(Preached before the Prince of Wales, at Sandringham, January 20th, 1867.)
Put on the whole armour of God.
St. Paul again and again compares himself and the Christians to whom he writes to soldiers, and their lives to warfare. And it was natural that he should do so. Everywhere he went, in those days, he would find Roman soldiers, ruling over men of different races from themselves, and ruling them, on the whole, well. Greeks, Syrians, Jews, Egyptians, -- all alike in his days obeyed the Roman soldiers, who had conquered the then known world.
And St. Paul and his disciples wished to conquer the world likewise. The Roman soldier had conquered it for Caesar: St. Paul would conquer it for Christ. The Roman soldier had used bodily force -- the persuasion of the sword. St. Paul would use spiritual force -- the persuasion of preaching. The Roman soldier wrestled against flesh and blood: St. Paul wrestled against more subtle and dangerous enemies -- spiritual enemies, he calls them -- who enslaved and destroyed the reason, and conscience, and morals of men.
St. Paul and his disciples, I say, had set before themselves no less a task than to conquer the world.
Therefore, he says, they must copy the Roman soldier, and put on their armour, as he put on his. He took Caesar's armour, and put on Caesar's uniform. They must take the armour of God, that they may withstand in the evil day of danger and battle, and having done all,- -done their duty manfully as good soldiers, -- stand; keep their ranks, and find themselves at the end of the battle not scattered and disorganized, but in firm and compact order, like the Roman soldiers, who, by drill and discipline, had conquered the irregular and confused troops of all other nations.
Let me, this morning, explain St. Paul's words to you, one by one. We shall find them full of lessons -- and right wholesome lessons -- for in this parable of the armour of God St. Paul sketches what you and I and every man should be. He sketches the character of a good man, a true man, a man after God's own heart.
First, the Christians are to gird their loins -- to cover the lower part of their body, which is the most defenceless. That the Roman soldier did with a kilt, much like that which the Highlanders wear now. And that garment was to be Truth. Truthfulness, honesty, that was to be the first defence of a Christian man, instead of being, as too many so-called Christians make it, the very last. Honesty, before all other virtues, was to gird his very loins, was to protect his very vitals.
The breastplate, which covered the upper part of the body, was to be righteousness -- which we now commonly call, justice. To be a just man, after being first a truthful man, was the Christian's duty.
And his helmet was to be the hope of Salvation -- that is, of safety: not merely of being saved in the next world -- though of course St. Paul includes that -- but of being saved in this world; of coming safe through the battle of life; of succeeding; of conquering the heathen round them, and making them Christians, instead of being conquered by them. The hope of safety was to be his helmet, to guard his head -- the thinking part. We all know how a blow on the head confuses and paralyses a man, making him (as we say) lose his head. We know too, how, in spiritual matters, terror and despair deal a deadly blow to a man's mind, -- how if a man expects to fail, he cannot think clearly and calmly, -- how often desperation and folly go hand in hand; for, if a man loses hope, he is but too apt to lose his reason. The Christian's helmet, then, -- that which would save his head, and keep his mind calm, prudent, strong, and active, -- was the hope of success.
And for their feet -- they must be shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace.
That is a grand saying, if you will remember that the key-word, which explains it all, is Peace, and the Gospel, that is, the good news, thereof.
