The Lord never loses sight of His thoughts as to the place of the church, of what it is in Christ. In all the minute detail as to the conduct of the saint (1 Cor. 1:2) contained in the word, the highest principles are ever advanced. What the Lord looks for from the believer is, consistency with the place wherein he is set, the "adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." How different this from the thought of the natural man, that is ever - do such and such a thing, and you shall be put in this place. We know that He "hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6), and having the knowledge of it, are addressed accordingly. This gives a very holy character to each direction; for inconsistency in the smallest circumstance is as unsuitable to the place in which the Christian is set as it would be in the greatest.
So far as regards our present position, there is, and must be, continual conflict; and it is only according to the measure of victory, we attain that the character. which the Lord Jesus Himself exhibited when here will be seen in us. "Of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace." There is not a single grace in the Lord Jesus but what is suitable for its exhibition in us as united to Him. Union with Christ sets the believer where Christ is; and through union we have the fulness of all that is in Him as our "Head." The growing up" into this is a matter of attainment.
The putting on the "WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD" supposes the person to be saved, to be united to Christ, to have the Spirit dwelling in him. The very effect of all this blessedness is to place him in conflict with the powers of darkness, the "rulers of the darkness of this world;" but then it is with "God for him," against them all. God is pleased through him to display His victory over the snares and devices of Satan, and to bear witness that He has a heavenly, and a heavenly-minded people, who have no portion here on earth. The character of "the men of the world" is, that they "have their portion in this life." But not so the child of God. He says, "As for me, I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness." Nothing short of that will answer the desire of his heart: he "presses toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
There are two things that the saint has to be watchful about; the one that, as tempted on earth, he should not be led away after the flesh; the other, his portion being in "heavenly places," that he should set his affections there. (Col. 3:2.)
Israel were redeemed out of Egypt; so are we from this present evil world. They had seen their enemies lying dead on the sea-shore. If we look at the value of our redemption, we can say our enemies whom we saw are gone, we "shall see them no more for ever." We are brought into the wilderness, and that which we see the Israelites called to in their journey through the wilderness is patient faith, to walk as trusting in God when there were no supplies of food in the way. But it is in their after history in connection with Joshua that we get blessed and minute instruction as to what is our conflict with the enemies of the Church of God.
The apostle in this exhortation speaks of being on our guard against the "wiles of the devil," not of deliverance from his power. Whilst persons are unconverted, that is, altogether in the flesh (Rom. 8:8, 9), Satan governs them by their pride, their ambition, their skill, etc., although even then the Lord oftentimes exercises a providential care over them, as we see in the case of the poor man possessed of "Legion." The Lord never let Satan carry him beyond the region of his power; yet the moment the devils departed from him, and entered into the swine, "the swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished."
Naturally we are in the world of which Satan is the prince. He guides and rules it, exercising an influence and power over the heart of the unbeliever; as it is said, "The spirit which now worketh in the children of disobedience." (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2.)
Moreover, outward quietness and order make not the least difference as to this. Whether it be by the quiet regular order of the world, or by that which is more outrageous and openly evil in its character, if Christ be shut out from the heart, it matters not, it is all the same. The quiet Gadarenes besought Christ "to depart from their coasts" as much as did the poor demoniac, as we should call him. Satan would "keep his goods in peace" if he could. It is still his world; they are still under his power. Such is our state naturally. As quickened of the Spirit, drawn unto Christ by the gracious things which He presents; we are "delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son."
Our experience ought to be of that which we are already in Christ. Our place, in point of fact, is at present in the wilderness; but faith would ever realize union with Jesus in resurrection - "our sitting together in heavenly places in Him." And hence comes the conflict. There are two things very distinct, yet constantly confounded together by the saints - bondage to Satan, and conflict with him. Israel were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but conquerors of the Canaanites. The question of the soul's redemption is a settled one. The work is "finished," all done for us in Christ. The Egyptians whom Israel had "seen, they were to see no more for ever." But then, after the knowledge of the fulness and finishedness of our redemption, there comes in another class of experience as to the power of Satan, and that consequent upon redemption. The moment we see death, and judgment met for us on the cross, there is deliverance from bondage to Satan. Resurrection takes us clean out of it; it is no longer a question as to Egypt and bondage at all. Faith knows death and judgment passed on Jesus, and our portion in the "heavenlies." There is our conflict. "The Canaanite is still in the land." God "has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus;" but Satan would seek to hinder our enjoyment of these blessings." 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 heavenly places."
The first thing we are taught here is, that "flesh and blood," that is, all the skill, wisdom, and strength of man, cannot resist or avail in this conflict with "principalities and powers, and wicked spirits in heavenly places," one bit. Flesh and blood may be the scene where Satan tempts; but the moment it begins to exercise its energy, the conflict is an unequal one, and Satan gains the victory. The enemies with whom Israel had to contend were enemies of flesh and blood, men like themselves; but we wrestle not with such, our enemies are brought before us here in fearful array, and we have no power in ourselves to stand against them; hence the word, "Wherefore take unto you the WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."
We have to "stand against the wiles of the devil," the deceit of his subtleties. He is our tempter as regards the old nature, and works by presenting something that is pleasing to the flesh. Religion in many ways may be in the flesh (2 Tim. 3:5), as it is said, "Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh?" Satan can "transform himself into an angel of light," can put on holiness, if that holiness be disconnected from redemption, or speak of redemption apart from holiness. The Spirit of God giving a new nature, and revealing to us all Christ is, as the object of our desire, practically sanctifies us. The moment that we know our title to be in "heavenly places," and our hearts and our treasure are there, the Lord alone can be exalted; the flesh is made nothing of. On the contrary, the very minute we begin to linger in the wilderness, our hearts go after Egypt. It is our privilege not merely that Satan should not lead us into sin here, but that we should not be earthly but spiritually-minded. (Rom. 8:6.)
The "Church of God" is just the witness of deliverance from the power of him who rules the world, the "prince of this world." "The carnal mind" is one thing that is "enmity against God;" but James tells us that "the friendship of the world" is also "enmity with God," and that "whosoever will be a friend of, the world, is the enemy of God." Whenever a man seeks enjoyment in and from the world, that man is the "enemy of God." He may be ensnared by it, but whenever he has enjoyment and pleasure in it, he is the "enemy of God!" Again, those "who mind earthly things" are said to be "the enemies of the cross of Christ!"
The apostle tells us that this is an "evil world," and this an "evil day;" that what we have to do is to "stand." He supposes us to be in the place where, having our portion in Christ, we must necessarily be in conflict with Satan. The season of conflict is not the time for putting on the armour. If I am trying merely to grasp and get at Christ when in conflict, I cannot have blessed peace of soul; and then there will be no power "to withstand in the evil day." It is a great thing to enter into the battle as a soldier on the right side, to know God "for us," to be "taking unto us the WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD," and thus to be ready when the "evil day" comes to resist - to "stand." You never will hold conflict with Satan in energy so long as you are feeling, "Am I on the Lord's side or not?" "Is God for or against me?" "Oh, if I could but be sure that I had an interest in Christ!" The word is, "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might;" "Take unto you the WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD." And that which is first spoken of in the description of this armour is
"Stand therefore, HAVING YOUR LOINS GIRT ABOUT WITH TRUTH." What is here assumed at once is the knowledge that as saints of God we are redeemed. We can never have our "loins" really "girt" until we know that we are redeemed. What is meant by "having the loins girt"? It supposes a person not to be at ease, but prepared for actual exertion. The children of Israel were to eat the passover with their "loins girded," their "staves in their hands," and their "shoes on their feet." Why? The Lord had redeemed them out of Egypt; they were strangers and travellers; and so the exhortation here supposes those addressed to be strangers, and passing as strangers through the wilderness on to the rest.
