THE generality of mankind have very inadequate ideas of the Christian warfare. They know but little of the enemies with whom we have to contend, or of the imminent danger to which we are exposed through their continual assaults. But, as some conception might be formed of the power of an enemy, by viewing the extensive preparations that were made to oppose him, so may we learn to estimate the difficulties of the spiritual warfare, by surveying the various parts of armour which God has prepared for our defence. We have already noticed the girdle and breast-plate, for the body; the greaves, for the legs and feet; the shield, for the head, in common with the rest of the body: but yet the head is not sufficiently protected; it must have a peace of armour more appropriate; a piece suited to its necessities, and fitted for its use. In the account given us of Goliath, we read that “he had a helmet of brass upon his head [Note: 1Sa_17:5.]:” and such a piece of armour is provided for us also; we are required to “take the helmet of salvation.”
In opening this subject we shall shew,
What we are to understand by “salvation”—
Its use and importance in the Christian warfare—
What are we to understand by the term “salvation?”
It is evident that the expression is elliptical; nor should we know how, with any certainty, to complete the sense, if the Apostle himself had not supplied the defect in a parallel passage: but all doubt is removed by that exhortation in his Epistle to the Thessalonians [Note: 1Th_5:8.], “Let us who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breast-plate of faith and love, and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.” From hence we see that Hope is the Christian’s helmet. Yet, because there are various kinds of hope, and only one that will afford the Christian any effectual protection, we must enter more particularly into the subject, and distinguish the scriptural hope from every other that may be mistaken for it.
In the first place then, true hope has salvation for its object. This is very strongly marked in different parts of Scripture: for we are said to be “saved by hope [Note: Rom_8:24.]:” and salvation itself is sometimes called hope; they who look for salvation, are said to be “looking for that blessed hope [Note: Tit_2:13.]:” at other times, hope is called salvation: we are exhorted in the text to take the helmet of salvation. There are many, whose hopes have respect indeed to eternal life; but they are unmindful of their lost estate; they are regardless of that way of deliverance, which God has provided for them through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus; they expect heaven, because they have done nothing to forfeit it: if they have sinned, they have not sinned in such a degree as to deserve the wrath of God; they have committed only common and venial faults; they have, moreover, done many things to counterbalance their evil deeds; and therefore they hope for heaven as the award of justice, rather than as a gift of unbounded mercy. This, for distinction sake, we may call a self-righteous hope: whereas the hope of every true Christian is founded altogether on the merits of Christ, and has respect to salvation, as purchased for us by his obedience unto death.
Further, true hope has God for its author. There is scarcely a person to be found in the world, who, if the question were put to him, Do you hope to go to heaven if you die in your present state? would not answer in the affirmative. If we should proceed to inquire, Whence got you that hope? they would tell us, that they had always had it. But this is a presumptuous hope, the offspring of ignorance and conceit. Widely different from this is the Christian’s hope. He has trembled for his state: he has seen his guilt and danger: he has “fled for refuge to the hope set before him.” God has revealed to him the riches of his grace; and has shewn him that “where sin hath abounded, grace shall much more abound.” The Holy Spirit has “taken of the things of Christ, and shewn them unto him:” yea, he has convinced him, that “the blood of Jesus Christ is able to cleanse him from all sin;” and that “all who believe in Christ, are justified from all things.” In this way God has inspired him with hope, that, notwithstanding all his past iniquities, he shall obtain salvation: and though there may be a considerable difference as to the degree of fear or terror that may precede this hope, yet this is the way in which it is invariably wrought in the soul. Hence it is said, that “God begets us unto a lively hope [Note: 1Pe_1:3.];” and “gives us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace [Note: 2Th_2:16.];” and that “he fills us with joy and peace in believing, that we may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost [Note: Rom_15:13.].”
