GOD’S ARMOUR AGAINST THE DEVIL’S WILES
Sermon preached by Mr. D. G. Crowter on 16th Sept. 1990 at Gower Street Memorial Chapel, London.
“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Ephesians 6.11.
The first thing that we need in the great conflict with the evil one is power; and the second is protection. And both are so necessary. When Bunyan speaks of Christian being shown the armour that he needed in the Interpreter’s house, he says that there was sufficient armour to furnish all those who were to be servants of God, though they should be “as many as the stars of the sky in multitude.” There is quite sufficient of this spiritual armour for you, and for me, and for every one who desires to be armed for this battle. We may be sure that there is sufficient, and that it is altogether what we need. Now the armour is clearly as necessary in its way as the power. As a soldier going into battle without any strength would be sure to be defeated, so in Bible days every soldier needed to be covered with armour as well, to be protected. Otherwise his head and his chest and other parts of his body would be so vulnerable that he would be almost certain to fall very swiftly. You remember in the days of David there was Asahel, the brother of Joab, who was very fleet of foot; and he scorned to wear armour. He pursued Abner. But all Abner had to do was to present the butt end of his spear and Asahel was killed without any fight at all. So we may be sure that this word is also most significant. The apostle says, “Put on the whole armour of God that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” So this then is Christ’s protection for His soldiers. And we may see first what is the nature of this armour and then the need that there is for it.
1. The NATURE of this armour.
It is spiritual armour. Quite evidently an armour of metal plate would be of no value at all against the evil one. He does not battle on those sort of terms at all. He aims at the soul – at the heart, and the mind, and the affections, and the conscience, and so on. And because he is a spiritual being, he has the ability to attack that vital, immaterial part of us which is called the soul. It is a spiritual battle;
and that is one reason why so many just cannot understand it. Without a spiritual understanding, without spiritual knowledge and spiritual experience and a spiritual faith, we are just open to all the attacks of the evil one. We need this spiritual view of the matter.
How can we put on the armour unless we understand what it is – and that it is of that spiritual and invisible nature?
It is secondly, defensive armour. It is altogether defensive. Five of these six pieces that are mentioned are very evidently so; there can be no question about it. And it is really true of the sixth, which is the ‘sword of the Spirit’. A sword can be an attacking weapon, but here it is really used only to fend off the attacks of the evil one. We are not able to wound him, certainly not to kill him. It is really to defend ourselves against his attacks that even this sword is used. You see, the Saviour has fought the essential battle in the wilderness of Judea, and also later in Gethsemane and at the Cross. He came to “destroy the works of the devil.” And so He has. So it is merely a matter of defending ourselves, and the ground, which, so to speak, the Saviour Himself has won. This is not in any sense an aggressive, attacking battle. It is one in which we need constantly to defend ourselves from wounds and from the great dangers that exist in the devil’s attacks.
Then also this armour is complete. It is altogether sufficient for every part that needs to be protected. If we were to consider all the different parts here, you would see that this affords such good protection. As Bunyan also points out, the only part that is not protected is the back, because one is not expected to turn and flee in this battle. Now the expression used twice here is ‘the whole armour of God’. The original word is the word ‘panoply’, as in that hymn:
“And take, to arm you for the fight,
The panoply of God.”
This means the whole covering; that which is suitable and sufficient to cover every eventuality, every vulnerable part of the soul. And so we may be sure this is the armour which we need. Nothing else is necessary in this fight but the strength of God and the protection that He gives in this way. In this armour, this whole armour of God, there are some six or seven pieces. There are three things which especially the apostle says are to be ‘put on’; that is, they are to be kept on all the time; we need these always. There is the girdle of truth; “the breastplate of righteousness”; and the greaves, or shoes, “shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace”. And then there are three more parts of which the apostle says, ‘Take’. “Take the shield of faith; the helmet of salvation; and the sword of the Spirit.” And you might consider that each of these is absolutely Christ-centred. Rightly understood each leads us to the work, the provision of Christ Himself. He Himself used armour such as this in His great conflict with the wicked one. Bunyan in his writings adds a seventh, with some reason, here; and speaks of the weapon of ‘all prayer’ mentioned in verse eighteen. “Praying always with all
prayer.” This is a very comprehensive weapon. Bunyan says that Christian, after he was armed, and after he had had that very instructively-presented account, faced a bitter attack from Apollyon. After that, he passed through the valley of the shadow of death, and went for some considerable time in the darkness amongst the demons. Then he took to himself the weapon of ‘all prayer’ and went for a long way crying, “O, Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul.” Dear friends, it may be at times that you come into that pathway, and the only thing you can do is to take the weapon of all prayer, and pray something like that: “O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul.” What a valuable weapon this is!
