I was greatly blessed by one of the last messages of John E. Marshall, preached at the Banner of Truth conference in Leicester, on the topic of David and Goliath.1I have noticed that this message was referred to several times in the recent book of his life and writings, and I have listened to it several times with great benefit. Toward the end of the sermon Mr Marshall related that his response to the question, 'Have you ever thought of resigning?' was, 'Yes, about once a month for twenty years.' We find humour in this response, because it is so true. Most men in the ministry can identify with Peter's fiery trials (1 Pet. 4:12). At times the desire to flee to a place of rest is all-consuming. The truth of the matter is that we are in the midst of a raging spiritual battle. Paul pinpoints the danger in Ephesians 6: 11-12 (ESV).
Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Recognizing an Assault
Several key themes of the Puritans such as: providence, afflictions, prayer, mortification, etc. are very closely related to our own spiritual battles. There are indeed common trials, difficulties and broken relationships that are the fruits of a fallen world. They are part of the life that we all experience. When I speak, however, of spiritual warfare, I am referring to a particular offensive of the enemy of our souls. I am slowly learning to recognize it for what it is: a spiritual assault to stunt or stop our spiritual progress. There is a particular feeling that seems to come with the assault. It is a feeling of darkness and despair. It drives one to cherish an escape. It blinds the mind to the wisdom and goodness of God. It initiates a wrestling match that drives one's face to the mat. Spurgeon was familiar with this battle and describes it well in 'The Minister's Fainting Fits'.
Ten years of toil do not take so much life out of us as we lose in a few hours by Ahithophel the traitor, or Demas the apostate. Strife, also, and division and slander, and foolish censures, have often laid holy men prostrate, and made them go 'as with a sword in their bones.' Hard words wound some delicate minds very keenly ... By experience the soul is hardened to the rough blows which are inevitable in our warfare; but at first these things utterly stagger us, and send us to our homes wrapped in a horror of great darkness.
Lectures to My Students 2
As they did in Daniel's day (Dan. 10), satanic enemies still seek to stop the march of God's programme. If pastors can be disarmed then the flock can be scattered. Paul warns that our true enemies are wicked angels in high places shooting with powerful darts. I am just gradually beginning to recognize the source of such assaults. Satanic assault always seems to carry with it a powerful tendency to discouragement and distress of spirit. Almost always one's thoughts run to escape and to greener pastures. The amazing thing is that often these attacks come in the context of blasts from those who should be our support and our allies! We understand the warfare that can come from an Alexander the Coppersmith (2 Tim. 4:4), but is it not a perplexity that the enemy can even use our friends?
There is no way out of the battle. We are called to bear the cross just as was our great Head, Jesus Christ. Advance in the kingdom of God steals ground from enemy territory. Is it any wonder that we are regularly mauled as we seek to spoil Satan's kingdom? What is one to do? The answer has been the same throughout all time; we need the defensive weapons of faith and truth. We must begin with a firm grip on truth, and, with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we hold on and dig deeper. Please consider with me four related truths that provide a solid truth upon which to stand when the enemy pours in like a flood upon us.
Standing in the Hour of Opposition
- Ephesians 1:11 – God 'works all things according to the counsel of his will.' This is a bedrock foundation. This and the following verses make no room for exception. God controls our destiny. He is leading all things, without qualification, to the destination of his eternal will. Governments, churches, history, everything in heaven and on earth, all of it, from a miniscule mosquito bite to the downing of a jet liner, war, famine and earthquake; all is being directed to the glory and purpose of God! He overrules all sin and suffering. Because we live in the midst of history we do not see the ultimate victory as does God, but we are on the winning side!
- Romans 8:28 – God causes all things to work for good. Satan assaults believers in this arena quite regularly. He would have us doubt God's care and love. We find here also an absolute statement that good is planned for those who are called according to God's purpose. There is not anything in life or circumstance that is excluded. We must believe this by faith, though it is contrary to sense; often our hearts are breaking, yet God's love and care for his people remain constant.
- Philippians 2:13 – 'God works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.' At this stage we have arrived at a passage that is extremely personal. God specifically is working his pleasure in my life. This includes both its small and large details. All circumstances, life relationships, dreams, visions, and hopes are well within the compass of this wonderful passage. Paul even applies the ramification of it; do not grumble and complain! God is indeed working in our lives particularly, specifically and wonderfully. The writer to the Hebrews gives a supporting verse in Hebrews 13:21. He is 'equipping us to do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight'. This concept is amazingly wonderful. If God is pleased with what he is doing in our lives, so must we be!
- Galatians 6:9 – Do not lose heart in doing good, 'for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up'. This is a promise of eventual victory. David also speaks of this in Psalm 1. We will bear fruit in the proper season. Paul adds in 1 Corinthians 15:58: 'Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.'
Faith in the above divine truths gives a solid foundation on which to stand. We are encouraged by Paul to take up the armour, and the first and very vital piece is ... truth (Eph. 6:14)! I believe that to overcome the enemy, and to gain victory in our spiritual warfare we must consider, meditate upon, delight in, and pray over these four mammoth absolutes. In them we find the sovereign God of history working in us and for us. Faith that can grip these realities will be, in the end, a conquering faith. They will guide us through the smoke of battle, through wounds, and through heartbreaks. Later, when the battle is over, we shall be standing on higher ground!