THE GOSPEL BANNER
A Sermon by the Rev. K. A. Macrae, M.A., Stornoway
“Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth.”Â—Psalm 60.4.
Our text speaks of a banner given the Church to display on behalf of the truth. This commission apparently is a permanent one, covering both the Old Testament Economy and the New. What can this banner be? We can think of nothing answering to it save the Gospel. This is the banner given the Church to hold aloft in a sin-ruined world, and it is hers to do so as long as sun and moon endure. Let us consider:Â—
1. The Banner;
2. The Presentation of the Banner; and
3. The Purpose for which it was given.
1. The Banner
(i) A banner implies:Â—
1. An Army.Â—Of old no army moved without its banners waving proudly aloft. Christ, although the Prince of Peace, has an army upon earth, and every soldier in it is engaged to fight to the death on His behalf and in defence of His Cause. This army is composed of true believers, of truly converted souls.
2. Foes.Â—Where there are no foes there is no need of an army. There is no army in heaven because there are no foes there. There are foes in hell truly, but there is no need of an army there for these foes are all conquered and disarmed. Here on earth is the only place in all Christ’s cominions in which there is need for an army, for here Christ’s foes are in active rebellion against Him. Here, then, is His army stationed, and their enemies are ranged against them in three great divisionsÂ—the world, the flesh and the Devil.
3. War.Â—Where there is an army faced with foes there is bound to be war. And there is war unceasing here. None of Christ’s soldiers need entertain the hope that there is any possibility of their not being sent “to the front.” The battle is too keen for that. To escape unscarred in this warfare is unknown.
(ii) A Banner has a permanent design.Â—Banners are known by their designs. Thus the soldiers recognise their own flag. Let the design be altered in the slightest and the banner is changed; it becomes another banner. The soldiers now say, “This is not our banner. It is like it, but it is not quite the same, and we are not prepared to follow it.”
The Gospel banner has a permanent design and by that design Christ’s soldiers recognise it. Some nowadays would have it altered. The doctrines of God’s justice and sovereignty, man’s depravity and spiritual inability, the atonement, the necessity of the new birth, justification by faith and separation from the worldÂ—doctrines blazoned clear upon the Gospel escutcheonÂ—they cannot away with, and they would substitute in their place the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man, salvation by works and the inherent divinity of man. But when Christ’s soldiers see this banner waved over them in the name of the Gospel they look askance and say, “This is not our banner. This is not the banner that has led us on many a hard-fought field. This is not our banner and we will not serve under it.” Christ’s soldiers know their Captain’s banner too well thus to be deceived.
(iii) A Banner requires recruits.Â—Age and, death soon thin out the old soldiers and there must be a constant stream of
recruits to keep up the regimental strength. Christ’s recruiting seargeants cannot be idle. Recruits are not coming forward as they ought, and the army of the Prince of Peace has become dangerously depleted. Every minister and preacher of the Gospel today ought pre-eminently to be a recruiting sergeant and to exercise every diligence to persuade recruits to “join up” without delay if the King’s forces are to be maintained in our midst.
(iv) A Banner is borne.Â—It is carried about. It is not meant to be kept in a corner. Therefore, if you belong to this army, you must carry Christ’s banner about with you wherever you go, on week-days as well as on Sabbaths. You must show your colours, so that all men may see whose you are and whom you serve.
2. The Presentation of the Banner
Regimental colours are often presented by members of the Royal Family. This banner was presented by the King of Kings Himself and at a time when Satan thought he had everything under his feet. The banner was presented to the Church in the first Gospel promise made in the day when man fell (Gen. 3.15), and was again renewed when the Risen One said, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” “Oh,” you say, “then there were two banners, each different from the other.” Not so. In St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh you may see , tattered and torn, the old colours of our Scottish regiments. These old colours were deposited there when they became too worn for further service, but they were replaced by new ones, and the new ones were just the same as the old;
bearing the same design, the same crest, the same motto and the same list of battles. Even so the banner presented after the Resurrection was the very same as that presented after the Fall. The Gospel of the Old Testament is the very same as that of the New. It matters not whether we choose our text from the Old Testament or from the New, it is the very same Gospel we preach.
This suggests then that this banner was a costly one. Regimental colours are very costly articles. The private soldier is not called upon to pay a single penny, but someone must bear the cost. The soldiers of Christ’s army had nothing to do with the purchase of the banner. But the price had to be paid, and the only one in heaven or earth who could meet the cost was the King Himself; for the price that had to be paid was
the infinite sufferings of Calvary. Thus it is that the banner is crimson, dyed as it is in Immanuel’s blood. Some would have a white banner. They think it more fitting for the army of Christ, but the true soldiers of the cross will have none but the blood-red banner, for in the blood they glory.
