Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

CELESTIAL STRIFE.

A Sermon,

PREACHED ON MONDAY EVENING, OCTOBER 514, 1857,

BY THE REV. W. M. PUNSHON,

At Great Queen Street Chapel, London.

“Aud I saw, and behold a white horse, and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and be went forth conquering, and to conquer."- Rev. vi. 2.

How animating is the sound of war! How easily can it awaken the ardours of the unrenewed and unsanctified beart of man! There is no profession in which he can gain more renown and applause than in the profession of arms. It is the birthplace of what men call glory. Custom has baptised it honourable; it carries with it a pomp and a circumstance of which other professions are desti. tute; it has nerved the arm of the patriot, it has fired the genius of the painter, it has strung and swept the poet's lyre; nations have bowed before its shrine, and even religion has prostituted herself to bless and consecrate its banners. Yet it must not be forgotten that for the most part human conquerors are just murderers upon a grand scale-mighty batchers of human kind. Their victories are won amidst extermination and havoc; their track is traced in ruin; there is human life upon their laurels ; and if they wish to acquire a name, they bave got one; let them glory as they can in its possession—the voice of blood proclaims it from the ground, and it is vaunted from earth to heaven by the wailings of orphaned hearts, and by the deep execrations of despair. The sacred writings, however, tell us of one conqueror whose rictories were peacefully achieved, whose battles were bloodlessly won; or if his onward march was discoloured by blood, it was his own. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who is thus evidently set forth before us; he who “died the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” In the fulfilment of the various duties connected with the mediatorial office which he had undertaken, he is frequently represented as going out to battle against his adversaries, as routing them by the word of his mouth, and returning in exultation and triumph. Instances of this you will easily and at once remember Thus, in the forty-fifth psalm, which we read in your hearing to-night, “ Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty. And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things." Again, in the eleventh chapter of Luke, “ When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace : But when a stronger than he shall come upon him and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.” And yet, again, according to the mysterious apocalypses of the Book of Revelation, “Then shall all make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb sball overcome them." It matters not how numerons or how powerful his enemies may be-alike over the powers of darkness with their legioned hosts of foes--alike over the corruptions of the human heart with all its ramifications of depravity-alike over the false systems into which

the corruption has retreated, as into so many garrisoned and fortified towns, crown is given unto him, and he goeth forth conquering and to conquer."

It is not my intention this evening, and time would forbid it even if we had the desire, to enter into all the details of this interesting and absorbing strife. I should just like for a moment or two to concentrate your attentiou upon one phase of the conflict-the battle of the old serpent the devil, the great origin of evil, under whose generalship the others are mustered, and to whose com. mands they submittingly bow. Behold, then, the combat beyond all others inportant-the combat between Christ and Satan for the human soul, and, as you trace the progress of the fight, remember with encouragement, and say that “He goeth forth conquering, and to conquer.” It will be necessary, order that we have the whole matter before us, that we introduce the cause of strife, the battle, and the victory.

First, as to the cause of strife. You know that when the all comprising be. nevolence of God found heaven too small for the completion of its vast desigus, this earth arose in order and in beauty from his forming hands. After by his Spirit he had garnished the heavens, and scattered upon the fair face of nature tie labour of his hand and the impress of his feet, as the fairest evidence of divine workmanship, the last and most excellent of his works below, he made man in his own image, after his own likeness. The soul, then, was the property of him by whom it was created, who imparted to it its high and noble faculties, by whom, notwithstanding its defilement, it is still sustained, and from whom proceed the retributions which shall fix its doom for ever. Man was created in possession of that moral purity, that absolute freedom from sin, which consti. tuted of itself assiinilation to his Maker's image. And so long as he retained that image, so long was he the divine property, and the divine portion alone. But the moment he sinned, the moment of the perversion of his nature, of the estrangement of his faculties, of the alienation of his heart, he came under a different tenure, and became a vassal of a different lord.

