The Gloating Foe Rebuked
Archibald G. Brown, October 22nd, 1871, Stepney Green
"Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise! Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light!" Micah 7:8
Few if any present are unacquainted with the glorious dream of the Bedfordshire tinker, John Bunyan. With most, the book has not only been read in the past — but is read still with an ever-increasing relish and delight. Its characters are household names, and its scenes as familiar as our own homes. This being the case I shall not be speaking in any unknown tongue when I use one of the incidents of the book as an introduction to this morning's sermon.
You will remember that in the course of his journey, the pilgrim came to a palace named Beautiful, built by the Lord of the hill for the relief and security of all such who had their faces Zionwards. Here he entered and remained for a few days, delighting himself in the wonders and beauties of the place. His sleeping chamber was a large upper room whose window opened towards the rising sun. The name of the room was Peace. Anxious to continue his journey, however, he bids his kind entertainers farewell. They refuse to let him go until he has been to the armory, where they showed him all manner of furnishings which their Lord had provided for pilgrims, such as sword, shield, helmet, breastplate and shoes that would not wear out. There they harnessed him from head to foot with armor.
Being thus armored, he walked out of the gate with his friends and commenced going down into the Valley of Humiliation. At the bottom of the hill his companions left him, giving him a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine and a cluster of raisins. His valor and armor were soon to be put to the test, for before he had gone any distance, he espied a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him. His name was Apollyon.
Now Christian was in a strait. To go back was impossible. His heart and vows prohibited the idea; besides which he had no armor for his back; therefore to turn would give his foe the greater advantage. To stand and fight was his only hope.
Now, says Bunyan, the monster was hideous to behold. He was clothed with scales like a fish (and they are his pride); he had wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke, and his mouth was like the mouth of a lion. When he came to Christian he challenged him in scornful language, and claimed him as one of his run-away subjects.
Christian answered, "I was indeed born in your dominions — but your service was hard, and your wages were such as a man could not live on. I have now sworn myself to another, even to the King of princes. I have given Him my faith, and sworn my allegiance to Him. Traitor to Him, I dare not be. Beware, therefore, what you do, for I am in the King's highway!"
Then Apollyon straddled over the whole breadth of the way, and said "Prepare to die, for I swear by my infernal den that you shall go no further; here I will spill your soul!" With that, he hurled a flaming dart at Christian which would have stopped him forever, had he not caught it on his shield. Thicker came the darts, and in spite of all his carefulness Christian was wounded in his head, his hand, and his foot.
This sore combat lasted over half the day; and no man can imagine what a hideous roaring Apollyon made all the time of the fight, and what sighs and groans burst from Christian's heart. And now Apollyon, watching for his opportunity, gathered up close to Christian. Hurling him to the ground, he gave him a dreadful fall; and with that, Christian's sword flew out of his hand. "Now I am sure of you!" said Apollyon; and with that, he almost pressed him to death, so that Christian began to despair of life.
But as God would have it — O mark those words, dear friends, for they are full of sweetest doctrine — while the enemy was fetching his last blow to make an end of this good man, Christian nimbly stretching out his hand caught his sword again, and exclaimed, "Do not gloat against me, O my enemy; when I fall I shall arise!" And with that, he gave Apollyon a deadly thrust which made him get back. Christian perceiving this, made at him again, shouting, "In all these things we are more than conquerors!" Then Apollyon spreading his dragon wings sped away, and Christian saw him no more.
John Bunyan was perfectly warranted in putting the words of our text in the mouth of Christian during his combat with the devil; for although perhaps they mean literally the Chaldeans or Edomites gloating at the destruction of Jerusalem — yet spiritually they are true of all the foes that the church has to encounter on earth, notably among them, "the great adversary." It is with this interpretation that we purpose meditating on them this morning. There are two things in the text which will serve us for divisions:
First, the gloating foe.
Secondly, the gloating foe rebuked.
I. The gloating foe.At the moment of conversion, the soul enters into a conflict which continues until his dying day. The bugle that calls him to peace with God — also calls him to a battle, the sternness of which only those who are engaged in it can understand. Every part of the heavenly armor is found necessary, and every weapon of the divine armory is required. The combat, unlike Christian's, lasts not over a half a day — but over the whole life. To hoary hairs, and to the dying room — the fierce struggle is continued. The verse with which so many trembling penitents first come to Christ, remains the truthful exponent of their experience ever after:
Just as I am — though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings within, and fears without.
O Lamb of God, I come."
