Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.The Canon of Conduct
I. The Standard of Christianity. 'Right' is a law of conduct not based on accident or convenience; it arises out of the depths of eternity, and is comprehended in the depths of our nature. Duty is sublime, founded on eternal relationships; conscience is the index of the Divine and supernatural; right differs essentially from might; justice and convenience are terms wide asunder by the breadth of the heavens; righteousness is the law of the unchanging universe, the will of Him in whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. If, then, the rule of right is the declared will of God, where must we look for that declaration? (1) Partially it is expressed in Nature (2) The revelation of the Divine will is further disclosed in the law of Sinai. (3) The rule of conduct finds complete expression in Jesus Christ. The application of the rule of right to individual acts and special situations requires the utmost carefulness. 'This is right.' Miss Martineau has a story of Carlyle setting forth on horseback to seek a fresh house, with a map of the world in his pocket; after this fashion, by reference to universal ideas we consider ourselves competent to resolve our personal, local, current difficulties. Much, however, comes between the general sense of righteousness and any specific act of moral judgment. We must take infinite pains to acquaint ourselves with facts, and to know how the rule of right applies. 'Human progress means, before all things, the education of conscience.' Here, then, is the criterion of conduct 'For this is right.' With a sincere mind, seconded by diligence, determine what is the noblest act or course of conduct in any given circumstances, then adopt it at any cost or hazard.
II. The Standards of the World. Here we get into the plural. By what tests, then, do men of the world decide their course of action? (1) For this is customary. Great is the power of tradition. Great is the power of opinion. Great is the power of fashion. (2) For this is popular. (3) For this is profitable. Georges Sand bears this testimony: 'I have witnessed revolutions and closely seen the actors in them: I have fathomed the bottom of their souls—I should rather say of their bags'. (4) For this is pleasant. Diderot gave this quaint instruction to artists. 'Be the disciple of the rainbow, do not be its slave.' But is not the epigram of Diderot also an instruction for life? Be the disciple of the pleasant, do not be its slave. (5) For this is clever.
If you desire to live in peace and pure felicity, make the text your star. It sounds hard and harsh, it does not seem to contain a grain of poetry or note of music, yet it yields the secret of blessedness, the poetry of life, the flowers of the soul, the music of heaven.
—W. L. Watkinson, Inspiration in Common Life, p. 92.
References.—VI. 1.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 238. VI. 1-4.—F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 118. VI. 1-9.—E. J. Kennedy, Old Theology Restated, p. 155. VI. 4.—M. G. Glazebrook, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 28. T. Barker, Plain Sermons, p. 191. VI. 5-8.—J. Fleming, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 69. VI. 5-9.—C. S. Horne, Relationships of Life, p. 85. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 140. VI. 6.—H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 218. VI. 7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1484. VI. 8.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 20.
The Quiet Mind
Quietness is really an expression of strength. Look into almost all the language of the Scriptures and you find people with secure minds because they were secure in quiet. There is nothing dull about that quietness conducive to sleep. It is not like a stone with moss all over it. It is the grandest feature of the human and spiritual life. It is a sort of quietness, only it takes a lot of learning with many people. It is easy to be busy, and get hot thoughts, and have differences, but the grand word 'quietness' is the best sense of power. It is a mind worth having. It is the grandest mind.
I. Why is it many of us cannot have a quiet mind? We say there are so many things to keep us restless. It may be a house to manage, or a difficult bit of work, or the difficulty of getting work—things are so hard. My friends, a quiet mind is not built on things. There is no secure mind on a foundation of circumstances. You may drive the circumstances under and try to build it on them, but it will not rest there. It is a world of continuity; a world in which things will keep shifting, in which people keep moving one another along. You cannot fix yourselves in a comfortable income and a snug berth, and say: 'I have a quiet mind because I am safe for ever'. You can't do it. There is no such security to be had. Often people who come to the Church of God ask us to put things right. If you have Christian hearts we shall do our best They are down on their luck, or something disastrous is coming. Not by any amount of skill, of readjustment or warmheartedness, to help your wisdom, can we give to any one of our fellowmen a foundation on which a quiet, strong mind can rest. You can see people shaking with both hands in the park, saying: 'If only we could alter all these things, we should make people happy'. It is a libel on human nature to say happiness can be built on a construction of things. It cannot. There is no rock on which the fabric of man's happiness can rest secure. It is the sand fabric of this world's good things. No life can rest on it.
