by JOSEPH IRONS - Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Lord's day Morning, Oct. 26th 1851
I think I can enter a little into the apostle's feelings when he wrote, under Divine inspiration, this advice to his son Timothy. You will mark that he calls him, in the opening of the charge, "My own son in the faith." I can conceive that there must have been a great deal of love in the heart of Paul towards Timothy, and of Timothy towards him. Paul felt that he had got through his labour. He says, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, and I kept the faith." (2 Tim. 4:7) The devil could not kill him, with all his artillery. "I have been borne up these many years in the field of battle, and now," he says, "I want a valiant son; I want Timothy to be as bold, and intrepid, and warlike, as determined, and persevering, as God has ever enabled me to be." What a luxury it must have been to Paul to see Timothy and Titus start up for such a work, just when he was going to put off his armor and put on his crown. However, Paul had no right to complain, for he knew what it was to need, as well as to use, the armor of God. He had fought with beings far more devilish than beasts, with Pharisees and free-will enemies against the cause of God; and he might say, as David said in former times, "Thy servant," he says to God, "hath fought with the lion and with the bear, and the Lord hath delivered me out of their paws; and surely He will deliver me out of the hands of this Philistine." (1 Sam. 17:37) Paul took the same course, cherished the same confidence, kept on the same armour; his entire confidence was in the God of his salvation; and "by-and-bye," says he, "I shall not only conquer, but be more than conquerors." I have often looked at that expression, "be more than conquerors." Why, you know, an army or a regiment in battle are conquerors if they vanquish the enemy, take the ground, and escape with their lives, without any other advantage. But suppose they take a large amount of spoil, carry away immense riches, all the golden chains round about the camels' necks, that we read of in olden times, then they are more than conquerors, they are gainers as well as conquerors. Now, beloved, I do expect this, that though what we have been just singing has been literally my whole experience through the week, "Lord, the conflict grows severer," I believe I shall not only conquer, but shall carry off the spoils and sing of them to eternity "spoils won in battle" all the blessedness of the promises, all the treasures of the covenant, all the information that hard fighting can bring together, with all the trophies of victory that shall be presented in precious souls brought out of the enemies' camp, and introduced to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now I think that is being more than conqueror.
Now the apostle seems to be very anxious that his son Timothy should tread in his steps, put on the same sort of regimentals, make use of the same armour, contend with the same foes, and secure the same glorious triumphs, and therefore he says to him, in the opening of this first epistle, "This charge I commit to thee, son Timothy." This charge! Why, Paul, you cannot give him power to execute the charge. "Oh, no; but I give the charge, trusting to God to give him the power." "This charge I commit to thee, son Timothy." Well, what is it? The preceding verse tells us the charge; that "the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God," be honoured and glorified. As though he should say, "Now keep to that point; honour and glorify Him, the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, and be sure of the victory." Oh! If I thought I had a hundred of God's ministers before me, I would say, "Keep to this point, and die in harness gladly. See to it that nothing else is kept in view but to honour and glorify the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God." Sure I am, that if ever God's minister's and sometimes they do so, seek, in any sense, their own glory, God will tarnish it, God will put His frown upon it. But if the eye of the sent servant of God is kept single, and "the whole body full of light," he may go on, keeping no other object in view than that the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God shall be glorified. This characterized the whole of Paul's life; and he was very anxious that Timothy should receive his charge upon it, and meet with success in it; and, consequently, he says, by these glorious testimonies, these precious promises, these glorious realities, in honouring and exalting Jehovah with the appellations I have mentioned, which are set before you in all the prophecies, saying, that the Lord alone should be exalted in that day, "Now," he says, "keep on, my dear son, keep on in this one line of pursuit, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare.
I have thus brought you down to the language of my text, which I do not mean to limit to Timothy nor to Titus, nor ever to God's ministers, though I think it primarily refers to them; but I mean to include in it every Christian, every child of God. I shall, first of all, as far as I can, invite your attention to the warfare in which every Christian must be engaged; then a word or two about the implements that he is permitted to use in that warfare, and we shall derive our instruction concerning it from the word of God; and then a word or two about the nature of the warfare, not an uncertain matter.