Now, until a believer knows that he is redeemed, it is as though he had lost one place, and has nowhere else to go. We cannot give up this world really until we have the simple and blessed assurance that we have another; until we understand what our hope is - glory, and the ground of our hope - redemption through the blood of Jesus. "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable;" for we are called to hate our lives in this world, to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Christ. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself." "Himself," that is a big word. It is not said that he is to deny himself in one thing or another, in this or in that; but wherever "himself" comes in he is to deny it. Again, he is to "take up his cross," not once or twice, it is "daily." 'But Canaan belongs to him, and he is on his journey to it.
The root of the thing - that which enables us to conflict with Satan - is that blessed truth, that we are redeemed and called to eternal glory, to an incorruptible, and undefiled, and enduring inheritance. Redemption is Christ's having given Himself for our sins, that He might "deliver us from this present evil world according to the will of God and our Father." The apostle tells us not merely to hold the truth, but to have our loins "girt about" with it. Whenever the full meaning of "redemption" is understood, it makes us know that heaven is ours, and that earth is not ours. Nothing but this truth can "deliver us out of this present evil world." (Gal. 1:4.) Consequently we resist Satan; we "stand against the wiles of the devil," by having the affections of our heart so knit to Jesus, and to heavenly things, as to make us strangers here, because heaven is ours.
I could not be praising God (my proper engagement as a believer) unless the song of praise were put into my mouth on the ground of redemption. In Psalm 40 we read, "He brought me up out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God." Christ begins this song after redemption has been wrought. There was a time when "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." When the world was created all was very good, but sin has come in and spoiled that; and now Christ takes up the song of redemption, and thus the saints can sing it too, as it is said, "A song of praise unto our God;" but they cannot sing it until they know redemption.
Satan is met by our having our "LOINS GIRT ABOUT WITH TRUTH." The secret of a holy and unworldly walk is the being filled with the "truth," the inward man feeding upon Christ, and the better and enduring substance laid up for us in Him. If Satan comes and says to us, "You had better enjoy the world," the man who has his "LOINS GIRT ABOUT WITH TRUTH" can answer him, "No, I have got another world." If he says, "But how do you know this?" "It is very presumptuous of you to think so." He can answer: "No; for the Son of God hath died, and God hath given to us eternal life, and an inheritance in another world to all those who believe on Him." He may then say, "Then why not enjoy yourself in this world if you are assured of your safety?" "No," the soul can reply, "He died to redeem me out of this present evil world." Thus Satan is foiled in all his attacks.
But though the knowledge of redemption be thus blessed, the blaze of divine love, as it were to my soul, it is all truth with which the loins should be "girt." We can never say that any one truth may not be the very one by which we may resist Satan the next time he comes to tempt us.
In order to this "girding of the loins" truth must be got from the Lord, we must be taught it by the Holy Ghost, then there is power in it; otherwise, resting in the understanding, it serves only to puff up. For instance, that which relates to the second appearing and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, most blessed as it is, if our "loins" be not "girt" with it, is but speculative truth. If it does not draw me out of the world, make me dead to it, and like unto a "servant waiting for his lord," the study of it will be only the gratification of the "desires of the mind." In like manner, if I know the blessed truth of union with the Lord Jesus risen, why is it but that I should bring forth much fruit, that my affections should be heavenly, and that I should have communion with Christ by abiding in Him, and He in me? If I know that I am safe in Christ, what should I seek for but the power of living communion with Him, the joy that I have will then be in heavenly things.
If the truth that we have is not held practically it is of no avail; it is just as much of the flesh as active sin. The flesh can be shown about truth, as much as about anything else; indeed it is by partial statements of truth, not by a direct lie, that Satan generally tries to deceive men. This is most strikingly shown in his mode of tempting both the first and the second Adam. We read that he whispered in the garden, "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." Adam listened to him. What did God say? "The man is become as one of us, knowing good and evil." But then Satan told him the truth in order to lead him to disobedience, not to obedience. Thus it was also that He tried to tempt our blessed Lord; it was a real promise he presented, but by it he sought to lead Jesus into disobedience to the Father. He is willing to use the most blessed truths if he can but, by doing so, lead the heart away from God. It is against the "wiles of the devil" that we are called to stand; he does not show himself in his true character. The hook is hidden by the bait. We should seek to know the truth in holiness, in fellowship with God. The object of our search after truth should ever be, that we might know God.
Those who minister the truth to others have especially to watch lest they should only have an intellectual acquaintance with truth, not experiencing it to be spirit and life in their own souls; otherwise they are but as the pipe that carries the water to others, themselves not drinking in, themselves remaining unrefreshed.
It is never safe for us to think that we have enough truth, if we know that we are the Lord's; we have to resist the "wiles of the devil." He will not always use one way of tempting us. He will employ every artifice, and by his craft and subtlety seek to entrap us. He may try to deceive me by bringing a promise before me, and if I do not know the meaning of that promise, I may easily be deceived by it. We need "all truth." Our Lord prayed, "Sanctify them through thy truth." Satan knows that it is by truth that we shall be sanctified and separated from the world. Though he cannot pluck us out of the Father's hand, yet he can scatter all the blessing, and comfort and strength of the saints, and make them trip in the way; let us "stand therefore, having Our LOINS GIRT ABOUT WITH TRUTH."
The next thing that we find mentioned is, "THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS" - "having on the breastplate of righteousness" Christ is "our righteousness," and, until this is known simply, Satan constantly uses the conscience of a believer to distract him. Where there is not simple rest in Christ, there will be perpetual distraction and distress of soul.
But then, again, as to practical righteousness, a saint should be watchful in not allowing himself in those things which he feels to be wrong. If not so, he gives Satan a handle whereby to distress him. Although he knows that he has no righteousness but in Christ, yet as regards his walk, and in conflict with Satan, he feels that "if his heart condemn him, God is greater than his heart, and knoweth all things." If we are in conflict with Satan, and the flesh gets the better of us, Satan comes in, and we are laid low; and then, although safe as to our souls, all our comfort is lost, and the Lord is dishonoured by us.