II. What is a secure mind? How do we get it? I am sure many of you have it. It would be music in your ears to be reminded once again what it really is. You may take from the sixth of Ephesians a very good illustration of the secure mind. What is the picture presented to us? There you see an old, not a very old, but he looks an old, man in a narrow Roman lodging. His face is worn with the pain men put upon him, and with the anguish of much physical trouble which has come to him in long travellings among the bandits of Asia Minor, and the storms of the sea, and the scourgings often repeated. There he stands, or sits, in his room. With him is a Roman soldier, to whom he is chained by the wrists. Here in this prison, this lofty spirit, with a life of so severe pain, is writing a letter of cheer, and some of the words of his letter I read as my text. What are his words? 'My brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might; put on the whole armour of God,' and so on. Why did he say that? What was there to make him feel in that courageous mood? Look at the things about him. The thing most obvious was a Roman soldier. If you have read anything about those people, you would know they were a very unpoetical, unsympathetic people indeed. They were cold-blooded; their business was to take the world by force of arms, crush out all finer feeling. That was the person who suggested to him this. Instead of being depressed by that cold, forbidding presence, that spoke of captivity and the death not very far off, he takes that soldier to pieces, he literally takes him to pieces. Crushed by the thought of his unsympathetic presence? No. He can take every bit of that man's armour and treat it as an illustration of something. 'Look at his armour,' he says. 'There is his helmet, look at his sword, his sandals, his breastplate.' Why, every bit of it, instead of being something to crush the mind into coldness, only gives him something to remind him of glorious service for the living Christ. He had the soldier and the Lord Jesus Christ with him as well. So he was strong, not in his circumstances. He had not the good luck to be resting on some social structure. He had not happiness on an economic basis; but he had happiness resting on the living Christ, who was with him in the Roman prison. Presently, when he stood before the Caesar, the Lord stood by.
III. The busiest of us can find a little time to lift up our hearts unto the Lord. Those saints were not the people to manage things wonderfully, they were not workers of miracles, or different from you and me. Yet they were saints. Why were they saints? If you were to make this a perfect world you would not make any more saints. Saints cannot be made perfect by things. They are the people who stand up as soldiers—I don't believe in any other saints but the soldier-saints. There is no sainthood without fighting a good fight. It cannot be had. They are not fighting in Nebuchadnezzar's strength, or Goliath's, or David's, but in the power and might of the Lord. Let us remember that. We have an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, that fadeth not away. This world will take our bodies into its earth some day, but we cannot be held by this world. God has made us. He is our Father, and to Him our spirits shall go at the last, I hope, having been made strong in the Lord and the power of His might. Having fought a good fight and finished our course, we shall hear those words: 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou hast stood up as a soldier!'
—A. W. Gough, Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXXVI. p. 359.
The Power of the Will
I. Let us ask ourselves, why is it that we so often wish to do right and cannot? why is it that we are so frail, feeble, languid, wayward, dim-sighted, fluctuating, perverse? why is it that we cannot 'do the things that we would?' why is it that, day after day, we remain irresolute, that we serve God so poorly, that we govern ourselves so weakly and so variably, that we cannot command our thoughts, that we are so slothful, so cowardly, so discontented, so sensual, so ignorant? Why is it that we, who trust that we are not by wilful sin thrown out of grace (for of such I am all along speaking) why is it that we, who are ruled by no evil masters and bent upon no earthly ends, who are not covetous, or profligate livers, or worldly-minded, or ambitious, or envious, or proud, or unforgiving, or desirous of name—why is it that we, in the very kingdom of grace, surrounded by angels, and preceded by saints, nevertheless can do so little, and instead of mounting with wings like eagles, grovel in the dust, and do but sin, and confess sin, alternately? Is it that the power of God is not within us? Is it literally that we are not able to perform God's commandments? God forbid! We are able. We have that given us which makes us able. We are not in a state of nature. We have had the gift of grace implanted in us. We have a power within us to do what we are commanded to do. What is it we lack? The power? No; the will. What we lack is the real, simple, earnest, sincere inclination and aim to use what God has given us, and what we have in us.
A man, for instance, cannot attend to his prayers; his mind wanders; other thoughts intrude; time after time passes, and it is the same. Shall we say, this arises from want of power? Of course it may be so; but before he says so, let him consider whether he has ever roused himself, shaken himself, awakened himself, got himself to will, if I may so say, attention. We know the feeling in unpleasant dreams, when we say to ourselves, 'This is a dream,' and yet cannot exert ourselves to will to be free from it; and how at length by an effort we will to move, and the spell at once is broken; we wake. So it is with sloth and indolence; the Evil One lies heavy on us, but he has no power over us except in our unwillingness to get rid of him. He cannot battle with us; he flies; he can do no more, as soon as we propose to fight with him.
There is a famous instance of a holy man of old time, who, before his conversion, felt indeed the excellence of purity, but could not get himself to say more in prayer than 'Give me chastity, but not yet. I will not be inconsiderate enough to make light of the power of temptation of any kind, nor will I presume to say that Almighty God will certainly shield a man from temptation for his wishing it; but whenever men complain, as they often do, of the arduous-ness of a high virtue, at least it were well that they should first ask themselves the question, whether they desire to have it.
II. I would have every one carefully consider whether he has ever found God fail him in trial, when his own heart had not failed him; and whether he has not found strength greater and greater given him according to his day; whether he has not gained clear proof on trial that he has a Divine power lodged within him, and a certain conviction withal that he has not made the extreme trial of it, or reached its limits. Grace ever outstrips prayer. Abraham ceased interceding ere God stayed from granting. Joash smote upon the ground but thrice, when he might have gained five victories or six. All have the gift, many do not use it at all, none expend it. One wraps it in a napkin, another gains five pounds, another ten. It will bear thirty-fold, or sixty, or a hundred. We know not what we are, or might be. As the seed has a tree within it, so men have within them angels.