Satan himself, once an inbabitant of the high realms of glory, but hurled from that giddy height for disobedience and pride, was mysteriously permitted to tempt our first parents in the garden, with the full knowledge, on their part, that standing as they did in their representative and public character, if they fell the consequences of that one transgression were entailed upon all their posterity. With the circumstances of the original temptation you are all of course familiar, and the issue of it you have in that one verse in the book of Genesis :-“ Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.” This tells us of the contravention-the direct contravention, of a known law : a law which God, as the supreme Creator, had a perfect right to institute ; a law which man, as a dependent creature, was under binding obligations to obey. It was instituted avowedly as a test of obedience; and this is all that we would condescend to answer to the laboured sarcasms of foolish ivfidelity. Any wayfaring man, though a fool, can curl his lip and de

laim against the insignificance of the act from which such mighty issues sprang; but they forget that the moment the temptation was yielded to, there was in human nature a very incarnation of the devil. Under that demoniacal possession the man was prepared for any infraction, from the eating of the forbidden fruit to to the subversion of an almighty throne; and he who under such circumstances would violate a known command, however trifling, would not, if the circumstances had been equal, have shrunk away from the endeavour to scale the battlements of heaven, and pluck the crown of divinity from the very brow of the Eternal. Hence it was, by yielding to the suggestions of the tempter, and to his infamous temptation, that the portals of the palace were flung wide open for the strong man armed to enter, and hither, alas ! he came with all his sad and fearful train, enthroning himself upon the heart, setting up his image, as Bunyan hath it, in the market-place of the town of Man-soul : fortifying every avenue, filling every chamber, corrupting every faculty, enervating every inbabitant, and announcing every moment the symbols of his

Own resolve to grasp and hold it for ever. Here then is in brief the cause of this celestial strife. The soul, a colony of heaven, had been taken, usurped possession of, by the powers of hell, and the effort to restore it to allegiance was the inain cause of this celestial war.

Still further to impress you with the weighty causes of the strise, let us remind you for a moment of the character of the government thus by daring usurpation acquired. The dominion which Satan exercises over the human soul is despotic in its character. He is not a monarch, he is an autocrat; he admits no compromise, he brooks no rival, he pours his uncleanness upon every part, and reigns supremely over every power and every faculty of man. True, the man is not always conscious of his slavery-that is one of the cunningest secrets of his power, that he persuades his vassals that they are free, and their offended language to any one who questions the fact is, “We be Abraham's children that were never in bondage to any man.” He brands them as his own, and then, content to wear his badge, they may choose their own trappings. He has no uniform. Some of his soldiers are in rags and others in purple, and his very choicest veterans have stolen the livery of heaven. There is not one within the compass of the whole human family who is not subject to bis authority, naturally led captive by the devil at bis will.

And then, this government of Satan over the human soul, is not only despotic but degrading. Slavery in any form is essentially connected with degradation, and in the case before us the connection must be regarded as the most palpable and emphatic of all. The essence and exaltation of moral dignity are assimilations to the image of God. Whatever recedes from that image must of necessity debase and degrade. Now the course of man's life, as it has been ever since the fall, a course of constant and increasing recession from God, presents a spectacle of moral degradation which is grievous to behold: the whole nature has fallen; the understanding has become darkened and is conversant only with what is contemptible and low; the affections which once soared sublimely upwards now cleave to worldly objects, objects that perish in the using; the passions have become loyal servants of the usurper, and keep their zealous patrol in the courtyard of his palace; the will which once inclined to good, is now fierce and greedy after evil; imagination revels in fondest dalliance with sin for its paramour; and conscience, intoxicated with opiate draughts, and in that intoxication smitten with paralysis, gazes hopelessly upon the desolation; or if at times stirred by the spirit within, it breaks out with a paroxysm and terrifies the man with its thunder, he is persuaded to regard it as the incoherence of some meddling drunkard, or the ravings of some frantic madman. Such is the condition to which the usurpation of the evil one has reduced the human soul. It is first earthly, scraping its affluence or its pleasure together ; and then, yet more degrading, there is the transformation that happened to Nebuchadnezzar—the heart of a man is taken out, and the heart of a beast is put in; and then as like grows to like, and as a process of assimilation is constantly going on, it grows into its master's image: the mark of the beast becomes more distinct and palpable, every feature stands confessed of Satan's obscene and loathsome likeness, and there is a living proof of the truth of the scale upon which Scripture has graduated man's increasing degeneracy-"First earthly, then sensual, then devilish.” That is a fearful picture is it not ? Ah ! you see the man, or kis bacchanalian orgies, or his midnight prowl, but you do not see the fiend that dogs his steps and goads him to destraction; you see the degradation of the nature that once bore the image of God, but you do not see the jibing mocking demon that is behind; you trace intelligibly enough the infernal brand, but you cannot hear the peals of infernal laughter as the archdevil, looking down upon the soul that he has stormed, exults in the extremity of the disgrace and glories in the pollution of the fallen.

