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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.

Second 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.
(for the first part, on the Epistle.
...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?

The Gospel for to-day speak of an early period in our Lord’s ministry, when He was first driven by the enmity of the Jews out of Judea, and retired into Galilee, and the neighbourhood of the Gentiles. And here we may observe, that not only was our Lord persecuted and hated by the Jews in general, and especially by the Scribes and Pharisees, but even the instances of faith in Him from among them were for the most part faint and feeble; as was that of Nicodemus just before this, who came to Him by night, and although he was constrained to confess that He must be a teacher come from God, yet his faith did not rise to anything more than this at that time. The great examples of faith came in from the Gentiles to whom the Father Which is in heaven revealed His Son, and drew them unto Him. It was not so with the Jews, who even when they acknowledged Him did it slowly and with reluctance. And this nobleman is an instance of the kind, for he was probably a Jew, and perhaps belonged to the court of Herod, then ruler of Galilee. There was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus, was come out of Judea into Galilee, he went unto Him, and besaught Him that He would come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. The Jews sought God in their affliction, and this man’s affliction brought him to Christ. So far well. But how different are his words to those of the heathen centurion, who said, “Wherefore I thought not myself worthy to come unto Thee, but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed.” Thy word at a distance is enough. But this man requests the Lord to come down from Cana to Capernaum, about twenty miles, and heal his son. Nor does he, like the woman of Canaan, fall down at His feet, but merely beseeches Him to come down.

And our Lord’s reply seems to have in it something of complaint, as if He were not satisfied with the weakness of his faith. Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. This was the case with the Jews throughout, so that our Lord sighed deeply in spirit at their seeking for a sign, which He said was owing to their being an adulterous generation, i.e. having in heart gone away from God. And Herod of Galilee, even at last, longed to see some miracle done by Him, when he set Him at nought. Thus too St. Paul testified long after, “the Jews seek after a sign: but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block." For God had so long trained the Jews, and showed His power to them by working miracles in the wilderness, and. the land of Canaan, by their Lawgiver, their Judges, and their Prophets; that now, when He came to save their souls, as the Holy One of God, to Whom all the Prophets bare witness, they would not believe in Him without signs. So it is with this Jew; a miracle will convince him, but nothing less; he seems to stand erect before Christ, knowing not himself or God; but our Lord is ever looking to the heart, and desiring to heal the soul of this man, for he is more near to eternal death than his son is to the death of the body.

The nobleman saith unto Him, Sir, come down ere my child die. He thought not of God, in ‘Whose Presence he stood; he thought not of his own unworthiness; he thought only of his child, My child will die unless you make haste to come; and our Lord, as it were with reluctance and unwillingness, granted his request, and more than he had asked. He thought that Christ must come down before lie could heal the child, and that when his child was dead there would be no hope, or power of restoration. Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way,—He that setteth the proud afar off waits on the sick slave of a humble heathen, hut comes not to the dying son of a proud Jewish courtier. “Go thy way,”—thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. Even this imperfect belief our Lord saw working in his heart, and blessed it and gave it increase. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. Then inquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. Though believing, yet still inquiring, as one weak in faith and needing confirmation. And they, his servants, said unto Him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. As if they had said, in answer, you ask when he was beginning to amend, there was no beginning to amend, but suddenly, as if arrested by a Divine hand, the fever was gone. So the father knew that it was at the same hour in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth; and himself believed, and his whole house. Under the pressure of affliction he prayed, and praying obtained, and the miracle could not be doubted, and it was known to his whole house, which were constrained to believe. Thus did our Lord, in His loving-kindness, descend to meet their imperfect faith, and began with the Jews in their weakness. This is again, adds St. John, the second miracle that Jesus did, when He was come out of Judaea into Galilee.

What therefore is the lesson we are taught on this Sunday? By the Gospel we learn how tenderly and mercifully our Lord watches over every spark of faith. He will not quench the smoking flax. Although “not many noble are called,” though the pride of this world, and beyond all things religious pride, as that of the Jew, makes it very hard for such to humble themselves and believe, yet, when God’s hand is heavy on those they love, even then, if they ask, they shall receive. His ear is ever listening; His eye ever watching for them. And from this we may be encouraged to go on from such a beginning, to put on the “strength of the Lord,” and as St. Paul says in the Epistle, “the whole armour of God.”

We do not, as the Jew, expect to see signs and wonders, but why not ? It is because we expect something infinitely greater than any outward signs or wonders can be. We are engaged in a spiritual warfare with spiritual enemies which are about our path, and our bed, day and night. Sleeping or waking, at home or abroad, with others or when alone, when in business or at our prayers, they are ever with us while we are in the body, for our body occasions the darkness, and we cannot see them. Nay, I doubt not, my brethren, they are about us even here, and whispering at the ear in God’s house even such thoughts as would, if heard aloud, startle both ourselves and each other. No outward sign, in the heavens or the earth, nay, not even miraculous deliverance from sickness, can be so marvellous as that we should overcome in this warfare such enemies. If we saw them, and knew them, we should say this. Yet, though we cannot see them, we can easily know their presence. That we should fall before them is but a matter of course,—many do,—we shall do so,—to-day, to-morrow, at this hour, and at all times, we shall fall, excepting, so far as by prayer and watching, we “put on the whole armour of God, that” we “may be able to withstand in the evil day.”