Over and above the conflicts arising from his own evil heart and the temptations of a godless world — the saint has in Satan a sworn foe. The hatred of Satan toward the saint arises from Satan's hatred toward the Savior. Vain was the attempt to undermine the eternal throne and overthrow omnipotence. With all his compeers, Satan was hurled with the speed of lightning flash from Heaven's bliss to Hell's horror. Raging, he seeks revenge. Where shall he find it?
The author of his overthrow is far beyond his reach. Enthroned upon the heights of Heaven, the eternal Son is far above his power. No flaming dart of Hell can cross the immeasurable space that lies between. No power beneath can shake the immoveable throne above. But one door is open for revenge — it is to wreak his wrath upon Jehovah's handiwork. It is, being damned himself, to drag a multitude with him to the woe, and harass those on earth whom he has no power to destroy in Hell. For a season God has in His inscrutable wisdom lengthened the chain that binds this foe. He is still the prince of this world, and knowing that "his time is short," he rages with a fury increasing as his doom comes nearer!
Let me beseech you, child of God, to remember that in Satan you have a personal, living foe. I know that in this so-called philosophic and advanced age, even the very devil is called into question with everything else. According to some, the existence of such a spirit is laughed at as one of the exploded ideas of less scientific and educated periods. It is too unfashionable and repulsive a doctrine to suit the latent atheism of the elite of modern theologians.
The being of the devil is diluted into mere unembodied evil. Choosing, however, to accept the positive declarations of scripture before the day-dreams of modern teachers — we believe in the language of Arthur Butler, that "It is a living spirit with whom we have to contend, just as it is a living God whom we have to aid us. It is no abstract law or ideal conception of evil, as some have dared to theorize — but a being who is personal and conscious, and as distinctively active as ourselves, though with faculties immeasurably beyond us; a being who is profound in purpose, subtle in arrangement, bold in enterprise, undaunted in execution; a being who knows us far better than we know ourselves, and who hates us more intensely than even his worst inspirations have instigated us to hate one another."
In order to form some idea of the foe we have to fight, let us look at a few of the names given him by the Holy Spirit in scripture. These best reveal his character. Out of many names we will select but a few.
1. Kindly turn with me to the book of Revelation, the ninth chapter, and eleventh verse. There you read "and they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon — but in the Greek tongue has his name Apollyon," that is to say Destroyer. How faithfully the word describes what he has ever been. We have but to turn to earth, or man, or soul, or any home — to see the hoof-prints of the destroyer. Destruction dogs his steps.
EDEN was fair beyond description before his accursed foot trod its virgin soil. But under the baneful influence of the sin he brought, thorns and briars sprang up in tangled thickets; and to this day "the whole creation groans." Before the destroyer came, the leopard used to lie down with the lamb, and the lion with the ox. It was the lion of the pit that breathed into brute creation the lust for blood, and made the strong oppress and tear the weak.
His mark is also seen on man. Perfect was the BODY, pure and clear the mind of man, as he came from his Maker's hand — God's masterpiece! But how changed he was by the destroyer's power. Sickness, pain, agony and the seeds of death — these are the things that shatter the beauty of the soul's temple.
And the MIND, once pure as crystal or mountain lake, is now defiled, and often totters to its fall. A myriad homes this morning are filled with wrath, and bitterness, and strife — a mockery of the very name of home — declare in heartbreaking accents that the devil is a destroyer.
More dreadful still is the destruction of the SOUL, alienated from its God.
2. Another name given him in scripture is Satan or Accuser. In the twelfth chapter of Revelation, and the tenth verse, you read "Now has come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ; for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accused them before our God day and night."
In this title, the Holy Spirit gives us another side of our adversary's character. He commenced his attack on our first parents by accusing God before them, and representing Him as one harsh and unnecessarily severe in His threatenings of wrath against their disobedience. Having led man into sin, he then turns round and becomes his accuser before God! He is a double-dyed accuser; equally accusing God to man — and man to God.
It was he who, mingling with the sons of God, laughed to scorn the integrity of Job in those bitter words, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Put forth your hand now and touch all that he has, and he will curse You to your face." It was he who stood accusing Joshua, the high priest, and to whom the Lord said "The Lord rebuke you, O Satan; even the Lord that has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you: is this not a brand plucked out of the fire?"
But perhaps the intensity of his hatred is most seen in the fact that he accused man of the very sins he has dragged him into. This is only vile enough for the devil. Having led the miserable wretch from vice to vice, and allured him on to every sin — he then holds those very sins before his eyes, and seeks with them to lash him into deepest and darkest despair.