The apostle "exercised" himself to "maintain a conscience void of offence towards God and man," although we know that he counted all his righteousness to be as "dross and dung," as regarded his acceptance with God. Before God I forget myself, and Christ is everything; but in conflict with Satan, I have to stand for Christ against him who is His enemy. Whenever we are not walking in holiness we have not confidence in conflict; we are not "quick of understanding in the fear of the Lord;" we slip, and get into the power of Satan. If you would have strength against the world, you must have on the "BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS," otherwise Satan will try to make you forget that God is on your side. This is the greatest and most fearful exercise of his power. We read in Peter of those who, through their carelessness, could not "see afar off," and had "forgotten that they had been purged from their old sins." This is the only case in which the Scriptures recognize the Christian as not having peace. The saint, through lacking diligence in adding to his faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity, getting "blind," and "forgetting that he was purged from his old sins," he is then in a more miserable state than the ungodly, the unconverted man.
If we are walking as those who have on "the breastplate of righteousness," it will make a great difference in the power and. energy of our prayers (1 John 3:12, 22); we shall be asking heavenly things for ourselves and for the Church; but if we are not walking thus, it will be confession and mourning.
Again, truth ever gets lowered when the conscience is lowered. Men are ashamed generally to profess principles which they do not practise, and therefore they try to lower them.
But we have need of watchfulness even here against the "wiles of the devil." Satan would seek to turn all this into self-righteousness. Am I trying to do it before men, it would become such; before God it cannot. The closer our souls get to God, the more do they grow in the detection of the subtle forms of evil that arise in our own hearts, and we are kept in the dust. It is "approving ourselves to every man's conscience, as in the sight of God." Though we are called on to "please every man his neighbour, for his good to edification;" it is not that they may please us again (the world's motive for pleasing each other).; the example presented to us is "Christ, who pleased not Himself," who set God ever before Him.
More saints have fallen into error, into sin, from want of watchfulness in keeping "a good conscience," than in any other way. From self-seeking, or pride, or vanity, the Spirit of God has been grieved, and no matter what it is that grieves the Holy Ghost, it weakens us in our conflict with Satan. We see a memorable instance of this in the taking of Ai by the Israelites. Achan had taken of "the accursed thing." They were called to conflict. It was a very little city, and they thought that a few men could take it. They went up, but they were smitten. Why? Because of the "accursed thing." The same Lord that was at Jericho was at Ai; but He had been dishonoured, and they fought not with His strength. We have no strength in ourselves at all. It is, "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might." It is God's "ARMOUR" we have to put on. "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
Again: "And your FEET SHOD with the PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE." The effect of the gospel is to carry the soul into the presence of God, not in disturbance or doubt, but in perfect and settled peace, to carry up our hearts into the thoughts and mind of "the God of peace." We have this peace as our portion through Christ having died and risen again, carrying us up in spirit where nothing can disturb our peace. Here, if the least thing is out of order, or where our wills would not have it, that is sufficient to disturb our peace. The place of peace is the presence of God. There we have the unclouded, settled light of God's peace in our souls. Our past sins and present failures humble us, but they do not break in on this peace, yet our joy may be interrupted for a time; their end is seen in the cross, and we have passed into that place where they come not. If we see them at all, we see them in God's presence, where they come to be the measure of the extent of God's love to us; we see them in the perfect peace in which God has set us free from them all. "The gospel of peace" carries us into rest with God, as it is said, "We which have believed, do enter into rest," we are "brought to God." Sin cannot enter there. When there we are undisturbed by the conscience of sin; there is "no more conscience of sin."
Neither do troubles reach that place, that world to come whereof we speak, a bit more than sin. All is calmness around the throne of God. When we get to God there is an end of troubles.
It was in this calmness and peace that Jesus always walked when on earth. Though He had the fullest consciousness of the suffering and shame that awaited Him there, He "set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem." His "feet were "shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace." When His disciples asked Him, "Master, wilt thou that we call down fire from heaven, as Elias did?" His answer was, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them And He went into another city." All the day long was He tried by the wickedness of men, who sought to entangle Him in His talk; but this only brought out more of the perfectness and grace of that place from whence He spoke. He was emphatically "the Son of man who is in heaven."
This is the way in which we are called to walk; but until we have rest of soul we cannot draw from God the grace we need for this end. If our souls are at rest in their heavenly inheritance, the insults and scorn of men will not disturb our peace in God. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee." "Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of men: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues."
How far, beloved, in intercourse with others, do you pass through circumstances in peace, not letting their power come in between you and peace? When Jesus came into the midst of trouble, it was as oil on the troubled sea - all was calmed. The God of peace is our God; our portion, as believers, is to dwell in God's presence in sure and unclouded peace.
It is true that, through the weakness of the flesh, this peace may be disturbed; but I am showing what God's "ARMOUR," not what our FLESH IS.
It is abiding thus in the happy realized consciousness, that "being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ;" that peace has been spoken to us who were afar off - eternal, accomplished peace, "through the blood of the cross." It is this that makes the spirit of peace overflow and flow forth from our hearts, quelling the spirit that naturally dwelleth in us, of which the "scripture saith not in vain" that it "lusteth to envy," and making of us messengers, and ministers, and men of peace. Knowing that we are predestinated to dwell together in the ceaseless harmony of heaven, we now, in spite of the world, the flesh, and the devil, in the power of Him who worketh in us, "endeavour to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace."
Such is part of the "ARMOUR" provided for us of our God, that "strong" in Him and. "in the power of His might," we may in this "evil day" "stand against the wiles of the devil" - "resist," and we know him to flee from us. It is only in communion that we shall be able to do this.
Fleshly weapons will not avail, and this is of vast importance. I may gain the advantage over another in confuting error by truth, but suppose I lose my temper in doing this, though I may have gained the victory over the man, Satan through his "wiles" has gained the victory over me. Our strength must ever be "in the Lord."
It is of great importance to remember, that that of which the apostle here speaks has nothing to do with the ground of our acceptance with God, but is connected with that prayer of Jesus for His disciples, "I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me," etc. We are still "in the world," the flesh is unaltered, and the devil, though triumphed over by Jesus, not removed, but going about as a "roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour;" nay, what is worse, as the wily and seducing serpent. We, exposed to his devices and his wiles, have no strength in ourselves to stand against them. Jesus has prayed, "Keep them from the evil;" and the word to us is, "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might; take unto you 'THE WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD."'
Satan aims his temptations at different parts in different saints. While the natural constitution of a person is of little matter as far as the Spirit of God is concerned, it is of much as to Satan. The Spirit of God strengthens that which is weak, and brings down that which is high in a man; but Satan suits his temptations to the natural character, so far as close observation and the subtlety of the creature (for after all he is but a creature) can enable him to. It needs the "WHOLE ARMOUR" to meet him, and that is ever ours.
"Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked." "The fiery darts of the wicked one" are suggestions of unbelief whispered by Satan, and can alone be met and quenched by faith in the Son of God. (Gal 2:20.)
It is necessary for us to learn the good-for-nothingness of the flesh; but when, through our folly, we do so in failure, in the presence of Satan, he immediately says to us, "This is not walking in the Spirit;" "You are not a spiritual person, not a saint at all;" "You have sinned beyond remedy," and the like. He would seek by every artifice (through our sins or otherwise) to persuade that God is not for us. If he succeed, our confidence is gone; in conflict we have no longer any energy, and as regards service, our hands hang down, and our knees become feeble. See the case of Jeremiah. He said, "O Lord, thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed. I will not make mention of the Lord, nor speak any more in His name. . . For I heard the defaming of many, fear on every side. Report, say they, and we will report it." The spring of service was gone. Not so afterwards, then could he go on amidst all opposition, because consciously "strong in the Lord." "The Lord is with me as a mighty terrible One: therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail; they shall be greatly ashamed; for they shall not prosper!" etc.
