world; and then, when I have got through with the necessary sacrifice to the world, I must wash up and go to church, and be a Christian.” The first step in the working plan of this great campaign into which we are called--namely, of regenerating, reforming, recasting the world--is the reformation of individual character, until the supreme forces of it shall be moral forces. Do you not see that half the evils in society come from physical conditions? Do you not see that if society were more honourable, more just in its organizations, a great deal of that which you call sin would disappear of itself, that it is but the friction caused by the working of the machinery? But the question comes back, “How are you going to reorganize society?” It is assumed, in the Word of God, that the indispensable condition of any reformation in the organization of society is to proceed upon the primary conversion of the individual heart. Therefore it is that the gospel, when it declares that “the field is the world,” and when it undertakes the conversion of the world, so that human society shall act upon the highest conceivable reason and moral sentiment in its operations, says, “Preach the gospel to every creature.” And it is for this simple reason that the force by which we are to organize society is to be the force of the regenerated individual. Our battle is not accomplished in our own salvation. We are God’s soldiers to transform this world. The mere technical spread of the gospel is itself a great gain, but it is only the beginning of the work. The gospel is spread, so far as its technical spread is concerned, into continents, but the gospel is to spread in another way. It is to go down into society, as well as to lie upon the surface of it. As a creed, it is to lie in the disposition, and transform the processes of it. And the very first step that a man takes when he becomes a Christian, after the regeneration of his heart, is to carry those regenerating forces straight along with him. Wherever he goes, that light is to shine; and it is to shine on business, to shine on love, on pleasure, on wealth, on honours, on everything. Wherever he goes, he is to carry the transforming power of the Spirit of God, so that he shall do his part as one of the soldiers of the Lord’s host.
1. Men are called by religion to a personal reformation, and then to the reformation of the whole world in which they live. You are to carry Christ’s spirit into every relation of life, and to become a witness, and a martyr, if need be, in it. A little child, beginning to love Christ, and desiring to witness for Christ, comes home to its unconverted parents, and to brothers and sisters that are wilful and wayward, and seeks there to carry out the law of love. Its temper, quite infirm, is often lost. Alas, that of all the things that we lose, nothing is found so certainly again as our temper! The little child comes home, and its temper is often disturbed, often stirred up; and still, it means to be a witness for Christ. And it says in its little heart, “I do love Christ; and I mean that everything I do shall please Him.” It has read, “In honour preferring one another”; and it attempts, in the household, to prefer the happiness of its brothers and sisters. It refuses to join in the little deceits that belong to them. It refuses to conceal, when questioned, their little peculations. It comes to spiteful grief in consequence. And the little child is not old enough to know anything about the great laws of society and the great laws of nature. Just converted, it is undertaking to live so that the best part of itself shall govern itself; and then it is undertaking so that, in its little companionships, the best part of it shall all the time rule in its conduct. Now, no child can undertake that without having the epitome of the experience of every Christian in the whole world.
2. Religion must not be selfish--not even if it be the selfishness of the highest quality. We have no right to be Christians simply on the ground that we shall save our souls. We shall save our souls; but to come into religion as a mere soul insurance is selfishness. We have no right to go into religion merely because we should thus gain joy. The man that enters into religion must follow God. And what thought He, when He took the crown, every beam of which was brighter than the shining of a thousand suns, and laid it by? What thought He when, disrobing Himself of power, taste, and faculty, He bowed His head, and, trailing through the sky, became a man, and as a man humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross? The most odious and reputation-blasting death that man’s ingenuity had developed--all this had combined at the centre point of the cross, as the sign and symbol of degradation; and that was the death that He chose, that He might identify Himself with men, and not be ashamed to call them brethren. “I am going to follow the meek and lowly Jesus by cutting my acquaintance with the vulgar cares of the dirty world. I am going to be a select Christian, and seclude myself from these things.” Can you, and be a follower of Christ? Religion means work. Religion means work in a dirty world. Religion means peril--blows given, but blows taken as well. Religion means transformation. The world is to be cleaned by somebody; and you are not called of God if you are ashamed to scour and scrub. I believe that the day is yet to come when all the machineries of society will be controlled by truth, by purity, by sublime duty. I call you to be soldiers in that great warfare that is to bring to pass this victory. (H. W. Beecher.)
Satan and his warfare
I. The character of the great adversary. St. Paul here calls him the devil. He is also spoken of in other parts of the Bible as Abaddon, Beelzebub, Belial, the Dragon, the Evil One, the Angel of the Bottomless Pit, the Prince of this World, the Prince of the Power of the Air, Satan, Apollyon, and the God of this World. Although fallen beings, they, like the Angels of Light, “still excel in strength” (Psalms 103:20), and are far “greater in power and might” (2 Peter 2:11) than any of the sons of men.
II. The nature of his devices. Having once been pure and holy, the lost Archangel realizes the greatness of his fall; and grief, anger, and revenge, all combine to render him the bitter enemy of everything good. Hence, all his arts are directed to one end, viz., to draw us away from God, and to accomplish our ruin. And very wonderful and successful is the mode of his warfare. Acting upon the rule of expediency, he never begins his assaults by a direct contradiction of the truth, but by a qualified admission of its claims, he seems to agree with his victim, while he is only making ready to come down upon him in an unguarded quarter. It might reasonably be supposed that one who ventured to make war in heaven is a skilful and experienced leader, whose craft and boldness would render him a dangerous enemy upon earth. “The wiles of the Devil” are marked by all those characteristics which prove him to be a most treacherous and deadly foe. His forces are scattered over the world, busy in executing his commands, and all our weaknesses are spied out, and the corresponding enticements presented. Naturalists report that when the chameleon stretches itself on the grass to catch flies and grasshoppers, it assumes a green colour to prevent detection; and that the polypus changes himself into the sombre hue of the rock, under which he lurks, that the fish may come within his reach without suspicion of danger. And thus the devil, in spreading his net for unwary Christians, turns himself into the shape which they least suspect, and allures them with temptations most agreeable to their natures.
III. The means by which his dangerous wiles may be withstood. Our strength is perfect weakness; but the good and gracious Lord is ready to “open His armoury” (Jeremiah 1:25) and equip those who acknowledge their helplessness and seek for His sustaining grace. This armour is given for use, and if we expect any benefit from it we must not delay to “put it on.” (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
The Christian’s “impedimenta”
The Romans were accustomed to call the baggage with which their army was encumbered “impedimenta,” hindrances, because the transportation of this baggage retarded their progress; so although the Evil One cannot destroy the soldier of the army of salvation, he can annoy, him, and cast about him so many discouragements as greatly to cripple his energies and impede his upward progress. These toils of the devil are the “impedimenta” of the spiritual hosts, by which the believer is led to halt, to turn aside from his onward course, to slumber at his post, and give way to discouragements, until he is far from accomplishing the high attainments which were within his reach, and at last is called away from the scene of his warfare with many of his glorious aspirations unfulfilled, with sad regrets over so much of the work of life to be left undone. Alas! the wiles of the devil! (J. Leyburn, D. D.)
That sin is more crafty than violent
But think ye for awhile what the ungodly man’s life is! I can only compare it to that famous diabolical invention of the Inquisition of ancient times. ‘They had as a fatal punishment for heretics, what they called the “Virgin’s Kiss.” There stood in a long corridor the image of the Virgin. She outstretched her arms to receive her heretic child; she looked fair, and her dress was adorned with gold and tinsel, but as soon as the poor victim came into her arms the machinery within began to work, and the arms closed and pressed the wretch closer and closer to her bosom, which was set with knives, and daggers, and lancets, and razors, and everything that could cut and tear him, till he was ground to pieces in the horrible embrace; and such is the ungodly man’s life. It standeth like a fair virgin, and with witching smile it seems to say, “Come to my bosom, no place so warm and blissful as this”; and then anon it begins to fold its arms of habit about the sinner, and he sins again and again, brings misery into his body, perhaps, if he fall into some form of sin, stings his soul, makes his thoughts a case of knives to torture him, and grinds him to powder beneath the force of his own iniquities. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Imitate yon ancient wrestler, who, laying aside his robes and ornaments, and all the bravery of his attire, steps naked into the arena--limbs and body shining with slippery oil; closing with an antagonist, whose hands, slipping on the unctuous limbs, catch no firm hold, he heaves him up to hurl in the dust, and bear off the palm--honour won, less by his power than by his wise precaution. If prevention is better than cure, precaution is better than power; therefore ought a good man ever to watch and pray that he enter not in temptation; his prayer, that which our Lord has taught us, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Resistance ensures victory
You know how John Bunyan represents poor Feeble-mind in the cave of Giant Slaygood. The giant had picked him up on the road, and taken him home to devour him at his leisure; but poor Feeble-mind said he had one comfort, for he had heard that the giant could never pick the bones of any man who was brought there against his will. Ah! and so it is. If there be a man who has fallen into sin, but still his heart crieth out against the sin; if he be saying, “Lord, I am in captivity to it; I am under bondage to it; O that I could be free from it!” then sin has not dominion over him, nor shall it destroy him, but he shall be set free ere long. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“The wiles of the devil”
Colonel Stewart, with Gordon, was for months besieged in Khartoum--then taking ten vessels from that place he bombarded Berber and dispersed all the rebels. Nine of the vessels had returned in safety; Stewart, having remained behind to inspect, was returning in the tenth, with some forty men on board, when the vessel ran on a rock. Some of the enemy, under the guise of friendship, then offered to conduct them safely across the desert. Stewart was deceived, and trusted himself to them; but as soon as they landed the whole party was massacred to a man.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities.
The invisible enemies of man
Does it not appear, philosophically speaking, a somewhat violent assumption to decide that man is really the highest being in the created universe, or, at least, that between man and his Maker there are no gradations with different moral colourings of intermediate life? Would it not be, rather, reasonable to suppose that the graduated series of living beings, graduated as it is so delicately, which we trace from the lowest of the zoophytes up to man, does not stop abruptly with man, that it continues beyond, although we may be unable to follow the invisible steps of the continuing ascent? Surely, I submit, the reasonable probability would incline this way, and revelation does but confirm and reveal these anticipations when it discovers to faith, on the one hand, the hierarchies of the blessed angels, and on the other, as in this passage of Scripture, the corresponding gradations of evil spirits, principalities, and powers, who have abused their freedom, and who are ceaselessly labouring to impair and to destroy the moral order of the universe. Two great departments of moral life among men are watched over, each one of them, beyond the sphere of human life, by beings of greater power, greater intelligence, greater intensity of purpose, than man in the world of spirits. These spiritual beings, good and evil, act upon humanity as clearly, as certainly, and as constantly as man himself acts upon the lower creatures around, and thus it is that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Does not our experience, my brethren, bear this out, at least sometimes in our darker hours? Have we never known what it is, as we phrase it, to be carried away by a sudden impulse--to be driven, we know not why, hither and thither in conscious humiliation and shame before some strong, overmastering gust of passion? Have we, too, never seen another law in our members, warring against the law of our minds, and bringing us into captivity to the law of sin that is in our members? And what is this at bottom but to feel ourselves in the strong embrace and gripe of another power, who, for the moment, has overmastered us, and holds us down? We may be unable to discern his form; we may be unable to define the precise limits and nature of his power; we may despair to decide what it is that we supply to the dread result out of our own fund of perverted passion, and what it is that he adds from the hot breath of an intenser furnace. But then the most ordinary processes of our vital functions themselves defy analysis, however we may be certain of their reality. No, depend upon it, it is not any mere disposition, inseparable from the conditions of human thought, to personify, to externalize passion which has peopled the imagination of Christendom with demons. As well, just as well, might you say that the fearful epidemic which has ravaged London this autumn was itself a creation of human fancy, that it had in itself no real existence, that it was the real cause of no real disease in the individuals who succumbed to it. Our imagination may, no doubt, do much; but there are limits to its activity, and the higher facts are just as much beyond it as are the facts of nature. The contests of which St. Paul is speaking were not only to be waged on the great scenes of history. St. Paul is speaking of contests humbler, less public, but certainly not less tragical, the contests which are waged, sooner or later, with more or less intensity, and with the most divergent results, around and within each human soul. It is within ourselves, my brethren, that we meet now, as the first Christians met, the onset of the principalities and the powers. It is in resisting them--aye, at any cost--in driving them from us at the name of Christ, in driving from us the spirits of untruthfulness, of sloth, of anger, and of impure desire--that we really contribute our little share to the issue of the great battle which rages still, as it raged then, and which will rage on between good and evil until the end comes, and the combatants meet with their rewards. (Canon Liddon.)
The holy war
I. The foes. Spiritual enemies. Our danger arises from--
1. The advantage they find in this world. It is in many respects their own.
2. Our natural inclinations.
3. Their number--Legion.
4. Their mightiness.
5. Their invisibility.
6. Their artfulness.
7. Their malignity.
II. The armour.
1. The articles in which it consists. None provided for the back. He who flees is wholly defenceless, and sure to perish.
2. Its nature--Divine.
3. The appropriation of it. You must apply it to the various purposes for which it has been provided. There are some who are ignorant of it; these cannot “take it to themselves,” and they are “perishing for lack of knowledge.” There are others who know it, but despise it; they never make use of it; their religion is all speculation; they “know these things,” but “they do them not”; they believe--and “the devils believe and tremble.”
4. The entireness of the application--“The whole armour.” Every part is necessary. A Christian may be considered with regard to his principles, with regard to his practice, with regard to his experience, with regard to his comfort, and with regard to his profession; and oh! how important is it in each of these that neither of them is to be left in him exposed and undefended. He is to “stand complete in all the will” of his heavenly Father; he is to be “perfect and entire, lacking nothing.” Nothing less: than this must be our aim.
III. The success. Three inquiries are here to be answered. The first regards the posture; what does the apostle mean by “standing”? It is a military term; and “standing” is opposed to falling. A man is said to “fall” when he is slain in battle; and he does so literally. It is opposed to fleeing. We often read of fleeing before the enemy in the Scriptures: this cannot be “standing.” It is opposed to yielding or keeping back; and so the apostle says, “Neither give place to the devil.” Every inch you yield he gains, and every inch he gains you lose; every inch he gains favours his gaining another inch, and every inch you lose favours your losing another inch. The second regards the period; what does the apostle mean when he says, “Stand in the evil day”? All the time of the Christian’s warfare may be so called in a sense, and a very true sense; but the apostle refers also to some days which are peculiarly evil days.” Days of suffering are such. The days in which the poor martyrs lived were “evil days”; they could not confess and follow Christ without exposing their substance and their liberty and their lives; but they “stood in the evil day,” and “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Dame.” There are “evil days” morally considered--perilous periods, in which “iniquity abounds and the love of many waxes cold,” in which many may “turn aside from the faith and give themselves to vain janglings.” The third regards the preeminence of the advantage gained; “stand in the evil day, and, having done all, stand.” Some of God’s servants have been foiled after various successes, and have become affecting examples to show us that we are never out of the reach of danger as long as we are in the body and in the world. The battle of Eylau, between the French and the Russians, was a dreadful conflict; more than fifty thousand perished. Both parties claimed the victory. What, then, is the historian to do? To do? Why, he will inquire, Who kept the field? And these were the French, while the Russians all withdrew. Oh, my brethren! it is the keeping of the field to the last--to see all the adversaries withdrawn--that is to make us “more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” It is this that gives decision to the battle. Some have overcome, and then, alas! they have been overcome. What is it to gain success and yield it at last? The Romans often were checked: they often met with a defeat; but then they succeeded upon the whole, “and having done all, they stood.” Of Gad it is said, “A troop shall overcome him, but he shall overcome at the last.” And this will be the case with every real Christian. What comes from God will be sure to lead back to God. (W. Jay.)
The Christian soldier’s warfare
I. The enemies with whom, as Christian soldiers, we are called to contend.
2. Wicked spirits.
3. Formidable spirits.
II. In what manner we are instructed to contend with them.
1. In the armour of God.
2. In the spirit of prayer and watchfulness.
3. In the exercise of firm resistance. Let your resistance be--
III. The reasons by which we should be induced thus to contend.
1. Because the most important objects depend on this contention.
2. Because victory is certain to the faithful soldiers of Christ.
3. Because victory will be attended with certain glory.
The existence of evil spirits
Against the existence of evil spirits, against the possibility of their exerting a malignant influence on the moral and spiritual life of mankind, nothing has ever been alleged, as far as I am aware, that has any force in it. Some people appear to suppose that they have said enough to justify their disbelief when they have recited the grotesque and incredible legends, the monstrous and childish superstitions about the devil which laid so firm a hold on the imagination and the fears of Europe in the Middle Ages; or when they have illustrated the history and growth of analogous legends and superstitions among savage or half-civilized races. But they could justify atheism by a precisely similar line of reasoning. The mythologies of Greece and of Scandinavia are incredible; their original and central elements are obviously nothing more than the product of the imagination under the excitement of the glories and the terrors, the majesty and the beauty, of the visible universe. But because these mythologies are incredible shall I refuse to believe in the living God, the Creator of the heavens and of the earth, the God that loveth righteousness and hateth iniquity? The attributes and deeds attributed to Kali, the black and blood-stained goddess, with her necklace of human skulls, fills me with horror and fierce disgust; but is this horror, this disgust, any reason for withholding my faith from the revelation of God’s infinite love in the Lord Jesus Christ? Many false, childish, dreadful things have been imagined and believed about invisible and Divine powers; but this does not prove that there is no God. Many monstrous and absurd things have been imagined and believed about invisible and evil spirits; but this does not prove that there is no devil. Three hundred years ago men received popular stories about grotesque and malicious appearances of evil spirits without evidence and without inquiry. It was the habit of the age to believe in such things; men believed, in the absence of all solid reasons for believing. And now we disbelieve, without evidence and without inquiry, what Christ Himself and His apostles have told us about the devil and his temptations. It is the habit of the age to disbelieve in such things; we disbelieve, in the absence of solid reasons for disbelieving. We do not care to investigate the question. We go with the crowd. We think that everybody cannot be wrong. We regard with great complacency the contrast between our own clear intelligence and the superstition of our ancestors. But when we are challenged to state our reasons for refusing to accept what Christ has revealed on this subject, we have nothing to answer except that other people refuse to accept it; and our ancestors had just as good an apology for accepting the superstitions of their times--everybody accepted them. It is not quite clear that there is any good ground for our self-complacency; the belief of our ancestors was as rational as our own disbelief.
1. The subject is confessedly difficult, obscure, and mysterious; but there is nothing incredible in the existence of unseen and evil powers, from whose hostility we are in serious danger. Give the faculty of vision to the blind, and they see the sun and the clouds and the moon and the stars, of whose existence they had known nothing except by hearsay; give a new faculty to the human race, and we might discover that we are surrounded by “principalities” and “powers,” some of them loyal to God and bright with a Divine glory; some of them in revolt against Him, and scarred with the lightnings of the Divine anger. The moral objections to the existence of evil spirits can hardly be sustained in the presence of the crimes of which our own race has been guilty. There may be other worlds in which the inhabitants are as wicked as the most wicked of ourselves; we cannot tell. We may be surrounded--we cannot tell--by creatures of God, who hate righteousness and hate God with a fiercer hatred than ever burned in the hearts of the most profligate and blasphemous of our race. And they may be endeavouring to accomplish our moral ruin, in this life and the life to come.
2. Our Lord plainly taught the existence of evil spirits (Matthew 13:19; Matthew 13:39; Luke 10:18; Luke 22:31; John 12:31; Matthew 25:41). No use to say that as He spoke the language, He thought the thoughts, of His country and His time; for it was impossible that He should mistake shadows for realities in that invisible and spiritual world which was His true home, and which He had come to reveal to man. Nor can we believe that Christ Himself knew that evil spirits had no existence, and yet consciously and deliberately fell in with the common way of speaking about them. The subject was one of active controversy between rival Jewish sects, and in using the popular language Christ took sides with one sect against another. That He should have supported controverted opinions which He knew to be false is inconceivable. Again: He came to preach glad tidings; can we suppose that, if the popular dread of evil spirits had no foundation, He would have deliberately fostered such a falsehood?
3. The teaching of Christ on this point is sustained by all the apostles (James 3:7; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Corinthians 11:14; Ephesians 4:26; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 3:8; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:12; 1 John 5:18-19, etc.).
4. The teaching of Christ and His apostles is confirmed by our religious experience. Evil thoughts come to us which are alien from all our convictions and from all our sympathies. There is nothing to account for them in our external circumstances or in the laws of our intellectual life. We abhor them and repel them, but they are pressed upon us with cruel persistency. They come to us at times when their presence is most hateful; they cross and trouble the current of devotion; they gather like thick clouds between our souls and God, and suddenly darken the glory of the Divine righteousness and love. We are sometimes pursued and harassed by doubts which we have deliberately confronted, examined, and concluded to be absolutely destitute of force, doubts about the very existence of God, or about the authority of Christ, or about the reality of our own redemption. Sometimes the assaults take another form. Evil fires which we thought we had quenched are suddenly rekindled by unseen hands; we have to renew the fight with forms of moral and spiritual evil which we thought we had completely destroyed. There is a Power not ourselves that makes for righteousness; light falls upon us which we know is light from heaven; in times of weariness strength comes to us from inspiration which we know must be Divine; we are protected in times of danger by an invisible presence and grace; there are times when we are conscious that streams of life are flowing into us which must have their fountains in the life of God. And there are dark and evil days when we discover that there is also a power not ourselves that makes for sin. We are at war, the kingdom of God on earth is at war, with the kingdom of darkness. We have to fight “against the principalities,” etc. And therefore we need the strength of God and “the armour of God.” The attacks of these formidable foes are not incessant; but as we can never tell when “the evil day” may come, we should be always prepared for it. After weeks and months of happy peace, they fall upon us without warning, and without any apparent cause. If we are to “withstand” them, and if after one great battle in which we have left nothing unattempted or unaccomplished for our own defence and the destruction of the enemy we are still “to stand,” to stand with our force unexhausted and our resources undiminished, ready for another and perhaps fiercer engagement, we must “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might,” and we must “take up the whole armour of God.” (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
The nature of the contest
Wrestle. It denotes--
1. That our enemies aim at us personally.
2. The nearness of the parties to each other.
3. The severity of the struggle, παλη.
4. The continuance of it. The present tense. (H. J. Foster.)
The evil angels
I. Here are presented beings whose attributes are very appalling.
1. Actual beings, possessing an angelic order of existence.
2. Beings deeply and fearfully characterized by evil.
3. Beings who possess wide power and authority over the world.
II. The beings here presented are engaged in active and malignant conflict against the interests of redeemed men.
1. Notice the manner in which that conflict is conducted. These principalities, etc., fight against the children of God through the medium of their own thoughts; as those thoughts may be influenced independent of external objects, or as those thoughts may be influenced by the thoughts and passions of other men; and by the various events and occurrences which are transpiring in this sublunary and terrestrial world. It is intended by this power and instrumentality to lead to principles, to actions, and to habits which are inconsistent with the maintenance of the Christian character.
2. Mark the spirit in which that warfare is conducted. It is precisely such as we might expect from the character and attributes of the principalities, the powers, and the rulers against whom we wrestle. It is, for instance, conducted with subtlety and cunning. We find that Satan is said to transform himself into an angel of light. Hence, again, we read of “the devices of Satan” and “the rulers of Satan” as being “the old serpent.” It is, further, conducted in cruelty, Hence, we read of Satan as being “the adversary”; we read of his fiery darts; and we are told that he “goeth about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” It is, again, conducted in perseverance. All the statements which are urged with regard to subtlety on the one hand, and cruelty on the other, show that there is one incessant labour, which is perfectly unvaried and unremitting on their part, to accomplish the great designs they have in view with respect to the character and the final destiny of the soul.
3. Observe for what purpose the conflict is designed. That there may be a failure on the part of the redeemed, in their character, their consistency, and their hopes; and this, under the impulse of one dark and fearful result, as bearing both upon God and upon man. As regards God, it is intended that the purpose of the Father should be foresworn; that the atonement of the Son should be inefficacious; and that the influence of the Spirit should be thwarted. And, as bearing on man, it is intended that his life should become bereft of honour, comfort, and peace; that his death should be a scene of agitation, pain, and darkness; that his judgment should he an event of threatening and bitter condemnation; that his eternity should be the habitation of torment and woe; and that over spirits, who once had the prospects of redemption, there shall be pronounced that fearful sentence, “Depart ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
III. The knowledge, on the part of redeemed men, of such a conflict, ought, at once, to bind on thee those practical impressions which are essential to their perseverance and victory.
1. The nature of the means of preservation.
2. The effect which these means, when used aright, will secure. That the Christian warrior, fighting against these mighty and invisible foes, shall, although faint, yet pursue, and although feeble, shall yet conquer. (J. Parsons.)
The craft of our invisible foes
The great art of these invisible world rulers consists in never seeming to be against us. They conceal themselves in our affections, and plead for our wishes. And, as though from quite a motherly consideration for our weakness, and a warm concern for our enjoyment, they make it appear that the claims of God are unreasonable, and that the way to heaven is cold and forbidding. Seated in the warmth of our hearts, they reason warmly for our pleasure, and then flatter us that we reason well. We are taken by the “wiles,” we suck in the flattering honey, and know not that we are being poisoned unto the second death. These spirits are too much for us. Their strongholds are in our hearts. Before we can successfully oppose those who clothed themselves with the armour of our own life, we must put on “the armour of God.” Jesus is the only man who ever prevailed in this war. He came to the encounter, not in nature’s heats, nor with nature’s reasonings; but clothed with truth and purity, guilelessness and perfect love. We must “put on Christ.” (J. Pulsford.)
Our spiritual foes
The apostle brings out into bold relief the terrible foes which Christians are summoned to encounter.
1. Their position. They are no subalterns, but foes of mighty rank, the nobility and chieftains of the spirit world.
2. Their office. Their domain is this darkness in which they exercise imperial sway.
3. Their essence. Not encumbered with an animal frame, but “spirits.”
4. Their character--“evil.” Their appetite for evil only exceeds their capacity for producing it. (J. Eadie, D. D.)
Every part must be protected against the adversary
It is reported by the poets of Achilles, the Grecian captain, that his mother, being warned by the oracle, dipped him--being a child--in the river Lethe, to prevent any danger that might ensue by reason of the Trojan war; but Paris, his inveterate enemy, understanding also by the oracle that he was impenetrable all over his body, except the heel or small part of his leg, which his mother held him by when she dipped him, took his advantage, shot him in the heel, and killed him. Thus every man is, or ought to be, armed cap-a-pie with that panoply--the whole armour of God. For the devil will be sure to hit the least part that he finds unarmed; if it be the eye, he will dart in at that casement by the presentation of one lewd object or other; if it be the ear, he will force that door open by bad counsel; if the tongue, that shall be made a world of mischief; if the feet, they shall be swift to shed blood, etc.
Spiritual wrestling is personal
At the battle of Crecy, in 1316, the Prince of Wales, finding himself heavily pressed by the enemy, sent word to his father for help. The father, watching the battle from a windmill, and seeing his son was not wounded and could gain the day if he would, sent word: “No, I will not come. Let the boy win his spurs, for, if God will, I desire that this day be his with all its honours.” Young man, fight your own battle, all through, and you shall have the victory. Oh, it is a battle worth fighting! Two monarchs of old fought a duel, Charles V and Francis, and the stakes were kingdoms, Milan and Burgundy. You fight with sin, and the stake is heaven or hell. (Dr. Talmage.)
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.
