« Prev Chapter XXIX. The Divine Panoply. Next »




“Wherefore take up the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having conquered all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the readiness of the gospel of peace; withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: with all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”—Eph. vi. 13–18.

Stand is the watchword for this battle, the apostle’s order of the day: “that you may be able to stand against the stratagems of the devil, ... that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and mastering all your enemies168168   Comp. Rom. viii. 37, xvi. 20. To bring down, overpower, conquer is the military sense of κατεργάζομαι,—not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but, as it seems to us, unmistakable here. It occurs in Ezek. xxxiv. 4 (LXX), and 1 Esdr. iv. 4. to stand.... Stand therefore, girding your loins about with truth.” The apostle is fond of this martial style, and such appeals are frequent in the letters of this period.169169   Col. i. 23, ii. 5; Phil. i. 27–30, iv. 1: comp. 1 Thess. v. 8; Rom. xiii. 11–14; 1 Cor. xvi. 13; 2 Cor. x. 3–6. The Gentile believers are raised to the heavenly places of fellowship with Christ, and invested with the lofty character of sons and heirs of God: let them hold their ground; 411 let them maintain the honour of their calling and the wealth of their high estate, standing fast in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Pro aris et focis the patriot draws his sword, and manfully repels the invader. Even so the good soldier of Christ Jesus contends for his heavenly city and the household of faith. He defends the dearest interests and hopes of human life.

This defence is needed, for an “evil day” is at hand! This emphatic reference points to something more definite than the general day of temptation that is co-extensive with our earthly life. St Paul foresaw a crisis of extreme danger impending over the young Church of Christ. The prophecies of Jesus taught His disciples, from the first, that His kingdom could only prevail by means of a severe conflict, and that some desperate struggle would precede the final Messianic triumph. This prospect looms before the minds of the New Testament writers, as “the day of Jehovah” dominated the imagination of the Hebrew prophets. Paul’s apocalypse in 1 and 2 Thessalonians is full of reminiscences of Christ’s visions of judgement. It culminates in the prediction of the evil day of Antichrist, which is to usher in the second, glorious coming of the Lord Jesus. The consummation, as the apostle was then inclined to think, might arrive within that generation (1 Thess. iv. 15, 17), although he declares its times and seasons wholly unknown. In his later epistles, and in this especially, it is clear that he anticipated a longer duration for the existing order of things; and “the evil day” for which the Asian Churches are to prepare can scarcely have denoted, to the apostle’s mind, the final day of Antichrist, though it may well be an epoch of similar nature and a token and shadow of the last things.

412 In point of fact, a great secular crisis was now approaching. The six years (64–70 after Christ) extending from the fire of Rome to the fall of Jerusalem, were amongst the most fateful and calamitous recorded in history. This period was, in a very real sense, the day of judgement for Israel and the ancient world. It was a foretaste of the ultimate doom of the kingdom of evil amongst men; and through it Christ appears to have looked forward to the end of the world. Already “the days are evil” (v. 16); and “the evil day” is at hand—a time of terror and despair for all who have not a firm faith in the kingdom of God.

Two chief characteristics marked this crisis, as it affected the people of Christ: persecution from without, and apostasy within the Church (Matt. xxiv. 5, 8–12). To the latter feature St Paul refers elsewhere.170170   2 Thess. ii. 3; Acts xx. 29, 30; 1 Tim. iv. 1; 2 Tim. iii. 1. Of persecution he took less account, for this was indeed his ordinary lot, and had already visited his Churches; but it was afterwards to assume a more violent and appalling form.

