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The Whole Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

 


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10. Finally. Resuming his general exhortations, he again enjoins them to be strong, — to summon up courage and vigor; for there is always much to enfeeble us, and we are ill fitted to resist. But when our weakness is considered, an exhortation like this would have no effect, unless the Lord were present, and stretched out his hand to render assistance, or rather, unless he supplied us with all the power. Paul therefore adds, in the Lord. As if he had said, “‘You have no right to reply, that you have not the ability; for all that I require of you is, be strong in the Lord.” To explain his meaning more fully, he adds, in the power of his might, which tends greatly to increase our confidence, particularly as it shews the remarkable assistance which God usually bestows upon believers. If the Lord aids us by his mighty power, we have no reason to shrink from the combat. But it will be asked, What purpose did it serve to enjoin the Ephesians to be strong in the Lord’s mighty power, which they could not of themselves accomplish? I answer, there are two clauses here which must be considered. He exhorts them to be courageous, but at the same time reminds them to ask from God a supply of their own deficiencies, and promises that, in answer to their prayers, the power of God will be displayed.

11. Put on the whole armor. God has furnished us with various defensive weapons, provided we do not indolently refuse what is offered. But we are almost all chargeable with carelessness and hesitation in using the offered grace; just as if a soldier, about to meet the enemy, should take his helmet, and neglect his shield. To correct this security, or, we should rather say, this indolence, Paul borrows a comparison from the military art, and bids us put on the whole armor of God. We ought to be prepared on all sides, so as to want nothing. The Lord offers to us arms for repelling every kind of attack. It remains for us to apply them to use, and not leave them hanging on the wall. To quicken our vigilance, he reminds us that we must not only engage in open warfare, but that we have a crafty and insidious foe to encounter, who frequently lies in ambush; for such is the import of the apostle’s phrase, THE WILES 170170     “Plutarch tells us, (Symp. l. 2., page 638,) that wrestling was the most artful and subtle of all the ancient games, and that the name of it (πάλη) was derived from a word, which signifies to throw a man down by deceit and craft. And it is certain that persons who understand this exercise have many fetches, and turns, and changes of posture, which they make use of to supplant and trip up their adversaries. And it is with great justice, that a state of persecution is compared with it; since many are the arts, arising from the terrors of worldly evil on the one hand, and the natural love which men have to life, liberty, plenty, and the pleasures of life, on the other, that the devil makes use of to circumvent and foil them.” — Chandler. (τὰς μεθοδείας) of the devil

12. For we wrestle 171171     “Πάλη is properly a gymnastic term; but the Apostle often unites military with agonistic metaphors; and here the agonistic is not less suitable than the military. So in a similar passage of Max. Tyr. Diss. Version 9, volume 1 page 79, ed. Reisk, we have mention of Socrates wrestling with Melitus, with bonds and poison; next, the philosopher Plato wrestling with a tyrant’s anger, a rough sea, and the greatest dangers; then, Xenophon struggling with the prejudices of Tissaphernes, the snares of Ariaeus, the treachery of Meno, and royal machinations; and, lastly, Diogenes struggling with adversaries even more formidable, namely, poverty, infamy, hunger, and cold.” — Bloomfield. not. To impress them still more deeply with their danger, he points out the nature of the enemy, which he illustrates by a comparative statement, Not against flesh and blood. The meaning is, that our difficulties are far greater than if we had to fight with men. There we resist human strength, sword is opposed to sword, man contends with man, force is met by force, and skill by skill; but here the case is widely different. All amounts to this, that our enemies are such as no human power can withstand. By flesh and blood the apostle denotes men, who are so denominated in order to contrast them with spiritual assailants. This is no bodily struggle.

Let us remember this when the injurious treatment of others provokes us to revenge. Our natural disposition would lead us to direct all our exertions against the men themselves; but this foolish desire will be restrained by the consideration that the men who annoy us are nothing more than darts thrown by the hand of Satan. While we are employed in destroying those darts, we lay ourselves open to be wounded on all sides. To wrestle with flesh and blood will not only be useless, but highly pernicious. We must go straight to the enemy, who attacks and wounds us from his concealment, — who slays before he appears.

