I:  The Saint's Call to Arms

The apostle Paul had a discerning heart. In writing to the early Christians at Ephesus, he knew he had to prepare them for unprecedented hardship. But first he longed to encourage and comfort them, so he reminded them of the Lord's strength:

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might (Eph. 6.10).

It is as if he were thinking, 'Some of my dear friends must be quaking in their boots to see their enemies so strong and themselves so weak, so numerous while they are so few, so well equipped and expert at arms while they are just raw recruits.' He must have known a fear-wracked soul is too preoccupied with its present distress to listen to advice from anyone, even a well-meaning friend. Fear immobilizes its victim like the distraught soldier who runs trembling to his foxhole at first rumor of an attack and refuses to come out until all threat of danger is past.

So Paul searches for an antidote to their fear and soon finds one. It is a timeless answer to the disabling condition suffered by every Christian since Adam. He tells us, 'Don't let your fears overwhelm you. March on with undaunted courage and be strong in the Lord. . . . ' And here is the great consolation: 'The outcome of the battle rests on God's performance, not on your skill or strength!'

Surely every trembling soul will breathe a sigh of relief to hear this comforting news. Now the Christian can concentrate on the task at hand, which is to 'be strong.' Itis a frequent scriptural exhortation: 'Be strong and courageous' (2 Chron. 32:7); 'Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong' (Isa. 35:4). In other words, 'Marshal all the powers of your soul and muster up your whole force, for you will need all you can get!'

I. The Christian's Call to Courage

A cowardly spirit is beneath the lowest duty of a Christian. You of all men will need courage and determination if you hope to obey your heavenly Captain's orders. He commands you, 'Be thou strong and very courageous. . . . ' Why? So you can stand in battle against warlike nations? So you can make a great name for yourself? No! But '. . . that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses, my servant, commanded thee' (Josh. 1:7). That is why you need a more courageous spirit to obey God faithfully than to command an army of men; to be a Christian than a captain. The challenge exceeds the bravery of the best unless they have help from a source greater than themselves. 

Secular reason sees a Christian on his knees and laughs at the feeble posture God's child assumes as his enemies descend upon him. Only divine insight can perceive what mighty preparations are actually taking place. Yet just as an unarmed soldier cannot achieve the military exploits of a well-equipped infantryman, so the carnal Christian cannot hope to do the exploits for God which the committed Christian can expect through prayer. Prayer is the main line that leads straight to the throne of God. By it the Christian approaches God with a humble boldness of faith, takes hold of Him, wrestles with Him, and will not let Him go until he has His blessing.

Meanwhile, the carnal Christian, asleep to the dangers of his sinful state, rushes headlong into battle with a foolhardy confidence that soon turns yellow when his conscience wakes up and sounds the alarm that his sins are upon him. Then, unnerved by this surprise attack, he throws down his weapon, flees from the presence of God with guilty Adam, and dares not look Him in the face.

Every duty in the Christian's whole course of walking with God is lined with many difficulties which shoot at him through the hedges on his march toward heaven. He must fight the enemy for every inch of ground along the way. Only those noble-spirited souls who dare taken heaven by force are fit for this calling.

COWARDICE VS. COURAGE

This warfare analogy reveals why there are so many who profess Christ and so few who are in fact Christians; so many who go into the field against Satan, and so few who come out conquerors. All may have a desire to be successful soldiers, but few have the courage and determination to grapple with the difficulties that accost them on the way to victory. All Israel followed Moses joyfully out of Egypt. But when their stomachs were a little pinched with hunger, and their immediate desires deferred, they were ready at once to retreat. They preferred the bondage of Pharaoh to the promised blessings of the Lord.

Men are no different today. How many part with Christ at the crossroad of suffering! Like Orpah, they go a short distance only (Ruth 1:14). They profess the gospel and name themselves heirs to the blessings of the saints. But when put to the test, they quickly grow sick of the journey and refuse to endure for Christ. At the first sign of hardship, they kiss and leave the Savior, reluctant to lose heaven, but even more unwilling to buy it at so dear a price. If they must resist so many enemies on the way, they will content themselves with their own stagnant cisterns and leave the Water of Life for others who will venture farther for it. Who among us has not learned from his own experience that it requires another spirit than the world can give to follow Christ fully?

Let this exhort you then, Christian, to petition God for the holy determination and bravery you must have to follow Christ. Without it you cannot be what you profess. The fearful are those who march for hell (Rev. 21:8); the valiant are they who take heaven by force (Matt. 11:12). Cowards never won heaven. Do not claim that you are begotten of God and have His royal blood running in your veins unless you can prove your lineage by this heroic spirit: to dare to be holy in spite of men and devils.