Well, there is then this complete set of armour, complete equipment for the Christian soldier. Do you have it on? Do you know what it really means, the significance of all this? Because we so need to understand, so that we may be able to withstand the evil one.
And then also this armour is divine. It is twice called the whole armour of God; which means that God Himself has provided for this particular need. And therefore it really is divine in its nature, because it is all concerned with the Lord Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God. It all directs us to Him, and to what He has done, what He has provided for His great army of believers. Now surely the armour of God is sufficient for us! What a wonderful mercy that He has provided it for believers, and that He has set it down so clearly in His Word as being what we need in this great battle. It is the whole armour of God. He has provided it for our needs, and it must be therefore altogether sufficient for the great and varied needs of this great fight of faith. There is then first here in a general way “the whole armour of God”; the nature of this armour.
2. The NEED for this armour.
The NEED that we have for it is because of the situation here in this world. The apostle says, “Put on the whole armour of God-for this reason – that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” And clearly the inference is that we should not be able to stand without this armour. And if one piece is missing, then there is a great weakness which the devil will try to exploit. We need it all. We need to know what it is; to be well aware of our need of it; and to be able to take it in the time of need. The apostle later speaks of withstanding in ‘the evil day’. Not all days, not all times of our lives, are really quite like that. The experience of temptation is not even. God constantly answers His people’s prayer; “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” – which certainly includes the evil one himself. The battle is not always alike hot; but you see it
may become so. We do not know when the evil day will come; when a real flood of temptation may be permitted; when there may be a great assault on our souls. O dear friends, we so need to be prepared, because there is this great danger which is expressed in these words: “the wiles of the devil.”
The word translated ‘wiles’ only occurs once more in the New Testament; and that is in this epistle, although it is not translated in quite the same way. It is in chapter 4 when the apostle speaks of the devil’s agents, and writes of them as lying “in wait to deceive”. “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Now the word is really hidden in that last phrase; “they lie in wait to deceive.” You see, it indicates a subtle strategy, a deliberate design of the evil one. The actual word gives rise to our word ‘method’, and it means something that has been thought out very carefully by the great adversary. He is such a wily foe. He is so subtle in his attacks, more subtle than any other creature. You know that in warfare in those days the captain would survey the terrain and the best position to attack; like Joshua outside the walls of Jericho, no doubt surveying the situation and looking out for weak points, the gates or other possible ways of entrance. And in the present day, while we meet here, we may be sure that out in the Middle East, with all the latest inventions of technology, those who are in authority are very carefully planning out the possibilities for war. They wish to be prepared and to know exactly what to do if that terrible occasion should arise. In warfare there is scheming and strategy. All kinds of plans are put forward; spies are used. Dear friends, in this spiritual warfare it is much more serious than that. The devil does not need any computers; he is a being of very high intelligence, and of vast experience, and of great subtlety. This expression, ‘the wiles of the devil’ should certainly make us stop and think. He is altogether too cunning for us. We need the wisdom of Christ, and we so need His continual watching over us.
Now what are these wiles of the devil? This is of course a vast subject which I can only just touch upon now: “The wiles of the devil.’ How does he attack the people of God? Well, there are four main ways which are in my mind to mention, if the Lord is pleased to help.
