Charles Simeon Commentary - Ephesians 6:12 - 6:13

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Ephesians 6:12 - 6:13

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Eph_6:12-13. For 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. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye way be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

IN persuading men to undertake any arduous office, and more especially to enlist into the army, it is customary to keep out of view, as much as possible, the difficulties and dangers they will be exposed to, and to allure them by prospects of pleasure, honour. or emolument. It was far otherwise with Christ and his Apostles. When our Lord invited men to enlist under his banners, he told them that they would have to enter on a course of pain and self-denial; “If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Thus St. Paul, at the very time that he is endeavouring to recruit the Christian army, tells us plainly, that the enemies we shall have to combat, are the most subtle and powerful of any in the universe. Deceit and violence, the two great engines of cruelty and oppression, are their daily practice and delight.

In conformity with the Apostle’s plan, we have opened to you, in some measure, the wiles of that adversary, whom we are exhorting you to oppose: and we shall now proceed to set before you somewhat of his power; still however encouraging you not to be dismayed, but to go forth against him with an assurance of victory.

We shall shew you,

I.       What a powerful adversary we have to contend with—

As soon as any man enlists under the banners of Christ, the world will turn against him, even as the kings of Canaan did against the Gibeonites, the very instant they had made a league with Joshua [Note: Jos_10:4. with Joh_15:18-19.]. “Those of his own household will most probably be his greatest foes.” To oppose these manfully is no easy task: but yet these are of no consideration in comparison of our other enemies; “We wrestle not against flesh and blood [Note: The terms “flesh and blood” are sometimes used to signify any human being, (Mat_16:17.) and sometimes, our corrupt nature, whether intellectual (Gal_1:16.) or corporeal, (1Co_15:50.) Here they denote the world at large.],” says the Apostle, but “against all the principalities and powers” of hell [Note: Commentators labour exceedingly, but in vain, to make any tolerable sense of í ô ï ò ð ï õ ñ á í ß ï é ò as translated in our version. But if they were construed with ð Ü ë ç , thus, “Our conflict about heavenly things,” and ô ð í å õ ì á ô é ê ô ò ð ï í ç ñ ß á ò be considered as equivalent to ð ï í ç ñ ð í å ý ì á ô á , the whole sense would he clear and unembarrassed. For that sense of í , see Rom_11:2 and Gal_1:24; and, for a much greater separation of words that are to be construed together, see Rom_2:12; Rom_2:16. Indeed, the distance between ð Ü ë ç and í ô ï ò ð ï õ ñ á í ß ï é ò is not worthy of notice, if it be considered, that four of the intermediate members of the sentence are a mere accumulation of synonymous expressions, a periphrasis for ð ï í ç ñ ð í å ý ì á ô á .]. It is not merely in a rhetorical way that the Apostle accumulates so many expressions, to designate our enemies: the different terms he uses are well calculated to exhibit their power; which will appear to us great indeed, if we consider what he intimates respecting their nature, their number, and their office.

With respect to their nature, they are “wicked spirits.” Once they were bright angels around the throne of God: but “they kept not their first estate;” and therefore they were “cast down to hell [Note: Jude, ver. 6 and 2Pe_2:4.].” But though they have lost the holiness, they still retain, the power, of angels. As “angels, they excel in strength [Note: Psa_103:20.],” and are far “greater in power and might [Note: 2Pe_2:11.]” than any human being. They have, moreover, an immense advantage over us, in that they are spirits. Were they flesh and blood like ourselves, we might see them approaching, and either flee from them, or fortify ourselves against them: at least, there would be some time when, through weariness, they must intermit their efforts: but being spirits their approaches to us are invisible, irresistible, incessant.

