Eph_6:14. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about, with truth.
IT is not possible to exceed in magnifying the grace of God: to it must every part of our salvation be ascribed: grace begins the work in our hearts; grace carries it on; grace completes it. No ground of glorying is left for man: his own wisdom, goodness, strength, weigh no more than the small dust upon the balance. All is the work of God; he lays the foundation; and when “the head-stone shall be brought forth with shoutings, we must cry, Grace, grace unto it [Note: Zec_4:6-7; Zec_4:9.]” But while we are jealous of God’s honour, and desirous of magnifying the riches of his grace, we must be careful not to undervalue the work wrought in our hearts. In point of merit, there is nothing in us that is worthy of the smallest consideration: but in a variety of other views, the work of God’s Spirit in our hearts can scarcely be appreciated too highly. This is manifest from the description which the Apostle gives of the Christian’s armour. He is careful in the first place to shew us, that we have not in ourselves any inherent strength; and that, consequently, we must depend entirely on God: but in entering more minutely into his subject, he declares, that those graces, which the Spirit of God forms in our hearts, are means of defence against our spiritual adversaries: for though as being our graces, they are weak and worthless, yet as being the work of God’s hands, they are of great strength and value: they even constitute that armour, in which we are to go forth against the enemies of our salvation, and by which we shall be enabled to defeat all their wiles, and all their power.
The first grace that he mentions, is “truth:” in elucidating which we shall shew,
What we are to understand by truth—
Its use and office in the Christian warfare—
What are we to understand by “truth?”
It is a term of extensive signification. It is sometimes put for the Gospel; in which sense the Apostle speaks of “obeying the truth.” But in this place, it rather means sincerity. The two terms are often used together as synonymous expressions; “Serve the Lord,” says Joshua in his farewell discourse, “in sincerity and truth [Note: Jos_24:14.]:” and St. Paul exhorts us to “keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth [Note: 1Co_5:8.].”
But sincerity, Christian sincerity, is very little understood. For the most part, it is considered as importing nothing more than a good intention, without any reference to the manner in which that good intention operates. But the sincerity, of which the text speaks, is a Christian grace; and consequently it must include something widely different from that which may be exercised by superstitious bigots [Note: Rom_10:2.], or blood-thirsty persecutors [Note: Joh_16:2.].
To mark it as distinctly as possible, we shall notice four things that are implied in it:
First, it implies a desire and intention to please God. There is one canon, one universal rule of action, prescribed to us in the Scriptures; namely, that “whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we should do all to the glory of God [Note: 1Co_10:31.].” Whatever therefore springs from other motives and principles, must argue a want of sincerity, in proportion as God’s honour is superseded by any selfish considerations. When Jehu, in compliance with God’s command, extirpated the family of Ahab [Note: 2Ki_9:6-7.], his obedience was not considered as sincere, because he was actuated rather by vainglory [Note: 2Ki_10:16.], than by a real desire to please God; and the blood that he shed in executing the divine command, was on that very account avenged by God himself upon his posterity [Note: Hos_1:4.].
The Jews also complied with the institutions of Moses in observing their religious fasts and feasts: but because “they did fast and feast unto themselves rather than unto God,” and sought rather to cover their own enormities by such observances, than really to honour God, their services were deemed hypocritical, and were rejected with abhorrence [Note: Zec_7:5-6.]. Thus must all our duties, civil or religious, have respect to God: we must have “a single eye,” if we would please him [Note: Mat_6:22-23.]. If we bring forth fruit to ourselves only, “we are empty vines,” we are unprofitable servants [Note: Hos_10:1.].
Sincerity implies in the next place, a serving of God according to the light we enjoy. Sincerity will doubless consist with defective views both of Christian duty, and Christian liberty: but it will not consist with allowed deviations from an acknowledged duty, either in a way of omission, or of commission. “The wisdom that is from above, is without partiality, and without hypocrisy [Note: Jam_3:17.].” To be “partial in the law” is to dissemble with God: and whether we make outward duties a cloak for inward lusts, or present to God a mere “form of godliness without the power of it,” we are really “hypocrites in heart [Note: Mat_23:23-28; Mat_15:7-8.],” and therefore can have no pretensions to sincerity.