The first is doubting. The devil has a very subtle way of introducing doubt. First there are doubts about the Word of God. This is the whole basis of our faith, and he will do all he can to undermine the faith of the people of God in the Word of God. You can see how it was in the beginning. What a subtle approach that was when the serpent came to Eve, instead of Adam. And he said,
“Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” You see, he did not actually deny that God had said that, but he just gave a hint of doubt. He injected a suspicion that things might not be quite as had been said, and he put it quite the opposite way round. God had actually said: “Of all the trees of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou .shalt not eat of it.” It was a very gracious disposition, with only one exception. The devil turns it round right the other way and says, ‘Hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” He was suggesting that God was very different in His approach, much less gracious and beneficent than He really is. And so there is so often this subtle weaving of the web. Dear friends, we must continually beware of this, doubting the Word of God, which is the whole foundation of our faith. You know, a hundred or more years ago, in general, all the professing Christian churches believed the Bible to be the inspired, infallible Word of God. So in the articles of faith of many chapels, including our own, it is not even so much as mentioned, because it was simply assumed that this was so;
everybody understood it and took it to be so. There was no question about it. What has happened since? What havoc the devil has brought in all kinds of ways! – through the theory of evolution, and more recently especially through the plethora of translations of the Bible (some of them very poor translations, very inaccurate and Romanised). The devil is constantly desiring and seeking and working to undermine the Word of the living God. And he will try to do so with us. If you come across a difficult passage, he will try to etangle you in your thoughts. If you come across what appears to be a discrepancy, he will make the most of that. He will be casting insinuating doubts with regard to the Word of God. My dear friends, as soon as these doubts come, we need to recognise that they are the wiles of the devil. There is abundant reason for relieving that this Book is the very Word of God, in all kinds of ways that you really need to know about. The evidence is really so overwhelming. And yet the devil will try to insinuate these doubts concerning it. It is the Word of God. We do not understand it all by my means. It is not surprising that the Word of the God who is infinitely wise should present some difficulties to us! The apostle Paul who wrote these words in his epistles is said by Peter to have written “some things hard to be understood.” Even the apostle Peter acknowledged that there are things hard to be understood. But yet he still says that “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” The fact that there are things that we cannot fully understand can so easily be twisted by the devil into a reason ‘or doubting the very fundamental truth, that this is God’s Holy Word, upon which we can rest our needy souls now and always.
And then there are doubts about the deity of Christ. If the devil was so bold as to suggest to Jesus Himself a doubt about that, saying “If thou be the Son of God,” we may be sure that he will tempt us on the same matter. There are mysteries about the Person of Jesus Christ we cannot possibly understand -just how He is God and Man in one Person. But the Scripture so plainly declares this fundamental truth of our faith, that He is truly the Son of God. We so need to hold fast to that, because the whole of our salvation depends on this truth. The validity, the virtue and the value of His work results from the fact that here is the second Person of the eternal Trinity. We may be sure that these things which are so important will be questioned and challenged by the devil.
The devil also will seek to spread doubts about the freeness of God’s grace. The Scripture most plainly declares that salvation is free – entirely and absolutely free. And the promises of God are so encouraging and so definite. Jesus said, “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” Years ago a man at the end of a service said to me, “I am 87, and I have got nothing. Solemn, isn’t it?” And I said, “Well, what do you want?” And he indicated that he really wanted salvation and the assurance of it. And I said to him, “Jesus said. Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” And then he said, “But I wonder if my coming is the right sort of coming”. And the devil will twist people up into these tortuous kinds of reasoning. Bunyan said about that, “What does it mean? It means every ‘him’ that comes”. Every ‘him’, every person that comes. It is the Saviour’s word. Bunyan also writes about a certain man called Mr. Clip-promise. He was always cutting pieces off the promises, so as to restrict them and limit them. And how damaging that can be! And he would be one of the devil’s agents. Now the promises of God are so clear and plain. But my friends, if you do not believe, if you do not hold fast the truth that grace is altogether free, then the devil will have you in doubt and questioning. You will not have that assurance of faith which the promises of God should really bring. How graciously Jesus received all who sincerely came to Him! How He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” It is so plain and definite and simple. But we are so ready to listen to the devil and his subtle questionings, and his suggestions that it can not be quite so simple as that. We need to hear the Word of God and not to listen to the wiles of the devil.
Another doubt is persuading people even to doubt his very existence. Because they cannot see him and have no such visible evidence of his being, they question or even deny the very existence of the devil himself. And what a triumph that is for him! But the Word of God so plainly declares from beginning to end, the existence, the personal existence, of this most wicked of all spirits.
