The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.
“Armed, and carrying bows.” In all apparent readiness to meet the foe. Many of the babes in grace having heard of the many foes that we have to encounter have thought it will be well for me to have my armor on, and that I have in my hands the weapons of our warfare, and then I shall be able to face the enemy, and fear no evil. Bear with me awhile if I tell you some of my early experience. Perhaps to some big believers, who were never babes, weak and ignorant, what I may tell may be foolishness; but I am not thinking of writing for their benefit, but desire to communicate a few things that might be useful to such as are sometimes weak and faint in their warfare with the world, the flesh and the devil. Do not think because I am taking upon myself to relate some of my early experiences in battles that I am now without fears, and ever behave as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Ah, no! Thought for many years I have endured many conflicts, and have many scars, yes, at times in the battle I have been so wounded that I was o no use for any more fighting for a time, and have been carried to the hospital tent for repairs and recovery, and I can see that in some fights I have had with the foe if it had not been for One, who stood up for my help, and covered my head in the day of battle, I should have perished. I will tell you more about this One in telling my story.
During the first ten years after I first tasted the salvation of God I was a diligent reader of the Scriptures, and the word of God was my almost constant meditation. I saw by reading that the children of God were the subjects of many weaknesses, they were sometimes cast down, they even fainted at times in the day of adversity. They were sometimes fearful and unbelieving, smitten down, trampled in the dust under the feet of their foes. They were oftentimes very failures, and far from what it became them to be as children of the most high God. I thought I could see how it was they fell short of glorifying God, and I said, Oh, that they had marched on from victory to victory, no matter how rugged the way, or how many and mighty their enemies. In my simplicity I thought I could see what they ought to have done under such-and-such circumstances, and then all would have been well; then they would not have to cry out in the dismal straits that they were brought into. I said within me I see their mistakes, I will profit by them. I said, They should have done this; they should have done that; they were not upon their watch; they were taken by surprise; they were negligent, forgetful; they should have been looking to the Lord all the time, praying without ceasing; they should not have trusted to their own strength. Thus I rather blamed the dear Bible saints. I felt I loved them, but I felt a little ashamed of the ignorance of some of them. I used to imagine what I would do in such-and-such a trial. If adversities and temptations assailed me, if Satan should run upon me like a giant, I would resist him, steadfast in the faith. I argued with myself, Suppose my carnal reasonings, or the insinuating sophistries of men and devils make assaults upon my faith, upon the doctrine of Christ, how would I stand my ground, and ward off the onslaughts of the foe? I thought I could see how it could be done, ought to be done, and also if such times came to me I would, by the grace of God, do it. I was very careful even in those times to have in my thoughts that phrase, “By the grace of God”, or the words, “By the help of the Lord”, for I could see by my reading that that was the becoming form of speech. But, oh, from experience I know but little of what are the deeps of meaning in those few gospel words, “By the grace of God.”
“The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned hack in the day of battle.” I put on my harness, and as I imagined kept myself all panoplied for war. I thought I was all ready for trials, afflictions and all emergencies, and without doubt I would wake a valiant showing in the conflicts that awaited me. I had no suspicion that there was any vain self-confidence entering into my cogitations. Theoretically, scripturally I knew that God only is the everlasting strength and salvation of his people, and that without Christ we can do nothing. I would have said, All my trust is in my near Redeemer, and I need his graciousness every moment or I shall fall; and I thought, I will at all times look to God alone, and not imagine that an arm of flesh can save me. “For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me” (Psalm 44:6). This was the form of my inward speech. I was a happy boy, happy in our Savior’s love, happy that all my sins were forgiven; yes, put away in Jesus’ precious blood. I delighted to read the Scriptures, and much prayer was mingled with my reading that the Holy Spirit would open them up to my understanding. I thought I knew I was sinful and weak and would have to contend with those who vaunted their own inherent sufficiency. I thought I knew, from the Scriptures, that all our endurance, life and vigor must