A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, October 27, 1861, By Pastor C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
Above all, taking the shield of faith, by which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. (Eph 6:16)
1. Like the Spartans, every Christian is born a warrior. It is his destiny to be assaulted; it is his duty to attack. Part of his life will be occupied with defensive warfare. He will have to earnestly defend the faith once delivered to the saints; he will have to resist the devil; he will have to stand against all his wiles; and having done all this, still to stand. He will, however, be only a sorry Christian if he acts only on the defensive. He must be one who goes against his foes, as well as standing still to receive their advance. He must be able to say with David, “I come against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied.” He must not wrestle with flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. He must have weapons for his warfare—not carnal—but “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” He must not, I say, be content to live in the stronghold, though there he is well guarded, and his dwelling place may be munitions of stupendous strength; but he must go out to attack the castles of the enemy, and to put them down, to drive the Canaanite out of the land. Now, there are many ways in which the Christian to a great degree may forget his martial character. And alas! there are not a few who, if they are Christians at all, certainly know only a very little of that daily warfare to which the Captain of our salvation calls his disciples. They will know most about fighting who stay closest to King David; who are willing not merely to be with him when he is in Saul’s court with his fingers strumming the strings of the harp, going in and out before the people, and behaving discreetly, so that “all Israel and Judah loved David because he went out and came in before them;” but men who are willing to go with David into the cave of Adullam when he is outlawed, when his character has become a stench in the nostrils of every proud hypocrite, and when Saul the king—in his day the representative of that worldly religion which is not from God, but stands in the strength of man—when he hunts David to seek his life. Thus the men who are willing to follow Christ in the midst of an ungodly and perverse generation, to come right out from it and be separate; their life will have to be like the life of the men of Naphtali, who hazarded their lives onto the death in the high places of the field. You will remember that Jonathan, one of the sweetest characters in the Word of God, is one of whom after all there is little to be said. His life was inglorious from the very time that he forsook David, and his death was among the slain of the Philistines upon the dewless mountains of Gilboa. Alas, poor Jonathan, he could give David his bow, but he could not draw the bow for David; he could give David his clothes, even to his armour, but he could not put on the armour for David. The attraction of his father’s court was too much for him, and there he stayed. In that Book of the Chronicles, where the Holy Spirit has recorded the names of the mighty men who were with David in Adullam, we do not find the name of Jonathan. We find the names of those who broke through the Philistines to give David a drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem; we find the name of the man who went down into the pit in the time of winter and killed the lion; but Jonathan did not have the honour to stand recorded in the list of the great host who were like the host of God. And there are Christians of that kind nowadays. They have a soft religion—religion which shuns opposition, a reed-like religion which bows before every blast, unlike that cedar of godliness which stands aloft in the midst of the storm, and claps its boughs in the hurricane for very joy of triumph, though the earth is all up in arms. Such men, like those who shunned David in Adullam, lack the faith that shares the glory. Though saved, yet their names shall not be found written among the mighty men who for our Great Commander’s sake are willing to suffer the loss of all things and to go outside the camp bearing his reproach. Those Christians too, who, having come completely out from the world, are diligently engaged in building up the Church, will have to fight more than others who are rather built up than builders. You remember, in Nehemiah’s day, how the Jews did their work when they built the walls of Jerusalem. With one hand they held the trowel, and in the other they held a weapon. “Each of the builders had his sword girded by his side as he worked.” Moreover there were master masons along the wall, and the labourers all actually engaged, yet here and there you might see a sentinel ready to sound the trumpet so that the workmen might prove warriors, rush to the fray, and drive away their foes. Be very diligent in doing good for the Church of Christ, and you shall soon have reason to defend your cause. Do you only serve your Master zealously and diligently, and let only the Lord’s blessing rest upon your labours, the Lord’s blessing will entail Satan’s curse, the smile of God will necessarily incur the frown of man. According to your nonconformity to the world, your daring to be singular—when to be singular is to be right,—according to your diligence in building up the walls of Jerusalem, you shall be compelled to recognise your soldierly character. To you the text shall come with greater emphasis than to more cowardly souls. “Above all, take the shield of faith by which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
2. Having treated the character of the people who will most require the shield provided in the text, let us proceed at once to discuss the words before us. We will do like this. First, let us expound the comparison; secondly, enforce the exhortation; and thirdly, propound it as a word of comfort to any trembling sinners who are now especially attacked with the fiery darts of the wicked.