St. Paul lay in prison at Rome, as he himself says, bound with a chain, “for the hope of Israel,” to the Roman trooper who watched him day and night. He employed his prison hours by writing--first to the Asiatic Churches of Ephesus and Colosse, to the Christian slaveholder, Philemon, and, at a somewhat later date, to the Macedonian Church at Philippi. It was very natural that his language, like his thoughts, should be coloured, here and there, by the objects around him; and we find that whilst writing this circular epistle to the Ephesians, his eye had actually been resting on the soldier to whom he was chained. In the outfit of the Roman legionary, he saw the symbol of the supernatural dress which befits the Christian. The ornamented girdle or balteus bound around the loins to which the sword was commonly attached, seemed to the apostle to recall the inward practical acknowledgment of truth which is the first necessity in the Christian character. The metal breastplate suggested the moral rectitude or righteousness which enables a man to confront the world. The strong military sandals spoke of that readiness to march in the cause of that gospel whose sum and substance was not war but spiritual, even more than social peace. And then the large, oblong, oval wooden shield, clothed with hides, covered well nigh the whole body of the bearer, reminding him of Christian faith, upon which the temptations of the Evil One, like the ancient arrows, tipped, as they often were, with inflammable substances, would light harmlessly and lose their deadly point; and then the soldier’s helmet, pointing upward to the skies, was a natural figure of Christian hope directed towards a higher and a better world; and then the sword at his side, by which he won safety and victory in the day of battle, and which, you will observe, is the one aggressive weapon mentioned in this whole catalogue--what was it but the emblem of that Word of God which wins such victories on the battlefields of conscience, because it pierces, even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, and is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth. Thus girded, thus clad, thus shod, thus guarded, thus covered, thus armed, the Christian might well meet his foes. He was, indeed, more than a match for them, and might calmly await their onset. (Canon Liddon.)
The chivalry of the Christian life
At that age military effort was the most successful form of human activity. Rome had made herself, not quite a century before, the mistress of the civilized world, and this not by her commerce, not by her diplomacy, but by her arms. In such an age, therefore, such a metaphor would quickly win its way to the popular ear; but it also would have attractions for the characteristic thought and temper of the apostle who employed it. The constant exposure to danger, the constant necessity for exertion, the generous indifference to personal suffering, the large-hearted sympathy with the experiences of every comrade, and the sense of being only a unit, only one in the vast organization of a serried host moving steadily forward towards its object--the instinct of discipline, in complete harmony with the instinct of personal sincerity and courage--all these features of a soldier’s life made it welcome to the apostle’s conception of the Christian career and character--“Thou, therefore, endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ”; “Quit ye like men; be strong”; “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life.” The higher precepts of the army constantly occur in the apostolic Epistles. St. Paul does not discuss the theory of war, its antagonism to the real mind of a holy God, to the true interests, the true ideal of human life. He only takes it as a matter of fact in the world, as it was nineteen centuries ago, as it is at this moment, alas! and he consecrates it thus; he consecrates its higher and its loftier side by making it a shadow, not of Christian chivalry, but of the chivalry of the Christian life. The soldier differs from the merchant or the farmer, in that he has to deal with an antagonist. He differs from the racer at the games, in that his antagonist is not merely a competitor, but an enemy in good earnest. It was this which made the metaphor in the apostle’s conception so exactly correspond to the actual facts, to the real case of the Christian life. The Christian is not merely making the best of his materials, he is not merely engaged in a struggle for spiritual successes, he is, before everything else, engaged in a stern and terrible contest with implacable enemies; the forces arrayed against him are such as to oblige him to spare no exertion, and to neglect no precaution whatever if he is to escape defeat. (Canon Liddon.)
The Christian armour
The military code of the Christian soldier. A spiritual contest, hence spiritual weapons; whole armour to resist wiles of devil.
I. Active arming. Take--
1. Truth: not mere information.
(a) Simple truthfulness of character at home.
(b) A powerful mind vindicating truth in the presence of foes.
(c) The martyr calmly sealing truth with his blood.
2. Righteousness. This means truth towards God, justness, fairness, honesty, faithfulness (Micah 6:8). It is a breastplate, in forefront, to be borne bright and high, and seen by all.
3. Readiness--like that of Israel leaving Egypt, or a soldier in camp.
4. Faith--a shield, therefore a protection. Like God, our refuge, strength, help. It quenches all the fiery darts, etc. Not easy to have such faith; try, however.
II. Passive arming. The following are outward, external, not in the soul.
1. Salvation is the helmet.
2. Word of God is the sword. (W. M. Johnston, M. A.)
Soldiers of Christ must stand
In the armies of our great nations, while desertion is punished with heavy penalties, retirement is allowed under certain conditions. There is an army, however, in which retirement is never sanctioned--not even in the case of the oldest veteran; and, addressing the soldiers of that army, the apostle writes, “Having done all, to stand. Stand therefore.”
I. The prohibition involved in the precept. The conflict may neither be forsaken nor suspended. The following are forbidden:
1. Indolent or even weary sleep.
2. Cowardly or even politic flight.
3. A treacherous, or even a desponding surrender. Treachery is apostasy; despondency is sinful distrust.
4. The declaration of a truce, or even an application for it. There is a termination to the war, but no truce. No favour will ever be shown to the foe by our Commander-in-Chief, and the soldier of Christ does not really need the cessation of the conflict.
5. The giving up of a military position until the war is fairly over. The orders to the individual soldier run thus--“Unto death”; and until death the warfare is not accomplished. Death is in fact the last enemy.
II. What do these words demand?
1. They require a distinct and solemn recognition of the fact that the time of our life on earth is a time of war--“an evil day.” There are periods during which the sharpness of the conflict is greatly increased, and such seasons are peculiarly “the evil day”--but every day is a day of battle.
2. They require us to be always possessed by the conviction that we are personally called to this good fight. The true vocation of every believer is conflict; and to this rule there is not a single exception.
3. They demand the honest and manly facing of our foes. Some professed Christians turn their backs upon their spiritual enemies in contempt. They have speculated and theorized upon Satanic agency, until they have expunged God’s doctrines concerning devils from their creed. They have flirted and compromised with the world, until they and the evil that is in the world are placed on the same side. They have modified and shaped their language concerning human depravity, until there dwells in their flesh, according to their opinion, no evil thing. And thus denying the existence of foes, they have turned their backs upon them. Other professing Christians look at our spiritual enemies more as spectators than as warriors. They are seen as objects of spiritual interest, and as subjects for religious inquiry, rather than as foes with which they personally have to do. To stand, in the sense of the text, requires that we face our foes--not to contemplate them; far less to despise them; but to fight them.
4. The text requires that having taken the field we keep it. We may not retire to the ranks of those who refuse to fight: we must stand. The militant position must be maintained throughout life. We may be weak; but must stand. We may be weary; but must stand. We may be fearful; but must stand. We may be defeated in some single fight; but must stand. We may See others fall about us; but must stand. Many may desert our cause; but we must stand. Consternation may spread through the army of the Lord of Hosts; but we must stand. It may seem as though all things were against us; but we must stand. The day of final triumph may seem long delayed, and with weak, and weary, and aching hearts, we may cry, “How long, Lord? how long?”--but we must stand. The measure of conflict and of service allotted to us may seem excessive, but having done all, we must stand. “Stand therefore.” This requires,
5. that we be ready for attack or defence. To stand unarmed, is not to stand. To stand unclothed with armour, is not to stand. To stand in any sense unready, is not to stand. Having done all, your foes stand. Satan has done much; yet he stands. The world--the temporal, the sensual, and the social--has done much; yet it stands. The flesh has done much; yet it stands. Antichrist and error, and sin in every shape, have done much; yet they stand. No foe is as yet really slain. New foes are continually led to the field, and old foes show themselves in new forms. I read; “Gethsemane!” “Calvary!” Calvary? Who fought there? Your Captain--alone; for all His soldiers forsook Him and fled. With “Calvary” and “Gethsemane” on your banner, to be consistent, you must stand. Stand therefore! Now your orders are, Stand. Yet a little, and the command shall be, Retire. Come, ye faithful soldiers, inherit the kingdom prepared for you; and receive the crown of glory which fadeth not away. (S. Martin, D. D.)
The handbook of a Christian knight
1. What kind of heart and courage such an one must have, to appear in the place of review.
2. Who is his chief Captain, to whom he must have regard.
3. What kind of equipment he must have, and what is the best armoury, the best arsenal.
4. Who are his worst enemies.
5. How he ought and must accustom himself to his armour.
6. What a severe regimen he must carry out.
7. Finally, what he has to expect, if he conduct himself in a knightly manner. (Herberger.)
How the equipment with the whole armour of God is--
1. So indispensable.
2. So accessible.
3. So glorious. (Rautenberg.)
The reason why we must be well armed
1.The more danger we are in, the more watchful we must be.
2. Our spiritual war is a sore, fierce, and dangerous war.
3. All must fight this spiritual combat.
4. Our enemies are more than flesh and blood.
5. The devil is our principal enemy, in all our conflicts, whether with flesh and blood, or with spiritual foes.
6. They who are quailed with what flesh and blood can do, will never be able to stand against principalities.
7. Our spiritual enemies have a dominion.
8. As our spiritual enemies have a dominion, so they have power to exercise the same. The Lord suffers this for the following reasons.
9. Satan’s rule is only in this world.
10. Ignorant and evil men are Satan’s vassals.
11. The enemies of our souls are of a spiritual substance.
12. The devils are extremely evil.
13. The devils are many in number.
14. The main things for which the devils fight against us, are heavenly matters. (William Gouge.)
The whole armour
I. The day referred to--“The evil day.” “Day” a fit emblem, mixture of light and darkness, sunshine and storm, joy and sadness. Certain evils in this day to which we are all liable.
1. Evil day of affliction. Our bodies have the seeds of innumerable diseases in them.
2. Evil day of temptation.
3. Evil day of persecution.
4. Evil day of death.
II. The advice given.
1. We have recommended to us Divine armour. The Lord’s warfare must be carried on by the Lord’s weapons.
2. We must have the whole armour of God. Every part is vulnerable, and every part, therefore, must be defended.
3. The whole armour must be taken unto us.
III. The motives urged. “That ye may be able,” etc.
1. That we may not be destroyed by the evils of this life. “Withstand.”
2. That we appear victorious in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Having done all, stand.” Great comprehensiveness in the words, “Done all.”
1. Let believers rightly remember their present state. This is your evil day, expect and prepare for trouble.
2. Examine your armour; is it Divine armour? whole, and entire?
3. Let grace sustain you, depend entirely on it.
4. Let glory animate you. Think of the day when, having done all, you will stand. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The whole armour of God
1.It is very characteristic of Paul that he should give the first place to “truth.” He is thinking of the truth concerning God and the will of God which comes to us from God Himself through His revelation in Christ and through the teaching of the Spirit; for all the elements of Christian strength are represented in this passage as Divine gifts. Truth appropriated and made our own gives energy, firmness, and decision to Christian life and action, relieves us from the entanglement and distraction which come from uncertainty and doubt, gives us a complete command of all our vigour. It is like the strong belt of the ancient soldier which braced him up, made him conscious of his force, kept his armour in its place, and prevented it from interfering with the freedom of his action.
2. He gives the second place to “righteousness.” In the conflicts of the Christian life we are safe, only while we practise every personal and private virtue, and discharge with fidelity every duty both to man and to God. “Righteousness” is the defence and guarantee of righteousness. The honest man is not touched by temptations to dishonesty; the truthful man is not touched by temptations to falsehood; habits of industry are a firm defence against temptations to indolence; a pure heart resents with disgust and scorn the first approaches of temptation to impurity.
3. Paul gives the third place to what he describes as “the preparation of the gospel of peace.” When we have received with hearty faith the great assurance by the remission of sins through Christ, we are released from the gravest anxieties and fears. We have escaped from care about the past, and are free to give our whole strength to the duties of the present and of the future. The discovery that God is at peace with us gives us confidence and inspires us with alertness and elasticity of spirit. We are not merely ready, we are eager for every good work.
4. The fourth place is given to “faith.” There are a thousand perils against which faith in the righteousness and love and power of God is our only protection. When the misery of the world oppresses us, or we are crushed by the misery of our personal life, terrible thoughts about God pierce through every defence and fasten themselves in our very flesh, torturing us, and filling our veins with burning fever. We writhe in our agony. If by any chance we hear about “the unsearchable riches” of God’s grace, we listen, not only uncomforted, but sometimes with a passion of unbelief. “Grace!” we exclaim, “where is the proof of it? Is there any pity in Him, any justice, any truth?” In these hours of anguish we are like soldiers wounded by the “darts” with burning tow fastened to them, or with their iron points made red hot, which were used in ancient warfare. We should have been safe if, when “the evil day” came it had found us with a strong and invincible faith in God; this would have been a perfect defence; and apart from this we can have no secure protection.
5. The fifth place is given to “salvation.” We are insecure unless we make completely our own the great redemption which God has achieved for us in Christ. If we have mean and narrow conceptions of the Divine redemption, or if we think that it lies mainly with ourselves whether we shall secure “glory, honour, and immortality,” we shall be like a soldier without a “helmet,” unprotected against blows which may be mortal. But if we have a vivid apprehension of the greatness of the Christian redemption, and if our hope of achieving a glorious future is rooted in our consciousness of the infinite power and grace of God, we shall be safe.
6. But all these are arms of defence. Have we no weapons for attacking and destroying the enemy? Are the same temptations and the same doubts to return incessantly and to return with their force undiminished? The helmet, the shield, the breastplate, the belt, may be a protection for ourselves; but we belong to an army, and are fighting for the victory of the Divine kingdom and for the complete destruction of the authority and power of the “spiritual hosts of wickedness” over other men; it is not enough that our personal safety is provided for. We are to fight the enemy with “the Word of God.” Divine promises are not only to repel doubts, but to destroy them. Divine precepts are not only to be a protection against temptations, but to inflict on them a mortal wound, and so to prevent them from troubling us again. The revelation of God’s infinite pity for human sorrow, and of His infinite mercy for human sin, of the infinite blessings conferred upon men by Christ in this world, and of the endless righteousness and glory which He confers in the world to come--the Divine “Word” to the human race--is the solitary power by which we can hope to win any real and enduring victory over the sins and miseries of mankind. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
The coat of arms of the Isle of Man is the figure of three legs armed and spurred, with the motto, “Quocunque jeceris, stabit.” Daring several centuries the island, standing alone in the mid-ocean, was a battlefield for contending nations. English and Irish, Saxon and Dane, here strove for the mastery. The coat of arms seems to refer to one result of this in the brave character of the islanders. Swift and strong, they were ready to attack, courageous in the fight, and prepared to follow quickly the retreating foe. The motto gives the same idea: “Throw him where you will, he will stand.” (From “Strong and Free. ”)
A coat of mail
The Rev. J. Thain Davidson said to an audience of young men: “There is no courage so noble as that which resists the devil, and is valiant for Christ. ‘Put ye on the panoply of God.’ Cromwell wore under his garment a coat of mail; wore it whether he was in camp, or in court, or in chambers. He never could know when the dagger would be thrust at him, so he was always ready. Be you similarly provided. The fiery darts of the wicked may fly at you where you least suspect danger; therefore, be ever on your guard. And may the Lord deliver you from evil, and preserve you safe unto His heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory now and forever. Amen.”
No saint free from danger
Do you know, I have noticed that young people who are often exposed to severe temptations are very generally preserved from falling into sin; but I have noticed that others, both old and young, whose temptations were not remarkably severe, have been generally those who have been the first to fall. In fact, it is a lamentable thing to have to say, but lamentably true it is, that at the period of life when you would reckon, from the failure of the passions, the temptation would be less vigorous, that very period is marked more than any other by the most solemn transgressions amongst God’s people. I think I have heard that many horses fall at the bottom of a hill because the driver thinks the danger past and the need to hold the reins with firm grip less pressing as they are just about to renew their progress and begin to ascend again. So it is often with us when we are not tempted through imminent danger we are the more tempted through slothful ease. I think it was Ralph Erskine who said, “There is no devil so bad as no devil.” The worst temptation that ever overtakes us, is, in some respects, preferable to our being left alone altogether without any sense of caution or stimulus to watch and pray. Be always on your watchtower, and you shall be always secure. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
We must fight to the end
A man may be wrecked within a ship’s length of the lighthouse. Lot’s wife was not far from Zoar, yet she miserably perished. Near the summit of Mount Washington is a rude cairn of stones that marks the spot where a young lady, who was overtaken by the darkness (without a guide), died of exposure and nervous fright! The poor girl was within pistol shot of the cabin of the “tiptop”; its cheering light was just behind the rocks; yet that short distance cost her her life! So, my dear friend, you may be at last picked up dead, just outside the gateway of your Father’s house. While its hospitable door of love stands open, hasten in! You are losing the very best part of this life, and the whole of the life to come, while you so recklessly linger away from Jesus. (Theodore L. Cuyler, D. D.)
The soldier’s duty
Our warfare is against powers and dominions. This line of thought is that of the text, and it is of this that I shall speak. Everyone who grows to man’s estate is called to incessant warfare with himself. We are made up, not of irreconcilable materials, but of materials that are not reconcilable except as the result of great training and discipline. We are born first to the flesh; and our predominant strength lies in the direction of our animal appetites and passions. But we come, after a little, to a higher realm--that of the affections; and every child needs to be taught how to make conflict against selfishness, against avaricious snatching, against combativeness, and against injurious usage from those around him. And while there is an apparent conflict outside of the child in society, the real conflict of the child is that which is within him--namely, that which is to determine the question whether reason or passion shall predominate in him; the question whether generosity or selfishness shall inspire his conduct; the question whether greediness or benevolence towards others shall rule in him. Each one of us is conscious that at every step of our way within ourselves and within our own sphere the necessity is laid upon us of perpetual watchfulness. We are overcome by our inferior nature, by reason of carelessness, or indolence, or indulgence, or undue enthusiasm, or over-eager desire; and we find ourselves perpetually recalling, with shame and contrition, the victory of the flesh over the spirit, of the animal man over the spiritual man, and of selfishness over generosity. Not only is there this individual conflict in every man, but at every step of ambition, in every line of aspiration, there comes to us precisely the same element of conflict. No man grows easily into manhood. No man stands in approved and vindicated virtue, in any direction, which he has not been obliged to hew out with personal endeavour. Every man who is built up of skill, and experience, and integrity, and accomplishing power, has built himself up by repeated blow upon blow, training upon training, endeavour upon endeavour, with many surprises, and overthrows, and intermediate defeats, and all the time with a varied experience of warfare within. As soon as in some degree we have trained ourselves within ourselves, we enter upon a corresponding struggle with all the conditions of life around us. And in a larger sphere we are called to a conflict as citizens and members of the great body politic. Now, in waging this multiform conflict, all the methods known to actual gladiation and to real external military proceedings are reproduced in the invisible conflict which goes on in men. Nothing is more frequent in war than the attempt of one side to deceive the other, and so overcome, as it were by sleight of hand, or by the craftiness of a better understanding, those that are opposed to them--saving force, or economising it; and surely nothing is more certain than that the great enemy that wages war against us spiritually overthrows us by deceit, as it were breathing it upon us, blowing it through us, half blinding our eyes, and taking us at unawares. Nothing is more common in warfare than surprises; for in many instances a fort is taken by an onward and unexpected rush which could not be taken by a prolonged, gradual approach. So in spiritual warfare; how many of us are unaware of danger until it has sprung upon us! How many times has that burning adversary of ours, an uncontrolled temper, broken out upon us, and carried us away before we were aware of its presence! How often have we been lured by insidious pleasures till we waked up in the midst of captivities! How often have our best feelings been overthrown by the assaults of our evil inclinations! So, too, it is a part of military warfare to draw the enemy into ambush, giving him the hope of victory while he is being overtaken by defeat. And how often are we led into ambush by our spiritual adversaries! How often are we enticed from the path of virtue by some seeming good! We flatter ourselves that we occupy an advantageous position, and that we are going on to success, until, in the midst of the intoxication of our vaunted triumph, we find the toils closing about us, and we are captives instead of victors. (H. W. Beecher.)
Steadfastness in trouble
If you divide men into two classes, there is one that wants to be stimulated. The danger of these is from lassitude, or, to use a more Saxon phrase, laziness. The other class, being aroused and nervously developed, are intense, energetic, and active. Now, to undertake to apply to both of these classes the same passages of Scripture would be a fatal mistake. To say to one large portion of men, “Stand,” would be just the thing that they would like. Standing suits them exactly. On the other hand, to stir up and stimulate some men is like putting fuel on a fire that is already too hot. In the case of men who are wrought up into a state of intense activity, whose errors lie in a lack of peace and of rest, stimulation or excitement is just what is not needed. Paul puts them both together here, and gives only one kind of men leave to stand--those who have done all. The figure is a military one. It refers to men who have made preparation for a campaign, who have gone as far as circumstances will permit, who have provided themselves with armament, and who have armed themselves at every point. There comes a crisis where they can do no more; and the apostle says, “When you have your armour on from head to foot, and are energetic, and ready for the conflict, then stand and wait”; for waiting is as productive even as working--especially where working is not productive at all. Now, it is not to those who are indolent, it is not to the self-indulgent, that I speak this morning, but to the large class of willing workers who are caught in the exigencies of life, and whose very trouble is that they cannot work; that they cannot go forward; that they cannot succeed in executing useful and honourable purposes. I speak this morning to those who are forced to stand. Ye that are living in earnest, with immense scope, with fruitfulness, and with rightly directed energy! I desire to call your attention to the fact that, morally considered, there is a vast harvest to be reaped by non-energy; that energetic men, doing nothing, may be more useful to themselves and to society them they otherwise could be; and that the greatest misfortune which can befall a man is not necessarily his being brought into conditions where he cannot stir: for when a man is willing, yea, anxious, burning to go forward, but cannot, then he is in a position where he may attain to certain virtues and certain fruits of goodness which he scarcely could be expected to attain to at any other time. There are rare treasures for men who, in the providence of God, whether with or without their thought, are brought to a pass in which the only thing that is left for them is to stand, girt about in full armour, ready and willing to do, but unable. The withholding of a man’s force may be even as noble, in the sight of God, as the most illustrious exhibitions of energy. When you have had success, and prosperity, and social consideration, if your success is turned into defeat, and your prosperity departs, and your social relationships are broken off, learn how to stand sufficient in yourself without these things. Learn first how to be a man by sympathy; and then learn how to be a man without sympathy. Learn first how to be a man by bold, executive, and effective troubles; and then learn how to be a man without the ability to strike, or without the ability, if you strike, to accomplish anything. Learn, with Moses, to smite the rock, and see the water flow out; then learn to smite the rock and see no water flow out; and then learn one thing further--to have the rock smite you, and to have no tears flow from your eyes. Let there be this double-edgedness in your power of using yourselves. Learn how to go, and how to stop; how to achieve, and how to fail; how to enterprise, and how to remain inactive. Learn how to have, and be a man, and how to be equally manful when you have not. Learn, like the apostle, how to abound and how to suffer lack. He said he could do all things, Christ strengthening him. He rounded up his manhood so that he was at home in the palace, or in the prison; so that he was at home in the city as much as among barbarians in the wilderness; so that he was at home when he spoke his own language in Judaea, as well as when he preached on Mars’ Hill and in the palaces of the Caesars in Rome. In this large spirit of Christ Jesus he felt that he could do all things, whether they were pleasant or unpleasant--going and withholding; accomplishing and defeating--neither feeling himself lowered, nor in any sense discouraged, nor made unhappy, but taking all things in that largest disposition of true manhood. This is the New Testament conception, and is it not a doctrine that we need to have preached? A man should live on earth so as to hear the waves beat on the other shore. A man should live here, so that, although he cannot understand the words, he shall hear the murmur of the voices of the just made perfect. A man should so live in this world, that, although he cannot now enter the kingdom, yet when it is open he sees through, and has a sense of the power of the unseen and eternal which makes him the monarch and master of the visible and present. In the first place, then, as to the uses of this, let me say, briefly, that there is nothing which ripens a man’s nature so much as long continued self-restraint; and that there is nothing that deteriorates a man more and sooner than self-indulgence. Now, a man who can stand up in poverty with great sweetness and content; who does not think it needful to say to everybody, “I was once in better circumstances”; who assumes that he is what he is by reason of what there is in himself; who offers no apology for poverty, and who stands, after the loss of all things, poised, large, free, with radiant faith, saying, “Lord, I stand today and tomorrow, and to the end, by the faith that is in me”--that man is a living gospel in the community, though he may think to himself, “I am plucked, and hedged in on every side; and no man cares any more for me.” I have passed by walled gardens; I have passed by gardens surrounded by hedges that were so thick that I could not see through them; but I knew what was growing on the other side by the fragrance that was in the air, though I could not see it. A man may be cramped, confined, and obscure; and yet he may fill the air with the sweetest and divinest fragrance of a noble manhood. Men that are in trouble, women that are in exquisite sorrow, ye of a divided affection, ye of a crucified heart, ye whom time and the world have spoiled, ye on whom Christ has put His mark, and who feel your crowned heads pierced with thorns--having done all, stand. Can you not watch with Him one hour? Since the Sufferer is your lover, will you not be His by suffering as well as by joy? Stand, therefore, and to the end. (H. W. Beecher.)