be supplied to us daily, and that all supplies were stored up in Jesus. At this time of which I am speaking it might be said of me that I had not seen war (Exod. 13:17), I knew nothing thereof (Judges 3:2). But as I looked into the King’s armory, and saw the armor and the weapons of war (Eph. 6:10-18), I thought, How kind is our Savior to provide for all the battles of his people. Surely, I said to myself, believers in Christ ought to war a good warfare, and I felt satisfied to think that I at least should; I would be a valiant soldier, I would fight the good fight of faith, laying hold on eternal life. But I did not know that temptations would strike so hard; I did not know that the lusts of the flesh were so formidable; I did not know that Satan had fortresses and strongholds in my fleshly nature, and spiritual wickednesses could ascend from my corrupt nature and make havoc in high places, and invade the sanctuary of my worship of God, my prayers, and my praises, my meditations upon the things of Christ. There are professors of Christ’s name who talk of conflicts and wars who know nothing thereof. They can talk about the old man and the new man, the flesh and the Spirit, that these are contrary the one to the other. They have the theory upon the tip of their tongues, but they have never put on the armor of God, nor handled a weapon, never fought a battle. They have deceived themselves, for their whole continued every day life declares them to be living after the flesh. They love the world, and the things of the world, and seek their gratification in the vanities of time and earth. All their blessednesses are sensual. Their most intimate friends, their boon companions, are those who know not God; the ungodly are their associates; they are at home with the world; they are not strangers and pilgrims in the earth; they live in wantonness; their course is with the course of this world. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates”? (2 Cor. 42:5). “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life” (l Tim. 6:12). I may look into the dictionary and trace the definition of the word “faith”, I may be sufficiently familiar with the Scriptures to tell all that the Bible says about it, but the experimental knowledge of faith, how it is wrought and put forth in the soul, how the child of God lives, walks, fights and triumphs by faith in Christ, is something far more than knowing the bare meaning of the word, and being well versed in what the Bible says about it. From the beginning of an experience as a believer in Jesus I found there was in me a “striving against sin”. There was a power in me that moved me with hatred to sin. I felt I dare not, I must not, I will not, tolerate it in me; so the conflict began, but I did not know, and still do not know, all “the deceitfulness of sin”. I could never tell in what quarter, under what circumstances its uprisings would appear in my flesh to war against my soul. This I find in all conflicts with sin, and every other enemy (they are all leagued together), that for my safety, and the conquest of my foes, I need to be ever looking unto Jesus, and praying with all prayer unto God, seeking counsel, and gracious strength to war a good warfare, and having done all, to stand. “Striving against sin” has been no trifling affair. I have seen little boys playing soldiers, and sometimes in times of peace the army of a nation in sham battles go through exercises of what are presumed to be the strategy of actual war, but no one is hurt, and no blood is shed. In the early days of my life as a believer I wanted, and to this day feel I want, a tender conscience; not a hardened conscience, seared with a hot iron. I want a believing, loving heart, to love our God, our precious Christ, his people and his truth. Oh let there be a heart in me to know thee my God and Savior. I want to feed upon the Bread of Life, to feast upon thee, dear Lamb of God, to know in truth that thy flesh is meat indeed, and thy blood is drink indeed.
“I want that grace that springs from thee,
That quickens all things where it flows,
And makes a wretched thorn like me
Bloom as the myrtle and the rose.”
A few hours after I had in my heart the blissful hope that my sins were all forgiven, and that Christ had washed away my guilt in his precious blood, I, to my sorrowful surprise, found I was still sinful, there were rising up within me thoughts and emotions that I knew were wrong, and I was pained, and troubled in my soul. I told our dear Savior all about it, and sought anew his pity, his compassion, his forgiveness. I felt a determination not to have such things within me. I thought to exterminate all sinfulness in me, though I did not know how, but I thought surely there must be some way that I would be able to live, to be holy even as our Father who is in heaven is holy. I longed so to be, and I am yearning unto this hour to be pure and holy unto the Holy One of Israel. As the poet Cowper saith,
“Let this hint suffice,
The cross once seen is death to every vice.
Else he who hung there suffered all his pain,
Bled, groaned, and agonized, and died in vain.”
