The Epistle to the Ephesians has a peculiar character. It considers man not as having a life of sin, which he has to hold as dead in principle, and to resist in practice; but, in order to give God His own full part, and the blessing He gives its full character and perfection, it treats man as dead in trespasses and sins; and hence his whole moral existence is a new one, and depends on God, and is derived from His power; it has its origin and subsistence from His creative and life-giving energies. It is a new creation.
Hence, in the first chapter, before even speaking of the redemption which meets the necessities of man, the Spirit directs our eye to the eternal counsels of God’s grace, towards those chosen in Christ (v. 3-6), the unspeakable riches of the blessings to which they are destined. The inheritance which has fallen to them in Christ comes afterwards (v. 11), as a subordinate thing. Hence we have the union of the church with Christ as its Head, exalted above every name in this world and that which is to come: hence the vivifying and raising up with Christ, and setting in heavenly places in Him, where all difference of Jew and Gentile is for ever lost; and our creation again in Christ, the Holy Ghost, according to the mystery hidden from ages, but now revealed, becoming by His presence the power of the church’s unity as the habitation of God; and the conferring of every gift necessary for the perfecting of the saints, for the gathering and edifying of the body by the Head on high, who had received the Spirit to this end for the members thus united to Him. Thus viewed in its Head, and in the power of the Holy Ghost on the earth, the church has a heavenly character; and as its privileges take this elevated character, so also its testimony, its difficulties, and its combats. Compare chaps. 1:3; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12. For in the measure in which our spiritual position is raised, so, of course, do the difficulties and exercises of heart assume a character which requires greater experience and greater power. Our spiritual advance introduces us necessarily into them. But God is faithful not to suffer us to be tempted above that we are able. We could not expect a babe in Christ to be exercised as an apostle. Still the principles of all temptations are in general the same, and the experience of an apostle would render him capable of entering into the trials of an infant all the better. His more thorough knowledge of the wiles of Satan enables him to expose those wiles in their true light to the more inexperienced Christian. Because they have ceased to be wiles for himself, he can expose their wiliness to him by whom they are as yet unsuspected, or imperfectly judged. By following the word of God the simplest soul avoids danger, though it may be inexperienced in the devices of the enemy; for in that path God is found, and all is simple. One is wise concerning that which is good, and can be simple concerning evil. Still such as we are there are exercises; and the same human nature is in the oldest and in the youngest saint. The form of the trial may be different and suited to the progress made; but the principles are the same, and the means of defence too. One may, if humbler in spirit, use them better, but God’s weapons do not vary in their nature. The apostle will explain their use to the young soldier; but he uses (if with greater expertness) those he explains.
But before I enter on the character of the armour, a few words as to the position of him who is called upon to use it. It will be remarked that the spiritual use of the armour is found at the close of an epistle in which all the highest spiritual privileges have been spoken of as the portion of a Christian. He is looked at, all through the epistle, as in the heavenly Canaan, “blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ”; quickened with Him, raised up, and sitting in heavenly places, in Him. He has redemption and forgiveness. The desire of the apostle is that he may know the fulness and extent of his calling, of his inheritance, and the power that has brought him into it, in spirit and life, if not in body. On the earth he is looked at as builded together with all saints, for God’s habitation by the Spirit.
Hence, when the apostle treats of warfare, it is not carried on in order to enter into these privileges, but in order to maintain oneself in them, and to realise them by the power of God. When the apostle speaks of not combating with flesh and blood he refers to Joshua and Israel. Now the combats of Israel were not in Egypt, nor even in the desert as such. They were oppressed in Egypt and slaves there, as the unconverted man is a slave of sin and Satan. God sees his afflictions, comes down to deliver him. He leaves his misery (weakness he cannot escape), and is cast on God as a Saviour, and through the death and resurrection of Christ, that is, through redemption, passes into a new scene, where he is for ever beyond all that was his plague and sorrow before his deliverance. “Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people thou hast redeemed [says the song of Moses, Exodus 15], thou hast guided them in thy strength to thy holy habitation.” Not only the blood on the door-posts had sheltered them from the just judgment of God, but the active power of God had now delivered them entirely and for ever from the condition in which they were lying. The only difference in the Ephesians is one we have noticed, that the previous troubles and sorrows are passed over. Man is looked at as dead in trespasses and sins, that all his privileges, and the whole work of God, may be looked at in their full extent in themselves. I pass over the desert, which represents what this world is become to the redeemed, and which is characterised by the exercise of faith and patience, not by spiritual combats in order to realise or maintain privileges given.
