"When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace:
But when a Stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, He taketh away from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils." (Luke 11:21,22)
THE words of our text appear in connection with a very interesting circumstance in the life of our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, a circumstance which has given rise to much inquiry, called forth much contention, and has aroused great interest in the minds of spiritual students of Holy Scripture. I wish you to notice three scriptures--Matt. 12:22-32; Mark 3:22-30; Luke 11:14-22. Look at the latter: "And He was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting Him, sought of Him a sign from heaven." All those who are opposers and tempters of God's Christ are sign-seekers. Moved and animated by their father the devil, they are unceasingly on the look out for signs and symbols, and know not that which is signified. This is my reason for believing that Romanism and Ritualism form the strong delusion which revels in darkness and distance from God and ends in eternal damnation. Anglican priests so-called may object to their being classified with popish presumers, but for all that they are in the same delusion. I have no desire to be a railer, but I cannot close my eyes to scriptural facts brought home to my understanding. When I read the awful statements of that GRAND ANTIRITUALISTIC EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS I am forced to the conclusion that both Ritualists and Romanists are guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, they tread under foot the Son of God, and count the blood of the covenant wherewith He was sanctified an unholy thing, and do despite unto the Spirit of grace. (Heb. 10:29) Chastity forbids my entering into any exposition of the filth of the confessional, or the foulness of the fable of transubstantiation. Well may the spirit tremble at Paul's terrible declaration in 2 Thess. 2:11,12, "And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." Should the snares of Ritualism or Romanism be cast in the way of any poor sinner here tonight, may God in the riches of His grace, the fullness of His mercy, the plenitude of His power, and the preciousness of His truth, blessedly deliver such an one from every snare of every fowler. The words of the Master are applicable to thousands who profess His Name, "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe." (John 4:48) Christ is not all-sufficient for them--all scripture is not profitable enough to them. They live in wonderland and waste their time in childish sight-seeing. Look again, "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, but there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas." (Matt. 12:39) What sign was that? Not a man-made sign, but that of Resurrection! Not the sign of a cross--not the image of a dead Christ nailed to the accursed tree; but Christ risen--Christ ascended--Christ reigning--Christ Head over all things to His church, and Christ the Living Head of His living members, supplying them with all things needful for time and for eternity.
But let us proceed--"But He knowing their thoughts." How blessed! What a mercy it is for us that Jesus knows the thoughts, designs and doings of all the enemies of His people. I would have you go through the New Testament and mark well every statement of the knowledge of Jesus. "He knew what was in man." (John 2:24,25) But He would not trust Himself with them. Why? Because they were Ritualistic sign-seekers and sight-seers. (See ver. 18) Turn to John 16:19, "Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask Him." A different class of people altogether. Is it not truly blessed? There may be some poor sinner here tonight very desirous to open up his grief's to Jesus, and seek through His wounds, and blood, and righteousness, pardon, forgiveness, justification; and acceptance, yet knows not how to express himself as he would. But Jesus knows all about him--all about his thoughts--his desires--his longings--his aspirations homeward and Godward, though he knows not how to speak a word aright. "But He, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. But if I with the finger of God cast out devils"--The finger of God! What is that? it is the Spirit of God. "But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you." Then come the words of our text.
Now let us go to Matt. 12:22, "Then was brought unto Him one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb: and He healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the Son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow"--these were very religious people using very fleshly language--words of spite and acrimony. "This fellow!" A term of contempt and reproach hurled at Incarnate Innocence. If He was reproached, shall we go free? No, indeed. "And when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand. And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the"--finger of God? No! "By the Spirit of God." Do you see that the term "finger of God" means the Spirit of God? I will give you two portions in proof of this. Turn to Psalm 8:3, "When I consider Thy heavens, THE WORK OF THY FINGERS, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained." Read that in the light of Job 26:13, "BY HIS SPIRIT HE hath garnished the heavens." The SPIRIT of God is the finger of God by which He is pleased to exercise the hearts of His living people. "But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad. Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come."
Come with me now to Mark 3:22, "And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth He out devils. And He called them unto Him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. No man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme; but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation; because they said, He hath an unclean spirit." Here we have judgment and mercy. Mercy, in the declaration that "All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men." It matters not what the nature or character of the sins of any child of God may be, forgiveness is provided--forgiveness is secured--forgiveness is certain--forgiveness is sure--forgiveness is everlasting and irrevocable. How blessed it is to enter into the spirit of that sweet verse by dear John Kent--
"Here's pardon full for sin that's past,
It matters not how black the cast;
And, O my soul, with wonder view,
For sins to come here's pardon too."