The government of Satan over the human soul not only despotic and de. grading, but destructive. Sin and punishment are inseparably allied; the powers of darkness, although mysteriously permitted a certain amount of in. fluence, are themselves in punishment, “reserved in chains under darkness until the judgment of the Great Day." A man who transgresses, since no coercion comes upon the freedom of his will, must necessarily be regarded as wilfut; he is under the curses of a violated law, nay, condemned altogether, for “the wruth of God abideth upon him.” God will “pour out indignation, and wrath, and tribulation, and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; upon the Jew first, and also upon the Gentiles," for there is no respect of persons with God. I am speaking to unconverted sinners to-night; to some of refined and delicate sensibility, shocked at the ribaldry of the vulgar, and at the licentiousness of the profane. I tell you there is no respect of persons with God. If you flee not to a high and mighty Redeemer, if you repose not in present reliance upon Christ, for you there remaineth nothing but a death whose bitterest ingredient is that it can never die, but that it has eternity about it, eternity beyond it, and eternity within it, and the curse of God upon it, fretting it and following it for ever.

Thank God, there is a promise of a perfect and delightful deliverance from this thraldom under which man has been groaning. Christ has come down on purpose to deliver and to ransom him, and he goeth forth conquering and to conquer. In the counsels of the eternal Godhead, in foresight of the temptation of Satan and of the thraldom and depravity of man, Christ was induced to work out a counteracting scheme, by which, in the beautiful language of ancient prophecy, the prey of the mighty should be taken away and the lawful captive delivered. The first intimation of this scheme was given just when the first shadow of sin swept over the world. “ The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head.” From that time there was a continued series of operations, in the good providence of God perpetuated for thousands of years, all tending to the fulfilment of this original promise, and the achievement of this original plan. At last, in the fulness of time—the time by prophet seers foretold, and by believing saints expected-in the fulness of time, the Son of God was incarnated in the nature that had sinned, and then it was that the battle in earnest began.

II. Look, then, at the Divine Saviour, "stronger than the strong, man arined,” invested with far higher qualifications, and wielding far mighter power. And how is this? He is the babe in Bethlehem, the rejected wanderer, the arraigned rebel, the scourged and spit upon, the Nazarene, the crucified. But these are only voluntary submissions, and in the deepest humiliation there slumbers Omnipotence within. * All power is given unto Me both in heaven and in earth," and this power is all enlisted upon the side of salvation and of mercy. It is not the power of the lightning, that blasts while it brightens; it is not the power of the whirlwind, whose track is only known by the carnage and desolation that it leaves behind it; it is the power of the water rill, that drops and drops, and in its dropping melts the most stern and difficult of nature's forces; it is the power of the light-it flows in energetic silence, you cannot hear it as it flows, and yet it permeates and illumines all. He is strong, but he is strong to deliver; he is mighty, but, in his own powerful language, he is "mighty to save.” It often happens-it used to do more fre. quently than it does now in the history of the strifes of nations, and of the harsh scenes of war, that the interest of spectators was drawn aside from hostile ranks to two courageous champions, who separated themselves from opposing armies for single combat with each other, and the fate of armies appeared to the spectators as nothing compared with who should be the victor in this individual strife. Oh! conceive if it were possible a single combat between the rival princes of light and darkness, the grand, the transcendent, the immeasurable issue of which shall be the ruin or redemption of the human soul! I cannot limn it; I cannot bring it fairly before you ; the subject is too mighty : and yet a thought or two may not inaptly illustrate the battle that now

