Believers are in this epistle seen in Christ. They are blessed "with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places" in Him, and made to "sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." This is where God's grace has set them; and their walk in the world is to be such as befits those holding so marvellous a position. The same fact determines also the character of their conflict; for though the believer has a perfect title to these blessings and this position, his practical enjoyment of them in this world depends entirely on the extent to which he lays hold of them by faith. In heaven there can of course be no conflict; then it will all be rest, and calm, undisturbed possession, with no foe to seek to drive us out of the field. Here, however, it is entirely different; we are not only surrounded with foes on every hand, but we have a special class of enemies to meet, and a special kind of conflict to maintain, in consequence of the heavenly place into which we are brought.
We have a type of this in Joshua, where the Israelites come up from the Jordan, a figure of resurrection, and enter into the land, which represents the heavenly places. The day will come when Israel will have rest in the land, and all conflict will be over. But it was not so when they crossed under Joshua's guidance. Their title was good, for it rested on God's promise to Abraham; but they were yet in a scene of conflict, a scene calling for self-judgment, for watchfulness, and for courage. So it is with us. The heavenly places are ours in title, and we too, as "quickened together with Christ," are entered into them. But, like Israel, the time for undisturbed possession has not yet come, and we must hold our ground in them by vigilance and conflict. The Israelites began at Gilgal, the hill of circumcision; and so we are called upon to "put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts."* Having thus in type put the flesh in the place of death, the Israelites had to gird themselves for conflict with giants, dwelling in "cities great and walled up to heaven," enemies in comparison with whom they were "in their own sight as grasshoppers." So, too, we have enemies, principalities and powers in heavenly places, compared with whom all our strength is mere weakness. Joshua was exhorted - "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." (Joshua 1:9.) So, in the portion we are now considering, the exhortation is - "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might." (v. 10.) The conflict is not one as to standing. There the believer can say, "In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us." In these conflicts in the heavenly places, however, the believer is himself called upon to wage war, to "put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." (v. 11.) The power of Satan and the spiritual principalities is, indeed, already broken; but their wiles are always to be dreaded, and call for unceasing watchfulness. They cannot change or lower our standing, but they can cheat us of the enjoyment of it, and so rob God of the glory which our walk and conversation should bring Him; for Satan's object always is to deprive God of His glory, and the believer of his blessing. And here, where God is setting a people in Christ, accepting them in the Beloved, "to the praise of the glory of His grace," Satan's craft is specially put forth to lower the standard of blessing, and lead them to take an inferior place, and therefore a place less honouring to God than that which He has assigned them.
*It so stands in our translation; but it may be questioned whether it should not read, "that we have put off the old man," etc. ED.
Hence our conflict, as set forth in this epistle, is for the possession by faith of these heavenly places, and our enemies are those who would seek to drive us from them. "For 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 high (or heavenly) places." (v. 12.) This conflict is one we must sustain if we would practically enjoy the heavenly place and the. heavenly blessings which are ours in Christ. "The old corn of the land" can only be eaten in the land. But it is clear that no strength of ours can cope with such enemies as those now arrayed against us. What, then, is our resource? God has made ample provision; He has stored up in His divine armoury a harness which can withstand even such assaults as those we have to resist. "Wherefore," He says, through the apostle, "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." (v. 13.) Thus, though we are ourselves to wage this warfare, it is as strengthened with the power of God's might, and equipped with armour from God's magazine.
What, then, is this suit of armour? "Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (v. 14-17.) We have seen how Joshua was assured of the Lord's presence; but this was not promised unconditionally. The condition was this - "Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest." (Joshua 1:7.) Such was Joshua's armour for the conflict which typifies ours - the truth of God, grasped by faith and followed in obedience. God's presence could alone give victory, and this depended upon obedience. So, too, the believer can only sustain his conflict by having his "loins girt about with truth." Thus only can he baffle "the wiles of the devil." Had Eve been thus guarded, how could the serpent have deceived and destroyed her? This, then, is the first requisite for withstanding his wiles. The immutable truth of God's word is the only anchor that can steady the soul amidst all the waves of temptation with which the devil assails it.
But what is the security which this truth gives? How does it enable us to meet the devil's wiles with unruffled breast? It furnishes us with the breastplate of righteousness, "the righteousness which is of God by faith." Assured that God is our Justifier, we can keep possession of the heavenly places from which the devil would seek to dislodge us. A doubt upon this point, and all is lost, as to the practical enjoyment of our heavenly position. Our title to it is, that we are "made the righteousness of God in Christ;" and our practical power to make good the position depends on our grasp of this truth. The heart once calmly resting on the full work of Christ and our standing in Him, all the efforts of Satan to dislodge it are vain. It is protected with the breastplate of righteousness, which all his shafts cannot pierce. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" is the triumphant answer to all his assaults in this direction. This breastplate, as has been said, is the believer's righteousness in Christ, not the righteousness of his walk. It must be remembered, however, that unrighteousness of walk saps the heart's confidence and destroys its communion, so that though the believer's standing may be certain, his own sense of it is weakened, or even lost, and thus he is wholly unable to maintain his ground against the wiles of the devil.