When we turn to the epistle to the Seven Churches (Rev. ii., iii.) written in the next ensuing period, we find a fierce battle raging, resembling that for which this letter warns the Asian Churches to prepare. The storm which our apostle foresees, had then burst. The message addressed to each Church concludes with a promise to “him that overcometh.” To the faithful it is said: “I know thy endurance.” The angel of the Church of Pergamum dwells where is “the throne of Satan,” and where “Antipas the faithful martyr was killed.” There also, says the Lord Jesus, “are those who hold the teaching of Balaam, and the teaching of the Nicolaitans,” with whom “I will make war with the 413 sword of my mouth” (comp. Eph. vi. 17). Laodicea has shrunk from the trial, and grown rich by the world’s friendship. Thyatira “suffers the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce” the servants of Christ. Sardis has but “a few names that have not defiled their garments.” Even Ephesus, though she had tried the false teachers and found them wanting (surely Paul’s epistles to Timothy had helped her in this examination), has yet “left her first love.” The day of trial has proved an evil day to these Churches. Satan has been allowed to sift them; and while some good wheat remains, much of the faith of the numerous and prosperous communities of the province of Asia has turned out to be faulty and vain. The presentiments that weighed on St Paul’s mind when four years ago he took leave of the Ephesian elders at Miletus, and which reappear in this passage, were only too well justified by the course of events. Indeed, the history of the Church in this region has been altogether mournful and admonitory.

But it is time to look at the armour in which St Paul bids his readers equip themselves against the evil day. It consists of seven weapons, offensive or defensive—if we count prayer amongst them: the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of readiness to bear the message of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the word, and the continual cry of prayer.

1. In girding himself for the field, the first thing the soldier does is to fasten round his waist the military belt. With this he binds in his under-garments, that there may be nothing loose or trailing about him, and 414 braces up his limbs for action. Peace admits of relaxation. The girdle is unclasped; the muscles are unstrung. But everything about the warrior is tense and firm; his dress, his figure and movements speak of decision and concentrated energy. He stands before us an image of resolute conviction, of a mind made up. Such a picture the words “girt about with truth” convey to us.

The epistle is pervaded by the sense of the Church’s need of intellectual conviction. Many of the Asian believers were children, half-enlightened and irresolute, ready to be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (iv. 14). They had “heard the truth as it is in Jesus,” but had an imperfect comprehension of its meaning.171171   Ch. 1. 17–23, iii. 16–19, iv. 13–15, 20–24. They required to add to their faith knowledge,—the knowledge won by searching thought respecting the great truths of religion, by a thorough mental appropriation of the things revealed to us in Christ. Only by such a process can truth brace the mind and knit its powers together in “the full assurance of the understanding in the knowledge of the mystery of God, which is Christ” (Col. ii, 2, 3).

Such is the faith needed by the Church, now as then, the faith of an intelligent, firm and manly assurance. There is in such faith a security and a vigour of action that the faith of mere sentiment and emotional impression, with its nerveless grasp, its hectic and impulsive fervours, cannot impart. The luxury of agnosticism, the languors of doubt, the vague sympathies and hesitant eclecticism in which delicate and cultured minds are apt to indulge; the lofty critical attitude, as of some intellectual god sitting above the strife of creeds, which others find congenial—these are conditions 415 of mind unfit for the soldier of Christ Jesus. He must have sure knowledge, definite and decided purposes—a soul girdled with truth.

2. Having girt his loins, the soldier next fastens on his breastplate, or cuirass.

This is the chief piece of his defensive armour; it protects the vital organs. In the picture drawn in 1 Thessalonians v. 8, the breastplate is made “of faith and love.” In this more detailed representation, faith becomes the outlying defensive “shield,” while righteousness serves for the innermost defence, the rampart of the heart. But, in truth, the Christian righteousness is compounded of faith and love.

This attribute must be understood in its full Pauline meaning. It is the state of one who is right with God and with God’s law. It is the righteousness both of standing and of character, of imputation and of impartation, which begins with justification and continues in the new, obedient life of the believer. These are never separate, in the true doctrine of grace. “The righteousness that is of God by faith,” is the soul’s main defence against the shafts of Satan. It wards off deadly blows, both from this side and from that. Does the enemy bring up against me my old sins? I can say: “It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?”—Am I tempted to presume on my forgiveness, and to fall into transgression once more? From this breastplate the arrow of temptation falls pointless, as it resounds: “He that doeth righteousness is righteous. He that is born of God doth not commit sin.” The completeness of pardon for past offence and the integrity of character that belong to the justified life, are woven together into an impenetrable mail.

