“…In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…” – ESV Ephesians 6:16
It’s easy when listening to the news broadcast today to fall into the temptation to be filled with fear, wondering about the uncertainty of our future. It can be a great temptation in difficult times to turn to fear and worry rather than the grace and power of God’s Word. Whether we are being tempted as individuals, families, and/or congregations, God has given us the gift of faith to face these fears. The Apostle Paul taught God’s people using the imagery of the “shield of faith” that God has promised will “extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one”! Do you believe this?
William Gurnall (1616-1679), in his classic book ‘The Christian in Complete Armor’,1‘The Christian in Complete Armor’ was highly recommended by Charles Spurgeon as an important book of wisdom on spiritual warfare, and John Newton said that if he had one book other than the Bible he would recommend to Christians for peace in this world, it would be this one. taught the importance of “faith’s quenching power” over the evil one’s “darts” or temptations aimed at the souls of believers. It is important to note about Gurnall’s approach to fears. He does not list every kind of fear that the believer might encounter, but rather he goes to the root of the problem of all fears, which is ultimately unbelief in God. After teaching about temptations to “sinful pleasures that entice and allure our lusts”, he speaks of the temptations to “terror and horror”. He wrote,
“When the…pleasing temptations, prove unsuccessful, then [Satan] opens this quiver and sends a shower of these arrows to set the soul on flame, if not of sin, yet of terror and horror”.
Here is wisdom from Gurnall to help us to properly use the shield of faith in times of temptations to great fear.2I have adapted, edited, and updated the following from Gurnall’s book, pages 91-123. I hope you will read him for yourself soon if you haven’t already. He is crystal clear, and eminently biblical, don’t be put off by the books size :).
When [Satan] cannot carry a soul laughing to hell through the witchery of pleasing temptations, he will endeavor to make him go mourning to heaven by amazing [or astonishing him] with [fear].” When Satan uses these particular darts of fear, you can be sure that it is Satan’s response to the fact that the believer is growing in sanctification, perhaps a deepening joy in Christ, the soul is yielding more to Christ in prayer, and he seeks to paralyze the soul. This is the time when Satan “sets the soul on fire by his affrighting [fearful] temptations.”
Gurnall taught that there are three specific “darts” that the Christian must be aware of:
- Temptation to Atheism is a Dart of Fear and Terror. This strikes at the very being and character of God. This is questioning of God’s existence when the believer is in certain hard circumstances. It is a questioning of God’s existence as well as His goodness, and his good intentions toward repentant sinners. We must be careful as Christians to this unbelief which is a very wicked sin against God’s being and character. We shall not follow Eve in wrongly answering the evil one’s question to us in our uncertain times: “Has God said?” The devil asks:
“Has God really said he would receive you in Christ?” “Has God said he really loves you?” “Has God really said he would take care of you and your family?” “Has God said that God is pleased with you?” “Has God said that He would really forgive you for this sin?” “Has God promised to provide all for you in Jesus Christ?” “Has God truly said…??!!”
In reliance upon God’s grace, our faith must submit trustingly to God’s Word, and we as believers must stand firm in our faith (cf. 1 Peter 5:8-9). Our Lord Jesus Christ answered these same temptations by submitting to, and trusting the Word of God, and so must we as God’s children still on pilgrimage in the wilderness (cf. Matt. 4:1-11).
“Let the word, like David’s stone in the sling of faith, first prostrate [“lay flat”] the temptation; and then, as he used Goliath’s sword to cut off his head, so may you with more ease and safety make use of God’s word and your reason to gain complete victory over these atheistic suggestions.”
- Temptation to Blasphemy is a Dart of Fear and Terror. “Every sin, in a large sense, is blasphemy against God.” Satan seeks to stir up unholy thoughts of unbelief to question God’s good reputation. When a person does, speaks, or thinks anything derogatory about the holy nature or works of God, with an intent to reproach him, or to question his ways and wisdom, is properly called blasphemy. The evil one has two designs in this: 1) To set the saint of God at undermining God’s reputation in their life, and speaking ill of Him to others, misrepresenting His majesty. 2) To vex and frustrate the Christian in her soul.What can our faith do to extinguish this “dart” in reliance upon His grace? Faith sets the living God before the believer’s soul. Faith gives believers a sight and hearing of all God’s thoughts and ways throughout Holy Scripture.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).
