“The swelling of Jordan”—words of solemn import, calculated to convey to the believing mind a gloomy idea of death. That there are swellings of Jordan in the Christian’s experience we doubt not. For example, there are the fears with which the child of God anticipates the last enemy—there are the sad recollections of all his past sins crowding around his pillow—there are the suggestions of unbelief, perhaps more numerous and powerful at this moment than ever—and there is the shrinking of nature from the final wrench, the last conflict, the closing scene—the last glance of earth, the last look of love, the loosing of those fond and tender ties which entwine us so closely with those we leave—these are some of the swellings of Jordan.
“Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Ephesians 6:16
Few of the children of God are ignorant, more or less, of Satan’s devices. But few are exempt from the “fiery darts ” of the adversary; our Lord Himself was not.
Many, peculiar, and great are their temptations. They are often those which touch the very vitals of the gospel, which go to undermine the believer’s faith in the fundamentals of Christianity, and which affect his own personal interest in the covenant of grace. Satan is the sworn enemy of the believer- his constant, unwearied foe. There is, too, a subtlety, a malignity, which does not mark not the other and numerous enemies of the soul.
The Holy Spirit speaks of the “depths of Satan.” There are “depths” in his malice, in his subtlety, in his sagacity, which many of the beloved of the Lord are made in some degree to fathom. The Lord may allow them to go down into those “depths,” just to convince those who are there are depths in His wisdom, love, power, and grace, which can out-fathom the “depths of Satan.”
But what are some of the devices of the wicked one? What are some of his fiery darts?
Sometimes he fills the mind of the believer with the most blasphemous and atheistical thoughts, threatening the utter destruction of his peace and confidence. Sometimes he takes advantage of periods of weakness, trial, and perplexity to stir up the corruptions of his nature, bringing the soul back as into captivity to the law of sin and death. Sometimes he suggests unbelieving doubts respecting his adoption, beguiling him into the belief that his professed conversion is all a delusion, that his religion is all hypocrisy, and that what he had thought was the work of grace is but the work of nature.
But by far the greatest and most general controversy which Satan has with the saint of God is, to lead him to doubt the ability and the willingness of Christ to save a poor sinner. The anchor of his soul removed from this truth he is driven out upon a rough sea of doubt and anguish, and is at the mercy of every wind of doctrine and every billow of unbelief that may assail his storm-tossed bark.
But in the midst of it all, where does the comfort and the victory of the tempted believer come from? From the promise which assures him that “when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” And what is the standard which the Spirit, the Comforter, lifts up to stem this flood? A dying, risen, ascended, exalted, and ever-living Savior. This is the standard that strikes terror into the foe; this is the gate that shuts out the flood. So the disciples proved.
This is their testimony: “And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Your name.” Immanuel is that name which puts to flight every spiritual foe. And the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, leads the tempted soul to this name, to shelter itself beneath it, to plead it with God, and to battle with it against the enemy.
Dear reader, are you a target against which the fiery darts of the devil are leveled? Are you sorely tempted? Do not be astonished as though some strange thing had happened unto you. The holiest of God’s saints have suffered as you are now suffering; yes, even your blessed Lord, your Master, your Pattern, your Example, and He in whose name you shall be more than conqueror; was once assailed as you are, and by the same enemy.
And let the reflection console you, that temptations only leave the traces of guilt upon the conscience, and are only regarded as sins by God, as they are yielded to. The mere suggestion of the adversary, the mere presentation of a temptation, is no sin, so long as, in the strength that is in Christ Jesus, the believer firmly and resolutely resists it. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Jesus has already fought and conquered for you. He knew well what the conflict with Satan was.
And He remembers, too, what it is. Lift up your head, dear tempted soul! You shall obtain the victory. The seed of the woman has bruised the serpent’s head; yes, has crushed him, never to obtain his supremacy over you again.
He may harass, annoy, and distress you; but pluck you from the hollow of the hand that was pierced for you, he never can.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18.
Who that has felt it will deny, that “fear has torment”? The legal fear of death, of judgment, and of condemnation- the fear engendered by a slavish view of the Lord’s commandments- a defective view of the believer’s relation to God- imperfect conceptions of the finished work of Christ- unsettled apprehensions of the great fact of acceptance- yielding to the power of unbelief- the retaining of guilt upon the conscience, or the influence of any concealed sin, will fill the heart with the torment of fear.
Some of the most eminent of God’s people have thus been afflicted: this was Job’s experience- “I am afraid of all my sorrows.” “Even when I remember, I am afraid, and trembling takes hold on my flesh.” “When I consider Him, I am afraid of Him.” So also David- “What time I am afraid, I will trust in You.” “My flesh trembles for fear of You; I am afraid of Your judgments.” But “perfect love casts out fear:” he that fears is not perfected in the love of Christ.
The design and tendency of the love of Jesus shed abroad in the heart is to lift the soul out of all its “bondage through fear of death,” and its ultimate consequences, and soothe it to rest on that glorious declaration, triumphing in which, many have gone to glory, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” See the blessed spring from where flows a believer’s victory over all bondage-fear- from Jesus: not from his experience of the truth, not from evidence of his acceptance and adoption, not from the work of the Spirit in his heart, blessed as it is- but from out of, and away from, himself- even from Jesus.
