by J.C. Metcalfe
ENEMIES IN THE PATH
"We wrestle ... against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" - Ephesians 6:12
Every true Christian knows that he has entered into a life which means conflict. This conflict is not with men, but with Satan and his evil powers. The hatred of the devil and his armies of evil spirits is directed against the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore also against all those that are "in Him". The word "wrestle", used in the verse quoted at the head of this chapter, shows that the attack of the enemy is a personal attack against each individual Christian. The word describes a hand-to-hand conflict at close quarters. It is also the word used of a trial of strength in the old Greek games. The wrestler in these games had to throw his adversary either by swinging him round, or tripping him up, and then had to keep him down. This is just what the Christians' enemy is constantly seeking to do.
It is probable that all of us have suffered from Satan's efforts to frighten us. When we first become Christians he stirs up persecution and opposition against us; or he seeks to play upon our fear of evil spirits; and dark, unseen powers. Do you remember the words of the risen Christ to a Church planted in a dark heathen land? "Fear none of these things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried ... Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). When Barnabas and Paul landed on the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:4-12) and started to preach the gospel, their witness was with such power that even the Roman Governor of the island was impressed. "But Elymas the sorcerer ... withstood them seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith" (verse 8). Paul recognizes the true enemy in the path, and sees his effort to stop the preaching of the Gospel through fear and opposition. Listen to what he says: "O! full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?" He is not going to turn aside because Satan rages.
The Lord Jesus Christ in His story of the Sower also speaks of the fact of this opposition. "He that received the seed into stony places," He says, "the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word, by and by he is offended" (Matthew 13:20,21). He was always perfectly open with His disciples about this, and again and again warned them that following Him meant facing opposition and persecution. Two references must suffice to show this. On one occasion Peter pointed out to the Lord Jesus that he and the other disciples had left all to follow Him, and Jesus' answer was - "Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake, and the Gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses and brethren, and sisters, and mothers and children, and lands with persecution, and in the world to come eternal life" (Mark 10:29,30). Again during His last intimate talk with His disciples before He went to the Cross, He told them, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Did you notice the two little words "in Me" in this last verse? Here is the secret of victory over persecution and opposition stirred up against us by the devil. We are now children of God, counting ourselves as those who share daily in the death of Christ, and in His risen, glorified life. He Who overcame all the hosts of evil at the Cross (see Colossians 2:14, 15) lives in us to keep us in peace, save us from giving way, and to overcome their opposition.
Now let us look at the second way in which fear overtakes us; and those who have lived in or close to the powers of evil as they show themselves in heathen religions, are perhaps specially open to attack in this way. "Will not the spirits be angry with them?" they ask themselves; or perhaps wherever they go a kind of nameless dread seems to follow them. Paul writing to Timothy, who was facing the task of shepherding people brought to Christ from heathen races, reminds him, "God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2Timothy 1:7). The apostle John also writing to his "little children" in the faith, tells them - "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us" (1John 4:18,19). Evil spirits are real and powerful enemies, and we should never treat them lightly (see Jude 8-10). But the Son of God loved us so much that He came, and through the Cross robbed them of their power (see Luke 11:21,22); and now He lives for evermore. We can trust in His love and power, and when fear comes to us we can go direct to Him, and ask for the peace of His presence, and the power of His victory to scatter the forces of evil who would oppress us.
Probably, however, Satan is not so dangerous when he attacks us directly in such ways, as he is when he comes to us as an angel of light (see 2Corinthians 11:13-15). It is his wiles against which we are specifically warned (see Ephesians 6:10-17).
The character and form taken by these wiles can best be gauged by an examination of the pieces of armor carefully specified as necessary for our defence.
Satan attacks us along the line of:
(a) Truth. We must always remember that truth in the scriptural sense is not something abstract. Truth is incarnate in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Every bit of Scripture revolves around His Person, because all provision made by God to meet the need of man is in Him and in Him alone. The Old Testament Scriptures point to Him, the gospels record His life and death as Man for "us men, and for our salvation", and the remainder of the Bible defines our relationship to the risen, living Christ and leads us to look forward with unspeakable desire to His final manifestation in glory. Satan on the other hand is "a liar, and the father of it" (John 8:44). He has one dominating purpose in all that he does - to fight the effective operation of the Truth by every available means, and nullify as far as he can in the life of each individual the outworking of the mighty triumph of the Lamb. He does not mind how much we speculate about truths, or how sound is our apprehension of scriptural teaching, provided that the Truth Himself is not known, loved and obeyed. He will seek to move heaven and earth to drive a wedge between you and your Lord.