Once more; true hope has holiness for its inseparable companion. Whatever may be imagined to the contrary, there is no salvation to those who live in sin. Christ came to “save us from our sins,” but not in them. We are expressly told that “the grace of God which bringeth salvation, teaches us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ [Note: Tit_2:11-13.].” There is a kind of hope that will consist with the indulgence of secret lust, and with a total want of holy dispositions: but that is “the hope of the hypocrite which perisheth, and shall be swept away with the besom of destruction [Note: Job_8:13-14.]. But the hope of the upright is far different from this: it will admit of no allowed sin, whether of omission or of commission: on the contrary, we are told, that “he who hath this hope in him, purifieth himself even as God is pure [Note: 1Jn_3:3.]:” he will retain no bosom lusts; he will not so much as wish for any exceptions and reserves in his obedience to God: he will desire, and endeavour, to be “holy as God is holy, and perfect even as his Father that is in heaven is perfect.”
This then may serve to distinguish the Christian’s hope from that which is self-righteous, presumptuous, or hypocritical; and consequently to determine with considerable accuracy, what that hope is, that is connected with salvation. And though the text itself does not so much as mention hope, and much less discriminate between its different kinds, yet the very omission of these things points out the evident propriety of marking clearly what the import of salvation is, and what that is which alone deserves the name.
We may now, with much greater advantage, proceed to shew,
The use and importance of salvation in the Christian warfare—
The importance of this helmet is not obscurely intimated in that prophecy respecting Christ, wherein it is said “He put on righteousness as a breast-plate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head [Note: Isa_59:17.].”
But, to mark it more distinctly, we may observe, that it prepares us for conflicts, sustains us in them, and brings us victorious through them.
Hope prepares us for conflicts. A man armed with a helmet, feels himself ready to battle: he fears not to meet his adversary, because he has a defence, which, he trusts, will prove sufficient for his preservation. Thus a man that has a hope of salvation, enters into the combat with holy confidence. He is not intimidated by the frowns of an ungodly world, because he “knows in whom he has believed, and that God is able to keep that which he has committed to him [Note: 2Ti_1:12.].” He says with David, “Though a host should encamp against roe, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in him will I be confident [Note: Psa_27:3.].” This subject cannot be more strongly illustrated than in Caleb and the whole nation of the Israelites. The nation were terrified at the report of the spies, and, instead of proceeding to fight against the Canaanites, proposed to appoint a captain, and go back again into Egypt; but Caleb, whose hope was lively, stood unmoved, and strove to animate his countrymen with an assurance of easy victory [Note: Num_13:30-31; Num_14:1-4.]. And thus, while the hearts of others are failing them for fear, and they “turn back unto perdition,” rather than contend with their adversaries, the true Christian, “encourages himself in his God [Note: 1Sa_30:6.],” and makes up his mind to die or conquer.
Further, a true hope will sustain us in conflicts. Many who have shewn intrepidity at first, have yet fainted when their trials were severe and of long continuance. But he who has a hope full of immortality, will never yield, however painful the conflict may be, and however heavy the pressure. “The patriarchs continued to sojourn in the land of promise as mere pilgrims, notwithstanding they had frequent opportunity to return” to their own country and kindred: but they accounted the trial as nothing, because “they looked for a better country, that is, an heavenly;” and expected in due time to arrive at “a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God [Note: Heb_11:8-10; Heb_11:13-16.].” Many women also who were tortured by the most ingenious cruelty even unto death, yet declined accepting deliverance upon dishonourable terms, that they might be accounted worthy to obtain a better resurrection [Note: Heb_11:35.]. St. Paul too, that bright pattern of all virtues, assigns this as the reason why he did not faint under his unparalleled afflictions: “his outward man decayed; but his inward man was renewed day by day:” and his afflictions appeared to him light and momentary, because he looked from the vanities of time and sense to the invisible realities of eternity [Note: 2Co_4:16-18.].
Thus shall our trials rather confirm, than weaken, our hope, provided it be scriptural and genuine: “our tribulation shall work patience; our patience, experience; and our experience, hope [Note: Rom_5:3-4.].”