Waking and waiting
There is a world of Christian life in simple patient waiting--in simple Christian endurance; and if I were to call your attention, with various enumeration, to those within the range of your own observation and knowledge; and if you were to go about and take an inventory of them, family by family, I think you would be surprised, and that the surprise would grow upon you, to see how large a number there are in every community who need, not the gospel of activity, but the gospel of patient waiting--who need to look upon their religious sphere, not as a sphere of enterprise and accomplishment, but simply as a sphere of endurance and conquering by standing. First, there are a great many who are called, in the providence of God, to bear things which are irremediable for physical reasons. There are troubles that never get into the newspapers (and therefore they are peculiar!); as when one is born with a mark upon the face, being otherwise comely. That mark is to be carried all through life. No surgeon’s knife, nothing, can remove it. Wherever he goes, man, woman, and child, looking upon him, look to pity. You that are comely, you that are plain, you that can pass, attracting only admiration, or attracting no notice (which is still better)--you know nothing of what it is to be obliged to say to yourself, at the beginning: “Well, I am to stand apart from all my fellows. I am a marked man. No person shall come near me, and not stop and look, and say, ‘Who is that? What is that?’ All my life long it is to be so.” Byron was born clubfooted, or was early made so; and it wrought through his whole life upon his disposition. It made his pride bitter; it made him envious; it made him angry; but his bitterness, his envy, his anger, did no good; he had to carry that querled ankle all his life long. It worked on him. I know not how I should take it, now that I am old--they say; but I know that if, in the beginning, I had had that to deal with, it would have been no small matter. To be sure, if a man comes home from the war with only a shoulder, there is honour in that--such as it is. Everybody respects you, and permits you to go to poverty; and yet there may be a sense of honour that will be some sort of equivalent even for this misfortune. But, to have it congenital; to have it a mere accident, without any patriotism; to be lopped of one leg or arm; to be marked in any way that sets you aside from your fellows, and makes you a hermit in the world--an individual without cohesion in those respects which unite you to others--this is a matter for which there is no remedy. What can you do? Nothing. Bear it--bear it. And you shall find how easy it is to bear it, because everybody will say to you, “My dear friend, you must be patient, and bear it.” Nevertheless, here is a gospel for such--Stand! Stand! Why? Because it is the will of God. And every man who looks upon you, seeing that you have this great affliction which no striving against can remove, shall say, “Behold how he stands, Christ-like!” Look at another very large class of men--larger than that of which I have been speaking--who come into life, with a laudable ambition, willing and meaning to spend and be spent for the good of their country, of their kind, of their age, and, it may be, of their God. It is for them through scholarship to acquit themselves, and with great attainments and constantly augmenting progress they are already noted, and their unfolding powers show them to be no insignificant heirs of the future; but some feebleness or gradual disease of the eye not only closes to them all books, but shuts out nature, and they grow blind. And now in the hour when the word is spoken, “You must content yourself, my young friend; no surgeon can help you; you are blind; you must be blind”--in that hour, what an instantaneous revolution there is of life! What a change there is in every expectation! What a waste! And yet it is irremediable. And shall this man now go kicking against the pricks and repining? Shall he yield to despondency? This is a case where the gospel of standing comes in; and in all the plenitude of Divine authority Christ says to every such one, “My son, I that wore the crown, and yielded life itself for thee, have need of someone in the very flush of youth and expectancy, to show the world how Christian character evolves under such circumstances. Having done all, having acquired the power to use your sight with great efficiency, now that it is gone from you, stand and be contented.” Sickness comes in afterlife. Men enter upon their professions. The plough is put into the furrow, and the strong will, like well-broken oxen, draws their purpose bravely on; and, just as they have come to that opening where honour and universally acknowledged success is about to crown their legitimate endeavour, they break down in health. They become invalids. Learn how, having done all, to stand still, and be patient and wait to the end. It is a noble thing for a man, with a chastened ambition, restrained within due bounds by a wise reason, to aspire to achievements; and, when the potency to achieve is demonstrated, it is still more heroic for such a man, if it be the will of God, to fold his wings and stand still, and let those achievements go by. When you think how many, by commercial revulsions and infelicities of business, have been stopped in mid-career, and forbidden to go forward, not only, but thrown back to the bottom, is it a matter of no sorrow? And yet, I think that, under such circumstances as these, some of the noblest manifestations of Christianity have been exhibited and beheld. Men have contentedly taken poverty and obscurity, that they might inherit themselves; and if they were to speak their innermost thoughts, what a revelation it would be! And there are many men who, lying low in human notice--failures, as the world looks upon them--are nevertheless the highest in the wisdom of God, having learned the gospel, first of activity, and then of passivity. Having done all, they have learned how to stand. As in the outward, so in the multitudes of the inward, relations of life. It is often the case that children are obliged to patiently wait for their parents. I do not mean that the father is a drunkard, and that the child waits long and patiently for him--though that is noble; but the boys are all gone, and the old Vermont farm is hard of soil and full of rocks; and the youngest son at home is evidently a child of genius, more than any of them. One has grown rich in Illinois; another rules in a county in Missouri; another has gone to India, and is reaping a fortune there; and the last son, although in him are the movements of genius, says, “I cannot leave the old people. My father and mother have no one else to lean on.” And so, without words, without inscription, in the silence of his own heroic soul, he says, “I will stand here. Whatever is in me that I can use here, I will use for my father’s sake, and for my mother’s sake.” Yet how many silent waiters there are! How many there are that have cried in the closet, night and day, “How long? O Lord, how long?” And yet there came no cheer, and no command, except, “Having done all, stand,” and they stand till God calls them. What,. then, are those considerations or motives that help us to do these things which are so hard in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ? We are His servants, not by a profession, but because we do, and bear, and suffer, as He did that bore and suffered. Listen then--“Be obedient.” To whom was this said? To slaves, the most accursed class of men on earth; subordinated, made the mere pleasure of their masters, denied at every single outlet the full expression of growing manhood. Whatsoever you do, do it heartily. Be glorious men, if you are slaves. But what is the motive? Says the servant, “My master will not understand it. It will not put me forward in the world. Whatever I gain, he will reap.” But the apostle says that you are servants of God. “With goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men; knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, he shall receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.” Take the fulness of that thought of God with you, that you are consecrated to the Lord Jesus Christ, following in His providence, following in His personal knowledge of and love for yourself, believing that from your childhood you have been an object of the paternal thought and care of Christ, in comparison with which ordinary parental care is poor and pale. (H. W. Beecher.)
The Christian’s conflict
I. Men fight with that which opposes their real or fancied interests. We can ill brook anything which interferes with what we believe to be our advantage or our good. There is ever a disposition to contend with such a thing, and subdue it or remove it. This is seen in daily life. How varied are the supposed interests of men; some of them noble, and some of them ignoble; some of them meritorious, and some of them worthless. One seems to believe that his chief good consists in the acquisition of worldly riches; and what efforts he makes--what conflicts he goes through with external difficulties, trials, and disappointments in order to secure them. He fights with circumstances, struggles with hindrances, until, perhaps, he conquers and gains his end. Another has his soul bent on pleasure, the mere sensual or sensuous enjoyment of his being, and thinks the interest of his manhood lies there. What shifts he will make, what measures he will adopt, what sacrifices he will endure to reach his desires, and to steep his soul in his delights. He contends with the barriers of time and place, until he overcomes. Another is fired with the nobler enthusiasm for knowledge, and how often have we heard of its pursuit under difficulty, so that he who finds his enjoyment or interest lie in that direction, will contend with outward hindrances and obstacles, and even fight with the laws which should rule his own physical system, that he may climb the steeps of literature, or repose in the bowers of science. Another still bends his mind to business, and prostrates his manhood at the shrine of commerce. And if health is lost, what efforts and means are used to regain this highest temporal blessing. There will be a fight with climate, locality, and all the circumstances of abode, in order to subdue disease, and reach convalescence. It is, then, natural for men thus to fight with whatever appears to interfere with their advantage, or to stand in the way of their interests; and in proportion to the estimated value and importance of the interest or advantage involved, will be the keenness of the conflict, the eagerness of resistance or aggression, and the strength of the desire to overcome the difficulty of the position. It is not in human nature for a man to be stoical and passive when his prospect is darkened, his interest assailed, or his happiness at stake. This general truth will aid us in advancing to consider the highest conflict in which we can engage.
II. Man’s highest interests are assailed and endangered and therefore he ought to fight. These highest interests do not lie in the acquisition of worldly wealth, nor in the attainment of human wisdom. They consist in his relation to God, to moral law, and to a future state. And these interests are constantly assailed. Our relation to the Divine Being is assailed by the devil. Such is his hostility to God, that his highest aim is to secure our disobedience, disloyalty, and rebellion, in order that Jehovah may be dishonoured and defied, and that we may be spiritually destroyed. Our relation to moral law is assailed by the flesh--exciting us to transgression, moral disorder, and slavish obedience--thus deadening our spiritual sensibility, debasing our spiritual affections, and degrading our moral nature. Our relation to the future state is assailed by the world--blinding us by its fashions and its follies, its pomps and its pageantry, to the glories of the heavenly and the grand realities of the life to come. Its tendency is to lead us to forget the future in the present, to forget the eternal in the temporal and the transient, to forget the spiritual in the carnal and the material. Thus, I say, we are beset, thus our true interests are endangered, and our safety demands a conflict. It is true that Satan is our chief foe, and that he’ uses the world and the flesh in his assaults upon our manhood; but it is well to look at them separately that we may see our danger, and gird ourselves to fight. Yet, alas! how many are on the devil’s side--on the side of the world and of the flesh--carried away by the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. They do not see where their true interests lie, and they do not fight. Anxious, it may he, to overcome hindrances to material success and temporal prosperity, yet they mistake the true “battle of life.”
III. The Christian alone realizes the true interests of manhood and hence he only fights. This, in fact, my brethren, is the great distinction between him and the unbeliever, or the mere man of the world. He cannot be a Christian who does not fight. He cannot be safe who does not fight. He cannot yet have realized or apprehended the highest interests of his being who does not see his danger and fight. He cannot be on the Lord’s side who does not resist the devil and fight against sin.
IV. This conflict is spiritual and must be fought in the soul. It is manifestly spiritual, for it arises from the nature and necessities of our spiritual and moral being. It is not a struggle with mere outward difficulties and physical circumstances, but with that which has introduced all suffering and wretchedness into the world, which makes man’s life a pilgrimage of sorrow to the grave. The conflict is with sin, whether it comes in the shape of satanic temptation, worldly influence, or fleshly lust. Hence the soul is the arena, and the battle must be fought within.
V. The issue of this conflict is certain and will be glorious. Of its issue there is no doubt; victory is sure to all who persevere.
1. There is a glorious Commander and Captain. Christ is not only wise and skilful, able to cope with the cunning, and to meet the might of our fees; but He has Himself conquered, and in conquering them has destroyed their power. “The prince of this world is cast out.” “Be of good cheer,” says the Saviour, “I have overcome the world.”
2. There are sufficient spiritual weapons; armour which God has provided, adapted to the various aspects of the conflict, and the various stratagems of our foes.
3. And there is promised victory--“The God of peace shall bruise Satan under our feet” (Romans 16:20). The flesh may be “crucified,” and the world may be “overcome.” Christ has conquered for all the soldiers of the Cross serving under Him, and thus through Him that loved us we shall be more than conquerors. (James Spence, M. A.)
Standing in the evil day
There are, however, seasons of special trial occurring all along the march of the pilgrim soldier which he may peculiarly regard as to him the “evil day.”
1. Amongst these you will doubtless recognize times of spiritual despondency. All believers are subject to more or less of fluctuation in their religious experience. Constitutional differences give tone to religious character.
2. A time of spiritual declension and worldliness in the Church may also be regarded as an “evil day.” The spirit of piety in the Church is always far below the proper standard, but there are times when it sinks even much lower than the ordinary level. How often did the God of Israel chide and chasten His ancient people for their rebellion, disobedience, idolatry, and ingratitude; and the Church now, unhappily, too much resembles that of the former and the darker dispensation. There is a winter season in Zion as well as in the natural world, and these winters are sometimes long and dreary. Few flowers and fruits are seen, few days of sunshine; a universal torpor prevails, and under the chilling blasts even the soldiers of the Cross are found sleeping at their posts; the army of salvation seems almost frozen in its onward march.
3. More evil still than this, however, is the day when the believer actually backslides, and falls into open sin,
4. A time of absence from your home, or of changing your place of abode, may also prove an “evil day.” We are much more the creatures of circumstances, even in our religion, than most of us are wont to believe.
5. Turn next to the survey of the “evil day” when false doctrine prevails.
6. We must not omit to turn our attention also to the evil day of rebuke and persecution.
7. Last of all, may we not regard the day of death as in some aspects an evil day? (J. Leyburn, D. D.)
It is a noble thing for a man, with a chastened ambition, restrained within due bounds by a wise reason, to aspire to achievements, and, when the potency to achieve is demonstrated, it is still more heroic for such a man, if it be the will of God, to fold his wings and stand still, and let those achievements go by. I wonder that some of the old music has been suffered to die out. I have always wondered why that song, “The Captive Knight,” should have gone into disuse. A returning crusader, in crossing a hostile territory, was seized by some nobleman, and thrown into a castle prison. After a time, on some bright morning, he hears the sound of distant music, which comes nearer and nearer; and soon the flash of the spears is seen; and by and by the banners appear; and at last he sees men approaching whom he recognizes as his old companions, with whom he has breasted the war in a thousand battles. As they draw still nearer and nearer, he can distinguish their countenances; and he calls out from his tower to them, again and again; but the music covers the sound of his voice, and they pass on and on, and finally the last one disappears, the banners gleam no more, and the music dies in his ear, and he is left alone to perish in his prison! There are thousands of captive knights in this world who see their companions passing by with the glories and honours of life, while they are in prison and cannot stir; and to them comes the message of our text, “Having done all, stand.” Stand still, and be patient, and be as manly and as noble, in standing still, as you fain would have been in attainment and achievement. (J. Leyburn, D. D.)
The damager of reaction
For as long as we find it true that danger and defeat may be nearest just in the hour when victory seems completest, as long as we see it the ease that men who have conquered in the greatest temptations may live to fall a prey to the meanest--so long there is room for the message, “Having done all, brethren, take heed that ye stand.”
I. First, then, let us take the class of cases which the admonition suits.
1. I think, then, in the first p]ace, you may look at the text in connection with religious profession, that is, the public acknowledgment which a soul makes of Christ, its openly-expressed resolution to wear His name, to carry His Cross, and to support His cause. But everything is not won, though this be won, and “having done all,” in this matter, see that ye “stand.”
2. So again, we might apply the text to the case of religious attainment. It would be pleasant to believe that the Christian life is always a life of progress, ever unfolding, as the years go on, from good to what is better, and from what is better to what is best, till the Master says to each at the close of it, “Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful unto death.” But there is no such necessary or infallible development as this. The mystery lies here, that even where sanctification has actually taken place, there are instances permitted in which the power and achievements of grace seem rather to diminish than increase with time. The life seems to taper off and deteriorate as it nears the close. Laden with the traditions of a good fight that has been foughten well, and won right valiantly, rich in the memories of service that has been bravely rendered and signally owned, such a life has after all been permitted to end in insignificance, selfishness, peevishness, or worse.
3. Or, again, take the case of religious privileges. And there is no better illustration at this point than the illustration afforded by Communion seasons; for the right use and enjoyment of these imply that temptations have been withstood, surrenders accomplished, and victories won. Thus, in preparing for the service contemplated, you settled down to examine yourselves and your life; and in so doing you won a victory over self. In taking part in the service itself, you found your perplexities removed, your faith confirmed, and your love elicited, till you felt you could clasp the truth, and lean on a truth-keeping Christ, and in so doing you won a victory over doubt. Life’s business was hushed, life’s cares were shut out, life’s temptation were withdrawn, as you cast your care on Him who careth for you; and, in the very experience, you won the victory over the world. I take such a season as this at its purest and highest, and suppose that the heart has fetched from it the very best its enjoyments and lessons can yield, in elevation of feeling, in sanctification of life. And here we may say, as before, the soul in a sense has “done all.” “Be it so,” is the message of the text to you, “now take heed to yourself, that having done all, you may stand.’’
II. And now let us pass from the cases which the admonition suits, to the reasons on which the admonition is based. And let us ask for a little why it is specially necessary that those who have thus done all, in the way of religious profession, religious attainment, and religious privilege, should be warned, “Take heed that ye stand.” Brethren, the hour of triumph has its dangers by the operation of a very natural law. There is the peril of reaction in grace, as there is the peril of reaction in most other spheres.
1. For one thing, it is so easy to presume on the extent of our victory, and hence the tendency to security.
2. It is also easy to presume on the permanency of what has been done, and hence the tendency to sloth.
III. And now, let us mark some of the practical counsels with which the admonition may be accompanied.
1. Watch; that is one safeguard--“Happy is he who feareth always!” Fear, lest in the thrill of success the head begins to reel and the feet begin to slip, and it prove true of a spiritual victory, as it continually holds true of temporal successes, that the prosperity of the unwary shall slay them. And fear, not only in the day when a past conflict has elated you, but in the day when, as is sometimes the case, a past conflict has depressed you.
2. And work, as well as watch. Because you have engaged in one kind of Christian activity, and completed it with success, earning the thanks of your fellows in the Church, the approval of your conscience, the “well done” of your God--do not consider yourself absolved, but straightway set your face to another--whatsoever is nearest you in Providence; and if nothing is near, then go in diligent search for it.
3. And, lastly, pray. Let no task be done, let no temptation be vanquished, let no grace be attained, without their result in an increase of prayer. (W. A. Gray.)
The Christian warrior
I. First, we are to consider the Christian resisting--“That ye may be able to withstand in the evil day.” “In the evil day.” This expression may be understood of the whole course of our life militant here upon earth; as if the entire term of our continuance here might be described as one long and cloudy day. Such an estimate of life we find the patriarch Jacob formed, when he says--“Few and evil have the days of my life been.” In the present passage, however, it is better, perhaps, to take the apostle’s meaning in a more restricted sense. He lived in troublous times. This very letter was dated from a prison; and in the fifth chapter we find him exhorting his Ephesian converts to walk circumspectly, assigning as a reason, that they must redeem the time, “because the days are evil.”
1. But let us note more particularly some of those passages of our life which, unless we be well fortified with our Christian armour, will prove an evil day to us. Thus there is the day of sickness. In one sense this is always an evil day. It may not be so ultimately, but it must be so in our first experience of it.
2. Again, the day of adversity is an evil day. This, too, is a day which will try the temper of every part of our spiritual armour.
3. So also the day of temptation is an evil day. Temptation is a sore evil in itself; but it is more so from the evil which it developes and brings to light. There are evils in the hearts of all of us which we know not of until temptation discovers them to us.
4. Once more: among the evil days against which we should provide this spiritual armour, we may well suppose the apostle to mean the day of our death.
II. But we come to the second part of our text, which sets before us the Christian conquering--“Having done all, to stand.” This shows us, first, that religion is not a thing of speculation, not a mere matter of creeds and doctrines, but a system of principles to be acted upon, a set work to be done. “To stand.” This expression may be interpreted in two or three ways. First, it may be taken, that by this armour we shall be enabled to stand fast in our Christian profession to the end of our days; that as soldiers of the Cross we shall stand by our colours to the last, resisting Christians, conquering Christians, even on the last field of temptation, and on the bed of death itself. In this attitude we find Paul representing himself to Timothy, when seeing the hour of his departure was at hand. Again, by the expression, “stand,” the apostle no doubt means that the conquering Christian shall be accounted worthy to stand before the Son of Man. In this sense he writes to the Colossians: “That ye stand perfect and complete in the will of God.” Now, without having endured the hardness, and done the work, and put on the armour of the Christian soldier, it is certain that in the great judgment we never can stand. Once more: the apostle’s expression may be interpreted of our standing as glorified spirits in the presence of God. He who stands fast in the conflict, and stands acquitted in the judgment, shall have, as the recompense of his toils, and as the reward of victory, to stand eternally in glory. “Go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.” (D. Moore, M. A.)
Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.
The duty of Christian soldiers
1. We must be of a valorous courageous mind against all our enemies.
2. We must be careful to abide in our place, where our Lord has set us.
3. We must be watchful, and stand upon our defence against our enemy.
4. We must persevere. (W. Gouge.)
The Christian standing upon the watch
How must the Christian stand upon his watch?
I. Constantly. The lamp of God in the tabernacle was to “burn always” (Exodus 27:20; Exodus 30:8); that is, always in the night, which sense is favoured by several other places. And I pray, what is our life in this world but a dark night of temptation? Take heed, Christian, that thy watch candle go not out in any part of this darksome time, lest thy enemy come upon thee in that hour. He can find thee, but not thou resist him in the dark; if once thy eye be shut in a spiritual slumber thou art a fair mark for his wrath; and know, thou canst not be long off thy watch, but the devil will hear of it.
1. Watch thy whole man. The honest watchman walks the rounds, and compasseth the whole town. He doth not limit his care to this house or that. So do thou watch over thy whole man. A pore in thy body is a door wide enough to let in a disease, if God command; and any one faculty of thy soul, or member of thy body, to let in an enemy that may endanger thy spiritual welfare. Alas, how few set the watch round! some one faculty is not guarded, or member of the body not regarded. He that is scrupulous in one, you shall find him secure in other; may be thou settest a watch at the door of thy lips, that no impure communication offends the ears of men; but how is the “Lord’s watch” kept at the temple door of thy heart? (2 Chronicles 23:6.) Is not that defiled with lust? Thou perhaps keepest thy hand out of thy neighbour’s purse, and foot from going on a thievish errand to thy neighbour’s house; but does not thy envious heart grudge him what God allows him?
2. Watch in everything. Let there be no word or work of thine over which thou art not watchful. Thou shalt be judged by them, even to thy idle words and thoughts; and wilt thou not have care of them?
1. Begin at the right end of your work, Christian, by placing your chief care about those main duties to God and man, in His law and gospel, in His worship, and in thy daily course, which when thou hast done, neglect not the circumstantials. Should a master, before he goes forth, charge a servant to look to his child, and trim his house up handsomely against he comes home, when he returns will he thank his servant for sweeping his house and making it trim, as he bid him, if he find his child, through his negligence, fallen into the fire, and by it killed or crippled? No, sure, he left his child with him as his chief charge, to which the other should have yielded, if both could not be done. There hath been a great zeal of late among us, about some circumstantials of worship; but who looks to the little child, the main duties of Christianity, I mean. Was there ever less love, charity, self-denial, heavenly-mindedness, or the power of holiness in any of its several walks, than in this sad age of ours? Alas! these, like the child, are in great danger of perishing in the fire of contention and division, which a perverse zeal in less things hath kindled among us.
2. Be sure thou art watchful more than ordinary over thyself in those things where thou findest thyself weakest, and hast been oftenest foiled. The weakest part of the city needs the strongest guard, and in our bodies the tenderest part is most observed and kept warmest. And I should think it were strange, if thy fabric of grace stands so strong and even that thou shouldst not soon perceive which side needs the shore most, by some inclination of it one way more than another. Thy body is not so firm, but thou findest this humour over-abound, and that part craze faster than another; and so mayest thou in thy soul. Well, take counsel in the thing, and what thou findest weakest, watch most carefully. (W. Gurnall, M. A.)
At the critical moment in the battle of Waterloo, when everything depended on the steadiness of the soldiery, courier after courier kept dashing into the presence of the Duke of Wellington, announcing that, unless the troops at an important point were immediately relieved or withdrawn, they must yield before the impetuous onsets of the French. By all of these the Duke sent back the same spirit stirring message, “Stand firm!” “But we shall perish!” remonstrated the officer. “Stand firm!” again answered the iron-hearted chieftain. “You’ll find us there!” rejoined the other, as he fiercely galloped away. The result proved the truth of his reply, for every man of that doomed brigade fell, bravely fighting at his post.
Girt about with truth.
The girdle of truth
1.Different kinds of truth.
2. The kind of truth here mentioned embraces each and all of these branches.
3. The fitness of the comparison of truth to a girdle.
4. Reasons for desiring truth.
(a) It makes us like God.
(b) It is a kind of perfection in all Christian graces.
5. The devil will try to wrest truth from us.
6. The more truth is opposed, the faster we should cling to it. Let us do with this and other pieces of spiritual armour, as men do with their cloaks, which cover their bodies; if the wind blow hard against them, they will so much the faster and closer hold their cloaks. Even so, the more Satan strives to deprive us of our spiritual robes, the more careful and steadfast ought we to be in keeping them. In particular, for this girdle of verity, it is so much the more highly to be accounted of by us, who are the Lord’s faithful soldiers, by how much the less reckoning is made thereof by the greater number of people. (William Gouge.)
The girdle seems to have been intended for three purposes.
1. To bind the garments, which were of a loose and flowing description, and which would have hindered the warrior.
2. To give support to the loins, amid the fatigues of war or toil.
3. To defend the heart, etc. Toe military girdle was especially designed for this.
I. The nature and importance of the girdle. Now observe, it is “truth” which is recommended.
1. There must be doctrinal truth in the understanding and judgment, in opposition to error.
2. There is the experimental truth of the gospel, in opposition to mere formality in religion.
3. There is the truth of profession in opposition to temporizing neutrality.
4. There is the truth of sincerity, in opposition to guile and dissimulation.
II. Let us consider the means necessary to be employed in carrying out the recommendation of the text. If we would have our loins girt, etc.--
1. Let us take care to be enriched with the truths of God’s holy Word.
2. Let us keep prominently before us the Divine model of truth.
3. We must pray for the constant aid of the Spirit of truth. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Stand, girt about with truth
“Stand.” Being repeated from Ephesians 6:13, it demands attention. It is put in opposition--
1. To turning the back as a coward.
2. To breaking, as a disorderly soldier.
3. To rash impetuosity.
4. To an indolent lying down.
“Girt about.” Warriors had broad girdles, in which plates of iron, brass, or silver, were put for defence. “With truth.”
I. Of doctrine.
II. Of sincerity.
I. Show how the doctrines of truth strengthen the minds of believers against their enemies.
1. Sin is the worst of evils. This doctrine in the heart has led men--To abstain from the most alluring pleasures. Joseph. To refuse the greatest honours. Moses. To face the greatest dangers. The martyrs. To give up the most profitable pursuits. Zaccheus. To submit to the greatest trials (Micah 7:8-9).
2. Justification is freely by grace, through the redemption of Christ.
3. Christ has conquered all the enemies of His people.
4. God has promised to be with His people in, to carry them through all their trials, and to make them more than conquerors.
5. There is a state of eternal rest, happiness, and glory, prepared for God’s elect.
II. Show how the truth of sincerity strengthens the mind against enemies. As to our mistakes in life. “I did wrong, but not designedly.” As to our hypocrisy. “I have hypocrisy, but I hate it.” As to our love of Christ, though we have sinned against Him. “Thou knowest that I love Thee.” As to the slanders of our enemies. “I bless God they are not true.” Remarks:
1. God’s true doctrines are not indifferent, or merely speculative. Is it indifferent? Is it speculation, whether so and so?
2. An hypocritical formalist is the mere carcase of a Christian.
3. The benefit of hearing, like that of eating, is to be seen in our respective callings. (H. J. Foster.)
The place thus assigned by the apostle to truth in the spiritual armour is one well deserving our notice. As the whole dress of the actual warrior, however well fitted for the fight, would be useless, nay, would but encumber him and lead to defeat, without the girdle which is to keep all together, so will it be with the spiritual warrior, if he be not girt about with truth. This one quality is necessary, in order for his Christian character to hold together and to be of any service in the work which it has to do. Let us to day mediate on this fact, and apply it to our own times and duties. It is obvious that the word truth, as here used, does not mean truth in the object, i.e., the truth of the gospel, the verities of redemption; but truth in the subject, i.e., that which we as commonly call truthfulness; a quality within the man himself. And this “truthfulness,” or “being true,” is predicated of him not in ordinary things only, but as he is a Christian--in those things which constitute him a Christian warrior. The girdle of the warrior’s panoply would naturally be a girdle fitted for warfare; of the strength, and material, and pattern, of the rest of his armour. We should not perhaps be far wrong, were we to call the whole system of many men’s thoughts, an elaborate and skilful concealment of truth. The saying of the cunning diplomatist, that “words were given us to conceal our thoughts,” might be carried even further; we might add, “and thoughts to conceal ourselves.” There is within many a man a deep gulf down which he dares not look steadily; a chasm between his present and his future, over which he too often weaves a web of self-flatteries and conventionalities, false, and known to be false; and this continues for days and years, till like him who repeats another’s jest till he fancies it his own, the soul cheats itself into a kind of half-belief that the wretched fiction is true; he has firmly shut his eyes so long, that they refuse to open; and the man sits down self-deceived, with weaknesses ignored, sins forgotten, dangers unguarded against. And so time flits away, and the awful form of eternity grows nearer and larger, while the wretched man is playing with truth--priding himself on virtues he never possessed, congratulating himself on safety from faults into which he falls every day--an accomplished actor in a life, which at last God proves to him to be no stage, but a stern reality--no place for dressing up of images, but a discipline in the service of truth. O what shall such an one do, when first it is said to him by God, “The world is no longer for thee, nor thou for the world; hitherto thou hast veiled thyself admirably--now thou must see thyself, and be seen, as thou art”? Where shall he carry for propitiation the elaborate uselessness of a life--where the studied blindness of years of light--where the self-sought condemnation of misused providences and opportunities of amendment scorned? How shall he, racked with pain, or paralyzed with dread, or confused with the importunity of this world’s matters, call back that sweet Spirit of truth, which it has been the effort of his life to drive away? O my friends, let us be true, let us be true to ourselves! And in the endeavour, let us not forget how subtle a thing is self-deceit. Let me conclude by reminding you of the great motive to truth, which should be ever before us as Christians. We serve Him who is “the Father of Lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Before Him all things are naked and open. No falsehood, be it ever so elaborately and skilfully devised, can escape Him; all such are not only seen through by Him now, but will be one day unsparingly laid bare at His tribunal, and forever put to shame. And further, “Of His own will begat He us by the word of truth.” It was the searching, probing Word of His truth which first laid open to us ourselves, and began our new life in the Spirit. In harmony with the word of that truth must our whole spiritual life be led. Our blessed Lord, whose we are by purchase of His blood, came into the world to bear witness to the truth; and every one of us is here for the same purpose. (Dean Alford.)