In order to enter fully into these, we must realise our own death and resurrection with Christ; not merely that He is dead and risen for us. We must pass the Jordan, and thus enter into the land, in spirit. The Red Sea prefigured redemption by the death and resurrection of Christ; Jordan, our being dead and risen with Him, in the power of the Spirit of God, so as to enter in spirit into that which is within the veil, according to the power of the redemption which has been wrought for us. And remark, that on the entry into Canaan, as depicted in the Book of Joshua, the portion of Israel was not rest. Their combats for the enjoyment of the land began then. Jordan was doubtless the figure of death, but properly of death with Christ, in the power of the Holy Ghost; so as to be risen in spirit, in the liberty with which Christ sets us free, that we may realise and live in the heavenly things into which He is entered as our risen Head. As soon as Israel had crossed the Jordan, before a blow was struck, they ate of the old corn of the land. They were, as to title, in full possession of the country. But to possess it actually they must combat with the enemy. The principle of the Christian warfare is the same. “All things are ours.” As regards our title we are sitting in heavenly places in Christ, eating the corn of that land. But conflict then begins, to hold our ground against the enemy, and realise the sum of our privileges through every attack he makes upon us. For in holding good our ground against his attacks, there is continual progress in the realization of that which God has given to us, though in the conflict itself we have only to hold fast faithfully. If we sit in heavenly places as to title and our place with God, as to possession we must make it good; for spiritual wickednesses are there. Having made these general remarks on the position of those engaged in this warfare, I return to the Ephesians.
In this epistle, the blessings, the saints themselves, the witness of the church, the combats of the saints—all is in heaven. The rest will be there, as in Canaan (figuratively) for Israel. The combat is there, as in Canaan under Joshua. But now the combat is not with flesh and blood, but with the prince of the power of the air, “the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places.” Carnal weapons and carnal wisdom are of no avail. One may be victorious over the instruments of Satan’s power in our reasonings, and be overcome by himself. There is no safeguard but the armour of God; and to maintain one’s ground continually all the pieces of it are needed. What should we say of one who, armed in every other point, forgot his helmet. or his sword? He has forgotten his enemy and his own capability of being wounded. Thank God, we have the word and wisdom of God to tell us what is needed, that we may stand! Satan has no power to touch what is born of God. He who lives and walks in the Spirit is not reached by his weapons, nor subverted by bis wiles. But the flesh has no power against him; and if this is exposed, we are exposed to be subverted by him. Hence the Spirit of God shews us what is needed.
The first thing is that we remember, what I have just remarked, that the armour is that of God; that no human power, no wisdom, is of any avail. Satan’s weapons, or wiles, go clean through them at once. The use of such weapons is the foolishness of confidence in self, which is (witness Peter’s case) exactly what exposes us to him. Let us remember too the foundation we have laid: that the conflict with Satan here spoken of supposes peace with God. If I am really on my feet, combating with Satan, and armed by God, I have no question with God as to whether He is for me. My combats are not with Him, my fears have not Him for their object. The anxieties of the unreconciled soul have the dread of God, the uncertainty of His thoughts, for their source. The combats of the reconciled souls are with the enemy. Remark, further, that it is not in the time of combat, in the evil day, I am to put on my armour. I enter into it armed, at least if I enter into it aright, and in the way to be victorious. The armour we wear is our abiding state as regards this world, though with God all be peace.