But there is yet a third thing, which is absolutely essential to sincerity, namely, a desire to know the will of God more perfectly. Here it is that many, who have appeared most sincere, have failed. St. Paul before his conversion “thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus [Note: Act_26:9.]:” and truly he did them with a zeal suited to his persuasion. But can it be said, that at that time he possessed the Christian virtue of sincerity? By no means: for he bad opportunities enough of information: the writings of Moses and the prophets were plain enough to convince any man that was not blinded by prejudice, and carried away by his own impetuous passions [Note: Luk_16:31.]. Besides, he might have gone to the fountain head, and inquired of Jesus himself, what grounds there were for believing him to be the Messiah. Above all, he lived when the Gospel was preached in all its purity, and attested from heaven by miracles without number. Why then did he not set himself to inquire more candidly? Why did he not, like the Ber
ans, search the Scriptures, to see if things were as the Apostles declared them to be [Note: Act_17:11.]? But this would not agree with his infuriated zeal: he hated the light, and therefore sought to the uttermost to extinguish it. How different was the conduct of Nathanael! He participated in the prejudices of his countrymen; and hastily concluded that “no good thing could come out of Galilee.” But when he was desired to “come and see” for himself, he availed himself of the opportunity to form his judgment on surer grounds; and, on the very first demonstration which our Lord gave of his Messiahship, he believed in Jesus; and thereby evidenced his right to that title which our Lord had given him, “an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile [Note: Joh_1:45-49.].”
There is one thing more implied in sincerity, namely, a determination to serve God without any regard to consequences. Our duty to God is paramount to every other consideration. When we know what he requires of us, we are not to be diverted from it by any losses or any sufferings. Who does not see the insincerity of those who believed in Christ, but were afraid to confess him [Note: Joh_12:42-43.]; and of that amiable youth who turned back from Christ rather than part with his possessions [Note: Mar_10:21-22.]? If we be truly upright in heart, we shall say as St. Paul when he was solicited to shun the trials and afflictions which, as the Spirit testified, awaited him in every city; “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus [Note: Act_21:13.].” And if the trials be ever so severe, we shall still “hold fast our integrity [Note: Job_27:5-6.],” and adopt the language of the same Apostle; “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and fulfil my duty to my God [Note: Act_20:24.].”
This representation of “truth” is both illustrated and confirmed by the conduct of St. Paul on his first conversion to God. Till that hour, he had been walking blindly “after the course of this world,” and “in the way of his own heart:” but as soon as his eyes were opened, even before he had any clear knowledge of Christianity, he desired to know, and determined to execute, the whole will of God: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do [Note: Act_9:6.]?” ‘Thou needest only to shew me wherein I am wrong, and to teach me thy way, and I will instantly, through thy assistance, change my conduct, and devote myself to thy service: nor shall any considerations of hope or fear, ever turn me from the path prescribed by thee.’ Nor was this a vain boast; for “he conferred not with flesh and blood,” but set himself without delay to “preach the faith which he had laboured to destroy [Note: Gal_1:15-16; Gal_1:23.],” and persisted in preaching it even unto death.
The nature of “truth” being thus ascertained, let us proceed to shew,
Its use and office in the Christian warfare—
Among the various parts of a soldier’s armour, a “girdle” was of very principal importance; and in this view it is frequently mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. The prophet, describing the irresistible fury with which the Chaldeans should overrun Palestine, says, none shall be weary or stumble among them, none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed [Note: Isa_5:27.].” And our blessed Lord, who, as the Captain of our salvation, was arrayed like all the soldiers of his army, is represented by the same prophet as habited in this manner; “Righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins [Note: Isa_11:5.].”
The use of the girdle was to keep the armour compact, and to strengthen the loins. And these are the offices which “truth” performs for the Christian soldier.
In the first place, it compacts all the graces with which his soul is armed. As the different parts of armour with which the body is fortified, would hang loose, and leave many apertures through which a wound might be inflicted, if they were not fastened together by a belt or girdle, so would the Christian’s graces prove insufficient for his defence, if they were not all compacted together by the girdle of sincerity. Let us look at persons that seemed armed from head to foot, and prepared to defy all the powers of darkness. See Johanan, and the remnant of the Jews whom the Chaldeans had not taken into captivity, coming to the prophet, entreating him to ask counsel for them from God; and vowing in the most solemn manner to comply with any direction which the Lord should give them by his mouth. We have not a more hopeful appearance in all the sacred records. But they dissembled with God: no sooner was the answer given them, than they shewed by their conduct, that they were not sincere in their overtures; and they speedily became the victims of their own hypocrisy [Note: Jer_42:1-6; Jer_42:19-22.]. And how often are similar failures found amongst ourselves, from the very same cause! How many appear penitent and determined to serve their God, while they are under some heavy calamity, or in the near prospect of death; and yet discover their hypocrisy, as soon as ever their professions are brought to the test! Yet daily is that account of the Jews realized amongst ourselves; “When he slew them, then they sought him, and inquired early after God, and remembered that God was their Rock, the high God their Redeemer; nevertheless they did but flatter him with their mouth, and lie unto him with their tongues; for their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant [Note: Psa_78:34-37.].”
