Strong Man Armed

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. ~ 1 John 3:8

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. Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? But thus saith the LORD, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children. And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the LORD am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.
~ Mark 3:27 & Matthew 12:29, Isaiah 49:24-26

And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible. Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me? But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. ~ Mark 10:27, Jeremiah 32:27, Isaiah 64:8

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 the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
~ Hebrews 2:14, Romans 16:20, Colossians 2:15

Section 71. The Strong Man Armed, by J.C. Ryle.

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 from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
~ Luke 11:21-26

The subject of these words of Christ is mysterious, but deeply important. They were spoken concerning Satan and his agency. They throw light on the power of Satan, and the nature of his operations. They deserve the close attention of all who would fight the Christian warfare with success. Next to his friends and allies — a soldier ought to be well acquainted with his enemies. We ought not to be ignorant of Satan’s devices.

Let us observe in these verses — what a fearful picture our Lord draws of Satan’s power. There are four points in His description, which are peculiarly instructive.

Christ speaks of Satan as a “strong man.” The strength of Satan has been only too well proved by his victories over the souls of men. He who tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against God, and brought sin into the world — he who has led captive the vast majority of mankind, and robbed them of Heaven — that evil one is indeed a mighty foe. He who is called the “Prince of this world” — is not an enemy to be despised. The devil is very strong.

Christ speaks of Satan as a “strong man, fully armed.” Satan is well supplied with defensive armour. He is not to be overcome by slight assaults, and feeble exertions. He who would overcome him, must put forth all his strength. “This kind only goes out by prayer and fasting.” And Satan is also well supplied with offensive weapons. He is never at a loss for means to injure the soul of man. He has snares of every kind — and devices of every description. He knows exactly how every rank, and class, and age, and nation, and people — can be assailed with most advantage. The devil is well armed.

Christ speaks of man’s heart as being Satan’s “palace.” The natural heart is the favourite abode of the evil one, and all its faculties and powers are his servants, and do his will. He sits upon the throne which God ought to occupy, and governs the inward man. The devil is the “spirit that works in the children of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2.)

Christ speaks of Satan’s “goods being at peace.” So long as a man is dead in trespasses and sin — so long is his heart at ease about spiritual things. He has no fear about the future. He has no anxiety about his soul. He has no dread of falling into Hell.

All this is a false peace no doubt. It is a sleep which cannot last, and from which there must be one day a dreadful waking. But there is such a peace beyond question. Thoughtless, stolid, reckless insensibility about eternal things — is one of the worst symptoms of the devil reigning over a man’s soul.

Let us never think lightly of the devil. That common practice of idle jesting about Satan which we may often mark in the world, is a great evil. A prisoner must be a very hardened man, who jests about the executioner and the gallows. The heart must be in a very bad state — when a man can talk with levity about Hell and the devil.

Let us thank God that there is One who is stronger even than Satan. That One is the Friend of sinners — Jesus the Son of God. As mighty as the devil is — he was overcome by Jesus on the cross, when He triumphed over him openly. As strong as the devil is — Christ can pluck his captives out of his hands, and break the chains which bind them. May we never rest until we know that deliverance by experience, and have been set free by the Son of God.

Let us observe, for another thing, in these verses — how strongly our Lord teaches the impossibility of neutrality. He says, “He who is not with me — is against me; and he who gathers not with me — scatters.”

The principle laid down in these words should be constantly remembered by all who make any profession of decided religion. We all naturally love an easy Christianity. We dislike collisions and separation. We like, if possible, to keep in with both sides. We fear extremes. We dread being righteous overmuch. We are anxious not to go too far. Such thoughts as these are full of peril to the soul. Once allowed to get the upper hand — they may do us immense harm.

Nothing is so offensive to Christ — as lukewarmness in religion. To be utterly dead and ignorant, is to be an object of pity as well as blame. But to know the truth and yet “halt between two opinions,” is one of the chief of sins.

Let it be the settled determination of our minds that if we serve Christ at all — we will serve Him with all our hearts. Let there be no reserve, no compromise, no half-heartedness, no attempt to reconcile God and mammon in our Christianity. Let us resolve, by God’s help, to be “with Christ,” and “gather” by Christ’s side, and allow the world to say and do what it will.

It may cost us something at first — but it will certainly repay us in the long run. Without firm decision, there is no happiness in religion. He who follows Jesus most fully — will always follow Him most comfortably. Without decision in religion, there is no usefulness to others. The half-hearted Christian attracts none by the beauty of his life, and wins no respect from the world.

Let us observe, finally, in these verses — how dangerous it is to be content with any change in religion short of thorough conversion to God. This is a truth which our Lord teaches by a solemn picture of one from whom a devil has been cast forth — but into whose heart the Holy Spirit has not entered. He describes the evil spirit, after his expulsion — as seeking rest and finding none. He describes him planning a return to the heart which he once inhabited, and carrying his plan into execution. He describes him finding that heart empty of any good — and like a house “swept and decorated” for his reception. He describes him as entering in once more, with seven spirits worse than himself, and once more making it his abode. And He winds up all by the solemn saying, “the last state of that man is worse than the first.”

We must feel in reading these fearful words — that Jesus is speaking of things which we faintly comprehend. He is lifting a corner of the veil which hangs over the unseen world. His words, no doubt, illustrate the state of things which existed in the Jewish nation during the time of His own ministry. But the main lesson of his words, which concerns us — is the danger of our own individual souls. They are a solemn warning to us, never to be satisfied with religious reformation without heart-conversion.

There is no safety, except in ‘thorough Christianity’. To lay aside open sin is nothing — unless grace reigns in our hearts. To cease to do evil is a small matter — if we do not also learn to do good. The house must not only be swept and whitewashed — a new tenant must be introduced, or else the leprosy may yet appear again in the walls. The outward life must not only be decorated with the formal trappings of religion — the power of vital religion must be experienced in the inward man. The devil must not only be cast out — the Holy Spirit must take his place. Christ must dwell in our hearts by faith. We must not only be moralised — but spiritualised. We must not only be reformed — but born again.

Let us lay these things to heart. Many professing Christians, it may be feared, are deceiving themselves. They are not what they once were — and so they flatter themselves that they are what they ought to be. They are no longer heinous sinners — and so they dream that they are Christians. They do not see that they have only changed one kind of devil, for another. They are governed by a decent, Pharisaic devil — instead of an audacious, riotous, unclean devil. But the tenant within, is the devil still. And their last end will be worse than their first. From such an end, may we be delivered.

Whatever we are in religion — let us be thorough. Let us not be houses only swept and decorated — but uninhabited by the Spirit. Let us not be potsherds covered with silver — fair on the outside, but worthless on the inside. Let our daily prayer be, “Search me, O God — and see whether there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:24.)

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