“Blaspheme not, says Faith, O my soul, the God of heaven; you cannot whisper it so softly, but the voice is heard in his ear who is nearer to you than you are to yourself. Faith says: “Now mine eye sees you, O LORD, wherefore I abhor myself with repentance.” Faith will believe no report about God but from God’s own mouth. Faith quenches temptations to blasphemy by being full of gratitude, thanksgiving, exultation and rejoicing by faith! As Mary rejoiced in a very uncertain time: “My soul does magnify the LORD, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). Faith will see mercy in the greatest affliction, and dare not to speak ill against so kind a Savior. Faith always believes that God is good and the rewarder of those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6). Faith always seeks to interpret all of God’s works toward his dear people without suspicion or complaint (1 Cor. 13:7).
Remember: Blasphemous thoughts often come quickly and suddenly, violently like lightning, without warning. Be prayerful and watchful. If these darts are taken into the heart and believed, they can stir up anger at God, and seek to implant themselves as bitter roots within the souls (cf. Heb. 3:12; 12:15).
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. ….See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled…” (Heb. 3:12; 12:15).
- Temptation to Despair is a Dart of Fear and Terror. The “cursed fiend” thinks about the reality that he can do no harm to God his Creator, nor revenge himself further on the Almighty, but through this sin he can bring God’s creature nearest to the complexion and likeness of the devils and damned souls, than perhaps through anything else. “This is the sin that of all of them Satan chiefly aims at.” All other sins and dispositions are preparatory to make the creature more receptive to this horrifying temptation. “This, above all sins, puts a man into a kind of actual possession of hell.” Despair puts a person to grieving the Holy Spirit when He brings comfort, causing sinners to resist Him, refusing to be comforted (cf. Gen. 37:35; Psa. 77:2).How can faith help believers and extinguish this most dangerous “dart”? Faith gives the soul a large view of a great God. Faith helps the believer to say with Mary, “…He who is Mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name!” (Luke 1:49). Believers must by faith think of the infinite holiness and majesty of God, and how He has shown kindness to them in Christ. Think on God’s holiness; that God can do no evil, and all of His ways are good ways, and work together for your good and His glory! (Gen. 18:25; Rom. 8:28).
Faith shows to the soul that God is a forgiving God who cleanses believers from sin when they repent and confess, turning to Him in Christ (Mic. 7:18-20; 1 Jo. 1:8-2:2). Faith shows to the soul that God is good and has proven His goodness and love by offering up His only Son for the salvation of His dear children (Rom. 8:32).
Faith says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” and “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights” (John 1:29; Isa. 42:1).
Faith quenches this fiery dart of despair drawn from, energized by, and fueled with the greatness of sin, by opposing to it the greatness of all of God’s promises to the believer found in Christ. All of God’s promises are “Yes!” and “Amen!” for the believer (2 Cor. 1:20). God loves to make promises to His people, and He is both willing and able to keep all of His promises. Faith takes the soul to the “springhead” of God’s promises of mercy and forgiveness in Christ (John 1:16). Faith shows to the soul that God desires for the believer to know that the joy of the LORD is His strength (Neh. 8:10; John 16:24b). God promises all good things to believers in Christ, and brings comfort to them by His Spirit (cf. Isa. 40:1ff; John 16:12-14). Faith presents a “cloud of witnesses” to the believer (Heb. 11), including Jesus Christ Himself who persevered to the end by faith as the Son of God, and man of faith par excellence (Heb. 12:1-2; cf. 2 Thess. 3:5).