It may be through our own folly (as we have just seen) that Satan is permitted to assail us, but again we are sometimes brought into trial for the sake of others. (2 Cor. 1:3-11.) Paul speaks of having been "pressed out of measure, above strength, inasmuch that he despaired even of life." He might have reasoned, "God cannot be for me;" but was it so? No; he took the "SHIELD OF FAITH," and said, "Suppose that Satan were even to kill, it would not prove that God was against me; for He can raise me from the dead. God had an object in it all." "We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raised the dead," and he was enabled to comfort others with the comfort wherewith he himself had been comforted of God. Paul was delivered from so great a death. God was for His dear Son, yet He suffered Him to be taken "with wicked: hands" to be crucified and slain.
Again, Satan was permitted to buffet Paul in a peculiar manner, through "the thorn in the flesh." Whatever that "thorn" might be, it was evidently something, the effect of which was to make him despised of man; for in writing to the Galatians, he says, "My temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God." Such a "temptation," was most disheartening to one sent of Christ "to minister, and bear His name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel." But then what was God's object in it? That their "faith might not stand in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God." And what the effect of it on his own soul? He thereby learned that his Lord's grace was sufficient for him; that his strength must be in God. "When I am weak, then am I strong."
Thus we see that the "SHIELD OF FAITH" turns all Satan's weapons for instead of against us.
This "taking THE SHIELD OF FAITH" denotes constant affiance of heart to God, and is a fruit of the Spirit. An unconverted person cannot take the "SHIELD OF FAITH" against Satan; the shield which he uses is that of unbelief against the darts of God. Satan put it into the heart of Cain to limit the pardoning mercy of God, saying, "My sin is greater than it can be forgiven!" So he himself goes out from the presence of God, the place of peace, and plunges as a hopeless, desperate one, into the vortex of the world.
If we have not up our "SHIELD OF FAITH," the smallest sin is able to cast us down as to our portion. But the Lord, we know, will not let the faith of any of His children fail utterly; this we learn in the case of Peter. Jesus had prayed for him that his faith might not fail. How has he prayed for us? (John 17)
Whatever abomination a saint may through unwatchfulness be suffered to fall into, let us beware of adding to it the wickedness of saying they have sinned "beyond remedy." This would be asserting that the blood of Jesus Christ does not cleanse from all sin. There is no sin, however great, which is not met by that word all, that is not by that precious blood put entirely away from before God's eyes. The way Satan tempted man at first was by occasioning distrust of the goodness of God respecting the forbidden fruit, and thus he still seeks to "devour" those that have. believed, darting into our hearts the thought that God's mercy was never for such a wretch as I, that God is not still for me. The word is, "Whom resist steadfast in the faith." If Satan know so much of my evil, and I know myself to be "the chief of sinners," what must God's knowledge and thoughts about my wickedness be? Why so bad that nothing short of the cursed and ignominious death on the tree of His own blessed Son could adequately express or measure the sense of it. And yet knowing it all, He has not spared His Son, but given Him up for me, "the just for the unjust."
The case of fallen man was truly a desperate one. The law, in itself "holy, just, and good," only' served to bring out more clearly his ruin. The question was, Could God deal with it, and how? "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." Here then is the conclusion in which faith can peaceably rest for ever - that God has condemned sin in the flesh in the cross of Christ. Jesus has had laid on Him our iniquities. Is that the truth? Nay, not that only, far more than that! My very nature has been judged, condemned, and executed by God in the person of Jesus, my representative on the cross, and I am now a "new creature!" "born of God!" brought into a new kingdom, the kingdom of God's dear Son, where sin can never find a place! where the cursed can never come! "God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace are ye saved), and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."
There are two ways in which Satan works: the one, by seeking to make us have some fancied sense of uprightness in ourselves; the other, by leading us away from the path of uprightness, and, through that, terrifying us and disturbing our peace. What we need in each case is simple trust and confidence in Christ - the "SHIELD OF FAITH." In the presence of God all thoughts of any righteousness of our own are laid low, and we feel that God is entirely, infinitely for us in all His love and righteousness. The "fiery darts" of Satan will then be spent, as it were, on God; will fall harmless and be "quenched." When we know that the "Lord is our righteousness," what do we want with any other?
But there may be many an idol in the heart of the saint which prevents his thus practically gaining the victory over Satan. Where is his strength but in God? Still he knows, that were God to come in He would detect his double-mindedness, would show out the hidden chambers of imagery that are in his heart, and this he dreads. Thus Satan gains advantages. "If our eye be single, our whole body will be full of light." All the fulness of unhindered blessing is in
God, and He is for us. "Let us then hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of hope firm unto the end." Let us take "the SHIELD OF FAITH, whereby we shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked."
"And take the HELMET OF SALVATION." We get a similar exhortation to this in 1 Thess. 5:8: "Let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on . . . for an helmet, the hope of salvation." The two take in the whole standing and expectation of the believer; "the hope" denoting confidence of the glory in which the fulness of salvation will be exhibited, that spoken of here, the settled knowledge and intelligence of the character of God in Christ as 'our SAVIOUR GOD.'
The apostle speaks to those who are saved, and know it; who have this "HELMET" and can put it on, to shelter and shield them from the strokes of Satan, who would ever lead us to be occupied with what we are, to be looking into our own hearts, and thus to become bowed down with despair.
The thought of the unconverted man is this: he looks at himself as responsible to God, and then tries to meet that responsibility in himself. It is quite true that we are responsible to God, that God shall judge the secrets of men's hearts, etc.; but our knowledge of God does not stop here, otherwise it would bring in utter ruin. God is revealed to us in the gospel as a "SAVIOUR GOD." This title supposes us to need salvation, and salvation to be of God. "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men," etc. As looked at on the ground of responsibility, we are lost; but God has met responsibility by His grace. (Titus 2:11-14.)
Looking at God as a JUDGE, we know that "the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; His countenance doth behold the upright." The only way in which the unbeliever looks at God is as a JUDGE; and looking at Him thus, he must ever be afraid of Him The natural conscience tells the man all is not right; but so far from this "bringing salvation," it is just the proof of his being a sinner; for he got into this conscience of evil by disobedience in the, garden. Adam, when he had eaten of the fruit, and had the "knowledge of good and evil," went and hid himself away from God amidst the trees of the garden; and this is what the natural man would always seek to do - hide himself from God because conscious that all is not right.
Here was just where Job's friends were they saw that God loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and that Job was in affliction. What was the conclusion they drew from the whole matter? - that if Job had been a righteous person, God would have accepted him, they were altogether on the wrong ground. It is quite true, blessedly true, that God loves righteousness, etc., but then the fallacy is in the notion that a man can be righteous with God. The effect of such a thought must ever produce either self-righteousness or despair and misery.
