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Victory in the evil day.
I am constantly receiving correspondence stressing the evil of the days in which we live. Ought we to be surprised that the days are evil? Are we not living in a dispensation when Satan is yet the ‘god of this world’? Has he ever proved to be the author of anything but evil? The important thing surely is that the Scriptures never disguise the fact that the days are evil, but insist that the Church is invested with power ‘to stand unshaken in the evil day’ (Eph.6 v13). We shall do well, therefore, to remind ourselves of two supremely important facts. In the first place, the root cause of the evil around us is the ceaseless activity of ‘the rulers of the darkness of this world’ (Eph. 6 v12). In the second place, we may, if we will, be armed with the panoply of God, which ensures complete and overwhelming victory, I propose to examine the armour provided for us, because through each piece there is unveiled to us the lines of attack by which the forces of evil plan to render us impotent.
First - truth. The rank and file of the Church today are impotent because they are almost unarmed as far as a strong personal grasp even of the basic truths of the Christian faith are concerned. Our failure to grasp the fact that the Spirit of Truth has indeed been given to lead us as individuals ‘into all truth’, and that He can reveal all we need direct to us through Scripture, has played right into Satan’s hands. Jonathan Goforth telling of the transformation of his whole Christian service, and God’s leading into days of revival and triumph for the Gospel in China, wrote, “Restless and discontented, I was led to a more intensive study of the Scriptures”. This desperate agonising after the truth of the power of the Holy Spirit brought him to the place of liberty and effective service. If we are to triumph it will never be through the cheap, shallow aids to Bible Study, which are provided for our ‘spoon-feeding’ today, the cliches, the attractive alliterations, etc. All these minister to the fleshly mind, and are as easily forgotten as they are assimilated. The wisdom of Solomon still has a call for each one of us, “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that these incline thine heart unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding. Yes, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures, then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord giveth wisdom, out of His mouth cometh understanding . . .” (Proverbs 2 v1-6).
The modern fallacies of security and provision of need without personal effort and sacrifice are eating into the core of the Church’s thinking; leaving her deploring the evil about her, but utterly unable to cope with it. We seem to prefer to take the line of least resistance, to listen, to enjoy or to criticise but we do not stir ourselves to search for the treasure which the Spirit of Truth is waiting to show us, because that search demands time and labour.
Next - righteousness. The history of revivals has always been the story of sin put right; and a powerful Church is always a purged Church with a tender conscience. But we must remember that even the confession and pardon of sins against God and man, although absolutely vital as a first step to victory, is not the whole story. Righteousness is a very positive word, and Christian righteousness is no less a thing than the ‘righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith’ (Romans 1 v17). Even amongst Christians there is a strong tendency to judge questions of sin and righteousness from purely human standards. And yet Jesus told His disciples, “I say unto you that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5 v20); and a Christian is described in Romans 8 v4 as one in whom “the righteousness of the law” (God’s law) is to be “fulfilled”. Satan has managed to obscure this issue, and we must face the fact that if the Church is to prevail against him it will only be when, as John Wesley says, “We so preach faith in Christ as not to supersede, but produce holiness; to produce all manner of holiness, negative and positive, of the heart and of the life”. The days will remain evil without relief, and Satan unnecessarily powerful until the Church will permit God the Holy Spirit to sit as judge, and unveil sin as it is visible to the eyes of God. To quote Goforth once again, “Let us not delude ourselves by thinking that all is well with our old established Churches at home. It is sin in individual Church members, whether at home or on the foreign field, which grieves and quenches the Holy Spirit”. A letter recently received from a missionary says, “The Lord had to convict me of my shut mouth, and that had to be put right openly. The hindrance out of the way new light began to dawn from the Word itself . . . new light about our death with Christ, and the need of abiding in it if we are to abide in ‘life’ at all”. Here is a soul being liberated for victory and revival, and invested with the ‘breastplate of righteousness’. She passed from repentance, and confession to an understanding of her place as ‘dead to sin’, but ‘alive’ as a partaker of God’s Righteousness.
Now we must pass on to the ‘feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace’. Speaking of the Korean Revival, Goforth wrote, “Everyone seemed almost pathetically eager to spread the ‘glad-tidings’. Even little boys would run up to people in the street and plead with them to accept Christ as their Saviour”. The same determination to make Christ known was also seen during the Methodist Revival. John Nelson was asked on one occasion by a Court of Law, “What were you put into prison for?” Back came the answer. “For warning people to flee from the wrath to come, and if this be a crime, I shall commit it again, unless you cut my tongue out; for it is bettor to die than to disobey God”. The evangelism of our day is mainly evangelism by proxy and organization, and is practically fruitless. Instead of having triumphant issues it is generally quietly ‘ironed out’ by the enemy almost before the closing hymn of the campaign has died away. The procedure is generally the same. A local Committee is formed, who invite an evangelist, or possibly a team, which is more in the fashion, hire a hall, and inaugurate an advertising campaign. Meetings are held, attended mainly by professing Christians, and except for the occasional conversion of a prepared soul, the Churches settle down once more to their humdrum, lifeless routine. The genuine outsider remains uninterested, and probably quite unaware that meetings have even been held, still dead in sins.