Hence the great stress laid in Scripture on growing in grace. Seeds are intended to grow into trees. We are regenerated in order that we may be renewed daily after the image of Him who has regenerated us. In the text and verses following, we have our calling set forth, in order to 'stir up our pure minds, by way of remembrance,' to the pursuit of it. 'Be strong in the Lord,' says the Apostle, 'and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God,' with your loins girt about with truth, the breastplate of righteousness, your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit One grace and then another is to be perfected in us. Each day is to bring forth its own treasure, till we stand, like blessed spirits, able and waiting to do the will of God.
—J. H. Newman.
References.—VI. 10.—T. Parr, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 74. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 570. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 106. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 175. C. Parsons Reichel, Sermons, p. 170. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 119. VI. 10-14.—E. J. Kennedy, Old Theology Restated, p. 169.
The Armour of God
In his immortal allegory Bunyan represents Christian as arrived in his pilgrimage at the stately palace Beautiful; and, after rest and refreshment, conversation and devotion, some grave and comely damsels led him into the armoury where they showed him all manner of furniture which the Lord had prepared, sufficient indeed to equip as many pilgrims as there are stars in the firmament. They then harnassed him from head to foot with what was of proof, as he would surely meet with many antagonists on his way to Mount Zion. St Paul desired the Christians at Ephesus to be as perfectly mailed as Christian in the palace Beautiful. So he leads them into the Temple of Divine Truth, and shows them the armour God has prepared for them; but he leaves them to furnish themselves; nevertheless, he repeatedly enjoins them to do so without delay, as their need was great Our need is as great and imperative.
I. The Armour to be Worn.—There are six pieces; but not one for the back, because we must alway face the foe, and never flee from him. But we must not mistake the figure employed. This armour is for the soul, and not for the body; and it is to defend us from our great spiritual adversary, who, with his legions, would decoy us to slay us. Moreover, it is Divine: it has been thoroughly tested, and never once battered through, but has shielded myriads of souls, till they exchanged the shout of battle for the paean of victory. There is, first, the girdle. The girdle is very strong; it not only binds together what is loose, but, fastened tightly round the loins, it so braces the warrior that he can throw his whole force against his enemy. Even thus the truth of God must girdle our souls, binding well together our wandering thoughts and affections, and so uniting all our inner powers that we can dash against Satan with a might he cannot withstand. There is also the breastplate. This, in armour, is the metal vest which envelops the lungs and other vital parts, reaching from the neck to the thighs. This part is indispensably requisite. So is the Divine breastplate, which is Christ's righteousness upon us, and Christ's righteousness within us. Then there are the sandals. These save the extremities, and are lashed to them with sound thongs. Without them the warrior could neither plant himself firmly, nor fly on a commission received. Thus finely is the Christian pictured as acting alway under the peaceful motives of the Gospel. Furthermore, there is the shield. The ancient champion would ever have his shield, whether made of skin, or steel, or more precious metal; it was a miniature rampart, behind which he cleverly sheltered himself. Our shield is our faith; and, when skilfully used, it quenches the fiery darts of the wicked one, turns to flight the armies of the aliens, and defies the combined powers of death and the grave. Next, there is the helmet. This protects and adorns the head. So does the hope of salvation cover and beautify the Christian champion. Heavy blows may fall upon it, yet he lifts up his head in the day of battle, and cherishes in his heart the hope that will never render him cowardly nor ashamed. And, lastly, there is the sword. The sword is offensive and aggressive. If a Damascus blade, it will not snap, but pierce between the joints of the finest and strongest harness. How like to this is the Word of God! It is verily a keen two-edged weapon. What slaughter it makes of the ignorances and reasonings of the natural mind, and the passion and lusts which war against the soul! Jesus wielded it triumphantly when contending with Satan in the wilderness; and the feeblest saint, with this instrument in his hands, can do exploits.
II. The Reason for Wearing this Armour.—We have to 'stand against the wiles of the devil'. And who is he that we must be fully equipped to meet him? He is a spirit; hence invisible, and thus the more able to damage us. He once ranked with the princes of heaven; but he fell from his first estate through pride and daring, and dragged down with him a host of celestials. And ever since then—long ages ago—he has been pursuing the same dreadful course on earth. Now, how shall we stand against his wiles? Not clad in our own armour, or that of others, as was David in that of Saul, but in God's armour, and in the whole of God's armour. And even then we must not face him in our own strength, for that would be to war with him to our own hurt, as in the instance of Eve; but we must meet him as the stripling shepherd met the giant of Gath—'in the name of the Lord'.
Defence and Defiance
The motto of our volunteers is 'Defence, not Defiance,' but in the war with evil we must adopt the title 'Defence and Defiance'. 'The whole armour of God,' or what is called elsewhere 'the armour of light,' is the sanctification of our whole nature through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the only panoply invulnerable by evil.
I. Defence against the sins which beset us is implied in our text. The faithful disciple of Christ is secure in fidelity to the truth, in the power of purity, in the peace which garrisons his heart, in the love of God and goodness, in his pervasive righteousness, in his fellowship with heaven, in his faith and hope laying hold of eternal life. The grosser temptations fail to deprave one who is clothed in the shining mail of holiness. The more subtle forms of sin are equally innocuous to the pure in heart. There is no gross tangibility in the temptations to which many good people are subject; the enemy attacks with unseen array and smokeless powder.