I. Now, according to this order, we will look for a moment at the warfare; and I am not going to talk to you like what they call in my country, yeomanry, flourishing away with their muskets, and side-arms, and I do not know what, and looking very gay, but knowing nothing about a field of battle. I have been in the field of battle all the week, and I shall try and talk to you a little about that warfare, because I am sure, if a professing Christian knows nothing about the warfare of which I shall attempt to speak, he is not a Christian at all. I am sure that that Christianity is not worth a straw that the devil does not think it worth while to meddle with and oppose. I am quite sure that that Christianity cannot be genuine which old Adam's corruptions will not contend with. If it is all smooth and easy, you may be sure that it is all deceit, and destruction, and death, and damnation. I speak thus roughly and clearly that I may not be misunderstood.
Look, then, a little at the warfare. "Why," say you, "what have I got to fight with? I have got good ministers, and relatives, and friends, and I have good acquaintances; and what have I got to fight with?" Believe me, beloved, if there are not troops of foes around you in the world, your Christianity is too much like theirs. If you are decided for God, if you are really in earnest, if you have really felt the power of vital godliness in your souls, if you have quitted the devil's camp, if you have left Pharaoh and his task-masters, "Up! Pursue! Follow them!" Will be Pharaoh's cry still. The devil always imitates his pattern, and you will find that the "carnal mind is enmity against God;" (Rom. 8:7) and if your heart is in love with God, how can love and enmity agree? I cannot understand. Is your name Gad? Do you recollect why the old patriarch gave his boy that name? The troop should overcome him. What, one single man contend with a troop? Yes, and the troop should overcome, but he shall overcome at last. Ah! There is the word. And I beg of you to mark, that here there is no contingency. I will war against contingency as long as I have breath. There is no contingency. It is not said, "the troop shall overcome him, and perhaps he will muster strength enough, perhaps if he gets a little help, perhaps if he sends for a few troops to assist him, he may overcome." There is no such thing in the book of God, no such probabilities and perhaps; but there it runs, Gad, with all his weakness, Gad, with all their overcomings, shall overcome at last shall overcome. How is that possible? He is a poor, weak creature, a worn-out, decrepit being. God is omnipotent, and He is with him, and he will conquer all that meets him in his progress, and vanquish all that opposes him in his pursuit.
Now, if I dwell a moment longer upon the troops that surround us (my first point here,) I should mark that there are troops of Infidels, and troops of Papists, and troops of hypocrites, and troops of formalists. I do not wonder that we sometimes get knocked down, I do not wonder that we sometimes get severely wounded. As for the troops of Infidels, I do not much mind meeting them, one gun-shot will knock down a thousand, I do not care much about meeting them; but the subtlety of the Jesuits, the deception of the hypocrites and formalists, these are to me the most terrific part of the devil's army. Yet we must contend with them, right and left, wing and center, we must attack them. And I beg of you distinctly to observe, that our warfare is not defensive only, it must be offensive; it must not merely be for personal protection, but it must be for aggression. I want my hearers distinctly to mark, that it is not enough that we have been kept and upheld, and that we can defend ourselves with the sword, and shield, and helmet against the assaults of Satan, so as not to be vanquished by them, but we must make assaults upon his kingdom and upon his territory; we must invade as well as withstand the invaders. I do not like that new sort of learning, if it may be so called, that the Captain of our salvation is merely content, that he does not get a death-blow, that he is not morally wounded, that we may get to heaven. Oh, no, no, I want not this only; what I want is, that sinners should be broken-hearted, that the prey may be taken from the mighty, and the captives, the lawful captives, delivered; (Isa. 49:24) I want spoils to be won in battle; I want Jesus to be exalted and honoured, His territories to be extended, the "peace of God which passeth understanding" proclaimed in the very face of the enemy's camp, and many precious souls brought to bow to God's method of saving them, and to acquaint themselves with Him.