But to return to Paul. He describes our enemy as formidable, not to overwhelm us with fear, but to quicken our diligence and earnestness; for there is a middle course to be observed. When the enemy is neglected, he does his utmost to oppress us with sloth, and afterwards disarms us by terror; so that, ere the engagement has commenced, we are vanquished. By speaking of the power of the enemy, Paul labors to keep us more on the alert. He had already called him the devil, but now employs a variety of epithets, to make the reader understand that this is not an enemy who may be safely despised.

Against principalities, against powers. Still, his object in producing alarm is not to fill us with dismay, but to excite us to caution. He calls them κοσμοκράτορας, that is, princes of the world; but he explains himself more fully by adding — of the darkness of the world. The devil reigns in the world, because the world is nothing else than darkness. Hence it follows, that the corruption of the world gives way to the kingdom of the devil; for he could not reside in a pure and upright creature of God, but all arises from the sinfulness of men. By darkness, it is almost unnecessary to say, are meant unbelief and ignorance of God, with the consequences to which they lead. As the whole world is covered with darkness, the devil is called “the prince of this world.” (John 14:30.)

By calling it wickedness, he denotes the malignity and cruelty of the devil, and, at the same time, reminds us that the utmost caution is necessary to prevent him from gaining an advantage. For the same reason, the epithet spiritual is applied; for, when the enemy is invisible, our danger is greater. There is emphasis, too, in the phrase, in heavenly places; for the elevated station from which the attack is made gives us greater trouble and difficulty.

An argument drawn from this passage by the Manicheans, to support their wild notion of two principles, is easily refuted. They supposed the devil to be (ἀντίθεον) an antagonist deity, whom the righteous God would not subdue without great exertion. For Paul does not ascribe to devils a principality, which they seize without the consent, and maintain in spite of the opposition, of the Divine Being, — but a principality which, as Scripture everywhere asserts, God, in righteous judgment, yields to them over the wicked. The inquiry is, not what power they have in opposition to God, but how far they ought to excite our alarm, and keep us on our guard. Nor is any countenance here given to the belief, that the devil has formed, and keeps for himself, the middle region of the air. Paul does not assign to them a fixed territory, which they can call their own, but merely intimates that they are engaged in hostility, and occupy an elevated station.

13. Wherefore take unto you. Though our enemy is so powerful, Paul does not infer that we must throw away our spears, but that we must prepare our minds for the battle. A promise of victory is, indeed, involved in the exhortation, that ye may be able. If we only put on the whole armor of God, and fight valiantly to the end, we shall certainly stand. On any other supposition, we would be discouraged by the number and variety of the contests; and therefore he adds, in the evil day. By this expression he rouses them from security, bids them prepare themselves for hard, painful, and dangerous conflicts, and, at the same time, animates them with the hope of victory; for amidst the greatest dangers they will be safe. And having done all. They are thus directed to cherish confidence through the whole course of life. There will be no danger which may not be successfully met by the power of God; nor will any who, with this assistance, fight against Satan, fail in the day of battle.

14. Stand therefore. Now follows a description of the arms which they were enjoined to wear. We must not, however, inquire very minutely into the meaning of each word; for an allusion to military customs is all that was intended. Nothing can be more idle than the extraordinary pains which some have taken to discover the reason why righteousness is made a breastplate, instead of a girdle. Paul’s design was to touch briefly on the most important points required in a Christian, and to adapt them to the comparison which he had already used.

Truth, which means sincerity of mind, is compared to a girdle. Now, a girdle was, in ancient times, one of the most important parts of military armor. Our attention is thus directed to the fountain of sincerity; for the purity of the gospel ought to remove from our minds all guile, and from our hearts all hypocrisy. Secondly, he recommends righteousness, and desires that it should be a breastplate for protecting the breast. Some imagine that this refers to a freely bestowed righteousness, or the imputation of righteousness, by which pardon of sin is obtained. But such matters ought not, I think, to have been mentioned on the present occasion; for the subject now under discussion is a blameless life. He enjoins us to be adorned, first, with integrity, and next with a devout and holy life.