In the next place remark that those parts of the armour which relate to the spiritual condition of the Christian’s own soul and his walk—what relates to the subjugation of flesh and self—come first; then the maintenance of practical confidence in God (and how true that order is!); and then the activity of the believer as regards others: all closed in by the expression of entire dependence. It is not the force and power of Satan which we have to resist, but his wiles. When really resisted, he has no force against us, for he is overcome by Christ; and the new nature he has nothing in or for. When the inclinations of the heart are unjudged, then he has the power to deceive us. Hence, as to receiving any truth, the state of the soul is really what is in question. When this is not right, reasonings are vain. When the eye is single, the whole body will be full of light. So when the flesh is not judged, the enemy can overthrow and trouble us. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
The first part then of our armour is to have the loins girt about with truth. The word first girds about my own loins before I can use it as a sword. The girding about the loins is that strengthening and giving of firmness to the whole man, which cannot be if all is left loose in his ways and mind, and which flows from the application of truth to his soul. And this application of truth to his soul, though an internal operation, has a double bearing. It is the application to the heart and conscience of all that is revealed in Christ. Now, this first judges all that is not of Christ, detects it and judges it; at the same time what is in the heart is seen in its true light as compared with what I see in Christ revealed as truth to my heart. I have judged what springs from the flesh and is adapted to it; it has lost its false appearances and deceiving power, and—as Christ is really there—its power altogether. I do not let my heart go after it; it has lost its place there, because not seen by the flesh, but judged by the Spirit. Instead of having any attractions for the heart inspired by this, it has its true hateful character. Christ, as truth, has put it into its true light, out of the affections, and into its own judged hate-fulness. It is no longer myself as a moral affection at all. It is sin and flesh in my eyes. But besides this, there is what has wrought this judgment, the revelation of the truth itself of Christ in the heart. Hence what is good is loved, has power in the heart, authority there; the will and affections are bridled by what has authority over them—instead of being let loose— while they, at the same time, delight in what exercises this authority over them. They are girded up, restrained, given moral tone and firmness, by the known value of that which is an obligation, because it is in Christ; a delight because it is good. For in man obligation, where it is in grace, gives strength. That is when the thing itself is delighted in, not imposed on, as a law. It is a governed heart, not an ungoverned will. Yet it is intelligent, and delights in what it sees in Christ. It governs itself. The girding about the loins with truth then is the application of the truth to the affections, so that a man is braced up, having to do with what is right in authority over his soul, while he delights in it too.
There are two passages to which I would draw the reader’s attention, in connection with-the first part of the armour. Hebrews 4, “The word of God is quick [living] and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Here it is, evidently, the searching character of the word; and “thy word is truth.” It is divine, living, and efficacious. Nothing that is creature escapes its penetrating judgment. The declaration of scripture does not here go beyond this. But if I have an earnest desire that all things should be “of God” in me, according to the new creature (2 Cor. 5), and have learnt that as to what is of the mere creature, in so far as it has a will, all the imaginations of the thoughts of his heart are only evil, and that continually. If my heart is divinely right I shall be most thankful for this detection of all that hinders my spiritual life, and comes between my soul and God, mars alike my communion and my walk, and I shall bring the hindering inclination into the all-judging and delivering presence of God.
John 17 goes somewhat farther: “Sanctify them,” we read there, “through thy truth, thy word is truth. For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.” Here we have the word bringing in its positive formative action, as well as its detective; and Christ also set apart as the perfection of that which we are to be, that the revelation of what He is to the soul may conform us to Him. It is evident that such a communication of what Christ is, while attracting and delighting the new creature, would in everything judge the old; but it is more than merely the divine word as a sword, as the eye of God on us, discerning and detecting; there is an attractive and an assimilating power. It is a man whose nature I have (for He is my life), in whom I see all this moral perfection, love, holiness, truth, absolute purity, grace, patient kindness, devotedness beyond all measure, to us self-sacrifice, and an absolutely single eye in devotedness to God His Father’s glory, and all the life-giving fulness of God in all these things. All this is in man, and in One with whom I have to do; who loves me; with whom I am one. He has sanctified Himself for our sakes. By the communication of all this, and much more than this, in .the truth, we are sanctified. First of all, it is in believing, so as to have a share in it, and then by daily realization of it in detail, attaching the heart thus to Christ. “We all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Blessed portion! Used, it is true, in the passage which occupies us in the Ephesians, more in its guardian power than in its delight and advantages—in its moral bracing energy, than in its joys in communion; but profitable alike for both. The truth, then, as this divine revelation to the soul by the word, detects all that gives a handle to Satan in us, and destroys its hold on the soul. It causes that we are no longer debtors to the flesh; for we have a new life with God, in which we have a right to five, and over which Satan has no right and no power; and in which the flesh has no claim and no part; and which is freely and new-given of God, so that none else has any claim over it. Hence the absolute and exclusive claim of God is brought in, and with delight to the soul—delight, because obedience to Him is now delight. We love Him and His claims over us. It is delight, because the things He calls us to walk in are enjoyed morally by our souls. There is an intelligent nature which is of Him, and from Him, having the delights and desires of His nature, and rejoiced to have the perfect expression of its own desires in God’s claims over us. For we are “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust.” Hence it is called the perfect law of liberty. “He who hath looked [looked down closely] into the perfect law, that of liberty, and continueth therein, not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of work, that man shall be blest in his doing [it].” There is our own delight in good thus; the authority of God in it; the rejection of evil, yet not in haughtiness, for God is there; and the authority of God over us, yet in personal delight in what is good, in a nature which loves it for its own sake. What hold has Satan there? The mind is braced up, the loins girt about with truth in the midst of the dissolution and uncertainty of the world; dissolution to which the flesh would yield itself at once. It is girding the loins.