II. The Defiance of Evil.—It is not enough to defend ourselves from the assaults of evil; we must challenge and fight it at every step, even when it does not decisively challenge us. To 'let sleeping dogs lie' is not sound policy in the moral life. Our attitude must be aggressive, whether evil is palpable or obscure. We must deal with evil in an uncompromising spirit, allowing no truce, granting no quarter. It is an axiom with the military that a purely defensive war must end in defeat; and certainly we often fail in spiritual warfare because we do not press the battle to the gate, and thoroughly subjugate the enemy when God gives us his neck. We must deal with evil in the spirit of abounding courage and confidence. We must also struggle against evil in the full assurance of final victory. 'When Immanuel,' says John Bunyan, 'had driven Diabolus and all his forces out of the city of Mansoul, Diabolus preferred a petition to Immanuel, that he might have only a small part of the city. When this was rejected, he begged to have only a little room within the walls; but Immanuel answered: 'He should have no place in it at all, no, not to rest the sole of his foot'. To this end and in this confidence we must pursue the struggle.
—W. L. Watkinson, The Ashes of Roses, p. 93.
Reference.—VI. 11.—W. F. Shaw, Sermon Sketches for the Christian Year, p. 44.
I love the brave! But it is not enough to be a swordsman, one must also know against whom to use the sword.
The Christian Warfare
As life goes on there comes to most of us a clearer view of its meaning and of its intense importance. The words, 'This is not your rest,' gain fresh meaning as the years go by. And another truth, also, is borne in upon us—namely, that we are surrounded by strange, hidden forces, harassed by unseen foes, that the more deliberately we try to live with a high aim in view the more surely are we battered and assaulted; the more we realise that even now we are fellow-citizens with the saints of the household of God the more we find war and strife to be our portion. The life you and I have to live belongs only in part to this visible sphere. 'The things that are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.' And as it is with the spiritual blessing, so it is with the spiritual forces of evil that are against us.
In the account of our Lord's temptation we are allowed to see a glimpse of what the battles with those unseen hosts meant to Him, and to learn by His example the methods by which to meet them. And we need to learn them, for if it is true that the battle has to be fought, if our foes are as vigilant as they ever were in the olden days, we must look to our weapons. The important thing is that we should each of us for himself make the warfare a reality; and I would suggest just two practical points.
I. First, we must be given to prayer. The conflict, as we have seen, must be waged in the heavenly places, in the world of unseen reality, and so our weapons, if they are to be effective, must penetrate to that hidden sphere, We must push past the visible to the invisible world; we must get through the things of sense to the deeper realities which lie behind; and we shall do this in no other way but by prayer. We should set ourselves quite deliberately and very patiently to find out more fully than before what prayer means, and what it involves. Prayer has been very well and simply defined as the lifting up of the mind and heart to God. Words, you see, are not of the essence of prayer, though of course prayer usually will find its way out on to the lips, because out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
II. But prayer in its essence is the contact of the human soul with the living God. We lift up our hearts unto the Lord. Prayer takes us through into the heavenly places; we penetrate to the throne of grace. Now if this is true, we see why prayer needs so great an effort. It is the exercise of the very best and highest powers that God has given to us. It is the putting forth, or it ought to be the putting forth, of the whole inner force of the man. Prayer which makes little or no demands on our energies is not prayer at all in any real sense of the word. It is only playing at prayer. And never was there a day when the effort was more needed than it is now. The world is so full of a number of things—the rush and the whirl of life, the eager haste, the keen competition, the absorbing and numberless interests, the fret and anxiety, the wear and tear of an unquiet, busy age. All those things make prayer very difficult. We must learn where we ourselves are to gain the needed strength for our conflict. We shall never learn it in the midst of the full rush of life if we have not first gone quietly into the desert with our Lord.
III. And there is one more duty which none of us must dare to neglect if we are to wrestle with any effect against the powers of evil. If it is necessary to lift up our hearts to God, it is necessary also to keep under our bodies. 'The flesh lusteth against the spirit.' To give full licence to the body, even in what is lawful, is fatal to true living. We are not, most of us, I suppose, called to an ascetic life. We are called to live as busy, active men and women in the world. But we cannot ignore facts, and there is no more certain fact than this—that owing to the strange enfeeblement of our wills, which is due to sin. we have not any of us that complete control over our bodies that we ought to have.
God forbid that we should ever make the mistake of imagining that our bodies are in themselves evil. The essence of sin lies not in the body, but in the weak, disordered will which fails to control it. It is because this is so that the need of fasting in some shape or form has never passed away, and never will so long as man is what he is. Yet fasting, like other spiritual exercises, may be an utter unreality. It may be practised as if it were an end in itself, a thing to be used for its own sake. So used, it will minister to nothing but folly, and pride, and self-will. Used as God means it to be, in a humble spirit, as a means to higher things, it will bring the blessing that always comes to those who obey. By prayer, then, which is prayer indeed, and by self-discipline, we shall be enabled in the power of Christ our Lord effectively to carry on the conflict in the heavenly places—that conflict to which we, as Christians, are committed.
