And the king of Israel replied, "Tell him: 'The one putting on his armor should not boast like one taking it off.'"
James 4:1.) Conspicuous amongst these is -
I. THE SPIRIT OF WAR, We see this -
1. In Ben-hadad's message (ver. 3).
(1) We do not understand this to be a demand from Ahab for the actual surrender to Ben-hadad of his "silver" and "gold," "wives" and "children." Else it would be difficult to see any material difference between this first message and that which followed (ver. 6).
(2) The meaning seems to be that Ben-hadad would hold Ahab as his vassal, so that Ahab should retain his wealth, wives, and children only by the sufferance and generosity of his superior. He would have the king of Israel reduced to the condition of the "thirty and two kings" who, with their subjects and fortunes, appear to have been at his service (compare ver. 12 with ver. 24).
2. In his confident boasting.
(1) He boasts of the vastness of his army. "All the people that follow me." The Hebrew is given in the margin, "at my feet," suggesting subjection and submission.
(2) Of the certainty and ease with which such an army may carry victory. "The gods do so to me and more also if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me." They need not be content with handfuls of dust when they can fill their hands with the most valuable things in Samaria.
(3) This was the boasting which Ahab rebuked by the use of what had probably been a proverbial expression: "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off." This caution might be profitably considered by those who are engaged in spiritual conflicts: "Be not high minded, but fear."
II. THE SPIRIT OF INJUSTICE. This we see -
1. In Ben-hadad's requisitions.
(1) In those of his first message right is outraged. "Thy silver and gold are mine." Taking this demand in the sense of Ahab's coming under villenage to Ben-hadad, the claim was iniquitous. Man has rights of property and freedom, which, unless they are forfeited to law by crime, should ever be held most sacred. The injustice of slavery is horrible.
(2) The second message went even farther. It threatened open robbery. Robbery not only of the monarch, but of his subjects also. A starving wretch who steals a loaf of bread may be convicted as a felon; but warrior who plunders kingdoms - a Napoleon - is glorified as a hero! Rut how will these weigh together in the balances of the sanctuary?
2. In his principles of appeal.
(1) Justice is not named. How often is justice named in warfare where it has no place! The Syrian king was more outspoken than many modern war makers.
(2) Mercy is quite out of the question. Yet in modern times wars against savages have been trumpeted as benignities, because of the civilization which, it is presumed, will follow in their wake!
(3) Ben-hadad did not live in these favoured times, so the one principle to which he appeals is might. "He has the men," and he will have "the money tool" In this he has had too many successors in the kingdoms of civilization.
(4) Not only must the covetousness of the king be gratified; so also must the host "at his feet;" and since the "dust of Samaria" will not satisfy them, Samaria must be sacked and pillaged. One injustice begets another.
III. THE SPIRIT OF CRUELTY. This appears -
1. In the provocations.
(1) Observe the "putting" of Ben-hadad's requisitions. No attempt is made to spare the feelings of Ahab, but, on the contrary, the language is studiously framed to lacerate. "Whatsoever is pleasant in thine eyes" - note, not what is pleasant in the eyes of the spoilers - "they shall put it in their hand and take it away."
(2) Witness also the peremptoriness. "Tomorrow about this time."
2. In the struggles.
(1) Men are in conflict. This is not a strife of elements without feeling, which is terrible enough, but of flesh and blood and nerves with exquisite sensibilities, with susceptibilities of acute pain and suffering.
(2) The combatants are armed. That they may put each other to torture they are provided with swords, spears, arrows; and in these clays of civilization, with fire-arms of various kinds. Elephants, camels, horses, and other animals are pressed into the dreadful service.
(3) Survey the battlefield after the strife. Men and animals dead and dying, mingled; gaping wounds; mangled limbs, sickening horrors I What pictures of cruelty are here!
(4) Reflect upon the homes plunged into grief and poverty entailed through the loss of breadwinners; and add the sequel of pestilences and famines. Surely we should pray for the advent of that peaceful reign of righteousness which is promised in the Scriptures of prophecy. - J.A.M.