In heaven this will not be needed. The flesh will not be there. All that attracts will be divine. We can let ourselves freely go to it. There is nothing but what God has authority over; nothing but what answers to His will, His nature, and His glory; while authority is perfect and delighted in, there is nothing to watch and guard against. We can let out all our affections there. The more we have, the better; at least all we have are rightly in exercise, for God and the fulness of Christ entirely fill the scene. Here we must have our loins girt about with truth. Blessed that we can, and have this privilege in a world of which we once were; a world of dissolution. Blessed that we have God’s truth to do it with!
But when the heart is thus kept, the conduct will follow. The breastplate of righteousness will not be wanting. We must remember that in the passage we are occupied with, the subject treated of is what is needed in conflict with Satan, not what is called for that we may stand before God. Christ is our righteousness before God, perfect and unchangeable; and without that we could in no way make head against Satan; but it cannot assume the character of a breastplate when we consider it as our righteousness before God. All is peace in this righteousness; peace is made, there is no combat there. Christ has met and overcome the enemy, and is become my righteousness; and this is the foundation of all. God is truly with me and before me.
But in my conflict with Satan, while I cannot do without this, I need something else—practical righteousness. My conscience must be without reproach, in order to combat with him. If my conscience be not purged with the blood of Christ, I have not yet peace with God; I am still in Egypt, though I may be striving to get out of it; I do not yet know the power of redemption. I cannot say that God is for me, nor that I am for God in this world. I need to be delivered and reconciled. But if I am, a conscience practically bad will make me weak before the enemy. How can he, whose conscience reproaches him, whom the world could reproach if aware of it, how can he go boldly into the combat? He is afraid the blow may reach him there; he is obliged to think of that: he is not free to think, in simplicity of heart, of nothing but the service which is before him. The Spirit of God also is grieved, and lets him, if he go on thus carelessly, feel that he has failed, as Israel before Ai. For boldness when we have failed shews rather indifference to sin, or an effort to carry on appearances, when the heart is not right. But if the conscience be good, the walk upright, there is confidence in God, and self has not to be thought of. One can do God’s work freely. Thus Paul— “Pray for us, for we trust that we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.” And again, “Herein do I exercise myself day and night, to have a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man.”
The second part of the armour, then, is a righteous walk, a walk with God. Only remark that, as to confidence in service, it is not merely evil known, or easily to be known to others; it is all allowed evil. Because Satan can use this against the conscience and make it timid; and certainly the Holy Ghost will not make it hard or indifferent. A good conscience before God is acquired by one thing alone, by the blood-shedding and work of Christ. But the result of this is the presence of the Holy Ghost in us; and then a good conscience against Satan is only when the Spirit has not been grieved by anything done contrary to the light He has afforded me.
But many have not the courage to go on in God’s warfare, because they hold to something which is inconsistent with the light they have received. Perhaps alas! they lose the light which they have not acted up to, and Satan is able to bring their mind under the darkness of his good reasons for staying where they are, without conquering more territory from him, though they are uneasy, perhaps bitterly hostile, when light reaches them from without, which threatens to awaken conscience again.
The existence of flesh in us, though judged as sin, does not give a bad conscience, nor interrupt communion; but the moment it is allowed, even in mind, it does both. Although the Christian who walks faithfully, clothed with the whole armour of God, enjoys the effect of its use, in the peaceful joy of communion, the difference must have, perhaps, been felt, between this state and the loss of communion, to know the immense importance of this armour, or rather of wearing it. Far better however to enjoy the confiding peace, which accompanies its use, than to know its importance by exposing oneself without it to the assaults of the enemy.