Where there is alarm of conscience after a person has been quickened, the distress and anxiety of soul may be very deep, but there will be a clinging and flying to God after all.
God does not deal with us, as regards the acceptance of our persons, in the character of a JUDGE at all. He may do so, looking at us as children, already accepted ones, as it is said, "If we call on the Father, who, without respect of person, judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear," but not as to acceptance. So long as we have the thought of God as a JUDGE before us, our souls can never have rest; we shall be always feeling our unanswered responsibility. The very way that God deals with us is, as knowing and estimating fully our responsibility to Him, judging us as lost, and then assuming altogether a new character towards us - "the SAVIOUR of those who are lost!"
We have God especially thus brought before us as "OUR SAVIOUR GOD," in the epistles to Timothy and Titus. In 2nd Tim. 1:9, we read, "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began," etc. And Titus 3:4, 5 "After that the kindness and love of GOD OUR SAVIOUR toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which ice have done, but according to His mercy He saved us," etc. There is no mingling up here of the question of responsibility, and then seeking to meet that responsibility by what is in us. "Salvation is of the Lord" - all of grace.
Suppose I present to God the fruits which even His Spirit has wrought in me as the ground of acceptance; this would be coming to Him as a JUDGE, and not as a "SAVIOUR." Of course, one man judges of another by the fruits of the Spirit which he sees manifest in him, but the craft of Satan is shown by his taking the thing which is true in itself, and putting it in the wrong place. The Spirit is, in truth, the witness to us of Christ. He glorifies Christ, not Himself, giving strength to our hearts by showing us Jesus "in the presence of God for us." We are taken off the ground of standing in our own righteousness, and made to rest simply on that which Christ has done, for acceptance with God, "accepted in the beloved." Satan would lead the soul to look at the fruit of the Spirit in itself for the assurance of acceptance, instead of the offering of Christ. (Heb. 10:14.) It is the work of the Spirit of God to make us see the evil of our hearts, to detect our inconsistencies. Whenever He reveals to us the holiness of God, He thereby reveals to us our want of holiness, and consequently makes us know our shortcomings. 'Where there is real conviction of sin, we can never have assurance from thus looking into ourselves; we shall be saying, "Oh, I do not see the fruit I ought to see! I have not that 'joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness,' etc., which are spoken of in God's word. If I could see more fruit in myself, then I might have this assurance!" All this is not looking at God as a "SAVIOUR," but as a JUDGE. The feeling, that if we had more of that which could meet His judgment we should get peace, shows that we do not know God as a "SAVIOUR GOD," and that we have not peace because the practical work which God sees needful is not carried far enough in us. Much of the flesh has perhaps been undetected, which Satan might use to hinder the depth of our communion with God. We may frequently see a humble, distressed believer, who, the more he loves holiness, the more he feels his own want of holiness, and is thus kept in bondage: he has not as yet seen the fulness of Christ's work; he knows not God as a "SAVIOUR GOD."
The soul is often ready to say, "I have turned away from God; I have done so and so; these are not the works of the Spirit" (nor are they). But there is not here the simple recognition of God as a "SAVIOUR." The evil of the flesh has not been thoroughly searched out; and it may be through great trial, perhaps, that this comes to be done. If the "works of the flesh" have been produced in the least conceivable degree, and God is looked at as a JUDGE, conscience will accuse the person of having apostatized from God, though the very anxiety of his mind is a proof that he has not done so. He owns God to be righteous, and justifies Him in all His dealings; that which he needs is to apprehend Him as a "SAVIOUR."
The flesh never looks at God as a "SAVIOUR." The only way in which the natural man thinks that he can meet God is by making out a sufficient righteousness in which to stand before Him as a JUDGE; and if God is not satisfied with that, he will not bow to God.
Salvation is suited to us in our weakness. Suppose a person were to say, "I see the Christian's high calling, but I cannot walk according to it; I am Ungodly, and I have no strength to get out of my present state." You can answer, "This was just the way God commended His love toward us; 'when we were yet without strength, Christ died for the ungodly.'" The more we feel that in ourselves we have no strength, in ourselves we are ungodly, the more shall we look in simplicity to God as a "SAVIOUR."
If we were not sinners, or if God could allow of sin, we should have no need of a SAVIOUR; but as God could not allow of sin, and yet loved us as sinners, He must needs assume towards us the character of a SAVIOUR, "a just God and a SAVIOUR."
Thus in conflict with Satan we are called upon to "take for an HELMET THE HOPE OF SALVATION." We are led on by the energy of God's Spirit in confident hope - hope of entering into rest. Our "hearts are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know them?" We are not capable of reaching the bottom of our hearts; and Satan is so subtle that he will often suggest a thought of sin, and then put us under the guilt of it, even because we hated it; or again, with Job we may have complacency in our very guilelessness. When we look at God as a JUDGE, we cannot tell whether we have peace or not; but the moment we look at Him as a "SAVIOUR," we can say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Our sins are the very things we need God for. Oh, wondrous grace! Instead of entering into judgment with us as sinners, He says, "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgression for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins" He could not bear to have the sins of His people in His sight, and therefore what has He done? "Put them all away," "cast them behind His back," "drowned them in the depth of the sea." A man can never hate sin till he is cleansed from it. The believer hates sin because God hates it, not because he has been ruined by it; it is hateful to God, and therefore to him. All this springs from one simple, blessed truth - our God is a "SAVIOUR GOD."
The soul can say, "If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, etc., shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!" The knowledge of this love is our "HELMET" in the day of battle. We are now in trouble: and conflict. True, but "if we are reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." We know that though "we which are in this body do groan, being burdened," the price of its redemption has been paid; Christ has power over the body as well as over the soul, and because Christ lives we shall live also. In this is the hope of the church. In John 3 we read, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The Son of man was "lifted up" to meet the judgment of God. Again, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Here it is the love of God in the gift of His Son. In both cases does the Holy Ghost repeat the words "should not perish."
Nay, more; when the Lord Jesus Christ comes again in glory, it will be for salvation to us, though for judgment to the world. (Heb. 9:27, 28.) God never varies the thing, the Church is dealt with in this present life, and then, on this one and the same ground of salvation, "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." All believers have received the salvation of their souls, and are waiting for the salvation (or redemption) of their bodies. (1 Peter 1:9; Rom. 8:23.)
"Take for an HELMET the HOPE OF SALVATION." The Lord charges and presses on us the assurance that we are saved; simple faith cannot but believe it. The Holy Ghost reveals 'to us the holiness of God, and that in ourselves we are lost, and then He testifies of Christ as God's salvation, and the moment we believe on Him we are saved. The two great points for us to see are, that Christ has finished the work for us, and that the Church has this "hope" set before her, that "when He shall appear, we shall be like Him." What a spring, dear friends, should this blessed "hope" be to us; we have nothing short of the glory of Jesus to look forward to, no hesitation in assuming it as ours.