Expound the Comparison
3. I. First, then, let us EXPOUND THE COMPARISON. Faith is here compared to a shield. There are four or five ways in which we may liken faith to a shield.
Faith protects us against attack.
4. 1. The natural idea which lies upon the very surface of the simile is, that faith, like a shield, protects us against attack. Different kinds of shields were used by the ancients, but there is a special reference in our text to the large shield which was sometimes used. I believe the word which is translated “shield,” sometimes means a door, because their shields were as large as a door. They covered the man entirely. You remember that verse in the Psalms which exactly expresses the idea, “You Lord will bless the righteous, you will surround him with favour as with a shield.” (Ps 5:12) Just as the shield enveloped the entire man, so, we think faith envelopes the entire man, and protects him from all missiles wherever they may be aimed against him. You will remember the cry of the Spartan mother to her son when he went out to battle. She said, “Take care that you return with your shield, or upon it.” Now, since she meant that he could return upon his shield dead, it shows that they often employed shields which were large enough to be a bier for a dead man, and consequently quite large enough to cover the body of a live man. Such a shield as that is meant in the text. That is the illustration before us. Faith protects the whole man. Let the assault of Satan be against the head, let him try to deceive us with unsettled notions in theology, let him tempt us to doubt those things which are truly received among us; a full faith in Christ preserves us against dangerous heresies, and enables us to firmly hold those things which we have received, which we have been taught, and have learned, and have made our own by experience. Unsettled doctrines generally spring from a weakness of faith. A man who has strong faith in Christ, has a hand that gets such a firm grip on the doctrines of grace, that you could not pry it lose, no matter how hard you tried. He knows what he has believed. He understands what he has received. He could not and would not give up what he knows to be the truth of God, though all the schemes that men devise should assail him with their most treacherous art. While faith will guard the head, it will also guard the heart. When temptation to love the world comes in, then faith holds up thoughts of the future and confidence of the reward that awaits the people of God, and enables the Christian to esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt, and so the heart is protected. Then when the enemy makes his cut at the sword arm of a Christian, to disable him, if possible, from future service, faith protects the arm like a shield, and he is able to do exploits for his Master, and go out, still conquering, and to conquer, in the name of him who has loved us. Suppose the arrow is aimed at his feet, and the enemy attempts to make him trip in his daily life—endeavours to mislead him in the uprightness of his walk and conversation. Faith protects his feet, and he stands securely in slippery places. Neither does his foot slip, nor can the enemy triumph over him. Or suppose the arrow is aimed at the knee, and Satan tries to make him weak in prayer, and tells him that God will ignore his cry, and never listen to the voice of his supplication; then faith protects him, and in the power of faith, with confidence, he has access to God, and draws near to his mercy seat. Or let the arrow be aimed at his conscience, and let it be winged with the remembrance of some recent sin; yet faith protects the conscience, for its full assurance of atonement quenches the fiery darts with that delightful text, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.” So there is no part of a man which is not secure. Although Satan will certainly attack him in every direction, yet, let him come where he wants.
He that has made his refuge God,
Shall find a most secure abode.