Their number is also intimated, in that they are represented as “principalities and powers,” consisting of multitudes who hold, like men on earth and angels in heaven [Note: Col_1:16.], various degrees of honour and authority under one head. To form a conjecture respecting their numbers, would be absurd; since we are totally in the dark on that subject. This however we know, that they are exceeding many; because our Lord cast no less than seven out of one woman [Note: Mar_16:9.]; and one man was possessed by a whole troop or “legion” at once [Note: Mar_5:9.]. We have reason there fore to think that their number far exceeds that of the human species; because there is no human being beyond the reach of their assaults, no, not for a single hour. Nor are they formidable merely on account of their number, but principally on account of their union, and subordination under one leader. We read of “the devil and his angels [Note: Mat_25:41.],” as of a king and his subjects: and though we know not what precise ranks and orders there may be among them, we know the name of their chief, even “Beelzebub, the prince of the devils [Note: Mat_12:24.].” It is because of their acting thus in concert with each other, that they are so often spoken of as one [Note: Luk_4:2-3; Luk_4:5-6; Luk_4:8; Luk_4:13.]: and well they may be; for, the whole multitude of them are so perfectly one in operation and design, that, if one spy out an advantage, he may in an instant have a legion more to second his endeavours: and as this constitutes the strength of armies on earth, so does it give tenfold power to our spiritual enemies.

The office which they execute as “the rulers of this dark world,” may serve yet further to give us an idea of their strength. It is true, this office was not delegated to them, but usurped by them: still however, they retain it by God’s permission, and exercise it to our cost. Satan is expressly called, “the prince of this world [Note: Joh_12:31; Joh_14:30; Joh_16:11.],” “the god of this world [Note: 2Co_4:4.],” “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in all the children of disobedience [Note: Eph_2:2.].” He “blinds them” that they may not see [Note: 2Co_4:4.], and then, as the prophet led the Syrians, he leads them whithersoever he will [Note: 2Ki_6:18-20.]; he takes them captive altogether [Note: 2Ti_2:26.]. A few indeed who are brought out of darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel, have cast off his yoke: but except them, the whole world, enveloped in worse than Egyptian darkness, lieth under him as its universal monarch [Note: 1Jn_5:19. í ô ð ï í ç ñ , in the wicked one.]. The very elements are under his controul, and concur with men and devils to fulfil his will. Would he deprive Job of his substance? hosts of Sabeans and Chaldeans come at his call, to plunder him [Note: Job_1:12; Job_1:15; Job_1:17.]. Would he destroy all his family? the wind rises at his command to smite their house, and overwhelm them in its ruins [Note: Job_1:19.].

Such are the enemies with whom we have to contend. If we desire to prosecute earthly things, we can go on with ease; we can follow them without interruption from day to day, and from year to year: with respect to these things, the devils would rather help us forward, than obstruct our way. But the very instant we begin to seek “heavenly things,” all hell is in alarm, just as all the Canaanites were, when they understood that Joshua’s spies had been seen in their land [Note: Jos_2:9; Jos_2:11.]. If we begin to listen to the word of God, he will send some emissary, some child of his, whom he has endued with peculiar subtilty, to turn us from the faith [Note: Act_13:7-10.]. If the word, like good seed, be sown upon our hearts, he will send a host of devils, like birds of the air, to pick up the seed [Note: Mat_13:4; Mat_13:19.]. If any, in spite of his efforts, take root in our hearts, he will instantly sow tares to grow up with the wheat [Note: Mat_13:25.], and thorns to choke it [Note: Mat_13:7; Mat_13:22.]. We cannot go into the presence of God to pray, but “Satan will be at our right hand to resist us [Note: Zec_3:1.].” The conflict we have to maintain with him, is not like that which is common to our armies, where a part bear the brunt of the battle, and the rest are reserved for exigencies: in this view it is more properly compared to “a wrestling,” where every man meets his antagonist, and must continue the contest, till the fall of one party decides the victory. Such the Scripture describes our contest to be; and such it is proved to be by every man’s experience: there is no man who, if he will only observe the ease with which he enters upon his worldly calling, and keeps up his attention to it, and the comparative difficulty he finds, as soon as ever he addresses himself to the concerns of his soul, shall not see, that there is in him an impotence and reluctance, for which he cannot account, unless he acknowledge, what the Scripture so fully warns him of, a satanic agency.

