Sermon preached by Mr S. Delves on 16th May, 1923
`For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing which exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 10.4-5.
The Holy Spirit has been pleased, in a variety of figures, to set forth the work of a gospel minister; and so sometimes the Apostle compares himself to a builder, and the church to a building, and in respect to his preaching, he said that it was the laying of a foundation, according to the wisdom given unto him. ‘I have laid the foundation.’ He viewed the work of the ministry as separating sinners from a state of nature and union to natural things, and bringing them into union with the people of God, and building them upon the household of faith.
In this chapter the Apostle brings before us a gospel minister set forth in the likeness of a warrior, but he is careful to say that it is not a fleshly warfare and not engaged in with carnal weapons. He says, ‘The weapons of our warfare are not carnal.’ He did not war against the bodies of men but against their souls, against spiritual wickedness in high places, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, and unseen powers too. He that is engaged in spiritual warfare uses spiritual weapons. He says, ‘The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God.’ He did not use carnal means to promote the truth and the ministry of truth in the hearts of the people, but he relied only upon spiritual weapons. The Apostle’s weapons were not carnal but spiritual. He had two weapons with which to engage in this spiritual warfare. He had a secret and a public one: secret prayer and public prayer; two weapons, enough for every minister of the Gospel. The Apostle was mighty in secret as well as mighty in public. As we read, ‘The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force’ I believe that the secret of a powerful ministry is secret prayer. If a man is powerful in secret, he will be powerful in public; if he is weak in secret he will be weak in public. A man that knows how to prevail with God will know how to prevail with men. A man who wrestles with God for the souls of men, will feel the power of truth in public. I believe a praying minister is a powerful one. The devil fears a praying minister. The Apostle’s ministry seems to have been much marked by this. He therefore speaks in his epistles of his prayers to God for them. I believe every preacher, rightly taught of God, feels their need of divine help. They preach the Gospel with a prayerful spirit; they enter
with their eyes up unto God for divine light and life; and they leave the house of God with their eyes up to the Lord for a divine blessing on that word spoken in His name.
Then the Apostle had another weapon Â— the reproach of the cross. Not with eloquence, not with worldly wisdom; he never drew crowds with eloquent preaching, but with the plain truth of God. He said to the Ephesians before he left the city, ‘I have not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God’ and that he would deliver nothing but the truth. What a lot this includes! What a responsibility upon a minister to preach the whole truth of God, not to darken counsel by words without knowledge. He preached the great unknown, the truth of eternity, the spirituality of the divine law; and how he preached the divine atonement and cross. He preached the truth with regard to God, with regard to men, and with regard to Jesus Christ; and the Lord honoured his ministry.
High things brought down
Now we pass on to speak of the bringing down of imaginations, and of every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. Look for a moment at what the knowledge of God really is. By nature we are all against God. All men are. No men know God in a state of nature. They may be like the Athenians Â— worship an unknown God: hut let me lay it down as a truth, that until the worship of God is communicated to our souls in a sovereign way, we are without God and without hope in the world. If we do not know God, we are wrong at the foundation. If we do not know God we are wrong in everything. The foundation of a true religion is a right knowledge of God. What is it to know God? A man may read the scriptures, read sound authors, sit under a Gospel of truth, and yet have no knowledge of God, because the knowledge of God is beyond the reach of wisdom, beyond human understanding, and so it is written, `Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is high as heaven, what canst thou do? Deeper than hell, what canst thou know?’ And again we read, that man, even ‘vain man would be wise, though man is born like a wild ass’s colt.’ How then can knowledge be brought into the soul? How can we attain to it? Only by revelation. It must be revealed by the Spirit of God into our hearts. But against this knowledge of God as revealed, everything in the soul rises, and therefore before it, there must be a casting down of imaginations.
Pulling down strongholds
We read of pulling down of strongholds. If therefore I show what strongholds are, and what the imaginations are, and the high things, I might be better able to show how the knowledge of God brings them down. Strongholds here, are certainly the natural heart and soul of man. The figure is taken from a fenced city, a city defended by walls. So is the heart of man. It is a stronghold. Of what? We read in the Scriptures that it is a stronghold of Satan. Does he not keep in peace the natural heart of man until a stronger than he cometh? Then too the natural heart of man is a stronghold of sin. Sin reigns in every heart unrenewed, and reigns unto death? Until the grace of God enters the hearts there is no power there but Satan, and thus it is a stronghold of Satan. Death has reigned in the heart of man from Adam to Moses and we were all ‘dead in trespasses and sins.’ And while the heart of man is far off from God, and full of evil, there are these defences raised against the knowledge of God.
Casting down imaginations
How careless people are under the Gospel. A man may sit under the sound of truth continually, and will be indifferent to it. They hear the truth, read the truth, and yet are indifferent Â— hear it with approbation, but never feel anything in their heart; they go along in a careless, easy, undisturbed state of heart and mind. Why? Because they have many imaginations. One of these is this Â— and many are encompassed with it Â— that, after all, things are not as Scripture states them to be. We read of eternity, but people imagine there is no eternity and are carried away with their own unbelief and false imagination, which cannot realise the eternal state of lost souls: people imagine this cannot be. Do you imagine it so? Eternity is real, whether you believe it to be so or not. You may believe there is no reality in eternity, but is there no eternity? Because a person does not believe there is a judgment, is there no judgment? Will not God remain faithful, though men believe not? This is an imagination.