5. Not only does faith protect the whole man, but if you will think for a moment you will see that the apostle suggests the idea that it protects his armour too. After recounting various pieces, he says, “Above all.” The man of God is to put on the belt and the breastplate, and he is to be shod, and he is to wear his helmet. But though these are all armour, yet faith is an armour for his armour; it is not only a defence for him, but a defence for his defences. Thus faith not only shields the man, but shields his graces too. You may easily perceive how this is. Satan sometimes attacks our sincerity; he tries to cut the belt of truth which is around our waist. But faith enables us to be all sincere; like Moses who forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, and refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Then the enemy will often make an attack against our righteousness, and try to batter our breastplate. Yet faith comes in and enable us like Joseph to exclaim, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Or like Job we cry, “Until I die I will not put away my integrity from me.” Or like David we can cry, even in the worst of slanders, “You Lord who delivered me out of the jaw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” You see how faith guards the breastplate and protects the belt. All our virtues are unable to live by themselves, they need grace to preserve them, and that grace is given to us through faith. Are you meek? cover your meekness with faith, or else you will give way to a hasty speech. Are you decisive? let your decisiveness be shielded with confidence in God, or else your decisiveness may waver, and your firmness may give way. Do you have the spirit of love and gentleness? take care that you have the shield of faith, or your gentleness may yet turn to anger and your love be changed to bitterness. We must protect our graces with faith as well as the nature they adorn. It is not simply the head, but the helmet; not merely the feet, but the shoes; not the waist, but the belt;—all must be shielded and secure by this all covering, all protecting, all triumphant shield of faith.
Faith receives the blows which are meant for the man himself.
6. 2. In the second place, let me suggest, that faith like a shield receives the blows which are meant for the man himself. Some Christians think that faith would enable them to escape blows,—that if they had faith everything would be quiet, everything would be peaceful and calm. I know how young Christians imagine this. They think as soon as they have come out of their first convictions of their own sinfulness and found the Saviour, oh! now they are going to ride softly to heaven, singing all the way. Why did they put their armour on if there were to be no battles? Why have they put their hand to the plough if they are not to plough to the end of the furrow and often to wipe the sweat from their face through their hard toil? Why enlist, young men, if you are not needed to fight? What is the good of a fair weather soldier,—one who stays at home to live at the public expense? No! let the soldier be ready when war comes; let him expect the conflict as a part and necessary consequence of his profession. But be armed with faith, it receives the blows. The poor shield is knocked and hammered and battered like a penthouse exposed in the time of storm; blow after blow comes rattling upon it, and though it turns death aside yet the shield is compelled itself to bear the cut and the thrust. So must our faith do this—it must be cut at, it must bear the blows. Some people, instead of using the shield of faith to bear the blow, use the skulking place of cowards. Ashamed of Christ they make no profession of him, or having professed Christ, ashamed of the profession, they hide themselves by deserting their colours, by conformity to the world. Perhaps they are even called to preach the gospel, but they do it in such a quiet and gentle way, like men that wear soft clothing, and ought to be in kings’ houses. Unlike John the Baptist, they are “reeds shaken with the wind.” No one says anything bad about them, because they have done no harm to Satan’s kingdom. Satan never roars against them—why should he? He is not afraid of them, therefore he does not need to come out against them. “Let them alone,” he says, “thousands such as those will never shake my kingdom.” But this is not to use the shield of faith; this, I repeat it, is to use the skulking places of an ignoble cowardice. Others use the shield of presumption, they think it is right with them when it is not, but so they are safe, not from the attacks of Satan, but from the weapons of our spiritual warfare. Seared in their conscience as with a hot iron they do not fear the rebukes of God’s law. Deadened even to the voice of love they do not bow before the invitations of Christ; they go on their way caring for none of these things; presumption has made them secure. Such people have no blows to suffer. Their shield lets them go through the world quietly, saying, “Peace, peace, where there is no peace.” But only uplift the shield of faith, bearing the blood red standard of the cross, and there are plenty of the knights of hell who are ready to unhorse you. On, champion, on! in the name of him who is with you. No lance can pierce that shield; no sword shall ever be able to cut through it; it shall preserve you in all battle and in all strife; you shall bring it home yourself, through it you shall be more than conqueror. Faith, then, is like a shield, because it has to bear the blows.