Communion with God is a real thing, in which He pours into the soul, in a greater or less degree, the deep joy of His presence—of that favour and perfect love in which He communicates with the soul, revealing Himself—and gives, by His presence, the happiness of a relationship, in which no breach is suspected, nor thought of, in which the soul lives. It is more than faith, though founded on it; other than the certainty of salvation, though the crown and seal and realisation of this. The abstract certainty, the consoling certainty, that my Father loves me, and will not, nay, cannot, do otherwise, is another thing from happy intercourse with this love, with no consciousness of anything else, or of anything in the way of that enjoyment. The certainty of love in God constitutes the bitterness of the sense of the loss of the enjoyment of it, for I speak only of saints here. The Spirit’s seal to the truth assures of God’s love; and Christ, if we fail, intercedes for us. But the Holy Ghost being the spring of the enjoyment of it in the heart is another thing. The one—the foundation, it is true, of all—assures that God is for us: the other is God in us, filling the heart with joy, with communion with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
There are two ways, very distinct indeed in their character, in which I may fail in this communion: one negatively, where negligence has deprived me of positive and sensible intercourse with God, the heart being cold and indifferent; the other, where the conscience is concerned, and, the heart having allowed the enemy to prevail against it, the Holy Ghost becomes in us a stern reprover; and while never destroying the sense of God’s love, makes us bitterly bewail the loss of the inward sense and enjoyment of it, and makes us taste, more or less, the fruits of sin, as in its nature separating the soul from God; and thus makes it horrible to us, not as feeling with God its evil morally, but as in its nature separating us from Him—not as to faith, indeed, allowing us to suppose that He will give us up at all, but to feel what it is. But this last is an extreme case, and discipline, on God’s part, and very severe discipline too. The other, alas! is but too common. They are very different. Many Christians live frequently in a state analogous to the last case I have supposed; but in them it is from being yet under the law, and from their not being established in their relationship with God; and the distress, consequently, is not so great, because there has not been the same nearness to God. I have said these few words as to the result of not using the armour with which God has furnished us. I return to its character and use.
I have spoken somewhat of the loins being girt about with truth, and of the breastplate of righteousness; of the affections being governed and kept in order by the truth; the revelation of Christ, and the walk which flows from this; the godly vigilance of an unassailable conscience. Thus the soul is in practical peace—has not to occupy itself with itself—can walk in unsuspecting openness and confidence. When the heart is full of peace, and enjoys the unsuspecting sweetness of it with God, it walks in the spirit of peace. This peace characterises all its ways and relationships with others. There is not effort or restraint, nothing to guard or keep back. The course is natural, unconstrained and unsuspecting. There is not fear of evil because there is not the consciousness of it. Not that the soul is without wisdom; that cannot be in such a world; but it is wise concerning that which is good, and simple concerning evil. It does not much fear evil befalling it, because it has a portion of peace that outward evil cannot touch; nor does it count on outward good as its resource. In this peace the heart depends on God; and, as above evil in this sense, it brings peace with it into the scene through which it passes. The expression, having the feet shod with it, is beautiful, as shewing the habitual character of the walk. Such was the character, especially, of Christ. He brought in peace— rejected indeed, but not the less true—the great Peacemaker. He declared such should be called the children of God. These three first parts of the armour are practically expressed in the words, as far as relationship with the saints goes: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another.”
Thus governed within, and walking in peace without, the soul is free to trust in God. All three parts of the armour are indeed worn together, but there is a moral dependence and order. Internal condition goes before external activity; order in the affections and practical righteousness, before the spirit of peace in our ways with others; and both before that confidence in God, which shields from the assaults of the enemy. It is not that the confidence flows from this walk— it is in God only; but it is in this soil that it grows, in this state that it has its free exercise. It is as important to remark that it does not look back or calculate on any state of the soul, as that that state of the soul is that in which this confidence is found in free exercise. When we enjoy our health, all depends on the state of the body; but because it is in health its energies go out on their just object, and the health is not thought of at all.