"Sins to come!" Does that give the reins to licentiousness and looseness of living? Never. All that is necessary for a saint to sin is that he be left to himself. "A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." (Prov. 29:15) A sinner left to the full bent of his own inclinations can do nothing but sin against God. But a sinner taken in hand by the God of all grace, and taught by Him the true nature of sin, and to dread its awful consequences entailed upon all mankind out of Christ, such an one cannot love sin. I will tell you something more. As a saved sinner is led by the Holy Ghost into the gloomy shades of Gethsemane, there to behold Incarnate Love lying bleeding, and from the intensity of His suffering, blood oozing from every pore, and there to know and feel that those "unknown sufferings" were all for him, sin must become to him exceeding sinful and utterly hateful. By the law sin becomes exceeding sinful to us, we hate it, and would have nothing to do with it; but as we are brought to see it in the light of the sufferings of the Covenant Surety we bow before Him with the confession, "I am vile"--"Iniquities prevail against me"--"Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done evil in Thy sight." And as we read in spirit the New Testament Scripture we find the saints' hatred of sin most pointed and pungent, and their desires for separation and distance from sin most clear and pronounced.
Look at that portion again--"Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme." When a person is brought by sovereign mercy richly to enjoy the sweets of free and full forgiveness. We shall never be able to bless God as we would for so glorious a declaration--all sins forgiven. "But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation." Then we have the secret of this awful sin--mark it well--"Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit." There you are let into the secret. They attributed the work of Christ to the agency of the devil. But that work was wholly under the grace and power of the Holy Ghost. Jesus Christ never did anything in the accomplishment of salvation but by the Holy Ghost. Jesus Christ never spake one word of Gospel comfort to an aching heart, but by the Holy Ghost. Jesus Christ never looked forgiveness into the longing soul of a repentant sinner but by the Holy Ghost. Jesus Christ was anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power, with the Spirit Who ever abode and remained upon Him, and by that Spirit--His Own Spirit, for He is styled THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST--He did all His mighty and merciful works. The devil does not like that, and ever instigates his brood to attribute the works of Christ and the operations of the Holy Ghost to satanic agency.
Now I have no desire to be rash, but I know and have known persons, in whose shoes I would not stand for all that the world holds good and great. I shudder at the thought of them, for I believe in my heart that they are guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost--the sin which never hath forgiveness. While these rail against sovereign election, particular redemption and regeneration by the Spirit, there are those who tremble at God's word and fear that they have sinned away the day of grace. It may be that some of you have been left to brood over self, and feel nervous at that declaration of God concerning His son Ephraim, "Let him alone." Dreadful perversions of these words have been heralded out to the world. I remember some years ago visiting Lowestoft. While there I saw in a shop window a sermon on the words, "Let him alone," by a noted character, whose name shall not pollute the free-grace atmosphere of this place while I can hinder it. I went in, paid my penny, and came out with "Let him alone." The sermon was full of fleshly free-will trash. It contained anything and everything but God's mind in the text. Look here--"Ephraim had been favored with opportunities for good, but he had neglected them all--the Bible had been read and despised--sermons had been heard and unheeded--grace had been given and trifled with--the day of grace has gone for ever. Ephraim must now be left alone. No hope for Ephraim now." What rubbish! Listen to God! "Ephraim is my dear son; he is a pleasant child; for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still; therefore My bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord." (Jer. 31:20) When did God speak against Ephraim? When did God speak against any of us? When He dealt with us on the ground of law. There He proved to us that we were so contrary to Him in all His words, works and ways. On new covenant ground He cautions and warns all meddlers against interfering with His child. He knows that none can manage Ephraim but Himself--that none could turn Ephraim from his evil ways but Ephraim's Father with His arm of power moved by His heart of love--that all who persecute Ephraim shall be paid back with the same coin.
"Since I spake against him I do earnestly remember him still." To say that a child of God can sin away his day of grace is to call into question the clearest statements of God on the subject; and to say that the subject of everlasting love can become the subject of everlasting wrath is folly, enmity, madness. God not merely remembers His failing and falling children; but He earnestly remembers them in spite of all. He not only says He will have mercy upon Ephraim, but He adds that blessed word, SURELY. But some of you here may think you have sinned away your gracious opportunities, and have turned a deaf ear to parental and gospel instruction. We all know something about that! Such will be our conduct, until God, in the riches of His grace, by the power of His Spirit, in the glorification of His Christ in our experience, turns us from self to Himself. Then we shall know what true repentance is. What is true repentance? Is it godly sorrow? No. It is always accompanied with godly sorrow. "Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of." (2 Cor. 7:10) Repentance is a change of mind--a turn right round. The back was formerly to God, now it is turned upon Satan, the world and hell. The face once hellward is now heavenward, while my heart enjoys the blessedness of these sweet lines:--
"Determin'd to save, He watch'd o'er my path,
When, Satan's blind slave, I sported with death.