I. THE GENERAL VIEW OF LIFE THAT IS IMPLIED IN THIS SAYING. There is nothing that the bulk of people are more unwilling to do than steadily to think about what life is as a whole, and in its deepest aspects is. And that disinclination is strong, as I suppose, in the average young man or young woman. That comes, plainly enough, from the very blessings of your stage of life. Physical, unworn health, a blessed inexperience of failures and limitations, the sense of undeveloped power within you, the natural buoyancy of early days, all tend to make you rather live by impulse than by reflection. There are some of us to whom, so far as we have thought at all, life presents itself mainly as a shop, a place where we are to buy and sell, and get gain, and use our evenings, after the day's work is over, for such recreation as suits us. But whilst there are many other noble metaphors under which we can set forth the essential character of this.mysterious, tremendous life of ours, I do not know that there is one that ought to appal slumbering heroism, which lies in every human soul, and the enthusiasms which unless you in your youth cherish you will be beggared indeed in your manhood, than this picture of my text suggests. After an, life is meant to be one long conflict. Even upon the lower levels of life that is so. No man learns a science or a trade without having to fight for it. But high above these lower levels there is the one on which we all are called to walk — the high level of duty — and no man does what his conscience tells him, or refrains from that which his conscience sternly forbids, without having to fight for it. We are in the lists compelled to draw the sword. You are a soldier, whether you will or not, and life is a fight, whether you understand the conditions or no.
Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.I. AS TO THE JUSTICE AND RECTITUDE OF OUR PLANS. It may give us with effect this plain teaching: that we ought to undertake nothing on our own responsibility which we cannot justify and defend. This great Syrian king is engaged in a wrong thing. He has no right to be here at the gates of Samaria — no more right than a man would have to thunder at his neighbour's door, and demand his neighbour's property. It may sometimes, for a wider good, be right to subdue a nation by force, and to annex it or absorb it. But this is not to be done simply at the prompting of ambition or tyrannical self-will. Reason sufficient must be given for it. An old author says, commenting on this passage, "Thus a great dog worrieth a less, only because he is bigger and stronger"; this, however, is hardly just to the great dog, which very seldom, in point of fact, does worry the less without considerable provocation. The point for us as individuals is: that rectitude should lie at the basis of all our express undertakings. There are many things in which we must act, but with greatly qualified and modified responsibility; and some of the finest questions in our moral life, and the most difficult of clear settlement, arise in connection with joint action. The servant is not the keeper of the master's conscience, although, of course, he is bound to keep his own, and never do what would be to him a wrong thing. The single member of a company, or government, or society, cannot be expected to charge himself with more than his own share of the joint responsibility, and must yield to the will or the majority for the accomplishments of common ends, or must withdraw. If each individual will must rule in everything, there could be no joint action. But all this makes it the more needful that in those matters in which our responsibility is sole, the things which we ourselves expressly initiate, control, or conduct, rightness should be the foundation and the prevailing element. We ought to be able to say concerning our schemes, plans, or endeavours: "This thing is the fruit of my thought, and I can justify it. This thing I have initiated, and I mean, if God will, to finish it, for it is right. This is the fulfilment of my heart's desire, and I am thankful for it." Live so, and you will not ever be in Ben-hadad's evil ease.
II. A SPIRIT OF MODESTY, AND SELF-DISTRUST, AND FEAR. If at all times it be right and becoming in us to clothe ourselves with humility, surely that robe is particularly seemly at the beginning of our undertakings! We are dependent creatures, and when we are beginning what will require from us a great amount of strength, it is meet that we should look towards the Fountain-head of all the strengths. The mere "harness" of life is heavy to many a one. It is not always an easy matter to keep going on even from day to day — watching and waiting, and working by turns! Up at the hour, after a restful or a sleepless night! Ready at call during all the day! decisive in judgment at the opportune moment: Patient and disappointment or delays: And then to be ready to-morrow — and to-morrow — to go through the same strain of service! "Time and chance happeneth to all men." Life is full of cross-currents, and cross-roads, and cross-purposes; the unexpected is often that which comes. The looked-for is that which is delayed; and the right thing is broken to pieces; and the wrong thing holds on its way!