You should find great strength and encouragement in the knowledge that your commission is divine. God Himself underwrites your battle and has appointed His own Son 'the captain of  [your] salvation' (Heb. 2:10). He will lead you on to the field with courage, and bring you off with honor. He lived and died for you; He will live and die with you. His mercy and tenderness to His soldiers is unmatched. Historians tell us Trajan tore his own clothes to bind up his soldiers' wounds. The Bible tells us Christ poured out His very blood as balm to heal His saints' wounds; His flesh was torn to bind them up.

For bravery none compares with our Lord. He never turned His head from danger, not even when hell's hatred and heaven's justice appeared against Him. Knowing all that was about to happen, Jesus went forth and said, 'Whom seek ye?' (John 18:4). Satan could not overcome Him our Savior never lost a battle, not even when He lost His life. He won the victory, carrying His spoils to heaven in the triumphant chariot of His ascension. There  he makes an open show of them, to the unspeakable joy of saints and angels.

As part of Christ's army, you march in the ranks of gallant spirits. Every one of your fellow soldiers is the child of a King. Some, like you, are in the midst of the battle, besieged on every side by affliction and temptation. Others, after many assaults, repulses, and rallyings of their faith, are already standing upon the wall of heaven as conquerors. From there they look down and urge you, their comrades on earth, to march up the hill after them. This is their cry: 'Fight to the death and the City is your own, as now it is ours! For the waging of a few days' conflict, you will be rewarded with heaven's glory. One moment of this celestial joy will dry up all your tears, heal all your wounds, and erase the sharpness of the fight with the joy of your permanent victory.'

In a word God, angels, and the saints already with the Lord are spectators, watching how you conduct yourself as a child of the Most High. This crowd of witnesses (Heb. 12:1) shouts joyfully from the celestial sidelines every time you defeat a temptation, scale a difficulty, or regain lost ground from your enemies. And if the fight should be too much for you, your dear Savior stands by with reserves for your relief at a moment's notice. His very heart leaps within Him to see the proof of your love and zeal for Him in all your combats. He will not forget your faithfulness. And when you come off the field, He will receive you as joyously as the Father received Him upon His return to heaven.

Would you be a valiant soldier? Then take heed to the discussion that follows.

SOURCES OF CHRISTIAN COURAGE

f you intend to bear up courageously against the opposition on your march to heaven, your principles must be well fixed. Otherwise, your heart will be unstable, and an unstable heart is as weak as a house without girders. The first crosswind will blow it down. Two things are required to fix your principles:

I. AN ESTABLISHED KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S TRUTH

He who has only a nodding acquaintance with the king may easily be persuaded to change his allegiance, or will at least try to remain neutral in the face of treason. Some professing Christians have only a passing acquaintance with the gospel. They can hardly give an account of what they hope for, or whom they hope in. And if they have some principles they take kindly to, they are so unsettled that every wind blows them away, like loose tiles from a housetop.

When Satan buffets and temptation washes over you like a tidal wave, you must cling to God's truths. They are your shelter in every raging storm. But you must have them on hand, ready to use. Do not wait until it is sinking to patch the boat. A feeble commitment has little hope of safety when caught in a tempest. While that flounders and drowns, holy determination, grounded in the Word, will lift up its head like a rock in the midst of the highest waves.

Scripture promises, 'The people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits' (Dan. 11:32). An angel told Daniel which men would stand up and be counted for God when tempted and persecuted by Antiochus. Some would be taken in by the bribery of corrupt men; others would fall victim to intimidation and threats. But a few, who were firmly grounded in the tenets of their faith, would do great things for God. That is to say, to flatteries they would be incorruptible, and to power and force, unconquerable.

    II. A  HEART SET IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Head knowledge of the things of Christ is not enough; this following Christ is primarily a matter of the heart. If your heart is not fixed in its purpose, your principles, as good as they may be, will hang loose and be of no more use in the heat of battle than an ill-strung bow. Half-hearted resolve will not venture much nor far for Christ. Nor will the heart with false motives. A hypocrite may show some strength of spirit for the moment, but he will soon give up his profession when he is pinched on the toe where his corn is; in other words, when called to deny that which his evil heart coveted all along.

If you are a serious soldier, do not flirt with any of your desires that are beneath Christ and heaven. They will play the harlot and steal your heart. Consider Jehu. How courageous and zealous he seemed in the beginning. Why, then, did his resolve fail him before his work was half done? Because his heart was never set on God alone! The very ambition that stirred up his zeal at first, in the end quenched and killed it. He compromised with evil men to reach his goal. Then when he gained the throne, he dared not put God's plan into action for fear of provoking those same evil men and thereby losing his kingdom (2 Kings 10:31). In short his heart was set on the world's pleasures more than on God's favor.

 

 

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