3. Now the soldier, having girt his loins and guarded 416 his breast, must look well to his feet. There are lying ready for him shoes of wondrous make.

What is the quality most needed in the soldier’s shoes? Some say, it is firmness; and they so translate the Greek word employed by the apostle, occurring only here in the New Testament, which in certain passages of the Septuagint seems to acquire this sense, under the influence of Hebrew idiom.172172   Ἑτοιμασία is adopted by the Greek translators as the equivalent of the Hebrew word for foundation, or base, in Ps. lxxxix. 14; Ezra ii. 68, iii. 3; Dan. xi. 7, 20, 21. See, however, the note of Meyer, who thinks that they misunderstood the Hebrew. But firmness was embodied in the girdle. Expedition belongs to the shoes. The soldier is so shod that he may move with alertness over all sorts of ground.

Thus shod with speed and willingness were “the beautiful feet” of those that brought over desert and mountain “the good tidings of peace,” the news of Israel’s return to Zion (Isai. lii. 7–9). With such swift strength were the feet of our apostle shod, when “from Jerusalem round about unto Illyricum” he had “fulfilled the gospel of Christ,” and is “ready,” as he says, “to preach the glad tidings to you also that are in Rome” (Rom. i. 15). This readiness belonged to His own holy feet, who “came and preached peace to the far off and the near” (ii. 17),—when, for example, sitting a weary traveller by the well-side at Sychar, He found refreshment in revealing to the woman of Samaria the fountain of living water. Such readiness befits His servants, who have heard from Him the message of salvation and are sent to proclaim it everywhere.

The girdle and breastplate look to one’s own safety. They must be supplemented by the evangelic zeal inseparable from the spirit of Christ. This is, moreover, 417 a safeguard of Church life. Von Hofmann says admirably upon this point: “The objection [brought against the above interpretation] that the apostle is addressing the faithful at large, who are not all of them called to preach the gospel, is mistaken. Every believer should be prepared to witness for Christ so often as opportunity affords, and needs a readiness thereto. The knowledge of Christ’s peace qualifies him to convey its message. He brings it with him into the strife of the world. And it is the consciousness that he possesses himself such peace and has it to communicate to others, which enables him to walk firmly and with sure step in the way of faith.” When we are bidden to “stand in the evil day,” that does not mean to stand idle or content to hold our ground. Attack is often the best mode of defence. We keep our faith by spreading it. We defend ourselves from our opponents by converting them to the gospel, which breathes everywhere reconciliation and fraternity. Our Foreign Missions are our grand modern apologetic; and God’s peacemakers are His mightiest warriors.

4. With his body girt and fenced and his feet clad with the gospel shoes, the soldier reaches out his left hand to “take up withal the shield,” while his right hand grasps first the helmet which he places on his head, and then the sword that is offered to him in the word of God.

The shield signified is not the small round buckler, or target, of the light-armed man; but the door-like shield,173173   Θυρεός: Latin scutum; only here in N.T. measuring four feet by two-and-a-half and rounded to the shape of the body, that the Greek hoplite and the Roman legionary carried. Joined together, these large shields formed a wall, behind 418 which a body of troops could hide themselves from the rain of the enemy’s missiles. Such is the office of faith in the conflicts of life: it is the soldier’s main defence, the common bulwark of the Church. Like the city’s outer wall, faith bears the brunt and onset of all hostility. On this shield of faith the darts of Satan are caught, their point broken and their fire quenched. These military shields were made of wood, covered on the outside with thick leather, which not only deadened the shock of the missile, but protected the frame of the shield from the “fire-tipped darts” that were used in the artillery of the ancients. These flaming arrows, armed with some quickly burning and light combustible, if they failed to pierce the warrior’s shield, fell in a moment extinguished at his feet.

St Paul can scarcely mean by his “fiery darts” incitements to passion in ourselves, inflammatory temptations that seek to rouse the inward fires of anger or lust. For these missiles are “fire-pointed darts of the Evil One.” The fire belongs to the enemy who shoots the dart. It signifies the malignant hate with which Satan hurls slanders and threats against the people of God through his human instruments. A bold faith wards off and quenches this fire even at a distance, so that the soul never feels its heat. The heart’s confidence is unmoved and the Church’s songs of praise are undisturbed, while persecution rages and the enemies of Christ gnash their teeth against her. Such a shield to him was the faith of Stephen the proto-martyr.