Faith must be strong.
7. 3. Thirdly, faith is like a shield, because it must be strong. A man who has some cardboard shield may lift it up against his foe, the sword will go through it and reach his heart. Or perhaps in the moment when the lance is in rest, and his foe is dashing upon him, he thinks that his shield may preserve him, and lo it is dashed to pieces and the blood gushes from the wound and he is killed. He who would use a shield must take care that it is a shield of proof. He who has true faith, the faith of God’s elect, has such a shield that he will see the scimitars of his enemies go to a thousand pieces over it every time they strike its bosses. And as for their spears, if they but once come in contact with this shield, they will break into a thousand splinters, or bend like reeds when pressed against the wall,—they cannot pierce it, but they shall themselves be quenched or broken in pieces. You will say, how then are we to know whether our faith is the right faith, and our shield a strong one? One test of it is, it must be all of one piece. A shield that is made of three or four pieces in this case will be of no use. So your faith must be all of one piece, it must be faith in the finished work of Christ; you must have no confidence in yourself or in any man, but rest wholly and entirely upon Christ, or else your shield will be of no use. Then your faith must be of heaven’s forging or your shield will certainly fail you; you must have the faith of God’s elect which is the result of the operation of the Holy Spirit who works it in the soul of man. Then you must see to it that your faith rests only upon truth, for if there is any error or false notion in the fashioning of it, that shall be a joint in it which the spear can pierce. You must take care that your faith is agreeable to God’s Word, that you depend upon true and real promises, upon the sure word of testimony and not upon the fictions and fancies and dreams of men. And above all, you must mind that your faith is fixed in the person of Christ, for nothing except a faith in Christ’s divine person as “God over all, blessed for ever,” and in his proper manhood when as the Lamb of God’s passover he was sacrificed for us—no other faith will be able to stand against the tremendous shocks and the innumerable attacks which you must receive in the great battle of spiritual life. Look to your shield, man. Not so fast there with that painted God! Not so fast there with that proud heraldic symbol which has no strength in it. See to your shield. See if it is like the shields of Solomon which were borne before the king, each one made of gold. Or at least let them be like the shields of Rehoboam, every one of the best brass, so that there is found no wooden shield in your hand which may be dashed to pieces when you most need its help.
Faith is of no use except it is well handled.
8. 4. But to pass on—for we must not pause long on any one particular—faith is like a shield because it is of no use except it is well handled. A shield needs handling, and so does faith. He was a silly soldier who, when he went into the battle, said he had a shield but it was at home. So there are some silly professors who have a faith, but they do not have it with them when they need it. They have it with them when there are no enemies. When all goes well with them, then they can believe, but just when the pinch comes then their faith fails. Now there is a sacred art in being able to handle the shield of faith. Let me explain to you how that can be. You will handle it well if you are able to quote the promises of God against the attacks of your enemy. The devil said, “One day you shall be poor and starve.” “No,” said the believer, handling his shield well, “He has said ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you;’” “bread shall be given to you and your water shall be certain.” “Indeed,” Satan said, “but you will one day fall by the hand of the enemy.” “No,” faith said, “for I am persuaded that he who has begun a good work in me will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” “Indeed,” Satan said, “but the slander of the enemy will overturn you.” “No,” faith said, “he makes the wrath of man to praise him; remainder of wrath he restrains.” “Indeed” Satan said, as he shot another arrow, “you are weak.” “Yes,” faith said, handling his shield, “but ‘my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my infirmities, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” “Indeed,” Satan said, “but your sin is great.” “Yes,” faith said, handling the promise, “but he is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by him.” “But,” said the enemy again, drawing his sword and making a tremendous thrust, “God has cast you off.” “No,” faith said, “he hates putting away, he does not cast off his people, neither does he forsake his heritage.” “But I will have you, after all,” Satan said. “No,” faith said, dashing the bosses in the enemy’s jaws, “He has said, ‘I give to my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.’” This is what I call handling the shield.
