Here are bold brave words—words that might have been said by a general to his troops or a captain to his soldiers. And yet they were written by an aged Apostle to a very young man, although that young man was a Christian bishop. But where will you find a bolder, braver man than the Apostle Paul? Where will you find a truer soldier than his disciple St. Timothy?
What are the lessons for us to learn? That we are as truly soldiers as any of those old Roman soldiers St. Paul wrote about, and that we are, or ought to be, engaged in as true a warfare as ever they were engaged in.
I. When were we made soldiers?—At our baptism.
II. When did we enroll ourselves?—At our confirmation.
III. When do we renew our vow of allegiance to our King as the Roman soldiers did to the Emperor before their campaigns? Every time we go to the Blessed Sacrament.
IV. To what does our vow pledge us?—To renounce our ghostly enemy. To fight manfully under the banner of our Captain against sin, the world, and the devil.
V. What are our safeguards?—Striving, watching, praying.
VI. What are our requisites?—Courage, constancy, endurance, perseverance.
‘So far from shrinking, the holy martyrs, like the Apostles of old, went away from the face of the rulers rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for their Saviour, and were ready to die for Him when the time came. The aged Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, prayed before his execution thus: “O Lord God Almighty, Father of Thy well-beloved and Blessed Son Jesus Christ, by Whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of the whole creation, and of all the race of the righteous who live before Thee, I bless Thee that Thou hast counted me worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy witnesses in the cup of Thy Christ.” Many martyrs prayed for their enemies, and forgave the judges who had condemned them, and the executioners who were carrying the sentences into effect, as their Lord did for the soldiers who were nailing Him to the Cross. And they were not only experienced Christians as we should call them, but young and untried disciples, newly-made converts. Thus we read of a little girl of fifteen—a slave girl in truth, whose faith neither torture nor wild beasts could make to falter. Older Christians feared for her; but it was she who strengthened their faith. Before the whole circus, full of a scowling crowd, in view of the gaping mouth of the lion, she stood calm and smiling, and that calm smile of the poor slave girl proved the “gospel to be the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.” The old Pagan philosophers called it obstinacy, but the Church knew it to be Christian firmness, and the strength which Christ gives through the Holy Spirit.’
THE GOOD FIGHT
I. What are we to fight against?—Our enemies are three in number—they are three strong and mighty kings—the Devil, the world, and self. And then, too, each one of us for himself, has to fight against his own easily besetting sin.
II. How are we to fight?—As lightly and unencumbered as possible. ‘No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.’ ‘And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.’ Find out what your enemy, i.e. your own special temptation is, by earnest self-examination, and then fight against that. Christian! fight bravely on and imitate thy Lord and Captain. For He was bold in attack, going up into the wilderness to meet the enemy, and yet not rushing into temptation of His own mind and will, but following the leadings of the Blessed Spirit. He was skilful in defence, parrying every attack with some passage of Holy Scripture. He was steadfast in conflict, for He persevered to the end until the Devil left Him, and angels came and ministered unto Him. So, brethren, let us not be content with repelling the first attacks of evil, but let us persevere in our resistance until the evil suggestions are put to flight, and heavenly resolutions take their place.
III. We are engaged in fighting, not ‘for our own hand,’ but for our Lord and for His faith. Hence we must fight in His Name and for His sake, for His truth, ‘the truth as it is in Jesus.’ We must ‘earnestly contend for the faith’—the one sacred deposit of truth—‘once for all delivered to the saints.’ For this is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith. War, then, the good warfare; ‘holding faith and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning the faith have made shipwreck.’
Rev. W. Frank Shaw.
‘This daily struggle betwixt the flesh and the spirit, this hourly conflict between the grace of God within us and our own natural and evil inclinations, is well illustrated by the reply of an aged man to a friend who inquired, “What causes you so often to complain of pain and weariness in the evening?” “Alas!” said he, “I have every day so much to do. I have two falcons to tame, two hares to keep from running away, two hawks to manage, a serpent to confine, a lion to chain, and a sick man to tend and wait upon.” “Impossible!” said the friend, “no man can have all these things to do at once.” “Alas!” he replied, “it is only too true, and is exactly as I have said. The two falcons are my two eyes, which I must diligently guard lest something should please them which may be hurtful to my salvation; the two hares are my feet, which I must hold back lest they should run after evil and walk in the ways of sin; the two hawks are my two hands, which I must train and keep to work in order that I may be able to provide for myself and for my brethren that are in need; the serpent is my tongue, which I must always keep in with a bridle lest it should speak anything unseemly; the lion is my heart, with which I have to maintain a continual fight in order that vanity and pride may not fill it, but that the grace of God may dwell and work therein; the sick man is my whole body, which is ever needing my watchfulness.” ’
It is atrophy rather than perversity of will that is responsible for many of the wrecks with which the shores of life are strewn.
I. It is a defective sense of the dignity of their own personality that makes so many men fail to come to the measure of their full stature—either in their individual lives or in their social responsibilities. On the whole it is not the shattered careers that are the saddest things to contemplate; it is the vast mass of respectable and mediocre lives that have never risen, or had any consciousness that they were meant to rise, to the height of their great argument; of people who really imagine that their day’s work is done day after day when they have finished adding up the columns in a ledger and have glanced through the evening paper on the journey home.
II. The number of these imperfect, incomplete lives is the saddest thing. The great heart of the people which beats so languidly, and yet to which alone appeal can be made; the stolid unimaginativeness of hearts and ears to which the trumpet voices of prophet and reformer are merely so much sounding brass; the many educated minds to which the thought of human brotherhood, of citizenship in its larger sense, means nothing—these are the phenomena which maddened a Ruskin and soured a Carlyle. It is they which constitute the dead mass of indifference on which the waves of thought and the winds of reform seem to beat in vain.
III. Will nothing galvanise them into life?—Will nothing make us recognise that the fight is our fight, that we matter, that our opinion counts, that our bit of activity and productiveness is wanted to make the tale complete? ‘Produce, produce’—it is the message that Carlyle preached as a gospel—‘were it but the pitifullest infinitesimal fragment of a product, produce it in God’s Name.’Tis the utmost thou hast in thee; out with it, then. Up, up! Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. Work while it is called to-day, for the night cometh wherein no man can work.’
IV. Christianity is a gospel of work, alive and active. Its distinctive feature, if I may quote once more, ‘is not the renunciation of self, in the sense in which some Asiatic religions have inculcated renunciation, but the combination of an intense desire for self-expression with the desire for disinterested social service.’
Rev. Lionel Ford.
‘It is the life and progress of a pilgrim to which we are called—a life of movement and of danger, with its Sloughs of Despond to wade, its perils by the way, its steeps to climb. But it is a life, too, which has the Celestial City as its goal at the end, and as we pass along the road we are conscious of a heavenly guide. Evangelist is not far off. The city is not attained as yet, ah, no! but though “we count not ourselves to have apprehended,” yet, walking in the Spirit, we may securely move forward, stretching out the hand of friendship to those that lag, while for ourselves, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, we press toward the mark. Let Bunyan’s own words be our marching cry:—