Once more: true faith will bring us victorious through our conflicts. The Lord Jesus Christ himself in this respect fully verified the prophecies respecting him; and set us an example, which it is our privilege to follow. The Prophet Isaiah represents Jesus as speaking in these triumphant strains: “The Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint; and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifieth me; who shall contend with me? let us stand together; who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall cat them up [Note: Isa_50:7-9.].” Thus will hope enable us also to anticipate the victory, while yet we are fighting on the field of battle: through it, we may defy all the powers of earth or hell ever to “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus [Note: Rom_8:31-39.],” Yea, such “an anchor shall it be to our souls,” that we shall be steadfast [Note: Heb_6:19.] in the midst of this tempestuous world, and be enabled to outride the storm, which causes many to “make shipwreck of their faith [Note: 1Ti_1:19.],” and ultimately sinks them to everlasting perdition [Note: Heb_10:39.].
Let me then entreat you, first, to get this helmet. Be not satisfied with a delusive hope that will fail you in the day of necessity; but bring it to the trial: see whether it be able to endure the assaults of your adversary: compare it with the description which God himself gives of that which is true and saving. Look well to it that it be not self-righteous, presumptuous, or hypocritical. Be well assured that it is of heavenly temper: and let daily experience shew, that it enables you to “lift up your head above all your enemies,” whether outward or inward, terrestrial or infernal. Think with yourselves, how awful it would be to find, either in the hour of death or in the day of judgment, that you had deceived yourselves with some phantom of your own imagination, and formed expectations of happiness that cannot be realized. O do not expose yourselves to such a dreadful disappointment. Remember the fate of the foolish virgins: they hoped that their lamp of profession would suffice, though they were destitute of the oil whereby alone they could make their light to shine. Through this they perished [Note: Mat_25:4; Mat_25:8-11.], as thousands of others have done, by resting in their religious privileges, or their outward conformity to the Divine will, when they had not the inward principle of renewing, sanctifying grace [Note: Mat_7:21-23.]. But let it not be so with you. “Judge yourselves, that you may not be judged of the Lord [Note: 1Co_11:31.].” And beg of God to give you that “hope that shall never make yon ashamed [Note: Rom_5:5.].”
Next, we would urge you to keep on this helmet in all your conflicts. Constant will be Satan’s endeavours to deprive you of it; and great his triumph if he succeed. Above all things, be careful that you “cast not away your confidence, but hold fast the rejoicing of your hope firm unto the end [Note: Heb_3:6; Heb_3:14.].” If at any time you begin to be distracted with doubts and fears, instantly check yourselves as David did; “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God [Note: Psa_42:11.].”
Though you are to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [Note: Php_2:13.],” you must “not run as uncertainly, or fight as one that beateth the air [Note: 1Co_9:26.]:” you must remember who is engaged for your support; and that “he is faithful who hath promised [Note: Heb_10:23.].” It is true, “you have need of patience, that after you have done the will of God you may receive the promise [Note: Heb_10:36.]:” but “if you hope for that you see not, such a hope implies, that you will with patience wait for it [Note: Rom_8:25.].” St. James proposes to you the examples of the husbandman: “Behold,” says he, “the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient: stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh [Note: Jam_5:7-8.];” and then shall your confidence be richly rewarded [Note: Heb_10:35.]. “Gird up then the loins of your mind; be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that shall be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ [Note: 1Pe_1:13.].” This is the way, the sure way, to conquer. “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; knowing assuredly, that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord [Note: 1Co_15:58.].”
