"The LORD my Banner."
He that would " war a good warfare," must at all times. carefully distinguish between friends and foes; lest he should, to his shame, be found attacking and wounding those whom he should succour, or coalescing with those whom he should resist. That no " soldier of Jesus. Christ might err in a matter of such very grave importance, both sides are clearly defined in the Word of God.
Whom, then, are we to count friends, and whom to, esteem enemies?
The Captain of our salvation has already given the word, " Follow me!" " For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow his steps,". . . . "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously."
As in the Gospels we trace His footsteps, we find Him, during one period of His sojourn " among us," in favour with God and man" (Luke ii. 52); again, after He had successfully withstood our great adversary, in the wilderness, we find Him returning " in the power of the Spirit into Galilee; " teaching in their synagogues, being glorified of all." Alas! how soon the enmity of man was aroused against. Him! He came to Nazareth; its people at first " wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth; " but as He proceeded in His discourse, they were presently " filled with wrath:" Why? Simply because His " gracious words " were also words of truth, addressed to those who said, " Is not this Joseph's son? " He had just declared that the fulfilment of all their promises was in Him. The Spirit of the Lord is upon ME; he hath anointed ME, &c." The poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, the blind and the bruised, were to find in Him unmingled blessing, but they saw no beauty in 'Him, He was to them only a man, " Joseph's son." And when He faithfully reminded them, that in the •days of the Prophets, believing Gentiles had received blessings in which unbelieving Israel did not share, all their hatred of sovereign grace burst forth, and they would have cast the Lord headlong from the brow of the hill.
Thus the presence of the " true light " made manifest the state of the heart; and what a heart! Their murderous intent proved them deadly enemies of the Truth.
He by whom " grace and truth " came, did not resist these sinful men (Matt. v. 39, R.V.), but, "leaving Nazareth" (words of deeply solemn import), He came and dwelt at Capernaum, where we presently find Him " in the house, and many gathered together." As he proclaims that word which "is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart," all listen; but while some, believing, receive of His grace, others reason in their hearts, and cavil at His words (Mark ii. 1-12). Waxing worse and worse, these unbelieving reasoners, like the men of Nazareth, also manifest their hatred of the Light, and joining hands with other sinners plot His destruction (Mark iii. 6).
Nevertheless, whether men would hear, or forbear, He, whom God had given " for a witness.... a leader and a commander to the people," ceased not to bear witness to the truth. Another has said, " As the Word He was God expressing Himself," His every word and action bore testimony to the faithfulness, loving-kindness, and tender mercies of Jehovah, as He published salvation, preached " righteousness and peace," exposed hypocrisy, and denounced every form of transgression; proving alike to small and great that " God is light," and surely, also, that " God is love."
"Never man spake like this Man," who with " bands of love " would draw the children of men. Because He was "the Christ," and had "the words of eternal life," those that received His testimony became more and more attached to His person (John vi. 68); because He told the truth, and testified of the world that the works thereof are evil (John vii. 7), those that believed not, hated Him without a cause; their hatred becoming daily more and more apparent and murderous in its aim (John viii. 40, 45, 59).
His friends are those who do whatsoever He commands (John xv. 14),.for_obedience is love in exercise, and these joyfully confess, "We love Him because He first loved us." Because they love Him, they are beloved of the Father they xvi. 27); because they are not of the world, they are hated by the world, by those of whom, He that wept' over Jerusalem (by the mouth of the Psalmist), said,
The more closely, then, we follow Him, obeying his word, the less difficulty we shall have in distinguishing between friends and foes.
