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THROUGH ANTAGONISMS TO PERFECTNESS
Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom withstand stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world. And the God of all grace, who called you unto His eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall Himself perfect, stablish, strengthen you.
“The devil . . . walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” [Verse 8] Peter’s memory is here helping Peter’s message. [Reminiscence is shaping his counsel. It does seem as though at times this apostle dips his pen in his own blood. At any rate, the living crimson of his own experience abundantly colours the page. The epistle is hortatory: it is also biographical. The document is alive. It unfolds a faith; it also records a pilgrimage. In the passage which is immediately before us one feels how the life emerges as the commentary upon the message. Let me for a moment identify portions of this dim background, and set them in relation to 194the text. Here is the foreground, “God . . . who called you.” Here is the background, “And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after Me.” Here is the text, “Be watchful.” Here is the context, “Simon, Simon, sleepest thou? Couldst thou not watch one hour?” Here is the warning, “Your adversary, the devil . . . walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Here is the reminiscence, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have thee.” Here is the evangel, “The God of all grace . . . will make you perfect.” Here is the experience, “Thou art Simon [hearer]; thou shalt be Peter” [a rock]. I say that this man’s life-blood stains his speech. His words are life, not the expression of speculation, but the utterance of a travail, the ripe judgments of a man who has “known and felt.” And now he lays down his pen for a moment and surveys his chequered days. He notes the innumerable allurements which have beset his path. He recalls the gay fascinations, the incentives to pride, the lure of power, the bewitchment of personal ambition. He marks the violence of vice, the tempestuous charge of passion, the terrific onrush of the blind and brutal forces of persecution. And all these confront the lonely wayfarer as he picks his way towards God. Life abounds in moral antagonisms. The empire of devilry runs right 195up to our gates. The destructive mouth is open on every side. The flesh lusts against the spirit. Life is filled with moral menace! All this the apostle sees as he contemplates his own pilgrimage, and so he takes up his pen again and writes this warning to his young, inexperienced, and somewhat wilful readers, “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
I think there is something very suggestive in the figures employed by the Bible to describe the approaches of the powers of evil and night. The devil has a fairly extensive wardrobe, but his common and more familiar guises are of three types—a serpent, an angel of light, and a roaring lion. It is in one or other of these three shapes that the forces of sin most frequently assail us. They come in the guise of the serpent. They beguile our senses. They pervert our judgment. They enchant our imaginations. We are fascinated, bewitched, paralysed by the influence of some illicit and unclean spell. The love of money becomes a fascination. It holds a man as under a wizard’s spell. Gambling becomes a bewitchment, a kind of spiritual bondage, in which the poor soul, in mesmerised inclinations, is slowly drawn towards its own destruction. The devil approaches as a serpent, and like fixed 196and stupefied birds we are in peril of dropping into his devouring jaws. He comes also in the guise of an angel of light. He poses as an evangelist. He plays the rôle of one whose ministry it is to deepen our conception of the love and graciousness of God. He tells us that we do not think highly enough of God. He loves us too much to be pained by our small neglects. In fact, we best show our confidence in God by disregarding these neglects. Our trust is altogether too elementary and straight. We should cast ourselves down from a few pinnacles, and display to all men what a wonderful confidence we have in the out stretched everlasting arms of God! Such is the devil as an angel of light. Such is the devil as the preacher of the exceeding breadth of our Father’s love. Such is the devil intent on easing the strain of our religious life, relaxing its severities, and putting our feet into the way of a more spacious providence and peace. He would turn religion into thin refinements; he would convert a deep devotion into a glozing plausibility; and he would transform a hallowed trust into light and flippant presumption. And the devil also comes as a roaring lion. The subtlety of the serpent is laid aside; he discards the sheen of the angel of light; he appears as sheer brutal force, an antagonist of terrific and 197naked violence, bearing down his victims under the heavy paws of relentless persecution. “When the apostle wrote this letter, the lion was about; Nero was at work; the Christians were being hunted unto death, in the vain attempt at stamping out their faith and devotion to the Man of Nazareth, their Saviour and their Lord. He comes as a serpent, as an angel of light, as a roaring lion. He came to the Master as a serpent when he offered Him worldly power. He came as an angel of light when he sought to deepen and enrich His trust. He came to Him as a roaring lion in the blows and blasphemies of the bloodthirsty multitude. This antagonism we have got to meet. How can we meet it in the hope of certain triumph? Let us turn to the apostle’s counsel.