The girdle of truth
I. Now, here, the first thing which calls for our notice is the posture of the militant Christian--“stand.” We have the same word in the last verse, you will remember, but evidently not used in the same sense or in the same connection; for in that case the reference was evidently to the final perseverance of the Christian, standing victorious on the last field of temptation, standing unblameable amid the spotless purities of the heavenly state, standing in his lot of glory, honour, and immortality at the end of the days. But here the word is referred, not to a warfare finished, but to a warfare just beginning; and the apostle wants to show us how the soldier is to bear himself when he goes forth to “fight under Christ’s banner against sin, the world, and the devil,” and he begins by telling him “to stand.”
1. The expression is to be taken first, no doubt, as opposed to cowardice, to fainting, to a dishonourable and inglorious retreat. “Whom resist, steadfast in the faith.”
2. Again: this exhortation to “stand,” is opposed to all irregularity and disorder, and unwarranted license on the part of the Christian Soldier. “If any man strive for the mastery, he will not be crowned unless he strive lawfully.” There are fixed rules for this great conflict, and by them we must abide. Here, then, we have another rule for our Christian warfare. We must not only stand firm, but we must stand in our place, stand faithfully to the duties of that place. “Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called.” It always betrays an impatience of soldierly discipline when we would rather be doing anybody else’s work than our own.
3. And then, once more, we may interpret the meaning of the word “stand” as opposed to sloth, and negligence, and carnal security. Standing is the attitude of a man awake, watching, prepared for the coming of the enemy at even, at morning, or at cock crow, or at noonday. Every Christian soldier is a sentinel.
II. But I pass on to the second part of this military posture, in which we have also an important part of the soldier’s defensive armour. “Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth.” The term, perhaps, is rather to be taken in reference to a deportment of undissembled uprightness and sincerity, an honest walk before God and rain, a nourishing of our souls daily with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. But here it is necessary to define what kind of sincerity the apostle is speaking of; for it must not be forgotten that there is a natural truthfulness and sincerity of character which may be put on by a man who never wore a piece of the Christian armour in his life, an open-hearted, noble frankness of disposition which would scorn the meanness of falsehood, and loathe the very semblance of deception. And, brethren, let me not be thought to speak disparagingly of this quality. As a natural quality, there is none more beautiful. But still it is a natural quality, and nothing more. If a spiritual direction be given to it, or if a spiritual principle be engrafted upon it, it may bring forth the fruit of evangelical sincerity. But at present it is a mere accident of the natural man; having neither the grace of God for its source, nor the glory of God for its aim. It is a girdle of ornament for the world, but not a belt of strength for the battle. What, then, is the girdle with which the apostle would have us bind up our loins? Why, it is the girdle of gospel integrity and uprightness; the simplicity of an eye single and a heart one for God; that Nathanael-like truthfulness of spirit, which will neither make excuse, nor seek excuse, but which bids us make a hearty, entire, unreserved surrender of ourselves to God and His service--our wills to obey, our hands to work, our life to glorify, our hearts to love, our lips to praise. “Our rejoicing is this,” says the apostle, “that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.” But the analogy of the Oriental girdle would make us look for some special use in this part of the Christian attire. The girdle was used for strength, and by means of it the loins were stayed, invigorated, and the soldier fitted either for fight or march. So, also, with the grace of Christian sincerity; it establishes, strengthens, settles the Christian in his whole course. It keeps the loose and vagrant arms of the soul fixed on one uniform and unvarying object, binding up the affections with unity of purpose and with a bond of strength. Brethren, a divided heart, like a divided kingdom, hath no strength in it. “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” But then I have said that the girdle was a comely and graceful part of Oriental attire; and this would suggest the idea of Christian sincerity as having a place among the more attractive parts of the Christian character. And the Scripture supports this view. There is, perhaps, no spiritual grace upon which Heaven looks more approvingly; none to which more comprehensive promises are attached. Why was Caleb singled out for the honourable distinction of entering the promised land, but because he followed the Lord fully and with a perfect heart? Why has the name of Nathanael come down to us with such marked commendation, but that “he was an Israelite indeed, in whose spirit there was no guile”? And now, having seen the great importance of this part of the Christian armour, whenever through grace we have been enabled to put it on, let us endeavour to ascertain our own possession of this grace, by looking at some of its practical characteristics. Thus, if our loins be girt about with truth, there will be something of uniformity in our religious life. The conduct of a Christian man is one in all its parts. His life is a great unity. Another characteristic of this evangelical truth will be a great searching of heart in the ordering of our religious exercises; and will be seen in the honesty with which we search out what our own desires are, and endeavour to prove their conformity to the will of God. Too many of us, it is to be feared, speak to God with an untruthful, double heart. And, lastly, it will be a certain characteristic of our possessing this evangelical girdle, that we are really in earnest about the matter of our salvation. A sincere man must be an earnest man; earnest with God, earnest with himself. (D. Moore, M. A.)
The girdle of truth
Brace yourselves up with “truth”--for the energy and power of religion lies there. The word “truth” appears to me, here, to have three meanings. Reality--that is, sincerity of character; soundness and correctness of doctrine; and veracity of tongue and uprightness of life. Let me begin with reality. The real in everything is “the true” in everything. You must have great views of “truth”; you must have practical views of “truth”; you must have personal views of “truth.” The texture of “the girdle” must be of the whole “truth” of God. And what is “the whole truth of God”? Now, a that “truth” lies within the Godhead--in the Holy and Blessed Trinity--it is thus: “God the Father, loving with an everlasting love, and electing by His grace, gives sinners to Jesus. Jesus, in equal love, dies to reconcile them to God, and purchases for them everlasting life. Then, ascending to heaven, Jesus gives them to the Holy Ghost, that He, sanctifying them, may make them fit for the heaven which Jesus has already given them. So “truth” lies encircled in the provinces and attributes of the Trinity. This, then, is God’s “truth.” Now, a very few words remain for man’s “truth” to grow out of God’s “truth.” For this is the great argument of “truth”--“truth” in thought--“truth” in word--“truth” in act--that God is “truth.” For if you are not “true,” you are not like God. And if you are not like God, you will never dwell with God. Now, you must begin by being true to yourselves. You must neither affect what you do not feel, nor hide what you do. Neither stimulating nor dissimulating your love and your happiness. You must be a man who acts out a conviction on the spot. And you must keep the solemn engagements you have made--between God and your own heart--very sacredly. You must deal with your own conscience tenderly. And you must not hide from yourself, but confess the real state of your feelings. You must continually remind yourself “whose you are”--what you are--where you are going! And you must cherish the little sparks of Divine feeling--thoughts that come like threads from heaven; and purify your desires; and be always watching and tending She inner life. And to man the believer must be one who can afford to be a transparent man. Nothing concealed; nothing hollow; nothing false; nothing surface. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The Christian’s girdle
An allusion is here made to the military belt, or girdle. It answered two ends. First, it prevented the other garments from being in the way; secondly, it braced and strengthened the loins, around which it was girt. In a word, it rendered all compact and firm. A sincere and hearty attachment to truth has a like effect upon the mind. The man possessed of it is at once decided in his choice, and in his measures. He knows what he has to do, and readily sets about it, without let or hindrance. A double-minded man, who is guided sometimes by principle, and sometimes by interest, is unstable and dilatory in all his ways. He has so many doubts and difficulties, and hopes, and fears, that he can no more move and act with spirit and alertness, than one encumbered with a long flowing vestment, in the folds of which the arms and feet are every moment entangled. The resolutions formed by such a one are weak and feeble, presently shaken and dissolved by every fresh consideration which comes across him. He does nothing, or what is worse than nothing, being generally, in the end, for want of strength and steadiness, carried away to do what he ought not to do. If he knows the truth, he is easily prevailed upon to forsake it for something else. The soldier of this cast will make but a despicable figure in the Christian camp. Above all things, therefore, keep the truth close to you, adhere immovably to it, and “the truth shall make you free”; free to speak, free to act, free--should there be occasion--to suffer. (Bishop Horne.)
Power and beauty of truthfulness
I have noticed in travelling, that when one with a face wrinkled and worn walks into the car, there is not a seat to spare for her; and I have noticed that if one comes in who is young and blooming, of radiant eye and most comely face, there is not one in the car who has not a seat for her. Beauty wins its way. And if it be so in the outward life, which is but a mere shadow of the inward, how much more is it so in the inward! And nothing is more beautiful than duty performed under adverse circumstances. Once let a person be known for that, and men will not willingly lay their hands on him to harm him. If, under all the circumstances of oppression which stir up turbulent streams of strife in our midst, men rendered good for evil, and were humble and benevolent, and did their work sincerely and beautifully and truthfully, they would win against the world, they would win against all hell.
Having on the breastplate of righteousness.--
The breastplate of righteousness
1.The righteousness which is here meant. A powerful work of God’s Spirit in the regenerate, whereby they endeavour to approve themselves unto God and man, by performing what God’s law requires.
2. The fit resemblance of righteousness to a breastplate. It guards the vital parts, and preserves a man from being mortally wounded or killed outright.
3. How righteousness is put on. By the right practice of true repentance.
4. The benefits of righteousness.
1. Learn we what is true righteousness, that we trust not to a counterfeit breastplate and be pierced through while we think ourselves safe.
2. Acquaint we ourselves with the use, end, beauty, benefit, and necessity of righteousness, that we may be the more desirous to get it if we have it not; or, if we have it, the more careful in keeping it fast on, and close to us.
3. Let a daily examination be made of our life past, that of all our former unrighteousness we may truly and soundly repent; and with the true evidences of our former righteousness, our conscience may be comforted in the day of trial.
4. Let there be a holy resolution for the time to come, to walk on in the way of righteousness, without turning to the right hand or to the left. For the better performance of this holy resolution--
I. The nature of the Christian warrior’s breastplate--“Righteousness.” Now that righteousness which is vital and saving, may be considered in three respects; there must be--
1. Relative righteousness.
2. Righteousness of principle.
3. The fruits of righteousness.
II. The protection it affords. This righteousness is of essential and vital importance--
1. When exposed to the accusations of Satan.
2. This breastplate yields peace to the mind, by removing the condemnations of conscience.
3. This will preserve in the fiery trial of the last day.
III. How this breastplate of righteousness is to be obtained. Now, this is to be obtained by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The Christian’s breastplate
I. The figure employed. The skins of beasts were probably the earliest material used to protect the soldier’s body These were soon abandoned for the coat-of-mail, of which there were various kinds. There was the Egyptian cuirass, or coat-of-mail, made of horizontal rows of metal plates, each about one inch in breadth, and fastened together by brass pins. There was the Hebrew “Shiryon,” or coat-of-mail, made of brass, fashioned with scales, or of leather covered with brazen scales. And there was the Greek and Roman cuirass, composed at first of pieces of horn, fastened like feathers upon linen shirts, but afterwards of metallic scales. Sometimes, too, the cuirass was composed of rings hooked into each other: and sometimes of two solid plates, one for the breast and the other for the back, and joined by bands over the shoulders. On the right side of the body the plates were united by hinges; and on the left they were fastened by means of buckles. Such was the ancient cuirass or coat-of-mail. It covered and protected the entire body of the warrior, from the neck to the thigh, and sometimes even to the knees. Thus it is a fit emblem of that which protects the Christian from all the attacks of his foes, whenever and from whatever quarter they may come.
II. The thing signified--“Righteousness.” Holy Scripture speaks of two kinds of righteousness.
1. A righteousness which is of the law.
2. A righteousness which is by faith in Jesus Christ.
Imputed righteousness is the basis of inwrought righteousness. Where the one is not the other cannot be. Until we have come to Christ, and are found in Him, holiness is impossible for us. Holiness of heart and life is the Christian’s breastplate.
III. How, or in what sense, righteousness is a breastplate to the Christian.
1. It is an evidence of his sonship, giving the Christian soldier confidence in his fight with all his spiritual foes.
2. It is a defence against the attacks of foes. (A. C. Price, B. A.)
The breastplate of righteousness
I. Now, first, what is the righteousness of which the apostle speaks? Certainly, it is not the righteousness of the law. Not but that this would be a very good covering, if we could obtain it. Neither, again, is the righteousness of which the apostle here speaks to be identified with evangelical righteousness, or that which is of God by faith, that which is the justifying cause of a sinner’s acceptance, and his title deed to a part in the Christian covenant. Observe, then, that the righteousness which constitutes the believer’s breastplate is the fruit of the Spirit, a principle of the renewed mind, one of those good and perfect gifts which come down from the Father of lights. This, indeed, would follow from the fact, that the armour of which it forms a part is the armour of God, and, therefore, could not be of human acquisition or contrivance. Still, that which only God can give we may improve when it is given; and that part of our defensive weapon which consists in the implanting of right dispositions in the heart, may, if kept bright by daily use, and strengthened by daily prayer, cause the light of our good works to shine before men, and to cast a spiritual radiance over the whole armour of God.
1. Now, in this view, we say, first, that the outward duties of religion form a part of the Christian breastplate.
2. But, further, this breastplate of righteousness is a breastplate of holy principles in the general conduct of life. “As He that hath called you is holy, so be ye holy, in all manner of conversation.” Most conspicuously, however, should this righteousness of the Christian shine forth among those of his own household.
3. Once more, by the breastplate of righteousness the apostle means a breastplate of holy affections. In this sense we have, in using the word in the Epistle to the Thessalonians, the “putting on the breastplate of faith and love.”
II. But I proceed to the second thing proposed, which was to show the necessity of the breastplate as a part of the Christian’s defensive covering. Thus, it is necessary as a protection to the more vital and endangered parts. The breastplate in the military equipment covered the immediate seat of life. It was not for an arm or an inferior member where a wound might be healed, but for a part of the body where a wound would be attended with fatal consequences. So, the righteousness which is here recommended to us by the apostle is to protect a vital part. It is to guard those entrances out of which proceed the issues of life. Observe, then, ye put on this breastplate, because the assaults of Satan are always directed against that which is the very life of the soul. Satan has no war with mere forms of godliness, no contest with those who are satisfied with a name to live, no care to disturb the peace of those who rest in the exemplariness of their conduct, and the rectitude of their lives. His war is with practical holiness. Again, the putting on of this breastplate is necessary as an acknowledged mark of our Christian profession; as something by which we are distinguished from the men of the world. Further, this breastplate is necessary to give us confidence in the hour of distress and danger. Such, brethren, may serve for a description of the Christian’s breastplate. The reason, perhaps, for its entering thus early into the apostle’s account of our spiritual armour, is, that every Christian soldier should be warned at the outset of the uncompromising strictness and holy nature of that service upon which he has entered; that he should be taught that no dexterity he might display, no wielding other weapons, no zeal he might discover in fighting the battles of the living God, would ever compensate for the want of that holiness both in heart and life, without which none shall behold the face of God. Brethren, God can pardon sin, but God cannot look upon sin--cannot look upon a man negligent of holy duties, uninfluenced by holy principles, an utter stranger to holy affections, and yet calling himself by the name of Christian. (D. Moore, M. A.)
The Christian’s breastplate
The breastplate, as its name imports, was a plate of iron, or brass, to secure the breast, and, consequently the heart, and other vital parts, contained within it. As an attachment to truth was denominated a girdle, so by a breastplate is represented a love of righteousness, a consciousness of integrity, in short, what we call a good conscience--“a conscience void of offence,” as the apostle elsewhere speaks, “toward God and toward man.” A good conscience, then, we say, is a breastplate; it gives a holy confidence in God, which breaks the force of such temptations as arise from the fears and terrors of the world, the malice, pride, and envy of mankind. It preserves the heart whole and sound, whatever of this kind may assail it. It is like a warm, comfortable house, into which a man retreats; where he finds good provision, and good company; and hears the storm without, beating upon it in vain. (Bishop Horne.)
The Grecian breastplate was a half-corslet, originally made of hemp twisted into small cords and closely woven together, but in the improvements of art was constructed of iron, brass, and other metals, rendered so hard as absolutely to defy any of the weapons of offensive warfare then known. Plutarch says “that Zoilus an artificer, having made a present of two iron brigandines (breastplates) to Demetrius Poliorcetes, for an experiment of their hardness, caused an arrow to be shot out of an engine called a catapulta, placed about twenty-six paces off, which was so far from piercing the iron that it scarcely razed or made the least impression on it.” The metal was usually highly polished, too, so as to reflect the light, and thus dazzle the eyes and strike terror to the heart of an enemy. Hence a classic writer, speaking of one arrayed in complete panoply, says, that -
“Dressed in his glittering breastplate he appeared,
Frightful with scales of brass.”
You perceive how fitly such a piece of armour illustrates the formidable and protective portion of the panoply with which the believer is here arrayed. Righteousness is the breastplate of the Christian soldier, and a sure defence is it against “the wiles of the devil.” (J. Leyburn, D. D.)
And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.
Shoes of the preparation of the gospel of peace
1.The particular grace which is here meant. The grace itself is comprised under the word “preparation.” It implies a furniture which the gospel of peace procures and prepares; or a heart settled, resolved, and prepared by the gospel of peace, to go on to God through all difficulties. Now, the very grace itself, which thus settles the soul, I take to be patience; for it is, without doubt, the drift and scope of the apostle to arm the Christian soldier against trouble and affliction by this particular piece of spiritual armour here meant: but what grace so fit thereunto as patience?
2. The fitness of the metaphor. The piece of harness whereunto patience is here resembled, is that whereby a soldier’s feet or legs are covered; for feet are here expressed, and the metaphor of being shod implies as much. By “feet” he means legs also: the pieces of armour proper to this purpose are called greaves or leg harness; they are also called soldier’s shoes and boots. The metaphor may either be generally taken of all shoes, or particularly of greaves. We all know the use of shoes is to keep our feet from sharp stones, hard clods, etc.; for our feet are naturally tender, insomuch that if we go abroad barefoot, every hard stone hurts them, every sharp stick and pricking thorn pierces them; therefore we are accustomed not to venture abroad barefoot. If any be so foolhardy as to venture, soon will he wax weary, and either sit down and go no further, or else turn back again. But if we have good boots or shoes on, then we think ourselves well fenced, and so with boldness and courage go on, whatsoever the way be. To apply this: Stones, sticks, thorns, and the like, are not more grievous to our bare feet, than troubles, crosses, and afflictions are to our naked heart and soul. Now then, this world, through which we must pass to heaven, being a very hard and rough way, stony and thorny, full of all sorts of afflictions, if our souls be naked and bare, not fenced with patience, and so fitted and prepared well to endure all crosses, we shall either never venture to enter into this hard way, or at least not endure to hold out therein. But if our souls be thoroughly possessed with sound and true patience, then shall we with undaunted courage pass through all the troubles of this world.
3. How patience is procured. By “the gospel of peace.” The gospel prepares our hearts by declaring
The safety of a mountain climber depends upon being well shod. Therefore the Swiss guides wear heavy shoes, with sharp spikes in the soles. On a bright July morning [says Theo. L. Cuyler], a famous scientist of England started with two gentlemen to ascend the Piz Morteratsch, a steep and lofty snow mountain in Switzerland. Though experienced mountaineers, they took with them Jenni, the boldest guide in that district. After reaching the summit of the Morteratsch, they started back, and soon arrived at a steep slope covered with thin snow. They were lashed together with a strong rope, which was tied to each man’s waist. “Keep carefully in my steps, gentlemen,” said Jenni; “for a false step here might start the snow, and send us down in an avalanche.” He had scarcely spoken when the whole field of snow began to slide down the icy mountain side, carrying the unfortunate climbers with it at a terrible pace. A steeper slope was before them, and at the end of it a precipice. The three foremost men were almost buried in the whirling snow. Below them were the jaws of death. Everything depended upon getting a foothold. Jenni shouted loudly, “Halt, halt!” and with desperate energy drove his iron-nailed boots into the firm ice beneath the moving snow. Within a few rods of the precipice, Jenni got a hold with his feet, and was able to bring the party up all standing, when a few seconds more would have swept them into the chasm. This hairbreadth escape shows the value of being well shod when in dangerous places, especially for the young. No boy is prepared for rough climbing unless he is well shod with Christian principles.
Christians are meant to be steadfast, active, moving, progressing, ascending; hence their feet are carefully provided for. They are feeble in themselves, and need protection; their road also is rough; hence they need the shoe which grace provides.
I. Let us examine the shoes.
1. They come from a blessed Maker. One who is skilful in all arts, and knows by experience what is wanted, since He has Himself journeyed through life’s roughest ways.
2. They are made of excellent material--“the preparation of the gospel of peace.” Well seasoned, soft in wear, lasting long.
3. They are such as none can make except the Lord, who both sends the gospel and prepares the peace.
4. They are such shoes as Jesus wore, and all the saints.
5. They are such as will never wear out; they are old, yet ever new; we may wear them at all ages and in all places.
II. Let us try them on. Observe with delight--
1. Their perfect fitness. They are made to suit each one of us.
2. Their excellent foothold: we can tread with holy boldness upon our high places with these shoes.
3. Their marching powers for daily duty. No one grows weary or footsore when he is thus shod.
4. Their wonderful protection against trials by the way (Psalms 91:13).
5. Their pleasantness of wear, giving rest to the whole man.
6. Their adaptation for hard work.
7. Their endurance of fire and water (Isaiah 43:2).
8. Their fighting qualities.
III. Let us look at the barefooted around us.
1. The sinner is unshod. Yet he kicks against the pricks. How can he hope to fulfil the heavenly pilgrimage?
2. The professor is slipshod, or else he wears tight shoes. His fine slippers will soon be worn out. He loves not the gospel, knows not its peace, seeks not its preparation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The gospel shoe
None can make a shoe to the creature’s foot, so that he shall go easy on a hard way, but Christ; He can do it to the creature’s full content. And how doth He do it? Truly, no other way than by underlaying it; or, if you will, lining it with the peace of the gospel. What though the way be set with sharp stones? if this shoe go between the Christian’s foot and them, they cannot much be felt. It is the soldier’s shoe that is meant, which, if right, is to be of the strongest make, being not so much intended for finery as for defence. The gospel shoe will not come on thy foot so long as that foot is swelled with any sinful humour (I mean any unrighteous or unholy practice). This evil must be purged out by repentance, or thou canst not wear the shoe of peace. The Jews were to eat their passover with their loins girded, their shoes on their feet, and their staff in their hand, and all in haste (Exodus 12:11). When God is feasting the Christian with present comforts, he must have this gospel shoe on; he must not sit down as if he were feasting at home, but stand and eat even as he takes a running meal in an inn on his way, willing to be gone as soon as ever he is a little refreshed for his journey. The conceited professor, who hath a high opinion of himself, is a man shod and prepared, he thinks; but not with the right gospel shoe. He that cannot take the length of his foot, how can he of himself fit a shoe to it? Is not thy shoe, Christian, yet on? art thou not yet ready to march? If thou hast it, what hast thou to dread? Canst fear that any stone can hurt thy foot through so thick a sole? (William Gurnall.)
Paul was thus shod: “I am persuaded, nothing shall separate me from the love of God” (Romans 8:38). “All things, I know, work together for the good of them that are beloved of God” (Romans 8:28). And this furniture made him go such hard ways cheerfully, in which showers of afflictions did fall as thick as hailstones. This doth make God’s children, though not in the letter, yet in some sort, tread upon the adder and the basilisk; yea, to defy vipers, and receive no hurt; whereas, if the feet be bared a little with the absence of this peace, anything causeth us sore smart. (Paul Bayne.)
The shoes of peace
1.The first is, that you must always have “peace”--a “prepared peace”--under your feet, like the “shoes” you tread in--carrying it with you, as the base upon which yon stand. This is what we want--to have God’s “peace” as a foundation--a sure, firm thing under us. Not something which we are to reach by and by; but a fact, a resting point. “Christ is mine! The enmity is gone! I am forgiven!” How strong will be your step! how quiet your journey! how calm your bearing--with this feeling--“I walk in my holy confidence.” “My feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.”
2. The next thing in the illustration is, you must “go”--not only “in peace”--but as a peacemaker.
3. But you may come nearer to Him still. As a servant of the Cross, you are appointed the high work to bring souls to Christ. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The sandals of the Christian soldier
I. First, with regard to the portion of armour spoken of. The covering for the legs, in military equipment, would be most familiarly understood by the name of “greaves,” and the most apt representative to our own minds would be that of a high military boot, made of jointed steel or brass.
1. Having thus glanced at the scope of the apostle’s metaphor, let us look at the word he employs in his illustration. Thus, you will observe, he says it is “the preparation of the gospel.” The gospel--glad tidings, cheering and long looked for intelligence from the court of heaven. “Now,” says the apostle, “here is a preparation for you. Christian traveller, you are going on a trying pilgrimage; Christian soldier, you are about to enter upon an arduous warfare; comfort ye one another with these words--take with you as the companion and solace of all your trials the glorious gospel of the blessed God these tidings from the great Father of your spirits, tidings of mercy, tidings of reconciliation, tidings of assured sympathy and support through all your trials, until through grace you are more than conquerors.” This is to be your preparation, this your stay and stand.
2. But the suitableness of this part of the apostle’s reference will appear further when we look at the next expression--“The gospel of peace.” First, of peace with God. This is all-important to the Christian warrior. Were we about to enter on some long journey, or were we quitting our native shores to enter upon some foreign expedition, how heavy would the thought lie at the heart, that all was not right and happy at home. A man of God, visiting the bedsides of the wounded and dying at the hospital of Scutari, was asked by one, who felt that his hours were numbered, to write a letter to his father. The visitor complied; and having concluded, asked the dying man in what words he should subscribe it--“Your dutiful and affectionate son?” “No, no,” said the dying man, “not dutiful; I never have been a dutiful son; the thought which most agonises my soul at this moment is, that my disobedience and unkindness have well nigh broken my father’s heart.” I quote it to show how essential to the happiness of the Christian soldier it is, that he should go forth with a sense of reconciliation upon his spirit that he should feel his heavenly Father was looking upon him with a pleasant countenance, that his heart should be comforted with the answer of peace. The apostle knew that no soldier could fight happily, or fight well, while there was this load of unpardoned sin lying at his door.
3. But the expression may be taken in reference to another part of gospel preparation equally necessary for the Christian soldier, namely, that we should have peace one with another. “See that ye fall not out by the way,” was the advice of Joseph to his brethren.
II. Let us proceed to our second inquiry: for what is this part of the soldier’s equipment especially designed to prepare us?--this “preparation of the gospel of peace.”
1. Well, first, it is designed to prepare us for active and persevering service. The Israelites had to be well shod, because they had before them a journey of forty years in the wilderness; and yet at the end of that time, we are told, “their shoes waxed not old, neither did their foot swell.”
2. Again: this part of our Christian covering may be designed to prepare us for hidden and unsuspected dangers. The refined cruelty of ancient warfare, as I have said, was to hide traps a little beneath the surface of the earth. We have some remarkable allusions to these things in the Psalms. “In the way I have walked they have privily laid snares for me.” “The proud have hid a snare for me, and have spread a net by the wayside; they have set gins for me.” “In the way where they have laid snares for me is their own foot taken.”
3. Once more: a designed part of this gospel preparation is to prepare us to endure sharp afflictions. The ancient soldier was preserved by his greaves from any fatal injury; but this did not prevent him often encountering those concealed snares, and in encountering them, from enduring much of suffering and pain. (D. Moore, M. A.)