9. But there is another way of handling it, not merely with the promises, but with the doctrines. “Ah,” Satan says, “what is there in you that you should be saved? You are poor, and weak, and lowly, and foolish!” Up came faith handling the shield doctrinally, this time, and said, “God has chosen the base things of this world, and things which are despised God has chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are;” for “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.” “Has not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him!” “Indeed,” he said, “if God should have chosen you, yet after all you may certainly perish!” And then, Christian handling his shield of faith doctrinally again, said “No, I believe in the final perseverance of the saints, for is it not written, ‘the righteous shall hold on his way, and he who has clean hands shall grow stronger?’” “I have kept those whom you gave to me, and not one of them is lost,” and so forth. So by understanding the doctrines of grace well, there is not a single doctrine which may not in its way, minister to our defence against the fiery darts of the wicked.
10. Then, the Christian soldier ought to know how to handle the shield of faith according to the rules of observation. “Indeed,” says the enemy, “your confidence is vain, and your hope shall soon be cut off.” “No,” faith says, “I have been young and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken.” “Yes, but you have fallen into sin, and God will leave you.” “No,” faith says, “for I saw David, and he stumbled, but still the Lord brought him out of the horrible pit, and out of the miry clay.” To use this shield in the way of observation, is very profitable when you see the way by which God has dealt with the rest of his people; for as he deals with one, so he will deal with the rest, and you can throw this in the teeth of your enemy. “I remember the ways of God. I call to remembrance his deeds of old. I say has God cast off his people, has he forsaken one of his chosen? And since he has never done so, I hold up my shield with great courage, and say he never will; he does not change; since he has not forsaken any, he will not forsake me.”
11. Then there is another blessed way of handling this shield, and that is experimentally. When you can look back, like the Psalmist, to the land of Jordan and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar, when you can return to those days of old, and call to remembrance your song in the night, when your spirit can say, “Why are you cast down, oh my soul, why are you disquieted within me. Hope in God, for I shall still praise him,” Why, brethren, some of us can talk of so many deliverances, that we do not know where to end, and scarcely do we know where to begin. Oh! what wonders God has done for us as a Church and people! He has brought us through fire and through water. Men rode over our heads, but so far all things have worked together for our good. His glory has appeared amid all the villainies and slanders of men to whom we have been exposed. Let us handle our shield then, according to the rules of past experience, and when Satan tells us that God will fail us at the last, let us reply, “Now you lie, and I say it to you to your face, for what our God was in the past, he will be in the present, and in the future, and so on even to the end.” Young soldiers of Christ, learn well the art of handling your shield.
Faith carries the Christian’s glory.
12. 5. Lastly for the matter of the emblem. The shield in olden times was an emblem of the warrior’s honour and more especially in later days than those of Paul. In the age of chivalry, the warrior carried his escutcheon his shield. Now, faith is like a shield, because it carries the Christian’s glory, the Christian’s coat of arms, the Christian’s escutcheon. And what is the Christian’s coat of arms? Well, good Joseph Irons used to say it was a cross and a crown, with the words “No cross, no crown”—a most blessed coat of arms too. But I think the Christian’s best coat of arms is the cross of his Saviour—that blood red cross; always stained, yet never stained; always dyed in blood, yet always resplendent with ruby brightness; always trodden on, yet always triumphant; always despised, yet always glorified; always attacked, yet always without resistance, coming off more than a conqueror. Some of the old Reformers used to have an anvil for their coat of arms, and a large one too, with this motto, “The anvil has broken many hammers.” By which they meant that they stood still, and just let men hammer at them until their hammers broke by themselves. Another old coat of arms with some of the Reformers, was often a candle with a great many enemies all puffing to blow it out, and though they all blew as hard as they could, yet the candle only burned the brighter. Out of darkness came light, and from all their attacks, the light grew stronger. This morning put your coat of arms upon your shield, and lift it up. Let that blood red cross be your choice; then when your battle is over, they will hang your escutcheon up in heaven; and when the old heraldries have gone, and the lions, and tigers, and griffins, and all manner of strange things have vanished from remembrance, that cross and your old shield dented with many a blow, shall be honourable with many a triumph before the throne of God. Above all things, then, take the shield of faith.