“I heard the defaming of many; there was terror on every side.

But I trusted in Thee, O Jehovah: I said, Thou art my God!”

To “take up the shield of faith,” is it not, like the 419 Psalmist, to meet injuries and threats, the boasts of unbelief and of worldly power, the poisoned arrows of the deceitful and the bitter words of unjust reproach, with faith’s quiet counter-assertion? “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” says the apostle in the midst of tribulation. “God is my witness, whom I serve in the gospel of His Son,” he answers when his fidelity is questioned. No shaft of malice, no arrow of fear can pierce the soul that holds such a shield.

5. At this point (ver. 17), when the sentence beginning at verse 14 has drawn itself out to such length, and the relative clause of verse 16b makes a break and eddy in the current of thought, the writer pauses for a moment. He resumes the exhortation in a form slightly changed and with rising emphasis, passing from the participle to the finite verb: “And take the helmet of salvation.”

The word take, in the original, differs from the taking up of verses 13 and 16. It signifies the accepting of something offered by the hand of another. So the Thessalonians “accepted the word” brought them by St Paul (1 Thess. i. 6) and Titus “accepted the consolation” given him by the Corinthians (2 Cor. viii. 17)—in each case a welcome gift. God’s hand is stretched out to bestow on His chosen warrior the helmet of salvation and the sword of His word, to complete his equipment for the perilous field. We accept these gifts with devout gratitude, knowing from what source they come and where the heavenly arms were fashioned.

The “helmet of salvation” is worn by the Lord Himself, as He is depicted by the prophet coming to the succour of His people (Isai. lix. 17). This helmet, on the head of Jehovah, is the crest and badge of their Divine champion. Given to the human warrior, it 420 becomes the sign of his protection by God. The apostle does not call it “the hope of salvation,” as he does in 1 Thessalonians v. 8, thinking of the believer’s assurance of victory in the last struggle. Nor is it the sense and assurance of past salvation that here guards the Christian soldier. The presence of his Saviour and God in itself constitutes his highest safeguard.

“O Jehovah my Lord, the strength of my salvation,

Thou hast covered my head in the day of battle.”

The warrior’s head rising above his shield was frequently open to attack. The arrow might shoot over the shield’s edge, and inflict a mortal blow. Our faith, at the best, has its deficiencies and its limits; but God’s salvation reaches beyond our highest confidence in Him. His overshadowing presence is the crown of our salvation, His love its shining crest.

Thus the equipment of Christ’s soldier is complete; and he is arrayed in the full armour of light. His loins girt with truth, his breast clad with righteousness, his feet shod with zeal, his head crowned with safety, while faith’s all-encompassing shield is cast about him, he steps forth to do battle with the powers of darkness, “strong in the Lord, and in the might of His strength.”

6. It only remains that “the sword of the Spirit” be put into his right hand, while his lips are open in continual prayer to the God of his strength.

The “cleansing word” of chapter v. 26, by whose virtue we passed through the gate of baptism into the flock of Christ, now becomes the guarding and smiting word, to be used in conflict with our spiritual foes. Of the Messiah it was said, in language quoted by the apostle against Antichrist (2 Thess. ii. 8): “He shall 421 smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked” (Isai. xi. 4). Similarly, in Hosea the Lord tells how He has “hewed” the unfaithful “by His prophets, and slain them by the words of His mouth” (Hos. vi. 5). From such sayings of the Old Testament the idea of the sword of the Divine word is derived. We find it again in Hebrews iv. 12: “The word of God, living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword”; and in the “sword, two-edged, sharp,” which John in the Revelation saw “coming out of the mouth of the Son of man”: it belongs to Him whose name is “the word of God,” and with it “He shall smite the nations.”174174   Rev. i. 16, ii. 12, xix. 13–15.