Lastly, let that which is your defence, be also your ornament. There is not a more ornamental part of the soldier’s armour, than the helmet. Nor is there any thing that more adorns the Christian, than a lively, steadfast, and consistent hope. In the exercise of hope, he stands, as it were, on the top of Pisgah, and surveys the land of promise, the land that floweth with milk and honey [Note: Deu_34:1.]. He longs to leave this dreary wilderness, and to “enter into the joy of his Lord.” Knowing that “when his earthly tabernacle shall be dissolved, he has a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, he groans, earnestly desiring that mortality may be swallowed up of life [Note: 2Co_5:1-4.].” If he had crowns and kingdoms in his possession, still he would account it “far better to depart and to be with Christ [Note: Php_1:23.].” He is “looking for, and hasting to, the coming of the day of Christ [Note: 2Pe_3:12.];” and thus has “his conversation in heaven,” while yet he remains a sojourner upon earth [Note: Php_3:20.]. View the Christian in this frame, and confess, that the sun shining in his meridian strength, glorious as it is, “has no glory, by reason of the Christian’s glory that excelleth.” This, this, Christians, is the state in which you ought to live. Were you more habitually in this frame, your years of warfare would seem as nothing, for the greatness of the prize for which you contend [Note: Alluding to Gen_29:20.]. You can scarcely conceive what an energy such a frame would give to your souls. You would soon come to Jesus with joy and wonder, like his Disciples of old, saying, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name:” and he in return would increase your confidence by saying, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you [Note: Luk_10:17-19.].” Do but consider, how weak will Satan’s temptations be, when you thus abound in hope! how little will any thing be able to move you, when you are thus, by joyful anticipation, “sitting already with Christ in heavenly places [Note: Eph_2:16.]!” Beloved brethren, this is your perfection: “you will come behind in no gift, when you are thus waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus [Note: Compare 2Co_13:9. with 1Co_1:7.].” Whatever you have to do, you will do it heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance [Note: Col_3:22.].” May God enable you thus to live, till faith shall be lost in sight, and hope be consummated in enjoyment!
THE CHRISTIAN’S SWORD
the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
THE Christian’s warfare is principally of the defensive kind; yet not so entirely, but that he must follow up the advantages which he has at any time gained, and seek the utter destruction of those enemies which infest his soul: after sustaining their assaults, he must himself become the assailant; having resisted the world and sin, he must proceed to overcome [Note: 1Jn_5:4.], condemn [Note: Heb_11:7.], and crucify [Note: Gal_5:24; Gal_6:14.] them; and having withstood Satan, he must go on to “bruise him under his feet [Note: Rom_16:20.].” That he may be enabled to carry this into effect, God has provided for him an offensive weapon, which, if skilfully used, shall accomplish the ruin of all his enemies. To the consideration of this we are led by the text; in elucidating which we shall notice,
The description given of the Christian’s sword—
Its usefulness to him in all his combats—
Let us notice the description given of the Christian’s sword—
What the sword is to a warrior, that the Scriptures are to a child of God; they enable him to inflict a deadly wound on his adversaries, and to subdue them before him.
Now the appellation here given to the Scriptures is deserving of particular attention. They are called, “the word of God,” and “the sword of the Spirit.”
They are called with great propriety, “the word of God;” first, because they were inspired by him. They were indeed written by men; but men were only the agents and instruments that God made use of: they wrote only what God by his Spirit dictated to them: so that, in reality, the whole Scripture was as much written by the finger of God, as the laws were, which he inscribed on two tables of stone, and delivered to his servant Moses. And to this the Scriptures themselves bear witness; for in them it is said, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God [Note: 2Ti_3:16.];” and again, “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost [Note: 2Pe_1:21.].”
But they are called the word of God, not merely as being inspired by him, but also as being a revelation of his mind and will to man. In them his eternal counsels are opened to the world. In them he has declared in what way he will be reconciled to his offending creatures. In them he has displayed all the riches of his grace; and exhibited all his perfections as united and glorified in the person of Christ. In short, whatever could lead to the establishment of truth, or the refutation of error
[Note: 2Ti_3:16. Ð
.], to the correction of sin, or the promotion of righteousness, all is contained in that inspired volume, in which there is nothing superfluous, nothing defective: which therefore may be wholly, and exclusively, called, “the word of God.”
