Saint Paul, the holy apostle, writeth this epistle unto the Ephesians, that is, to the people of the city of Ephesus. He writeth generally, to them all; and in the former chapters he teacheth them severally how they should behave themselves, in every estate, one to another; how they should obey their rulers; how wives should behave themselves towards their husbands; children towards their parents; and servants towards their masters; and husbands, parents and masters should behave them, and love their wives, children, and servants; and generally each to love other.
Now cometh he forth and comforteth them, and teacheth them to be bold, and to play the men, and fight manfully. For they must fight with valiant warriors, as appeareth afterward in the text. And against they come to fight he comforteth them, saying, "My brethren." He calleth them brethren; for though he taught them before to be subject to kings and rulers, and to be obedient to their superiors, yet he teacheth them that in Christ we be all brethren, according to the saying in this same chapter, "God is no accepter of persons." "My brethren," saith he, "be ye comforted, be ye strong;" not trusting to yourselves; no, but be bold, and comforted "by our Lord, and by the power of his virtue:" not by your own virtue, for it is not of power to resist such assaults as he speaketh of hereafter. "Put on, or apparel you with, the armour of God." Armour is an apparel to clothe a man, and maketh him seemly and comely; setteth forth his body, and maketh him strong and bold in battle. And therefore Saint Paul exhorteth generally his brethren to be armed; and as the assaults be strong, and not small, so he giveth strong armour, and not small: "Put on," saith he, "the armour of God." He speaketh generally of armour, but afterwards he speaketh particularly of the parts of armour, where he saith, be armed complete, whole; be armed on every part with the armour of God; not borrowed, nor patched, but all godly. And as armour setteth forth a man's body, so this godly armour maketh us seemly in the sight of God, and acceptable in his wars.
Be ye therefore "armed at all points with the armour of God, that ye may stand strongly against the assaults of the devil." "That ye may stand," saith he. Ye must stand in this battle, and not sit, nor lie along; for he that lieth is trodden under foot of his enemy. We may not sit, that is, not rest in sin, or lie along in sluggishness of sin; but continually fight against our enemy, and under our great Captain and Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ, and in his quarrel, armed with the armour of God, that we may be strong. We cannot be strong unless we be armed of God. We have no power of ourselves to stand against the assaults of the devil. There St. Paul teacheth what our battle is, and wherefore we must be thus armed.
For, saith he, "we have not wrestling or strife against flesh and blood:" which may be understood, against certain sins, which come of the flesh only; but let us take it as it standeth, "against flesh and blood," that is, against any corporal man, which is but a weak thing in comparison, and with one stroke destroyed or slain: but we have to do with strong, mighty princes and potentates; that mighty prince, that great conqueror of this world, the devil, yea a conqueror: for though our Saviour Jesus Christ conquered him and all his, by suffering his blessed passion, yet is he a great conqueror in this world, and reigneth over a great multitude of his own, and maketh continual conflicts and assaults against the rest, to subdue them also under his power; which, if they be armed after St. Paul's teaching, shall stand strongly against his assaults. "Our battle," saith St. Paul, "is against princes, potestates," that is, against devils: for, after the common opinion, there fell from heaven of every order of angels, as of potentates. He saith also, "against worldly rulers of these darknesses:" for, as doctors do write, the spirits that fell with Lucifer have their being in aere caliginoso, the air, in darkness, and the rulers of this world, by God's sufferance, to hurt, vex and assault them that live upon the earth. For their nature is, as they be damned, to desire to draw all mankind unto like damnation; such is their malice. And though they hang in the air, or fall in a garden or other pleasant place, yet have they continually their pain upon their backs. Against these we wrestle, and "against spiritual wickedness in coelestibus," that is, in the air; or we fight against spiritual wickedness in heavenly things.
Think you not that this our enemy, this prince with all his potentates, hath great and sore assaults to lay against our armour? Yea, he is a crafty warrior, and also of great power in this world; he hath great ordnance and artillery; he hath great pieces of ordnance, as mighty kings and emperors, to shoot against God's people, to persecute or kill them; Nero, the great tyrant, who slew Paul, and divers other. Yea, what great pieces hath he had of bishops of Rome, which have destroyed whole cities and countries, and have slain and burnt many! What great guns were those!