On the other hand, how impenetrable to the darts of the adversary were the graces of those who were sincere before God! Daniel not only would not relinquish, but would not so much as abate, or conceal, his devotions, though menaced with a cruel and speedy death [Note: Dan_6:10.]. Nor would the Hebrew Youths comply with the edict of a haughty monarch, though they saw a furnace heated for their destruction, and might have pleaded in their defence the example of a whole nation [Note: Dan_3:17-18.]. Thus shall we also be enabled to brave every danger, and to endure death in its most awful forms, if our hearts be upright before God. As all our graces will be compacted together by sincerity, so every distinct grace will derive from it tenfold solidity, and strength: let our “faith be unfeigned,” our “love without dissimulation,” and our “spirit altogether without guile,” and we need fear no assaults, however artful, however violent.
The other office of truth is, to strengthen our souls under great and long-continued conflicts. This particular use of the girdle is repeatedly mentioned by the Psalmist. In reference to himself, he says, “Thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle [Note: Psa_18:39.].” In reference to the Messiah also he uses a similar expression: “The Lord reigneth; he is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself [Note: Psa_93:1.].”
“Those who have a divided heart, will assuredly be found faulty at the last [Note: Hos_10:2.].” Numberless are the instances wherein persons who have fought well for a season, have fainted at last through this sad defect. But we will mention only two; one, wherein the failure had nearly terminated in the destruction of many; and the other, wherein it involved one of the most eminent professors in utter and everlasting ruin. For the former instance we will refer you, not to a man professedly ungodly, no, nor to a mere novice in religion, but to the most distinguished of all the Apostles. With the name of Peter we associate the idea of courage undaunted, and of piety irreproachable. But behold him on one occasion, when his loins were loosed, and the girdle was wanting to complete his armour. This valiant hero, who had acquitted himself so nobly in many battles, was at last, through fear of offending the Judaizing Christians, guilty of the basest dissimulation; undermining by his influence the most essential doctrine of that Gospel which he was sent to preach; and, by his example, drawing Barnabas also, and a multitude of others, into the most fatal error. And, if St. Paul had not openly rebuked him before all the Church, and thereby counteracted the effect of his misconduct, it is not possible to say, how far his error might have affected the eternal interests of millions [Note: Gal_2:11-14. “to be blamed—dissembled—dissimulation—walked not uprightly.”].
In the other instance, we must turn our eyes to one, whose eminence drew from St. Paul himself repeated commendations, even such as were bestowed on the Evangelist, St. Luke. After years of manly toil, and continued danger, Demas was left to prove how weak the strongest are without sincerity. Wearied with his conflicts, he sought repose in the bosom of the world [Note: Compare Col_4:14, and Philem. ver. 24. with 2Ti_4:10.]; when, if he had fought with more sincerity, he might have endured to the end, and triumphed over all his adversaries. Unhappy man, to retain one secret lust, which, like a canker, ate out his vitals, or, like a leak unnoticed, sank the vessel wherein he was embarked! But thus it will be with all whose loins are not girt about with truth: “a double-minded man will be unstable in all his ways [Note: Jam_1:8.].”
But if we have melancholy instances of failure through the want of this virtue, we have many noble instances of persevering zeal in others, whose hearts were right with God. Behold the patriarchs sojourning for years in a strange land, when “they had opportunities enough of returning to their native country,” if they had been so minded: but they were sincere in “seeking a better country, that is, an heavenly;” and therefore they willingly lived as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth [Note: Heb_11:15-16.].” Behold also the noble army of martyrs, who “out of weakness were make strong, waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens;” yea, and women also, who, notwithstanding their natural weakness and timidity, would “not accept deliverance from their tortures, that they might obtain a better resurrection [Note: Heb_11:34-35.]. Indeed, where is there one who is truly upright before God, who has not frequently evinced a strength and steadfastness superior to the efforts of unassisted nature? Who has not been called to make many sacrifices of pleasure, honour, interest; and to lead a life of continual self-denial, both in the mortifying of inward lusts, and the enduring of outward persecutions? But, “having set his hand to the plough, the Christian will not look back,” and having put on his armour, he will not put it off but with his life.