References.—VI. 12.—Phillips Brooks, The Mystery of Iniquity, p. 71. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi. p. 289. Phillips Brooks, The Law of Growth, p. 61. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 138; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 212. VI. 12, 13.—H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of St. Paul, p. 230.
The Trinity of Temptation
In dealing with temptation we must remember that a man may be tempted either of God or he may be tempted of Satan. In Hebrews 11:17 we we told that God did 'tempt' or 'try' Abraham. God tries us that we may rise; Satan tries us that we may fall.
I. There are three trinities in the world. The trinity in unity above us, the Father, Son, and Spirit—one God; the trinity within us, spirit, soul, and body—one man; and the trinity beneath us, the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world, the flesh, and the devil are present in every temptation that comes to man. (1) What is the world? In 1 John 2:26 we are told what is in the world: 'The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life'. These were the lines along which Christ's three temptations came. These the Apostle shows are in the world, but he does not give a definition of the world. The world really is the appearance or semblance of things, a mirage! (2) As for the flesh, there is no better definition than that given in Romans 7:18, where the Apostle says: 'In me, that is, in my flesh'.
'Flesh' is 'me-ism,' egotism. What is the centre letter of the word 'sin'? 'I'; and the centre of egotism is 'I'. (3) The devil. The nearer you live to Christ, the more certain you are there is a personal devil. Of course, I do not think that the devil has the attributes of God. If you say that the devil tempts everybody you make him omnipresent and omniscient, which are attributes of God alone. Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the hosts of spirits of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12, Revised Version). Why should Satan tempt man to fall? The whole gist of the fall is that Satan should rule, should take from the brow of man the crown that the Creator put there.
II. The temptation of our Lord. When Satan had made man his subject, God's plan seemed thwarted; but God, in the person of His Son, became man and encountered Satan, not in the exercise of His Deity, but 'He emptied Himself.
III. The succour for tempted souls. We must remember that on the cross Jesus Christ became the representative man, and met the world, the flesh, and the devil in the hour of His weakness. If He could overcome them then, what can He not do now He is strong in resurrection glory? If we are linked to Christ by faith, we shall keep our standing, in spite of temptations, and Christ will bring Satan under our feet.
—F. B. Meyer, The Soul's Ascent, p. 123.
The Armour of God
Preparation—that is the first note of Advent—preparation for a struggle which must last while life lasts. No thinking man would deny that the be-all and end-all of our early years is preparation for the life that we are to live when we go out into the world. And Christianity advances its claim: What preparation have you made, and what preparation are you now making, for the moral and spiritual struggles of after-life?
Let us then speak of what St Paul considers to be the preparation of the Christian warrior. Twice he speaks of the whole armour: 'Put on the whole armour of God'; 'Take up the whole armour'. In the Greek it is one word, the 'panoply' of God. This 'panoply,' or complete equipment, consists of six parts—the girdle, the breastplate, the sandals, the shield, the helmet, and the sword. Of these, one only is an offensive weapon; the rest are for the protection of the soldier. But all of them are God's gifts to those who are to fight His battle; all belong to the supernatural order, and they are parts of a whole. I am not speaking to those who, to the best of their natural powers, are fighting on the side of right; I am speaking, as St. Paul is, to those who have been admitted to the supernatural life by the Sacrament of Baptism, and received their armour in Confirmation—the 'Sacrament of warriors'. St. Paul speaks of—
I. The Girdle of Truth About the Loins.—Now, we read constantly in the Bible of girding up the loins, and it is always in preparation for some active work. It was the gathering of the long flowing robe close round the body, so as to leave the limbs at liberty. The custom of the Hebrews was to wear the girdle, the sword-belt, round the waist, as our soldiers wear it now. And the Christian's girdle is to be Truth—not mere conscientiousness, but Truth. Your loins are to be girt about with Truth. Without that, the 6oldier will be impeded by his flowing robe. And the Truth is the Truth revealed by God, the deposit of the faith committed to the Church, which is the pillar and ground of the Truth. Did you ever see a Christian soldier fight at odds without his girdle? I know few sadder sights. He is fighting against the powers of sin and unbelief; but all his movements are impeded. He is fighting without his girdle. He is a Christian still, a soldier still, but he has given up or lost his rule of faith—the Truth of God. Lax-ness of religious belief is as inconsistent with real freedom as a loose ungirdled robe is inconsistent with a soldiers active life.
II. The Breastplate.—Elsewhere St. Paul calls it the breastplate of faith and love; here he follows Isaiah and speaks of it as the breastplate of righteousness. And righteousness means simply a good life lived in the strength of God. That which belongs to the Christian is the power to do in God's strength that which man by nature longs, yet fails, to do. There have been men who have thought lightly of the holy life, and put a transient emotion in place of the hold on Truth, and lost their hold on that in which a hold on Truth results—a holy life. Yet, where sin is present in the life, where the breastplate of righteousness is pierced, though the girdle of Truth be on our loins and the shield of Faith before us, our armour is incomplete. The darts will pierce where they have pierced before. The soul that carries a secret sin will never stand before the assaults of Satan,
III. The Sandals: 'Have your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace'. That is, I think, the readiness to proclaim to others, the good news of God. A religion which shows no missionary enthusiasm is a dead or dying religion; a personal faith, which begins at home and stays there, is not a belief in the Gospel of Christ. The sandals of readiness to work for God are part of the equipment of the soldier of Christ.