But there is yet another, and a very important, ground of this appellation, namely, that the Scriptures are the voice of God to every individual of mankind. It is thought by some, that the Scriptures are a mere record of transactions that passed many hundred years ago; and that, however true and authentic they may be, they are no otherwise interesting to us, than as matters of curiosity and pleasing instruction. Even the epistles are supposed to relate only to the particular Churches to which they were written: and thus the use of the Scriptures with respect to ourselves is wholly superseded. But we are abundantly guarded against this fatal error by the application which the inspired writers themselves make of numerous passages, which at first sight appear to be as remote from us as any in the Bible. Let us select a few, that will place this matter in its true light. First, take an historical fact. A contention arose in Abraham’s family. His child by Hagar mocked and insulted the child which he had by Sarah. Sarah took part with her son; and desired that Hagar, with her son Ishmael, should be cast out, and no longer be suffered to dwell in Abraham’s house. Now what could the children’s quarrels, and the mother’s revenge, have to do with us? The Apostle tells us, that the casting out of the bond-woman and her son was intended to shew, that they who were yet in bondage to the law, should not have any part in the inheritance of those who were made free by the Gospel [Note: Compare Gen_21:10; Gen_21:12. with Gal_4:30.]. Next, take an occasional declaration. Abraham had exercised faith in God; and God declared, that his faith should be counted to him for righteousness. In what respect, it may be asked, can this apply to us? We answer with St. Paul, that this declaration was recorded, not for Abraham’s sake alone, but for ours; to inform us, that the way of justification before God was, not by works, but by faith only [Note: Compare Gen_15:6. with Rom_4:3; Rom_4:23-24.]. Next, take a personal promise. God, who had commisioned Joshua to destroy the Canaanites, told him that he would not leave him, nor forsake him in this arduous attempt. Would any one conceive, that that promise had any respect to us? Yet it had; and, in dependence upon it, every believer may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man can do unto me [Note: Compare Jos_1:5. with Heb_13:5-6.].” Lastly, take as insignificant an ordinance as any that is to be found in all the Mosaic ritual; “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn.” Now the utmost that this might be supposed to teach us, is, mercy to our beasts. But it had a further reference: God’s concern was, not for oxen, but for us; and this ordinance was intended to declare, that all who serve at the altar, should live of the altar [Note: Compare Deu_25:4. with 1Co_9:9-10.].
Let this suffice to illustrate the point in hand. You see from an historical fact, an occasional declaration, a personal promise, and an insignificant ordinance, that whatever the Scripture speaks, it speaks to us. There is not a precept which is not as binding upon us as on those to whom it was delivered: there is not a threatening, at which we have not cause to tremble; nor a promise, on which we are not warranted to rely, if only we believe in Jesus Christ.
We come now to notice that other appellation given to the Scriptures, “the sword of the Spirit.” In a variety of views this description of them is just and appropriate.
It is by the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit speaks to men. He did indeed in the early ages of the world enlighten men by dreams and visions; but since the publication of the written word, and especially since the completion of the sacred canon, he has called men to the law and to the testimony [Note: Isa_8:20.]; “they have Moses and the prophets,” says our Lord, “let them hear them [Note: Luk_16:29.]:” and again, “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye have eternal life [Note: Joh_5:39.].” We do not say indeed, that the Holy Spirit never uses any other means of quickening or comforting the souls of men: but the Scriptures are the means by which he usually works [Note: Eph_5:26.]; nor does he ever work at all, but in a perfect conformity to them.
The Scriptures are further called the sword of the Spirit, because they derive all their power from, the Spirit. In themselves, they are like a sword sheathed, and lying upon the ground: they are a dead letter: they convey no spiritual light: they impart no spiritual energy: they carry with them neither conviction, nor consolation: whether read or preached, they are equally without effect. Paul was conversant with the Scriptures before his conversion; but could not see in them that Jesus was the Christ; nor could he learn from them the temper and disposition of a child of God. The ministry of Christ was attended with but small success: nor did the number of those who were converted by the Apostles, bear any proportion to that of those who rejected their message: and, in the instances wherein they did succeed, the success was “not owing to Paul who planted, or to Apollos who watered, but to God who gave the increase [Note: 1Co_3:6.].” The word then only came with any beneficial influence, when it came, not in word only, “but in the Holy Ghost [Note: 1Th_1:5.],” and “in demonstration of the Spirit’s power [Note: 1Co_2:4.]:” and Lydia would have remained as unconcerned as others, if “the Lord had not opened her heart to attend to the things that were spoken [Note: Act_16:14.].”