Faith here is the full confidence in God, which counts on His goodness and faithfulness, and that He is for us—which trusts a God who is entirely for us. Without this all is despair, or near to it, in a conscience which feels that it has to do with God. Satan has got in; and to the soul which feels the need of God being for it there is left only the agonising feeling that He is not. Hence the Saviour prays for Peter, that his faith might not fail; that is, that in spite of his dreadful fall he might not be left to the thought that therefore God had abandoned him, was against him, and that there was no hope. The fiery darts of Satan are not his efforts to seduce by acting on our various lusts; but where, by any means, our hearts are turned away from God, the inroads he makes in the form of unbelief and despair. This is the force of the passage in the Corinthians, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency. The evil was there, the incontinency was supposed, the temptation was the power of Satan over the soul, which was the result. It is evidently a different power from his seductions. There is no pleasure in despair, but deep agony. The flesh finds its pleasure in satisfying its lusts, but there is no lust of despair; it is as a consuming fire in the soul.
We may see, in the temptations of Christ, as far as He could be on the same ground as we, this same difference. There could be no lusts and no despair; but Satan sought, at the beginning of His career, to seduce Him from the path of obedience; and brought all the terror of death upon Him at the end. Only in the former case He maintained His first estate; in the second, His agony only led Him into more earnest communion with His Father. But He went through, for us, the whole pressure of Satan’s power; for us in both respects: only He was never reached within by it, so as to turn Him aside from God, in the perfect path of obedience. The fiery darts of the enemy are the power of the enemy over the soul, when it has been left exposed to his inroads, by the shield of faith (an entire confidence in the grace of God, in His favour, as that in which we dwell, and changes not) having been down.
Such, I doubt not, are his fiery darts; and terrible they are, when, from the shield of faith not having been our safeguard— having been dropped, we are exposed to them. But I would add, that I do not believe that this is ever a simple case: that is, that it happened by itself, without some producing cause. The passage I have alluded to in the Corinthians explains what I mean: Satan tempted, for incontinency, a heart which had opened the door to him by lust; which had even strayed out, in spirit, into his domains, forsaking God—not in will perhaps but in heart—in letting itself loose, exposed itself naturally to his power; particularly in these lusts, which a corrupt will nourishes, which, as the apostle expresses it, war against the soul, and which are so contrary to the very nature of God, to His purity and holiness. Where these are in any degree wilfully indulged by one who is a Christian, it is well if the result be not this terrible power of Satan over the soul, which for a time at least darkens the light of God in it, and hides His favour; the knowledge of which only makes the loss of the sense of it more terrible to him who suffers under it: it seems to be gone for ever, at least it may reach this point. At any rate it is the most terrible chastisement which can reach a human heart.
If a soul belong to God, it will surely be delivered; but who can say how long it may suffer? The great remedy against such a danger is to have the soul frequently, in a positive way, in God’s presence. To walk there constantly is our privilege and supreme joy. But I speak of a positive entering into His presence, who is light, that all may be clear in our conscience, all free in our heart. In a word, that we may not only enjoy blessings from Him, but be, as He graciously permits us, before Him. I have gone through the effect of not having the shield of faith up, and particularly what is the cause of it, as a warning; but the case, blessed be God’s grace, is as rare as it is terrible.
But something of an analogous nature takes place, in a different state of soul, as to what is not unfrequently called the fiery darts of the enemy. I refer to those cases where blasphemous and infidel thoughts seem to arise in the mind. They are not desired, not the effect of reasoning, but present themselves unsought, to the great distress of the soul. But this, I believe, happens when the soul is not set free in Christ. When once we are really introduced into the presence of God, in the knowledge of His favour and love—are there before Him, enjoying Himself—Satan cannot get there, cannot thus reach the mind. In the state of despair, spoken of previously, feelings of rebellion against God may and do arise, but these are the working of the mind itself, in the state it is in; whereas the suggestions of which I am now speaking are foreign tp every feeling, and every acknowledged thought. But there is not, I believe, the true personal knowledge of God in grace, though that grace may be admitted as a truth, and as the only ground of hope. These thoughts distress and harass the mind; and persons assaulted by them sometimes draw dismal conclusions as to themselves; as in other such cases they think they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. General deliverance, and the true knowledge of God, is to be sought here. The liberty wherewith Christ sets free—for this deliverance is real—brings us, as freed from everything that was against us, to God Himself. In the case, then, of the trying suggestions, of which we now speak, the shield of faith is not dropped; it is not yet up, has not yet been borne up on the arm of faith.