Ready, aye ready
We have here a full-length picture of a Roman soldier, from head to foot. The offensive weapons are mostly omitted, with the exception of the sword; the defensive armour is elaborately and minutely described. And the feet are not to be left out; a soldier’s boots are one of the most important parts of his equipment, as all generals well know, and a Roman soldier’s military shoe was a heavy one, with great hobnails in it, like the spikes in an Alpine climber’s boots, with which he might gain a good grip of the ground, and stand in dogged resistance against any force that might be brought against him. So says Paul, “Let your feet be shod with the preparation,” as our Bible has it, or rather the “preparedness” which would suggest the true meaning better. Preparation is an act, but what is meant here is a state, not an act. “Preparedness,” or readiness, or alacrity, or some such word as that would give the meaning. And this “preparedness,” this condition of being ready for any strain and stress of antagonism that may come upon a man all of a sudden, is to be drawn from “the gospel of peace.” Of course, there is running in the apostle’s mind, though perhaps he did not remember it himself, Isaiah’s words: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace.” But he binds the two ideas of “gospel” and “peace” together, without regard to their location in the original passage. And his thought is just this: Whosoever has got his whole spiritual being based upon the gospel which brings peace, by its message and its gifts, will thereby be ready for any sudden alarm and assault, ready for any duty, and any circumstance that may be sprung upon him unexpectedly, like lightning out of a clear sky. The Christian then is to stand, being made ready in the very basis of his being, because he possesses the gospel in his heart, that brings peace there.
I. Now, the first thing that strikes me about these words as being very beautiful and significant is the combination of the two antagonistic ideas of warfare and peace. It is the soldier’s equipment that comes from this gospel of peace. The apostle evidently thinks that the possession in our souls of that inward peace which comes from the great message and work of Jesus Christ is the best preparation for the fight. “If you want peace prepare for war,” says the heathenish and wicked old motto. If you want war and victory, secure peace in your hearts, is the Christian article of belief. The two things are not compatible, a central repose and a ruffled surface. The frost of a winter’s night goes an inch or two into the ground, but the heart of the globe is a fire. And there may be, all round about us, touching and affecting the surface of our being, distractions enough, distractions of circumstances, of sorrows, of difficulties, many things that are at enmity with joy and with tranquillity, and yet away down in the depths, which are the real man, there may be a stillness as of some land-locked valley that “heareth not the loud winds when they call.” Your feet may be shod for all the warfare, with the readiness that comes from the possession of a general peace. The foes may storm round the little castle, but in the centre of the keep there may be a quiet room, with thick walls and curtains, where no sound of warfare ever reaches.
II. And, then, look at the other thought of how this possession of a heart made tranquil because it is quite sure of its harmonious friendship with God, and because it is not suffering from the dreary emotions of passions and lusts, makes a man ready for anything, beady for the march, ready for the fight. Ready for the march. What is it that hinders us from being prepared for any new duties that may come to us, or any new circumstances that may call for our endurance, but one thing--that our wills have not been submitted to His; and another thing--that we have not “learned to sit loose to this world,” as the old Puritans used to say. Now, whoever has, deep in his heart, the repose that comes from the possession of the gospel of peace, will have these two things also. He will have a will that is bent and bowed to God’s, and he will not hold with such a desperate grip by the things of this present. And so, when new tasks come he will be ready for them, and when the new circumstances emerge out of the darkness they will not take him by surprise, and he will be ready, according to the motto of the old Scotch family, “Ready! aye ready!” His feet will be shod with the alacrity, the quickness to apprehend, and apprehending, to accept any new circumstances that may come to him.
III. How can this preparedness be increased and made habitual? Do not forget, dear brethren, that these words, as they stand in the original, are a commandment We are bidden to put on these marching shoes. It is ours to determine the extent which we shall have the peace that makes ready, and the gospel that brings peace. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
What this preparation is, will best appear by considering the part it is designed for; and that is the foot, the only member in the body to be shod; and the piece of armour it is compared to, and that is the soldier’s shoe, which, if right, is to be of the strongest make, being not so much intended for finery as defence; and that so necessary, that for want of it alone, the soldier, in some cases, is disabled for service; as when he is called to march far on hard ways, and those may be, strewed with sharp stones; how long will ye go, if not shod, without wounding or foundering? or if the way be good, but the weather bad, and his feet not fenced from the wet and cold, they are not so far from the head, but the cold got in them may strike up to that; yea, bring a disease of the whole body which will keep him on his bed when he should be in the field; as many almost are surfeited as slain in armies. Now what the foot is to the body, that the will is to the soul. The foot carries the whole body, and the will the soul; yea, the whole man, body and soul also. Voluntas est locomotiva facultas; we go whither our will sends us. And what the shoe is to the foot, that preparation, or if you please a readiness and alacrity, is to the will. The man whose feet are well shod fears no road, but goes through thick and thin; foul or fair, stones or straws, are all alike to him that is well shod; while the bare-footed man, or slenderly shod, shrinks when he feels the wet, and shrieks when he lights on a sharp stone. Thus, when the will and heart of a man are prompt, and ready to do any work, the man is as it were shod and armed against all trouble and difficulty which he is to go over in the doing of it. They say the Irish tread so light on the ground, that they will ran over some bogs, wherein any other almost would stick or sink. A prepared, ready heart I am sure will do this in a spiritual sense; none can walk where he can run: he makes nothing of afflictions, yea, persecutions, but goes singing over them. David never so merry as in the cave (Psalms 57:1-11); and how came he so? “My heart is prepared, my heart is prepared (saith he), I will sing and give praise.” If David’s heart had not been shod with this preparation, he would not have liked the way so well he was in; you would have had him sing to another tune, and heard him quarrel with his destiny, or fall out with his profession, that had put him to so much trouble, and driven him from the pleasures of a prince’s court, to hide himself underground in a cave from those that hunted for his precious life. He would have spent his breath rather in pitying and bemoaning himself, than in praising of God. An unprepared heart, that is not well satisfied with its work or condition, hangs back; and though it may be brought to submit to it with much ado, yet it is but as a foundered horse on a stony way, who goes in pain every step, and would oft be turning out of the path if bit and whip did not keep him in. But why is it called the “preparation of the gospel of peace”? Because the gospel of peace is the great instrument by which God works the will and heart of man into this readiness and preparation to do or suffer what He calls to. It is the business we are set about, when preaching the gospel, to make a “willing people” (Psalms 110:1-7). “To make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:1-80). As the captain is sent to beat up his drum in a city, to call in a company that will voluntarily list themselves to follow the prince’s wars, and be in a readiness to take the field, and march at an hour’s warning; thus the gospel comes to call over the hearts of men to the foot of God, to stand ready for His service, whatever it costs them; now this it doth as it is a “gospel of peace.” It brings the joyful tidings of peace concluded betwixt God and man by the blood of Jesus; and this is so welcome to the trembling conscience of poor sinners, who before melted away their sorrowful days in a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation from the Lord to devour them as His adversaries, that no sooner the report of a peace concluded betwixt God and them sounds in their ears by the preaching of the gospel, and is certainly confirmed to be true in their own consciences by the Spirit, who is sent from heaven to seal it to them, and give them some sweet gust of it, by shedding abroad the sense of it in their souls; but instantly there appears a new life in them, that they who before were so fearful and shy of every petty trouble, as to start at the thought of it (knowing it could bring no good news to them), are now shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, able to go out smilingly to meet the greatest sufferings that are, or can be on the way towards them, and say undauntingly to them, as once Christ did to those that came with swords and staves to attack Him, “Whom seek ye?” “Being justified by faith we have peace with God,” saith the apostle (Romans 5:1). And this, how mightily doth it work!--even “to make them glory in tribulations.” The words opened afford these two points.
1. It is our duty to be always prepared, and ready to meet with any trial and endure any hardship which God may lay out for us in our Christian warfare.
2. The peace which the gospel brings and speaks to the heart will make the creature ready to wade through any trial or trouble that meets him in his Christian course. (W. Gurnall, M. A.)
The Christian warrior must march, for his career is but a battle and a march, and a march and a battle; he is ever to keep himself in marching order, and ever to be ready to march at a moment’s notice, for his feet are to be strapped in shoes of swiftness. And whence is this promptitude to be derived? From “the gospel of peace,”--or peace the substance of the gospel. For the possession of peace with God creates blessed security of heart, and confers upon the mind peculiar and continuous celerity of action and movement. There is nothing to disconcert or perplex it, or divide and retard its energies. (J. Eadie, D. D.)
Above all, taking the shield of faith with which ye shall be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked.
Faith, the parent grace
“Above all,” that is, over all other graces, because faith is the first grace, and the foundation of all other true graces. Yet the apostle, in this passage, assigns a particular office to faith, namely, that in the exercise thereof, the believer must quench the fiery darts of the wicked.
1. By fears raised up in the mind of the believer, Satan endeavours to annoy him; and he is very busy at his work, and often too successful.
2. Another of Satan’s fiery darts is doubt or suspicion.
3. Again, by the fiery darts of profane thoughts Satan tempts the servants of Christ. (S. Walker, M. A.)
The preeminence of faith
That piece of the panoply now brought to view is of special importance, as the apostle’s language would seem to designate. “Above all” the shield must be secured, whatever other part might be neglected. Not that the apostle means in any manner to disparage other portions of the panoply. Each piece of armour is not only possessed of peculiar qualities for its own appropriate place, but all are necessary in order to the completeness of the whole. Still, though the girdle, the breastplate, the sandals, the helmet, and the sword, may neither be dispensed with entirely, nor their places supplied by any substitute whatever, some one piece of the panoply may be endowed with a preeminence over the rest, because of its peculiar relations to all of them, and to the entire Christian man. Now, it is this position we understand the apostle as assigning to the shield of faith. There are special reasons for its preeminence, which lead him to enjoin it upon the soldier of the Cross, “above all,” to put on this piece of armour. For, first, faith may be called an elementary grace of the Christian character. It is that act of the mind by which we are enlisted into the army of salvation. “He that believeth shall be saved.” Wanting this we cannot be accepted, “for without faith it is impossible to please God.” “He that cometh to God, must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” The sonship in the spiritual family is also bestowed upon them that believe. Now, if by faith we are saved, we please God, we approach Him with acceptance, we are adopted as His children, we need not wonder at the language of the apostle when he says, “Above all, taking the shield of faith.” Faith, also, must be taken “above all,” because it affords nutriment and strength to all other graces. It is the connecting link between the soldier and his Divine Master; it is the bond of union between the vine and the branches, through which is supplied that vital influence by which fruit is produced and matured. Faith is also a grace which, “above all,” greatly honours God. It is that which leads the soul to forsake every other reliance, and rest solely upon the Divine arm as its helper. The shield is an implement without which no ancient soldier would have been regarded as properly arrayed for battle. The ancient shields were usually made of wood, covered with brass or some other metal. In rare instances they were entirely of brass, or even of gold, as were those of Solomon. Of the shield there were two varieties; one a smaller and lighter article which could be easily handled, so as to protect any part of the person. This description was commonly used by cavalry. The other was so large as effectually to conceal the soldier. It formed a complete protection, was generally in use amongst foot soldiers, and from this the imagery of the apostle is undoubtedly derived. This metallic shield could defy the “fiery darts,” or arrows, which, taking fire in their flight, would pierce and consume a mere wooden fabric. A material incombustible and indestructible by such darts was indispensable to safety. The warrior whose shield was of brass could stand where the blazing storm was falling thickest, and advance to the assault fearless of harm. Be assured, reader, that in the provisions of grace there is offered to you a shield impenetrable and imperishable, one which can be borne everywhere in your march, which will cover all your panoply and yourself, affording complete protection against the showers of fiery darts hurled at you either from this or the unseen world. This implement is furnished in that grace to which the apostle assigns a position “above all “others; it is the shield of faith. A fundamental office of faith, therefore, is to transfer to the Christian soldier the meritorious work which the Captain of his salvation has performed in his behalf, and to make this to him for a shield. How simple, and yet how suitable and glorious a piece of armour, then, have we here! Sinai may flash its lightnings and roll its deep thunders, the gates of hell may vent their rage; Satan and his allies may hurl their storms of fiery darts; but the humble soldier of the Cross shall still hold on his heavenward way unharmed, because by Divine grace he has taken to himself the shield of faith, wherewith he is able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
2. Faith performs another of its important orifices as a shield, by presenting to its possessor both temporal and eternal things in something of their real and relative value.
3. This shield of the Christian warrior also performs its office by protecting the soldier against the direct power of temptation.
4. The shield of faith also subserves a most important purpose by making ready the spiritual soldier for great enterprises. (J. Leyburn, D. D.)
The shield of faith
Bishop Wilson (of Calcutta) describing his introduction to the Lords of Jeypore, says, “They were in most splendid dresses, each with his round shield, sword, and dagger. I begged to look at one of their shields; they made me a present of it instantly. I replied that I was a minister of peace; and taking out my Greek Testament, and handing it to them, said, ‘That is my shield.’”
The shield of faith
Like the Spartans, every Christian is born a warrior. It is his destiny to be assaulted; it is his duty to attack.
I. Expound the metaphor.
1. Faith, like a shield, protects us against attack. Different kinds of shields were used by the ancients, but there is a special reference in our text to the large shield which was sometimes employed. I believe the word which is translated “shield” sometimes signifies a door, because their shields were as large as a door. They covered the man entirely. You remember that verse in the Psalms which exactly hits the idea, “Thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous, with favour wilt Thou compass him as with a shield.” As the shield enveloped the entire man, so, we think faith envelopes the entire man, and protects him from all missiles wherever they may be aimed against him. You will remember the cry of the Spartan mother to her son when he went out to battle. She said, “Take care that you return with your shield, or upon it.” Now, as she meant that he could return upon his shield dead, it shows that they often employed shields which were large enough to be a bier for a dead man, and consequently quite large enough to cover the body of a live man. Such a shield as that is meant in the text. That is the illustration before us. Faith prelects the whole man. Let the assault of Satan be against the head, let him try to deceive us with unsettled notions in theology, let him tempt us to doubt those things which are verily received among us; a full faith in Christ preserves us against dangerous heresies, and enables us to hold fast those things which we have received, which we have been taught, and have learned, and have made our own by experience. Unsettledness in notion generally springs from a weakness of faith. A man that has strong faith in Christ, has got a hand that gets such a grip of the doctrines of grace, that you could not unclasp it, do what you would. He knows what he has believed. He understands what he has received. He could not and would not give up what he knows to be the truth of God, though all the schemes that men devise should assail him with their most treacherous art. While faith will guard the head, it will also guard the heart. When temptation to love the world comes in, then faith holds up thoughts of the future and confidence of the reward that awaits the people of God, and enables the Christian to esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt, and so the heart is protected. Then when the enemy makes his cut at the sword arm of a Christian, to disable him, if possible, from future service, faith protects the arm like a shield, and he is able to do exploits for his Master, and go forth, still conquering, and to conquer, in the name of Him that hath loved us. Suppose the arrow is aimed at his feet, and the enemy attempts to make him trip in his daily life--endeavours to mislead him in the uprightness of his walk and conversation. Faith protects his feet, and he stands fast in slippery places.
2. Faith, like a shield, receives the blows which are meant for the man himself. Blows must be expected; the conflict must not be shirked; but let the shield of faith bear the cut and the thrust.
3. Faith is like a shield, because it hath good need to be strong. A man who has some pasteboard shield may lift it up against his foe, the sword will go through it and reach his heart. Or perhaps in the moment when the lance is in rest, and his foe is dashing upon him, he thinks that his shield may preserve him, and lo it is dashed to shivers, and the blood gushes from the fountain and he is slain. He that would use a shield must take care that it be a shield of proof. He that hath true faith, the faith of God’s elect, hath such a shield that he will see the scimitars of his enemies go to a thousand shivers over it every time they smite the bosses thereof. And as for their spears, if they but once come in contact with this shield, they will break into a thousand splinters, or bend like reeds when pressed against the wall--they cannot pierce it, but they shall themselves be quenched or broken in pieces. You will say, how then are we to know whether our faith is a right faith, and our shield a strong one? One test of it is, it must be all of a piece. A shield that is made of three or four pieces in this case will be of no use. So your faith must be all of a piece; it must be faith in the finished work of Christ; you must have no confidence in yourself or in any man, but rest wholly and entirely upon Christ, else your shield will be of no use. Then your faith must be of heaven’s forging or your shield will certainly fail you; you must have the faith of God’s elect which is of the operation of the Holy Spirit who worketh it in the soul of man. Then you must see to it that your faith is that which rests only upon truth, for if there be any error or false notion in the fashioning of it, that shall be a joint in it which the spear can pierce. You must take care that your faith is agreeable to God’s Word, that you depend upon true and real promises, upon the sure word of testimony and not upon the fictions and fancies and dreams of men. And above all, you must mind that your faith is fixed in the person of Christ, for nothing but a faith in Christ’s Divine person as “God over all, blessed forever,” and in His proper manhood when as the Lamb of God’s passover He was sacrificed for us--no other faith will be able to stand against the tremendous shocks and the innumerable attacks which you must receive in the great battle of spiritual life. Look to your shield, man.
4. But to pass on--for we must not pause long on anyone particular--faith is like a shield because it is of no use except it be well handled. A shield needs handling, and so does faith. He was a silly soldier who, when he went into the battle, said he had a shield but it was at home. So there be some silly professors who have a faith, but they have not got it with them when they need it. They have it with them when there are no enemies. When all goeth well with them, then they can believe; but just when the pinch comes then their faith fails. Now there is a sacred art in being able to handle the shield of faith. Let me explain to you how that can be.
5. Lastly, for the matter of the figure. The shield in olden times was an emblem of the warrior’s honour, and more especially in later days than those of Paul. In the age of chivalry, the warrior carried his escutcheon upon his shield. Now, faith is like a shield, because it carries the Christian’s glory, the Christian’s coat of arms, the Christian’s escutcheon--the cross of his Saviour.
II. Enforce the exhortation. If you sent a servant upon an errand, and you said to him, “Get so-and-so, and so-and-so, and so-and-so, but above all now see to such-and-such a thing,” he would not understand that he ought to neglect any, but he would perceive that there was some extra importance attached to one part of his mission. So let it be with us. We are not to neglect our sincerity, our righteousness, or our peace, but above all, as the most important, we are to see to it that our faith is right, that it be true faith, and that it covers all our virtues from attack. There is no respect in which faith is not useful to us, therefore, whatever you leave out, see to your faith; if you forget all besides, be careful above all that ye take the shield of faith. And then, again, we are told above all to take the shield of faith, because faith preserves from all sorts of enemies. The fiery darts of the wicked! Does that refer to Satan? Faith answers him. Does it refer to wicked men? Faith resists them. Does it refer to one’s own wicked self? Faith can overcome that. Does it refer to the whole world? “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” It matters not who the enemy may be; let the earth be all in arms abroad, this faith can quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. Above all, then, take the shield of faith.
III. Lastly, I have a word or two to say by way of conclusion to some poor sinner who is coming to Christ, but who is greatly vexed with the fiery darts of the wicked one. You remember how John Bunyan in his “Pilgrim’s Progress” represents Christiana and Mercy, and the children coming to knock at the gate. When they knocked, the enemy, who lived in a castle hard by, sent out a big dog, which barked at them at such a rate that Mercy fainted, and Christiana only dared to knock again, and when she obtained entrance, she was all in a tremble. At the same time hard by in the castle there were men who shot fiery darts at all who would enter; and poor Mercy was exceedingly afraid because of the darts and the dog. Now, it generally happens that when a soul is coming to Christ the devil will dog him. As sure as ever he feels his need of a Saviour, and is ready to put his trust in Christ, it will be true of him as of the poor demoniac child: as he was a coming, the devil threw him down and tear him. Now, poor tempted sinner, there is nothing that can bring joy and peace into your heart but faith. Oh, that you may have grace this morning to begin to use this shield. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The shield of faith
1.What faith is. A believing of a thing to be true. The faith here spoken of is a belief of the truth of God.
2. The resemblance between faith and a shield. A shield is a general fence for the whole body, especially for the principal parts, the head and heart. The use of it is to avoid blows of all kinds. So faith defends the whole man from all sorts of temptations cast against him by any of his spiritual enemies, the flesh, world, or devil.
3. How faith is wrought.
4. How faith must be proved. By its causes, and by its effects.
(b) Compunction and grief of heart.
(a) Shame for evil that has been done.
(b) A true and thorough resolution to enter into a new course.
(c) A renewing of grief, as often as occasion is offered.
5. How faith is to be preserved.
6. How faith may be well used. By resting on God’s promises. (William Gouge.)
The shield of faith
I. We are first to consider faith in its nature. “Above all.” Our first impression would be, that the apostle intended to give faith the preeminence over all the other graces of the Christian character; that he meant, in fact, to set it forth as the grace of all graces, the excellence of all excellences, that which, if retained, would compensate for the loss of all the other parts of our spiritual preparation. The shield is that which in ancient warfare the soldier prided himself upon retaining to the last. “Come home dead upon thy shield,” said the Spartan mother to her son, “rather than come home alive without it.”
1. And now, in considering the nature of this faith, observe, first, that it is the faith of the heart, as distinguished from any purely intellectual faith.
2. Again, this faith is a faith of appropriation--that is, it is a faculty by which we make all the promises our own. Faith is the sustaining power of our regenerate life.
3. Therefore we say further, that in describing the nature of this faith, we must consider it as a faith or union and communion with Christ.
II. But we come next to consider faith in its exercise, or the spiritual uses of this shield of faith. Thus, its chief use is to defend the soul at all points. The great advantage of the shield to the ancient warrior consisted in the fact that it was a movable defence; that it was fixed neither to the head nor to the feet, neither to the shoulders nor to the waist, but was held upon the arm, so as to interpose resistance to any part which might happen to be exposed to danger. In ancient warfare this shield was made so large as nearly to cover one side of the person. Hence that expression in the Psalms, “The Lord will bless the righteous: with favour wilt Thou compass: him as with a shield.” Faith, then, is that weapon of the soul which moves at will, and, as occasion calls, defends all the parts and powers of the tried and tempted spirit. Thus, is the reasoning faculty the object of Satan’s attack? Is the believer tempted with hard thoughts of God, with difficulties in the ways of His providence, with things hard to understand in Scripture, or with some mysterious dealings, it may be, in regard to his own soul? Faith offers the shield, reminds him that at present we know but in part; that when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. Or does the adversary address himself to the conscience of the child of God? Is the burden of sin too intolerable for him to bear, or its grievousness too great for the mercy of Heaven to forgive? Faith can interpose the shield, and on its polished surface we see the bright superscription written, “Christ is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him.” Or, once more, is it the perverse and wayward will that is assaulted of Satan, so that in the spirit of that rebellion which is “as the sin of witchcraft” we seem almost resolved to throw off the yoke of Christ altogether, or cannot cut off the right hand, or pluck out the right eye, or raise the sacrificial knife to slay what seemed to us the dear child of promise? The shield of faith again comes to the rescue, and round it, all over it, are blessed testimonies written: “His commandments are not grievous”; “Wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness”; “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”
3. Another use of the Christian shield is to preserve the strength of the other graces of the soul. The shield was not only to defend different parts of the soldier’s person, but, as I have said, it was designed to guard other portions of the armour itself. Many a breastplate would have been pierced, and many a helmet shivered in pieces, but for the additional interposition of the shield. In like manner in our spiritual warfare all the other graces of Christian character are maintained in their integrity and exercise by the power of faith.
III. And then we come, in the last place, to consider faith in its victorious results--“Wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” “Fiery darts”--the allusion is to small firebrands, which in ancient warfare were twisted into the form of arrows or darts, and in this way shot out of the bow into the midst of the ranks of the enemy. It is not difficult to see why temptation should be described under such an image as this. A dart wounds suddenly; so does temptation. A dart is thrown by some invisible hand; so for the most part are, temptations. A dart may pierce through the very smallest aperture, may penetrate even between the joints of the harness; so also will temptation. The eye, the ear, the smallest inlet or avenue to the soul, may admit a death wound by admitting one of these fiery darts of the wicked. How, then, does faith enable us to quench these darts? Why, first, by teaching us to keep a watchful eye against the first approach of temptation, to guard against the beginning of sin, to be on the look out for its stealthy advances, to preserve with unslumbering vigilance all those sources of thought and feeling out of which are the issues of life.
2. Another way by which faith enables us to quench these darts of the adversary is by preparing the heart to resist them. A fiery dart would be dangerous according to the surface upon which it should chance to fall.
3. Again, faith makes us victorious over temptations by setting before us the gain and loss of yielding to them. And now, brethren, in conclusion, let me direct your attention to the one practical inquiry, How is your possession of this victorious faith to be ascertained? I answer, by the same law which ascertains all other realities, and which declares, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” (D. Moore, M. A.)
I. The danger specified.
1. The author of this danger. “The wicked.”
2. The means he employs. He is represented as an archer. His temptations come upon the Christian.
II. The piece or defensive armour recommended. Now, faith is a shield--
1. To the Christian’s spiritual life. “We live by faith in the Son of God.”
2. It is a shield to all the graces of the soul. As our faith is, so will our hope, and love, and humility, and courage, be. The graces can exist only as they are defended and supported by faith.
3. It is the Christian’s shield in suffering and death.
III. The efficiency of this shield is asserted. “Wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery,” etc. By faith, all Satan’s temptations are successfully resisted and overcome.
1. Faith in the Divine veracity and faithfulness is successful against all temptations to distrust, etc.
2. Faith in the Divine promises is successful against temptations to despondency.
3. Faith in the Divine justice and holiness is successful against all temptations to presumption.
4. Faith in the Divine Mediator is successful against all the insinuations and charges of the wicked one. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The Christian shield
I. The shield, as most of you are aware, is a movable piece of armour: it may be in one place at one moment, and in another at another: in short, the object of it is to defend the whole man. We will take first of all the head. The man lifts up the shield upon his arm to defend his head. And why should this be necessary for a Christian warrior? What can be those “fiery darts” which can touch the Christian’s head? There has been no time in the history of the Christian camp in which, I believe, this part has been more frequently attacked than it is at the present day. At all times the head has been made the subject of attack by Satan’s tampering with our reasoning faculties, and inducing men to give up revelation, and to accept only that which reason can suggest; so that, instead of realizing the truth that God’s mind is infinite, and our mind is limited, men would like to bring down God, and make Him such an one as themselves. Thus a variety of objections are brought forward, all tending to make man reject His Bible. Then take another part--the heart of man. This is attacked when our consciences are assailed. You are probably all aware of the two-fold nature of the attacks which Satan makes upon us to lead us into sin. First of all, as with Eve, he will lead us to think that sin will not be punished; then having succeeded in having drawn persons into the commission of sin, he follows it up almost invariably with another attack, which is to make men believe that their sin is so bad that it cannot be pardoned. Now this is what I mean by the conscience being attacked. Then take the breast. And here I should explain myself by saying, that I am referring to such circumstances as these--when Satan would suggest to us wicked thoughts; not the actual commission of evil deeds; when within our breast there are thoughts of an unclean character, thoughts of an infidel character, such, for instance, as the idea flitting across the mind, that the Bible is not true. Then we may pass on and take the feet. Here is a great temptation to us, brethren. These things recur to his mind: “If I make a bold profession of Christ, what may I not endure from it?” but the real Christian “walks by faith”; his feet are protected by the shield; “he walks by faith, and not by sight.” There is one part more I will refer to--I mean the arms. This will bear upon the condition of the man who is tempted to labour only or chiefly for the meat which perisheth. The poor man especially is very much tried in this way.
II. Now we are to inquire, in the next place, what will be the result of the use of this part of our armour. In one word, it is confidence--greater, increased confidence in the Christian’s warfare.
III. Now, having advanced thus far as to the nature of this piece of armour; having shown you what will be the result of its use--increased confidence in our Christian conflict; and having asked the question, whether you have it, or have it not--and I am quite sure there are some amongst us who have not this shield, but I hope we are all desirous of obtaining it--let us ask, in the next place, where we may procure it and how we may procure it? (H. M. Villiers, M. A.)
Protection against the devil’s darts
The words are an exhortation by argument. “Darts.” Temptations are thus called As they come suddenly. As they are many. As they strike us in different parts. As the enemy is often invisible. “Fiery.” As they inflame and disorder the soul. All of them. One unquenched is fatal. “Of the wicked one.” This denotes--
1. That the nature and aim of Satan is wickedness.
2. That all instruments are under one direction. Take the shield of faith--“Above all”--Show how faith has an aptness to quench, etc.