15. And your feet shod. The allusion, if I mistake not, is to the military greaves; for they were always reckoned a part of the armor, and were even used for domestic purposes. As soldiers covered their legs and feet to protect them against cold and other injuries, so we must be shod with the gospel, if we would pass unhurt through the world. It is the gospel of peace, and it is so called, as every reader must perceive, from its effects; for it is the message of our reconciliation to God, and nothing else gives peace to the conscience. But what is the meaning of the word preparation? Some explain it as an injunction to be prepared for the gospel; but it is the effect of the gospel which I consider to be likewise expressed by this term. We are enjoined to lay aside every hinderance, and to be prepared both for journey and for war. By nature we dislike exertion, and want agility. A rough road and many other obstacles retard our progress, and we are discouraged by the smallest annoyance. On these accounts, Paul holds out the gospel as the fittest means for undertaking and performing the expedition. Erasmus proposes a circumlocution, (ut sitis parati,) that ye may be prepared; but this does not appear to convey the true meaning.

16. Taking the shield of faith. Though faith and the word of God are one, yet Paul assigns to them two distinct offices. I call them one, because the word is the object of faith, and cannot be applied to our use but by faith; as faith again is nothing, and can do nothing, without the word. But Paul, neglecting so subtle a distinction, allowed himself to expatiate at large on the military armor. In the first Epistle to the Thessalonians he gives both to faith and to love the name of a breastplate, — “putting on the breastplate of faith and love,” (1 Thessalonians 5:8.) All that was intended, therefore, was obviously this, — “He who possesses the excellencies of character which are here described is protected on every hand.”

And yet it is not without reason that the most necessary instruments of warfare — a sword and a shield — are compared to faith, and to the word of God. In the spiritual combat, these two hold the highest rank. By faith we repel all the attacks of the devil, and by the word of God the enemy himself is slain. If the word of God shall have its efficacy upon us through faith, we shall be more than sufficiently armed both for opposing the enemy and for putting him to flight. And what shall we say of those who take from a Christian people the word of God? Do they not rob them of the necessary armor, and leave them to perish without a struggle? There is no man of any rank who is not bound to be a soldier of Christ. But if we enter the field unarmed, if we want our sword, how shall we sustain that character?

Wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the darts. But quench appears not to be the proper word. Why did he not use, instead of it, ward off or shake off, or some such word? Quench is far more expressive; for it is adapted to the epithet applied to darts The darts of Satan are not only sharp and penetrating, but — what makes them more destructive — they are fiery Faith will be found capable, not only of blunting their edge, but of quenching their heat.

“This,” says John, “is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4.)

17. And take the helmet of salvation. In a passage already quoted, (1 Thessalonians 5:8,) “the hope of salvation” is said to be a helmet, which I consider to be in the same sense as this passage. The head is protected by the best helmet, when, elevated by hope, we look up towards heaven to that salvation which is promised. It is only therefore by becoming the object of hope that salvation is a helmet.

18. Praying always with all prayer. Having instructed the Ephesians to put on their armor, he now enjoins them to fight by prayer. This is the true method. To call upon God is the chief exercise of faith and hope; and it is in this way that we obtain from God every blessing. Prayer and supplication are not greatly different from each other, except that supplication is only one branch of prayer

With all perseverance. We are exhorted to persevere in prayer. Every tendency to weariness must be counteracted by a cheerful performance of the duty. With unabated ardor we must continue our prayers, though we do not immediately obtain what we desire. If, instead of with all perseverance, some would render it, with all Earnestness, I would have no objection to the change.