3. He has yet one other name, and that is a name given to him by our Lord. The most dreadful name of all — Murderer. You will find it in the gospel of St. John, the eighth chapter, and forty-fourth verse. "You are of your father, the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning."
Murderer! The very word seems to have a red glow of blood about it. It was he who goaded guilty Cain on to the crime. He it was who reveled in that horrid sight of brother slain by brother. From that time down unto the present, scenes of murder and of bloodshed have turned this world into a slaughter-house!
"Where did wars come from"?
"From your lusts," is the answer.
"Where did these lusts come from?"
"The devil!" is the answer.
Yes, all the wars that have desolated countries, made wives into widows and children into orphans — have come from him who was a murderer from the beginning. Of all Hellish sights, a battlefield has the most of Hell. There, above all other places, the Murderer gloats in triumph. A field reeking with gore, and covered thick with maimed and ghastly corpses, while a stench like that of Hell ascends to Heaven — is the devil's masterpiece on earth!
Now this foe, who is at once destroyer, accuser, and murderer — is the one who "goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." Not satisfied with the world that still lies in his arms, he lusts after the sheep of Christ's fold. His infernal appetite is ever craving fresh victims.
Unable to do all he would against the saint — he still seeks to do all he can.
As nothing is too huge for his wrath — so nothing is too small for his spite.
If he cannot damn — he will fill with doubts and despair.
If he cannot destroy — he will seek to worry.
If not keep out of Heaven — he will make the road as difficult as possible.
If he dare not bite — he will never cease to bark.
So bold is he who even when the lion of Judah was with His chosen ones, he dared approach and seek a prize.
Blessed be our Keeper who never slumbers. He saw the foe and gave the warning, "Simon, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for you that your faith not fail." Dogging the steps of every saint is this implacable foe, seeking to blast his character, destroy his peace, and gag the mouth of his testimony. Let us not despise him, for alas, he often succeeds in hurling the Christian to the ground. Sometimes unawares — in an unexpected moment, when the path seems the clearest from all ambushes, and the Christian is walking in unwatchful security — then the foe springs upon his back, and before he has time to turn, or cry, or fight, or fly — he finds himself on the ground. From the most unsuspected quarter, and at the most unlikely time — the temptation has come!
Like a storm that breaks without a moment's warning, it has taken him all unawares, and for years he may repent the fall of a moment. "Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall," for the serpent of Hell sounds no rattle before he crushes his victims within his coils!
Not only does he come unawares — but he always assaults our weakest part. No Christian is equally strong in every part; all have some besetting sin that requires but little temptation to call it forth. No one knows this better than the devil. He has studied our character as we have never studied it ourselves. Every flaw in our armor is seen by his keen eye, and on that weakest part he brings all his power to bear.
Be certain of this, Christian, that whatever temptation you are most likely to succumb under — is the very one he will employ in its most attractive form. Then when he has succeeded in making the Christian bite the dust, his gloating is great.
Satan knows full well that the fall of one professor does more harm to the cause of Christ, than all the opposition of its open foes. The wound received by Christ in the house of his friends is the worst wound of all. The enemy is most jubilant if the fallen one should be a minister of the Lord. Here is a triumph indeed. The standard bearer is down, and dismay fills the ranks of the host. It is a fall that attracts more attention and does more injury than the fall of a dozen less known men.
"Howl, fir tree — for the cedar has fallen." Zechariah 11.2. Mourn, church of God, for Hell is making merry over your prostrate warrior. Assuredly, those who stand in the high places of the field need the prayers of all, for the attacks of the devil will be in proportion to the influence of their fall. But known or unknown, noted or unnoticed — a Christian in the dust is ever a gleeful sight to the adversary.
As it is with the "prince of the world," so it is with his followers. A disgraced professor is one of the world's greatest luxuries. Let but a Christian be discovered in some inconsistency, and at once it is the "news of the day." With what laughter and malicious glee it is bandied about. How it is knocked around from mouth to ear like a shuttle-cock. What a fine joke it makes at the club or evening party. How it is used to barb every shaft of sarcasm, and spice the conversation that would otherwise be dull. "Aha, Aha, so would we have it!" they cry, "Another professor gone to the dogs — another of your Christians has turned out a counterfeit!"
Perhaps the sins of the brother were not one tenth as bad as the sins of his merciless critics. Never mind — he was a professor, and that is quite enough; and if the sin was not very great at the commencement, it is sure to grow to the required dimensions as it flies from eager teller to willing listener. A more piteous sight can hardly be imagined than a godless world gloating with Satanic satisfaction over a Christian's sin.