And can He have taught me to trust in His Name,
And thus far have brought me to put me to shame?"
That can never be. Never!
The teaching of the text has suggested this line of thought and meditation. May the Lord in His infinite mercy and goodness seal home the truth to your hearts as He has sealed it home to mine, and bless you with the possession of His own sweet peace, in the face of all Satan's temptations, insinuations and sly suggestions. He knows how to infuse his spawn of error and evil into our hearts, and when matured, to father them all upon us. He knows how to make us think and feel as we would not, aye, and to say what we would not. He seduces us to say right things in the wrong way. There is one thing which exercises me more than others as a minister of Jesus Christ when I open my mouth in His Name, which is this--that God would keep me from preaching His truth in my own spirit. Oh, to be kept within the backs of God's Own Book, with Zion's language, and a God-given vocabulary, and praying as Paul prayed, "that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds; that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak." (Eph. 6:19,20) Speaking God's mind as prompted and moved by God Himself.
We must now take a glance or two at the text. "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace." Who is the strong man? The strong man is the devil. He is strong to deceive, delude, destroy. He is represented as having the power of death. (Heb. 2:14) He is called Satan, the adversary of God and man; but most especially of the Son of God in His work of salvation. He is "the prince of the power of the air," (Eph. 2:2) and "the god of this world." (2 Cor. 4:4) His power is seen and felt at every turn--in the polite politician, the proud professor, and among the privileged populace. From the moment sin entered this world his powerful influence has been universally felt. The natural heart is his fortress which he holds in peace and in the quiet of spiritual death. But in no manner is his baleful power so painfully felt as in the failures and falls of God's living children. In communion with Jesus the company of Satan is sure to be discovered. There are different degrees of experience in this matter.
The members of Christ down here are tempted of the devil, assaulted by Satan, and buffeted by one messenger of hell and then another. With wily words and subtle charms the father of lies manifested his beguiling power over our mother Eve in the garden of Eden. He threw the dust of fleshly expectancy into her eyes and allured her into the transgression, and then, through loved woman, obtained power over the man. "Adam was not deceived." (1 Tim. 2:14) He "is the figure of Him that was to come." (Rom. 5:14) He is a marvelous type of our Lord Jesus Christ. Adam loved Eve when she was fallen and he yet stood--when she was a sinner and he was sinless--when she was covered with guilt and shame and he was free from both, then love flamed in his heart to her in all her sin and weakness. He loved her in spite of all. He was not deceived, but sinned with his eyes wide open. He knew what he was doing. He sinned like a gentlemen. His posterity sin like sneaks. Adam sinned out of pure love to his wife, and before he would be parted from her he would be lost and damned with her. In contemplating the Antitype in the type, well may we cry, "O Jesus, what a love is Thine!"
Thus, "by one man sin entered into the world," but ere long the language of defiance is heard, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy Seed and her seed; It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel." (Gen. 3:15) Here the strong man and the "Stronger than he" put in an appearance. No sooner is the patient patriarch presented to our view than we see Satan attempting to invite God against him. See Job 2:1, "Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD." Come to Zech. 3:1, "And He showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him." Come to the New Testament and there you find the very same state of things. When Jesus was consecrated publicly, "lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him, and, lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased." "Then." At that very time. "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil." (Matt. 3:16,17; 4:1) As it was with the Head so will it be with the members. If consecration to the Lord's service be ours by the grace of the Holy Ghost, we shall do well to look out. Bonds and afflictions will await us, and the prison-house of spiritual captivity will be thrown open to receive us. Are we, like Paul, lifted up to the third heaven of Divine privilege? We shall experience the rankling of the thorn in the flesh, and the buffeting of the messenger of Satan. (2 Cor. 12:2-7) All this is to keep us from self-exaltation, and that the power of Christ may rest upon us.
Paul was not ignorant of Satan's devices and describes him thus, "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." (2 Cor. 11:14) And such he appears in that blessed Ephesians epistle. There we find ourselves in the heavenlies blessed with all spiritual blessings (chap. 1:3)--glorified with Christ in the heavenlies (chap. 1:20)--sitting in fellowship with Christ in the heavenlies (chap. 2:6)--redeemed sinners the medium of instruction to principalities and powers in the heavenlies (chap. 3:10)--wrestling with wicked spirits in the heavenlies. (chap. 6:12) Let us read it. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against wicked spirits in heavenly places." The strong man armed introduces himself into the most unlikely places, to the most unlikely persons, to those who would be free from his attentions and solicitations. But as long as we are in the flesh and carry about with us bodies of humiliation, and hearts deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, so long shall we know, as partakers of grace, something of the reality of the conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil.