But what is the meaning of always? Having already spoken of continued application, does he twice repeat the same thing? I think not. When everything flows on prosperously, — when we are easy and cheerful, we seldom feel any strong excitement to prayer, — or rather, we never flee to God, but when we are driven by some kind of distress. Paul therefore desires us to allow no opportunity to pass, — on no occasion to neglect prayer; so that praying always is the same thing with praying both in prosperity and in adversity.

For all saints. There is not a moment of our life at which the duty of prayer may not be urged by our own wants. But unremitting prayer may likewise be enforced by the consideration, that the necessities of our brethren ought to move our sympathy. And when is it that some members of the church are not suffering distress, and needing our assistance? If, at any time, we are colder or more indifferent about prayer than we ought to be, because we do not feel the pressure of immediate necessity, — let us instantly reflect how many of our brethren are worn out by varied and heavy afflictions, — are weighed down by sore perplexity, or are reduced to the lowest distress. If reflections like these do not rouse us from our lethargy, we must have hearts of stone. But are we to pray for believers only? Though the apostle states the claims of the godly, he does not exclude others. And yet in prayer, as in all other kind offices, our first care unquestionably is due to the saints.

19. And for me. For himself, in a particular manner, he enjoins the Ephesians to pray. Hence we infer that there is no man so richly endowed with gifts as not to need this kind of assistance from his brethren, so long as he remains in this world. Who will ever be better entitled to plead exemption from this necessity than Paul? Yet he entreats the prayers of his brethren, and not hypocritically, but from an earnest desire of their aid. And what does he wish that they should ask for him? That utterance may be given to me. What then? Was he habitually dumb, or did fear restrain him from making an open profession of the gospel? By no means; but there was reason to fear lest his splendid commencement should not be sustained by his future progress. Besides, his zeal for proclaiming the gospel was so ardent that he was never satisfied with his exertions. And indeed, if we consider the weight and importance of the subject, we shall all acknowledge that we are very far from being able to handle it in a proper manner. Accordingly he adds,

20. As I ought to speak; meaning, that to proclaim the truth of the gospel as it ought to be proclaimed, is a high and rare attainment. Every word here deserves to be carefully weighed. Twice he uses the expression boldly, — “that I may open my mouth boldly,” “that therein I may speak boldly.” Fear hinders us from preaching Christ openly and fearlessly, while the absence of all restraint and disguise in confessing Christ is demanded from his ministers. Paul does not ask for himself the powers of an acute debater, or, I should rather say, of a dexterous sophist, that he might shield himself from his enemies by false pretences. It is, that I may open my mouth, to make a clear and strong confession; for when the mouth is half shut, the sounds which it utters are doubtful and confused. To open the mouth, therefore, is to speak with perfect freedom, without the smallest dread.

But does not Paul discover unbelief, when he entertains doubts as to his own stedfastness, and implores the intercession of others? No. He does not, like unbelievers, seek a remedy which is contrary to the will of God, or inconsistent with his word. The only aids on which he relies are those which he knows to be sanctioned by the Divine promise and approbation. It is the command of God, that believers shall pray for one another. How consoling then must it be to each of them to learn that the care of his salvation is enjoined on all the rest, and to be informed by God himself that the prayers of others on his behalf are not poured out in vain! Would it be lawful to refuse what the Lord himself has offered? Each believer, no doubt, ought to have been satisfied with the Divine assurance, that as often as he prayed he would be heard. But if, in addition to all the other manifestations of his kindness, God were pleased to declare that he will listen to the prayers of others in our behalf, would it be proper that this bounty should be slighted, or rather, ought we not to embrace it with open arms?

Let us therefore remember that Paul, when he resorted to the intercessions of his brethren, was influenced by no distrust or hesitation. His eagerness to obtain them arose from his resolution that no privilege which the Lord had given him should be overlooked. How absurdly then do Papists conclude from Paul’s example, that we ought to pray to the dead! Paul was writing to the Ephesians, to whom he had it in his power to communicate his sentintents. But what intercourse have we with the dead? As well might they argue that we ought to invite angels to our feasts and entertainments, because among men friendship is promoted by such kind offices.




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