Oh! How I wish I had strength enough to go into this matter. But just glance a little further. It is a matter of importance to lay before you, that you never change your regimentals, never alter or lower your colours, nor even furl them up; but that you consider yourselves as irreconcilable, and act as warriors irreconcilable to the world. I know the good-natured thing, as it is termed, that passes for universal charity in our day, it is universal poison, it is universal rebellion against God, and I will have nothing to do with it. I can know no affection to any but those who know what affection is to my Lord; I can have no sort of confederacy with the children of darkness, whether it be under the form or sham of profession, or in open rebellion. "Come out from among them." "Be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing, saith the Lord" (2 Cor. 6:17)and I won't touch the unclean!
But now it is not only the troops of enemies that are around us in this wilderness, it is full of them, the world is inhabited by them, they are "legion," and there are not a few who pass even for Christians, but of whom we may testify as St. Paul did, that they are "enemies of the cross." But we pass on to mark that there will be such legions breaking forth from the bottomless pit to assault the children of God; and if you are acquainted with the devices of Satan "we are not ignorant of his devices" if you know anything of the variations of his legions in different forms, characters, and appearances, you will be prepared to admit that the conflict must grow severer. His artifices with regard to matter of religion, his suggestions with regard to the precious truths of the Bible, his powerful workings in the soul with fiery darts. Oh! What a mercy that we have got a shield to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one. My hearers, believe me, though I am treading a little out of my usual path, believe me, if Satan lets you alone a single day without exercising some of his fierce temptations, you may be convinced fully, that you are not honouring God nor defending His truth, neither one nor the other. I want this point kept prominent in my view, that if I behave like a Christian, that if I preach like a Christian, that if I pray like a Christian, that if I work like a Christian, the devil will be mightily offended, and my God will be glorified. Thus the two things must go on together. Be sure of this, that one army cannot prevail, but the other must retreat; one army cannot advance, but the other must fall back. I beseech you, therefore, to look specially at the importance of resisting the devil. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7) The devil is just like a snarling dog; and you will see if a child is barked at by a dog, and then turns and runs away, the dog pursues him with increased diligence and noise; but even if the little boy can turn round, and look him hard in the face, if he does not even strike a blow, away retreats the dog. And so with the devil. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Do not run away from him. Ours must be a withstanding conflict, a formidable warfare, a perpetual fighting the good fight of faith, and so laying hold on eternal life.
Well, but now is there any greater danger here? No, none at all; because there stands the promise that the God of peace shall bruise Satan shortly under your feet. No, God cannot forfeit that promise; there it stands secure and firm as the throne. If the God of peace is to bruise him under my feet, see if I won't trample upon him. If the God of peace is to bruise him under my feet, see if I won't trample him down. If the God of peace is to bruise him, what have I to fear? He will fire a few shots, and one may go through the top of my helmet, a fine flourishing cap, but that won't hurt my head; another, perhaps may go through some external part of my armour, and shoot off this ornament and that ornament, and good riddance to them. But mind you this, not one of the fiery darts of the prince of the power of the air can find its way to a believer's heart, or destroy his soul's salvation. No; he is secure, and the God of peace shall bruise Satan under his feet shortly. (Rom. 16:20) I am waiting and watching for it. I have fought a long time with him, but I cannot quite get rid of him; but God will do so for me.
"Well," but you say, "is this all?" No; there are other features of the warfare yet. What! Worse than carnal men? What! Worse than Papists and hypocrites? What! Worse than devils? Yes; I mean the enemies belonging to our own house. If I had nothing to contend with within, I do not think I should be alarmed at a thousand devils, a thousand Infidels, or a thousand Papists. If I could say, as my precious Captain did, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me," (John 14:30) I do not think I should tremble at all that is without meno, not for a single five minutes; but when I come to look at the fact that Satan has in me, a poor fallen creature, a host of traitors that are ever ready to do his will, even conveying him secret information, waiting for his temptations and suggestions, and ready to put forth all the power of carnal corruption to ensnare the soul again within his power. Ah! Then I may sing
"Lord, the conflict grows severer."
