"The LORD my Banner."
In natural warfare, every able and experienced commander will, if he has allies in the field, fail not to strictly guard against anything that might possibly bring about a rupture between the allied forces; being apprehensive that the enemy will reap an advantage if these are unhappily divided against themselves.
In spiritual warfare the believer is privileged to call his fellow-servants and fellow-soldiers by a name better than that of " Allies "—by a name expressive of relationship and abiding affection—" One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are BRETHREN; " yea, more, His brethren. He has, moreover,—not a few positive commands as to how he shall behave himself towards' these " brethren; " that unity, peace, and concord might be promoted—not destroyed—among those who love our Lord Jesus Christ.
If the soldiers of men carefully observe and obey the words of their fallible commanders, soldiers of Jesus. Christ surely ought to give more earnest heed to all His commands. We ought not to say," The will of the Lord be done," unless we are content to do His will. It is worse than vain to sing,
if we are not fully prepared to surrender our will to His.
"If any man will do His will he, shall know of the doctrine "—Oh that we may be wise, " understanding what the will of the Lord is."
He, the Captain of our salvation, said, " As the Father, hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments ye shall abide in my love: This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you."
Behold how He loved His own which were in the world! His words to them were loving words, His reproof was always a loving reproof, His rebuke, even if severe, a loving rebuke, and His exhortations were loving exhortations. Every manifestation of weakness on their part furnished Him with an opportunity of proving that He loved with the love that " suffereth long, and is kind." He patiently bore with their oftrepeated failures; in short,' His every word to them, and action affecting them, were characterised by love, pure, holy, and Divine.
Beloved, we are commanded to love one another as He has loved us. How shall we prove that we are obedient to this command, unless we " walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us? " Without love," gifts " prove profitless. Though " the best gifts " may be present, these can never compensate for love, if it be absent (1 Cor. xiii.). "All the law is fulfilled in one word —Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." Do these words apply simply to the law which was given by Moses? Do they not embody also that which James calls the law of liberty'? (James ii. 12, 13). " Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God... He that loveth not knoweth not God: for God is love... And he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." Our Lord pronounced a woe upon those who tithed mint and rue, and all manner of herbs, and passed over judgment and the love of God; " This is the love of God, that we • keep his commandments."
If any, then, pass over judgment and the love of God, however zealous in other things, they come under this woe. "Holding the tradition of the elders" is not " holding faith and a good conscience." The eye is on the elders, not on Christ, the Captain.
When in his address to the Church in Philadelphia, the Lord commended those who had " kept his 'word, and not denied his name," He, nevertheless, exhorted them " to hold fast, that no man take their crown." He saw the danger they were in from those who pressed ordinances and human authority (Rev. iii. 9). There is the same danger now. It is still the time of Christ's patience; and when reproached, reviled, and their names cast out as evil, they who seek to obey God rather than men, are not to become impatient, as if He regarded them not, but to " keep the word of His patience." If of " little strength," the Lord has put a 'sword into their hands—the sword of the Spirit; which is the word of God," for which no other sword can ever be a substitute.
It is purely of grace that any are privileged to take the sword of the Spirit; but he that takes it, and would wield it to the honour and glory of God, must never assay to use it save as He wills, who has been pleased to furnish him with this "quick and powerful " weapon. And since we are entirely dependent upon the Spirit for power to take this sword (which is not our sword, but " the sword of the Spirit "), who can possibly wield such a sword whose course or whose acts grieve the Spirit?
Such an one needs it for himself, to lay bare the secret springs of his own conduct, to pierce through all that conceals from himself the evil lurking in his own heart, in order that he may rightly estimate the priestly grace and restoring love of Christ (Heb. iv.). Then, "having obtained mercy," he will know the need of grace to wield it aright, "not handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God " (2 Cor. iv. 2).
No earthly king would suffer one in his service to employ his sovereign's weapon for the purpose of attacking friends. May none of us dare to use the sword of the Spirit against our brethren for the purpose of attack. "Sanctify them by thy truth, thy word is truth." To have this prayer of the Lord verified in His people, should be the burning desire of every soldier of Christ fighting under His banner; for " His banner over them is love." " Jehovah-Nissi."
There is another sword, quite the reverse of the sword of the Spirit, which the believer needs to be warned against using. "Their tongue, a sharp sword." We need not be surprised that men of the world thrust at believers with this sword; but, after the very plain teaching of the Apostle James as to its origin, its motive power, and also, as to what it defiles, the soldier of Christ is left without excuse that presumes to employ it against any, much less against a fellow-believer (James iii.).
There is one circle in which the soldier invariably unbuckles his sword-belt. He should display his courage upon the battlefield; but he will manifest his love within his own family circle. From the enemy his sword should not turn back; but he will not, he cannot, uplift it to smite one member of his household! At home, if he must needs display authority, he will correct or reprove; and only when gentler means have failed will he resort—not to the sword, but to the rod.
Does the Word of God authorise saints of God to act as if the Church of God was a battlefield? Within the family circle of the household of faith, we are exhorted to be at peace (1 Thess. v. 13); to follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another (Rom. xiv. 19); "for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace; as in all the churches of the saints (I Cor. xiv. 33, R.V.). Those that watch for souls, as they that must give account, may sometimes have occasion to exercise authority within the church of God; but this should be for the edification of all, not for the destruction of any. And there is the widest conceivable difference between the ruthless thrust of the warrior's sword, and the devoted, tender shepherd's loving, judicious, and faithful exercise of the rod.
Since we have referred to the rod, we would add just this, that the chief Shepherd's rod is a comfort to His sheep; whenever circumstances demand its exercise, that of the under-shepherd should prove to be the very same.
Beloved fellow-soldier, it is meet that we should display courage upon the battlefield; but towards every one of our dear brethren in the Lord, may our love abound more and more. " Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works." And let him that desires to prove his love for his Master, remember the exhortation, "Feed my lambs—Shepherd my sheep. " Feed my sheep."