The blood and righteousness of Christ, based upon the infinite dignity and glory of His person, and wrought into the experience of the believer by the Holy Spirit, expels from the heart all fear of death and of judgment, and fills it with perfect peace. O you of fearful heart! why these anxious doubts, why these tormenting fears, why this shrinking from the thought of death, why these distant, hard, and unkind thoughts of God? Why this prison-house- why this chain? You are not perfected in the love of Jesus, for “perfect love casts out fear:” you are not perfected in that great truth, that Jesus is mighty to save, that He died for a poor sinner, that His death was a perfect satisfaction to Divine justice; and that without a single meritorious work of your own, just as you are, poor, empty, vile, worthless, unworthy, you are welcome to the rich provision of sovereign grace and dying love.
The simple belief of this, will perfect your heart in love; and perfected in love, every bondage-fear will vanish away. Oh, seek to be perfected in Christ’s love. It is a fathomless ocean, its breadth no mind can scan- its height no thought can scale.
“It is I; do not be afraid.” John 6:20.
Imagine yourself threading your way along a most difficult and perilous path, every step of which is attended with pain and jeopardy, and is taken with hesitancy and doubt. Unknown to you and unseen, there is one hovering each moment around you, checking each false step, and guiding each doubtful one; soothing each sorrow, and supplying each need. All is calm and silent. Not a sound is heard, not a movement is seen; and yet, to your amazement, just at the critical moment the needed support comes- you know not from where, you know not from whom. This is no picture of fancy.
Are you a child of God, retracing your steps back to Paradise by an intricate and a perilous way? Jesus is near to you at each moment, unseen and often unknown. You have at times stood speechless with awe at the strange interposition, on your behalf, of providence and of grace. No visible sign betokened the source of your help. There was no echo of footfall at your side, nor flitting of shadow across your path. No law of nature was altered or suspended, the sun did not stand still, nor did the heavens open; and yet deliverance, strange and effectual deliverance, came at a moment most unexpected, yet most needed. It was Jesus, your Redeemer, your Brother, your Shepherd, and your Guide.
He it was who, hovering round you, unknown and unobserved, kept you as the apple of His eye, and sheltered you in the hollow of His hand. It was He who armed you with courage for the fight, who poured strength into your spirit, and grace into your heart, when the full weight of calamity pressed upon them. Thus has He always been to His saints. The incident of the disciples in the storm presents a striking instance of this. Behold Him standing upon the shore, eyeing, with riveted gaze, the little boat as it struggled amid the sea. They were often invisible to human eye, but not a moment were they lost to His. Not even when in the mount alone in prayer, were they forgotten or unobserved.
IHe beheld from thence their peril, He knew their fears, and He hastened to their support. Stepping from the shore, He approached them. Oh how majestic did His form now appear- walking like a man; and upon the water, like a God! They did not realize that it was Jesus, and were afraid. But their knowledge of Him was not necessary to their safety. It was enough that He knew them.
And just as the storm was at its height, and their fears rose with their peril, He drew near and said, in His own gentle, soothing tone, unto them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, as I ought to speak.” Ephesians 6:18, 19
THE two blessings which Paul craved through the prayers of his flock were, utterance and boldness. He knew that He who made man’s mouth could only open his lips to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. Great as were his natural endowments, rich and varied as were his intellectual acquirements, he felt their inadequacy when working alone. We should never fail to distinguish between the natural eloquence of man and the holy utterance which the Spirit gives. Paul had splendid gifts and commanding powers of elocution. But what were they? He needed more—he asked for more. Dear reader, if the ministry of reconciliation comes to your soul with any power or sweetness, remember whose it is. Give not to man but to God the glory. Be very jealous for the honor of the Spirit in the ministry of the word. It is “spirit and life” to you only as He gives utterance to him that speaks. It is mournful to observe to what extent the idolatry of human talent and eloquence is carried, and how little glory is given to the Holy Spirit in the gospel ministry.
But there was yet another ministerial qualification which Paul sought. He desired to be unshackled from the fear of man. “That I may open my mouth boldly.” Had we heard him utter this request, we might have been constrained to reply, “Do you desire boldness? You are the most courageous and intrepid of the apostles. You fear no man!” Ah! we forget that when God stirs up the heart of a believer deeply to feel his need, and earnestly to desire any particular grace of the Spirit, that grace will be the distinguishing trait of his Christian character. The very possession and exercise of a grace strengthens the desire for its increase. The more we have of Christ, the more we desire of Christ. The heart is never satiated. Do we see a man earnest and importunate in prayer for faith? faith will be his distinguishing grace. See we another wrestling with God for deep views of the evil of sin? that man will be marked for his humble walk with God. Is it love that He desires? His will be a loving spirit. Be sure of this—the more you know of the value and the sweetness of any single grace of the Spirit, the more ardently will your heart be led out after an increase of that grace. The reason why our desires for grace are so faint, may be traced to the small measure of grace that we already possess. The very feebleness of the desire proves the deficiency of the supply. As all holy desire springs from grace, so the deeper the grace, the more fervent will be the desire. The Lord rouse us from our slothful seeking of Him upon our beds.