If every corrupt affection is to be put forth, if every depraved inclination is to be stirred up by brimstone from the bottomless pit, if the lucifers of old Satan are to set light to all the carnal desires and passions that dwell in Adam's fallen nature, what a warfare! What a conquest is it! Come, come, my soul, get to thine entrenchment; sin shall not have dominion. Mind you, it is nowhere said it shall not fight, it is nowhere said it shall not strive, but it shall not have dominion. There is the garrison, the invulnerable bulwark, and the devil shall never be able to put a shot through it, nor make a breach in the wall. All glory to the name of the Captain of our salvation, that, though the world frowns, and Satan rages, and inbred evils stir, Gad shall overcome the troop after all; Gad shall vanquish; Gad shall subdue and overcome. Oh! No, it is not Gad, it is Gad's God. He will subdue our enemies; I cannot, He will subdue our enemies. O God! Keep us near to thee, then all shall be right.
I beseech you mark, before I quit this point, and I want to get away from it, it is a bloody field of battle, with "garments rolled in blood;" and it is no great luxury to me to speak of it, but it was extorted from me by the wars I have been called to pass through. But just mark, before we quit it, that the Christian is never in greater danger than when he can trust his own heart; that he is never in greater danger than when he can hold out the flag of truce. Now I bless God that for many, many years past I have not had the least inclination to hold out the flag of truce to the world, with all its troops, nor the least inclination to hold out the flag of truce to the devil and his legions; I consider them desperate foes. And yet, old fool as I am, I have had often an inclination to hold out a compromise, a flag of truce to the vile corruptions of the world. Ah! They are the worst of foes; and, instead of anything like this that I have honestly confessed, we ought to be more desperately against them than all the others. We ought to use our heaviest artillery against them, which we shall presently have to talk a little about. Be sure of this, that the wise man was perfectly correct when he said, "He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city." If I could conquer the world, and lay it prostrate at my feet, if I could conquer all hell, so that not an agent of Satan dare fire another dart at me, I should consider myself a far greater conqueror if I conquer myself. If I can but overcome what pertains to old Adam's nature, all the rest must fall; I have then vanquished the center of the army, and right and left wing will be put to flight, and away they will go in confusion.
II. But surely we have had enough about the warfare. Let us go on to say a little about the implements we are to use, because, you know, there are some that are forbidden; and, therefore, the apostle says, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal." (2 Cor. 10:4) We are not at liberty to use such weapons as Papists do, racks, and torments, and flames, and prisons, and inquisitions, and persecutions, one to another. No, no; they are not our weapons, and a Christian is not at liberty to touch them. If he is touched by them, he must submit to the will of God; but they are not our weapons, they are Satan's weapons.
Well now, without any further negatives, what are they? Just mark one very prominent weapon, which I think is very generally overlooked. It seems to be of quite an old-fashioned description, and, consequently, modern regiments do not use it, except when here and there a clumsy pioneer shoulders one. I mean the battle-axe. It is spoken of in the Old Testament in very powerful terms. You all ask me, perhaps, what it was. It was a very heavy instrument, carried in front of the army for the purpose of felling trees, and chopping down anything that stood in the way of their march, levelling everything before it to the ground. It has struck me very forcibly that God's holy law is His battle-axe. It is said of the Chaldeans, in one instance, "Ye are my battle-axe," (Jer. 51:20) because God hewed down so many nations of idolaters by their instrumentality. But what is God's battle-axe now? His holy law, very weighty, very sharp, and irresistible; and it has hewn down many a sinner that thought to get salvation by it. When God comes forth with His battle-axe, and enables the believer in Jesus to use it with the hand of faith, in its spirituality and in its extent, it has mighty force to hew down all false hopes, all carnal expectations, all Pharisaic pride, all that deals with the creature; chops them all down. Ah! That is God's battle-axe; and when it is used, down comes the creature, with all that pertains to it. I should like to take God's battle-axe, and chop your pride up by the roots, and my own too. I should like to take God's battle-axe, and chop up all your love to the world, and all your trust in the deeds of the law for salvation, and all your expectations about creature merits, and chop them all down. This is a formidable weapon of war, but it is positively needful for the army to march on successfully and victoriously.
