The Christian Warfare!
William Nicholson, 1862
"War a good warfare." 1 Timothy 1:18
"The kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." All who have entered the Church of God below; all who have entered the Church triumphant in glory, have been, in this world, the subjects of spiritual conflict. Their character here was that of "soldiers of Christ," and finally, that of "conquerors" through him. Hence those glorified spirits in Heaven, who are now arrayed in "white robes, came out of great tribulation," etc. Revelation 7:14. And until "time shall be no longer," this shall be the case.
The saint, from scenes of poverty, sin, temptation, persecution, and death — shall mount up to Heaven, and "rest from his labors." "There the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest."
Because the Christian is holy, separate from the world, and aspiring after holiness and immortality — depravity, the world, and Satan are opposed to him.
"We must have tribulation." Seeing then that we must struggle — or perish, must conquer — or die, it is our wisest and best course to regard the advice of "Paul the aged" to his son Timothy in the Gospel — "War a good warfare."
I. The Christian Warfare.
As Christians, we are engaged in a more important conflict than any pertaining to this world. However magnificent earthly armies, their battles, and their victories, may be — yet they are but babyish when compared with the battles and the conquests of the Church of God. "We wrestle not with flesh and blood," not with mortals like ourselves, but with evil spirits and evil things! Ephesians 6:12. All of God's people are represented as engaged in this warfare. Isaiah 40:2; 1 Corinthians 9:7; 2 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Peter 2:11. "Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life!"
1. That this warfare is the struggle of . . .
Christ against Satan;
holiness against sin;
light against darkness;
Heaven against Hell.
God has determined to establish his kingdom in the hearts of his people, and to spread his benevolent reign upon the earth. To this, Satan and depraved man are opposed. Hence the warfare — the struggle which must prevail.
2. That the Christian is a soldier in Christ's army. He was once a subject of the Prince of darkness, fighting under his banner against God and his cause. The Spirit enlightened his mind — made him dissatisfied with his alliance to Satan; and when Christ, the captain of salvation, wishing to recruit his army, said to him, "Follow me!" he responded, "Lord, I will follow you wherever you go!" Thus he enlisted into the service of Christ, and became "willing in the day of his power." "For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness — and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son!" Colossians 1:13
3. That this warfare implies numerous foes. These foes are both internal and external.
His internal foes are the flesh, and the propensities of his heart, naturally depraved. Though these propensities are restrained by Divine grace — yet they struggle incessantly to break loose, and to exercise their destructive power. Hence Christians are called upon to fight against "the lusts which war in their members;" and "to abstain from fleshly lusts," etc. See Romans 7:21. Some may object to the application of these words to the Christian life; but every believer feels their truth. Every day, every hour, he feels the inward struggle.
So darkness struggles with the light,
Until perfect day arise;
Water and fire maintain the fight,
Until the weaker dies.
Thus will the flesh and Spirit strive,
And vex and break my peace;
Until I shall leave this mortal life,
And sin forever cease!
The believer has to contend against external foes, such as the Prince and powers of darkness, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms!" Ephesians 6:12. James 4:7.
The great design of Satan is re-possession. Believers are redeemed captives of Satan; and their having been ransomed from his domination by Christ, is galling to him, and therefore he will ever desire to "have them, that he may sift them as wheat!"
How formidable are these foes, Satan and his allies! What would become of the saint, if unsupported by Divine grace and Omnipotence!
Satan is called . . .
Abaddon and Apollyon — that is, the destroyer,
the angel of the bottomless pit,
the god of this world,
the accuser of the brethren,
a deceiver who leads the whole world astray,
a liar, and the father of lies,
a murderer from the beginning,
Beelzebub, Belial and Lucifer,
a great leviathan,
an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads,
the ancient serpent,
a poisonous adder,
a ravaging wolf,
a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour!
We are told of the "wiles of the Devil" — who hides his evil designs, and falls upon us when we least expect it.
He is invisible — his influence is like the nightly pestilence which walks in darkness.
He studies our propensities, and adapts his temptations to them. Though invisible, he is near us.
The safety of a nation menaced by an enemy often depends on his being kept at a distance; but the enemy is within our borders, and there is no other resource left but to struggle for our life.
He works himself, and he employs heinous instruments. His knowledge of evil is derived from the experience of 6000 years. And what is worse, he has a strong party within us, which he incessantly labors to excite to rebellion!
How fearful the warfare! But it is consolatory to know that these powers, great as they confessedly are, are limited, controlled, overruled by Jehovah, who will "bruise Satan under our feet shortly."
3. The Christian has to contend against worldly influences. In our daily interaction with the world, we come in contact with elements opposed to the spirituality and happiness of our souls. Its moral atmosphere is inimical to progression in the Divine life. It contains very much to which the words will apply, "Touch not, taste not, handle not." There is the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the sinful pride of life;" and God frowns disapprobation on all these.
"Don't you know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?" The influence of things around us is to degrade us, to hinder us, to ruin us. "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" 2 Corinthians 6:14.
Hence Christ said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you!" John 15:18-19. "I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one!" John 17:14-15
Think of its fascinating pleasures, devised by carnal men, who have "sought out many inventions," by which to please and seduce the soul!
Think of its secular engagements. When prosperous, the mind may be unduly elated, and become wedded to human pursuits. When they are depressed, the mind may sink down in despair. Hence by the "deceitfulness of riches," and the "cares of the world," many have made shipwreck of their faith. Many strong, many mighty men have been cast down.
Think of its reviling and persecuting spirit. It hates righteousness, and righteous people. Therefore the object of the Christian's warfare is "to keep himself unspotted from the world."
