Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.…
This passage is a powerful and heart-stirring appeal to those professing Christians whose hearts had been full of worldly "pleasures" (ver. 3), and whose hands had been occupied with "wars and fightings." Within these four verses there are no fewer than ten verbs in the imperative mood; but the cardinal precept of the whole paragraph is the exhortation to submission, with which it both opens and closes. The other counsels in vers. 7-9 have reference to elements of conduct which are included in subjection to the Divine will.
I. THE DUTY OF SUBMISSION TO GOD. (Vers. 7, 10.) The immediate connection of "therefore" in ver. 7 is with the quotation at the close of ver. 6. "God sets himself in array against the proud; therefore, be subject unto God." You must either willingly humble yourselves, or be precipitately humbled by Divine Providence. "God giveth grace to the humble; therefore, be subject unto God." Clothe yourselves with humility, that you may enjoy this "grace." "Be subject" to the Captain of your salvation, as a good soldier is to his commander. Subjection to God includes:
1. Acquiescence in his plan of salvation. These Christian Jews of the Dispersion were to' avoid the sin of the Hebrew nation generally, in "not subjecting themselves to the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3). And we "sinners of the Gentiles" must throw away that pride of self-righteousness which tempts us also to reject a method of redemption from which all boasting is excluded. We must make the blood of Jesus our only plea, and surrender our hearts to the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit.
2. Obedience to his law. If we submit ourselves to the righteousness of God in the gospel, we shall begin to reverence and admire and obey the moral law. We shall be willing that God should reign over us and rule within us. We shall allow him to control us in body and mind, in intellect and conscience, in heart and will, in act and habit. We shall forsake our sins. We shall long and labor to be holy.
3. Acceptance of his dealings in providence. We are to be contented with the lot in life which God has assigned to us. We are to be willing to receive evil as well as good at his hand. We must bear affliction patiently, not because it is useless to murmur, but because it is wrong to do so. In our times of sorrow we must not challenge God's sovereignty, or impugn his justice, or arraign his wisdom, or distrust his love. The spirit of Christian submission says, "Let us also rejoice in our tribulations" (Romans 5:3).
II. ELEMENTS OF CHARACTER WHICH ENTER INTO THIS SUBMISSION. These are set forth in the body of the passage (vers. 7-9).
1. We must resist Satan. (Ver. 7.) To "be subject unto God" necessarily involves resistance to God's great enemy. Human nature has in it the element of combativeness; and the greater any man's force of character, he is likely to be the more thorough a hater. But the Christian should not "fight and war" with his fellow-believers; his quarrel is to be with Satan, and with Satan's works. We are to "resist" the devil; we must not dispute or parley with him. We must not "give place" to him (Ephesians 4:27) by cherishing covetousness or envy; for, if we allow him any place at all, he may speedily take possession of the entire area of the heart. If, on the contrary, we "stand up against" Satan, "he will flee" from us. The power of the truth, the power of faith, the power of prayer, will silence his artillery. There is no giant temptation which may not be overcome with some small stone out of the brook of Holy Scripture, if we hurl it from the sling of faith, and with an arm guided by the Holy Spirit.
2. We must come near to God. (Ver. 8.) The design of all Satan's assaults is to prevent us from doing so; and the best way in which to "resist" him is resolutely to "draw nigh." What a blessed privilege to us sinners to be allowed to approach to the holy, just, and merciful Jehovah! He has opened for us a new and living way of access by the blood of Jesus. We draw near
(1) when we pray, for prayer is just the converse of the soul with God;
(2) when our deepest soul-longings go out towards him, who alone can be our Portion; and
(3) when, along with our supplications and our heart-yearnings, we live a pure and godly life. Nor shall any man who truly seeks God seek him in vain. God will be propitious to him, and visit him, and take up his abode with him.
3. We must put away our sins. (Vers. 8, 9.) For we cannot really "draw nigh" to God if we persist in hugging them. The act of coming near involves repentance; it carries with it resolutions and endeavors after amendment. We must "cleanse our hands" from the open sins of which our neighbors may be cognizant, and "purify our hearts" from those secret faults which are known only to God. Self-loathing should possess us when we realize our covetousness and double-mindedness, our divided affections and unstable spiritual purposes. Our repentance must be such as to involve us in misery; and we must cry out to God for pardon. Does any one object that we have in this a somewhat gloomy picture of the religious life? The answer is, that such is only a representation of it upon one side. Here we see the shadows of the life of grace; but its shadows are only the reflection of its joys. It is a blessed mourning of which the text speaks; and they that mourn thus "shall be comforted." Godly repentance is the true humility; and it conducts to the highest exaltation. "He shall exalt you" (ver. 10), giving you always "more grace" in this life, and a rich reversion of glory in the life to come. - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.