But there is yet another reason why the Scriptures are called the sword of the Spirit; namely, that by them he has wrought the most stupendous miracles in the conversion of men. They are indeed, “the rod of his strength [Note: Psa_110:2.];” and have effected far greater miracles than ever the rod of Moses did. By them he has changed the hearts of men instantaneously, thoroughly, abidingly. By them, in the space of one hour, he transformed three thousand murderers into the very image of their God [Note: Act_2:41.]. In his hands, “the word was quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword: it pierced even to the dividing of the joints and marrow: it laid open the inmost thoughts of men [Note: Heb_4:12.]:” and “through God it is still mighty to destroy the strong-holds” of sin and Satan [Note: 2Co_10:4-5.]: and when “it shall have free course and be glorified in the world [Note: 2Th_3:1.],” when he shall “gird it on his thigh, and ride on prosperously” in his career, it shall be “very sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies [Note: Psa_45:3-5.],” and all nations shall be subdued unto the obedience of faith [Note: Psa_72:9-11.].
This is the weapon with which the Christian is armed; and with which he shall conquer. To the eye of sense, indeed, he goes forth only like David, with his sling and a stone against Goliath [Note: 1Sa_17:40.]: but, like him, “he shall be strong, and do exploits [Note: Dan_11:32.].” With this he is “thoroughly furnished unto all good works [Note: 2Ti_3:17.];” “nor shall any of his enemies be able to stand before him [Note: Jos_10:8.].”
To illustrate the virtues of this sword, we shall proceed to shew,
Its usefulness to him in all his combats—
It is needless to make any remarks on the utility of a sword in general, since every one must of necessity be well acquainted with it. But the particular manner in which the Scriptures answer the end of a sword to the Christian, is not so obvious. We may well therefore examine this point with care and accuracy, in order that we ourselves may be enabled to “handle the weapon”provided for us, and use it with dexterity and success.
The Christian’s enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil. And the Scripture enables him to defeat them: first, by its clear directions. Does the flesh plead for any unhallowed indulgence? the Scripture says, “Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good [Note: Rom_12:9.].” Does the world solicit his embrace? the Scripture says again, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world [Note: 1Jn_2:15.].” Does Satan exert his wiles in order to deceive? the Scripture says, “Him resist [Note: 1Pe_5:9.].” And it is worthy of remark, that it was by means of the directions of Scripture that our Saviour himself vanquished his wicked adversary. Did Satan recommend him to turn stones into bread for his support? he answered, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God [Note: Mat_4:4.].” Did Satan then urge him to cast himself down from a pinnacle of the temple with an assurance of miraculous preservation? he replied again, “It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God [Note: Mat_4:7.].” Did Satan once more assault him with solicitations to fall down and worship him? he smote the fiend yet a third time with the same irresistible weapon: “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve [Note: Mat_4:10.].” Thus Jesus conquered: and thus his people in all ages have subdued their enemies. David tells us whence his success arose: “I have hid thy word within me, that I might not sin against thee [Note: Psa_119:11.]:” and, “By the word of thy lips, I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer [Note: Psa_17:4.].” To us also be recommends an adoption of the same plan; “Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? even by taking heed thereto according to thy word [Note: Psa_119:9.].”