4. The Christian soldier has to contend with numerous discouragements peculiar to his spiritual warfare. The sun does not always shine upon him. He sometimes passes through "much tribulation," arising from adversity, afflictions, bereavements, etc. He is sometimes overcome, or repulsed by the enemy. He is often "faint — yet pursuing."
Clouds sometimes are upon the Church — the work of God makes little progress — the minister exclaims, "I have labored in vain!"
But the soldier of Christ must "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord!" 1 Corinthians 15:58
II. The Excellency of This Warfare:"War a good warfare."
1. It is "good," because its object is to destroy that which is evil, and promote that which is good. Its great design is "to save a soul," yes, multitudes of souls "from death." Its object, therefore, is sublimely good.
Earthly wars produce bloodshed, devastation, and ruin. They are like Ezekiel's roll, full of lamentation, mourning, and woe, both within and without.
Its design is like that of the Redeemer's: "He was manifested to destroy the works of the Devil." This world has long been under the "Prince of the power of the air." Christ, by his grace, and the instrumentality of his faithful soldiers, will rescue it from Satan's desolating sway, and make it break forth into singing, and blossom as the rose.
The design of the Christian's struggle is, through the grace of God, to oppose and overcome thut which threatens to involve the soul in guilt and ruin. Its great aim is that the work of grace may prosper in the soul; that, notwithstanding temptation, tribulation, and other opposing influences, the work of holiness may advance, and the soul enjoy more spirituality, and brighter anticipations of Heaven.
2. It is "good," because good armor and protection are provided. In ordinary warfare, good armor is of great importance. God has provided the necessary weapons, and of the right temper. See Ephesians 6.
Let Divine truth, with its doctrines of grace and immortality, be a "belt" to strengthen you.
Let the Savior's "righteousness" be the "breastplate" to defend your precious souls, for it is impenetrable.
Let the "Gospel of peace," amid the rugged and thorny paths of the wilderness, be as shoes to your feet, to enable you to trample upon the lion and the adder, the young lion and the dragon.
"In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one!"
Let "salvation," the hope of eternal life, be your "helmet."
And take, and do battle with "the sword of the Spirit," which is the Word of God. Praying always, "with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit," etc.
These weapons have been tried — proved — have never failed. They are infallible.
3. It is "good," because it is a warfare under a good Commander. It is very important for an army to have a skillful and heroic general. The King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, is the Commander of the hosts of Israel. To this office he was Divinely appointed. "See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples!" 55:4; Isaiah 42:1-4.
Think of his qualifications — his wisdom — his power — his love. He knows the number, the power, the cunning, and the wiles of our enemies, and he has infinite power to overcome them. What has he done? Look at his encounter with the Prince of darkness in the wilderness — at his contests with his emissaries, the Pharisees, and Jewish priests of old — at his struggle so dark and fearful in the garden — and then at his triumphant battle on the cross. Then he "spoiled principalities and powers — led captivity captive," etc. This Divine Captain never lost a battle. He never had to say, with a great General, "the battle is fought, but the victory is lost."
Such a Commander has the Christian. What was Samson, Gideon, Joshua, David, Alexander, Julius Caesar, or any other mighty warrior — compared with Christ, our Leader. This is he who cuts in pieces the gates of brass, and breaks asunder the bars of iron; who slew Rahab and wounded the Dragon; who is terrible to the kings of the earth. This is he who is the terror of devils, the dread of mortals, who will make other captains tremble, and cry out to the rocks and the mountains to hide them in the day of his wrath. [2 Kings 6:13-17.]
4. It is "good," because it will issue in complete and eternal triumph — unspeakable and ever-enduring happiness and glory. It is not the will of the Divine Captain, that any of his soldiers should perish — but conquer. To this end he cheers them — assists them — guards them. "He teaches their hands to war," etc. "Fear not, for I am with you," etc. "My grace is sufficient for you," etc.
His covenant engagements — the existence of his grace in their hearts — their mystical union with him — his infinite and immutable love for them all — all declare that they shall certainly triumph — that "having loved his own, he will love them to the end." "Having begun a good work, he will complete it." See Rom 8:33-39.
And this victory shall be followed by exalted honor. See Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 27-29; 3:5, 12, 21. What splendid imagery is here! Soldiers of the cross, how bright your honors, how green, how verdant your crown! Yes, Christian warrior, though despised here, you are then to be acknowledged — then to be crowned!
III. The Claims of this Warfare upon the Christian."War," etc. The word "good" may not only describe the excellency of the warfare, but also point out the mode of execution. To war a good warfare, the Christian
1. Must be sensible of his own incompetence. These foes are mighty, cunning, etc. He is weak. They are mightier than he, and unless he ha help from above, he must perish.
2. Must understand the character of his enemies. He must not be "ignorant of Satan's devices." He must understand himself — his besetting sins, and the evil propensities of his heart.
3. He must wear the Christian soldier's armor — use his weapons, and be valiant in the fight. Armor is of no avail unless it is used.
The application of the Gospel is that which proves our security. Use it in afflictions, in persecution, in the hour of temptation; under worldly fascinations, and in trials. Some of God's people, through neglecting their armor, have been foiled in the day of battle; of this there are many affecting examples. Always keep this armor bright and ready for action; it must not rust for lack of using.
4. Have unceasing confidence in the skill and power of his General.
5. That he battles with his foes whenever they oppose him. To be a soldier is not merely to be opposed or tempted, but to make resistance, and not merely to make resistance, but to resist successfully, and not only so, but to resist to the end of life. "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him!" James 1:12
1. Who is on the Lord's side? Who?
2. Some were once soldiers of the cross, but now are deserters.
3. All enemies must perish! "Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?' Does your work say, 'He has no hands'?" Isaiah 45:9