So much then for our first point, on which we have dwelt longer than we intended. Let us now turn to a more pleasing theme.
II. The gloating foe rebuked.
We have nothing to do with those professors who turn the grace of God into a license for sin — except wash our hands of them, and confess they are "spots" in our feast.
We also condemn those who, if not denying the fact of their fall — yet seek to palliate and excuse it by a thousand different reasons, all equally false and dishonorable.
No! The true Christian acknowledges the fall as fully as the world charges him with it. As to making any excuse, he could not if he tried. He knows that his fall is a triumph for Satan. He confesses with tears that it is a dishonor to Christ. His mourning is as great, yes greater than the foe's gloating.
O, believe me when I say there is no need to deal very harshly with a backsliding saint. He says harder things about himself than you can possibly utter. He flogs himself with a worse scourge than your hands can grasp. Be hard on him? There is no need; he is harder on himself. God only knows the anguish of the heart that mourns a fall into sin. A red-hot ploughshare is driving its furrows across his soul; and if you could see him in private, as with wringing hands and scalding tears he confesses over and over again his guilt, you would learn the truth of the text, "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways!" Pro 14.14. Backsliding brings its own punishment, and becomes its own tormentor.
"Brethren, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:1-2. From where, then, does the fallen Christian obtain his comfort, if it is not in ignoring the past? The text gives the answer to the question. He rejoices in the thought of restoration. The future is his reservoir of gladness.
"I am down," he says, "and I mourn the fact; but O, enemy of my Lord and myself, I shall arise. You have cast me to the ground, I know — but it is beyond your power to keep me there. Your hold shall be released. My hand shall again wield the sword, and your dragon wings shall yet flap in flight. My present darkness will give way to dawn, for 'the Lord shall be a light to me.' I shall arise a wiser man. I have learned more of your subtleness, enemy, and more of my own weakness — I have learned more of the value of the joy of God's salvation, and more of the bitterness of sin — than I ever knew before! I have learned the necessity of prayerfulness as I would never have learned it in any school but yours. Once through this furnace — and my gold shall glitter, purged from its previous dross. I shall arise a more watchful man. I shall look for your approach as I have never looked before. I shall be 'all eyes' for you, and no longer walk in the fool's paradise of careless security. O, enemy, I shall arise and have you at an advantage, no longer being ignorant of your subtle devices. I shall arise a humbler man. No longer resting on my own unaided strength, I shall fight you under the wing of Jehovah. The plume of my pride being cut, I will see better for its loss!"
These are the thoughts that make the prostrate warrior pluck up fresh heart and hurl a new defiance at his foe. It is indeed, beloved, a glorious thought that though God's children may and do fall — yet they shall be restored. That verse is ever true, "I give My sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish; nor shall any pluck them out of my hand!" John 10.28. "But" I can imagine someone saying, "what is to be said of those professors who, turning back to the world, die in that state, without any sign of restoration?" My answer is, their end proves the falseness of their profession. They have gone back to their wallowing in the mire, having never had within them the new nature born of the Holy Spirit. God's true saints shall be raised up from the ground, however hard their fall.
Moses fell when in anger he said, "You rebels. Shall we fetch water for you?" He had his punishment in never entering into the promised land. He had his restoration also. Though dying for his sin on Nebo's height, God buries his favorite servant with His own hand.
David fell when Satan hurled him to the ground as he walked upon his palace roof. Never was there a greater fall. But with broken bones the psalmist pens that fifty-first psalm — the prayer of a penitent backslider in all ages since — and the Lord sent to him and said, "I have put away your sin." 2 Samuel 12.13. He dies "the man after God's own heart." Act 13.22
Peter fell when he denied his Lord with oaths and curses; but Peter arose by grace and became the boldest of the bold in future testimony.
Cranmer fell when he signed the article of recantation; but he arose when in the flames he held his right hand motionless until the sinews cracked, exclaiming so long as his voice would allow him, "This unworthy right hand!"
Are there not many here this morning who can look back upon a time of darkness with deepest grief — and yet amidst their grief rejoice, because though fallen, they have by grace arisen, and once again rejoice in pardoning love.
Next to the salvation of the lost sinner, the recovery of the saint brings glory to our Lord. Lift up then the hands that hang down. Bid unbelief and black despair depart. Though like Bunyan's pilgrim, you lie bruised and panting with your fall — yet like him stretch forth your hand, grasp the sword, fly at the foe once more, and shout, "Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise! Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light!"
May God bless the word for Christ's sake, Amen.