“Now faith will tell you, poor soul, that the whole virtue and merit of Christ’s blood, by which the world was redeemed, is offered to you…All is yours, you are Christ’s (1 Cor. 3:23). O, what may you, poor soul, take up from the promises of God, upon the credit of so great a Redeemer?” – William Gurnall
Faith teaches the soul to oppose the greatness of this one sin of despair by comparing it to the greatness of all its other sins. Despair is a seedbed that produces more and more sins as it seeks to consume one’s soul. Use the temptation itself to answer the evil one, and build up your own faith. “Retort, O my soul, his argument upon himself, and tell him that that very thing by which he would dissuade you from believing, does much more deter you from despairing; and that is the greatness of this sin above all others.”
In other words, think of the great magnitude of the sin of despair, and how it not only offends a great and holy God, but is also extremely wicked and dangerous to one’s own soul! To be in despair leads potentially to a life of sinful grief, self-centeredness, self-pity, selfishness, anger toward God, jealousy toward other Christians (especially those who you judge have it better, cf. Psa. 73), a root of bitterness to grow up and defile (Heb. 12:16), and a plethora of other horrible sins.
Faith reminds your soul that despair opposes God in the greatest of His commands to love God and others. Faith counsels your soul that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6), and so unbelief is a terrible sin. Faith counsels the soul that all we have comes through our faith that God has given to us. Faith is the “commander in chief” of all other graces that God gives to the soul. Faith receives God’s grace in Christ; faith takes hold of God’s promises; faith brings us peace into our souls through submission to and faith in God’s Word. Again, without faith it is impossible to please God, honor God, serve God, love God, trust God, and this leads to a horrible life of sinning against God and his goodness!
The awful sin of despair can dishonor God above all other sins. Every sin “wounds” or “pierces” God’s holy heart, but despair wounds and pierces above all others. This sin of despair says: “Christ cannot make satisfaction for ‘my’ sins”; “God cannot love me”, etc. Which ultimately is translated: “God is not God, He is not good, He cannot be trusted, and Christ’s death was for nothing (or somebody else other than me).”3There was a pop song a few years back by Patti Smith that articulated this despairing, wicked unbelief: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.”
“As the bloody Jews and Roman soldiers exercised their cruelty on every part of almost of Christ’s body, crowning his head with thorns, goring his side with a spear, and fastening his hands and feet with nails; so the despairing sinner deals [in this way] with the whole name of God. He does, as it were, put a mock crown on the head of his own wisdom, setting it all to naught, and charging it foolishly, as if the method of salvation was not laid with prudence by the all-wise God. He nails the hands of his almighty power, while he thinks his sins are of that nature as put him out of the reach and beyond the power of God to save him. He pierces the tender bowels of God’s compassion and mercy, of which he cannot see enough in a God that not only has, but is, mercy and love itself, to persuade him to hope for any favor or forgiveness at his hands.”
As God’s people, let us trust in the Lord’s Word to us in Christ. Let us submit to God’s Word no matter our circumstances, saying (and believing!) with Mary: “Behold, I am the servant of the LORD; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Let us remember the wisdom of our Reformed forefathers in the faith: “Mind your duty, not your circumstances, in reliance upon God’s grace in Christ.” What does this mean? It is easy for believers to focus too much on their circumstances bringing them to fear and horror. Our duty to believe God is always before us– no matter what—no matter our circumstances. He has not given us the spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound, self-controlled, sober mind in Christ (cf. 2 Tim. 1:7).
Faith says to us today: “Let us believe!” Let us pray: “Lord, I believe. Please help my unbelief.”
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||‘The Christian in Complete Armor’ was highly recommended by Charles Spurgeon as an important book of wisdom on spiritual warfare, and John Newton said that if he had one book other than the Bible he would recommend to Christians for peace in this world, it would be this one.|
|2.||↑||I have adapted, edited, and updated the following from Gurnall’s book, pages 91-123. I hope you will read him for yourself soon if you haven’t already. He is crystal clear, and eminently biblical, don’t be put off by the books size :).|
|3.||↑||There was a pop song a few years back by Patti Smith that articulated this despairing, wicked unbelief: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.”|