The Roman soldier had his preparation, which kept him prepared and ready to march through the world; and of that St. Paul was thinking, and had need to think; for he had heard the sound of it in every street, on every high road, from Jerusalem to Ephesus, ever since he was a child -- the tramp of the heavy nailed boot which the Roman soldier always wore. The Roman soldiers were proud of their boots, -- so proud that, in St. Paul's time, they nicknamed one of their royal princes Caligula, because, as a boy in camp, he used to wear boots like the common soldiers: and he bore that name when he became emperor, and bears it to this day. And they had reason to be proud, after their own notion of glory. For that boot had carried them through desert and through cities, over mountain ranges, through trackless forests, from Africa even into Britain here, to be the conquerors of the then known world; and, wherever the tramp of that boot had been heard, it had been the sound, not of the good news of peace, but of the evil news of war. Isaiah of old, watching for the deliverance of the Jews from captivity, heard in the spirit the footsteps of the messengers coming with the news that Cyrus was about to send the Jews home to their own land, and cried, 'How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of them that bring good tidings, that publish peace!' But the tramp of the Roman armies had as yet brought little but bad tidings, and published destruction. Men slain in battle, women and children driven off captive, villages burnt, towns sacked and ruined, till wherever their armies passed -- as one of their own writers has said -- they made a desert, and then called that peace.
So had the Roman soldier marched over the world, and conquered it. And now Christ's soldiers were beginning their march over the world, that they might conquer it by fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy. They were going forth, with their feet shod with the good news of Peace; to treat all men, not as their enemies, not as their slaves, but as their brothers; and to bring them good news, and bid them share in it, -- the good news that God was at peace with them, and that they might now be at peace with their own consciences, and at peace with each other, for all were brothers in Jesus Christ their Lord.
Shod with that good news of peace, these Christians were going to conquer the world, and to penetrate into distant lands from which the Roman armies had been driven back in shameful defeat. To penetrate, too, where the Roman armies never cared to go, -- among the miserable and crowded lanes of the great cities, and conquer there what the Roman armies could not conquer -- the vice, the misery, the cruelty, the idolatry of the heathen.
The shield, again, guarded those parts of the soldier which the armour did not guard. It warded off the stones, arrows, and darts -- fiery darts often, as St. Paul says, which were hurled at him from afar. And the Christian's shield, St. Paul says, was to be Faith, -- trust in God, -- belief that he was fighting God's battle, and not his own; belief that God was over him in the battle, and would help and guide him, and give him strength to do his work. To believe firmly that he was in the right, and on God's side. To believe that, when he was wounded and struck down, -- when men deserted him, cursed him, tried to take his life -- perhaps did take his life -- with torments unspeakable, -- to have faith to say in his heart, 'I am in the right.' When he was writhing under the truly fiery darts of misrepresentation, slander, scorn, or under the equally fiery darts of remorse for his own mistakes, his own weaknesses, still to say after all, 'I am in the right.' That shield of faith, though it might not save him from wounds, torturing wounds, perhaps crippling wounds, would at least save his life, -- at least protect his vitals; and, when he seemed stricken to the very earth, he could still shelter himself under that shield of faith, and cry, 'Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; when I fall, I shall arise.'
And they were to take a sword. They were to use only one weapon, as the Roman soldier used but one. For, though he went into battle armed with a short heavy pike, he hurled it at once against the enemy; then he closed in with his sword, and fought the real battle with that alone, hand to hand, and knee to knee. The short Roman sword, used by brave men in close fight, had defeated all the weapons of all the nations. St. Paul knew that fact, as well as we; and I cannot but suppose that he had it in his mind when he wrote these great words, and that he meant to bid Christians, when they fought God's battle, to fight, like the Romans, hand to hand: not to indulge in cowardly stratagems, intrigues, and lawyers' quibbles, fighting like the barbarians, cowardly and afar off, hurling stones, and shooting clouds of arrows, but to grapple with their enemies, looking them boldly in the face, as honest men should do, trying their strength against them fairly, and striking them to the heart. But with what? With that sword which, if it wound, heals likewise, -- if it kills, also makes alive; the sword which slays the sins of a man, that he may die to sin, but rise again to righteousness; the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, the message of God, the speech of God, the commandment of God. They were to conquer the world simply by saying, 'Thus saith the Lord.' They were to preach God, and God alone, revealed in his Son, Jesus Christ, a God of love, who willed that none should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth.