But shall we be intimidated by this account, and induced to surrender ourselves to Satan without a conflict? No. Formidable as he is, there is One above him, who circumscribes his powers, and limits his operations. He did, by God’s permission, “cast some of the Ephesian church into prison, that they might be tried, for ten days [Note: Rev_2:10.]:” but, if he could have accomplished all that was in his heart, he would have cast them all into hell that they might perish for ever. So far from being irresistible, he may be resisted, yea, and vanquished too, by the weakest of God’s saints.

To encourage you therefore to fight against him, we will shew,

II.      How we may effectually withstand him—

The Apostle renews, though with some variation, the directions he gave before; “not thinking it grievous to himself to repeat any thing that may conduce to our safety [Note: Php_3:1.].” St. Peter also was “careful to put Christians frequently in remembrance of many things, notwithstanding they knew them, and were established in the present truth [Note: 2Pe_1:12.].” Well therefore may we call your attention once more to the exhortation in the text. Indeed, if the putting on the whole armour of God was necessary to guard against the wiles of the devil, it can be no less necessary as a preservative against his power: and the exhortation enforced by this new consideration, cannot reasonably be thought an uninteresting repetition.

But we shall have no need to repeat any former observations, seeing that what is new in the exhortation, will afford abundant matter for profitable, and seasonable, remark.

The time mentioned in the text as “the evil day,” refers to those particular periods when Satan makes his most desperate attacks. Sometimes he retires from us for a season, as he did from our Lord [Note: Luk_4:13.]; or, at least, gives us somewhat of a respite from any violent assaults. But he watches his opportunity to renew his efforts, when by bringing a host of devils to his aid [Note: Mat_12:44-45.], or finding us off our guard [Note: 1Pe_5:8.], he may exert his power to more effect. Such a season was that wherein David complained, that “his enemies, compassing him like bees, thrust sore at him that he might fall [Note: Psa_118:12-13.]:” and especially that wherein the Lord Jesus Christ himself was so weakened by him, as to need an angel from heaven to administer strength and consolation [Note: Luk_22:43; Luk_22:53.]. All who know any thing of “Satan’s devices,” must have noticed this in their own experience: there have been times when the enemy appeared unmindful of his work, and other times when “he has come in like a flood; so that if the Spirit of the Lord had not lifted up a standard against him [Note: Isa_59:19.],” he must have utterly overwhelmed them. The hour of death is a season when he usually puts forth all his power, “having great wrath because his time is short [Note: Rev_12:12.].”

Now what shall we do in such seasons, if not clad in the whole armour of God? What hope can we have of withstanding such an enemy? If he should find us unarmed, would he not sift us as wheat [Note: Luk_22:31.], and reduce us to mere chaff? Would he not scatter us as smoke out of the chimney, or chaff driven by a whirlwind [Note: Hos_13:3.]? Would he not precipitate thousands of us, as he did the swine, into instantaneous destruction [Note: Mat_8:31-32.], and into the bottomless abyss of hell?

But if we be armed with the divine panoply, we need not fear; he can have no power against us any further than it is given him from above [Note: Joh_19:11.]: and, “howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so [Note: Isa_10:5; Isa_10:7.],” his efforts against us shall ultimately conduce to our good, to make us more humble, more vigilant, more expert.

This is particularly intimated in the text; and in this the encouragement given us exceeds what was contained in the former exhortation. There we were taught to expect that we should not be vanquished by our subtle enemy: here we are encouraged with an assurance, that we shall not only effectually withstand his efforts, even when they are most desperate, but shall “stand” as victors on the field of battle, after having put our enemies to flight. To this also agree the words of St. James; “resist the devil, and he shall flee from you [Note: Jam_4:7.];” he shall not only not overcome you, but shall be so intimidated by your prowess as to flee from you with the greatest precipitation. Blessed truth! This mighty fiend, who dared to enter the lists with an archangel [Note: Jude, ver. 9.], and to contend even with the Son of God himself, shall be so terrified at the sight of a Christian champion, as not only to “forbear touching him [Note: 1Jn_5:18.],” but even to flee from his presence as for his very life.