The vast importance of truth and sincerity being made apparent, let the following advice be duly weighed:
Let us inquire whether we possess this part of Christian armour—
Perhaps there is scarcely any one who does not fancy himself sincere. But can we appeal to God that our daily aim is to please him, yea, to please him, not only in preference to ourselves or others, but in direct opposition to the whole world? Do we labour to approve ourselves to him, forbearing every sinful thing, and doing every thing we know to be right? Do we search the Scriptures daily, and attend on the ministration of God’s word, on purpose that we may have our sentiments and conduct more entirely conformed to the will of God? And finally, do we disregard the scoffs of an ungodly world, and determine to sacrifice even life itself, rather than violate the dictates of our conscience? This is sincerity, this is truth. Doubtless there are infirmities in the best of men; and consequently there will be occasional deviations from the path of duty: but if we be sincere, we shall not allow any sin whatever: we shall endeavour to be “pure as God is pure, and perfect as God is perfect.” O that there were in all of us such a heart as this!
Let us be on our guard against those devices, whereby Satan would weaken our sincerity, or rob us of the comfort of it—
Satan will put forth all his wiles, and exert all his power, to loosen this girdle. He well knows, that, if he succeed in this point, all the rest will be easy: but that till this be effected, we are invulnerable. He will therefore try on all occasions to get advantage against us. He will cover his endeavours with the most specious pretexts, and present his temptations in the most alluring shapes. But let us watch against him: let not the example of an Apostle, or the preaching of an angel [Note: Gal_1:8-9.], lead us to renounce one single truth, or to transgress one single precept. If we be not continually on our guard, that “serpent will beguile us:” yea, in spite of all our watchfulness will he deceive us, if we be not preserved by God himself. Let us therefore “watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation.”
But, if Satan cannot entice us to lay aside our girdle, he will endeavour to deprive us of the comfort of it. He will take occasion from our remaining infirmities to make us think ourselves hypocrites: and thus he will seek to effect that through despondency, which he could not effect through any other temptations. Let it then be our daily care so to fasten this girdle round our loins, that we may have in ourselves, and give to all around us, an indisputable evidence that we both possess and improve it. Then shall we have a consolation arising from it, and “rejoice in the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity we have our conversation in the world [Note: 2Co_1:12.].”
Lastly, let us “stand” thus armed, and be in constant readiness to oppose our enemy. Let us not fear him, but resist him manfully. If we fight, we have nothing to fear: it is only when we turn our back, that we are left exposed to any mortal injury: in every other part we are armed sufficiently for our defence. Let us then beg of God to “put truth in our inward parts [Note: Psa_51:6.].” Let us “add to our faith virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly-kindness and charity, and keep them all compact with the girdle of truth; then have we God’s promise, that we shall never fall [Note: 2Pe_1:5-8; 2Pe_1:10.].” Through his grace, our “integrity and uprightness shall preserve us [Note: Psa_25:21.].” Let us therefore “gird up the loins of our mind, and be sober, and hope to the end [Note: 1Pe_1:13.].” Only let us “be sincere; and we shall be without offence till the day of Christ [Note: Php_1:10.].”
THE CHRISTIAN’S BREAST-PLATE
having on the breast-plate of righteousness.
AS various parts of armour, however differing in shape, may be formed of the same materials, so amongst the Christian graces, there may exist a considerable resemblance, while yet there remains between them a manifest distinction. Righteousness is that particular grace which comes under our consideration at this time. By “righteousness” we understand, that true and universal holiness, which is characteristic of conversion, and constitutes that divine image, after which we are renewed [Note: Eph_4:23-24.]. Now this, though nearly allied to sincerity, differs materially from it: sincerity relates to the aims and motives of a person; but righteousness to his actions and habits. Righteousness is that in actual attainment, which sincerity is in desire and purpose. Righteousness cannot exist without sincerity; but sincerity may, and often does, exist without righteousness; because (as was shewn in the preceding discourse) it may be found in blind zealots, and bloody persecutors.
The piece of armour to which righteousness is compared, is “the breast-plate;” which was of use to defend the vitals from the assaults of an enemy. Of such importance was it to every one in the time of battle, that all, from the general to the soldier, were clad with it: nor can its importance to us more strongly appear, than from the consideration, that the Captain of our salvation, even the Lord Jesus Christ himself, was thus arrayed. The Prophet Isaiah, speaking expressly of him, says, “He put on righteousness as a breast-plate [Note: Isa_59:17.].”
In the metaphor before us, the Apostle intimates, that without righteousness we should be exposed to imminent peril, yea, to certain death: but that, if we be clad with righteousness, our adversaries will never be able to prevail against us. It is evident therefore that there are two points to be considered by us; namely, the necessity of righteousness for our defence, and its sufficiency to protect us:
The necessity of righteousness—
In order to destroy us, our great adversary uses both deceit and violence; against both of which it becomes us to be armed, in order that we may discover the one, and repel the other.
Righteousness then is necessary in the first place, that we may discover his wiles.
It is said with truth by an inspired writer, that “the god of this world blinds the eyes of them that believe not [Note: 2Co_4:4.]:” and it is astonishing to what a degree he deludes their souls. He instigates them to the commission of sin under the idea that it is at least excusable, if not altogether justifiable and right [Note: 1Ch_21:1-4.]. He teaches them to “call evil good and good evil; to put darkness for light, and light for darkness, bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter [Note: Isa_5:20.].” We may see one man carried on by ostentation and vanity, while he thinks himself actuated by zeal for God [Note: 2Ki_10:16.]. Another yields to a vindictive spirit, yet supposes that he is only maintaining a just regard for his own character, or perhaps for the rights of the community [Note: Luk_9:53-55.]. Through the agency of that subtle fiend, covetousness assumes the name of prudence [Note: Luk_12:13-15.]; prodigality is nothing but a commendable excess of generosity: yea, the most cruel machinations of bigotry, are deemed a service well-pleasing to God [Note: Joh_16:2.]. Who has not noticed in others this sad infatuation? Who has not seen his neighbours acting under the influence of a bad principle, while they were at the same time as strongly persuaded that they were right, as if there were no room for doubt? Thus it is more or less with every unrenewed person; and too often with those also who are yet weak in the faith; they go on, “not knowing what spirit they are of.” In vain do ministers set forth the evil of such a state: in vain do they discriminate, and mark the difference between truth and error: in vain do they endeavour to persuade men in private, as well as in their public ministrations: in vain do they confirm every word with the infallible dictates of inspiration: for while men continue destitute of righteousness, “they have eyes, and see not, ears, and hear not, neither do they understand [Note: Joh_8:43.]”. Nothing will effectually shew men their error, till they are “renewed in the spirit of their minds.” Then they have the film removed from the organs of vision. Then they have a spiritual discernment
[Note: Eph_1:17-18. Col_1:9. Ó
.]: they are no longer deceived by specious appearances; they taste and see the real qualities of things: being “brought out of darkness into marvellous light,” they view every thing, in a measure, as God himself views it: and the greater their proficiency is in the divine life, the clearer is their perception of the good or evil that exists [Note: Heb_5:13-14.], not in their actions only, but in their motives and principles of action. And hence it is that the Apostle exhorts us to “be transformed in the renewing of our minds, that we may prove (and discern, not by theory only, but by actual experiment) what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God
[Note: Rom_12:2. Å
refers to the discerning of the qualities of metals by the furnace. See also Php_1:9-10. where the same word is connected with
, things that differ.].”
Righteousness is further necessary, that we may repel the assaults of our enemy.
Sin not only blinds, but debilitates the soul. It is scarcely to be conceived how impotent the natural man is to resist the temptations of Satan. For the most part he makes no resistance at all, but follows the dictates of his imperious master, and yields a willing obedience to his most fatal suggestions. To the ungodly Jews our Lord justly observed, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do [Note: Joh_8:44.].” Sometimes conscience will make a stand against the wicked one; but it is soon overpowered, and either bribed into consent, or stunned to silence, or forced, in spite of all its efforts, to give way. It may cause one to tremble [Note: Act_24:25.]; another to reform in many things [Note: Mar_6:20.]; another to become almost a Christian [Note: Act_26:28.]; another to make a profession of religion, and openly to join himself to the Church of Christ [Note: Act_8:13.]: but Satan has nothing to fear from its exertions, unless it stimulate a man to seek a thorough change of heart: he laughs at the fears of Felix, the reformation of Herod, the acknowledgments of Agrippa, and the professions of Simon Magus: he well knows that, as long as they are unrenewed, they are fast in his chains, and incapable of any effectual exertion: “Ephraim, though armed, and carrying bows, were so enfeebled by sin, that they turned back in the day of battle:” nor could Israel stand before their enemies while an Achan was in their camp [Note: Psa_78:9-10. Jos_7:8; Jos_7:12; Jos_7:24; Jos_7:26.]. So neither can he resist Satan, who yields in any thing to the dominion of sin. If once we “put away a good conscience, we shall speedily make shipwreck of our faith” also [Note: 1Ti_1:19.]. But let once the tamest of his vassals feel the influence of divine grace, and instantly he casts off the yoke under which he had groaned, and asserts his liberty. From that moment Satan is constrained to yield to that “stronger power that is come against him [Note: Luk_11:21-22.],” and to, relinquish the prey which he can no longer retain [Note: Isa_49:25.].
The necessity of righteousness being thus established, let us proceed to consider,
The Apostle would not have been so urgent in exhorting us to put on the breast-plate of righteousness, if he had not believed that it would answer all the purposes for which it was designed. That it will protect us, we are well assured: that it will secure to us the victory, there can be no doubt: for it will turn depravity to sanctity, cowardice to courage, and weakness to strength.
First, it turns depravity to sanctity. It is by our inward corruptions that Satan works. He cannot force us to commit sin: he can only present to us such temptations as are suited to our natural desires; and suggest such considerations to our minds, as are likely to procure our compliance with his will. When he came to assault our Lord, he could not prevail; because “he found nothing in him [Note: Joh_14:30.],” that in the smallest degree closed with his suggestions. But when he comes to us, he finds in us a predisposition to receive him. If he assault our heart, there are many secret lusts that are ready to betray us into his hands: he has but to strike a spark, and there is within us combustible matter in abundance, that instantly catches fire, and that, if not extinguished by grace, will burn to the lowest hell. But when the soul is endued with righteousness, its dispositions are altogether changed: “old things are passed away, and all things are become new [Note: 2Co_5:17.].” We say not indeed that there are no remains of corruption in the soul; for the old nature still continues, and counteracts in a measure the operations of the new nature: but if “the flesh lusts against the spirit, the spirit also lusts against the flesh, and gains (not indeed without many conflicts) an ascendant over it [Note: Gal_5:17.]:” and hence the temptations, which would once have been irresistible, are repelled with indignant firmness; as we see in Joseph, who, when repeatedly solicited to commit adultery, replied with horror, “How shall I do this great wickedness, and sin against God [Note: Gen_39:9.]?”
This then is one way in which righteousness defends the soul: it makes “sin appear exceeding sinful [Note: Rom_7:13.];” and holiness to be esteemed as the perfection of bliss [Note: Psa_119:128.]: and thus, by weakening the force of temptation, it enables us with success to resist the tempter.
In the next place, it turns cowardice into courage. Satan gets peculiar advantage over men by means of their carnal fears. In whatever degree men are endued with natural fortitude, their courage fails them when they are called to bear the cross of Christ. When our blessed Lord ministered on earth, Nicodemus, though a ruler and governor, was afraid to come in open day, lest he should be thought to favour his cause [Note: Joh_3:1-2.]: nor did “the Pharisees who believed in him, dare to confess him, because they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God [Note: Joh_12:42-43.].” In instances without number have men who were able to brave death itself on the field of battle, shewn themselves unable to endure the scorn and contempt that universally attach to religious characters: so true is that declaration of Solomon, “The fear of man bringeth a snare [Note: Pro_29:25.].” But righteousness emboldens the soul; and enables it to meet the hatred and menaces, or (what is still worse) the sneers and ridicule, of an ungodly world with a holy indifference; yea, it causes the soul to rejoice in these things as tokens for good [Note: Luk_21:12-13.], and as testimonies of the Divine favour [Note: Php_1:29 and 1Pe_4:14 and Act_5:41.]. Behold the astonishing change that was wrought on Peter! When he had inconsiderately laid aside his armour, he was intimidated by the voice of a maid—servant, and induced to deny his Lord with oaths and curses. But when he had put on his breast—plate, he was undismayed in the presence of the whole council of the Jews: he boldly charged upon the rulers that were before him, the guilt of murdering their Messiah: and when they endeavoured to silence him with threats, he undauntedly replied, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard [Note: Act_4:18-20.].” Such was the courage also of the Hebrew Youths, who, unawed by the fiery furnace, and unmoved by the example of a whole nation, disdained to comply with the royal edict; and resolutely exposed themselves to a cruel death, rather than violate the dictates of their conscience [Note: Dan_3:18.].