Such has ever been the effect when Christ crucified has been revealed in the quickened sinner’s heart, we feel we cannot any longer live in sin. I found in my life of striving against sin that I had wrestlings and fightings every day, that in my carnal nature there are dens and caves where the enemy hides, and I found when I thought my foes were swept off the field, and all was peace, then all unawares they crept forth and were arrayed against my soul. Indeed many of the sins of my flesh are so disguised that I have not known them to be my enemies until wounded by them. Oh the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). What is sin! Multitudes of those who profess the name of Christ consider sin to be their outward acts, such transgression of the law that can be seen and known by others, as stealing, lying, cheating, adultery, drunkenness, using vile language, getting angry. Such people if they can get along without being discovered in such conduct are well pleased with themselves, and esteem themselves righteous. But the children of God, the called by God’s grace, know to their souls’ bitterness and shame that as the Savior saith, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). “Thou shalt not covet” ( Rom. 8:7). “I hate vain thoughts” (Psalm 119:113). “The thought of foolishness is sin” (Prov. 24:9). Christ saith, “That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23). During these early years of which I am speaking I was beginning to know a little of the plague of my own heart. Yes, I found that all my resolutions, sighs and groans, and my felt shame, and though I might shake my head I could not shake evil thoughts out of me, or quell my sinful emotions. But I felt, I cannot be at ease with sin. I cannot, I will not, make peace with such enemies of my soul. I loathed my iniquities, and I felt very often to despise myself because I was vile. Now, there are also other kinds of conflicts; they are described as a great fight of afflictions (Heb. 10:32). There is the hatred of the whole world that lieth in wickedness to be endured. There are also the buffetings of Satan’s messengers. There are temporal hardships, sicknesses, bereavements, distresses, persecutions, tribulations, manifold temptations, and in all these things the chosen of God are more than conquerors through him that loved them. Yes, amidst all the wrestlings and conflicts how precious, how endeared, how all-essential is our dear Savior, the Captain of our salvation. Now let us take a glimpse of some of the conflicts of the soul. Here are some of the enemies that arise, invade the land and plague the heart of the child of God: envy, jealousy, irritability, pride, vain thoughts. Oh, says some one, such little trifles as these do not bother me. Perhaps it is so. Do you tolerate such things in yourself? If such evil things do not distress you, if you do not find your soul wrestling against these, what you think are very tiny foes, if you are not in conflict with them, then you are in league and in peace with them, and notwithstanding all your profession of the religion of Jesus Christ you do not know him, and you are yet dead in trespasses and sins. Others may be in no concern about such evils of their flesh, but that one who is of God feels them to be an annoyance, they distress his soul, he feels ashamed that such mean, ugly, hateful things are in his flesh, for they war against the soul, and mar the blessedness of our life in our Beloved. What shall we do with such mean enemies within us? Try your skill, use all your natural energies, and you will find your wisdom unavailing, your powers exhausted, and in the strife against these foes you will be brought to your wits end. O, child of God, in this warfare your heart’s language unto the Lord at length will be in gracious oneness with this, “O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee” (2 Chron, 20:12). There is wrought in by the Holy Spirit a very “looking unto Jesus.” Our eyes are unto thee, O Savior, O thou Captain of our salvation. We flee, we are allured to Christ, the Lamb of God, for we are humbled, ashamed, we are wounded in spirit because of our sinful tormentors, for unto our Emmanuel we feel it is all known. It is in him whom we feel has compassion on such as are out of the way, we see our beauty, our righteousness; in him all iniquity is purged, and in hope in him our heart is persuaded we shall ultimately be holy, all glorious; we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Where are all our envies, jealousies, evil thoughts, vain imaginations, and all internal meannesses? Why in these sacred moments of the soul’s meditations upon Christ and his salvation they are quelled, they flee away, they are defeated, they go and hide themselves again (for awhile at least) in their dens, and thus we find we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
Take another glimpse of the warfare. These are “the wiles of the devil,” “the fiery darts of the wicked.” “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (l Peter 5:8-9). The great dragon, that old serpent called the devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world, the accuser of our brethren, who accuseth them before our God day and night (Rev. 12:9-10). Satan if suffered to do so, (for he is under the dominion of Jehovah) can inject into our minds all manner of infidel and atheistic thoughts. How at times I have suffered from these fiery darts. Then he can, infuse blasphemies and foulness, in depths, for utter vileness well nigh unimaginable, this I know, so that my soul has been shocked, amazed and plunged into agonies before our God. I knew they came not from my corrupt nature, but from without. Satan resists, and interferes with our approaches and standing before our God (Zech. 3:1-2). He is the accuser of our brethren, who accuseth them before our God day and night (Rev. 12:10). Oh were we left in the conflict to ourselves we should be overcome and hopeless. He challenges our souls with “ifs”. He approaches us with his wiles, all to draw us away from our God and our precious Christ, to allure us into forbidden paths. Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light, and his serpentine strategies to seduce us into false ways and doctrines are such that only by the wisdom and grace of our God are we able to escape the snares of the devil. Some of God’s dear children have not to such depths and lengths been tempted and assaulted by Satan as others of the household of God. I cannot describe the manifold assaults of Satan, but this will ever be the ultimate end, he shall be cast down, overcome and bruised under the feet of the redeemed of the Lord. But in the conflict, in not giving place to him, in resisting him, we find it no child’s play. Even the apostle Paul when he was buffeted cried out in the battle, feeling he was not in himself sufficient to endure such painful thorns, such buffetings, and his hope and consolation was this from the mouth of the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Thus animated in the conflict, and conscious of his insufficiency he exclaims, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10). How shall we meet and triumph over all the assaults of the devil? We are instructed to resist him, steadfast in the faith, having the shield of faith, wherewith we shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. There is no other defense. Faith in whom, in what? Not in an arm of flesh, not our bare assent to the doctrine in the Scriptures, not the gospel in word only, but in Christ Jesus and his gospel known in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance in our tried hearts. Thus our faith, wrought in us by the operation of God, looks unto Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith. There is the victory of our brethren recorded in Revelation 12:11, and as it was then so it ever is: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony ; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” So in looking to Christ crucified, to the blood and righteousness of the dear Lamb of God, all the fiery darts, the accusations of Satan, are quenched, and in the word of our testimony we exclaim, “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” There are no victories apart from our precious Christ.
Now let us, take a glimpse of another class of enemies. There is a great fight of afflictions (Heb. 10:32). There are sickness, bereavements, temporal hardships, persecutions, revilings of those who hate us for Christ’s sake, perils among false brethren, and in the world we shall have tribulation. Are we enduring all these things as good soldiers of Jesus Christ? Not always. I have found myself murmuring, unreconcilcd to the sorrows of my lot, self-pity creeps in, and I am its captive, and holds me in my peevishness, and I am at times fretting against the providences of the Lord. Oh I could pen a long narrative of my failures, and of the ugly things which in my trials, sorrows, bereavements and varied tribulations have showed themselves to be in me, which have only aggravated the burdens of my soul, and weighed me down. But nevertheless there is in enduring the fight of afflictions a triumphing in Christ, when he, in his compassion and support, shows himself our almighty Friend: the friend of weak and sinful worms. Ah, yes, the Holy Ghost shows us we are but dust, base things, things that are not (1 Cor. 1:28), and we are brought humbled at the mercy-seat, and in the precious revealing in our hearts of Christ’s preciousness, in the persuasion that God in faithfulness, in love, and for our good hath brought us into the waters of affliction, into the fires of tribulation, and that surely he will be with us, sustain us and bring us through. Our God does quiet us, and graciously bring us to submission to the painful and rugged pathway. Oh to be in acquiescence to all the will of God.
“My conquest is sure thru His blood,
Though now there’s a warfare within,
And Satan comes in like a flood,
To draw my poor heart after sin.
Fresh succor from Christ I receive,
Who did all my conflicts foresee;
And through His rich grace, I believe
He saved a sinner like me.”
There are seasons when we wax valiant in the fight, we tread under our feet every adversary, and put to flight the armies of the aliens, and everything that would alienate us from our God and Redeemer. These times are when our almighty Friend and Captain of our salvation is very near, feelingly in our hearts, leading us on in our sore conflicts with the world, the flesh and the devil. We felt our weakness and were constrained to cry unto him in the battle, and he came to our rescue (1 Chron. 5:20; Psalm 35:1-3), and though all the day the battle rages, and there is no cessation of our conflicts, there is an hourly striving against sin, and our trials and hellish temptations, and the sore providences of the Lord are unabated, we are enabled by the power of Christ that rests upon us to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and sing our battle song as we are entering into our conflicts. We read Jehoshaphat “appointed singers unto the Lord, and that they should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the Lord; for his mercy endureth forever” (2 Chron. 20:21). “They shall be as mighty men, which tread down their enemies in the mire of the streets in the battle: and they shall fight, because the Lord is with them, and the riders on horses shall be confounded” (Zech. 10:5). Saith the psalmist, “By thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall” (Psalm 18:29). O, tempest-tossed child of God, this is the word of our God, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 54:17). When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19).
FREDERICK W. KEENE
SIGNS OF THE TIMES,
Volume 93, No. 2