I. As it sees their malignant nature.
II. As it applies to the blood of sprinkling
III. As it sees the interceding Saviour. “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you,” etc. (Luke 22:31-32).
IV. As it realizes future glory. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,” etc. (Hebrews 11:1).
V. As it lays hold of the strength and victories of Christ. (H. J. Foster.)
The devil’s darts
The darts appear to be Satanic assaults sudden and terrible--such suggestions to evil, such unaccountable impulses to doubt or blaspheme, such horrid insinuations about the Divine character and one’s own state, as often distract persons, especially of a nervous temperament. The biography of Luther and Bunyan affords apposite examples. But the shield of faith must be used to repel such darts, and if brought to bear upon them, it preserves the Christian warrior intact. His confidence in God keeps him from being wounded, or from falling a prisoner into the hands of his ruthless enemies. Whatever happens moves him not; his faith saves him from despondency and defeat. (J. Eadie, D. D.)
And take the helmet of salvation.
I. Describe the warrior’s helmet.
1. The object of hope. Salvation.
2. The origin and source of this hope. It is a grace of the Spirit, and the effect of a renewed heart.
3. The basis and ground of hope.
II. The advantages he derives from it.
1. It animates for the warfare.
2. It supports in sufferings.
3. It will put us in possession of the victory and reward.
1. Cultivate and preserve this hope of salvation.
2. As your hope is, so will be your comfort and joy.
3. Address those who have not a good hope. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The hope of salvation
He (Knox) had a sore fight for an existence, wrestling with popes and principalities; in defeat, contention, life-long struggle; rowing as a galley slave, wandering in exile. A sore fight; but he won it. “Have you hope?” they asked him in his last moment, when he could no longer speak. He lifted his finger, pointed upwards with his finger, and so died. (T. Carlyle.)
The helmet of hope
No suit of armour could be complete without a protection for the head. This great ruling member, the very citadel of intelligence and vital energy, is too important to be left unguarded. Hence, from the remotest ages, the helmet has been in use amongst all martial nations. The champion of the Philistines had a helmet of brass upon his head, as had also the king of Israel who commanded the armies of the living God. The Persians and Ethiopians also wore this martial cap in the day of battle, as did likewise the warlike Greeks. The helmet of the latter was usually made of skins, rendered hard and impervious to the weapons then in use; but the glittering brass or iron helmet of the Jewish warrior seems the most fit type of that piece of panoply which the apostle places in the armour of the Christian soldier. With this brazen or iron casque upon his head, the Jewish warrior could stand unhurt under the strokes of the brandished sword, or come out uninjured from amidst the storm of arrows. With its “dazzling brightness, its horrific devices of gorgons and chimeras, and its nodding plumes which overlooked the dreadful cone,” his helmet struck terror into the hearts of his enemies. Hence the apostle very properly, when pointing out to us the panoply, designates the helmet as a piece of armour the Christian soldier must put on. In the letter to the Thessalonians, the nature of this helmet is more specially revealed, where we are exhorted to take for a helmet “the hope of salvation.” Hope, then, is the helmet of the Christian soldier; and as there was usually graven upon the ancient helmet some single word or sentence as a motto, so must the soldier of the cross have graven on his crest, as emblematic and descriptive of the spirit of his warfare, the word “Hope.” How aptly does this brief motto set forth his belief as to the ultimate result of his conflicts! This good hope of salvation is the helmet of the gospel panoply. Hope! how beautiful that word! how expressive and suggestive! How hope paints the future in bright and joyous colours! how it speaks in the hour of sorrow and trial, of the breaking away of the storm, and the sunshine to come after! Let me warn you, however, to be on your guard against availing yourself of false hopes in your onward march to eternity. See that you bind not on your brows such a helmet as the enemy’s sword may cleave in twain, or through which his arrows may enter to lay waste life’s citadel. You will beware, for instance, of taking for a helmet the hope of future repentance. A common refuge is this for the gospel-taught worldling. You must also be guarded against wearing for a helmet the hope of being saved by the mere general mercy of God. Nor must we pass from this part of the subject without warning you against wearing for a helmet the hope of being saved because you are in connection with the visible Church … The hope of the Christian has to do with better things than those which are confined within the bounds of time, or which derive their value solely from the estimate put upon them by a mere grovelling, earthly mind. But the hope of the believer stands on a firmer basis, rises higher, takes hold of better comforts, and speeds on the footsteps of the pilgrim soldier with the prospect of far brighter joys to come, than that mere common principle which cheers universal humanity on its march from the cradle to the grave. The hope of the believer has been well defined to be that grace “whereby, through Christ, he expects and waits for all those good things of the promise he has not yet received.” The helmet of hope and the shield of faith are intimately connected. The two pieces of armour are joined together, and serve a purpose to each other, much as their position would seem to separate them. Hope and faith are sister graces of the Spirit. Faith is in some sense the minister of hope. Had we no faith in things to come, how could we hope for them? Hope has not to do with things present, “for what a man seeth, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” Now, “faith is the substance of things hoped for.” Faith sits at home receiving the promise, whilst hope looks from the lattice for the approach of the blessing. Faith tells us the story of good things in reserve, and then hope quietly and peacefully expects them. Let us examine the qualities of the helmet of salvation. The believer’s hope is well-founded; unlike those refuges of lies to which your attention has been called. The hope of the Christian soldier is also reasonable. “Be ready always,” says the apostle, “to give to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” The spiritual warrior is supposed to be a social being; he is joined with others in the march from the city of destruction to the New Jerusalem; and it is to be presumed that these wayfaring warriors, in the midst of their long journeyings, and their night watches, will sometimes question each other as to their views and motives in joining the service. The hope of the Christian soldier has also a good object in view. How vain are oftentimes those objects which call out the hopes of the worldling. The difference between the hope of the Christian and that of the sinner, is worldwide in this, that the Christian has in his view objects which are always real, which never disappoint, and which are of immortal value. Then, once more, the hope of the Christian soldier is steadfast. “Which hope,” says Paul, “we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.” We freely admit that, practically, the Christian’s hope is not always as steadfast as it should be, or as it might be. The hopes of most believers are extremely fluctuating. The infirmities of our physical nature have much to do with shutting out the light of hope from the soul. We are beings of a two-fold organization, and the physical and spiritual man have an intimate relation. A diseased or wearied body may make a dull and beclouded mind. But these temporary fluctuations of the believer’s hope do not destroy it. We need only observe further, that the helmet of hope is strengthened and brightened by experience. “We glory in tribulation also,” says the apostle, “knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience experience; and experience hope; and hope maketh not ashamed.” It is the nature of successful experience to impart confidence. (J. Leyburn, D. D.)
The helmet of salvation
The helmet was necessary to the completion of the apostle’s military picture; and the grace to be symbolized by it we should suppose to be one vital to the soul’s prosperity. And such a grace is Hope. For it guards the vital parts; it enables us to exhibit a fearless front in the day of battle; it forbids the entrance of any unworthy and coward fears; saying to us in the thick of the spiritual encounter, “Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.” And now we may proceed to take some other views of the Christian’s hope. For example, let us consider it in its source, as having God for its Author. And then, consider next, the strength of hope, as having Christ for its foundation. We must have something to hang such a hope upon, and this hope can come to us only through a Mediator, But take up another view, the victories of hope over all spiritual difficulties and impediments. Thus it is hope which makes us victorious over outward trials. And so, in like manner, hope makes us victorious over all difficulties and discouragements. “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” Again, Scripture notices as an especial attribute of hope, that it should enable us to overcome shame, that it should take away all foolish regrets, all ungrateful misgivings as to whether in entering upon the Christian course we may have made a right choice or not. “O Lord, let me not be ashamed of my hope,” said David. “They shall not be ashamed that wait for Me,” said the Lord by His prophet. “Hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost which He hath given unto us.” But consider, lastly, the blessedness of hope, as having life and immortality for its end. “Take the helmet of salvation,” says the apostle. Now, salvation takes in the whole circle of the Divine promise, the entire aggregate of blessings promised for both the life that now is, and for that which is to come. It includes salvation from the curse of the law, salvation from the guilt of sin, salvation from the power of the grave, salvation from the tyranny of spiritual and eternal death. (D. Moore, M. A.)
The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.--
The sword of the Spirit
I. Why the word is called the sword, etc.
1. The Spirit of God is the Author of the Word.
2. It is the agency of the Spirit that makes the Word effectual.
II. This sword is to be used.
1. For repelling Satan’s temptations.
2. For actually destroying Satan’s works.
3. In opposing error.
4. In seeking the conversion of sinners. (W. R. Taylor, M. A.)
The Christian’s weapon of offence
I. The aptitude of the similitude which likens the Bible to a sword.
1. The sword is useless so long as it is confined to the scabbard; and the Bible is useless if it rest idle in the intellect.
2. This sword is that by which the Christian defends himself, and that by which he cuts down all his foes.
II. The propriety of the description which designates the Bible the sword of the Spirit.
1. The Spirit dictated its composition.
2. The Spirit alone can unfold its meaning. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
I. The sword recommended. Observe--
1. The sword itself. Is “the Word of God.”
2. The description given of this sword--“Sword of the Spirit.”
II. When the sword of the Spirit may be employed.
1. Satan’s assaults are to be resisted by it.
2. The world’s attacks are to be overcome by it.
3. When our own hearts would deceive us.
III. Some directions for effectually wielding it.
1. Cultivate an intimate acquaintance with it.
2. Keep this sword polished and bright. This is only to be done by constant exercise.
3. Seek, by constant prayer, a renewal of spiritual strength.
1. Learn from this not to wage war with unhallowed weapons; such as human reason--such as human passion.
2. The weapon provided is all-sufficient.
3. Use it for all spiritual purposes. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The Word of God
I. The word of God. This denotes--
1. The importance of its contents (Psalms 119:18; Matthew 13:11).
2. The attention and reverence due to it (Isaiah 1:2).
3. The full credit which it demands (John 20:31).
II. The sword of the spirit.
1. As He is its Author (2 Peter 1:21).
2. As it is His instrument in saving sinners.
3. As it has no power without His agency.
III. Take this. Learn to use it more and more. Show how God’s Word becomes victorious over all enemies.
1. It penetrates the most seared conscience (Acts 2:37).
2. It lays open the evils and enemies concealed within (Hebrews 4:12).
3. It demolishes the walls of unbelief (2 Corinthians 10:4).
4. It cuts the sinews of error.
5. It repels Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4:1, etc.).
6. It penetrates the storms of affliction (Psalms 119:92).
7. It disarms death.
This sword has four peculiarities--
1. It decays not with use.
2. It cannot be broken.
3. It is suited to the strength and capacities of all. “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again,” etc. (Hebrews 5:12-13).
4. Thousands may use it at the same time. A Christian soldier is a terror to the powers of darkness. The destruction of those who neglect or reject this sword is inevitable. (H. J. Foster.)
The sword of the Spirit
I. Scripture is here represented as the Word of God. And is it not so in the strictest sense? Does it not throughout bear evident marks that God is its Author? There have appeared, indeed, in the world men who have denied this, and endeavoured to prove it false. But the Bible has survived all their assaults. And to this day it continues to be received as the unpolluted fountain of Divine truth. Indeed, its own internal evidences, independently of every other consideration, must ever convince every candid and unprejudiced mind that its pretensions to be the Word of God are just and amply substantiated. Among these evidences, we may notice--
1. The great antiquity of its history.
2. The prophecies of the Old Testament, and their exact accomplishment in the New, what a strong argument have we that the Bible is the Word of God! For who can foretell future things but God Himself?
3. We find many doctrines revealed in the Bible, to the knowledge of which we could never have attained by the mere light of nature or reason.
4. The same truth is confirmed to us by a consideration of the laws which are published in the Bible. Never yet was it in the power of men to frame and enact laws which could bind the whole family of man, or be equally suitable to them all. But in the Scriptures we find laws given to all mankind, equally suitable to them all, wheresoever they live, and howsoever they may be circumstanced. And they are not only suitable to them, but also binding upon them.
5. The Scripture appears to be the Word of God from the concurrence of its testimony, or its unity with itself. Whatever is laid down as truth in one place, is neither contradicted nor overturned in another.
II. The Scripture is represented in the text as “the sword of the Spirit.” Now, a sword, we know, is an instrument of war, by which the warrior not only defends himself, but also repels and overcomes his enemies. When, therefore, the Christian is exhorted to take such an instrument in his hand, it is implied that he is here in a state of warfare.
1. But why is the Scripture called the sword of the Spirit? One reason why it is called so may be, that it was given by inspiration of the Spirit. Indeed, it is this circumstance which makes it so sharp and powerful.
2. Another reason why the Scripture is called the sword of the Spirit is that it is the instrument which the Holy Spirit employs to wound the conscience and destroy the false peace of a sinner. (D. Rees.)
The Bible the sword of the Spirit
Edward the Sixth had a high esteem for the Scriptures. When, therefore, at his coronation, the swords were delivered to him, as King of England, France, and Ireland, having received them, he said, “There is yet another sword to be delivered to me”; at which the lords wondering, “I mean,” said he, “the sacred Bible, which is the sword of the Spirit, and without which we are nothing, neither can we do anything.”
The power of the Bible
This remarkable name of the Bible, “sword of the Spirit,” teaches us much of the way and wisdom of God in His dealings with the children of men. What gave the Jews their valour, their compact unity, their wonderful tenacity and fortitude as God’s witnesses both in grace and in apostasy? The sword of the Spirit alone. What was it in the hand of the apostolic Church which overturned the temples of Paganism, smote to the dust the gorgeous systems of superstition, consecrated by time, and cemented by wealth, interest, and victory; and finally planted the cross on the palace of the Caesars? Nothing but the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. See these men! They seem poor, and despised, and forsaken, but they are the heroes of the faith and the chosen instruments of God! (W. Graham, D. D.)
The Word of God likened to a sword
I. It has many of the properties of a sword.
1. It has the brightness of the sword. It is like the flaming falchion at Eden’s gate, which turned every way to preserve the garden from the unhallowed intrusion of fallen man. Even so the Bible blazes before the everlasting doors of the celestial paradise, so that “there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie.”
2. It has also the keenness of a sword. “For the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit. When John saw the Son of man in vision, he tells us that “out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” This is a symbol of the penetrating power of the cutting reproofs and denunciations which issued from His lips.
3. The Word of God is like a sword because it is pointed. Common weapons can only smite the body, but this of the Spirit pierces far deeper, even to the inmost soul.
4. It may be added that a good sword will not easily break. It is even so, and more, with the Lord’s good sword. Oft has it been rudely struck by those who would parry its thrust or ward off its stroke. Oft has it crime down with cleaving force on hearts harder than flint. But it has never been shattered, nor can it be. It thus resembles a sword in the qualities of brightness of blade, sharpness of edge, keenness of point, and power of endurance.
II. It also resembles a sword in many of its uses.
1. It is a terror to evil-doers. How many have been deterred from sin, by seeing it sweeping in threatening circles over the path of transgression. How readily they would have run in the ways of iniquity but for the salutary restraints of the Book of God. It has flashed conviction like lightning, and struck the soul into submission like a bolt from heaven.
2. The Word of God is also like a sword in its cleaving energy. “It divideth asunder the soul and spirit.” It is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” It cuts right and left, with double edge, among all the false hopes of the self-deceived, and lays them in the dust.
3. The sword of the Spirit demolishes the defences under which the sinner shields himself. The spiritual weapons of our warfare is “mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds.”
4. Moreover, the sword of the Spirit defeats the enemies of God. Every time the Spirit strikes with it, Satan’s empire totters, and the dark coasts of hell tremble at the blow. Wherever this burnished blade is guided by the hand of Omnipotence, it scatters light over the dark places of the earth.
5. The Word of God is used as a sword in defending His kingdom on earth.
1. We learn how ministers of the gospel should arm themselves.
2. We learn that Christians are ever to act on the aggressive.
3. We learn that the Word of God is no mortal weapon, but the sword of the Spirit.
4. We learn from our subject that God has enemies in the world. Would you know, my hearers, where that enmity to God is found, against which He will fight with the sword of His mouth? Alas! you will find it strongly fortifying itself in that revolted and disobedient heart of yours. Your soul is opposed to God. Your only safety is in instant submission.
5. The impenitent must again meet the sword of the Spirit in the day of doom. It will be the sword of justice at the judgment of the great day. Then will its slightest warnings come up in remembrance against you. Its testimony will convict you of having despised its reproofs, and your awful doom is already pronounced in its threatenings. Ah! is there no shield? Yes, one; and only one. See it on the Saviour’s arm! Let Him hold it over thy head. Then the uplifted sword will lose its terrors. Thou mayest cry aloud with confidence, “Behold, O God, our Shield; and look upon the face of Thine Anointed!” (A. W. McClure.)
God’s Word a sword
One of Cromwell’s knights, a man zealously attached to his party, was sued by the minister of the parish for his tithes. While the dispute was pending Sir John fancied that the parson preached at him, as he called it, every Sunday; whereupon he made complaint to the Protector, who summoned the minister to appear before him. The poor man denied the charge, saying he had done nothing but his duty, and had only preached in general terms against vice and immorality, against drunkards, liars, thieves, and robbers, and defied Sir John to instance any particular allusion to himself. After Cromwell had attentively heard both parties he dismissed the knight, with this memorable reprimand, “Sir John, go home, and hereafter live in friendship with your minister; the Word of the Lord is a searching word, and I am afraid it has now found you out.” (Paxton Hood.)
Power of God’s Word
“What is the meaning of this?” said a minister, coming into a house and taking up a tattered copy of part of the Scriptures. “I don’t like to see God’s Word used so,” for, indeed, the book had been torn right in two. “Oh, sir,” said the owner of the half Bible, “don’t scold till you hear how it came to be thus. This was my mother’s Bible; and when she died I couldn’t part with it; and my brother could not part with it; and we just cut it in two; and his half has been the power of God unto salvation to his soul; and my half the power of God unto salvation to mine.” What a change came over the good man’s countenance after this more than satisfactory explanation! And he left more than ever convinced that there is a mighty transforming power in God’s Word.
The sword of the Spirit
It is to be supposed that all true Christians admit the truth of that military maxim--the best defence is a swift attack. When our Lord was tempted in the wilderness, He did nothing more than just quote Scripture. He pressed Satan so vigorously that he began to quote Scripture too. Three texts of Deuteronomy--a book which sceptics are trying their best nowadays to get rid of--defeated the adversary finally. Jesus might have used any other form of deliverance, but He chose that in order that we who were to come after might know the devil could be certainly defeated with that. Apollos was an experienced and adroit swordsman; he was “mighty in the Scriptures.” To have a weapon in one’s band that is certain to pierce the scales of Apollyon every thrust, is of itself enough to make everyone valiant. Most of us have been told the child’s story about a mysterious sword which had in its construction a kind of life of its own. It was put in the hand of a coward in order to work his cure. When he tried to run away, it kept him right up to the front of the battle. Whenever he attempted to fling it from him, it clung to his grasp. Whenever he sought to slink out of sight and hide the bright blade in the folds of his uniform, of itself it would leap from the scabbard, and begin smiting the first foe it could touch. By and by, he learned to put confidence in it; for he perceived he never could be beaten so long as that invincible hilt was in his hand. Such a weapon is this “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” It will of itself fight, it will of itself conquer, and in the end it will defend and deliver every brave man who trusts it. “I will fight you,” said a hard-fisted man once to the saintly Hewitson. “Very well,” replied he, quietly, taking his Testament from his pocket; “just wait till I get out my sword.” It seems to me that this is what so interests us in the private Bibles of experienced and old veterans of the Cross. Marked and worn, bearing tokens of use, they fall into our hands; how reverently we look upon them! Anybody would touch Whitefield’s Bible gently, and turn over its pages with tenderness. Then there is the old family Bible, and our mother’s Bible. All these make us think of those days when Scandinavian heroes hung up their historic swords as symbols of prowess among the statues of the demi-gods in the halls of the Walhalla. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The sword of the Spirit
What if it were possible to gather together the swords of all the great and famous princes and generals that have ever lived; what if we had found the sword of Julius Caesar, or Alexander, or the great and mighty heroes of ancient and modern times? And what if, taking them up in our hands, we could recount the mighty battles that have been fought, and think of the plains of Marathon, and other famous places where distinguished heroes have fought, and where soldiers have bled? Yet here is a sword for you, Christian people, that would make all other swords look little: it is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” You ask, What has it done? Ask among the enemy; and they will tell you what it has done. Go to the chief enemy, the devil; if he could be honest enough to answer the question, and tell you what it has done in his dominions in putting to the rout his forces, he would have to tell of mighty battles, and deeds of valour and of blood, and of success beyond description. What are the three principal features of the character of Satan? I answer, pride, malignity, and deceit: his kingdom and his cause in the world have been maintained by pride, malignity, and deceit. But the sword of the Spirit has been drawn to oppose them. How many a proud, stout-hearted sinner has become humbled and abased: how have the malignant passions of man been put to the rout and the flight by it. Why it has given a clear evidence, that “the fruit of the Spirit was love, and joy, and peace”; all that was fair, all that was peaceful, all that was true, all that was sacred, heavenly, and blessed. Ask again among those enemies of the Christian, the world and the flesh. Well has it been said, that “the world, the flesh, and the devil, are the devil’s triumvirate”; and so they are; but they cannot stand against “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” (T. Mortimer, B. D.)
The Bible a sword
There are many things in which the Bible is like a sword.
1. The Bible was not made by one man, and one man cannot make a sword. Moses, we may say, made the handle; Joshua, Samuel, David, the prophets, etc., made the blade; and the evangelists and apostles made the sharp edge and point, without which, the rest would not be of much use.
2. The Bible is like a sword because it took a long time to make it complete and fit for use. It was intended to last.
3. As a sword is used by a soldier in battle to kill his enemies, so the Bible is able to kill sin, which is everybody’s greatest enemy. How does the Bible kill sin? By telling about God’s love to us.
4. Why does St. Paul here call the Bible the sword of the Spirit?
1. Remember that God has given you this sword to use. The Bible is a fighting sword. It is given to you that you may kill sin with it. Otherwise sin will kill you.
2. If this sword of the Spirit was used by everybody there would be no need to have other swords. The more the Bible is used to kill sin, the less fighting there will be. (W. Harris.)
The Christian warrior’s sword
The Bible is the sword of the Christian warrior. The very fact that you have the Bible today is an irrefutable argument to its divinity. Despised, and spoken against, assailed by more than a legion of powerful foes in every generation, it has still survived the attacks of malignity, the wreck of successive empires, and the ruin of every other production contemporaneous with itself. In the Word of God as the sword of your warfare, you are provided with an implement of heavenly workmanship. This weapon, as you may also perceive, is called “the sword of the Spirit.” In the great scheme for conquering the powers of darkness, all the persons of the Godhead are united. Christ, the Captain of Salvation, purchased the efficacious cooperation of the Holy Ghost, whose agency is indispensable to the triumphs of the Cross. The communication of the will of God to man was a most important work of this Person of the Trinity. The Spirit takes “the things which are God’s, and shows them unto us.” “The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” The Word of God was indited by the Spirit. This appellation appears still more appropriate, too, when you remember that the agency of the Spirit alone can give such efficacy to the Word as to render it an available weapon. Of itself, the Word of God would remain a dead letter. Unless moved by the Holy Ghost, none would be disposed to use it; and if so disposed, it would not be effectual in putting to flight the armies of the adversary. “‘The natural mind discerneth not the things of the Spirit, because they are spiritually discerned.” How many are there, who have possessed the Bible all their lives long, had it in their houses, and been taught it from their childhood, in whose hearts the enemy is still unsubdued, and who are still led captive by the devil at his will! To such this sword has always been a sheathed weapon. Hence the Holy Ghost must accompany the truth, to give it power and energy. He must open the eyes of the spiritually blind to behold the excellence and utility of this weapon, and incline the affections to take pleasure in using it for vanquishing the powers of darkness in the soul and in the world without; he must bend the will to determination and perseverance in using it to push forward the aggressions of the armies of light. Without this agency, none would ever be disposed to enlist as soldiers of the Cross, and when enlisted, their puny efforts would be fruitless. A most important weapon is the sword of the Christian soldier, in promoting the great ends of his warfare. It is the chief instrument by which the work of extending the kingdom is accomplished. Some of its offices in this regard, we may examine in the present chapter. The Word of God is the primary instrument, as we have just seen, by which recruits are won to the armies of salvation. Other instrumentalities the Master does indeed use for making conquests to His cause from the ranks of the enemy, but these are all subordinate to that of the Word. The Captain of Salvation sends out the Word, thundering the curses of Sinai, holding up the wrath of an angry God, uncovering the evil and loathsomeness of sin, displaying the peace-speaking, blood-stained banner of the Cross, until, under the power of the Spirit, the hostility of those who have been His enemies is subdued, and they are brought to His feet as willing trophies of His grace. Thus, by the truth are recruits won from the kingdom of darkness to that of God’s dear Son; and thus also does the Word of God prove to be “the sword of the Spirit.” The ‘Word of God is also the great agent in the sanctification of the Christian soldier. “Sanctify them through Thy truth, Thy word is truth,” was the prayer of the Saviour for such as had believed on His name, and whom He was about to leave in this world; and the prayer also for as many as should afterwards believe on His name. (J. Leyburn, D. D.)
The arm that wields the sword
It is reported of a great person, that being desirous to see the sword wherewith Scanderbeg had done so great exploits, when he saw it, replied, he saw no such great matter in that sword more than any other sword. “It is truth,” quoth one, standing by; “you see the sword, but not the arm that wielded it.” So, when we look upon the Scriptures, the bare Word, whether printed in our Bibles or audible in the pulpit, we shall find no such business in it more than in other writings; but when we consider the arm of God’s power that joins with it, when we look upon the operation of His Holy Spirit working therein, then we shall change our thoughts and say, “Nec vox hominem sonat, O Deus certe!” or as Jacob did of Bethel, “Surely, of a certain, God is in this Word!” (Spencer.)
The sword unsheathed by the Spirit
The Word of God is called the sword of the Spirit. It is the instrument by which the Spirit worketh. He does not tell us anything that is out of the record; but all that is within it He sends home with clearness and effect upon the mind. He does not make us wise above that which is written, but He makes us wise up to that which is written. When a telescope is directed to some distant landscape, it enables us to see what we could not otherwise have seen; but it does not enable us to see anything which has not a real existence in the prospect before us. It does not present to the eye any delusive imagery--neither is that a fanciful and fictitious scene which it throws open to our contemplation. The natural eye saw nothing but blue land stretching along the distant horizon. By the aid of the glass there bursts upon it a charming variety of fields, and woods, and spires, and villages. Yet who would say that the glass added one feature to this assemblage? It discovers nothing to us which is not there; nor out of that portion of the book of nature, which we are employed in cultivating, does it bring into view a single character which is not really and previously inscribed upon it. And so of the Spirit. He does not add a single truth or a single character to the book of revelation. He enables the spiritual man to see what the natural man cannot see; but the spectacle which He lays open is uniform and immutable. It is the Word of God which is ever the same; and he whom the Spirit of God has enabled to look to the Bible with a clear and affecting discernment sees no phantom passing before him; but, amid all the visionary extravagance with which he is charged, can, for every one article of his faith, and every one duty of his practice, make his triumphant appeal to the law and to the testimony. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
The sword a chief weapon
The sword was ever esteemed a most necessary part of the soldier’s furniture, and therefore hath obtained a more general use in all ages and among all nations than any other weapon. Most nations have some particular weapons proper to themselves; but few or none come into the field without a sword. A pilot without his chart, a scholar without his book, and a soldier without his sword, are alike ridiculous. But above all these, absurd is it for one to think of being a Christian, without knowledge of the Word of God, and some skill to use this weapon. The usual name in Scripture for war, is the sword, “I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth,” i.e., I will send war. And this because the sword is the weapon of most universal rise in war, and also that whereby the greatest execution is done in the battle. Now such a weapon is the Word of God in the Christian’s hand. By the edge of this his enemies fall, and his great exploits are done--“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.” (W. Gurnall, M. A.)