Enforce the Exhortation
13. II. I now leave the expounding of the comparison in haste, and pass on to ENFORCE THE EXHORTATION. “Above all taking the shield of faith.”
14. If you sent a servant upon an errand, and you said to him, “Get so-and-so, and so-and-so, and so-and-so, but above all now see to such-and-such a thing,” he would not understand that he ought to neglect anything, but he would perceive that there was some extra importance attached to one part of his mission. So let it be with us. We are not to neglect our sincerity, our righteousness, or our peace, but above all, as the most important we are to see to it that our faith is right, that it is true faith, and that it covers all our virtues from attack. The necessity of true faith is clearly explained by the text. Faith is here said to have a quenching power. The ancients were accustomed to use small arrows, perhaps light cane arrows, which were tinged with poison. They would be called fiery arrows, because they no sooner touched the flesh or even grazed the skin than they left a fiery poison in the veins. Sometimes too they employed arrows which were tipped with tow that had been dipped in some inflammable liquid, and were blazing as they flew through the air in order to set the tents of their antagonists on fire, or burn down houses in besieged cities. Now faith has a quenching power; it sees the temptation or the blasphemy, or the insinuation coming against it with poison and with fire in it to take away its life or to burn up its comforts. Faith catches the arrow, not only stops it, but takes away its sting, and quenches its fire. Oh it is wonderful how God sometimes enables his people to live in the midst of temptations and tribulations as though they had none of them. I believe that some of the martyrs when they were burning in the fire hardly suffered any pain, because the joy and peace which God gave them delivered them from the vehement heat. This I know. There are times when everyone is speaking well of some of us, and we are wretched by reason of the world’s fawnings. We do not want to be called “Son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” And yet there are other times when, though everyone speaks badly about us, our peace is like a river, and our righteousness like the waves of the sea. Truly at such times we can say, “Now I am in my proper place; this is the place where I should be—outside the camp, bearing the reproach of Christ.” The praise of man is deadly and damnable; his censure is good and godlike. Let it come; it cannot dishonour, it only ennobles us. Thus it often happens that faith quenches the fire of attack, indeed, more, turns the attack itself into comfort, extracts honey from the nettle, and sweets of joy from the wormwood and the gall. “Above all, take the shield of faith.”
15. Another commendation which the text gives is this—that faith alone, out of all the pieces of armour, is able to quench all the arrows. The helmet can only keep off those that are aimed against the head. The foot is only and alone protected by the sandals, the breast alone is guarded by the breastplate, but faith protects against all attacks. Have all other virtues, but most of all have faith, for faith is the Catholica it is the cure all, it is the universal remedy, it is good not only for the heat of fever, but for the shaking of ague. It is good for everything,—good for the timid to make them strong, good for the rash to make them wise; it is good for those who are desponding to make them brave, and good for those who are too daring, to make them discreet. There is no situation in which faith is not useful to us, therefore, whatever you leave out, see to your faith; if you forget all besides, be careful above all that you take the shield of faith.