This sword of the inspired word Paul himself wielded with supernatural effect, as when he rebuked Elymas the sorcerer, or when he defended his gospel against the Judaizers of Galatia and Corinth. In his hand it was even as

“The sword

Of Michael, from the armoury of God,

... tempered so that neither keen

Nor solid might resist that edge.”

With what piercing reproofs, what keen thrusts of argument, what double-edged irony and dexterous sword-play did this mighty combatant smite the enemies of the cross of Christ! In times of conflict never may such leaders be wanting to the Church, men using weapons of warfare not carnal, but mighty to “cast down strongholds,” to “bring down every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and make captive every thought to Christ’s obedience.”

In her struggle with the world’s gigantic lusts and tyrannies, the Israel of God must be armed with this 422 lofty and lightning-like power, with the flaming sword of the Spirit. No less in the secret, internal conflicts of the religious life, the sword of the word is the decisive weapon. The Son of man put it to proof in His combat in the wilderness. Satan himself sought to wrest this instrument to his purpose. With pious texts in his mouth he addressed our Lord, like an angel of light, fain to deceive Him by the very Scripture He had Himself inspired! until, with the last thrust of quotation, Jesus unmasked the tempter and drove him from the field, saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”

7. We have surveyed the Christian soldier with his harness on. From head to foot he is clothed in arms supernatural. No weapon of defence or offence is lacking, that the spiritual combat needs. Nothing seems to be wanting: yet everything is wanting, if this be all. Our text began: “Be strong in the Lord.” It is prayer that links the believer with the strength of God.

What avails Michael’s sword, if the hand that holds it is slack and listless? what the panoply of God, if behind it beats a craven heart? He is but a soldier in semblance who wears arms without the courage and the strength to use them. The life that is to animate that armed figure, to beat with high resolve beneath the corslet, to nerve the arm as it lifts the strong shield and plies the sharp sword, to set the swift feet moving on their gospel errands, to weld the Church together into one army of the living God, comes from the inspiration of God’s Spirit received in answer to believing prayer. So the apostle adds: “With all prayer and supplication praying at every time in the Spirit.”

There is here no needless repetition. “Prayer” is the universal word for reverent address to God; and 423 “supplication” the entreaty for such help as “on every occasion”—at each turn of the battle, in each emergency of life—we find ourselves to need. And Christian prayer is always “in the Spirit,”—being offered in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, who is the element of the believer’s life in Christ, who helps our infirmities and, virtually, intercedes for us (Rom. viii. 26, 27). When the apostle continues, “watching [or keeping awake] thereunto,” he reminds us, as perhaps he was thinking himself, of our Lord’s warning to the disciples sleeping in Gethsemane: “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” The “perseverance” he requires in this wakeful attention to prayer, is the resolute persistence of the suppliant, who will neither be daunted by opposition nor wearied by delay.175175   Ἐν πάσῃ προσκαρτερήσει: in every kind of persistence,—a perseverance that tries all arts and holds its ground at every point. The verb προσκαρτερέω appears in the parallel passages: Col. iv. 2; Rom. xii. 12; also in Acts i. 14.

The word “supplication” is resumed at the end of verse 18, in order to enlist the prayers of the readers for the service of the Church at large: “with wakeful heed thereto, in all persistence and supplication for all the saints.” Prayer for ourselves must broaden out into a catholic intercession for all the servants of our Master, for all the children of the household of faith. By the bands of prayer we are knit together,—a vast multitude of saints throughout the earth, unknown by face or name to our fellows, but one in the love of Christ and in our heavenly calling, and all engaged in the same perilous conflict.

“All the saints,” St Paul said (i. 15), were interested in the faith of the Asian believers; they were called “with all the saints” to share in the comprehension 424 of the immense designs of God’s kingdom (iii. 18). The dangers and temptations of the Church are equally far-reaching; they have a common origin and character in all Christian communities. Let our prayers, at least, be catholic. At the throne of grace, let us forget our sectarian divisions. Having access in one Spirit to the Father, let us realize in His presence our communion with all His children.

« Prev Chapter XXIX. The Divine Panoply. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection