Rev. James S. Sinclair
(An editorial article continued from page 357 of the last issue)
WE already made reference to some of the many forms in which the great enemy enemy of God and man is coming in, like a flood, upon our country and professing Churches. We have pointed out that he is coming in with floods of sordid materialism, unbelieving rationalism, foolish superstition, and open immorality. It now falls to us to observe:
The promise that “the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” The prophet, as the mouthpiece of Jehovah, intimates that the enemy will not be allowed to pursue his course without resistance, but that at the very time when he comes in such a powerful manner as that he seems likely to carry all before him, the Spirit of the Lord shall go forth to the conflict, and effectually resist his advance. There is nothing too hard for the Lord – He is all-powerful; and it is only because He sees fit, in His infinite sovereignty, and for wise and holy purposes, to give the enemy liberty for a time, that the enemy is not driven for ever off the field into the bottomless pit. The Lord reigneth, and shall reign till all His enemies are made His footstool.
Let us notice the glorious Person who lifts up the standard: it is none other than “the Spirit of the Lord.” There are three Persons in the ineffable, undivided Godhead – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost – and it is the office of the third Person to be the channel of divine energy or power in the dealings of the Godhead with the children of men. Just as the activity of the Son of God in the flesh was the spring of merit for the purchase of redemption, so the activity of the blessed Spirit in His operations is the spring of power for the application of redemption in actual experience to sinners of mankind. The Father, indeed, has given to the Son, as Mediator of the new covenant, all power in heaven and in earth – “power over all flesh” – that He may employ it in the interests of His kingdom. The Son sends forth the Spirit, who is the efficient agent of the Godhead, to oppose the inroads of the devil, and to preserve and promote the cause of God in the world. It is no other than a divine Person, possessed of almighty power, who is promised to lift a standard against the adversary. Satan is stronger than any of the sons of men, bad or good, and none but the Spirit of the Lord can effectually cope with him.
The Spirit has certainly been pleased in all ages to employ men as co-workers in this great conflict, but men are only His instruments at best. All their intellect, energy, and effort can accomplish nothing apart from divine influences. “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Nay, more; such was the effect of the Fall, that not one member of our race is found outside the camp of the devil, or within the camp of Christ, until the Spirit of the Lord first puts forth His constraining and transforming power. And this has been, and will continue to be, one of the standing and incontrovertible evidences of the divine origin of the Christian religion – that a supernatural and matchless power has accompanied its teaching, wherever it has come, before which apparently unconquerable forces of iniquity have been effectually overthrown.
Observe the “standard” which the Spirit lifts up. A standard, as here referred to, is a signal used in war, mainly for two purposes: first, to give a visible sign of the special country or cause in whose interest a particular army is engaged; and, secondly, to afford a rallying point and a guide to the soldiers of that particular army. What is the standard that the Spirit of God lifts up in the spiritual warfare? The standard is both one and many – essentially one, and yet diverse in certain respects.
The Spirit raises the standard of the Word as set forth in the Holy Scriptures. He has been pleased in all ages to employ His Word as a chief weapon in resisting the onset of the enemy. It is spoken of in some places as “the sword of the Spirit,” and by its instrumentality He has pierced the heart of the King’s enemies, and subdued them to His sceptre. The Word of God, as contrasted with the word of man, has been the great rallying point of the true children of God in every generation. Never can there be any real success in the Lord’s army without it, and there never was a day in which there was greater need to hold this standard aloft than the present. The Lord Jesus Himself, in His wilderness temptation, employed this weapon in His combat with the enemy with complete success, and His people are called to follow His example.
The Spirit lifts up the standard of the gospel of Christ. The Apostle Paul, as an inspired messenger, declares that the gospel concerning “Jesus Christ and him crucified “is the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation, and he unfurled no other standard at Rome, at Athens, and at the other great cities of the Gentiles, which he visited on his missionary journeys. The Spirit of truth then attended the standard of the gospel with irresistible saving power to many, and the floods of heathen superstition and wickedness were driven back before its triumphant march. The Lord has never promised to bless any other gospel than that which His Word sets before us, and if He arises to check the dreadful floods of error and corruption that are overspreading our country in the present day, He will employ the old gospel, so unpalatable to the majority of modern tastes, but so sweet to those who are taught of the Spirit, for the accomplishment of this desirable end. Legion are the new methods for bringing the world to Christ, but they will prove utter and dismal failures. It is to be feared many of these devices are only the means of deluding sinners more and more to their eternal destruction.
The Spirit lifts up the standard of a special testimony against particular errors and sins, and on behalf of particular truths and duties. We observe the standard lifted up in this manner by the prophets in the Old Testament and by Christ and His Apostles in the New. They are the patterns for all subsequent generations. When the Spirit in those former days entered into conflict with the powers of darkness, and led forth judgment unto victory, He brought home to the minds of men not only the fact of sin and error in general, but the guilt of particular sins and errors – the crying evils of the special generation in which they lived. Did not the great Head of the Church, who preached in the power of the Spirit, leave a never-to-be-forgotten example in this respect? In like manner acted all His apostolic servants. There are many nowadays who, in the interests of a supposed charity, decry a faithful, outspoken testimony against error and for truth, but their charity is not that of Christ or His Apostles. Who among the sons of men were ever fuller of the love of Christ than John and Paul, and who more faithful in the denunciation of false doctrine and sinful practice? Do we not see the same thing also clearly exemplified in sub-apostolic and Reformation times, when the Spirit, in an eminent measure, raised a standard against the enemy ? Witness the historic toils and conflicts of Athanasius, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Ridley and Latimer, Henderson, Rutherford, Cargill, Renwick, and many others, who are now before the Throne. The names of these witnesses stand for all that is worthy and noble in the service of Christ. The Spirit honoured their testimony, and drove back the enemy on many a field by their instrumentality. When their example is set aside in this thing in which they followed Christ, it is by no means a sign of greater love to God or the souls of men, or of a richer measure of the Spirit’s presence, but of the very opposite – of less love and less of the Spirit. The Spirit has withdrawn, and the love of carnal ease and popular applause has taken His place. The smooth-tongued sentimentalism and the indiscriminate charity of the present day are not from the Lord, but from the enemy, and they often co-exist in individuals with the greatest personal selfishness and coldness to what is truly good.
Let us notice, lastly, what the Spirit’s uplifting of the standard implies in the way of success. One rendering of this passage, which is to be found in the margin of our Bibles, is this: “shall put him to flight”. It is plain that the Spirit has been acting in every generation against the arch enemy, and that He has never been without a standard in some part of the earth. The text clearly implies that the enemy shall never have a complete triumph, for when he comes in like a flood and seems likely to overspread the whole world then the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up the standard against him with more than ordinary power. This has been proved in the past, and it will be shown still more gloriously in the future. A flood is a thing of degrees: it rises from one degree of height to another, and it gradually overspreads a larger and larger area. We know not when the limit appointed by the divine decree may be reached. But we are encouraged by the infallible testimony of the prophet to expect that, when things are at the worst, the Lord will command deliverance. It is a great thing at any time in the history of the Church to have a standard uplifted on behalf of Christ and His truth, and it is this standard that is moving on to victory, whatever apparent reverses it may meet with in the interval. We cannot judge the decision of a battle till its close. The Divine Standardbearer will yet cause the banner of truth to wave over all the nations of the earth. “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).