III. But this kind of reflection may easily be pushed too far, so as to PARALYSE THE VERY NERVES OF ACTION IN A MAN, and hinder him, in fact, from ever girding on harness at all. Looking too much on the chances and uncertainties of life, one may come to the conclusion — and especially if he be of an unambitious, or indolent, or selfish habit — "Well, it hardly seems worth while to gird on the harness at all in anything that we can help. If all things happen alike to all — if chance is mistress of practical life — if capricious elements may control, direct, or thwart the purposes we form, and the plans we seek to effectuate — then we had better do nothing, or as little as we may — just enough to get quietly and not ignobly through. To sail right over the sea of life and battle with the storms may be a good thing to those who desire it — to those who are fitted for it. But if one can go coasting to the same destination, always taking the harbours and sheltered places when the storms arise, that will be better. At least, it will be better for us." No, no; this will not do. This is to restrict and degrade life, or at least to keep it from rising; and it has been made to rise. Gird on "the harness." Have something on hand worth doing; it is not to be believed that you can find nothing calling for and justifying your exertion. If it is not more, it will be less; and less may be done with so much zest and vigour, that it will seem more, and will really be more. Let us ask now if it be possible for any one to come to this modest, self-distrustful, resigned, and yet resolute state of mind about temporal things, about worldly chances, and fortunes, and family cares, who does not look at all beyond these things, and above them, to a higher world of duty and faith? No, it is not possible. Unless we have regard to the higher things we cannot walk steadily among the lower. Vessels larger and smaller are every day leaving England for east and west, north and south. Would you say to the captain of one of these: "Now, you must attend to your own business. Do not trouble yourself with things too high for you — with magnetic poles, and heavenly bodies-look simply to your ship and get her quick to port"? Yes, but how could he, without chart or compass, or sight of sun or star? The higher always rules the lower; the most stupid, mechanical people in the world cannot do the commonest work, without trusting, although perhaps quite unconsciously and ignorantly, to the great certainties of the heavens, to the things which are stable as the throne of God.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
II. NOTE THE BOASTFUL TEMPER WHICH IS SURE TO BE BEATEN. No doubt there is something inspiring in the spectacle of the young warrior standing there, chafing at the lists, eagerly pulling on his gauntlets, and fitting on his helmet, and longing to be in the thick of the fight. No doubt, there is something in your early days which makes such buoyant hopes and anticipations of success natural, and which gives you, as a great gift, that expectation of victory. So I ask, have you ever estimated, are you now estimating rightly, what it is that you have to fight for? To make yourselves pure, wise, strong, self-governing, Christlike men, such as God would have you to be. That is not a small thing for a man to set himself to do. Have you considered the forces that are arrayed against you? "What act is all its thought had been?" Hand and brain are never paired. There is always a gap between the conception and its realisation. The painter stands before his canvas, and, while others may see beauty in it, he only sees what a small fragment of the radiant vision that floated before his eye his hand has been able to preserve. Have you realised how different it is to dream things and to do them? In our dreams we are, as it were, working in vacuo. When we come to acts, the atmosphere has a resistance. It is easy to imagine ourselves victorious in circumstances where things are all going rightly, and are blending according to our own desires, but when we come to the grim world, where there are things that resist, and people are not plastic, it is a very different matter. I suppose that our colleges are full of students who are going to far outstrip their professors, that every life-school has a dozen lads who have just begun to handle easel and brush, that are going to put Raphael in the shade. I suppose that every lawyer's office has a budding Lord Chancellor or two in it. All us old people, whose deficiencies and limitations you see so clearly, had the same dreams, impossible as it may appear to you, fifty years ago. We were going to be the men, and wisdom was going to die with us, and you see what we have made of it. You will not do much better. Have you ever taken stock honestly of your own resources? You are not old enough to remember, as some of us do, the delirious enthusiasm with which, in the last Franco-German war, the emperor and the troops left Paris, and how, as the trains steamed out of the station, shouts were raised, "A Berlin!" Ay! and they never got further than Sedan, and there an emperor and an army were captured. Go into the fight bragging and you will come out of it beaten.
