Charles Simeon Commentary - Ephesians 6:10 - 6:10

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Ephesians 6:10 - 6:10

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Eph_6:10. Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.

THE Christian’s life is frequently represented in the Scriptures under the metaphor of a warfare. Christ is called “the Captain of his salvation [Note: Heb_2:10.];” and they who have enlisted under his banners, and “quit themselves like men,” “fighting the good fight of faith [Note: 1Co_16:13. 1Ti_6:12.],” and enduring cheerfully all the hardships of the campaign, are called “good soldiers of Jesus Christ [Note: 2Ti_2:3.].” “Like warriors, they do not entangle themselves with the affairs of this life, that they may please him who has chosen them to be soldiers [Note: 2Ti_2:4.];” but they set themselves to “war a good warfare [Note: 1Ti_1:18.],” and they look for the rewards of victory, when they shall have subdued all their enemies [Note: 2Ti_3:7-8. Rev_3:21.].

In the chapter before us, this subject is not slightly touched, as in the detached passages above referred to, but is treated at large; and that which in other places is only a metaphor, is here a professed simile. St. Paul, standing, as it were, in the midst of the camp, harangues the soldiers, telling them what enemies they have to combat, and how they may guard effectually against all their stratagems, and secure to themselves the victory. He begins with an animating exhortation, wherein he reminds them of the wonderful talents of their General, and urges them to place the most unlimited confidence in his skill and power.

The exhortation being contracted into a very small space, and conveying far more than appears at first sight, we shall consider, first, What is implied in it; and afterwards, What is expressed.

I.       What is implied in the exhortation—

The first thing that would naturally occur to any one to whom this exhortation was addressed, is, that the Christian has need of strength; for on any other supposition than this, the words would be altogether absurd.

But the Christian will indeed appear to require strength, whether we consider the work he has to perform, or the difficulties he has to cope with. It is no easy matter to stem the tide of corrupt nature, to controul the impetuous passions, to root out inveterate habits, to turn the current of our affections from the things of time and sense to things invisible and eternal. To renew and sanctify our hearts, and to transform them into the Divine image, is a work far beyond the power of feeble man; yet is it indispensably necessary to his salvation.

But as though this were not of itself sufficient to call forth the Christian’s exertions, he has hosts of enemies to contend with, as soon as ever he addresses himself in earnest to the work assigned him. Not to mention all the propensities of his nature, which will instantly rise up in rebellion against him, and exert all their power for the mastery, the world will immediately begin to cry out against him; they will direct all their artillery against him, their scoffs, their ridicule, their threats: his very friends will turn against him; and “those of his own household will become his greatest foes.” They would let him go on in the broad road year after year, and not one amongst them would ever exhort him to love and serve his God: but the very moment that he enters on the narrow path that leadeth unto life, they will all, with one heart and one soul, unite their endeavours to obstruct his course; and when they cannot prevail, they will turn their back upon him, and give him up as an irreclaimable enthusiast.

In conjunction with these will Satan (as we shall hereafter have occasion to shew) combine his forces: yea, he will put himself at their head, and direct their motions, and stimulate their exertions, and concur with them to the uttermost to captivate and destroy the heaven-born soul.

And can such work be performed, such difficulties be surmounted, without the greatest efforts? Surely they who are called to such things, had need “be strong.”

A second thing implied in the exhortation is, that the Christian has no strength in himself; for, if he had, why should he be exhorted to be strong in another?

Little do men imagine how extremely impotent they are, in themselves, to that which is good. It must be easy, one would suppose, to read and understand the word of God, or, at least, to profit by a clear and faithful ministration of it. But these are far beyond the power of the natural man. The word is “a sealed book” to him [Note: Isa_29:11-12.], which, for want of a spiritual discernment, appears a mass of foolishness [Note: 1Co_2:14.], a “cunningly devised fable [Note: 2Pe_1:16 and Eze_20:49.].” When it was even explained by our Lord, the Apostles, for the space of more than three years, were not able to comprehend its import, till he opened their understandings to understand it [Note: Luk_24:44-45.]; and Lydia, like thousands of others, would have been unmoved by the preaching of Paul, if “the Lord had not opened her heart” to apprehend and embrace his word [Note: Act_16:14.]. It should seem, however, that if these things be beyond the power of man, he can at least pray to God to instruct him. But neither can he do this, unless the Spirit of God “help his infirmities,” teaching him what to pray for [Note: Rom_8:26.], and assisting him in offering the petitions [Note: Jude. ver. 20. Zec_12:10.].” If he be insufficient for this work, it may be hoped he is able to do something. But our Lord tells us, that, without the special aid of his grace, he “can do nothing [Note: Joh_15:5.].” Can he not then speak what is good? No; “How can ye, being evil, speak good things [Note: Mat_12:34.]?” says our Lord: and St. Paul says, “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost [Note: 1Co_12:3.].” Still may he not will, or at least think, what is good? We must answer this also in the negative: “It is God alone who worketh in us both to will and to do, of his good pleasure [Note: Php_2:13.].” Nor had St. Paul himself, no, not even after his conversion, an ability, of himself, to “think any thing good; his sufficiency was of God, and of God alone [Note: 2Co_3:5.].” Our impotence cannot be more fitly expressed by any words whatever, than by that expression of the Apostle, “Ye are dead in trespasses and sins [Note: Eph_2:1.]:” for, till God quicken us from the dead, we are as incapable of all the exercises of the spiritual life, as a breathless corpse is of all the functions of the animal life.