Several of the commentators say the word "truth" here is in contra-distinction to guile - i.e. carries the force of sincerity; and this also is true to experience. The human heart is "deceitful above all things..." (Jeremiah 17:9) and that which is dishonest in the old heart and life, that which is "unreal" is a fair ground for the devil's activities. If he can jockey us into dishonesty of attitude in our relationship to God he has us in his grip. There are many, for instance, who will not call sin - SIN. Their label for sin is perhaps "hereditary weakness", or they blame their environment, or the folk with whom they live or work, but never themselves. This very common form of dishonesty means that such people never get free from their entanglements, and are, therefore, valueless as a testimony to the grace of God. Again, there are those who do Christian work merely because they like it, and because through it they are able to feed their vanity. Is it remarkable if such work is powerless? If Satan can keep us from honestly facing the question of God's vocation and calling, and lure us into some self-chosen piece of work, which we have to keep alive by the force of our own personality and powers, he has succeeded in utterly ruining our usefulness. One of the cornerstones of a healthy spiritual life is absolute honesty and simplicity in dealing with the Word of God (2Corinthians 4:1,2).
(b) Righteousness. "The devil sinneth from the beginning" (1John 3:8); and is always busy seeking to lead the children of God into sin. Once he has trapped us into wrong doing of some kind (and who is there amongst us, over whom he does not get an advantage in this way more often than we care to own?) he can then hold us under condemnation, unless our habit is to have quick dealings with God. The number of Christian men and women under a cloud because of the constant nagging accusation of the devil is legion. Introspection should be avoided like the plague; but healthy self-examination rooted in the knowledge of the glorious cleansing power of the blood of Christ, is essential.
We need to be careful, too, not to accept Satan's standards of righteousness, but constantly to seek to grasp and enter into the clear distinction of God's Word between right and wrong. We cannot, for example, gossip about a fellow Christian behind his back, and then greet him at a meeting with a smile, and a handshake, as if there was nothing between us, without playing straight into the enemy's hands. You and I have met those who talk loudly about "sanctification", but whose attitude in the home is dominated by utter selfishness. This is sin. How humbly and carefully we need to walk, when we have an enemy who understands his business as "the tempter" so well.
(c) The Gospel of Peace. How Satan hates the "gospel of the grace of God"; and he will stop at nothing if he can twist it into "another gospel", or get men to present "another Jesus". A study of such passages as 2Corinthians 11:1-15, and Galatians 1:6-9 will show us something of the danger we have to face just here.
One often meets people, who say they have "decided for Christ", but when you press them have no real understanding of the gospel, and no true experience of grace. A watered-down edition of the gospel, which perhaps can best be described as "only belieivism", and which takes folk no further than a mental acceptance of facts is abroad today, with which there can be no thought of compromise. It is a wile of the devil designed to keep men and women out of their heritage in Christ. We must stand at all costs for the sole efficacy of the blood and sacrifice of Calvary through which we are not only forgiven, but being born again by the operation of the Spirit of God, are lifted out of the kingdom of darkness, and translated into the Kingdom of God's Son. The danger of "another gospel" cannot be overstressed; it is possibly the most malignant growth that stifles the life and power of the Church today.
(d) Faith. Satan is a specialist in doubts. John Bunyan in his Holy War described how Diabolus on one occasion produced an army of "doubters", and hurled regiment after regiment against Mansoul. There were the Election Doubters, the Vocation Doubters, the Grace Doubters, and so on. In the battle tht followed he says: "Many of the doubters were slain outright, though enough of them were left alive to make Mansoul shake and totter". This line of attack hardly needs elaboration. We are on very familiar ground, and the witness of many of us in a "minor key" because of the insidious floods of doubts and questioning which have assailed us.
(e) Finally - Salvation. Behind the enemy's "doubting" campaign is his purpose to rob us if possible of our assurances of salvation. When the Apostle Paul set out upon his missionary journeys he was followed everywhere by the Judaizers, whose pet theme was that there could be no salvation without circumcision (Acts 15:1), and ever since the enemy has been endeavoring to shift the ground of our confidence to anything and anyone but Christ alone. The Psalmist emphasizes his consciousness of the subtlety of this wile in never-to-be-forgotten words, "My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defence; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge is in God" (Psalm 62:5-7). We too cannot afford to be diverted in even the slightest degree from our confidence in Him TO ANY OTHER OBJECT OF CONFIDENCE, HOWEVER SEEMINGLY STABLE. How quietly and humbly we need to walk with God!
The Lord Jesus Christ when faced by the hour of the power of darkness was able to say: "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me" (John 14:30). His design is that we shall be able to say the same. Our one recourse is to see to it that nothing is wilfully left alive upon which the powers of evil can fasten as their rightful prey, and from which they can work for our downfall and that of others. WE CAN rest upon a finished work; "Ye died (with Christ on Calvary) and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). Here is safety, and here we may share in the triumph of Christ over all the power of the enemy.
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