III. NOTE THE CONFIDENCE WHICH IS NOT BOASTING. If there is nothing more to be said about the fight than has been already said, that is the conclusion. "Let us eat and drink," not only for to-morrow we die, but "for to-day we are sure to be beaten." But I have only been speaking about this self-distrust as preliminary to what is the main thing that I desire to urge upon you now, and it is this: You do not need to be beaten. There is no room for boasting, but there is room for absolute confidence. "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." That was not the boast of a man putting on the harness, but the calm utterance of the conquering Christ when He was putting it off. He has conquered that you may conquer. There is possible a triumph which is not boasting for him who puts off the harness. The war-worn soldier has little heart for boasting, but he may be able to say, "I have not been beaten." The best of us, when we come to the end, will have to recognise in retrospect failures, deficiencies, palterings with evil, yieldings to temptation, sins of many sorts, that will take all boasting out of our heads. But, whilst that is so, there is sometimes granted to the man that has been faithful in his adherence to Jesus Christ gleam of sunshine at eventide which foretells Heaven's welcome and "well done" before it is uttered.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
1. There is a certain self-confidence, which is natural to youth, and which sits not ungracefully upon it. It has been cleverly said, "that conceit is a young man's capital." A young man has to learn by actual trial what he can do, and what he cannot do; and he requires a certain amount of self-confidence to give him the necessary courage to experiment with his untried powers, until he knows what direction they must take. As Carlyle says, in his quaint forcible way, "The painfullest feeling is that of your own feebleness: ever, as Milton says, to be weak is the true misery. And yet of your strength there is and can be no clear feeling, save by what you have prospered in, by what you have done. Between vague wavering capability and fixed indubitable performance, what a difference! A certain inarticulate self-consciousness dwells dimly in us; which only our works can render articulate and decisively discernible. Our works are the mirror wherein the spirit first sees its natural lineaments. Hence, too, the folly of that impossible precept, Know thyself; till it be translated into this partially possible one, Know what thou canst work at." For the same reason, youth is the time of criticism. We all know how unsparingly, how unmercifully, the young criticise the proceedings of their elders. The excuse for it is, that they are trying to see or feel their way to action; and they have a keen eye, therefore, and a sharp tongue, for the actions of those around them, upon whom the weight of the world's work is for the time being falling. As they get under the yoke themselves, this criticising, censorious temper will leave them.
2. One of the great poets of Greece has a saying to the effect, that the reverses of life are sometimes so terrible, that it is impossible to pronounce upon any life, in the way of estimate of its happiness or its misery, until the end is reached. History, both sacred and profane, enforces this lesson with a thousand examples testifying to its truth. Even the noblest lives are often crossed and barred with bands of shadow, nay, of darkness. Think of Abraham; think of David; each falling, in a moment of weakness and temptation, to a point of shame and infamy, in which the true self was lost in the false. And when we pass from the pages of the Bible to the pages of common history, or to our own experience of life, it may well exclude all boasting to mark how hard the actors in life's busy and varied scene have ever found, and do still find, it to maintain a uniformly lofty level of thought and speech and action. Think of the great Frenchman, Bossuet; of our own great Englishman, Bacon. When such men go wrong, men so gifted and so good, we may well tremble for ourselves. Some of us, who are getting on in life, know what it is, perhaps, to come across letters of twenty or thirty or forty years ago, written by ourselves, or by dear friends and relatives, at a time when our own lives were entirely unformed, and when what was then our future was, in anticipation, as little like as it could well be to what has since become our past. Each stage of life shades, as a general rule, by such imperceptible degrees into the next stage, that it needs an experience of this kind to bring home to our minds the strange uncertainty and the curious waywardness of the future, which lies before the young.
3. Very different views may be taken, and, as a matter of fact, are taken, upon the subject of the ordinance of confirmation. We all know that it is not a sacrament, not an ordinance of Christ's own appointment, but, simply, an ecclesiastical ordinance; and, as such, one that must justify itself by actual trial. I am asking you, in the interest of the young, to consider the initial principles, which they ought to take with them into the conduct of life. And I value confirmation for this, more than for anything else, that it explains so clearly what those principles are, and brings them home to us so forcibly. It should never be forgotten that confirmation loses the greatest part of its meaning if it is postponed until late on in life. It was intended to meet the young at the very threshold of adult life; just when the first "years of discretion" were beginning to come, freighted with many an anxious thought, to them. And whenever in after years such thoughts come to us, it is well for us to go back to our confirmation, and to welcome its deep yet simple teaching upon the great ruling principles of the conduct of life. Again and again we ask ourselves, not merely at the outset of mature life, but in its onward course, "What am I to God? What am I to the world of men around me?" Let us think for a moment what solid and direct answers the ordinance of confirmation returns to these momentous questions. Our answer, if we will but think of our confirmation and its meaning, is ready at once: "I am the child of God; I am a member of the one great household and family of God; I have a work to do in the world for God, a place to fill, to His glory, and to the good of my fellow-men, who are all co-members with me in the same great world-wide and time-wide family and household." Time-wide and world-wide, do I say? Nay, rather eternity itself is the true measure of this universal family of God, whose sacred bond death itself is powerless to dissolve.
4. More particularly I would commend to you, one and all, the thoughts which confirmation teaches us to associate with our work in life and our place in life. Both in the Old Testament and in the New, we find the imposition of hands closely connected with a consecration to a particular work, or office, or function.
(D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)
1. This is not at all remarkable, because, first, it is the nature of all men more or less to boast. Human nature is both poor and proud.
2. Those who gird on the harness are the more apt to be proud, because they often mistake their intentions for accomplishments.
3. It sometimes happens to the young beginner that he mistakes the formation of his ideal for the attainment of it. He has sketched on paper the figure that is to be wrought out of the block of marble. There it is. Will not that make a beautiful statue? Already he congratulates himself that it stands before him on its pedestal. But it is a very different thing — the forming the idea in one's mind and the realising of it.
4. Boasting in putting on the harness sometimes arises from the notion that we shall avoid the faults of others. We ought to do so, and we think we shall.
5. We also forget when we start in the battle of life that there is a great deal in novelty, and that novelty wears off.
II. THOSE WHO PUT ON THE HARNESS HAVE GOOD REASON TO REFRAIN FROM BOASTING.
1. They have good reason not to boast if they remember what the very harness, or armour, itself is meant for. What do you want armour for at all? Because you are weak; because you are in danger.
2. Again, it will be well to refrain from boasting, for your harness which you are putting on is meant for use. You are not dressing yourself out that you may be a thing of beauty.
3. You must not boast, again, because if you look at your harness you will see that it has joints in it. You think your armour fits so well, do you? Ah, so thought that man who, nevertheless, died by an arrow which found its way into his heart between the joints of his array.
4. You ought not to boast of your harness, because there are suits of armour which are good for nothing. There is armour about in the world, and some of it the brightest that was ever seen, which is utterly worthless.
5. We should not boast when we put on our armour, because, after all, armour and weapons are of little use except to strong men. The old coats of mail were so heavy that they needed a man of a strong constitution even to wear them, much more to fight in them. It was not the armour that was wanted so much as the strong man who could sit upright under the weight. Think, too, of the sword, the great two-handed sword which the old warriors used; we have looked at one, and said, "Is that the sword with which battles were won?" Yes, sir, but you want to see the arm which wielded it, or you see nothing.
6. We may not boast in our harness, because if it be of the right sort, and if it be well jointed, yet we have received it as a gift of charity. Most valiant warrior, not one single ring of your mall is your own. O Sir Knight with the red cross, no part of your array belongs to you by any fights but those of free gift. The infinite charity of God has given you all you have.
III. HE WHO GIRDS ON HIS HARNESS HAS SOMETHING ELSE TO DO BESIDES BOASTING.
1. You have, first, to see that you get all the pieces of your armour on. Look ye well to it that ye "take to yourselves the whole armour of God."
2. Young warrior, beginning with so much hope, I can recommend you to spend your time in gratitude. Bless God for making you what you are, for calling you out from a sinful world, for making you a soldier of the Cross. Boasting is excluded, for grace reigns.
3. You want every hour for prayer. If ever we ought to pray it surely is when we are newly entered upon the Christian life.
4. Remember, young soldier, that you are bound to use your time in learning obedience, looking to your Captain and Commander, as the handmaid looks to her mistress.
5. You have no space for boasting, for your fullest attention will be wanted to maintain watchfulness. You have just put on your harness. The devil will speedily discover that! He will pay his respects to you very soon! As soon as he sees a new soldier of the Cross enlisted, he takes a fresh arrow from his quiver, makes it sharp, dips it in gall, and fits it to his string. "I will try this youngster," saith he, and before long a fiery dart flies noiseless through the air.
6. The young warrior may not boast, for he will want all the faith he has, and all the strength of God also, to keep him from de. spondency.
IV. THOSE WHO GIRD ON THE HARNESS CERTAINLY OUGHT:NOT TO GLORY, FOR THOSE WHO ARE PUTTING IT OFF FIND NOTHING TO BOAST OF. The Christian man never ungirds his harness in this life; still we may say that the brother is putting it off when there is but a step betwixt him and death in the course of nature. Now, how do you find Christians of that kind when you have attended their dying beds, if you have had the privilege of doing so? Did you ever find a Christian stayed up with pillows in his bed boasting of what he had done? When Augustus, the Roman emperor, was dying, he asked those who were around him whether he had acted well his part; and they said, "Yes." Then he said, "Clap me as I go off the stage." Did you ever hear a Christian say that? I remember Addison, about whose Christianity little can be said, asked others to "come and see how a Christian could die," but it was a very unchristian thing to do, for forgiven sinners should never make exhibitions of themselves in that fashion. Certainly I never saw dying Christians boastful.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. WE HAVE ALL A BATTLE TO FIGHT. We all know what is meant by "the battle of life," but that of the Christian is inward and spiritual — a battle within a battle. Conversion to Christ brings at once peace and warfare. Our peace with God means war with the world, the devil, and the flesh.
II. WE HAVE ALL "A HARNESS" TO PUT ON. As the enemies we fight are spiritual so must be our armour. Some prefer an ostentatious profession, pride of intellect, and the weapons of human learning and science "falsely so called," but experience proves their insufficiency. The Divine armour must be "put on," we must take hold and keep hold of it, other. wise it is of no avail.
III. WE HAVE ALL A LESSON OF HUMILITY AND PATIENCE TO LEARN IN CONNECTION WITH THIS WARFARE. Young converts are apt to think they have gained the victory when they are only commencing the conflict. They are in danger from a mistaken idea of the liveliness of their religious feelings, from an imperfect knowledge of the deceitfulness of their own hearts, and from a limited perception of where their great strength lies. We must learn to depend less and less on ourselves and more and more on Christ.
(David MacEwan, D. D.)I. A GOOD START DOES NOT GUARANTEE A RIGHT ENDING. The good start is not to be despised, but it is not everything. There are many who, out of defeat, have carved victory. Those very men might have been ruined by premature success, or might have fostered an overweening confidence which would have been disastrous. Those who are conquered by first repulses are weak, but those who gird on their harness again and again, who clutch the sword all the more grimly as they are crowded upon by numbers, are among the noblest of earth's sons. Without boasting they dare to go down to the battle to brave death; yea, and to drive it into the enemy's ranks. When returned they ungird themselves, they rest and recount their dangers with humility. Ben-hadad found that to boast and begin was not everything. Yet we find many to-day who think that if they can only make a stars in anything they will be sure to succeed. They boast of what they will do and can do. Again, a man thinks that if he can only get a start in business he is sure to make it pay. Hence, he may borrow money at a high rate of interest, may incur heavy responsibilities by the purchase of goods, in fitting up of premises, in advertising, in engaging assistance, and he feels sure that customers will patronise him. We see the same thing illustrated in the spiritual sphere as well as the commercial. What sort of armour are you buckling on? What principles are you taking with you? Are you going in your own strength into the battle of life? Such questions we might ask. You have girded on the harness. You intend to make the best of life. You have no desire to find yourself crushed and defeated. You say you will not be beaten, that however others may have missed their mark, you mean to gain a real success. Well, and what shall be the character of the success. Shall it be transient or permanent; worldly or spiritual? Will you simply live for self and the present, or for truth, righteousness, Christ and eternity?