The Scripture aids us, in the next place, by its powerful motives. As for all the motives that reason can suggest, the experience of all ages has proved them weak and inefficient. But the Scripture sets before us the happiness of heaven and the misery of hell: and thus with irresistible efficacy addresses itself to our hopes and fears. “He that overcometh shall inherit all things [Note: Rev_21:7.],” saith the Lord; “but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him: he draws back unto perdition [Note: Heb_10:38-39.].” When an enemy would allure us by the prospect of pleasure, or alarm us by the apprehension of suffering, with what indignation shall we spurn him from us, if we advert for one moment to the concerns of eternity! Shall I forego the blessedness of heaven for a momentary gratification? Shall I consign myself over to all the torments of hell rather than endure some momentary evil? What if the acquisition be ever so precious; or the loss be ever so severe? had I not better pluck out a right eye, or cut off a right hand, than be cast into hell-fire for retaining them [Note: Mar_9:44-49.]? “Depart then from me, all ye wicked; I will keep the commandments of my God [Note: Psa_119:115.].”
There is yet another motive that operates more strongly on an ingenuous soul than either the hope of heaven, or the fear of hell: I mean, a concern for the Divine glory. ‘Has God committed to me such a sacred trust? Is the honour of God himself dependent upon my conduct? Will my fall occasion “his name to be blasphemed;” and my stability be the means of exalting his glory? How then shall I give way to the tempter? how shall I so violate my obligations to God, and bring dishonour upon him, whom I ought to love and serve with my whole heart?’ Many of God’s saints have found this a counterpoise to the strongest temptations [Note: Gen_39:9; Gen_42:18 and Neh_5:15.]: and it is obvious that these considerations united together, are well calculated to defeat our enemies, and to secure us a decisive victory over all.
The Scripture gives us a further advantage over our enemies by means of its rich encouragements. Not to mention the eternal rewards that have been just adverted to, the Scripture promises that God will be with us in every conflict, and beat down our adversaries before our face. “Fear not,” says he, “for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee by the right hand of my righteousness [Note: Isa_41:10.].” “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, for thou shalt thresh the mountains [Note: Isa_41:14-15.].” Now what can withstand a man that is armed with such promises as these? What can oppose any effectual obstacle in his way? Are his enemies numerous? He says, “They are more that are with me, than they that are against me [Note: 2Ki_6:16.].” Does he feel himself weak? he says, “God will perfect his own strength in my weakness [Note: 2Co_12:9.].” Under these circumstances he is like to Gideon, when going against the confederate hosts of Midian and Amalek. God had promised him the victory even without the intervention of a human arm: this promise he had confirmed by repeated signs, and even by an attestation from the enemy themselves. In dependence on God, he surrounded their camp with his little band of three hundred men; and, with no other weapons than a pitcher, a lamp, and a trumpet, gained the most signal victory [Note: Jdg_7:19.]. So the Christian, “encouraging himself in his God,” and depending on his promised aid, goes forth with power and effect. The very end for which such “great and precious promises were given him was, that by them he might be a partaker of the divine nature [Note: 2Pe_1:4.];” and he does improve them to this end; and finds that by means of them he is enabled to “cleanse himself from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2Co_7:1.].”
The last advantage which we shall mention as derived from the Scripture, is that which it affords us by means of its instructive examples. How can any one relax his determination to destroy sin, when he contemplates the destruction which sin has brought on those who yielded to its baneful influence? When he reflects on the doom of the apostate angels, or on the deluge that overwhelmed the world, or on the fire and brimstone that consumed the cities of the plain, can he trifle with that which has so greatly provoked the Majesty of heaven [Note: 2Pe_2:4-6; 2Pe_2:9.]? If it be to despondency that he is urged by Satan, will he not repel the tempter instantly, as soon as he recollects the character of thousands who have found acceptance with God? Can he despair, that considers for one moment the case of David, of Manasseh [Note: 2Ki_21:1-9.], of the dying thief? Can he despair, who sees the persecuting Saul arrested in his career; or who reads the catalogue of crimes of which the Corinthian converts had been guilty [Note: 1Co_6:9-11.]? It may be that he is induced to think there is something peculiar in his case, which justifies in an extra-ordinary degree his desponding fears. But when he hears, that “no temptation can take him but that which is common to man [Note: 1Co_10:13.],” and then surveys that cloud of witnesses who were once conflicting like himself, but are now in heaven attesting the power and faithfulness of a redeeming God [Note: Heb_12:1.], he cannot but say, “Get thee behind me, Satan [Note: Mat_4:10.]:” “thou wast a liar, and a murderer, from the beginning [Note: Joh_8:44.]:” and shall I credit thy lies to the disparagement of my God?
In this way it was that the saints of old triumphed: “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep, that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over? (Now mark the inference)—Therefore the redeemed of the Lord (and we amongst them) shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away [Note: Isa_51:9-11.].” A completer triumph than this cannot possibly be conceived. Yet thus will the Scripture enable us to triumph, if we duly mark the examples which it sets before us.
In concluding this subject, we would impress upon your mind two important reflections.
First, How thankful should we be for the Holy Scriptures! One of the greatest advantages that the Jews possessed above the Gentile world, was, that to them had been committed the oracles of God [Note: Rom_3:2.]. This advantage we enjoy in a still higher degree; inasmuch as we have the light of the New Testament in addition to that of the Old. To judge properly respecting this, we should put ourselves in the situation of unenlightened heathens. They are all “led captive by the devil at his will:” and no wonder, since they see no means of escape from his assaults, or of resistance to his power. But we, if it be not utterly our own fault, are asserting our liberty, and victoriously contending with him. Even those who are far from having attained their full growth, if only they are skilled in exercising this potent weapon, “have overcome the wicked one [Note: 1Jn_2:14.].” Let then the Scriptures be precious to us, “sweeter than honey, and the honey-comb [Note: Psa_19:10.],” and “dearer than our necessary food [Note: Job_23:12.].” Let “our meditation be in them day and night [Note: Psa_1:2.]:” let them be “a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths [Note: Psa_119:105.].” Let them on all occasions be “our delight and our counsellors [Note: Psa_119:24.].” Then may we be assured that they shall be “the power of God to our salvation [Note: Rom_1:17.]:” for God’s promise to Joshua is, in fact, addressed to every one of us; “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success [Note: Jos_1:8.].”
Next it may be observed, How earnestly should we seek the influences of the Holy Ghost! Many, instead of handling the sword for the subjugating of their enemies, are really using it in their defence: they draw from the Scriptures only what shall appear to countenance their lusts and errors; and thus “wrest them,” as the Apostle says, “to their own destruction [Note: 2Pe_3:16.].” And if “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation be not given to us [Note: Eph_1:17-18.],” to guide us into all truth [Note: Joh_16:13.], we shall derive no greater benefit from the sacred volume than they. We may perhaps adopt the sentiments contained in it; but we shall never experience its power to transform the soul, till “the Spirit of God write it on the fleshly tables of our hearts [Note: 2Co_3:3.].” It is “the Lord alone that giveth wisdom; and therefore, while we search the Scriptures as for hid treasures, we must also lift up our voice to him in prayer for knowledge and understanding [Note: Pro_2:1-6.].” Let us look then to the Saviour, “out of whose mouth goeth a two-edged sword [Note: Rev_1:16.],” even to him who is “the Captain of the Lord’s host [Note: Jos_5:13-14.];” and beg, that he would both use that sword to slay the enmity of our hearts [Note: Eph_2:16.], and enable us also to wield the same for the destruction of our enemies. Let us pray that “the arms of our hands may be made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob [Note: Gen_49:21.].” And let us go forth, like David, “not with carnal weapons, as a sword, and a spear, and a shield, but in the name of the Lord God of hosts [Note: 1Sa_17:45.].” Then shall we “smite our enemies till the sword even cleave to our hands [Note: 2Sa_23:10.];” and we shall experience, in its fullest extent, the import of that significant question, “Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly [Note: Mic_2:7.]?”