But a God of wrath likewise. We must never forget that. A merely indulgent God would be an unjust God, and a cruel God likewise. If God be just, as he is, then he has boundless pity for those who are weak: but boundless wrath for the strong who misuse the weak. Boundless pity for those who are ignorant, misled, and out of the right way: but boundless wrath for those who mislead them, and put them out of the right way. All through St. Paul's Epistles, as through our blessed Lord's sayings and doings, you see this wholesome mixture of severity and mercy, of Divine anger and Divine love, very different from the sentimentalism of our own times, when men fancy that, because they dislike the pain and trouble of punishing evil- doers, God is even such a one as themselves, who sits still and takes no heed of the wrong which is done on earth.
No. The Christians were to tell men of both sides of God's character; for both were working every day, and all day long, about them. They were to tell men that God had, by their mouths, revealed from heaven his wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, at the same moment that he had revealed the good news that men might be purified by the blood of Christ, and saved from wrath through him. They were to tell men of a God who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son to die for it; but of a God who so loved the world that he would not tolerate in it those sins which cause the ruin of the world. Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil, and glory, honour, and peace to every man that worketh good -- that was to be their message, that was to be their weapon, wherewith they were to strike, and did strike, through the hearts of sinners, and convert them to repentance that they might die to sin, and live again to righteousness.
With this armour, and that one weapon, the Word of God, the Christians conquered the souls of the men of the old world. Often they failed, often they were defeated, sadly and shamefully; for they were men of like passions with ourselves. But their defeats always happened when they tried other armour than the armour of God, and fancied that they could fight the world, the flesh, and the devil with the weapons which the world, the flesh, and the devil had forged.
Still they conquered at last -- for God was with them, and the Spirit of God; and they put on again and again the armour of God, AFTER they had cast it off for a while to their own hurt.
And so shall we conquer in the battle of life just in proportion as we fight our battle with the armour of God.
My friends, each and all of you surely wish to succeed in life; and to succeed, not merely in getting money, still less merely in getting pleasure, but with a far nobler and far more real success. You wish, I trust, to be worthy, virtuous, respectable, useful Christian men and women; to be honoured while you live, and regretted when you die; to leave this world with the feeling that your life has not been a failure, and your years given you in vain: but that, having done some honest work at least in this world, you are going to a world where all injustice shall be set right.
Then here, in St. Paul's words, are the elements of success in life. This, and this only, is the way to true success, to put on the whole armour of God. Truthfulness, justice, peaceableness, faith in God's justice and mercy, hope of success, and the sword of the Spirit, even that word of God which, if you do not preach it to others, you can and should preach to yourselves all day long, continually asking yourselves, 'What would God have me to do? What is likely to be his will and message upon the matter which I have in hand?' -- all these qualities go to make up the character of the worthy man or woman, the useful person, the truly able person, who does what he can do, well, because he is what he ought to be, good; and all these qualities you need if you will fight the battle of life like men, and conquer instead of being conquered therein.
But some will say, and with truth, 'It is easy to tell us to be good: we can no more change our own character than we can change our own bodies; the question is, who will make us good?' Who indeed, save he who said, 'Ask and ye shall receive?' St. Paul knew well enough that if his armour was God's armour, God alone could forge it, and God alone could bestow it; and therefore he ends his commands with this last command -- 'Praying always, with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, and watching thereto with all perseverance, and supplication for all saints.' Those who wrote the Church Catechism knew it likewise, and have said to us from our very childhood: 'My good child, know this: that thou canst not do these things of thyself, nor walk in the commandments of God and serve him without his special grace; which thou must learn at all times to call for by diligent prayer.'
Yes, my friends, there is but one way to obtain that armour of God, which will bring us safe through the battle of life; and that is, pray for it. Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. You who wish for true success in life, pray. Pray, if you never prayed before, morning and evening, with your whole hearts, for that Spirit of God which is truth, justice, peace, faith, and hope -- and you shall not pray in vain.