IV. The Shield of Faith.—Faith is the correlative of Truth. It is the Divine virtue which corresponds to that which God has told us about Himself. Strictly, all faith has God and the revelation of God for its object. How many forget to hold the shield of Faith over the body armour, to let it meet the first brunt of the enemy's attack! Many an arrow might have been rendered harmless had it been met by the shield of Faith—yes, even by a battered shield, like his who cried, 'Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.
V. The Helmet of Salvation; or, as it is called elsewhere, the Hope of Salvation. Hope is not that sanguine disposition which is but little removed from ignorance: it is a grace of God, and yet it becomes more and more a rational power. Faith and hope were the two presuppositions of the early Christian efforts. Six hundred against the world, and the Church went forth conquering and to conquer, because it believed and hoped. If for a moment we lose hope, or if that hope is a mere emotional thing which fails us when all seems dark, then we feel our want of power; the enemy finds us out, and it is a forlorn hope. We are fighting without our helmet; and he who has lost his helmet is ready to throw away his shield, for to lose hope is to lose faith too.
VI. The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. All else is for defence; this is for attack. The Christian cannot win the battle simply by avoiding wounds; he must drive the enemy from the field. The phrase is not necessarily to be restricted to the Holy Bible; and yet, when I look back to that great battle fought and won in the wilderness, I see how the Tempter again and again recoiled from the sword of the Spirit, and shrank away before the invincible answer, 'It is written'.
Melanchthon's Last Public Message
In his last public lecture, delivered in the early morning of Good Friday, 1560, Melanchthon used these words, referring to the need for a new obedience in the believer, 'Necessaria est et nostra Panoplia,' with an evident allusion to Ephesians 6:13, 'Take unto you the whole armour of God'. The Latin narrative adds that these were the last words he uttered in public, as the lecture he desired to give on Easter Sunday morning was omitted on account of his increasing weakness. These words, 'Necessaria est et nostra Panoplia,' were therefore the last public message of the Praeceptor Germanise to his generation. During his illness Melanchthon quoted two verses from Psalm CXX. which to us seem to express the chief sorrow of his life: 'My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. I am for peace but when I speak they are for war.' Yet the man of peace left behind him a soldier's instruction:—
Take to arm you for the fight
The panoply of God.
The old German version translates his words: 'Es ist auch unser vleis und Ritterschaft von nöten' ['We need also diligence and knightly courage'], and the narrative suggests that these qualities had been conspicuously displayed in Melanchthon's own career.
[See the text of the original in Dr. N. Müller's revised and annotated edition (1910), pp. 11 and 62.]
A noble thought is the soul's defensive armour; encased in it a man may suffer bombardment from life's pollution and take no stain. 'The whole armour of God'—if in the urgency of battle you forget its details, take it just as the 'pearly shell' of a noble thought.
—James McKechnie, Meredith's Allegory, The Shaving of Shagpat, p. 124.
Dr. Eugene Stock tells us that as far back as 1833 William Jowett concluded the instructions to John Tucker on his departure for Madras with some words found in the letter of Ignatius to Polycarp on the latter's position in Smyrna, 'Stand steady as an anvil when it is struck'. Tucker in after years often recalled them, saying, 'Be an anvil and not a hammer'.
References.—VI. 13.—R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 71. J. Hunter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 42. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons (2nd Series), p. 47. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Ephesians, p. 337.
The Whole Armour of God
No man could have invented this expression. It brings with it some sign and token of its Divine origin. The most of things that are in the Scriptures are things that never would have occurred to the mind of man. Hence I stand by the old argument that the Bible is a book which no man could have written if he would, or would have written if he could. The uniqueness is part of the argument. 'The whole armour of God.' Is there any mere poetry in the word whole? Is it employed or introduced in order to perfect a rhetorical climax? or is there great weight of meaning in the word whole? Is it the emphatic word in the exhortation? or are all the words on one high level?—the monotony not of weakness or weariness, but of completeness. We must revert to our own spiritual experience if we would receive a sufficing answer to these inquiries. Could we do without the word whole? What does the word whole stand for in this connection? It stands for completeness; there must not be one piece of the panoply overlooked, nor must the places and arrangements of the armour be for a moment changed or otherwise related. The provision of the Divine grace is complete; we are armed from the head to the foot, there is no unprovided place or spot in all this Divine clothing with spiritual steel.