Have you this confidence in God as a "SAVIOUR GOD"? Has He not given, beloved, a sure ground whereon to rest? Do you live in the power of it? It should not be, "I trust I shall be saved by and by," but living with God now, sitting now in heavenly places. "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." "Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as He is, so are we in this world." "He that saith he abideth in Him, ought himself so to walk, even as He walked." If I can claim this blessed privilege, if I have this righteousness which can sit on the throne, because one with Jesus, then I ought "to walk even as He walked." Nothing can meet the subtlety of Satan, but the revelation of the glory of Jesus as ours. The saint knows that his inheritance is not here, but that God is his portion, and therefore he is dead to this world. Were any to present to us as the object of our "hope" that which is short of being in the glory with Christ, it would be too low a hope.
This "HELMET" empowers me to lift up my head confident in the grace wherein I stand, and rejoicing in hope of His return, who shall, at His coming, change our vile bodies into the likeness of His own glorious body! Thus the spirit of fear and doubt is cast out, and we have the spirit of a sound mind to withstand the "wiles of the devil." Our God is a "SAVIOUR GOD."
"And the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, which is the WORD OF GOD." The Lord uses this word, which "is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sward." in searching our hearts, discerning their thoughts and intents, convincing us of sin, and laying low our pride; but here we find he says to the saint, "Do you take this 'SWORD' as part of the 'ARMOUR' to be used by you in conflict with Satan." This can only be done efficiently in the Spirit; if the flesh uses it, there may be rebuke taken where there ought to be comfort, or encouragement where reproof is needed. This "weapon of our warfare" is "mighty," not through man's intellectual use of it, but through an honest, humble dependence on God the Holy Ghost, the Spirit that abideth in us, who is "greater than he that is in the world" (Satan). But it is only as being on the opposite side to Satan that we can use it aright. It is not with, "Such a thing is expedient," etc., that we have to meet Satan, but with, "God says so;" "It is written."
Would Satan present us something better than that which God has given (the way in which he tempted Adam), we are "sanctified unto obedience," and have this assurance, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." Our Lord might have prayed the Father, and He would have given Him twelve legions of angels. He need not have suffered; but He came "to do the will of Him that sent Him." By doing that will He has saved us. What is the place wherein we are set? That of Christ when in the world - obedience. The great thing to be sought after is practical conformity unto Christ. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."
The place of sanctification is ours, and that "unto obedience." It is in this way that the "word of God" has its power over us.
If we are not walking in the Spirit, we shall not have the fitting Scripture to meet any difficulty in which we may be placed, or those who may oppose themselves. Hence the value of diligence in communion. Whilst it is true that at any time (as far as concerns God's ear being open to us) we may lift up our hearts, it is also true that if not spiritually-minded we shall not be inclined to do so in the time of need. There must be practical diligence in seeking God's face in order to meet Satan in recollectedness of Spirit. "The diligent soul shall be made fat."
If we would baffle the craft of Satan, the WORD must be taken as God uses it, and this we can only do by the Holy Ghost. Suppose I know many things of God, true to faith, I may apply a quantity of Scripture to that to which it does not at all refer, and when placed in the circumstances in which it does apply, in which God would profit me by it, I have it not. Thus we often see people meagre and contracted in their views, because shut up in one truth.
If you are unable to see the meaning of a text, wait: do not be giving your sense to Scripture, but get God's sense of it. God has a sense is every Scripture.
The word is the only weapon that we have to use offensively against Satan. Take it as GOD'S WORD, in holy acknowledgment of God as its author. We are told to "receive with meekness the engrafted WORD." I would earnestly press on you thorough dependence on the "WORD," and, at the same time, that it cannot be used efficiently except as by the Spirit. It was by this that the Lord baffled all the subtleties of Satan, meeting him at every turn with "It is written." When speaking, He ever showed the consequence He would have attached to the written word. "If ye believe not Moses' writings, neither will ye believe my words." We are told to "have these things always in remembrance;" that "they are written for our instruction." If we know anything of the state of the church, we know what great power Satan has had in scattering and worrying the sheep of Christ, by drawing them away from the "WORD OF GOD," and turning them, instead thereof, unto the "traditions of men."
With the "SWORD OF THE SPIRIT," then, may we cut through every specious entanglement whereby Satan would still detain our feet in "this present evil world" - his own kingdom. Pull down the strongholds of lust and self-will, "cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."
In this last direction given us by the apostle - "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak" - we are cast back again simply on God, in entire abiding dependence.
That which is ever the result of conflict and exercise of soul before the Lord in standing against Satan, whether, learnt through the display of his power or the grace of Jesus, is the knowledge of our own emptiness and the Lord's fulness. It is not merely that we gain the victory over Satan, but that in all our conflicts we are continually learners of what the fulness of the grace of God is, through finding out our own emptiness and weakness. The more thoroughly we know this, the more we feel our own nothingness, that we have no strength at all in ourselves, the more simply and entirely we lean for all our strength on God. "My grace is sufficient for thee." There is nothing so weak that His strength cannot give it might; nothing so empty that His fulness cannot fill. And yet how slow we are to reckon thus, upon His grace; how prune to trust to something of our own. Is it not so? Notwithstanding oft-repeated proofs of mercy and loving-kindness, are not our souls still apt, even in the very least thing, to doubt His love?
In conflict we find out practically what is our own nothingness, nay, our worse than nothingness; but, whilst learning this, are brought also to see what is the patience of God's love toward us, what the riches and fulness of His grace. It is of vast importance that we should thus know God. The character in which; during this present dispensation, we have especially to learn and to do with Him, is that of "the God of all grace."
Redemption teaches this; for there He deals with us, not as an angry God (though having many things to be angry about), not in exercising judgment against us as sinners, but as "the God of all grace." The cross, whilst it meets and shows out the righteousness of God, is at the same time the testimony unto His unbounded grace. How infinite the love of God seen there in coming down to meet us in all our wretchedness and sin! "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." But when there was not one thing in us pleasing unto God; when we were foolish, disobedient, deceived, and insulting God, despising His mercy, loving any thing in the world rather than Him; then, even then, His love reached us! and how? not only in pitying us, but in giving His Son unto condemnation and wrath for our sakes. "God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners CHRIST DIED FOR US!"
Here we learn grace - grace which distances all our thoughts, grace before which we can alone be silent. Here we learn love. "God is love." "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." We might as well, and much better too, talk of darkness at noonday, as of God's wrath being toward us, when Jesus died for us as sinners.
But there can never be any self-exaltation in the reception of infinite grace. We are debtors to mercy alone. The blessed place in which we are set, when we know God as love, is that of "vessels of mercy." The manifest wisdom of God is displayed and made known unto principalities and powers in heavenly places by His grace toward us. We have the reception and enjoyment of that grace in ourselves. Thus we come to have fellowship and communion with God. The special mark of the saint is, that he has "known and believed" the love that God has to Him. (1 John 4:16.) God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love [love with us, margin] made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as He is, so are we in this world." Jesus has stood in our place, has, borne all that we should have had of judgment, and we have all the acceptance He has in the presence of the Father, even whilst here "in this world."