"Being justified by faith, we have peace with God;" and if it is necessary that our breast should be shielded from danger by the consciousness of our righteousness in Christ, it is equally necessary, along the rough road we have to tread, that our feet should be "shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace." The assurance that every question is settled between God and our souls, that we have full unclouded peace with Him, can alone keep our feet steady in the conflict we have to wage with the craft of the enemy. Without this we shall be sure to trip at the critical moment of the fight, for if Satan can once insinuate a doubt on this point, it is vain to suppose we can hold our ground for conscious enjoyment in the heavenly places. All these, however, are only kept by faith. The truth of God, our righteousness in Christ, and our peace with God, are indeed the believer's portion, even when his faith fails; but it is only as his faith is in active operation that they can avail him in baffling the wiles of the devil, or in maintaining his heavenly standing. It is necessary, therefore, that over all these he should cast the protection of faith - "above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked" - or, rather, "of the wicked one."
And closely connected with this is another piece of defensive armour - "the helmet of salvation." This, like one of the former figures, is doubtless taken from the Old Testament prophecy, which speaks of Christ as putting on "righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon His head." (Isa. 59:17.) But with Christ it is the righteousness which He executes in judgment, and the salvation which He brings as the deliverer of His people. With us it is the righteousness and salvation we have in Him. If righteousness is the breastplate which protects the heart from misgiving, the helmet is the crowning piece of the armour, which enables the believer to hold his head erect in the conflict, the consciousness of full assured salvation, which gives a title to the heavenly places, and therefore gives confidence in maintaining the ground against all the stratagems of the foe.
There is, in addition to these pieces of defensive armour, one offensive weapon "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." It is interesting to see the close connection between the first and last piece of God's panoply. The truth of the Word is the power to gird up the loins; the sword of the Word is the weapon to put Satan to flight. Our Lord Himself furnishes us with an example in the use of both. He repels all the subtle attacks of Satan by the simple use of the Word. In the first two temptations, however, He uses it only as a defensive piece of armour, baffling the enemy, but not, as it were, wounding him. On the third occasion, on the contrary, He uses it as a sword, inflicting so deadly a thrust that the enemy is put to flight.
Such is the armour in which God has clothed us for this conflict in the heavenly places. Our attitude there is defensive - guarding what is already ours through grace. But this defensive attitude, being maintained solely by what we have in God, needs constant prayer. Dependence alone enables us to hold the heavenly places in spite of Satan's opposition; and this dependence expresses itself in prayer. The Apostle therefore adds - "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." (v. 18.) What a place prayer has in almost all the apostle's letters! How earnest and incessant his own prayers for the saints! A constant sense of dependence on God, and of God's interest in His people - the two great essentials to prayer, shine forth in all his writings and his ways. So, too, in the gospel of Luke, where we have the path of the perfectly dependent man, do we not continually find Him going apart to pray, and even spending whole nights in prayer? How much of the weakness and failure we have so constantly to deplore arises from our being so unlike the apostle, and the blessed Lord Himself, in this respect! and he who best knows the value of prayer will most desire the prayers of others. Thus the apostle constantly asks the prayers of believers, even as he does here, exhorting them to pray "for all saints; 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." (v. 18-20.) It is not for his liberation, or for any personal benefit, that he seeks their prayers but only that through him "the mystery of the gospel" might sound forth, and thus glory be brought to the name of Christ. Oh for more of the apostle's singleness of eye in those whom the Lord now uses to proclaim His word!
It is beautiful to see, too, how tenderly he cares for the feelings of the saints, counting on their affections, and sending one who, while helping them in their souls' growth, would also meet the anxiety of their hearts for news respecting his own position and circumstances. "But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things; whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that ye might know our affairs, and that he might comfort your hearts." (v. 21, 22.) The personal messages and salutations, so beautiful in some of the epistles, are not given here, being probably carried by Tychicus himself. But the warm love of the apostle's heart to all the saints glows forth in the parting benediction - "Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity" - or incorruptness. - "Amen." (vv. 23, 24.) How comprehensive and beautiful a prayer to close this epistle! an epistle which unfolds all the purposes of love in God's heart towards us, the wonderful blessedness of our standing "in Christ," the walk suited to our heavenly calling, and the weapons furnished for our heavenly warfare. It is doubtful whether the "Amen" is in the original; but surely it will be the suited response of every believing heart. T. B. Baines.
In Rev. 4 the elders are first seen sitting in peace, then prostrate in worship.