A follower of Christ ought not to regard himself as a non-combatant in the battle of life. Slackness and sloth are highly destructive of Christian usefulness. And every one who is conscious of the loftier purposes taught in the Bible knows what earnest effort, what persistent striving, and what strenuous contest are demanded of him in various directions against the world, against shallow religious profession, and against the assaults of the devil.
But of such conflicts I would not now write, but rather of the self-discipline that is necessary if we would carry on successfully the daily strife for holiness and truth. No one will deny that it is essential for holy living and for effective influence for good that a Christian man's natural powers and dispositions should be under perfect self-control.
Sometimes, however, a believer may overlook this necessity and forget that locked within the compass of his being there are subtle and deadly forces of evil which, if left unguarded, may break out at any moment and wreck his career utterly.
Because of this personal danger, the Scriptural advice to each of us is, "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life;" "Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile." — Prov. 4:23; Psalm 34:13. Now to "keep," in the sense of these texts, implies the exercise on our part of alertness, of vigilance, and of aliveness. In order to keep the heart, the tongue, the lips as well as all the other members, we must "watch and pray," as the Lord specially enjoined His disciples on that memorable occasion in the garden of Gethsemane.
But Peter was one of those who slept throughout that dark hour of crisis. Consequently having indulged in the sluggards' sleep he was off his guard against his own personal proclivities. When the emissaries of the high priest came to apprehend his Master, he, at once, forgetful that he was a servant under orders, drew his sword at his own initiative, and smote off the ear of Malchus. This fierce act of mistaken zeal incurred the Lord's immediate rebuke. It was altogether out of harmony with the meek and submissive demeanour of the Lamb "before her shearers," and it would have been more useful for Peter to have drawn the sword against the careless self-confidence which was filling his own heart.
There was it is true a species of bravery in the act of the apostle, seeking thereby to hack a way through for his Master's escape. But his valour was wrong in principle, and was of the sort that wanes, rather than waxes, because it was founded on self-reliance and not upon faith in God, and upon implicit obedience to Him.
When, a little later, Peter had to face the gibes of the soldiers in the high priest's courtyard, he, owing to his previous slackness, proved to be anything but "valiant in fight," for then lies and oaths and curses flew out of his mouth as quickly as his sword out of its sheath. Having failed in vigilance and watchfulness, this leader of the disciples was carried off his feet by the rush of his inward feelings of fear and false shame. How grievous was this fall of the mighty one, dragging too the name of his beloved Master in the mire.
Admitting the necessity of Christian valour in order to prevent the shame of such defeat, you may inquire, How is this strength for the fight of faith to be developed? And in reply I would offer this advice: —
(1) Feed and exercise the Christ-life;
(2) Starve and neglect the self-life.
Everyone knows that for the proper development of brain and nerve and muscle you must have food and air and light, and also suitable exercise under a wise supervision.
It is certain that in the life of faith there is a similar necessity for food and exercise. The lazy and hungry believer is easily overcome by the enemy, and drawn into sin.
(1) Food. The Holy Scriptures are spoken of as the food of a man's inward life. — Jer. 15:16. Besides affording help in countless ways, they are the strength and support of the new faculties. They enable a person to think rightly and wisely of the affairs of life, to view them from the proper, that is, from the Divine standpoint, and so to take God's side in the conflict that arises continually in the circumstances of each one.
Do not, therefore, neglect to read God's word, for it will bring you to think that the Great Father is for you, planning and placing things for your ultimate good. Thus will you be strengthened for the fray, and wax valiant in fight, like the ancient heroes of faith. — Heb. 11:34.
(2) Exercise. Again, Christian life is one of action. Scripture speaks of "works" as an inseparable adjunct of faith. Certainly, some classes of exercise are indispensable to growth in spiritual power.
Prayer, for instance, is one of the essential exercises of the new life. "Behold, he prayeth" was said to be the sign of Divine life at the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. In the attitude of prayer we receive the orders of the day from the High Command. It is then we feel the power that our God possesses, and this gives us assurance and makes us strong to meet every emergency.
Praise is another needful exercise, because it is when we remember how God has delivered us in the past that we are moved to praise Him. By the act of thanksgiving, therefore, we review past victories, and are strengthened to make further conquests in the power of His might.
To do good to all men so far as we can should also be our constant exercise, for thus we become like Him who "went about doing good." Deeds of love are the activities of the Christ-life which grows still stronger in the doing of them.
On the other hand, while thus encouraging the new nature you must also discourage the old. Neglect it; starve it; keep a stringent blockade upon yourself; see there are no imports of evil things from without you, nor exports to others of evil thoughts, words, or deeds arising from within you.
Let us then emulate those worthy men of faith whose names are enshrined in the Divine roll of honour, and of whom it is written, that they "waxed valiant in fight." — Heb. 11:34.