16. And then, again, we are told above all to take the shield of faith, because faith preserves from all kinds of enemies. The fiery arrows of the wicked! Does that refer to Satan? Faith answers him. Does it refer to wicked men? Faith resists them. Does it refer to one’s own wicked self? Faith can overcome that. Does it refer to the whole world? “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.” It does not matter who the enemy may be; let the earth be all up in arms, this faith can quench all the fiery arrows of the wicked. Above all then, take the shield of faith. I know there are some ministers who seem to teach doubting as a duty. I cannot; I dare not. Above all, take the shield of faith. You know in the old Greek fights the aim of the enemy was to get near enough to push aside the shield, and then to stab under the armour. And that is what Satan wants to do. If he can knock aside the shield and get under it, then he can stab us mortally. Take care of your shield. Do not live in perpetual unbelief. Do not be always cast down. Pray to your God until you can say—“I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him.” Oh! the old saints were not always doubting. “My beloved is mine and I am his,” Solomon said. David said—“Say to my soul, I am your salvation.” “The Lord is my salvation.” “The Lord is my shepherd.” Job too could say, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” Paul could speak very confidently in very many places. And why should we be content to say—“I hope, I trust,”—when they said they knew, and were persuaded—all was well between God and their souls? Let it be so with us. Unbelief dishonours us, weakens us, destroys our comforts, prevents our usefulness. Faith will make us happy, and make us useful, and what is best of all, it will enable us to honour God on earth, and to enjoy his presence while we are still in the lowlands of this present world.
A Word of Comfort
17. III. Lastly, I have a word or two to say by way of conclusion to some POOR SINNER WHO IS COMING TO CHRIST, BUT WHO IS GREATLY VEXED WITH THE FIERY ARROWS OF THE WICKED ONE.
18. You remember how John Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress described Christiana and Mercy and the children coming to knock at the gate. When they knocked, the enemy who lived in a castle near by sent out a big dog, which barked at them at such a rate that Mercy fainted, and Christiana only dared to knock again, and when she obtained entrance, she was trembling. At the same time near by in the castle there were men, who shot fiery arrows at all who wished to enter; and poor Mercy was exceedingly afraid because of the arrows and the dog. Now, it generally happens that when a soul is coming to Christ the devil will dog him. As sure as ever he feels his need of a Saviour and is ready to put his trust in Christ, it will be true of him as of the poor demoniac child; as he was coming, the devil threw him down and tore him. Now, poor tempted sinner, there is nothing that can bring joy and peace into your heart except faith. Oh, that you may have grace this morning to begin to use this shield. “Ah sir, you say, I have been looking within myself and I cannot see anything that is good; I have been looking at my experiences and I am afraid I have never felt as So-and-so did.” That is the way to ruin yourself. Did you ever hear of a man who in cold winter’s weather got warm by rolling on the ice, and saying, “I do not feel any heat as some people do.” No, because he is looking in the wrong place to get the heat. If you expect to have anything in yourself you expect more than Paul ever had, for he said after he had long known his Master, “I know that in me—(that is, in my flesh)—there dwells no good thing.” “Oh, sir,” you reply again, “I find I am willing to do a great many things, but I cannot; and when I wish to be what I should be, I find a resistance somewhere within my own heart.” Well, and what of that? Even so did the apostle: “When I wish to do good, evil is present with me.” The fact is you have no business to look there. These things are not shields against Satan. What does he care about your experiences? No matter how good they were, he would still roar at you. What he is afraid of is your faith. Throw down these things, then, which only encumber you and expose you, and lay your heart bare to his attacks, and take up the shield of faith. What has Satan said to you? “You are too great a sinner to be saved.” Well, quote this text, “Him who comes to me, I will in no wise cast out.” I had a lesson this week in the case of a good Christian man, who through feebleness of mind has fallen at last into the deepest despair. I never met with a person in such awful despair as he was, and you cannot tell how it perplexed me to give him any sort of comfort, indeed, I failed after all. He said, “I am too big a sinner to be saved.” So I said, “But the blood Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.” “Indeed,” he