I. Many persons are armed in places. If nine points out of ten are attended to, these people suppose that they are very well provided for, but they are not. You have shut up all your castle, every window, every door, except the postern gate, the little gate behind, the small door that a small burglar may pass through. All that is wanted is not an army of burglars, but one little child-burglar that can creep through an unguarded pane of glass. Enough! the castle is in the hands of the thief. How noticeable it is that people are very fond of pet graces and favourite virtues, and how they dangle these before the eyes of these poor creatures who are not similarly created or provided for at those special points. Do not let us who are not tempted in some directions hold ourselves up as stupendous models of behaviour in some other direction. A man may not be drunk, but his soul may be steeped in covetousness, which is worse than drunkenness. A man may not be led away by his passions, but he may be greedy, selfish, self-considering, proud, and pride is worse than any sin that stalks about the city in the night-time. We condemn sin at wrong points, or we exaggerate some sins and practise others. Hence the beauty, the force, the necessity, of the expression or commandment, 'Put on the whole armour'. Every inch of it, be equally strong at every point; ay, and it will take thee all thy time to panoply thyself in the steel of God.
II. It is wonderful in reading over this panoply to discover how much of it is meant for defensive purposes. It is not all meant for aggression. Christianity is both aggressive and defensive. It is astonishing, I repeat, how much of the Christian armour is for purposes defensive. The helmet does not fight, it protects; the shield does not aggress, it secures, defends, protects the very heart of the warrior. We need a great deal of defensive armour. The devil is wily. If there is one little heel-spot missed in the Christian Achilles that little vulnerable heel will be found out, and some great assault will be made upon it; mayhap the injection of some deadly poison; and injections are not accompanied with noise or with an uproar that is supposed to betoken heroism and angry strife; injection may be silent. The morphia is inserted with hardly any sense of pain, the digitalis makes no noise when it gets into the life and helps the poor labouring breath. So there are many noiseless temptations, there are many assaults that are not suspected; and therefore this saying is true. What I say unto one I say unto all. Watch; resist the devil, and he will flee from you. But to be called to all this arming and watching and fighting and agonising expectancy, is this the way to life eternal? Yes, and other way there is none.
III. It is very noticeable that a great deal of this combat is what may be called hand-to-hand strife. It is not a discharge of ball and other missile over a space of miles; it is wrestling. Two men do not wrestle when they are standing five miles apart, nor a mile apart, nor a yard apart. It is when they are grappling, one with the other, seeking for the tightest place, watching every movement of the antagonist, anticipating and discounting it; the uplifting that there may be the downcasting. Sometimes the Christian warfare is just as hand-to-hand and arm-to-arm as this. Jacob wrestled; we speak and sing of wrestling Jacob. The record says, 'Now there wrestled with him,' and the wrestlers were so near to one another that the one touched the thigh of the other, and it shrank, and the muscle shrunken abides there till this day to tell what angel tussles there have been in the dark nights of spiritual experience.
IV. Is this armour all to be turned against the enemy? No; it is to be turned, so to say, but to say it with tenderest reverence, sometimes against God. How so? The proof is here: Having equipped yourselves, then follows the command or exhortation, 'Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints'. Does the Lord make an armoury that can be employed against Himself? Yes, in a certain sense, but that sense must be very carefully and even tenderly distinguished and discriminated. The action is this: 'The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force'. And God, having armed the men, says, Now come and take My kingdom. God is willing to be overthrown. The angel was willing that Jacob should throw him as it were in some great struggle. No man can ever take the celestial fort; it must be surrendered by God in answer to prayer.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. III. p. 22.
Let us keep a brave heart and clear armour. What beautiful armour for a Christian lady that 'armour of light,' 'having on the breastplate of righteousness'. I was talking of that at our prayer meeting an hour since. It was suggested by going into my study late last night. The windows were open—shutters not to; but as I looked out into the moonlight I saw there was a fine defence of snow round the house; for no robber would venture to come and leave his footmarks there. Think of the angel of snow defending our homes, i.e. pure, white, new-fallen snow, for if the snow is trampled on and turned into slush, it is no longer of use that way. It is only in its purity that it is a guard and a defence.
—Dr. Robertson of Irvine, to Mrs. Maxwell.
References.—VI. 14.—E. J. Kennedy, Old Theology Restated, p. 180. T. S. Herrick, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 168. Brooke Herford, Courage and Cheer, p. 68. Expositor (6th Series'), vol. xi. p. 362. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Ephesians, p. 343; ibid. p. 350.
The Readiness of the Gospel of Peace
The great Apostle was much given to the use of illustrations. Like his Divine Master, he clearly saw the analogy between things external and things internal and spiritual, and employed the one for the purpose of making the other more easily intelligible.
I. We must be ready for service. The believer is not saved by his works: but he is saved that he may work, and the genuineness of his new life is to be manifested by service. Now the possession of peace with God, much more the assurance of the possession of the peace of God within us, will give us readiness for the performance of the service which is required of us by the will of God, and defined for us by the necessities of our own generation. For where there is peace there is whole-souledness: there is nothing to disturb the attention, divide the heart, or divert the mind; and so he who possesses it can give himself wholly to that to which he gives himself at all. The possession of this peace will keep him also from being fastidious about the place in which he serves.
II. But in the second place the Christian must be always ready for sacrifice, and the possession of the peace of God will give him that readiness. He is not to go out of his way seeking for a cross, for that would be to make himself a 'martyr by mistake'; but if, while moving on his appointed path of duty, he is confronted with a cross, then he is to take up that and humbly and bravely bear the suffering and sacrifice which it imposes, for Christ's sake. Then, as he never can tell when precisely he will be met by such a cross, he must hold himself always in readiness for it.