Yea, he hath also less ordnance evil enough, (they may be called serpentines;) some bishops in divers countries, and here in England, which he hath shot at some good christian men, that they have been blown to ashes. So can this great captain, the devil, shoot his ordnance. He hath yet less ordnance, for he hath of all sorts to shoot at good christian men; he hath hand-guns and bows, which do much hurt, but not so much as the great ordnance. These be accusers, promoters, and slanderers; they be evil ordnance, shrewd hand-guns, and bows; they put a man to great displeasure; oftentimes death cometh upon that shot. For these things, saith the text, "take the armour of God." Against the great captains, the devils, and against their artillery, their ministers, there can nothing defend us but the armour of God.
"Take therefore this armour," saith the text, "that ye may resist in the evil day, and in all things stand perfectly, or be perfectly strong." This evil day is not so called here, because any day or time is evil; for God made every day good, and all days be good: but St. Paul calleth it the "evil day," because of the misfortune that chanceth or cometh in that day. As we have a common saying, "I have had an evil day, and an evil night," because of the heaviness or evil that hath happened; so saith Paul, "that ye may resist in the evil day:" that is, when your great adversary hath compassed you round about with his potestates and rulers, and with his artillery, so that you be almost overcome, then, if you have the armour of God, you shall be strong, and need not to fear his assaults.
St. Paul hath spoken of this armour of God generally, and now declareth the parts and pieces of armour; and teacheth them how to apparel every part of the body with this armour. He beginneth yet again, saying, "Be strong, having your reins, or your loins girded about." Some men of war use to have about their loins an apron or girdle of mail, gird fast for the safeguard of the nether part of their body. So St. Paul would we should gird our loins, which betokeneth lechery or other sinfulness, with a girdle, which is to be taken for a restraint or continence from such vices. In "truth," or "truly gird:" it may not be feigned, or falsely girt, but in verity and truth. There be many bachelors, as yet men unmarried, which seem to be girt with the girdle of continence, and yet it is not in truth, it is but feignedly. And some religious persons make a profession of continence or chastity, and yet not in truth, their hearts be not truly chaste. Such feigned girding of the loins cannot make a man strong to resist the assaults of the great captain or enemy in the evil day. Yet some get them girdles with great knots, as though they would be surely girt, and as though they would break the devil's head with their knotted girdles. Nay, he will not be so overcome: it is no knot of an hempton girdle that he feareth; that is no piece of harness of the armour of God, which may resist the assault in the evil day; it is but feigned gear; it must be in the heart, &c.
"And be ye apparelled or clothed," saith Paul, "with the habergeon or coat-armour of justice, that is, righteousness." Let your body be clothed in the armour of righteousness: ye may do no wrong to any man, but live in righteousness; not clothed with any false quarrel or privy grudge. Ye must live rightly in God's law, following his commandments and doctrine, clothed righteously in his armour, and not in any feigned armour, as in a friar's coat or cowl. For the assaults of the devil be crafty to make us put our trust in such armour, he will feign himself to fly; but then we be most in jeopardy: for he can give us an after-clap when we least ween; that is, suddenly return unawares to us, and then he giveth us an after-clap that overthroweth us: this armour deceiveth us.
In like manner these men in the North country, they make pretence as though they were armed in God's armour, gird in truth, and clothed in righteousness. I hear say they wear the cross and the wounds before and behind, and they pretend much truth to the king's grace and to the commonwealth, when they intend nothing less; and deceive the poor ignorant people, and bring them to fight against both the king, the church, and the commonwealth.
They arm them with the sign of the cross and of the wounds, and go clean contrary to him that bare the cross, and suffered those wounds. They rise with the king, and fight against the king in his ministers and officers; they rise with the church, and fight against the church, which is the congregation of faithful men; they rise for the commonwealth, and fight against it, and go about to make the commons each to kill other, and to destroy the commonwealth. Lo, what false pretence can the devil send amongst us? It is one of his most crafty and subtle assaults, to send his warriors forth under the badge of God, as though they were armed in righteousness and justice.