The shield of faith then is that entire confidence in God, flowing from the real personal knowledge of redemption, which silences every doubt and prevents every question, by the personal knowledge of God’s love, which, instead of having questions with God, reckons upon Him against everything else. If God be for us, who can be against us? It is not merely peace, as regards evil, through the blood of Christ, but confidence in God, resulting from His being thus known. “If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord,” says Moses, “let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us, for it is a stiff-necked people.” God is our resource and help against ourselves, our security against all else. Satan may prove a thousand things against us; our knowledge of God is the answer to them all.
Entire unwavering confidence in God Himself is the spring then and source of energy; the efforts of Satan to break and enfeeble it are quenched by the shield of faith. Maintained practically in its place by walking with God, it rests in itself on the true divinely given knowledge of God, as for us, as He revealed Himself in Christ; a knowledge sustained and fed by the grace and intercession of Jesus. But there is a further development of this condition of soul, closely allied to it, yet different—the knowledge of and possession of salvation. The difference is this: it is not abiding confidence in what God is, but the joyful certainty of what He has done, the consciousness of the position He has set us in.
Confidence is dependence, a blessed, right, and softening feeling; though emboldening in what is right, and as against the enemies of our souls. Salvation gives boldness and energy: we hold up the head, so to speak, a head covered by the strength and salvation of God Himself. “I would to God,” says Paul, “that not only thou but also all that hear me, were both almost, and altogether, such as I am save these bonds.” Was he—after two years’ imprisonment and wrong, in the presence of judges, as a chained prisoner, without resource save in God—was he disheartened or fearful in spirit? The helmet of a known salvation was on his head. Yet to be possessed in glory, all was his in Christ, all was his in his own soul. He was what the love that was in his heart could wish others to be; the consciousness that it was his animated the love which expressed itself towards others, gave it its object in its own happiness. His relationship to God was known, his being in the light as God was in the light, in the blessed joy of holiness, sin and evil and all confusion outside—Jesus’ glory complete—the Father’s love, unhindered by anything in the state of the object, is rested on. This secured by the cross, so that it could fully flow in now; the possession of Jesus’ love, in whom it was all secured; salvation was a helmet to his head; he could lift it up before all. Nor is it less such to us in the day of battle: we have not to think about ourselves; that is secured, for that helmet is riven by no blow: we are free to use our wisdom and strength undisturbed by any fear for self in the conflict in which we are set. We can seek victory and blessing for others, glory for the Lord, success before Him. He has thought of us and put us into the place where we are, and have more than man’s heart knows how to desire. And secure in it we can think of serving Him. Evidently this, as all else, must be realised by the ungrieved power of the Holy Ghost to use and walk in it.
In all these parts of the armour we have found what relates to our own standing, our enjoyment (in governed affections and godliness) of our blessed relationship with God, which is given us in the new position which the second Adam has, and which we have in and by and ever with Him. This is our security, our defence, in the conflict. Thus nothing separates us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. But there is active energy, arms which we wield in the power of the Spirit of God, which silences flesh, and baffles the power of Satan, and controls those who are under his power. When fully in the power of our relationship with God we can take the sword of the Spirit, which is His word. If the soul be not in communion with God, it cannot wield His word in His name. It is not a carnal weapon to be used with carnal force or wisdom. It is the Spirit’s sword: sharp, reaching the conscience, and of the most hardened where rightly applied, and bowing and subduing the most haughty. But if the soul be not with God, there is not the thought of the right passage, nor the power of God with it. It is not spoken of here, mark, as the means of edification—it is not a sword there—but of conflict. The weapons of our warfare are spiritual, to the pulling down of strongholds.
The word of God in conflict, when spiritually used, carries light with it to the soul as to our whole position in conflict— the light of God’s mind on the whole scene and question before us—which inspires a confidence, of which he who has it not has no idea. Satan’s object is to deceive; the conscious possession of the divine mind only makes the discovered deception an element of strength, in the knowledge of whom we have to do with, and of God’s being in the light thrown upon his wiles. It detects and judges them appositely; and a deception laid bare is a victory over the wiles to which no answer can be found. See the Lord’s use of Scripture, as an example—ever matchless—of this weapon. How were His adversaries put to silence, no man daring to put to Him any more questions. How was Satan himself reduced to leave One whom he could not touch! For this weapon repels all the attacks of Satan, as it confounds by its power all the force and wiles of the enemy. We have no other weapon; we must have skill to use it, which no practice but the power of present grace alone can give; but it is the weapon of God’s own mind, and light, and truth, in the midst of the darkness by which Satan would overcloud man’s mind.