The banner was given to them that fear Him. Such are likely to make good soldiers, for those who fear the Lord will not readily fear anyone else. This fear, however, was not theirs by nature. He chose them to be His soldiers and because He did so He put His fear in their hearts.
3. The Purpose for which it was given
It was not given that it should be treasured up. There is an old flag in Dunvegan Castle in the Isle of Skye, the Fairy Flag of the Macleods, which is carefully preserved under a glass case. You may look at it as much as you please, but you dare not lay a finger upon it. Some would treat the Gospel banner so. They would have it under a glass case and they would issue a very free invitation to all and sundry to have a good look at it every Sabbath Day, but they would sternly forbid anyone to handle it, to hold it up in the face of the world. But banners are given that they may be held aloft. The banner should head the marching army, and the Gospel banner is no exception. It has been given that it may be displayed because of the truth.
Surely then this banner should be displayed when the honour of God’s Truth requires it, and surely it is required in a day of rebuke and blasphemy. And such a day is our day, when the fear of God almost universally seems to be cast off and men and women appear to imagine that they have the right to live exactly as they please and that God has no rights in His own creation. In such a day the Gospel banner should be held aloft right resolutely.
A day of delusion requires the displaying of the banner on behalf of the Truth. And our day is such a day, a day when false doctrines drift in hell-blown from every part; when ignorance of the Scriptures and an utter lack of all spiritual discernment render multitudes of even professing people the victims of lying spirits. Surely then in such a day it is our bounden duty to hold aloft undismayed and steadily the old Gospel flag which has waved triumphant over a thousand stricken fields.
A day of declension requires the displaying of the banner because of the Truth, In our old Scottish history we read of how the displaying of a banner turned the tide of battle and transformed defeat into victory. This is a day of sad declension. Christ’s Cause seems to fail. His soldiers disheartened fall
back. A defeatist spirit is dominant. The outlook is dark in the extreme. The strongholds of the Truth seem about to fall into the enemy’s hand. Many are turning traitor; many are for compromise; many are for peace at any price; many are turning back. In the name of the Lord let us display His banner. Up! Up with it! It can never know defeat.
This is the banner our fathers displayed. They were not afraid to bedew it with their blood, and they rested not until they bore it on to victory. Since then the battle has gone hard against Christ’s contending people. Many are sore afraid; but of this let every trembling heart rest assured, that this banner will again lead on to victory, and we believe that the day of its triumph is not far distant. Our only fear is as to the sons. The fathers have done their part faithfully and well. They have preserved to Scotland a pure Gospel testimony, but the sons, what of them? Strangely, many of them hold back. Are they to disown the banner? Are they to allow it to fall to the mire for lack of hands to hold it up? Can they be such cravens to desert the Cause for which their fathers suffered, some unto death? Truly the attitude of too many of our young people causes us grave misgivings and deep concern. They seem to care for none of these things. Can it be that they are willing that Christ’s Cause should perish from among us? Have they no regard for that for which martyrs died? Have the Covenanting memorials, scattered over our upland solitudes, no messages for them? Surely it cannot be so. Surely they will not allow us to call to them in vain.
1638 witnessed the triumph of Reformation principles in Scotland, and these are the principles for which we still contend, for they are the principles of God’s immutable Word. A long period of struggle, and then depression, ensued, but 1738 witnessed the turn of the tide which reached its height amidst the revival scenes of Cambuslang. 1838 witnessed the incoming of the flood again in the revivals which led to the never-to-be-forgotten testimony of 1843. Now 1938 has come and we seek to raise Immanuel’s banner anew. Will not then our young people flock under it as of old and cheer the hearts of those who have given of their best to keep alive a Gospel testimony in Scotland? Or are they sadly to wait under a darkening sky until their diminishing numbers make it impossible for them any longer to hold up the banner? If that day ever come, woe, woe, unto Scotland! Oh, may the Blessed Spirit in His infinite compassion make them willing and able to take their place under the banner that 1938 may also witness the rise of His Kingdom and the discomfiture of His foes!
Join up then young man, young maiden! Submit to the Captain of Salvation! Do not allow His Cause to go to the wall in Scotland, or generations to come will curse those who cared not to preserve for them their birthright! Refuse His overtures and He must treat you as an enemy.
“Kiss ye the Son, lest in His ire
Ye perish from the way,
If once His wrath begin to burn
Bless’d all that on Him stay.”
The record of the life and diary of this godly Scots minister has been edited by lain H. Murray and published by the Banner of Truth; It is a book which will warn, instruct and encourage the soul, and is warmly commended. This sermon was first printed iin The Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland in November 1965. Evidently it was first preached in 1938.