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The Warfare and the Army of Saints.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875.

First part of Sermon LXVIII. for the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity.
 Eph. vi. 10-19.    St. John iv. 46-54.
My brethren, be strong in the LORD, and in the power of His might.EPHES. vi. 10.

WITH these words commences the Epistle for to-day, and then St. Paul expands the same with earnest eloquence. Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places, or in things of Heaven. These words are surely enough to arouse us to a sense of our danger and of our strength. The life of a Christian consists for the most part in ways so meek, loving, and peaceful, that it is difficult to consider such a state as a battle, great and terrible, compared with which the wars of this world with flesh and blood are easy and light, and their consequences of little moment. Yet so did it appear to St. Paul, looking on it with the eyes of the Spirit, and speaking of it ‘with an inspired tongue. Great are the powers against you, he seems to say, vast and spiritual, which you behold not, because of the darkness of this your mortal condition, full of deceits against you beyond all you can imagine; and that too for objects not earthly and of passing moment, but in high places, in things of Heaven; imminent the peril, and great the hazard. Yet as if excited by the conflict in which lie himself was engaged, St. Paul proceeds to speak with all confidence and encouragement, on account of the great power of God. Wherefore, he adds, take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day,—meaning, says St. Chrysostom, by the evil day, this present life; and having done all, to stand; leave nothing undone which is in your power to do, lest you be among the fallen at last.

But ‘when St. Paul comes to speak of the particular parts of this armour, wherewith the Christian is to be entirely covered in every part, and provided for the war; he describes him, one might almost say, as doing nothing, having nothing; his being altogether unarmed and unresisting, from his entire belief; reliance, hope, and trust in God only. And the expressions are mostly such as are taken from the Prophets when they speak of our Lord Himself, for they often describe Him as a great warrior, returning victorious from the battle, when that His victory consisted in His being brought as a Lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep, dumb before his shearers, opening not His mouth. Thus was He “mighty to save.” And by our Lord's own example ‘when He fulfilled these Prophets, may we perhaps best explain these expressions of the Apostle. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth. This was the Prophet Isaiah’s expression of Christ, and it was fulfilled in Him when standing before Pontius Pilate He witnessed a good confession, saying, “For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.” And again, “He that is of the truth heareth My words.” He was “girded about with truth,” and so must His followers be. And having on, says St. Paul, the breast-plate of righteousness, even as Christ ‘Whose breastplate was righteousness, Whose conscience within His breast bore witness that in Him was no sin, neither guile in His mouth, fulfilling all righteousness both of the Law and of grace. “And who is he that shall harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?" says St. Peter. This then is “the breastplate of righteousness.”

And your feel shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. Whose “feet are like the morning on the mountains,” (Isa. lii. 7.-LXX.) or, how beautiful are their feet when they bear the Gospel; like the blessed Virgin when she hastened over the mountains to Elisabeth with the good tidings. But here, the feet being “shod with the preparation,” beautifully expresses that zeal and haste with which good men are ever active in works of charity; being themselves full of the hope and joy which is in God, it gives wings as it were to their feet, in endeavouring to promote the same in others. And this is mentioned in the spiritual armour which protects against the devil, because such works are the best protection against his influence.

Above all taking the shield, (ton yureon.) that large shield which covers the body, the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. For “this is the victory that overcometh the world,” says St. John, “even our faith.” It is faith that extinguishes those evil thoughts which come like fiery darts from that place where Satan dwells.

And take the helmet of salvation. As the Prophet says of Christ, “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon His head.” (Isa. lix. 17.) Or as St. Paul says to the Thessalonians, “for an helmet, the hope of salvation.” For that salvation is as yet but in hope; but as such it protects the thoughts, the eyes, the head, the governing principle of the whole body. Thus it is said our head is Christ, our head is covered with salvation.

And the sword of the Spirit, adds the Apostle, which is the Word of God. And here it may be observed that this point differs from all the rest in this, that the other arms are to defend ourselves only, but this is to slay the enemy, “the sword.” And what is this sword ? It is the Word of God. It is much to be remembered that when our Lord three times overcame the great enemy, in His temptation in the wilderness, it was on each occasion by bringing forward against him the written Word of God. By this we are taught of what infinite importance in all our temptations are the written oracles and precepts of God. And when our Lord goes forth to conquer in the Revelation, “out of His mouth proceedeth a sharp sword.” And hence it is, we may observe, that from knowing this the great power of the Inspired Word, that in our Lord’s temptation the devil quotes Scripture to his own purpose. The Spirit therefore must enlighten us that we use it aright; it is “the sword of the Spirit.”

From these figures of the seven-fold armour of the Spirit, taken from worldly warfare, St. Paul now passes into plain but no less earnest words. Praying, he says, always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds, that therein I may speak boldly as I ought to speak. To obtain this armour of God they are to be always praying in the Spirit; and in order that they may be continually praying, they are to watch; that is, to be ever wakeful and sober, in order that they may pray: these are constantly put together by our Lord Himself, “Watch and pray, for ye know not when the time is.” “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” There is no prayer without watching; there is no watching without prayer. And this is to be not for themselves only, but, says the Apostle, “for all Saints.” And especially for their own Apostle and minister now in great trouble, being in bonds and about to be tried for his life; while the same circumstances were also affording a great opening, and a door for the furtherance of the Gospel. As St. Peter, when in prison, had the Church praying for him without ceasing before the angel was sent to open the prison doors and release him; so now does the great inspired Apostle St. Paul himself ask for their prayers. And who knows how much it might have been owing to the prayers of others in conjunction with his own, that he spake and died with such boldness in testimony of the faith; that he shook to its foundation that great stronghold of Satan the empire of the heathen world, made their idols to fall, and was the means of bringing so many nations from that time even to this day to the obedience of Christ?

Such, my brethren, is this remarkable passage in which St. Paul, in language so sublime and powerful, describes the Christian as covered all over with the strength of God in this his time of trial; as having indeed put on Christ, and being one with Him, inasmuch as he applies to him, in this his warfare and victory, the very same figures which the Holy Spirit, in the Old Testament, spake of Christ. As St. Paul says of himself, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” And from these expressions of the Christian, in the power of God and of Christ, overcoming the efforts of his spiritual enemies, he passes to the Communion of Saints as all interceding for each other, and each in his own place as watching and praying.

And now, if the Word of God is said to be the sword of the Spirit, if such great things are said of it, as the "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” when spoken of the Old Testament, how much more may this be the case when applied to the New ? when we read in the Gospel of our Lord Himself, of the words He spake and the things He did?.... 

.... (for the second part, on the Gospel.)