III. The Christian should be always ready for sorrow, and the gospel of peace will give him that readiness. The believer does not escape sorrow in the world, and he ought to be ready for its coming. But where shall he get that readiness? Not from philosophy: that may make a Stoic of him, and lead him to submit, somewhat haughtily, to the inevitable, but it will give him neither the resignation nor the consolation of the Christian. Pride will not give it to him, for that will only wrap him in the mantle of seclusion, and make him discontented and irritable with God and all around him. But the Gospel of peace will give it to him, for that assures him that everything that comes to him is under the supervision and control of God.
IV. The Christian should be ready for death, and the gospel of peace will give him that readiness. That which we most of all need in the prospect of our leaving the world is readiness to go. Nay, that readiness, rightly understood, is all we need. And in what does that readiness consist? Not in any special occupation at the moment, but in the habitual character of the soul; not in the performance of any rite, such as the observance of the supper, or the reception of extreme unction; no, but in the faith which rests on Jesus Christ, and in the possession of that peace which He bestows.
References.—VI. 15.—E. J. Kennedy, Old Theology Restated, p. 192. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Ephesians, p. 353. VI. 16.—Ibid. p. 361. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 416. E. J. Kennedy, Old Theology Restated, p. 204. VI. 17.—H. Allen, Penny Pulpit, No. 1577, pp. 1, 21. E. J. Kennedy, Old Theology Restated, pp. 216, 229. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvii. No. 2201. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Ephesians, p. 367.
Intercession is the characteristic of Christian worship, the privilege of the heavenly adoption, the exercise of the perfect and spiritual mind.
I. First, let us turn to the express injunctions of Scripture. For instance, the text itself: 'Praying in every season with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and abstaining from sleep for the purpose, with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.' Observe the earnestness of the intercession here inculcated; 'in every season,' 'with all supplication,' and 'to the loss of sleep'. Again, in the Epistle to the Colossians; 'Persevere in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving, withal praying for us also'. Again, 'Brethren, pray for us'. And again in detail; 'I exhort that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and all that are in authority. I will therefore that men pray in every place.' On the other hand, go through the Epistles, and reckon up how many exhortations occur therein to pray merely for self. You will find there are few, or rather none at all. Even those which seem at first sight to be such, will be found really to have in view the good of the Church.
II. Such is the lesson taught us by the words and deeds of the Apostles and their brethren. Nor could it be otherwise, if Christianity be a social religion, as it is pre-eminently. If Christians are to live together, they will pray together; and united prayer is necessarily of an intercessory character, as being offered for each other and for the whole, and for self as one of the whole. In proportion, then, as unity is an especial Gospel-duty, so does Gospel-prayer partake of a social character; and intercession becomes a token of the existence of a Church Catholic.
III. Intercession is the especial observance of the Christian, because he alone is in a condition to offer it. It is the function of the justified and obedient, of the sons of God, 'who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit;' not of the carnal and unregenerate. This is plain even to natural reason. The blind man, who was cured, said of Christ, 'We know that God heareth not sinners; but, if any man be a worshipper of God and doeth His will, him He heareth'. Saul the persecutor obviously could not intercede like St. Paul the Apostle. Our first prayers ever must be for ourselves. Our own salvation is our personal concern; till we labour to secure it, till we try to live religiously, and pray to be enabled to do so, nay, and have made progress, it is but hyprocrisy, or at best it is overbold, to busy ourselves with others. I do not mean that prayer for self always comes first in order of time, and intercession second. Blessed be God, we were all made His children before we had actually sinned; we began life in purity and innocence. Intercession is never more appropriate than when sin had been utterly abolished, and the heart was most affectionate and least selfish. Nor would I deny, that a care for the souls of other men may be the first symptom of a man's beginning to think about his own; or that persons, who are conscious to themselves of much guilt, often pray for those whom they revere and love, when under the influence of fear, or in agony, or other strong emotion, and, perhaps, at other times. Still it is true, that there is something incongruous and inconsistent in a man's presuming to intercede, who is an habitual and deliberate sinner. Also it is true, that most men do, more or less, fall away from God, sully their baptismal robe, need the grace of repentance, and have to be awakened to the necessity of prayer for self, as the first step in observing prayer of any kind.
The privilege of intercession is a trust committed to all Christians who have a clear conscience and are in full communion with the Church. We leave secret things to God—what each man's real advancement is in holy things, and what his real power in the unseen world. Two things alone concern us, to exercise our gift and make ourselves more and more worthy of it.
—J. H. Newman.
References.—VI. 18.—S. G. Maclennan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 170. Brooke Herford, Courage and Cheer, p. 1. J. Chambers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 158. H. Melville, Penny Pulpit, No. 1622, p. 25. VI. 18-24.—E. J. Kennedy, Old Theology Restated, p. 242. VI. 19.—Archbishop Magee, Christ the Light of all Scripture, p. 129. VI. 19, 20.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 207. VI. 23.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Ephesians, p. 881. VI. 23 and 24.—J. H. Holford, Memorial Sermons, p. 114. VI. 24.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture —Ephesians, p. 391.
Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;)
That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;
Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;
With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:
Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.
And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
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 places.
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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. Amen.