Every individual Christian is responsible for the propagation of the Gospel, and every sanctified Christian must surely be possessed with a consuming passion to make Christ known. ‘Put shoes on his feet’, commanded the Father concerning the returned prodigal; and I do not think it will be going too far to say that one of the evidences of a ‘life hid with Christ in God’ is an imperative constraint to use every opportunity that life offers to preach Christ. An evangelising Church will be a persecuted Church, but it will infallibly be a victorious Church; and make no mistake, no dispassionate evangelism, however well organised, can hope to do work that can only be accomplished by individuals on fire for God.
“We say the world is dying”, wrote Catherine Booth. “What for? Sermons? No! Periodicals? No! Religious stories? No! For fine-spun theories? No! For creeds and faiths? You might have them by the dozen. What is it dying for? Downright, straight-forward, honest, loving, earnest testimony about what God can do for souls.” These are simple expedients for a victorious stand in the ‘evil day’, but they are God’s expedients and we ignore them at our peril.
And now for faith, and how closely is each bit of armour linked to the others. I often think that we might do well to read Hebrews 11 through again and again until the shame of our doubts, and camouflage eat into our hearts, and we are utterly humbled before God. The epitaph of the generation which perished in the wilderness might well be written over our day, “They limited the Holy One of Israel”. There seems to be no sense of expectancy abroad in the Church. We find it necessary to make excuses, and blame conditions, circumstances, men, and so on, just; as if the Almighty were not in His Heaven, and our Conquering Saviour at His right hand. Ours is a day of human expedients, and the adversary has seen to it that the Church has not escaped the crippling taint of the materialism, which characterises the main currents of modern thought. He knows well that whole-hearted faith in God and Him alone can send all his schemes awry, and smash the powers of his legions. He has made capital out of the way in which the preaching of the Cross has been neglected, because hidden in such preaching is the secret of real faith. “I am crucified . . . the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God . . .” (Galatians 2 v20). It is no use trying to work up faith, it is the product of the life of the Son of God within, one of the fruits of the Spirit. How sad it is to see spiritual teaching running in double harness with practical unbelief, and faith placed in means rather than in the unaided ability of God. “The believer”, writes Upham, “Must be willing in the exercise of faith in the mediatorial arrangements and provision, not only to receive forgiveness from Him, but everything else, making God’s will the guide of his actions, and God’s promises the support of his expectations. He must be willing to be transferred from the dead life of self, to the living life of universal love; from the centre of the created, to the centre of the uncreated, from the hope founded in men, to the true and unchangeable hope in God”. Here is a shield from which the shafts of the enemy fall harmless, and covered by which the Christian soldier may stand firm, and see the triumph of the Lord.
Salvation is the final piece of defensive armour mentioned. The Lord Jesus Christ has been raised up to be a Prince and a Saviour, and Satan’s main objective is to thwart His gracious saving work which has its source in Calvary, and Calvary alone. Ever since the day when the Epistle to the Galatians was written he has exploited a favourite device to reach his objective here. He has used his influence to propagate a mixture of faith and works, of grace and law. Today this mixture may be seen even in the ‘soundest’ Churches, and feebleness in witness is the only possible corollary to such a state of affairs. Listen to Edward Bickersteth. “There is no mixed plan of justification”, he wrote. “Those who are expecting to be justified partly by their own works and partly by Christ, who suppose that He will make up what is deficient in their righteousness, are, in reality seeking their salvation from the law. The foundation of their hope is laid on a principle which rejects the great distinguishing sentiments of the gospel. Christ profits them nothing; they will be condemned as transgressors of the law, as unbelievers in the gospel. They may ascribe all their works to God, and thank Him, as the Pharisee did, for enabling them to do those works; but all will not avail . . ..” These are strong words, but no stronger than those of Scripture. Did not Paul point out that his preaching on this very theme brought him persecution because of the offense of the Cross? Men will readily accept teaching that leaves them something in which to glory, but stumble at the Cross as the sole basis of God’s working in their lives. Any adulteration of the Bible plan of salvation, any encroachment on the holy ground of the sphere of authority of the Son of God, at once grieves the Holy Spirit, and renders both life and preaching fruitless and barren. “Christ Crucified” we are told “is to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called both Jews and Greeks Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (l Cor. 2 v23-24). It is by virtue of union with Him, maintained as a constant attitude, and inwrought by the Holy Spirit, that we live as Christians, and serve God acceptably, and in this way alone. Our battle cry must be “Immanuel” if it is to strike any terror into the heart of our enemy. Salvation by Jesus alone is the one key that can unlock the prisons of Satan’s captives.
I have no space in which to deal with the one offensive weapon, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God”, or with prayer as the method of our campaigning. It must suffice to say that the gross ignorance of Scripture, and shameful neglect of Prayer in our Churches are possibly the most disquieting signs of our day. Until these wrongs are righted, and the Church rises up clad in the panoply of God the evil day will not be illuminated by any rays of light, and the foe will remain complete master of the field. The solemn fact seems to be that victory ‘in the evil day’ is one of those deeds that we may perform, or ingloriously and ignominiously fail to achieve. We are told quite explicitly what must be bone in order that triumph may be gained.
“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” (Eph. 6 v13). Shall we not therefore examine ourselves, and ask, “Are we standing thus unshaken, with our eyes fixed on the Lion of the tribe of Judah?” If not for our own sakes, then for the sake of the whole Church, and above all for the sake of those still in darkness for whom Christ died. Shall we not set about arming ourselves with all the zeal we can command, remembering Paul’s shout of triumph, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”