The sword of the Spirit
We now come to the last part of the Christian’s armour, or “the sword of the Spirit.” Let us, first, observe on the fitness of the metaphor here employed by the apostle. Thus, the sword is a weapon common to all soldiers, of whatever rank, or however employed. In a battle, there may be some without the helmet, and some without the greaves; but there are to be none without the sword. So, likewise, the Word of God is to be put into the hands of every Christian, soldier. The Captain of our salvation wielded it first, and He would have it used by the meanest subaltern that fights under His banner. In no position, and under no circumstances, can the Christian be saved without his sword. Again, the sword is a sharp, piercing weapon: with one thrust it may enter into the seat of life. So also “the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow, of the soul and spirit, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” See what effect this sword wrought on the day of Pentecost, when Peter was addressing himself to the crucifiers of the Lord of glory: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart.” And now, for the further illustration of the apostle’s meaning, let us direct our attention to two points: first, our experience of the power of the sword; and, secondly, the enemies whom we are to slay by the sword.
I. First, with regard to our experience of the power of this sword. I put this down as an indispensable prerequisite to a compliance with the apostolical injunction. For the apostle is not supposed to be addressing a company of undisciplined recruits. He is speaking to soldiers, to believers, to veterans, who have had some experience of the use and power of the weapons they are to employ. I cannot see how a man can use the sword of the Spirit to resist the assaults of sin, who has not felt the power of that sword to awaken in himself a sense of sin.
II. But I come to our second point, or, the enemies to be slain by the sword. Of course, the great enemy is Satan himself, the father of lies, who therefore must be opposed by the Word of Truth. But, then, Satan has under him a large army of deceivers and impostors, who are ever on the watch to beguile unstable souls; and it is only by the power of God’s Truth that we shall be able to dissipate the illusions which these gather around us. Again, by the edge of this sword we are to slay false fears. Every Christian knows on entering the service of his Master that great trials are appointed for him; that the rightful and only entrance into the kingdom of heaven is through the gate of tribulation; and that, though his Master has given him armour enough to protect him against sin, He has given him no armour to ensure him against suffering. Again, it is to the sword of the Spirit we must look to preserve us from all false guides, false influence, false dependence, whether the example of the world, the persuasion of friends, the fear of men, or the dominant tendencies and desires of our own heart. (D. Moore, M. A.)
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.
Prayer and panoply
Christians have a battle to fight, an enemy to overcome. The enemy is so strong and wily that no human power can resist him. The Christian must be clad in God’s armour. Moreover, he must be armed at every point. Nothing less than the whole armour of God will avail. Not only so: the armour itself is valuable only as it is entire. It is of little consequence where the soldier is struck, if only he falls. Moreover, the Christian qualities figured in this picture of complete armour can exist and thrive only in company. Hope is nothing without faith; readiness is nothing without hope; righteousness is of faith only, and is nothing without truth; while truth finds its highest expression in righteousness. Then, as the soldier, however well protected, is useless without his sword; so Christian hope and truth and faith and righteousness get their highest sanction, and are taught their appropriate uses, by the Word of God alone--the sword of the Spirit. The Word of God and the armour of God are as necessary to each other as the captain’s orders are to the armed soldier; in short, this passage of Holy Scripture will be of little use to us unless we study it entire, and possess ourselves of the unity of all its parts. Consequently, we cannot understand these words in the text about prayer unless we see how they are related to what goes before. Prayer is the divinely ordained means of intercourse with God. In all that precedes we get no intimation of the personal contact of the Christian warrior with his Divine Leader. This is given us in prayer. We have the Word of God to the soldier; but in prayer we have the soldier’s word with God, the contact and communion of soldier and general; and it is not without a purpose that the Word of God and prayer are brought together here. The Word of God gathers up into itself, expounds and interprets Christian truth, hope, faith, righteousness, readiness; but the Word of God becomes a living power, something to strike and to slay with, only through the living contact of the Christian with Christ, and this contact is afforded by prayer only. Now, in our text, the apostle describes some of the laws and characteristics of prayer; and these we will touch upon in the order in which he places them.
I. The variety of prayer. All prayer is the same in essence, but it takes on different modes, just as your intercourse with a friend does. It is not all asking. Sometimes it is only interchange, without any petition at all--talking to God for the pleasure of communion; sometimes a sharp, short cry for help, like Peter’s “Lord, save me!” when he felt himself sinking; sometimes merely the aspiration of the heart to God without a word; sometimes a half-conscious sympathy of thought with God; sometimes a formal, public petition; sometimes a struggle to climb over self to God. We are to pray with every prayer, with all kinds of prayer. He is not always the most prayerful man who prays most regularly or most formally, or most publicly. Sometimes more prayer is condensed into a sentence than is to be found in a whole series of prayer meetings. I never can read without emotion the story of the good old German professor, who sat studying until far into the night, and then, pushing his books wearily aside, was heard by the occupant of the next room to say, ere he lay down to rest, “Lord Jesus, we are upon the same old terms.”
II. The seasonableness of prayer. “Praying in every season”; this includes the habitual contact of the life with God everywhere. Life is full of occasions and suggestions of contact with God, and the Christian is to avail himself of them. You want God everywhere; you want His counsel in everything; your joy is incomplete, yea, empty, without His sanction and sympathy; your sorrow is unbearable without His comfort; your business lacks its one great element of success if God is left out of it; you will as surely fall under temptation as you are human, if God does not help you. Pray, therefore, with every kind of prayer, at every season.
III. The element and atmosphere of prayer--‘‘In the Spirit.” What we are, comes very largely out of our surroundings; just as a taper gets much of the material for combustion out of the atmosphere. A light goes out in a vacuum. A swan cannot do his best in the air, nor an eagle in the water. So the power of prayer depends largely on the element in which it works. The only effective prayer is “in the Spirit,” i.e., under the impulse and direction of the Spirit of God (Romans 8:26). Otherwise, prayer is only an evidence of infirmity, like the dim burning of a candle in foul air.
1. The Spirit creates a prayerful heart (Romans 8:16). We never can truly pray at all until we can pray “Our Father!”
2. The Spirit suggests the substance of our prayers.
3. The Spirit reveals the love and helpfulness of God, and so encourages us to present our many and deep needs to Him.
4. The Spirit communicates Divine love to our hearts, and this love communicates warmth and enthusiasm to prayers.
5. The Spirit so identifies Himself with our case that He makes intercession for us. In other words, God’s own heart pleads for us; and our mightiest plea is there.
IV. Alertness in prayer. “Being awake thereunto.”
1. Keep watch over prayer. Cut that great main which leads the water from the reservoir into yonder city, and how long wilt it be ere the city is in distress? Prayer is the medium of communion with God, and without that communion there is no Christian living. No life without God, and no contact with God without prayer; so that, if Satan can cut that main, the life is in his power; and the danger is linked with the treasure, as always. Hence prayer is a thing to be watched--watched as a habit to be encouraged by practice, as a pleasure with which the Christian is to grow into a sweet familiarity by frequent communings with Him in whose presence is fulness of joy; as a duty which he neglects at the peril of his spiritual life.
2. And we must watch after prayer, to see what becomes of our prayers. He would be a strange archer who did not look to see where his arrow struck, a strange merchant who did not care whether his richly freighted ship arrived at her port or not.
3. This watching must be persistent. The conflict with temptation is lifelong; the necessity for prayer never ceases; there is always, therefore, need to watch.
V. The objects of prayer. Prayer must not be selfish. It is the language of the kingdom of God; and the kingdom of God is a community, a brotherhood. Prayer is the expression of the life of God’s kingdom, and that life is social. (Marvin R. Vincent, D. D.)
Pastor and people
I. The duty of the people.
1. Constant prayer.
2. Habitual watchfulness.
3. Steady perseverance. This is opposed to--
4. Christian affection.
II. The office of the pastor--“An ambassador”: one who has received a commission, and has a delegated authority. As a minister my duty is--
1. To instruct you with plainness.
2. To entreat you affectionately.
3. To warn you with faithfulness.
4. To watch over you with care.
III. The text also affords me an opportunity to solicit your prayers.
1. Pray that I may preach fluently.
2. Pray that I may preach with boldness.
3. Pray that I may preach correctly.
4. Pray that I may preach successfully.
Concluding observations: From what has been said we cannot but observe--
1. The connection which subsists between a successful ministry and a praying people.
2. The importance of exemplifying all the graces of the Holy Spirit. Here is prayer, watchfulness, perseverance, comprehensive love; all these are required, and how important are they all. (W. S. Palmer.)
Subjects of intercession
I. Proper subjects of prayer.
1. Our own personal needs.
2. The needs of all our brethren in Christ--“for all saints.”
3. The needs of ambassadors of Christ--“for me.”
II. Proper method of prayer.
1. Variety in the method--“all prayer,” public and private, secret and social, with confession, petition, and thanksgiving.
2. Frequency--“at all seasons” (R.V.).
3. Seeking the help of God’s Spirit--“in the Spirit” (Romans 8:15; Romans 8:26).
4. Watchfulness, lest weariness overtake us.
5. Perseverance (Luke 18:1). (Family Churchman.)
Intercession is the characteristic of Christian worship, the privilege of the heavenly adoption, the exercise of the perfect and spiritual mind. This is the subject to which I shall now direct your attention.
1. First, let us turn to the express injunctions of Scripture. For instance, the text itself: “Praying in every season with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and abstaining from sleep for the purpose, with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” Observe the earnestness of the intercession here inculcated; “in every season, with all supplication,” and “to the loss of sleep” (see also Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Timothy 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 14:3). Next consider St. Paul’s own example, which is quite in accordance with his exhortations (Ephesians 1:16-17; Philippians 1:3-4; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2). The instances of prayer, recorded in the book of Acts, are of the same kind, being almost entirely of an intercessory nature, as offered at ordinations, confirmations, cures, missions, and the like (Acts 13:2-3; Acts 9:4).
2. Such is the lesson taught us by the words and deeds of the apostles and their brethren. Nor could it be otherwise, if Christianity be a social religion, as it is preeminently. If Christians are to live together, they will pray together; and united prayer is necessarily of an intercessory character, as being offered for each other and for the whole, and for self as one of the whole.
3. But the instance of St. Paul opens upon us a second reason for this distinction. Intercession is the especial observance of the Christian, because he alone is in a condition to offer it. It is the function of the justified and obedient, of the sons of God, “who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit”; not of the carnal and unregenerate. “God heareth not sinners”; nature tells us this; but none but God Himself could tell us that He will hear and answer those who are not sinners; for “when we have done all, we are unprofitable servants, and can claim no reward for our services.” But He has graciously promised us this mercy, in Scripture, as the following texts will show: James 5:16; 1 John 3:22; John 15:7-15.
4. The history of God’s dealings with Abraham will afford us an additional lesson, which must be ever borne in mind in speaking of the privilege of the saints on earth as intercessors between God and man (see also Exodus 20:12; Jeremiah 35:18-19; Daniel 10:2-14; Mark 9:29).
5. Why should we be unwilling to admit what is is so great a consolation to know? Why should we refuse to credit the transforming power and efficacy of our Lord’s sacrifice? Surely He did not die for any common end, but in order to exalt man, who was of the dust of the field, into “heavenly places.” He died to bestow upon him that privilege which implies or involves all others, and brings him into nearest resemblance to Himself, the privilege of intercession. This, I say, is the Christian’s especial prerogative; and if he does not exercise it, certainly he has not risen to the conception of his real place among created beings. He is made after the pattern and in the fulness of Christ--he is what Christ is. Christ intercedes above, and he intercedes below. Why should he linger in the doorway, praying for pardon, who has been allowed to share in the grace of the Lord’s passion, to die with Him and rise again? He is already in a capacity for higher things. His prayer thenceforth takes a higher range, and contemplates not himself merely, but others also. To conclude. If anyone asks, “How am I to know whether I am advanced enough in holiness to intercede?” he has plainly mistaken the doctrine under consideration. The privilege of intercession is a trust committed to all Christians who have a clear conscience and are in full communion with the Church. We leave secret things to God--what each man’s real advancement is in holy things, and what his real power in the unseen world. Two things alone concern us, to exercise our gift and make ourselves more and more worthy of it. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
1.The apostle here supposes our obligation to prayer to be so plain, that every rational mind will see it, and so important, that every pious heart will feel it. Therefore, instead of adducing arguments to prove the duty, he rather points out the manner in which it should be performed.
2. Prayer is of several kinds: social and secret, public and domestic, stated and occasional; and it consists of several parts: confession, supplication, intercession, thanksgiving.
3. The apostle next instructs us concerning the manner in which our prayers should be offered.
4. The apostle here teaches us the duty of intercession for others. The goodness of God is the foundation of prayer. If God is good to others, as well as to us, there is the same ground on which to offer our social intercessions, as our personal petitions. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
The necessity of prayer
Whatever may be the character of other military men, the Christian soldier must be a man of prayer. This will appear both from his own wants, and from the character of the Captain of his salvation. Among your wants we may point to your weakness. You have a great battle to wage against a great enemy. The serried hosts of Marathon or Waterloo, drawn out in long and splendid array, might well have appalled even an experienced soldier whose office called him to draw his sword for that desperate battle strife; but the hosts of Marathon and Waterloo were trifles compared With the principalities and powers with which you must contend. And what are you against such a gigantic enemy? an enemy whose legions are almost countless, whose adroitness and long experience are unequalled amongst all God’s creatures, and whose long marches have been signalized with such numberless victories? What are you in yourself but dust and ashes, but a poor, weak, helpless worm? in your natural state fitly described by inspiration as “without strength,” and even when introduced into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, still constrained to say, “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing”: “when I would do good, evil is present with me.” Utterly imbecile as to the conquest of your own evil passions, how can you in your own strength stand against the principalities and powers, and wiles of the devil? The necessity for prayer to the Christian soldier appears also from his ignorance. However much he may have known and sadly felt of the wiles of the devil, he has not yet learned the whole of his devices. Satan’s empire is a deep abyss; it is a school in which, however large your experience, you will still be a learner to your dying day. As regards many of the wiles of Saran, and many of the purposes of God’s providence and grace, we are the veriest babes. These considerations are further enforced by the character of the Captain of your salvation. He is, first of all, able to understand perfectly your wants. As God, He is omniscient. Consider, also, that the Captain of your salvation is possessed of infinite power. The strength and ability to carry out their purposes with all creatures is limited. Some possess this attribute in larger measure than others, but with all it has its bounds. But your Leader is Divine, and with Him all things are possible. We are further encouraged to call on God our Saviour in the midst of our spiritual march, by the fact that He has a heart of the most tender sensibilities and sympathies. Are you tempted, desponding, sorrowing, suffering in mind, body, or estate? Are you wrestling hard against the principalities and powers of Satan, or against the cravings of flesh and blood? Does the battle seem long, the odds much against you, the result uncertain, and your helpers far away? Soldier of the Cross, thy conflicts are not unseen nor unpitied; thy Helper is not far away; thy sorrows will not be greater than thou canst bear, nor thy foes prove too much for thee. Although unseen by mortal eyes, He who called you from darkness to light is very near you; He has a feeling for your infirmities, and declares He will never leave nor forsake you. (J. Leyburn, D. D.)
We consider that the word “always” in the text is not satisfied by a man’s having stated times for prayer--by his offering up prayer every morning and night, but that it requires a prayerful mind--a mind at all times apt for prayer. He prays “always” who feels the duty and the privilege of communing with God at all times and under all circumstances; not only when God is chastening him, but when He is crowning him with loving kindness; not only in adversity, but in prosperity; who has wants to express when to the eye of the world every want seems satisfied; who has desires to breathe as well when his “cup runneth over” as when, “hungry and thirsty, his soul fainteth in him.” He prays “always,” not, indeed, who is always on his knees, or always engaged with specific acts of devotion, for this were impossible, and if possible, inconsistent with the appointed duties of life; but he who carries a prayerful spirit into every occupation and every condition; who never feels as if it would be a violent transition, in any company or under any Circumstances, to address himself to God, so truly has he “God in all his thoughts,” so pervaded is the whole train and current of his being with the consciousness that “of Him, and through Him, and by Him, are all things.” But there must be true religion, the religion of the heart, before there can be this “praying always.” Let it be observed, that all prayer supposes a sense of want to be supplied, and a consciousness that the supply can come only from God. In this way you may readily see how it comes to be a test of depth and sincerity in religion, that there should be perseverance in prayer. Judge yourselves, your religion, by such a test as this. A really godly man carries with him a prayerful mind into every scene and every occupation. Be not content till you have--what as fallen and ruined creatures in a state of peril you ought to have--an abiding sense of abiding want; so that at no moment are you at a loss what to ask for, and at none at a loss whom to ask it from. Till you have this--this which will lead you to pray in the crowd as well as in solitude--this which will keep the heart ever sitting at God’s gate, the spirit ever bent on intercourse with heaven--your religion is at best that of the hypocrite or the formalist. You do not live in an atmosphere of prayer, the atmosphere which a genuine Christian weaves around him, and carries with him. You are still at a distance from conformity such as that of our text, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” And here we would desire to point out to you that such constant and intimate communion as is indicated by our text can only take place where there is delight in God, and a feeling that His service is indeed “perfect freedom.” This is the secret of a Christian being always ready for prayer. He delights in God; he draws his happiness from God. We have yet to throw rapidly together certain reasons for that inconstancy in prayer, which is one great sign of a defective religion. You are not now, it may be, regular in prayer; but you have had your times of prayer--times when you performed that great duty with considerable care, though you have gradually relaxed, and then perhaps omitted it altogether. Now, how came this to pass? How was it that you did not arrive at the “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit”? Probably you left off praying because you were not willing to leave off sinning. Habitual prayer and habitual sin cannot exist long together. Sin will make you uneasy in prayer, or prayer will make you uneasy in sin. It was a good saying of some of the old divines--“Praying will make a man leave off sinning, or sinning will make a man leave off praying.” May not this be the explanation of your not “praying always unto God”? There was some favourite passion which you persisted in indulging, even whilst you persisted in praying. Perhaps--for this is possible, this is even common--perhaps you indulged the very passion against which you were praying: the prayer serving as a sort of sop to the conscience--a make-believe, that whilst you did the wrong thing, you had the wish, though not the power, to do the right. No wonder, if before long you left off praying. Be more honest another time. If you are secretly determined on continuing in sin, if you are not sincerely desirous of overcoming that sin, do not mock God by praying against that sin. And take it as a general rule, that prayer will be only by fits and starts; that there will never be such a habit of prayer, such a prayerfulness of spirit, as to justify the expression, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit,” unless you are at war with sin; unless you strive with all diligence to keep under those evil propensities, the indulgence of which, as it grieves God’s Spirit, will necessarily hinder, and at last silence, supplication. For here you are to observe another great reason why, where there is no depth in religion, there will be no perseverance in prayer. You should mark the expression in the text, “supplication in the Spirit.” Fervent, effectual, importunate prayer is the utterance of God’s Spirit, making intercession within us. It is not our own voice, “for we know not what we should pray for as we ought”; we have to be taught how to pray, and our constant prayer should be for the spirit of prayer. But this is what the hypocrite and the formalist are either ignorant or unmindful of. They pray in their own strength; they have no consciousness of their inability for the very act in which it is their duty to engage; not an inability which exonerates them from the duty, but an inability which should make them seek Divine help for its discharge. Praying not in dependence on the Holy Spirit is but swimming in the wide sea, where there is nothing to lay hold on--a few desperate struggles, and then a sinking down in death. If, then, you would learn to “pray always unto God,” keep much in mind that the Spirit must help your infirmities. When you kneel down for prayer, pray that you may pray; do not proceed at once to the remembering and expressing other wants; confine yourselves to the one great want of “the Spirit of grace and supplication.” That obtained, you will pray “the effectual fervent prayer,” even though, as the apostle saith, it may be “with groanings that cannot be uttered”; that withheld, your prayer will bring down no blessing from above, however fluent it may have been in expression. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The triumphs of the praying life
I stood lately in St Paul’s Cathedral, and saw many monuments raised to English heroes, on which were written a list of their victories. But what monument could hold the list of triumphs won by prayer; triumphs gained in drawing room and garret, in palace and hovel, in prison cell and workhouse ward, in noisy barracks and tossing ships, or hospital couches wet with tears of agony, by empty cradles, and by new made graves? These are the victories won on battlefields of sorrow, of trial, of loss, of temptation, where the fighting was harder than at Marathon, or Austerlitz, or Waterloo; victories of faith, victories won by prayer. The history of the Church of Christ is the history of these triumphs. And take heed how you pray.
1. Then, pray faithfully, believing that God can and will answer you, though not, perhaps, just as you expect. Many prayers are wasted because they are without faith; those who utter them are just trying an experiment to see whether God will hear and answer or not.
2. Next, pray persistently; don’t be disheartened because God does not answer at once.
3. Next, pray submissively, striving to give up your will to God’s will.
4. Next, pray simply. Some people pick out the longest and hardest words when they speak to God. (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)
The power of prayer
Prayer, which is of supreme necessity both for our own defence and for the destruction of the kingdom of darkness, cannot be properly described as part of the defensive armour which we are to wear, or as one of the weapons which we are to wield. It, is an appeal to the Divine strength and to Divine grace. To speak of the “power of prayer,” as though prayer itself were a spiritual force, is misleading. In prayer, human weakness invokes Divine protection and Divine support. We pray because our position in relation to God is a position of absolute dependence. Apart from Him we can do nothing. And in the spiritual life no system of secondary laws comes between Him and us. In the inferior provinces of our activity we are environed by the unchanging order of the physical universe; the Divine energy is voluntarily limited by natural laws; without any direct appeal to God we can command physical forces by a knowledge of the fixed methods of their action. But the higher life is a perpetual miracle. In the spiritual universe the Divine will works freely, and we have to do, not with forces which act under the restraint of fixed laws, but with a personal Will. God is the Fountain of our life and of our strength; but the streams flow, not under the compulsion of necessity, but according to His free volitions. We therefore pray that the life and the strength may he ours. Our dependence upon God is constant, and therefore our prayers should be constant. With the chances and changes of life our necessities are infinitely varied, and our prayers should be equally varied. Our opportunities for prayer are not always the same; sometimes we must pray alone, sometimes we can pray with others; sometimes our prayers must be brief, sometimes they may be prolonged. At all times, to pray aright, we must have the illumination and gracious aid of the Divine Spirit. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
Prayer acts upon God
Habitual intercession for others is one of the surest correctives of the tendency to regard prayer as deriving its chief value and importance--not from the fact that God listens to us when we pray, and gives us what we ask for--but from the influence which devotional thought, the confession of sin and of weakness, the grateful acknowledgment of God’s goodness, and the contemplation of God’s eternal majesty and glory, exert on our own spiritual life. None of us can escape altogether from the prevailing temper of our time. Those of us who think that we are least affected by the currents of contemporary thought feel their power. The tendency to eliminate the supernatural element from the spiritual as well as the physical universe is affecting the whole life of the Church. Christian people can understand that when they pray their devotional acts exert a reflex influence on their own minds and hearts; but to expect a direct answer from God requires a vigorous faith; and to this faith I fear that many of us are unequal. If Christian men are in trouble they are conscious that their hearts are lighter after they have spoken to God about it, just as their hearts are lighter when they have spoken about it to a friend; and they suppose that this kind of relief is all that they have a right to look for. They pray for stronger faith, and they suppose that it is by their own thoughts about God and His great goodness, thoughts which are made more vivid by the act of prayer, that their faith is to be Strengthened. Or if they pray that their love for God may become more ardent, they imagine that it is by the very excitement of praying for it that the result is to be obtained. They think that their prayer will be ineffective if, while they pray, their hearts are not flooded with emotion; they are satisfied if the emotion comes, and if, to use their own words, they “feel better” when the prayer is over. It is no doubt true that religious thought and communion with God purify, invigorate, and ennoble the soul; but if when we pray we think only or chiefly of the effect of prayer upon ourselves, instead of thinking of its effect in inducing God to grant us what we pray for, we misapprehend the nature of the act. When your child comes to you hungry or thirsty, and asks for food or drink, the child expects you to do something in answer to its request. It does not suppose that the mere act of asking will satisfy its hunger or quench its thirst; and so when we ask God for spiritual wisdom and strength we are not to imagine that the mere asking will make us wiser and stronger. God teaches us and God strengthens us, in answer to our prayer. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
Prayer for others
The duty of praying for others is frequently inculcated in the New Testament. It is one of the obligations arising from the great law which makes it impossible for any of us to live an independent and an isolated life. We are members of one body; if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is strong and healthy, all the members share the health and strength. We are not fighting a solitary battle. We belong to a great army, and the fortunes of a regiment in a remote part of the field may give us an easy victory, or increase the chances of our defeat. We are to offer supplication for “all the saints.” (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
A share in others’ moral victories through prayer
There are Christian people whose life is so far removed from excitement, agitation, and peril, that they seem to have no opportunities for winning great moral victories; their powers are very limited, and they are not appointed to tasks of great difficulty and honour. Let them resolve to have their part in the righteousness of their comrades who face the fiercest dangers, and in the fame of the very chiefs and heroes of the great army of God. Let them pray for “all the saints,” and their prayers will give courage, endurance, and invincible fidelity to those who are struggling with incessant temptations. Some Christian brother, who under the stress of bad trade and unexpected losses is almost driven to dishonesty, will preserve his integrity. Some young man, who is no longer sheltered by the kindly defence of a religious home, and who is surrounded by companions that are trying to drug his conscience, to excite his passions, and to drag him down into vice, will stand firm in his fidelity to Christ. Some poor woman, harassed by anxiety, worn down by unkindness, will receive strength to bear her sorrows with patience, and will rise to a lofty faith in the righteousness and love of God. The feverish passion for wealth will be cooled in some Christian merchant, and he will obey the words of Christ charging him to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. Some Christian statesman will have a clearer vision of Divine and eternal things, and the vision will enable him to master the impulses of personal ambition and to care only for serving Christ by serving the State. Saintly souls will become more saintly. New fervour will kindle in many a heart already glowing with apostolic zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of men. New gifts of wisdom and of utterance will be conferred on some who are already conspicuous for their spiritual power and their spiritual achievements. By constant and earnest intercession for “all the saints,” those who are living in quiet and obscure places may share the honours and victories of all their comrades, may have some part in the praise of their holiness, and some part in their final reward. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
None are so likely to maintain watchful guard over their hearts and lives as those who know the comfort of living in near communion with God. They feel their privilege, and will fear losing it. They will dread falling from their high estate, and marring their own comforts by bringing clouds between themselves and Christ. He that goes on a journey with a little money about him takes little thought of danger, and cares little how late he travels. He, on the contrary, that carries gold and jewels, will be a cautious traveller; he will look well to his roads, his horses, and his company, and run no risks. The fixed stars are those that tremble most. The man that most fully enjoys the light of God’s countenance will be a man tremblingly afraid of losing its blessed consolations, and jealously fearful of doing anything to grieve the Holy Ghost. (Bishop Ryle.)
Watching unto prayer
A mother sends a letter to her much-loved son in India; and how she watches for the return of an answer! A merchant invests an amount of money in some speculation, and how he watches for the success of the scheme, and the repayment of his money with satisfactory interest. A farmer for the first time sows his land with grain, and how he watches for the blade, the ear, the full corn in the ear, and the ripened corn to be gathered into the barn; so should Christians, after they have sent up their prayers to heaven, wait and watch for the return of answers. (John Bate.)