Now having just mentioned this as, in my opinion, that which must precede all Christian warfare, for if you are not cut down, and killed, and destroyed, by the spirituality of the law, cut off from all expectation from creature doings, I have no hope of you vanquishing the world, or the devil, or your own corruption, shaving mentioned this, let me name a few other instruments. What are they? I do not know that I shall tell them correctly, unless I turn to them. I think you will find a short description of them in the Epistle to the Ephesians "Take unto you the whole armour of God." (Eph. 6:13) But why want it all? Ah! "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph. 6:12) Wherefore," as the war is so formidable, and it may be said, perhaps, in our advancement, as was once said by David, "the battle increased that day" "Wherefore," on this account, "take unto you the whole armour of God," and be sure you do not lay aside one piece of it; for if you do, you will leave a gap for a fiery dart. "Take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day; and having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness," (Eph. 6:13)no dart can go through that "and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Eph. 6:15-17)
Now, I descant a few moments upon this sacred spiritual panoply for the soldiers of the cross. And I pray you to mark, that though the breastplate of righteousness, that is, the imputed righteousness of Christ, will always protect the heart and the head, it will not protect the whole person; and for that purpose, the apostle says that we must have a shield. I suppose you are aware that a shield, as used in olden times, was held upon the left arm, and, as the shot, or dart, or arrow, was approaching, was held either lower or higher to meet it, and throw it off. Now he says, the shield of faith is to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one; and whether the attack is made upon the head, your knowledge of Divine truth, or upon your breast, where there is only a breastplate, or whether it be upon the loins, or wherever it seems pointing, put the shield there. If it is temptation from the world, if it is from the devil, if it is from a rising corruption, if it is from trying circumstances, if it is from providential difficulties, if it is from soul darkness, if it is from midnight grappling, turn your shield in that direction; it is a moveable thing. Believe, God cannot lie, but will do as He has said "never leave you, nor forsake you." (Heb. 13:5)
Well now, if your breastplate and your shield are on, I pray you take heed of the feet, because you may get lamed as you advance. I recollect once looking over a magazine of curious instruments of war, and I saw among them some awkward, ugly prongs. I said, "What can these be for?" And the reply was, "To lame the horses' feet. We put them about the roads where the horses travel, so that they may stick in their feet." Then I need, before I go a step further, to put shoes on, shoes of iron and brass. Then they may set down all the prongs and instruments of cruelty, and put them in my way; I am safe if I am properly shod "and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace" with shoes which the good old Moses, a grand gospel preacher, told us were of iron and brass." I suppose they would call it in our day bell-metal; something that cannot break, that cannot bend, nor wear out "the preparation of the gospel of peace."
Then there must be a helmet "the helmet of salvation." Be sure you do not mistake, and put an Arminian cap on instead of it. No overtures, no offers of salvation; it must be salvation complete, perfect, entire. If you have not that on, you will soon get wounded, and get your brains knocked out.
But there is one thing more I must name in this panoply, that is, the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." And I exhort my hearers, as they advance in the war, as they go on in the conflict, to look up for mighty grace, to make them more and more acquainted with the precious word of God. If Satan hurls a fiery dart at you, you will want a promise to knock him down with. If he hurls some of his ingenious devices at you, you will want the precious word of God to use, as Christ did; "it is written" "it is written" "it is written" the very weapon with which our precious Christ vanquished the devil; and you and I shall never use a better "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
III. I find I have exhausted my strength; but I will try and say a word or two about the nature and the result of the war. I presume it could hardly be considered fighting among mortals, if there were no inconveniences, if there were no sharp exercises, if there were no trying turns and points, if there were no wounds inflicted. I rather think that an old soldier, if you were to talk to him, would feel a pleasure in drawing up his knee, and saying, "There, I got that with the chop of a sword. Do you see this eye? I almost got it knocked out as a ball glanced by." Another would say, "I was caught hold of by the enemy, who tried to make me a prisoner, and I sprained this arm in wrenching myself from his grasp to get away." The proofs of all these things are in the field of battle. Have you had any wounds? Have you had bruises, and cuts, and sores, afflictions, trials, losses? The devil appearing as if he was about to triumph, "Ah! I have got you, and I will keep you?" Have you gone through that! Have you been in the field of battle when the enemy has said, "Now I will trample upon you," and you have got up after all? You may remember those scars; you know those signs. I know I have had enough to convince me that there are such trying exercises, such times of darkness and depression, that the believer in Jesus, who has become acquainted with them, will never forget to the day of his death. I will be bound David never forgot the lion nor the bear, nor yet old Goliath, as long as he lived. I am quite convinced that Samson never forgot the lion that he contended with, and afterwards found honey in its carcass. We should look back on these things; they are memorials for us when we get into a fresh skirmish, when we are assaulted anew by the powers of darkness, so that we can shout out with Paul, "He hath delivered us, and we trust that He will yet deliver, because He delighteth in us." That is the way to go on from victory to victory, from conquering to conquer.