II. IN EVERY UNDERTAKING THERE ARE UNANTICIPATED DIFFICULTIES OFTEN MILITATING AGAINST SUCCESS. In striving for a livelihood there are difficulties. Others crowd us out. Fortune is no kind mistress tumbling always her gifts unearned into the lap of the indolent and thoughtless. Competency is not generally gained without assiduity and care. Honour comes not naturally to the unprincipled, nor do laurels usually deck the brows of the lazy. Eminence is not reached by the emasculate. A general wins not the battle, saves not his country, without some risk and difficulty. Long voyages, toilsome marches over dreary desert, or rocky mountains, harassing dangers, shortness of provisions, the attacks of disease, the desertion of the trusted, the changing of plans, sharp conflicts and heavy losses, lie in his path and must be taken into account.
III. OUR GREATEST DIFFICULTY IN THE BATTLE OF LIFE MAY COME FROM SOME LITTLE TILING WHICH IS ACCOUNTED AS UNWORTHY OF NOTICE. Some trifling bit of steel is loose, or buckle unfastened. It is said that the Germans beat the French in their last campaign because the soldiers were better shod. The heavy boots of the Germans protected the men, enabling them to bear the cold and wet better and to march longer. This was not all, but it was one of the things that had not been calculated upon by their opponents. So our defeat in life and failure in spiritual steadfastness may come from some apparently trifling cause, something we even affect to despise. The temptations that beset us may be apparently trifling, but they may nevertheless cause our ruin.
IV. THE GREATEST DANGERS IN THE BATTLE OF LIFE ARE OFTEN THE SUBTLEST AND MOST CUNNINGLY CONCEALED. Young Christians are sometimes deceived because at this day it seems much easier to be a Christian than it was formerly. True, no dungeon yawns now for the persecuted; no Smithfield smokes now for the saintly; no cold act of uniformity drives to foreign inhospitable climes, or Armada invades our liberties. Other means are taken to check vital Christianity. It is sometimes strangled by proprieties and slain by prosperity. Christians are not now so anxious as formerly to keep far off from the practices of the world. In many things they act very questionably. Like children, who seem to delight in walking along the side of a precipice and seeing who can go nearest the dangerous edge without slipping over, so many Christians walk as near to the customs of the world as they can without, as they think, endangering their salvation. This practice spreads. Its effect is most prejudicial. When the late American war was ragtag, I was told, by one who had had to endure the horrors of a frightful military prison, that canisters filled with fragments of clothing taken from the bodies of those who had died of yellow-fever or of small-pox were shot into the camp, in the hope that some fragment might spread infection to the enemies' ranks. Whether there be any truth in the report or not, at any rate it illustrates the fact that there are many subtle temptations that are thrown into our souls that enervate and hinder our final triumph vouch more surely than those that are open. Hence our need to remember that it is not the guiding and starting but the ending and "putting off" that is of the highest importance.
V. The warning given to Ben-hadad is as applicable to THOSE WHO HAVE LIVED CONSISTENTLY FOR YEARS as to the young men just starting. If we have fought through a long day unwounded, we must not be elated. The arrow might lay us low even as the battle is just closing. Many a soldier has perished by strong shots fired after the bugle of the enemy has sounded a retreat. So it might be with some who seem strongest in Christian faith.
VI. THE SPIRIT OF BOASTFULNESS IS DANGEROUSLY LIABLE TO GROW UPON THOSE WHO INDULGE IT. Ben-hadad's first invasion had but a poor ending, spite of his boasting. He who had been flushed with past successes, who with his generals and men were given up to revelry and drunkenness, had to flee. While all are carousing in their tents, Israelitish hosts are dashing into the battle and dealing deadly blows on the helmets of their adversaries. Even with this check to his boasting, Ben-hadad learned nothing. On the contrary, he only needed revenge and repeated the following year his invasion. Again he was repulsed. Again he had to flee. Look to the ending then. Pleasures, business, life must end. We must all put off the harness of this mortal life. Oh that we may put on immortality! Believe in Him, trust in His sacrifices, trust in His love, His help, and His presence. Begin life with Him and end it with Him. Charge any sin or temptation that besets you with the same earnestness that the Scots Greys showed when they dashed against the columns of Napoleon the First, making him exclaim, "How terrible are these Greys!" Let there be no hesitancy in our blow when we strike at any sin in ourselves or the world. Then, when as good soldiers we reach the city of our God, we shall have a welcome that will make us forget every weary march, every painful wound, and every bitter sorrow.
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
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