Jesus said to His disciples, "In the world ye shall have tribulation" (and is it not true, that in our measure we have this now?): "but," He added, "be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." This dispensation teaches us grace, the next glory. Present grace is that which we need, all that is in Christ for us. We read, "The grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world;" and that, "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." We are brought into fellowship and communion with this grace; we have not merely to know of its existence, but to learn its breadth, and length, and depth, and height. It is as full as the glory, though not the same thing. Through grace the believer sees all his sins removed away; Christ standing between himself and them; therefore as regards them he has rest; but then, whilst here waiting for the Lord, he finds continual conflict and difficulty in his way, and he has to learn all the fulness of the grace that is in God, applying itself to the circumstances in which he is, and about which he is exercised.
We have before spoken of the "ARMOUR" which is provided of God for our use, and of "the weapons of our warfare," now we come to notice that which will alone give us power to use them aright.
"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." This kind of prayer denotes confidence in God. It is not the cry which, as to a judge, the poor sinner would make under conviction of sin, but the appeal of a child in trial and difficulty unto the known love of its father; the prayer of those who are spiritual, and who find themselves to be in a condition wherein they are thrown simply on God. Again, it is not the seeking to gain strength, in order merely to know that our strength is there, but that we may practically learn what God is, by the power which He exercises toward us and for us.
This "praying always" supposes the person not to be fainting, but to be using the "ARMOUR" in connection with it; "having the loins girt about with truth;" for instance, the soul not resting vaguely on God, but whilst casting itself on Him, reckoning on an answer according to the mind of God as revealed in His word. The saint may not always get a direct answer to his petition. Paul, we know, prayed that the "thorn in the flesh" might depart from him. What was the Lord's answer? Was it removed? No! "My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness;" that is to say, "It is better for thee to know the sufficiency of my grace, than to have the thorn taken away." He got the victory over it, but he did not lose it. He was able to say, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." It was not sin in which he gloried. People often call their sins, the spirit of unbelief, and the like, infirmities. The things wherein he gloried were - affliction, persecutions, distresses for Christ's sake, etc.; for through them he learnt the sufficiency of the Lord's grace.
John says, "This is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us; and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him." Now how are we to know the Lord's will from our own fancies and imaginations? By His word. If I go and pray for a thing not founded on the knowledge of the Lord's will as revealed in His word, I cannot have confidence about it. Were He to grant me what I desire, He might very likely only be answering my own foolish, corrupt will. If my flesh is at work, and my soul is not brought into obedience and subjection to the word, I cannot be "praying in the Spirit." The first thing the Spirit would do would be to humble me by the word into a sense of the condition in which my soul is. Supposing, for instance, I am walking carelessly and inconsistently, and yet am beginning to ask, as a very great Christian, for things only suited to the state of such an one; if the Lord were to answer my petition, it would only tend to make me a hypocrite. The first thing the Spirit would do in such a case would be to make, me humble under a sense of my real heed. Prayer in the Spirit is always from a humble sense of need; then be it but a sigh or a groan, it is prayer in the Spirit. If we know our spiritual need, and cry to the Lord under the sense of it, we may always reckon on an answer. If our desires are according to God, they cannot be according to the flesh: The very thing the Lord would ever have us to learn is our real need; and He would have us do this in order that we might draw out of His fulness for its supply.
In Jude 20, 21, we read, "But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." We do this, "pray in the Holy Ghost," when in putting up our petitions we are conscious of His presence, and conscious too that we are acting according to His will, even though our understanding may nut be able fully to unfold to us what we need. When Jesus came to the grave of Lazarus He wept and groaned within Himself. This was not merely because Lazarus was dead, but because of the power of Satan which was there displayed. Then lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when He had thus spoken, He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth." Here was the full answer - power and victory exhibited over death. If we at all rightly estimate the condition of misery in which man is, the way sin is abounding, and Satan triumphing, the dishonour done to the name of God; if our eye is fixed on the glory into which ourselves and creation around us will shortly be brought, and we then look at the groaning and travailing in which it all is now, we too must "groan within ourselves." But then we shall often" know not what to pray for as we ought;" there will be that felt by us which we have not the capacity to express; this is taken up and expressed by that blessed Spirit which dwelleth in us (Rom. 8:26, 27); He "helpeth our infirmities; . . . He maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to God." This groaning is not the cry of the wounded spirit (though God's ear is ever most open to that), but groanings against the evil within and around us, yearnings for the day of the glory of Jesus, and of the manifestation of the sons of God, which is the only possible remedy for all that evil through which the name of God is now dishonoured.
If I am standing myself in truth, without guile of heart, having no hidden sin, I can look to God in intercession for others. Just accordingly as the word of God is used by us in self judgment, can we pray with the confidence of being heard and answered. (1 John 3:21, 22.) In Heb. 4 we read, "The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart," etc. Here we first see the Word searching the heart, then, in the discernment of what we are, we are brought in truthfulness before God, and then, Jesus being our High Priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities, "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." Just so far as we rightly understand what is our own place and the place of the church by the Word can we "pray with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit." Nothing short of this is "prayer in the Holy Ghost."
But let not this weaken our sense of the liberty we have to bring all our desires, our every request, to God in prayer. Whilst we can look for a definite answer to our prayers, if acquainted with the mind and will of God, yet we know that it is according to His will that we should "cast all our care upon Him." Have we a care or an anxiety about any thing, remember that He bids us "be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." However foolish our "requests" may seem, let us not demur on that account to draw nigh, but in childlike confidence bring them unto Him. He will grant them if it would be good for us, and if not, if they be foolish or wrong, He will teach us better. He says, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God." Your very difficulty may be darkness and uncertainty of mind. Go and tell God that you do not know what to ask for; this is your need, and your need is the very thing to be carried to God. He will meet you there; "it shall be given him." God loves the confidence and seeking to Him of His children. We should ourselves like our children to tell us all their wishes, all their wants, leaving it to us to act as we saw right about them. Ho has all the feelings of the father's heart towards His little ones. But "praying in the Spirit" is our privilege, and the more blessed when in full understanding also.
This "praying always" is that which meets the tendency there is ever in us to faint. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall, run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." How can I wield effectually the "SWORD OF THE SPIRIT" unless my arm is strong, or hold up the "SHIELD OF FAITH" if I am weary? We are cast in the use of these things entirely upon God. As the poor widow mentioned in Luke 18:1-5, our refuge is "always to pray, and not to faint." There must be the sense of continual, abiding dependence upon God. This is the place which our blessed Lord took, and it is ours. Where Satan seeks to come in is just here, as to communion between us and God. His effort is to weaken our actual power of communion. He does not try all at once to destroy a person's faith, but he saps the source of it as well as he can. Thus was it with the Church of Ephesus, "Thou hast left thy first love." There was still found in it the work, the labour, the patience; but the power of communion there had once been was gone, and therefore the message, "Remember from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent." The way by which Satan ever gets in is by giving some little satisfaction in self, thus weakening the "praying always," the very thing which sustains practical righteousness; then he draws on the soul further and further, till at last he makes it doubt whether it has ever prayed at all. The sense of God's love gets weakened, and then the world becomes more attractive. Communion with God maintains two things - the sense of blessedness in His presence, and separation from the world.
"And watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." Watching unto prayer is the continual, the habitual exercise of the priestly function; the taking up every matter that falls within our cognizance in, the power of fellowship with God - so using persons and circumstances as to make them matter of intercourse with God.