Thus wherever the soul is clad with righteousness, it is emboldened both to do and suffer the will of God: and, consequently, Satan’s engine of persecution, whereby he has destroyed myriads, being divested of its power to intimidate the righteous, his dominion over them must for ever cease.
Lastly, righteousness will turn our weakness to strength. The powers of man, independent of divine grace, remain the same after conversion as before: of himself he can do nothing [Note: Joh_15:5.]. But that divine principle which actuates the godly, is mighty in operation: however numerous or powerful their enemies may be, the “grace of Christ is sufficient for them [Note: 2Co_12:9.];” and the weakest in the universe may say, “Through Christ strengthening me I can do all things [Note: Php_4:13.].” Their inherent weakness does not at all militate against this assertion; for when they are weakest in themselves their strength is at the height: and when they look unto their Lord for help, “he will perfect his strength in their weakness [Note: See Heb_5:13-14.].” Survey for a moment the Christian’s conquests: his lusts are subdued, condemned, crucified [Note: Gal_5:24.]: the world is overcome, and put under his feet [Note: 1Jn_5:4-5. Gal_6:14.]: the powers of darkness are put to flight [Note: Jam_4:7.]: and he is triumphing daily in the God of his salvation [Note: 2Co_2:14.]: so “strengthened is he with might in his inward man [Note: Eph_3:16. Psa_138:3.],” and so “mighty are his weapons to destroy the strong holds of sin and Satan, and to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2Co_10:4-5.].”
What shall we now say to you who are destitute of this armour? Shall we congratulate you on your prospects of victory? Shall we even flatter you with hopes of escaping with life? We cannot; we dare not. There is a possibility, that you might vanquish an armed host with a broken pitcher [Note: Jdg_7:19-22.]; or make the walls of an impregnable fortress to fall with the sound of rams’ horns [Note: Jos_6:4-5; Jos_6:20.]: but to succeed without righteousness in your spiritual warfare is impossible: for the truth of God is pledged that you shall perish, if you continue in your unrighteous state [Note: 1Co_6:9.]. “Awake then to righteousness, and sin not [Note: 1Co_15:34.].” Let your earnest prayer ascend up before God, that you may be made new creatures in Christ Jesus [Note: Eph_2:10.], and be turned effectually from the power of Satan unto God [Note: Act_26:18.]. But do not mistake: do not imagine, that any righteousness which you can attain in your own strength, will thus protect you; or that even that which is wrought in you by the Holy Spirit, has in itself such mighty efficacy: that to which such glorious powers are ascribed, is wrought in you by the Spirit of God: and after all, it is not your inherent goodness, but the grace of God, that must preserve you from your enemies. Your inherent righteousness will indeed be made use of by him; but still God must be acknowledged as the only Author of all that is done either in, or by you; and the glory must be given to him alone.
To you who have “the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left [Note: 2Co_6:7.],” we say, “Stand fast in the Lord [Note: Php_4:1.].” Let nothing prevail upon you to lay aside your breast-plate for one moment: the instant you part with it, you are shorn of your strength, and are become weak as other men [Note: Jdg_16:19-20.]. “Hold fast then that ye have, that no man take your crown [Note: Rev_3:11.].” Thus shall your subtle adversary be foiled in all his attacks: he shall never be able to inflict on you any deadly wound. “Then shall you not be ashamed, when you have respect unto all God’s commandments [Note: Psa_119:6.].” As “the righteousness of Christ sustained him [Note: Isa_59:16.]” amidst the fiercest assaults of his enemies, so shall you be preserved whilst fighting under his banners, and following his commands. His express promise to you is, “He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, shall never be moved [Note: Psa_15:2; Psa_15:5.].” And again, “The Lord God is a sun and a shield; he will give grace and glory; and no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly [Note: Psa_84:11.].”