It is true, he will never finally give over the contest, till we are got entirely beyond his reach: nor is he at any time so vanquished or intimidated but that he will number another host, like unto that which has been defeated, and renew his attack upon us [Note: 1Ki_20:22-26.]: but his malice shall terminate in his own confusion [Note: 1Ki_20:27-29.]: he may succeed to bruise our heel, but we shall ultimately bruise his head [Note: Gen_3:15.]. “Our weapons, through God, shall be mighty, though wielded by the feeblest arm [Note: 2Co_10:4.].” We shall “go on conquering and to conquer [Note: Rev_6:2.]” till we set our feet upon his neck [Note: Jos_10:24. This was altogether typical of the Christian’s victories.], and return with triumphant exultation from the combat, saying, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name [Note: Luk_10:17.].”

Nor is this your greatest encouragement: for as soon as you have “done all” that God has designed for you in this state of warfare, you shall “stand” before God, united to that noble army that are now enjoying their triumphs in his presence. Having “fought the good fight and finished your course, there shall be given to you a crown of righteousness” and glory [Note: 2Ti_4:7-8.]; and you shall bear the palm of victory in the courts of heaven [Note: Rev_7:9-10.]. Then shall be fulfilled to you what was spoken by our Lord, “To him that overcometh will I give to sit down with me upon my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father upon his throne [Note: Rev_3:21.].” Only “be faithful unto death; and God will give thee a crown of life [Note: Rev_2:10. latter part.].”

Before we dismiss this subject, we would address a few words,

1.       To those who have never yet wrestled with this great adversary

We hope you are now convinced, that it is not a needless labour to engage in this contest. But you may still be induced to decline it, from the idea that it is a hopeless work. But know this, that you have undertaken a task which is infinitely more difficult than this; for, while you refuse to wrestle with Satan, you are actually wrestling with God himself. He who infallibly discerns, and rightly estimates, your conduct, says, that ye “resist the Holy Ghost [Note: Act_7:51.]” and “contend with your Maker [Note: Job_40:2.]:” and your own consciences will inform you, that you have often “fought against God,” by resisting the influence of his word and Spirit [Note: Act_5:39; Act_23:9.]. Suppose then ye gain the victory (which is but too probable), suppose God give up the contest, and say, “My Spirit shall strive with him no longer [Note: Gen_6:3.];” what will ye have to boast of? what cause will ye have for joy? Awful will be that day wherein God shall say, “Let him alone [Note: Hos_4:17.]:” from that hour your condemnation will be sure, and Satan will have perfectly gained his point. Judge then whether it be not better to contend with Satan, than with God? with him whom you are sure to conquer, to your eternal happiness, than with him, by whose avenging arm you must be crushed for ever [Note: Isa_27:4.]? Consider well which of the two ye choose for your enemy, God or Satan: and may God incline you to enlist under the Redeemer’s banner, and in his strength to combat all the enemies of your salvation!

2.       Let us speak to those who have begun the arduous contest.

Be not afraid of your great adversary. Do not be like the unbelieving Israelites, who, because the Anakims were of such extraordinary stature, and dwelt in cities that were walled up to heaven, dreaded to go up against them [Note: Num_13:28; Num_13:31; Num_13:33.]; but rather say, with Caleb, “They shall be bread for us [Note: Num_13:9; Num_13:30.]:” instead of destroying, they shall be an occasion of good to, our souls: their spoils shall enrich us; and the opposition that they make shall only be the means of displaying more abundantly the love and faithfulness of our God. “Take unto you” again and again “the whole armour of God;” and “fight, not as one that beateth the air [Note: 1Co_9:26.],” but as one that is determined to conquer or die: and if at any time you be tempted to give up the contest, think of “those who now through faith and patience inherit the promises [Note: Heb_6:12.].” Once they were conflicting like you; but now they rest from their labours, and are anxious spectators of your conflicts [Note: Heb_12:1.]. It is but a little time, and you also shall be numbered with them. “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world [Note: 1Jn_4:4.].” Only go forth therefore in the name of Christ; and his triumphs shall be the pattern, the pledge, the earnest of your own.