But if we will resist strongly indeed, we must he clothed or armed with the habergeon of very justice or righteousness; in true obedience to our prince, and faithful love to our neighbours; and take no false quarrels in hand, nor any feigned armour; but in justice, "having your feet shod for [the] preparation of the gospel of peace."
Lo, what manner of battle this warrior St. Paul teacheth us, "to be shod on our feet," that we may go readily and prepare way for the gospel; yea, the gospel of peace, not of rebellion, not of insurrection: no, it teacheth obedience, humility, and quietness; it maketh peace in the conscience, and teacheth true faith in Jesus Christ, and to walk in God's laws armed with God's armour, as Paul teacheth here. Yea, if bishops in England had been "shod for the preparation of this gospel," and had endeavoured themselves to teach and set [it] forth, as our most noble prince hath devised; and if certain gentlemen, being justices, had executed his grace's commandment, in setting forth this gospel of peace, this disturbance among the people had not happened.
But ye say, it is new learning. Now I tell you it is the old learning. Yea, ye say, it is old heresy new scoured. Nay, I tell you it is old truth, long rusted with your canker, and now new made bright and scoured. What a rusty truth is this, Quodcumque ligaveris, "Whatsoever thou bindest," &c. This is a truth spoken to the apostles, and all true preachers their successors, that with the law of God they should bind and condemn all that sinned; and whosoever did repent, they should declare him loosed and forgiven, by believing in the blood of Christ. But how hath this truth over-rusted with the pope's rust? For he, by this text, "Whatsoever thou bindeth," hath taken upon him to make what laws him listed, clean contrary unto God's word, which willeth that every man should obey the prince's law: and by this text, "Whatsoever thou loosest," he hath made all people believe that, for money, he might forgive what and whom he lusted; so that if any man had robbed his master, or taken anything wrongfully, the pope would loose him, by this pardon or that pardon, given to these friars or those friars, put in this box or that box. And, as it were, by these means a dividend of the spoil was made, so that it was not restored, nor the person rightly discharged; and yet most part of the spoil came to the hands of him and his ministers. What is this but a new learning; a new canker to rust and corrupt the old truth? Ye call your learning old: it may indeed be called old, for it cometh of that serpent which did pervert God's commandment and beguiled Eve; so it is an old custom to pervert God's word, and to rust it, and corrupt it.
We be a great many that profess to be true ministers of the gospel; but at the trial I think it will come to pass as it did with Gideon, a duke, which God raised up to deliver the children of Israel from the Midianites, in whose hands they were fallen, because they had broken God's commandment, and displeased God: yet at the length he had compassion on them, and raised up Gideon to deliver them. When they heard that they had a captain, or a duke, that should deliver them, they assembled a great number, about thirty thousand: but when it came to pass that they should fight, they departed all save five hundred. So, I fear me, that at the trial we shall be found but a few ministers of the true gospel of peace, and armed in the true armour of God.
It followeth, "And in all things take the shield or buckler of faith." The buckler is a thing wherewith a man most chiefly defendeth himself: and that must be perfect faith in Jesus Christ, in our Captain, and in his word. It must also be a true faith, it is else no part of the armour of God: it may not be feigned, but a buckler, which may stop or quench the violence of the flaming darts of the most wicked.
"Take also the helmet or head-piece of health," or true health in Jesus Christ; for there is no health in any other name: not the health of a grey friar's coat, or the health of this pardon or that pardon; that were a false helmet, and should not defend the violence of the wicked.
"And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Lo, St. Paul teacheth you battle; to take in your left hand the shield of faith, to defend and bear off the darts of the devil, and in the other hand a sword to strike with against the enemy: for a good man of war may not stand against, and defend only, but also strike against his enemy. So St. Paul giveth us here a sword, "The word of God." For this sword is it that beateth this great captain, our enemy. Christ himself gave us ensample to fight with this sword; for he answered the devil with the scripture, and said, "It is written." With this sword he drave away the devil: and so let us break his head with this sword, the true word of God, and not with any word of the bishop of Rome's making; not with his old learning, nor his new learning, but with the pure word of God.
The time passeth: I will therefore make an end. Let us fight manfully, and not cease; for no man is crowned or rewarded but in the end. We must therefore fight continually, and with this sword; and thus armed, and we shall receive the reward of victory. And thus the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all your spirits. Amen.