There is yet a third thing implied in this exhortation, namely, that there is a sufficiency for us in Christ; for otherwise the Apostle would not have urged us in this manner to be strong in him.

Well does the Apostle speak of Christ’s “mighty power;” for indeed he is almighty, “he has all power committed to him both in heaven and in earth [Note: Mat_28:18.].” We may judge of his all-sufficiency by what he wrought when he was on earth: the most inveterate diseases vanished at his touch, at his word, at a mere act of volition, when he was at a distance from the patient. The fishes of the sea were constrained to minister unto him: yea, the devils themselves yielded to his authority, and were instantly forced to liberate their captives at his command: they could not even enter into the swine without his permission. The very elements also were obedient to his word; the winds were still; the waves forbore to roll; the storm that threatened to overwhelm him, became a perfect calm. What then can he not do for those who trust in him? “Is his hand now shortened, that he cannot save? or is his ear heavy, that he cannot hear?” Can he not heal the diseases of our souls, and calm our troubled spirits, and supply our every want? Cannot he who “triumphed over principalities and powers upon the cross, and spoiled them, and led them captive in his ascension [Note: Col_2:15. Eph_4:8.],” fulfil his promise, that “sin shall not have dominion over us [Note: Rom_6:14.],” and that “Satan shall be bruised under our feet shortly [Note: Rom_16:20.]?” Doubtless he is “the Lord Jehovah, with whom is everlasting strength [Note: Isa_26:4.],” and who is therefore “able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him [Note: Heb_7:25.].”

These things being understood as implied in the exhortation, we may more fully comprehend in the II. place, what is expressed in it.

It is evident that there are two points to which the Apostle designs to lead us: the one is, to rely on Christ for strength, the other is, to “be strong in him”, with an assured confidence of success.

In relation to the first of these we observe, that a general must confide in his army full as much as his army confides in him; for as they cannot move to advantage without an experienced head to guide them, so neither can he succeed in his plans, unless he have a brave and well-appointed army to carry them into execution. It is not thus in the Christian army; there all the confidence is in the General alone. He must not only train his soldiers, and direct them in the day of battle, but he must be with them in the battle, shielding their heads, and strengthening their arms, and animating their courage, and reviving them when faint, and raising them when fallen, and healing them when wounded, and finally, beating down their enemies that they may trample them under their feet.

The fulness that is in Christ is treasured up in him for us [Note: Col_1:19. Eph_1:22-23.], that we may receive out of it according to our necessities. As he came down from heaven to purchase for us all the gifts of the Spirit, so he has ascended up to heaven that he might bestow them upon us [Note: Eph_4:10.], and fill us, each according to his measure, with all the fulness of God [Note: Eph_3:19; Eph_4:7.]. Hence previous to his death he said, “Ye believe in God; believe also in me [Note: Joh_14:1.]:” let that same faith which you repose in God the Father as your Creator, he reposed in me as your Redeemer: let it be full, and implicit: let it extend to every want: let it be firm and unshaken, under all circumstances however difficult, however adverse.

Such was our Lord’s direction: and agreeable to it was the experience of the great Apostle, who says, “The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me [Note: Gal_2:20.].”

It is characteristic of every Christian soldier to receive thus out of Christ’s fulness [Note: Joh_1:16.]; and to say, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength [Note: Isa_45:24.].”

But the principal point which the Apostle aims at in the text, is, to inspire us with a holy confidence in Christ, so that we may be as much assured of victory as if we saw all our enemies fleeing before us, or already prostrate at our feet. We cannot have a more striking illustration of our duty in this respect than the history of David’s combat with Goliath. He would not go against his adversary with armour suited to the occasion: he went forth in the name of the God of Israel; and therefore he did not doubt one moment the issue of the contest: he well knew that God could direct his aim; and that he was as sure of victory without any other arms than a sling and a stone from his shepherd’s bag, as he could be with the completest armour that Saul himself could give him [Note: 1Sa_17:45-47.]. What David thus illustrated, we may see exemplified in the conduct of St. Paul: “If God be for us,” says he, “who can be against us?” Who is he that shall condemn me? (shall the law curse me? or Satan overcome me?) I fear none of them; since Christ has died, yea rather, is risen again, and maketh intercession for me. Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us: for I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord [Note: Rom_8:31-39.].” Thus it is that we must, go forth against all the enemies of our salvation: we must “have no confidence in the flesh [Note: Php_3:3.];” neither must we have any doubt respecting the all-sufficiency of our God: the weakest among us should boldly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what men or devils can do against me [Note: Heb_13:6.]:” “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me [Note: Php_4:13.].”