An arm of a peculiar and distinct character closes the list, shewing how all are used in entire and constant dependence. The first parts of the armour, we have seen, are defensive, those which hinder Satan from touching us, connected with the judgment of self and godliness: after these the active energy of the word of God, the sword of the Spirit. But the Holy Ghost, who alone can enable us to use the word, cannot do so by putting us in a position of independence; it is contrary to His nature and service, and to the moral effect of His presence with us. He puts our souls into connection with, and dependence on, the source of all power and grace. He cannot be separated from those in whose name He acts, from whom He comes forth; and by His very presence He puts us in communion with, and dependence on, them. It is thus it is said of Him, “He shall not speak of himself,” that is, unconnected with the Father and the Son; as it is said, Sayest thou this of thyself? as an isolated spirit might say things of which himself was the source.
But there is more than this, because the Holy Ghost acts in us morally, and makes us feel, as new creatures, our entire, and I may add, glad, dependence, on so blessed a source of activity and power, as God Himself. We know we are so. It is a creature’s place; it is a godly creature’s place, and his willing place; for the heart, led by the Holy Ghost, is rejoiced to receive all from God, as it knows also that it can receive nowhere else what is good. But this is exercised in confidence; we ask, we express our dependence; we supplicate, both in the sense of need, and in the earnestness of desire for the accomplishment of what we are thus enabled to succeed in or obtain for others. The mind, though in dependence, is brought into the channel of God’s desires and blessing, by the operation of the Holy Ghost—given a share in this energy of divine working, though in the sense of entire dependence on God. God meets, answers, shews His concurrence in what He has put into our hearts by the Holy Ghost. We are occupied with what He works in, and works with, and for us. Not only are our desires accomplished, but we have the consciousness of God’s concurrence in them, and that we stand, on His part, in our conflicts and service, while we have the joy of everything being His. Nor is this all; it is not only our own part in this divine conflict that occupies; love to others, those without that are His, and united thus indeed to us, acts in the grace of intercession.
Everything is found, in this (seemingly, to human judgment, so feeble) instrument—above all precious, because it is an unseen one. Need is there, earnest desire for others, good in love is there; desire for God’s glory, confidence in His love, in His word, dependence on Him, reality of intercourse with Him; while, as a consequence, every inconsistency is brought to light in the heart by this nearness, not only as respects holiness, but as it touches confidence in this nearness. Besides this, there is a close linking of all the whole body together, in its dependence on the Head. What a place is this to use the given sword of God, His own thoughts in power, and to be with Himself in confidence for every answer of His love and strength.
It will be remarked that it is on every occasion— “always.” This is one mark of our living in this state of communion, that the heart turns at once, naturally, there. It does not set about to consider when something arises, but to pray. God’s answer surely comes. Next, remark, it is in Spirit, that is, in the power of the Holy Ghost working, in our communion with God. But another element is put before us here; the active exercise of a vigilant mind, so that all turns to prayer, and that we observe that as to which we have to pray. There is the active interest of love, which is awake and alive, does not sleep over the interests of the church of God, over the holiness and communion of the saints—cannot if we are near to God. For there is an active, living energy of love, which, in the desire of the blessing of the saints, thus draws near to God. This gives perseverance and earnestness; for, whatever our confidence in the love of God, affection is earnest and persevering; and here, above all, it is that divine affections, our personal participation through grace in the interest God takes in blessing, are brought out.
Here, as elsewhere, the apostle therefore brings in all saints. Compare chaps. 1:15; 3:18. The apostle knew what it was, as all abundantly testifies, and he knew its value. It is a privilege of all saints, on which an apostle himself is dependent. All have not distinguished gifts, but all have the privilege of drawing near to God as child and priest. See 2 Cor. 1:11. Divine power in us is the fruit of dependence on Him who gives it.
The armour of God then begins with all being inwardly right in affection; then in practice; then peacefulness of walk; and so it is, for sin is restless and impatient: then security, by unfailing confidence, from Satan’s attacks; the joy and power of salvation before God; and finally, the active energy in which we can use the word in all; and behind all, dependence exercised in prayer.