Prayer, then, though not a specific part of the Christian armour, is a necessary preparative to the battle. It is the tongue of war which is to summon the scattered forces together, to marshal them in their appointed order,. animating by its spirit stirring voice all the faculties and powers of the soul; and, in times of danger and fainting, sound an alarm in the ears of heaven. The true Christian soldier will love prayer even as the absent patriot loves the anthems of his native home.
I. Let us, first, consider what is meant by this expression, “praying always.” How can the Christian be always in prayer?
1. Well, first, the expression means, that there should be a holy regularity in our habits of prayer.
2. Again, by “praying always” is meant, that you should pray in every condition and circumstance of life; that is, in sickness you should pray for patience, and in health you should pray for a thankful heart; in prosperity you should pray that you should not forget God, and in adversity you should pray that God may not forget you. It is not enough to seek God in times of our tribulation only, we must seek Him in times of our wealth.
3. Further: by “praying always,” no doubt, is meant, that we should make everything a matter of prayer.
4. Once more. By “praying always,” the apostle means, that prayer should be the pervading habit of the Christian’s life--that it should be as a leaven fermenting the whole substance of our moral being; a sentinel continually keeping watch over our unguarded moments; a sanctified enclosure fencing us round by the protection and presence of God. Prayer, like Him to whom it is addressed, knows nothing of our finite magnitude and relations. They are all lost sight of in their relation to the Infinite and the Eternal--to their bearing on our preparation for a state of everlasting existence.
II. But let us consider, secondly, the comprehensive form of the precept which is here given--“With all prayer and supplication.” The two words here chosen by the apostle are, without doubt, sometimes used interchangeably in Scripture. But there is an etymological difference between them, suggesting that we consider prayer as having reference to petitions for some good to be desired, whilst supplication be referred to petitions for evils to be avoided. Acting upon this definition, we are first taught to “pray with all prayer”--that is, with prayer for all good things. And this rule should be extended even to those blessings which at first sight we might think it lawful to ask of God without limitation and without reserve--I mean those which relate to our spiritual happiness. “With all prayer and supplication”--that is, as we have supposed, with all deprecation of evil--with prayer, that things really hurtful to us may be kept away. But here, as in the other case, God alone must be the judge of what the evil is.
III. But note, in the last place, the internal assistance we are taught to look for in the performance of this duty--“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” The expression is obviously the same as that which we have in the Epistle of Jude--“Praying in the Holy Ghost”; and it refers to the promised assistance of that Divine Agent when “we know not what to pray for as we ought.” Praying in the Spirit, therefore, is to pray in that spirit of grace and supplication which the Holy Ghost alone can bestow--to pray in that “spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father!” And further, by praying in the Spirit is meant, that we should pray in a right mind--that we should pray fervently--that we should pray with a consciousness that there is an assisting Power to help us. For the Spirit of God not only originates holy desires, but it actuates, it maintains, it cherishes, it keeps alive all praying influences in the heart. Such, brethren, is the great duty with which the apostle shuts up his description of our spiritual warfare. He does not, indeed, make prayer a part of the spiritual equipment, because it is the life, and strength, and safeguard of the whole. You must gird on your sword, and pray; you must bind on your sandals, and pray; you must buckle on your breastplate, and pray. In all things there must be a simultaneous outgoing of that which is to give effect to all the weapons you employ in your spiritual encounter. No prayer, no victory. (D. Moore, M. A.)
And for me, that utterance may be given unto me.
Ministers dependent on the people’s prayers
You come to listen to me on Sunday, and I have nothing to say that adds vigour to faith, or fervour to love, or that enlarges your knowledge of duty or of God. It is plain that during the week I have had no clear vision of spiritual truth, or that, if I have, the vision has faded away. You are naturally disappointed, perhaps discontented. It is partly my fault. But is it not possible that the fault is as much yours as mine? If you had prayed for me with earnestness and faith, might not the vision of God bare come to me, and the revelation of spiritual truth and the baptism of fire? In the absence of your intercessions, God may have given me truth for myself, but not for you. Suppose that in the course of a few weeks after the Ephesian Christians received this Epistle Paul had been called to appear before the Roman emperor, and that his courage had failed, or that, if his courage had not failed, no wise and vigorous and penetrating words had occurred to him in defence of the honour of Christ and in illustration of the glory of the Christian redemption. The Ephesian Christians, when they heard of his failure, would have wondered how it could have happened that the great apostle had even momentarily lost his fearlessness and his power. But if they had forgotten to pray that “utterance” might be given to him “to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,” the apostle’s failure might have been the result of their neglect. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
I may speak boldly,
2. Bold preaching of the gospel is needed, because of the tendency of the times. From all quarters the cry comes, “Speak to us smooth things, and prophesy deceit.”
3. Boldness is needed, because of the opposition that is offered. In proportion to the zeal and earnestness with which the gospel is proclaimed, we may conclude that the virulence of the opposition will increase. The whole world wilt soon be divided into two camps. It will be manifested in which of the two God is. (J. B. Forrest.)
Boldness of faithful preachers
I. Faithful ministers feel that they ought to preach the gospel boldly.
1. This will appear, if we consider that they really believe the gospel is true.
2. Their knowledge, as well as belief of the gospel, carries conviction to their minds that they ought to preach it boldly.
3. Faithful ministers feel the sacred obligation of their sacred office, to preach the gospel boldly.
II. Why they desire Christians to pray for them that they may preach the gospel boldly as they feel in conscience bound to preach it.
1. Here the first reason that occurs is, because they are sensible of their own insufficiency to surmount the difficulties that they expect to find in their way of preaching the gospel with Christian freedom and confidence.
2. They desire Christians to pray for them because they feel their own insufficiency to preach the gospel successfully. Though they should preach the truth plainly and boldly as they ought to preach it, yet they cannot command success. They can only speak to the ear; they cannot speak to the conscience or to the heart.
A minister, without boldness, is like a smooth file, a knife without an edge, a sentinel that is afraid to let off his gun. If men will be bold in sin, ministers must be bold to reprove. (W. Gurnall, M. A.)
Zeal in preaching Christ
When liberty was offered to John Bunyan, then in prison, on condition of abstaining from preaching, he constantly replied, “If you let me out today I shall preach again tomorrow.”
Zeal in rebuke
While Augustine acted as a presbyter at Hippo, under Valerius, his bishop, he was appointed by him to preach to the people, in order to reclaim them from riotous feasting on solemn days. He opened the Scriptures, and read to them the most vehement rebukes. He besought them, by the ignominy and sorrow which they brought upon themselves, and by the blood of Christ, not to destroy themselves, to pity him who spake to them with so much affection, and to show some regard to their venerable old bishop, who, out of tenderness to them, had charged him to instruct them in the truth. “I did not make them weep,” says he, “by first weeping over them, but while I was preaching their tears prevented mine. Then I own I could not restrain myself. After we had wept together I began to entertain great hope of their amendment.” He now varied from the discourse he had prepared, because the present softness of their minds seemed to require something different. In fine, he had the satisfaction to find the evil redressed from that very day. (Milner.)
On one occasion the Rev. Frederick Robertson had been asked to preach at a church where the congregation was chiefly composed of those whom Pope describes as passing from “a youth of frolics” to “an old age of cards.” His text was, “Love not the world, nor the things of the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The sermon was most impressive and eloquent, and bold in its denunciation. Returning home, he asked a gentleman if he thought he was right in preaching it. The gentleman replied, “It was very truthful, but, considering the character of the clergyman whose pulpit you occupied by courtesy, and the character of the congregation, not a discreet sermon. It might have been as truthful without apparently setting both minister and people at defiance.” “You are quite right,” he answered; but the truth was this: I took two sermons with me into the pulpit, uncertain which to preach; but just as I had fixed upon the other, something seemed to say to me, ‘Robertson, you are a craven, you dare not speak here what you believe’; and I immediately pulled out the sermon that you heard, and preached it as you heard it.”
John Basilowitz, the Czar of Russia, perceiving Sir Jeremy Bowes, the ambassador of Queen Elizabeth, with his hat on in his presence, thus rebuked him: “Have you not heard, sir, of the person I have punished for such an insult?” He had, in fact, punished him very savagely, by causing his hat to be nailed to his head. Sir Jeremy answered, “Yes, sir; but I am the Queen of England’s ambassador, who never yet stood bareheaded to any prince whatever. Her I represent, and on her justice I depend to do me right if I am insulted.” “A brave fellow this,” replied the Czar, to his nobles, “a brave fellow this, who dares thus to act and talk for his sovereign’s honour. Which of you would do so for me?” (G. Ramsay.)
A courageous missionary
Some of the Indian chiefs having become the open enemies of the gospel, Mr. Elliot, sometimes called the Apostle of the American Indians, when in the wilderness, without the company of any other Englishman, was at various times treated in a threatening and barbarous manner by some of those men; yet his Almighty Protector inspired him with such resolution that he said, “I am about the work of the Great God, and my God is with me; so that I fear neither you nor all the Sachims (or chiefs) in the country. I will go on, and do you touch me if you dare.” They heard him, and shrank away. (Baxendale’s Anecdotes.)
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith.
Peace, love, and faith
There is no better test of a man than the things that he wishes for the people that he loves most. He desires for them, of course, his own ideal of happiness. What do you desire most for those that are dearest to you? You parents, do you train up your children, for instance, so as to secure, or to do your best to secure, not outward prosperity, but these loftier gifts; and for yourselves, when you are forming your wishes, are these the things that you want most? “Set your affections on things above,” and remember that whoso has that trinity of graces--peace, love, faith--is rich and blessed, whatsoever else he has or needs. And whoso has them not is miserable and poor. The Christian life in its higher vigour and excellence is rooted in faith. That faith associates to itself, and is inseparably connected with love, and the faith and love together issue in a deep restful tranquillity which nothing can break. Now let us look at these three things as the three greatest blessings that any can bear in their hearts, and wring out of time, sorrow, and change.
I. First, the root of everything is a continuous and growing trust. Remember, that this prayer or wish of my text was spoken in reference to brethren; that is to say, to those who, by the hypothesis, already possessed Christian faith. And Paul wishes for them, and can wish for them, nothing better and more than the increase and continuousness of that which they already possess. The highest blessing that the brethren can receive is the enlargement and the strengthening of their faith. Now we talk so much in Christian teaching about this “faith” that, I fancy, like a worn sixpence in a man’s pocket, its very circulation from hand to hand has worn off the lettering. And many of us, from the very familiarity of the word, have only a dim conception of what it means. It may not be profitless, then, to remind you, first of all, that this faith is neither more nor less than a very familiar thing which you are constantly exercising in reference to one another, that is to say, simple confidence. There is nothing mysterious in it, it is simply the exercise of confidence, the familiar cement that binds all human relationship together, and makes men brotherly and kindred with their kind. Faith is trust, and trust saves a man’s soul. Then, remember further, that the faith which is the foundation of everything is essentially the personal trust reposing upon a person, upon Jesus Christ. When you grasp Christ, the living Christ, and not merely the doctrine, for yours, then you have faith. Then, remember still further, that this personal outgoing of confidence, which is the action both of a man’s will and of a man’s intellect, to the person revealed to us in the great doctrines of the gospel--that this faith, if it is to be worth anything, must be continuous. And, still further, this faith ought to be progressive. Brethren, is it so with us? Let us ask ourselves that; and let us ask very solemnly this other question--If my faith has no growth, how do I know that it has got any life? And so let me remind you, further, that this faith, the personal outgoing of a man’s intellect and will to the personal Saviour revealed in the Scriptures as the sacrifice for our sins, and the life of our spirits, which ought to be continuous and progressive, is the foundation of all strength, blessedness, goodness, in a human character; and if we have it we have the germ of all possible excellence and growth, not because of what it is in itself, for in itself it is nothing more than the opening of the heart to the reception of the celestial influences of grace and righteousness that He pours down. And, therefore, this is the thing that a wise man will most desire for himself, and for those that are dearest to him.
II. And now, next, notice how inseparably associated with a true faith is love. The one is effect that never is found without its cause; the other is cause which never but produces its effect. These two are braided together by the apostle, as inseparable in reality and inseparable in thought. And that it is so is plain enough, and there follow from it some practical lessons that I desire to lay upon your hearts and my own. There are, then, here, two principles, or rather two sides of one thought; no faith without love, no love without faith.
III. And now, lastly, these two inseparably associated graces of faith and love bring with them, and lead to, the third--peace. It seems to be but a very modest, sober-tinted wish which the apostle here has for his brethren, that the highest and best thing he can ask for them is only quiet. Very modest by the side of joy and excitement, in their coats of many colours; and yet the deepest and truest blessing that any of us can have--peace. It comes to us by one path, and that is by the path of faith and love. These two bring peace with God, peace in our inmost spirits, the peace of self-annihilation and submission, the peace of obedience, the peace of ceasing from your own works, and entering, therefore, into the rest of God. Trust is peace. There is no tranquillity like that of feeling “I am not responsible for this; He is; and I rest myself on Him.” Love is peace. There is no rest for our hearts but on the bosom of someone that is dear to us, and in whom we can confide. But ah! brother, every tree in which the dove nestles is felled down sooner or later, and the nest torn to pieces, and the bird flies away. But if we turn ourselves to the undying Christ, the perpetual revelation of the eternal God, then, then our love and our faith will bring us rest. Self-surrender is peace. It is our wills that trouble us. Disturbance comes, not from without, but from within. When the will bows, when I say, “Be it then as Thou wilt,” when in faith and love I cease to strive, to murmur, to rebel, to repine, and enter into His loving purposes, then there is peace. Obedience is peace. To recognize a great will that is sovereign, and to bow myself to it, not because it is sovereign, but because it is sweet, and sweet because I love it, and love Him whose it is. That is peace. And then, whatever may be outward circumstances, there shall be “peace subsisting at the heart of endless agitation”; and deep in my soul I may be tranquil, though all about me may be the hurly-burly of the storm. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
There are depths in the ocean which no tempest ever stirs; they are beyond the reach of all storms which sweep and agitate the surface of the sea. There are heights in the blue sky to which no cloud ever ascends, where no tempest ever rages, where all is perpetual sunshine. Each of these is an emblem of the soul which Jesus visits; to whom He speaks His peace, whose fear He dispels, and whose lamp of hope He trims.
Love and faith
Faith and love are like a pair of compasses. Faith, like one point, fastens on Christ as the centre; and love, like the other, goes the round in all the works of holiness and righteousness.
Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.
Grace and love
Everything you need to make you good, wise, humble, lovely, useful, and happy, is comprehended in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you care for yourself and your immediate friends only, and not for others also, is it not that you have too little of the grace of Jesus Christ? Or if you show a self-loving partiality for your own Church, and a prejudice against other Churches, would not more of the grace of the Lord Jesus enlarge your heart, and correct the one-sidedness of your character? If you carry yourself haughtily towards anyone, is not that a sign that your own spirit is strong, and the grace of Christ weak in you? Do not your impatience, irritability, and anger, give evidence of your deficiency in grace? If you are fretful or downcast under suffering, would not more of the grace of Jesus produce in you an exactly contrary condition? If you surrender your tongue to foolish talking, does it not argue an absence of the dignity and wisdom which are in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? If you fall into any vice or sin whatsoever, would not a greater measure of His grace restrain you? It is clear, therefore, that the grace of Christ is precisely what you want, to make you everything that you should be. It is everything that can relate you happily to God and advantageously to man. One word expresses the whole circle of your wants. For that one word, Grace, stands for “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” It is the virtue of His all-perfect humanity operating within you, the one thing that roots, grows, and opens in us every excellence and charm of spirit and character. (J. Pulsford.)
Love for Christ
1.Love for Christ is the common life of all true Christians. In whatever else they differ from each other, in their creeds, in their modes of worship, in some of their conceptions of how the Divine life in man is originated, how it should be disciplined, and how it is manifested, they are alike in this: they all love the Lord Jesus Christ. The controversies and divisions of Christendom have gone a long way towards destroying the unity of the Church; but in love for Christ all Christians are one.
2. And love for Christ is immortal. The religious passion which is created by sensuous excitements, whether these excitements are addressed to the eye or to the ear, whether they heat the blood or intoxicate the imagination, is transitory. It has in it the elements of corruption. But true love for Christ is rooted in all that is deepest and divinest in human nature. It is immortal, for it belongs to that immortal life which comes to us by the inspiration of the Spirit of God. It will not decay with the decay of physical vigour. It will triumph over death; and will reveal the fulness of its strength, and the intensity of its fervour in those endless ages which we hope to spend with Christ in glory. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
Benediction to those who love Jesus
I. Consider on what accounts Christ is entitled to our love.
1. He is a Divine Person.
2. His mediatorial offices entitle Him to our love. A sense of our wants adds worth to an object suited to relieve them. Jesus is such a Saviour as we need.
3. Christ is an object of our love on account of His kindness to us.
II. Sincerity is an essential qualification of our love to Christ.
1. Our love to Christ must be real, not pretended.
2. Our love to Christ must be universal; it must respect His whole character.
3. Sincere love to Christ is supreme.
4. Sincere love is persevering.
5. True love to Christ is active. Not a cold and indolent opinion of Him; but such a sensible regard to Him as interests the heart, and influences the life.
III. How sincere love to Christ will discover itself.
1. It will make us careful to please Him.
2. This holy principle will be accompanied with humility.
3. If we love Christ, we will follow His steps, and walk as He walked.
4. Our love to Him will animate us to promote His interest, and oppose His enemies.
5. This principle will express itself in a devout attendance on His ordinances, especially the Holy Communion, the Sacrament of His love.
6. Love to Christ will make us long for His reappearing.
IV. The benediction connected with this temper. It is called “grace”--a term of large and glorious import. It comprehends all the blessings which the gospel reveals to the sons of men, and promises to the faithful in Christ.
1. One great privilege contained in this grace is justification before God.
2. Another privilege is the presence of the Divine Spirit.
3. They who love Christ have free access to the throne of grace, and a promise that they shall be heard and accepted there.
4. They who love Christ in sincerity will receive the gift of a happy immortality. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
I. The characters described.
1. The object of their love “The Lord Jesus Christ.”
2. The nature of their love--“Love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” Here is the affection and the kind of affection. Now, love to Christ--
It means real, in opposition to pretended love--intense, in opposition to languid--constant, in opposition to vacillating.
II. The affectionate prayer expressed.
1. All the saints of the Lord Jesus require this grace. None independent of it.
2. The grace is provided for all the disciples of Jesus. “Out of His fulness have we all,” etc.
3. We should seek sincerely in prayer that all may possess it. And that for the following reasons:--
1. We see the true nature of apostolical Christianity. A religion of love.
2. We perceive the unhappy influences of sectarianism. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The power of love
This is the climax of a most noble Epistle; and there is no letter of Paul that came from the very centre of Divine love with more richness, power, and brilliancy, and in which he deduces more clearly and more numerously the evidences and fruits of a truly Christian life, than in this one to the Ephesians. The conception of a Christ-like life, its fruitions, its trials and victories, is not more grandly set forth anywhere. The last note of this symphony is, “Grace be upon all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity”--as if loving the Lord Jesus Christ was at once the consummation which all duties lead toward, and the source or inspiration from which all duties spring, so that it comprehended all the details which he had been passing through; and as if it were a resumption or resume of the whole of what he had said before.
1. This love to Christ, as a great soul-force, accomplishes that which is indispensable to the whole ripening of the human soul--namely, whatever unites it in vital sympathy to God. The human soul, without personal union with God, is sunless and summerless, and can never blossom nor ripen. To bring this lower order in creation up to a Divine union, so that it shall make the leap from the animal to the spiritual sphere, from the lower to the higher condition, is the one problem of history. It cannot be done by reason, although reason is largely subordinated, and is auxiliary. But the reason, dominant, can never bring the soul into vital union with God. Neither can this be done by conscience. Conscience has power: but not the power to create sympathy. No man will be joined to God by conscience; contrariwise, men will, more likely, by mere conscience, which excites fear, be driven away from God. It cannot, either, be done by awe and reverence, which are adjuncts, but which, while they give toning and shadow to the higher feelings, give them no solar heat. They tend to lower and humble the soul; not to inspire and elevate it. They have their place among other feelings. Neither have they found God, nor have they ever led a soul to find Him--still less to join Him. Love, as a disposition, as a constant mood, has a welding power which can bring the soul to God, and fix it there. Finding Him, it can bring the soul into communion with Him, so that there shall be a personal connection between the Divine nature and the human nature. Love, then, is the one interpreter between God and man.
2. Love, also, is the one facile harmonizer of the internal discords of the human soul. It induces an atmosphere in us in which all feelings find their summer and so their ripeness.
3. Love is the only experience which keeps the soul always in a relation of sympathy and of harmony with one’s fellows; and so it is the truest principle of society. If society ever rises out of its lower passions and entanglements into a pure and joyous condition, it will be by the inspiration of a Divine love. This alone will enable it to convert knowledge to benefit.
4. Love is almost the only prophetic power of the soul. It is the chief principle that inspires hope of immortality. No man ever loved his wife, and buried her, saying, with any composure, “There is no immortality for her.” No man ever bore his child to the grave, though it were one that he could carry in the palm of his hand, that everything in his nature did not rise up, and say, “Let me find it again.” No man ever proudly loved a heroic father, and consented that that father should go to extinction. The flame of love, once shining, no one can endure to believe will ever go out. Love, therefore, teaches the soul to long for, and to believe in, a better land. If you think that in this diverse but brief exposition of the power of love, I have transcended good reason, listen and see whether I have equalled the declarations of Scripture on the same subject. If you think I have been extravagant, is not the apostle more extravagant? (1 Corinthians 13:1-13.) Upon all, then, who have learned this sacred secret; upon all who have been scholars to Christianity and to the Lord Jesus Christ, and have learned to love Christ in perpetuity, permanently--upon all these, “grace,” from God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and grace from all Christian men, in godly fellowship. “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity!” Grace be upon all theologians that tend to create love; upon all services that tend to inspire love; upon all organizations that tend to promote love. No grace upon anything else. That which does not touch love does not touch anything religious which is worth our consideration--certainly not worth our suffering for. Violent attacks are made on men, in order to change them; but that is not the best way to change them, nor to bring them into a redeeming spirit of love. Little wilt be done in this world to change men by controversy. We must make that chief in us, and in the Church, which we believe to be chief in Christianity--namely, the spirit of love. We must intensify this feeling. If we would return toward it, we must reform by it. We must produce an atmosphere, we must create a public sentiment, such that churches will feel the superiority of love over organization, and ordinance, and doctrine. (H. W. Beecher.)
Love to Christ
Test your love to Christ by the love you have to some dear friend, and you will find the proofs of it--if ye “love Him in sincerity.”
1. If a man be very dear to me, I love to be with him. It is not enough that I behold the window where he sometimes appears; I want to see him. What are ordinances but the lattices--the windows through which Christ makes Himself known, and is seen by His saints and disciples? You read the Word of God; it is God’s appointed way of finding Him. You hear the Word of God; it is God’s appointed medium for seeing Him. You bend the knee in prayer; it is God’s appointed medium for meeting Him. Then I would say, you “love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity,” because nothing short of Himself will ever satisfy your souls.
2. If by any unkindness to a dear friend we have caused him to withdraw from us, so that we see his face no more for a time, we search after him, and we cannot rest till we have found him. My dear hearers, see the Church of God, as discovered in the fifth chapter of that precious book--the Song of Solomon of Solomon. “I opened to my Beloved; but my Beloved had withdrawn Himself, and was gone; my soul failed when He spake; I sought Him, but I could not find Him; I called Him, but He gave me no answer.” But she went on seeking Him till she found Him. She did not give over her search, till she was enabled to say, in the third verse of the next chapter--“My Beloved is mine: He feedeth among the lilies.” True love cannot rest till it has found. We go to our family devotions, we seek the Lord in secret prayer, we mingle with the saints of God, but we cannot find rest till we have found Him.
3. Observe again: if I have a dear and beloved friend, I love his likeness. Although it maybe but a poor and feeble likeness, with many failures in it, yet there may be something about it which reminds me of him; and I love it because I love him. So do I love the saints of God. It is but a poor likeness--a faint resemblance; yet I see Christ in it. I see something of His meekness, tenderness, and love in it: and though it be but a poor picture, it reminds me of Him; and I love it for His sake. It is the true principle of brotherly love.
4. I am conscious of this principle too; that if I have a dear and beloved friend, I am concerned that others shall love him, and speak and think well of him; and that their hearts should be drawn out towards him. And so it is with the children of God. Observe in the first of John, that no sooner had Andrew heard the mighty call, than he searched after Simon; and no sooner had Philip heard it, than he searched after Nathanael. It marks out a principle, and exhibits the truth of what I am now speaking of. Ye parents that hear me, could ye but see in your dear child the breaking down of its proud heart, the humiliation of spirit, and withdrawment to prayer; could ye but see that beloved friend bow before God, it would be more to you than a thousand worlds. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
An apostolic conclusion
This apostolic conclusion is a reminder of--
I. That peace which comes down from God’s heaven alone upon our earth, into our hearts.
II. That love, which is pure, holy, Divine.
III. That faith, which, inseparable from love, living and active through it, born of God, alone is pleasing to God, alone gives to God His glory, alone exalts the soul to Him.
IV. That grace, through which, first and alone, there comes to us all true, eternal, blessed good, continuing ours out of pure mercy and unto eternity. (Passavant.)
In the palmy days of Roman prosperity, when her merchants lived in their marble palaces on the banks of the Tiber, there was a sort of emulation in the grandeur and artistic adornment of their dwellings. Good sculptors were eagerly sought after and employed. But tricks were sometimes practised then as now; thus, if the sculptor came upon a flaw in the marble, or chipped a piece out by accident, he had a carefully prepared wax with which he filled in the chink, and so carefully fixed it as to be imperceptible. In process of time, however, heat or damp would affect the wax, and reveal its presence there. The consequence was, that when new contracts were made for commissioned works of art, a clause was added to the effect that they were to be sine cera, or without cement. Hence we have here a word picture of great moral significance. (J. Tesseyman.)
Devotion with selfishness
God is in the hypocrite’s mouth, but the world is in his heart, which he expects to gain through his good reputation. I have read of one that offered his Prince a great sum of money to have leave once or twice a day to come into his presence and only say, “God save your majesty!” The prince, wondering at this large offer for so small a favour, asked him what advantage this would afford him. “O sire,” saith he, “this, though I have nothing else at your hands, will get me a name in the country for one who is a great favourite at court, and such an opinion will help me to more at the year’s end than it costs me for the purchase.” Thus some, by the name they get for great saints, advance their worldly interests, which lie at the bottom of all their profession. (W. Gurnall, M. A.)
A service of love
A century ago, in the north of Europe, stood an old cathedral, upon one of the arches of which was a sculptured face of wondrous beauty. It was long hidden, until one day the sun’s light striking through a slanted window revealed its matchless features. And ever after, year by year, upon the days when for a brief hour it was thus illuminated, crowds came and waited, eager to catch but a glimpse of that face. It had a strange history. When the cathedral was being built an old man, broken with the weight of years and care, came and besought the architect to let him work upon it. Out of pity for his age, but fearfullest his failing sight and trembling touch might mar some fair design, the master set him to work in the shadows of the vaulted roof. One day they found the old man asleep in death, the tools of his craft laid in order beside him, the cunning of his right hand gone, the face upturned to this other marvellous face which he had wrought--the face of one whom he had loved and lost in early manhood. And when the artists and sculptors and workmen from all parts of the cathedral came and looked upon that face, they said, “This is the grandest work of all; love wrought this!” (St. Louis Christian Advocate.)
Sunday, March 26th, 2017
the Fourth Sunday of Lent
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