In applying this subject to the different classes of professing Christians, we should first address ourselves to the self-confident.

It is the solemn declaration of God, that “by strength shall no man prevail [Note: 1Sa_2:9. See also Rom_9:16 and Zec_4:6 and Joh_1:13.].” We might hope that men would be convinced of this truth by their own experience. Who amongst us has not made vows and resolutions without number, and broken them again almost as soon as they were made? Who ever resolved to devote himself unfeignedly to God, and did not find, that he was unable steadfastly to pursue his purpose? What folly is it then to be renewing these vain attempts, when we have the evidence both of Scripture and experience that we cannot succeed! How much better would it be to trust in that “mighty One, on whom help is laid [Note: Psa_89:19.]!” Learn, brethren, before it be too late, that “without Christ you can do nothing:” that “all your fresh springs are in him [Note: Psa_87:7.]:” and “of him must your fruit be found [Note: Hos_14:8.]:” “in him alone shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory [Note: Isa_45:25.].” If you will not “be strong in him,” you will continue “without strength:” but if once you truly “know him, you shall be strong, and do exploits [Note: Dan_11:32.].”

We would next claim the attention of the timid. It is but too common for the Lord’s people to be indulging needless fears, like David, when he said, “I shall one day perish by the hands of Saul [Note: 1Sa_27:1.].” But surely such deserve the rebuke which our Lord gave to Peter, “O thou of little faith, wherefore dost thou doubt [Note: Mat_14:31.]?” If thou doubtest the Lord’s willingness to save thee, say, wherefore did he die for thee, even for the chief of sinners? If thou callest in question his power, what is there in thy case that can baffle Omnipotence? If thou art discouraged on account of thy own weakness, know that the weaker thou art in thyself, the stronger thou shalt be in him [Note: 2Co_12:10.]; and that “he will perfect his own strength in thy weakness [Note: 2Co_12:9.].” If thou fearest on account of the strength and number of thine enemies, he meets thy fears with this salutary admonition; “Say ye not, A confederacy, a confederacy; but sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread [Note: Isa_8:12-13.].” Only trust in him; and though weak, he will strengthen thee [Note: Isa_26:6.]; though faint, he will revive thee [Note: Isa_40:29-31.]; though wounded, he will heal thee [Note: Exo_15:26. Isa_33:23.]; though captive, he will liberate thee [Note: Isa_14:2; Isa_49:24-25.]; though slain, he will raise thee up again, and give thee the victory over all thine enemies [Note: Isa_10:4. This is a threatening; but it may be applied to God’s friends à fortiori.]. “Be strong then and very courageous [Note: Jos_1:6-7; Jos_1:9.]:” abhor the thought of indulging a cowardly spirit, as long as “God’s throne is in heaven [Note: Psa_11:1-4.];” and assure yourselves, with David, that though your “enemies encompass you as bees, in the name of the Lord you shall destroy them [Note: Psa_118:6-12.].”

Lastly, let the victorious Christian listen to a word of counsel. We are apt to be elated in the time of victory, and to arrogate to ourselves some portion of the glory. But God solemnly cautions us against this [Note: Deu_6:10-12; Deu_8:10-11; Deu_8:17-18.]: and if, with Nebuchadnezzar or Sennacherib, we take the glory to ourselves, the time is nigh at hand when God will fearfully abase us [Note: Isa_37:24-29. Dan_4:30-32; Dan_4:37.]. We cannot do better than take the Psalmist for our pattern: he was enabled to perform the most astonishing feats, and was honoured with the most signal victories: yet so careful is he to give the glory to God, that he repeats again and again, the same grateful acknowledgments, confessing God to be the sole author of his success, and ascribing to him the honour due unto his name [Note: Psa_18:29-42.]. Let it be remembered, that “our enemies still live and are mighty:” and therefore we must not boast as if the time were come for us to put off our armour [Note: 1Ki_20:11.]. We need the same power to keep down our enemies, as to bring them down at first: we should soon fall a prey to the tempter, if left one moment to ourselves. Let our eyes therefore still be to Jesus, “the Author and the Finisher of our faith;” depending on his mighty power for “strength according to our day [Note: Deu_33:25.],” and for the accomplishment of the promise which he hath given us, that “no weapon formed against us shall ever prosper [Note: Isa_54:17.].”