See, then, the lists are spread ; the champions are there. Eager angels crowd around, for they have an interest in the strife, and they are anxious to tunc their harps to the anthems of regeneration again. Exulting demons are

before us.

there, flushed with high hopes they dare not name, that vaunt of a ruined uni. verse and of a peopled hell. This is no gentle passage at arms ; this is no gorgeous tournament, or mimic fight, or holiday review; the destinies of a world of souls are trembling in the balance now-depend for weal or woe upon the issue of this mortal strife.

The first grapple seems to have been in the temptation in the wilderness ; for at the commencement of our Saviour's public ministry the enemy endeavoured to teinpt the second Adam after the same fashion as he had tempted the first; and when wearied with labour, and exhausted with endurance and suffering from the pangs of hunger and of thirst, he brought before him a similar order of temptation to that which had been successful in the garden of Eden. Ah! but there was a mightier Adam in human flesh this time with whom he had to deal. Grasping the sword of the Spirit, with its trenchant blade, he cut asunder the flimsy sophistries of the tempter's weaving, and the discomfited demon went baffled away; and angels came and ministered unto Jesus-fanned with their ambrosial wings his burning brow, and poured their offices of kindness upon his fatigued and sorrowing soul.

Defeated, but not conquered, the enemy returned to the charge; and the next grapple was in the performance of miracles. It is customary in ordinary warfare, you know, whenever a fortress is taken, for the conqueror to garrison it with some of his own soldiers, and leave some trusty captain in charge. The enemy appears to have acted upon this plan, and in token of his usurped authority over the human race, he caused certain of his servants to enter into the bodies of men. When Christ came into the world they brought unto him those that were grievously vexed with devils. He sat down before some of these Sebastopols of the evil one, and as speaking by that bigh exorcism, he at once dislodged the intruders; and, as some in moody silence, and others with piteous cries, they rushed out from the places they had agonized, we can trace in their complaining the confession of their defeatm"What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God. Art thou come to torment us before the time?"

The next was the death grapple. And was the champion smitten? Did he bend beneath that felon's stroke ? Was there victory at last for the powers of hell? Imagine, if you can, how there would be joy in the breast of the Evil One when the Saviour expired ; how he would exult at that victory which had more than recompensed the struggle of four thousand years. Hours roll on ; he makes no sign; day and night succeed each other ; there is no break upon the slumber--their victory appears complete and final. Shall no one undeceive them? No; let them enjoy their triumph as they may. It were cruel to disturb a dream like that, which will have so terrible an awaking. But we, brethren, with the light of 1800 years streaming down upon that gory field, understand the matter better. He died, of course, for only thus could death be abolished; he was counted with transgressors, of course, for thus only could sin be forgiven; he was made a curse for us, of course, because thus only could he turn the curse into a blessing. Oh! to faith's enlightened sight there is a surpassing glory upon that cross. He was never so kingly as when girt about with that crown of thorns; there was never so much royalty upon that regal brow as when he said, “ It is finished,” and he died.

There only remains one more grapple, and that was in the rising from the dead and ascension into heaven. It is considered the principal glory of a conqueror, you know, not merely that he repels the aggressive attacks of his enenıy, but when he carries the war into that enemy's camp and makes him own himself vanquished in the metropolis of his own empire. This Christ did by concealing himself for a while within the chambers of the grave. We cannot tell you much about the battle, for it was a night attack, it took place in darkness; but we can tell the issue, because on the morning of the third day the sepulchre was empty, and the Redeemer had gone forth into Galilee. This was only like the garnering up of the fruits of the conflict. The cross had settled it. It was finished when he said it was-upon the cross; but this was

« ZurückWeiter »