“Be sober.” [Verse 8] The culture of sobriety! See to Verse 8 it that you are not intoxicated, drugged into any kind of perilous stupor. Keep your head clear. Be collected. “Be sober.” Now, the apostle is writing to men and women who are professedly the followers of Jesus Christ, and I think there are two perils in the religious life, both of which have their issue in moral stupor. We can lose our senses in excitement, and we can lose them in sleep. There are perils in sensationalism, and there are perils in encroaching drowsiness. There is the stupor which 198accompanies exaggeration, and there is the stupor of indifference. There is an excessive emotionalism which offers no barriers against the incursions of the devil. That is the peril of all revivals. Men may “lose their heads,” and their very excitement fosters a moral drowsiness which gives hospitality to the besetting forces of temptation and sin. It is among the highly emotional races that we find the profoundest moral sleep. “Be sober.” If your spirit be fervent, at all pains let it be clear. “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” And on the other side there is the moral stupor which is the issue of a growing indifference, frequently initiated by small neglects. A man neglects the pointing of his house; damp enters; chills are born; disease is invited; death reigns. Relaxation in trifles is often the beginning of moral benumbment. Or it may be that a Christian man begins to take his pleasures in injurious measure. He used to sojourn in them; now he lives in them. “He that liveth in pleasure is dead.” The helpful potion has become an illicit drug. Taken in homœopathic doses the pleasure was a tonic and restorative; taken in larger measure it became an opiate, and sank the life in perilous sleep. “Whether our stupor be occasioned by excitement, or by neglect, or by dram-drinking, whether of 199alcoholic liquor or of drugging delights, such stupor gives the devil his opportunity, and offers him an open field in which his triumph is inevitable. “Be sober.”
“Be watchful.” [Verse 8] The culture of perceptiveness! Not only be sober, but thoroughly awake, exercising your perceptions to the rarest and most fruitful refinement. We know the large possibilities which allure us in the cultivation of the physical senses; equally large possibilities glow before us in the culture of the soul. Every exercise of watchfulness ensures us stronger sight. In the quest of the Divine we come to self-possession. In this line of culture the progress is from the greater to the less. The moral senses perceive ever finer and finer essences of good and evil. Moral progress is in the direction of the scruple. The finest scholar in the school of Christ is he who has the rarest perception of the moral trifle. “He that doeth the least of these commandments is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Therefore, exercise thy moral senses, lest the hordes of evil should enter through the gates of unperceived neglects. “Be watchful.”
“Stedfast in the faith.” [Verse 9] The culture of faith! Our faith has to be “stedfast,” firm, solid, impenetrable like a wall. Our faith has to be “stedfast,” a rampart of assurance, close, 200compact, and invulnerable. I have spoken of the cultivation of the moral sense, and of its progress in the detection of the trine. Here we are taken to a plane of still higher education, the culture of the spiritual sense, the apprehension of God, proceeding toward the goal of calm and invincible assurance. To be stedfast in faith is to be sure of God. The grand attainment necessitates continual exercise, the “practice of the presence of God.” We must exercise our spiritual muscles in the ministry of communion with God, in praise and prayer and supplication and intercession; the exercise must be a wrestling, determined and continuous, until there steals into our life an awed sense of the Divine presence, and in the calmness of assurance we can confidently say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” How, then, shall we resist the devil, in whatsoever guise he may appear to us? By the culture of sobriety; by the culture of moral perceptiveness; and by that culture of spiritual apprehension which will lead us into the peace which is strength—“the peace of God which passeth all understanding.”
Now, let me carry your minds forward a moment to the contemplation of the all-sufficient dynamic, which may be ours in this inevitable conflict with the powers of evil and night. The 201culture of sobriety, the culture of perceptiveness, the culture of faith will open out our lives to Him whom the apostle calls “the God of all grace,” [Verse 10] and by His presence we shall be energised. “The God of all grace!” It is a beautiful and wealthy phrase, suggestive of varied endowment for varied and changing need. My need is manifold; the grace of God is also “manifold.” It will fit itself to my need as light or heat, as water or bread. My God is “the God of all grace,” now like sweet sunshine, now like burning flame, now like refreshing dew, now like the falling, softening rain. “The God of all grace,” a tower and a sword, my refuge and my shield. “My grace is sufficient for thee”; sufficient amid the beguilements and fascinations of the serpents; sufficient amid the plausible refinements of the angel of light; sufficient amid the apparently destructive forces of the lion of violence and persecution. The whole personality, in every faculty and power, shall be pervaded with Divine forces, and in thy God thou shalt find an exuberant fountain of mercy, goodness, and compassion. “My God shall make all grace to abound towards you.”
And what is to be the ultimate glory? “The God of all grace . . . shall Himself perfect, stablish, strengthen you.” [Verse 10] Perfected! Established! Strengthened! Settled! They are all architectural 202metaphors, and are massed together to suggest the fine wholeness, consistency, finish and security of the grace-blessed character as it will appear upon the glorious fields of light! “Established,” every layer firmly and securely based! “Strengthened,” splendidly seasoned, with no danger of splitting or of warping! “Settled,” the entire structure resting evenly, comfortably, upon the best and surest foundation! These are the metaphors, and they unveil before me future attainments of blessedness, when the grace-filled character shall appear before God like a firm, well-finished, and gloriously proportioned building; all the manifold faculties co-operating in rare association; every power firm, decisive, and sanctified, and the entire life settled in holy calm and comfort on “the one foundation, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Now, see the glorious range of the entire passage. “The God of all grace, who called you unto His eternal glory.” [Verse 10] That glory is not altogether remote. Even now we are beginning to share it. The spring is not yet here, but the lark is up! Glory awaits us in Emmanuel’s land; but we are finding heavenly tokens by the way.
The man of grace hath found
Glory begun below.
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