But then, apart from doubting, there are other ways in which the devil tempts and uses his wiles. There is pride. How he tempts people to this! How he works on the pride that is in us by nature! As the hymn says:
“Save me from pride, that angel-form,
That swells a poor, weak, sinful worm;
That moves the tongue, the hands, the eyes,
And often takes me by surprise.”
How it does! And it can be spiritual pride. We can so easily become proud in a fearful way, a way that surely is so offensive to God. The hymn puts it,
“The heart uplifts with God’s own gifts,
And makes e’en grace a snare.”
How the devil is busy working like this! Now the people of God so desire to make progress in spiritual things; they so want to be more humble and more holy. They so want to believe and love, to praise and to pray. And often they find great difficulties because of the sinful nature that they have. But sometimes it is rather different, and the devil may come and say, “You are getting on a bit better now. You are becoming quite a good Christian. Surely you will now be pleasing to God in those things you have been doing.” And how easily we can become pleased with ourselves, and puffed up by this cursed, devilish pride! And it is all so subtle; it seems so right. He can masquerade as an angel of light, and we do not always realise that this is so. You have probably heard of the minister who came down from the pulpit, and a woman said to him, “That was a good sermon.” And he said, “The devil told me that before I got out of the pulpit.” You see, it can so easily work in these spiritual things. The Lord does give His gracious help in answer to prayer, and yet the devil can so twist the whole matter round as to make us feel pleased with ourselves! Dear friends, if we ever, if you or I ever believe that we are anything better in ourselves than wretched, vile, hell-deserving sinners, then the devil is having something of his way. We are not any better than that in ourselves. And it is only the devil who tempts us to think so:
“Whatever prompts the soul to pride,
Is not the Holy Ghost.”
It is of the devil himself, because he is a “king over the children of pride”. And pride is one of his great temptations, his subtle workings. How we do need to beware of ever thinking anything of ourselves. And how we need to pray,
Make us well our vileness know;
Keep us very, very low.”
You see, the danger in all these things is looking away from the Lord Jesus Christ. All the merit, all the goodness, is in Him. And if we are rightly exercised, we shall be looking to Him for everything, and thanking Him for all the good that we receive; and not accepting any credit for ourselves, because it is all of His grace.
There is also the third weapon of discouragement. Doubt, pride, discouragement – how these are the devil’s weapons. He will not only say, perhaps, to you, “You are wonderful”. He will also say, “You are hopeless. You are an absolute failure. You might as well give all up. You are useless.” And you see there is a vein of truth in both those attacks. The children of God are wonders. The psalmist could say, “I am a wonder unto many.” It is so wonderful how the Lord does bless His people – but not so that they should be puffed up with pride. And then of themselves they are such miserable failures. We do fail so much in so many things. And the devil can use that to discourage you and to cast you down: which again is something that he so wants. What use is a soldier lying on the ground? If he is brought low like that, then he is out of action, he is hors de combat. Think of that great man of God, Elijah (as well as others like Job or Jeremiah and Jonah, who got so depressed in spirit). Elijah – what a famous conquest he had won on Mount Carmel! All the prophets of Jezebel were there, and he had stood up against them, and stood for God, in such a remarkable way. And after that he so prayed that the heavens would yield their rain; and in answer to his prayer the rains came. Then by a supernatural power he ran all the way in the rain down to Jezreel. How remarkably strengthened he had been! Did he realise he was in such danger? After that, no doubt, he was exhausted – spiritually mentally and physically. And it is at that sort of time that the devil makes his attack. Who would have thought that the mighty prophet on the top of Carmel would soon be brought down by an idle threat of a woman? Jezebel did not send a man to kill him, but just to give a message that she was going to. And off he ran! He fled for his life, laid down under the juniper tree, and then said, “Lord, take away my life”. He was running for his life, and yet then he asked the Lord to take that life away! And there he was right away from the scene of action, absolutely useless, full of discouragement. Yet how human! Easily this can come. Like Jonah under that gourd. His ministry at Nineveh had been wonderfully blessed of God. And there the prophet is, watching the city, so full of petulance and self-pity; and so cast down because the ministry had not taken the course that he wanted it to. O my dear friends, especially in these days, where there is so much to discourage, how easily the devil can use this
weapon! And he does often have great success. Now when you begin to feel discouraged, consider, “Is the devil behind all this? Is it he that is injecting these thoughts which are of such a depressing character?” How easily he can get us down if we begin to reason, if we look away from the Saviour.