How sweet and refreshing to His spirit were those hours which Jesus spent " alone " with the Father. Yet He never for one moment lost sight of the specific purpose for which He came into the world (John xviii. 37). He did not hide Himself from the multitude, nor withdraw into the solitude of the garden of Gethsemane, even when His enemies were urging Him vehemently, and provoking Him to speak of many things; laying wait to catch some words, that they might accuse Him (Luke xi. 53, 54). Even so when it pleases Him to call us (His " friends ") apart, unto Himself (Mark vi. 31), it becomes our privilege to sit at His feet, and enjoy the repose of communion (Luke x. 39); Ps. xxiii). But whenever He sends us forth (Mark xvi. 15; John xx. 21), though it be as sheep in the midst of wolves, we are, each one, responsible to do "whatsoever He commands," and thus to display the activities flowing from communion (John v. 17; xvii. 4; Acts xiii. 2-4).
Christian warrior.! suffer a word in application. It may be that men of the world were quite content to leave thee unmolested, whilst thou didst enjoy the repose of communion, but if thou hast indeed taken "the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit," and art prepared to " stand in the evil day," and to display the activities flowing from communion, take courage, yea, " be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." Thou speakest the truth in love,, but whilst thou provest that thou art "not ashamed of the testimony of the Lord," let it not surprise. thee if thou findest thyself quickly deserted by the pleasure-loving multitude (John vi. 66; 2 Tim. iv. 10, 11, 16), and hotly beset by enemies (Ps. xlii). Yet faint not, Christian warrior, for He that has called thee to the fight, even thy Leader and thy Commander, will never leave thee nor forsake thee. 'Therefore, taking courage, " boldly say, the Lord is my helper and I will not be afraid; what will man do unto me? "
Remember the conflict which He endured, when against Him, were arrayed Satan, and the confederate powers of darkness. When great and mighty enemies beset Him round, if He had shrunk from facing the foe, there had been no deliverance for us. Yet in the hour of His sorrow, His own forsook Him, and fled, and left Him alone. Are those around thee like them?
Art thou also left alone? and is the contest most severe? He that directs thy advance will stand with thee, and strengthen thee (2 Tim. iv. 17); even He that fought and overcame (Rev. iii. 21). Fix thine earnest gaze wholly upon Him who goeth before thee, and hast promised to guide thee with His eye (Ps. xxxii. 8). Let Him be thy confidence who " upholdeth all things by the word of his power." His banner over thee is love; yea, He Himself is thy banner—" Jehovah-Nissi."
Enemies have only limited power! The utmost they can do is. to kill the body! Both the power and the grace of Jehovah are infinite! " Be not afraid of them.... Fear him.... FEAR HIM " said Jesus, addressing His " friends," in the audience of those who "compassed Him about like bees" (Luke xi. 53, 54; xii. 1-7); for He feared not what man could do unto Him (Ps. lvi. ii.); and this is to follow Him, for the fear of man bringeth a snare."
Soldier of Jesus Christ! thou hast entered His service, thou hast professed thy willingness to obey Him, and thine eye must not only be open, but single. Not only must thou carefully distinguish between friends arid foes; it is none the less essential that thou shouldest at all times stand with Him, and never with those that hate Him. A Christian ought never to be found on any other than " the Lord's side." Alas! how many dear ' saints of God have been found standing with the enemy, to the great dishonour of Him who " hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love." Such must suffer loss. They do it to their cost.
When David stood as the champion of the " armies of the living God," he triumphed over Goliath; but was not his subsequent great distress (after Ziklag had been burnt) one sorrowful result of his having gone over to the enemy? (comp. I Sam. xxvii. 1, 2, 6; xxx. 1-6). Because Jehoshaphat " helped the ungodly, and loved those that hated the Lord," there was wrath upon Him from before the Lord. Would Peter have been tempted thrice to deny his Lord if he had not "stood with them " that sought his Master's life? (John xviii. 18, 25, 27).
The record of David's " great distress," of the wrath" that overtook Jehoshaphat, and of Peter's bitter tears, should prove sufficient warning to each and all of us never to stand 'elsewhere than with Him who is a companion of all that fear Him, and of them that keep His precepts (Ps. cxix. 63). Very solemn are His words, " He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad."
We have yet to consider how He would have us to treat His friends, and to behave• ourselves 'towards, enemies.