If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? and if in the land of peace…
One of the greatest battles on record was fought and won, seven hundred years ago, by the merchants and artisans of Brussels against the arms of France. Reduced by famine to the greatest straits, the city one evening opened her beleaguered gates, not to admit the enemy, but that such as were able to carry arms might march out — to make their last throw in the bloody game of war. The night, which was falling down when they came in sight of the banners and tents of France, was spent by their enemies in riot and carousings. It was spent by these wise, brave burghers in seeking rest for tomorrow's fight; and by their leaders, in making the most skilful arrangements. The men of Brussels rose with the dawn, and took what was to some, and might be to all, their last earthly meal. Knowing that they, a few rude townsmen, had no chance against the magnificent host of France unless God helped the fight for home, and wife, and children, and liberty, they cried to heaven for help. Every man made confession, and received the rites administered to the dying. The solemn service concluded, they rose from their knees; closed their ranks; levelled their pikes; and wheeling round so as to throw the glare of the sun in the eyes of the enemy, came down on their lines an avalanche of steel. The charge was irresistible. They bore cuirass and knightly lance before them; and these base-born traders scattered the chivalry of France, like smoke before the wind, and chaff before the whirlwind. This story illustrates a remarkable saying of one who fought many battles, and seldom, if ever, lost any. Asked to what he attributed his remarkable success, he replied, I owe it, under God, to this, that I made it a rule never to despise an enemy. To what warfare is this rule so applicable as to the Christian's; to the battles of the faith; to those conflicts which the believer is called to wage with Satan, the world, and the flesh? In spiritual matters we are, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and of the Word of God, to steer right between the two; and, to help you forward in this safe and blessed course, let me explain and answer the question of the text.
I. MAN IS LESS A MATCH FOR SATAN NOW THAN WHEN SATAN, AT THEIR FIRST ENCOUNTER, PROVED HIMSELF MORE THAN A MATCH FOR MAN. The bravest soldiers hang back from the breach, where, as it belches forth fire and smoke, they have seen the flower of the army fall; mowed down like grass. The bravest seamen dread the storm which has wrecked, with the stout ship, the gallant lifeboat that had gone to save its crew; men saying, If with her brave hands and buoyant power she, whelmed among the waves, could not live in such a sea, what chance for common craft? And what chance for us where our first parents perished? how can guilt stand where innocence fell? Hope there is none for us out of Christ.
II. IF WE WERE OVERCOME BY SIN ERE IT HAD GROWN INTO STRENGTH, WE ARE NOW LESS ABLE TO RESIST IT. Fallen though we are, there remains a purity, modesty, ingenuousness, and tenderness of conscience, about childhood, that looks as if the glory of Eden yet lingered over it, like the light of day on hilltops at even, when the sun is down. It has wrung our heart, as we looked on some lost and loathsome creature — the pest of society, and the shame of her sex — to think of the days when she was a smiling infant in a mother's happy arms, or, ignorant of evil, lisped long-forgotten prayers at a mother's knee; when her voice rose in the psalms of family worship, or of the house of God, like the song of a seraph in the skies. Alas! "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" Justifying this sad description, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies," — alas, how soon does sin cloud life's brightest dawn! If we were no match for the cub, how shall we conquer the grown lion? If we had not strength to pull out the sapling, how are we to root up the tree? Every new act of sin casts up an additional impediment in our way of return to virtue, and to God; until that which was once only a molehill swells into a mountain that nothing can remove, but the faith at whose bidding mountains are removed, and cast into the depths of the sea. I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.
III. SHOW HOW THESE DIFFICULTIES ARE TO BE OVERCOME. The Spirit and the flesh, grace and nature, heavenly and earthly influences, are sometimes so fairly balanced, that like a ship with wind and tide acting on her with equal power, but in opposite directions, the believer makes no progress in the Divine life. He loses headway. He does not become worse, but he grows no better; and it is all he can do to hold his own. Sometimes, indeed, he loses ground; falling into old sins. Temptation comes like a roaring sea squall, and, finding him asleep at his post, drives him backward on his course; and farther now from heaven than once he was, he has to pray, Heal my backsliding, renew me graciously, love me freely — For Thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great. Are we never to grow fit for heaven? is our hope of it but a pious dream, a beautiful delusion? Daily called to contend with temptation, the battle often goes against us; in these passions, and tempers, and old habits, the sons of Zeruiah are too strong for us. Not that we do not fight. That startling cry, "The Philistines are on thee, Samson!" rouses us; we make some little fight; but too often resisting only to be conquered, we are ready to give up the struggle, saying, It is useless; and like Saul in Gilboa's battle, to throw away sword and shield. We would; but that, cheered by a voice from above, and sustained by hope in God's grace and mercy, we can turn to our souls to say, Why art thou cast down, my soul; why is my spirit disquieted within me? — rise; resume thy arms; renew the combat; never surrender — Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
( T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?