said, “but you must remember the context, which says, ‘If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.’” “Now, I do not walk in the light,” he said; “I walk in the dark, and I have no fellowship with the people of God now, and therefore it does not apply to me.” “Well,” I said, “but he is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by him.” “That is the only text,” he said, “I never can discount, for it says ‘to the uttermost,’ and I know I cannot have gone beyond that, and still it does not yield me comfort.” I said, “But God asks nothing of you except that you will believe him; and you know if you have ever so feeble a faith you are like a child—the feeble hand of a child can receive; and that is the mark of a Christian,—‘of his fulness we have all received’—and if you only receive with your hand, that is enough.” “Indeed,” he said, “I have not the hand—I have not the hand of faith.” “Very well,” I said, “you have the mouth of desire; you can ask, if you cannot receive with the hand.” “No,” he said, “I do not; I do not pray, I cannot pray; I do not have the mouth of desire.” “Then,” I said, “all that is needed is an empty place, a vacuum, so that God can put it in.” “Ah, sir,” he said, “you have got me there! I have a great deal of vacuum; I have an aching void—a vacuum. If there ever was an empty sinner in this world, I am one.” “Well,” I said, “Christ will fill that vacuum; there is a full Christ for empty sinners.” Let me now say the same to you as I said to that poor man. All God wants is a vacuum. You have got a vacuum. This is not much to have; simply to be empty, to be pumped dry, to have nothing at all in you. But then, “he fills the hungry with good things, and the rich he sends away empty.” All that is needed is to be down there on the ground. It is not hard work. It is not to sit up, nor to stand up, nor to kneel, but to lie there at his feet; and when he sees the soul flat on its face before him, he will have mercy upon him.
19. Now, soul, for that shield of faith. Say to Satan, “In the name of God I dare to believe.” “You are a great sinner,” he says. “Yes, but I believe he is a great Saviour.” “But you have sinned beyond all hope.” “No, there is forgiveness with him, so that he may be feared.” But he says, “You are shut out.” “No,” say you “though he kills me, yet I will trust him;” “But your disease is of long standing.” Indeed, but say you, “If I only touch the hem of his garment, I shall be clean.” But Satan says again, “How dare you? would you have the impudence?” “Well,” you say, “if I perish I will trust Christ, and I will perish only there.” Have it fixed in your soul, that in the teeth of everything you will trust Christ,—that be you such a sinner or not, still you will trust Christ,—that whether Satan’s accusations are true or false, you mean to stop answering them and simply trust Christ. Ah, soul, then you shall have such joy and peace that nothing shall be like it. Oh that you would believe on Jesus now! Leave your feelings, leave your doings and your willings, and trust Christ. “I dare not,” one says. “Dare it, man, dare it! you cannot do wrong for he commands you. This is the commandment, that you believe on Jesus Christ whom he has sent.” “Oh, but I may be lost even if I do.” You will be lost if you do not, for “he who does not believe shall be dammed.” “But I am afraid of being condemned if I were to believe.” “He who does not believe is condemned already.” You are like the poor lepers at the gate; you are dying, and you say, “Let us fall out to the Syrians: if they kill us we can only die, and if they save us alive we shall live.” Say you, as Benhadad did concerning King Ahab, “We have heard that the kings of Israel are merciful kings, but let us put ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: perhaps he will save your life.” So you say to God, “I have heard that you are merciful; if there is a wretch out of hell who deserves to be in it, I am that sinner—if there is one who now feels that earth is provoked against him, and the ground says, swallow him up, and heaven is provoked against him, and cries, let the lightning flash destroy him; and the sea says, drown him; and the stars say, strike him with pestilence; and the sun says, scorch him; and the moon says, let him be blasted; and the mildew says, let me devour his crops; and fever says, let me cut off the thread of his life,—if there is such a wretch out of hell, I am he,”—yet, only say to God, “I believe in your mercy, I believe in your promise, I believe in your Son Jesus, I believe in his precious blood, and here I am, do with me as seems good in your sight,”—say only this and you shall have mercy, and pardon, and peace. My dear hearers, shall I say this for myself and not for you? Indeed, may God only grant that many a score of you this morning may be led to put your trust in him who has said, “Those who trust in me shall never be confounded.”