We do not sufficiently seek to have the Lord with us in the prospect of suffering. How was it with Jesus, Our blessed Lord, when the hour of His conflict was coming on, when, in the garden of Gethsemane, He was entering by anticipation into the bitterness of death, spent the whole night in watchings and prayer. "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And He went a little farther, and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." Coming to His disciples, He finds them "sleeping for sorrow:" they sank under it. He says to Peter, "What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Jesus prays yet more earnestly, and is strengthened for "this hour" - so that when the "great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people," come to take Him, He steps calmly, firmly forward, saying, "Whom seek ye?" - "I am He." Then "they (the disciples) all forsook Him, and fled."
Christian, when you feel or fear any trial approaching, go at once with it to the Lord; pass through the trial in spirit with your God; and then, when you have actually to pass through it, He will give you strength to bear it, He will be with you in it; and, like the children passing through the fire, you will lose nothing but your bands, or you may even find that the Lord has put the trial away.
This watchfulness of the Spirit is ever contrary to the flesh; but remember the words, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation." When in this state of watching unto prayer I see Satan's hook under the bait, I detect him who laid the snare, and then "in vain is the snare spread in the sight of any bird." "He that is spiritual judgeth all things." When I am watchful, every thing turns to prayer. I can "put on the WHOLE ARMOUR of God," and am "able to stand against the wiles of the devil;" but, on the contrary, when walking in the flesh, my prayers are turned into confession and self-reproach, and my life will be a life of sorrow. Watchfulness sees the host, but looks to the Lord against the host; it sees the evil before it is brought out, but remembers the word, "Greater is He that is for us, than all that can be against us."
The real anxiety, the watchfulness and caring for the Church, of Paul, brought him into very much difficulty and conflict. (See 2 Cor. 6 and 11) He passed many a sleepless night because he so cared for it, and where this is found in its measure in us there will also be "in watchings often" for "all saints." There can be no true energy of love in the Spirit in us towards one saint apart from the rest; we shall find ourselves to be connected with all saints. Christ loves all saints: when we shut up our love to one or even to so many saints, it matters not what the number, we shut up ourselves in narrowness of spirit, we lose part of the comprehensiveness of Christian love; Christ intercedes for all saints. The blessed place in which we are set (as brought before us here), is that of intercession with Christ for all saints - "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for ALL SAINTS."
When the deacons were chosen (Acts 6), why was it? That the apostles might give themselves "to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." The very first thing they thought of was recognized dependence upon Him from whom all the ability to minister in the Word came. And this was not merely a casual circumstance. The way in which Christ has knit the members of His church together is, in making, them dependent one on another; the greatest minister that ever lived was dependent on the weakest saint for power in his ministry: "And FOR ME, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly as I ought to speak." When Paul was sent forth of God anywhere, he went dependent on the prayers of the saints - "Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified." Whilst he had a great gift of ministry for the comfort and edification of the saints, he felt his dependence on their prayers for the profitable exercise of it. Whether he was "afflicted," or whether he was "comforted," it was for their sakes, for their "consolation and salvation," and they in turn were "helping together by prayer" for him. (See 2 Cor. 1) Just as the eye, the ear, the foot, the band, are all necessary (1 Cor. 3:14-26) in the natural body, so we read of the church, the body of Christ, that "fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, it maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." (Eph. 4) Thus the very feeblest saint has his place in the church as well as the most highly gifted; but the blessing that each is practically to it depends on personal communion, not on gift. We cannot have light without oil. It is quite true that God gives as He sees fit, "dividing to every man severally as He will;" but it is only as we are kept in humble dependence on Him that there is real profit in any thing.
"Praying always," etc. If we are not walking in the Spirit, Satan will turn even our very cares and duties into occasions of sin, by making us do them in the wrong time or in the wrong way. He will seek to make our duties and our prayers conflict, because he knows that it is only as they are done in a prayerful spirit that we shall have blessing in them. If otherwise there may be much busy activity, it will but deaden the soul. If you say, "I cannot pray, I cannot find God's presence now," it is just the very time you need to pray. Where will you find strength? In staying away? No. When people say they cannot find God's presence, the truth is very generally that they have found it, and that it has discovered to them the evil, careless, unprofitable state in which they were before, though they did not know it then because they were not in His presence. There may be distraction of thought, but let not that hinder your "praying;" it is the very thing which shows you have a need to be supplied. Why is there this distraction? Because your mind has become occupied with other things beside the Lord. Go to Him. You may, whilst in this state, have less freedom in your prayers. The joy you would otherwise have had may be denied, yet you will return with profit, and more power of communion.
You will be humbled, and is there no profit in being humbled? Yes, very great; for grace, whilst it humbles, always encourages.
The Lord is ever "a sanctuary," a "hiding-place for His children;" but in order habitually to realize this there must be the "praying always," the "watching thereunto." We hear people say continually, "I am able to look up to God in the midst of my work." This may be very true, but can you say that you are thus able to look up to God at any time in the midst of distraction of mind? No; it is only by carrying the presence of God with you into your work that you can do so. It is true that the grace of God often abounds over our carelessness, but it is by the habitual power of communion that we can fly to God at any time. We never can tell in the beginning of the day when and how a difficulty may arise during the course of it. It is only by having the presence of God with us to suggest right thoughts and words, by living in the power of communion, that we shall be able to meet it when it occurs. Then in every place, in every company, we may "hide" in the secret of His presence from the strife of tongues" around. Better never enter into company, at all, even with Christians, if we do not take our hiding-place with us.
Accordingly as we are filled with the Holy Ghost shall we be able to look up steadfastly into heaven. We may go on carelessly, return back to God, and find grace. He may quicken, refresh, and stir up our souls; but it will not be with us as if we had walked in the strength and power of communion.
The presence of the Holy Ghost ever makes us find out fresh short-comings, some dark shade unknown before; but then Jesus is now in the presence of God for us, and thus, whilst we learn our own emptiness, we practically learn what is the fulness, the riches of the grace of God.
Is there no joy in having fellowship with the Spirit of Christ in the things His heart is occupied about here? Yes, great joy! Then "pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints," etc.; but let us remember that it is only by being rooted and grounded, and made to stand in grace, that we can do this.
Heaven is to us the place of grace. I could never have looked to God at all but for grace; and it is only as our hearts are "established with grace" that they are set at liberty in the wide field of love, to embrace and supplicate for "all saints." May we learn more of the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of that grace, knowing that "nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord;" "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature." May we practically be "more than conquerors through Him that loved us."
It is very hard for us to see ourselves and Satan to be as nothing, and God to be everything. The moment we get out of dependence on God we find out our own weakness. We may perhaps think that one good battle with Satan, and all will be over; but no such thing; we have the security of victory, but no cessation from conflict till the Lord comes. Then Satan will be bound, and then we shall have the full result of victory; but now we are called to unceasing dependence, moment by moment to be reckoning on the grace and strength of God. Where there is not this dependence there is not blessing, joy, and comfort. The tendency of the flesh is ever to get out of it, and then we have not strength with us in the battle, but have to learn our need of grace through weakness and failure, instead of in joy and confidence in God.