We now notice that the strong man is armed. He keeps his followers well supplied with various kinds of armor. See how our blessed and precious Lord Jesus sets forth their relationship and doings in John 8:44, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do." Not the works, but the lusts of the devil the devil's children will do. They are led captive by him at his will. Oh, what a terrible truth! Let us notice some parts of the armor with which the strong man clothes his own. UNBELIEF is a conspicuous part. The world is wrapped up in it. Man by nature does not believe God--does not believe Christ--does not believe the Holy Ghost--does not believe the ministers of Christ--does not believe the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Why does he not believe? Because he loves darkness rather than light and believes in his own evil deeds. He resists every approach of the truth of God, and of the God of truth. The prince of darkness holds him in his firm grip, and would never give him up but for the superior power of One stronger than he.
INDIFFERENCE is a tough piece of the devil's armor. Here we have an interesting question. Why do not men believe in Jesus Christ? The answer is ready--because they are pre-engaged--pre-disposed--pre-occupied. Their wisdom is earthly, sensual, devilish, therefore they mind earthly things. They are absorbed with sublunary and infernal charms. Satan deludes them with his religion, and delights them with his ministers who appear as "dear, good me" and "angels of light." (2 Cor. 11:13-15) IGNORANCE is a conspicuous part of the strong man's armor. God Himself says concerning them--"through deceit they refuse to know Me." (Jer. 9:6) Do not find fault with me for this saying--"Fools hate knowledge," and all are fools who hate the knowledge of God in the Person of His Son, by the power of the Holy Ghost. Mark well that awful description of them in Eph. 4:18, "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart." "ENMITY AGAINST GOD" is a prominent portion of the armory of hell by which Satan keeps in subjection the soul of man. "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Rom. 8:7) Enmity to God, to Christ, to the Holy Ghost, to the law of God, to the gospel of God, to the salvation of God, is the very life and delight of universal man naturally. Here you see the strong man armed in the unbelief, indifference, ignorance, enmity, pride and self-sufficiency of his subjects.
He keeps his palace and his goods in peace. Satan is a watchful, diligent keeper. He is ever on the alert to keep truth from the understanding, love from the heart, and life from the soul. His own are like the Zidonians, careless, quiet and secure. (Judges 18:7) They are not in trouble as other men. (Ps. 73:5) The rod of God is not upon them--their houses are safe from fear. (Job 21:9) They are "in peace." Peace at any price. Not "peace with honour" which is God's peace. Why? Because Satan has lulled them to rest with his seductive charms. The goods of the strong man are in peace. These goods are the heart, mind, soul, understanding, memory and will of those to whom God is no concern, and in whom self-confidence reigns and rules.
But notice, the strong man cannot ever have all things his own way. A Stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him. This must be experimentally true in the case of every elect vessel of mercy--of all the Lord's redeemed. Here we see the Seed of the woman bruising the serpent's head--God's Christ spoiling principalities and powers, making a show of them openly, triumphing over them in HIMSELF (Col. 2:15)--"For this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8)--"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." (Heb. 2:14,15) This is all true in the Book of God, and it must be true in the experience of all those for whom it was accomplished. Listen! "Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world." (1 John 4:4) All that He has done for His loved ones in mediation, He will do in them by the power of His word and Spirit. Satan overcome in us is Satan spoiled and deprived of his armor. UNBELIEF flies before the faith of God's elect. INDIFFERENCE departs at the revelation of the King in His beauty. IGNORANCE vanishes as the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines in the face of Jesus Christ. ENMITY is subdued as the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost. PRIDE is humbled as the humility of Christ is experienced. SELF-SUFFICIENCY expires as Christ's all-fullness is enjoyed. Thus we see the strong man spoiled in the experience of the saints.
Lastly--the spoils divided. "He shall divide the spoil with the strong." (Isa. 53:12) The very honors and glories usurped by Satan and claimed by his seed shall be possessed by the redeemed of the Lord as He, in the exercise of His sovereignty, shall divide unto them. (1 Cor. 12:11) On the high places of the wicked they shall tread, (Deut. 33:29) in the sweet enjoyment of that blessed promise, "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD; and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord." (Isa. 54:17) May the Lord grant us this blessing for Christ's sake. Amen.