Just mark the liberal supplies afforded by God. This brings me to a little brighter side of my subject. You will say this has been a dismal sermon, and perhaps it has; but I could only deliver what God gave me to deliver. Now let us look for a moment at the liberal supplies. You know that a city besieged, or an army contending with an opposite army, cannot go on long, unless they are supplied with arms, ammunition, and provisions. I have been told, I never witnessed a field of battle, and I hope I never shall upon earth, except what I have been through all this week, I have been told, that one of the keenest manoeuvres of an enemy is to cut off the supplies, and then the army must surrender, or starve, or perish with the sword. Ah! I should have perished forty years ago if the supplies had been cut off; but no, "my God shall supply all your need, according to His riches in glory, by Christ Jesus." He giveth mercy, and even grace for grace, and He is the God of all grace. His liberal supplies are, and must be such, that not one of the soldiers of the cross can perish for want of supplies. If I want ammunition, I run to my garrison, the covenant of grace, and there I find all I need. If I want provision I run to the fullness of Christ, and there is bread, and water, and old wine, and ripe grapes, and choice stores to supply all the soldiers of the cross in their arduous conflict. If I want strength, the captain whispers sweetly in my ear, "my strength is perfect in weakness." Oh! Then perhaps, Lord, I am not weak enough, not reduced low enough; and yet I thought I was about to strike my colours; I thought I was about to yield to the enemy; I thought I was about to say, "Take away my life." "No," says he, "my strength is perfect in weakness;" and when a poor weakened, weather-beaten, worn-out soldier, is bowed and sunk down in the conflict, oh! What is it but omnipotent strength that can hold him up, the everlasting arms sustain him, and the abundant stores of grace supply his need? The devil is then frightened, God is honoured, and the poor weakling is victorious. I have often thought of Gideon's army. God took care that they should not say, "My sword and my bow have gotten me the victory;" therefore, they must be reduced in numbers, and reduced in strength, and be fatigued, and refused bread and water, the men of Succoth would not give them a morsel to eat, or a drop to drink, it is omnipotence that must do the work, omnipotence must gain the field, omnipotence must vanquish the foe. When Gideon had but a few men, who had scarcely power to break their pitchers; and when they saw the blaze of their lamps, then it was that the sword of the Lord effected the victory. I tell you, beloved, God's glory is most promoted, when you and I are most enfeebled, and can do nothing but trust and confide.
One thought more. The triumph is certain. "Well," say you, "I thought you would not end without this." No, no; it must end well. The Captain of our salvation has already obtained the victory by His own strength, and power, obedience, and blood, and every one of His soldiers shall be able to join in the song of triumph when they get home. The song is already composed for them "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony." (Rev. 12:11) And now, beloved, just think what is before us. The prospect before us is just this, that every corruption shall be subdued; that every inbred corruption shall be crucified, and mortified, and destroyed; that every hellish fiend shall be obliged to retire to his dark den and assault us no more; that every worldly annoyance shall be put to an end; and we shall get above, and for ever shout, "Victory, through the blood of the Lamb."
May He command a blessing on His word for His name's sake. Amen.