"The LORD my Banner."
Christian conflict may be viewed from two standpoints., Its aspect God-ward is, as we have already shown, to glorify Him. Its aspect man-ward is not destruction, but deliverance. I am called upon to wrestle for my own personal deliverance from the world, with all its allurements, vanities, scoffs, scorn, &c.— from the flesh, with all its unholy thoughts, desires, &c. —and from the devil, with all his subtle wiles, snares fiery darts, &c. Experience teaches us that it is no light matter to withstand these three confederate foes, yet all enjoyment of our portion in Christ depends on doing so. He alone has made good our title, but our practical possession of our heavenly place and blessing is inseparably connected with overcoming these enemies in the victorious power of God.
The world attacks the believer from without, and often in a religious way. When Christ was in it, it hated and crucified Him, and the most religious were the most vehement in the cry, " Crucify him, crucify him." To gain victory, then, over the world, we must never lose sight of the cross. Satan deceives souls by adapting Christianity to the world, and the world to the 'Christian; but what is the love of the world in the presence of the cross? What is all that is in the world compared with God's purrposes in the cross? Well might Paul say, " God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." Thus the cross of Christ is more to the believer than peace to the conscience, precious as that is. It is death to the world, and he who, in spirit, lives in the world, minding earthly things, is an enemy of the cross, whose end is destruction, not victory (Phil. iii. 18).
The flesh is a foe that attacks us from within, by giving importance to all in ourselves in which man has confidence, as well as by its lusts warring against the. soul (Phil. iii. 4, 6; I Peter ii. 2).
The power of the Holy Spirit alone can enable us to hold the flesh in its true place of death, " They that are. Christ's have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts." Paul, when standing in the flesh, (for thus he presents himself in Rom. vii.), experiences the impossibility of getting victory over sin. So long as it was I, I, I (verses 19, 21, 22, 23), he was " wretched." But when he cried for deliverance, he could say at once, " I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord " (verse 25). Immense is the discovery to the soul that the flesh is no longer, " I myself," that " I am crucified with Christ,. nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Yet, alas! how little is this known, and how uncertain the warfare in consequence. As for our greatest adversary—the devil—he spares no effort to turn us aside from following the Lord. Christ, he knows, would lead us to victory, and there would be no shrinking, no drawing back, if under His leading. " Resist the devil," then, Christian warrior, " and he will flee from you." He is utterly powerless to separate the weakest of God's elect from His love in Christ, or to lay an iota to his charge. His rage is impotent (Rom. viii. 35, 36). " We are more than conquerers, through Him that loved us."
But, it may be asked, are we not compassed with infirmity? Do we not ofttimes fail in watchfulness, and suffer the adversary to attack us? Is it all victory, and are there no falls? Who would say so? In mercy, there is provision for failure. " If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins" (I John ii. 1, 2). Satan does come upon: us when our eyes are off the Lord, when we are unwatchful, prayerless; but the Lord's eyes are not off us, nor off our enemy either, and He can, and will, restore the soul, though it be by rebukes and chastening. He will never suffer us to lose our position before the Father, though we may forfeit for a time all the comfort and joy of it. He is " Jehovah-Rophi," the Lord the Healer (Ex. xv. 26), as well as " Jehova-Nissi."
There is a further principle in Christian conflict. It is given to us to fight for others. " Every one that'loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him." No one can truly love Christ and not love those that are Christ's. A brother may " fall," yet the Lord has mercifully promised that "he shall not be utterly cast down." Though the enemy has obtained a momentary advantage, the humiliated believer may, even at such a moment, look off unto Jesus, and cry, " Rejoice not against me, 0 mine enemy; when I fall, I shall arise." He will find the same pure grace to restore at last as to save at first, for the Lord changes not.
Is it possible, then, that one who knows the Lord, can be found heartlessly exposing the humiliation of a brother or a sister in Christ, or acting in the spirit of those terrible words, " Aha! aha! our eyes have seen it? " This is not " to love as brethren," this is not " to love as He loved." Did not Edom offend thus, and fall under the withering rebuke and vehement denunciation of the prophet of God'? (Obadiah 10-15). If we sin thus against our brethren, even our erring brethren, we sin against Christ. This is not combating for them,.but against them; not acting with the Advocate, 'but with the accuser. Our Lord promptly stretched forth His hand that Peter might not sink beneath the waters, surely we ought to do all we can to rescue a brother in peril. Before Peter, in his rash self-confidence, entered into temptation, Jesus 'prayed the Father for him (Luke xxii 31, 32), and when we see a brother hotly beset by the enemy, buffeted, tempted, tried, and •apparently on the point of being overcome in the conflict, it becomes our bounden duty to pray for him (James v. 16; Eph. vi. 18). In a moment of peril "the hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep," but a faithful under-shepherd abides, he will not cease to " tend the flock," and that because it is the "Flock of God."
It was but a lamb that the lion took out of Jesse's. flock, but that lamb was so precious in the eyes of David that, young as he was, he hesitated not to pursue after and to attack the formidable foe, and he delivered 'the lamb out of the lion's mouth. The Good Shepherd has a flock, every lamb and every sheep of which He has purchased with His own blood. Ought not these to be even more precious in our eyes than: ever that Iamb was to David? Shall we abandon them at the appearance of the wolf—the would-be scatterer of the sheep, and leave them to their fate? Why so selfish? Why so fearful? Will not He who delivered David out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear," deliver those who are ready to prove their love for the flock for the Shepherd's sake? " We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren," is the divine standard, and shall we desire to lower it?
Paul would that the Colossians knew what great conflict he had for them, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as had not seen his face in the flesh. Such was his devotion to the flock of God that he ever sympathised with the weak, and felt for the wronged. " Who is weak; and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?" So far as they affected only himself, he could truly say of bonds and afflictions, " none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself," &c.; yet his Epistles testify of deep, exercise of spirit, and of pressing daily anxiety for all the Churches (2 Cor. xi. 28, R.V.); while they abundantly prove how zealously he wrought for the deliverance of the saints of God, be the danger what it might. The contentions amongst the saints at. Corinth. cost him " much affliction, and anguish of heart; " and with " many tears " he wrought, " lest Satan should get an advantage." Though the manifestation of his, abundant love for the brethren, made the littleness of their love for him only the more apparent, he gladly "spent out " himself for their souls and prayed for their perfecting. How many profess Paul's doctrine that show little of his manner of life (2 Tim. iii. 10). Such will surely suffer loss in that day.
When the Church of God is attacked by false brethren — " certain men crept in unawares "— the Apostle Jude exhorts us to " earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints," not only for personal deliverance (verses 20, 21), but also to save others (22, 23), and that in the confidence of the security there is in. Christ (24, 25). And Timothy is encouraged to care for the safety of his hearers even as for his own—" Take. heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine: continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee."
Beloved, we are called to war a good warfare, and our weapons must be of divine temper. (" For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds); casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." Mere religious zeal is common enough, and the deceived heart may for a time mistake it for faithfulness; but the love of Christ to His Church is wanting, and where there is little or no fellowship of Christ's love to His saints, friends are wounded more than foes. Such warfare is not "good," neither are such soldiers "good soldiers." In this, as in all else, may we seek more and more of the love of Christ as our moving spring, and feed on, as well as minister, "wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the doctrine which is according to godliness; " and as we constantly need the grace of the Lord Jesus to be exercised towards us, let us see to it that we also exercise it towards others.