Then a fourth way that he has of attacking the people of God is guilt. Before Bunyan’s Christian went down into the valley of humiliation he had a tussle with three rogues, as they were called:
Faint-heart, Mistrust, and Guilt. And when they did not manage to overcome him, they called to their master Apollyon, the devil. These are his agents. Guilt. Well of course the devil again has quite a lever here. We are guilty. It is unquestionable that in ourselves we are very guilty. We have cause to say with Joseph’s brethren, “We are verily guilty.” We cannot deny that we are guilty sinners in ourselves. There are many things that the devil can bring up against us with truth and say, “You have done this; and you have done that;
and the other.” There are so many things; and perhaps we have committed these sins so often that we are almost in despair if he brings the great catalogue before us.
But is there no sovereign remedy for guilt? There is indeed. And the people of God really should know that there is, and realise that when the devil brings these sins before us it is so that we should feel guilty and condemned in our consciences, and feel reluctant and unable to go to God. A sense of guilt will separate us from the Saviour, will mar communion with Him. If we are afraid of God, if we feel guilty before Him, how can we enjoy close communion with Him? But there is a remedy. Our day is similar to Jeremiah’s in many ways. And the question asked then was, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” Why is the guilt not taken away? Because there was no sense of guilt. So there was no application to the Fountain. There is a wise Physician. There is One who can cleanse and wash us from all our sins. And my dear friends, as soon, as soon as you feel guilty, the only thing to do is to fly to the Fountain again. How ever many times you have been it does not matter. There is one great remedy for sin; “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s dear Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” The devil will do his utmost to turn you away from that. That must be one of the Scriptures he hates more than almost any other. How he hates the truth concerning the blood of Jesus! But we read of the saints in the Revelation that “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony”. That was the way they overcame. And that is the way, dear friends, we must overcome. There is this blessed, free, sovereign remedy for our guilt. There is no use thinking things are going to get better. You may be so conscious of
in and guilt later on; but that does not alter the question. Those words in the hymn are so appropriate:
“Sinless perfection we deny,
The chief of Satan’s wiles;
Do thou, my soul, to Calvary fly,
As oft as sin defiles.”
As soon as you feel guilty, then go to that “Fountain open for sin and for uncleanness”, and that can cleanse you from all your guilt. But the devil will do all he can to keep you away from there.
And so, dear friends, there is surely a great need for the whole armour of God, for all the work of Christ in its different aspects, to protect us from the wiles of the devil, which are so subtle and so deadly. The apostle goes on later to speak of his “fiery darts” as well. You see, in this battle we do need God’s protection, the whole armour of God. Well, do you have it? Are you concerned about this great question?
Now this may seem to be rather negative truth. Often, perhaps very often, we consider the great matters of positive truth in the Word – the Person and work of the Saviour, and those principles of faith and love toward Him; and all those positive graces. That is well. But may there not be a question sometimes in our hearts, “Why is it we do not seem to make much progress – the progress that we would like in these things? Why is it that we tend to move so slowly?” It may often be, my dear friends, because the devil is having too much success with us. Perhaps we are listening to the wiles of the devil, and our faith is being undermined, and our spiritual life greatly hindered and endangered, because of all these attacks that he makes. What a necessary word this is! The apostle says, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” And then also, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” There is no reason to expect that you will ever be able to stand against them without the armour that God has provided through His dear Son. We so need to look to Him, to “the things which are unseen”. In that chapter which so speaks of the danger of discouragement, the apostle says at the end: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding weight of glory, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen . For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” And the devil will do all he can to turn our eyes away from those things, and especially from the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Anything that turns our eyes away from the Saviour, which tends to keep us from Him, has to be suspected as being one of the wiles of the devil. May God bless you all. Amen.