But there is more than one kind of imagination; there is an imagined knowledge. We may read the scriptures and therefore may have had a certain knowledge of the doctrines of truth, and of Christ. A man may read the scriptures and see Calvinistic truth, as we call it. He may sit under the truth, until his views of truth are sound and true, but it is all imagination. Because we have a knowledge of truth, we may not have a knowledge of God. I want to speak carefully here. Is there no imagined experience? Some people imagine they have felt the power of the things of God when it has been nothing but their natural feelings being wrought upon. Is there not a natural experience as well as a spiritual one? It is not saving experience of divine appointment and power, it is counterfeit Â— in the flesh. Is there not a spiritual fear of God in the hearts of His people, and a natural fear of God in the flesh? Do none but those who are saved feel qualms of conscience?
If you read the Scriptures, it is very plain that there are both. There was a Judas among the disciples of Christ and a Balaam in the Old Testament. It is written, ‘Some have not the knowledge of God; I speak this to your shame.’ I believe in my very conscience, there are many
people who are wrapped in this imagined religion who have never been disturbed, and brought to see the shallowness of it.
The knowledge of God
Let me show you how the knowledge of God Â— this true knowledge of God Â— is not merely a doctrinal knowledge; it is not such as is formed by the natural mind and understanding. It is an experimental knowledge. This is the vital point. You know God as far as you have felt God in the soul, in the conscience. A true knowledge of God is a soul-knowledge, and a true knowledge of God is a heart-knowledge. The Spirit of God does not instruct a man’s mind, his intelligence or his brain alone, but He new-creates his soul. It is in the conscience where the Holy Spirit works, and in his heart where He carries on divine instruction. Let men say what they will about experimental truth, and experimental religion. I am more and more confirmed in my soul that a religion devoid of experience is but a profession.
The knowledge of God is a knowledge of a holy God, a God who is essentially pure. He is holy in Himself and pure in His nature. Now the first point of divine knowledge is to know God as a holy and righteous God, a God that cannot and will not pass by iniquity and sin. How is this knowledge imparted? I judge that it is often imparted through the ministry, and therefore we preach. If a true minister has ever felt the knowledge of God in his conscience, he will preach it in a searching and faithful way, and if will bring down imaginations. Here is a man who has no desire to know God. He may habitually attend the means of grace, or never attend, but in some circumstances he is brought under the sound of the Gospel, and more than that, the Gospel is brought into his heart Â— the truth apprehends him. The Apostle says he was apprehended by Christ Jesus. Truth apprehends him, and it is sometimes done immediately, even in one sentence. The truth of God lays hold of him, and he leaves the house of prayer with an arrow in his conscience, and he cannot rid himself of it. He was unconcerned; he becomes greatly concerned: he was careless; now his very soul is exercised within him. Now does he begin to feel the power of the things of God; he knows there is a God, and that he must stand before Him. He knows there is a God and that things are not right between his soul and God: and that knowledge lays hold of his soul, so that things go deeper with him; and depend upon it, when the things of God lay hold of a soul, things will go deeper. Nothing will satisfy a man but a right knowledge of God in his soul. He begins to tremble before God; he has never done so before. He may say, ‘I never cared about religion, or the things of God, but now they lay hold of my conscience Â— oh that sermon, that text, the words went through me.’ So does the knowledge of God bring down man’s imaginations: where it is real and where it is right, nothing can stand before it.
A person may sit under the sound of truth from his early years, as some have done, as I have done; and all, so far from giving us a knowledge of God, it may merely have satisfied our natural understanding. But there may come a time when you are brought under the sound of truth in another way Â— you hear the minister, and something arrests you, and you go away, and you feel you must go again. You must hear that man again; you feel drawn to him, there is something about him, about the truth that he preaches, that seems to bear the stamp of reality. And it goes deeper; and presently you feel that it is not the man as much as the truth he preaches: and the knowledge of God begins to grow in your heart. This knowledge lays a deeper hold upon your conscience, and it enters more deeply into your heart. You begin to feel, `If that is the truth, I am a lost man.’ You begin to feel that your religion was far from being that which can raise you to heaven. It is a greater condemnation. You may have said a great deal about religion, but you are brought to where Job was when he said, ‘Now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.’ Now, have you ever known what it is to feel like that, to feel that things are not right with your soul? To dread eternity with a perfect dread? To dread judgment with a perfect dread? You feel, I cannot stand before God, and yet I must; I cannot enter eternity, and yet I must enter it; and I know in my very conscience that, were I taken to the judgment seat of God, I must be condemned by His righteous law.
Now depend upon it, dear friends, these are not matters of theory, but feeling; not of speculation, but of experience, and if ever there is a time when a man begins to get into David’s experience, ‘My soul fainteth for thy salvation.’ Where is his imagined religion and knowledge now? All gone, and cast down. ‘Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.’ Was it not so all through the Scriptures? How was it with Isaiah? He saw the Lord high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple, and he said, ‘Woe is me!’ for ‘I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.’
A man may be very proud but his pride is brought down, and nothing brings pride down so much as a true knowledge of God. We read that the ‘haughtiness of man shall be brought down, and the pride of man shall be brought low.’ A man may be proud of himself, proud of his position in the world, proud of his prospects and his prosperity, but let the knowledge of God be brought into his heart, and he sees death in his soul. A man may be proud of his religion, and glory in it, but let the Spirit of God bring the knowledge of God into the conscience, and he will see how vain it all is. There certainly is a casting down of imagination then. How many high things there are that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God, and must be brought down before that knowledge.
There is another imagination that must be brought down in a man’s heart, and that is atheism. Some of the Lord’s most eminent preachers were those that did not believe in heaven or in God’s truth, and that is brought down. A man begins to believe and tremble. Why should a man tremble if there is no God? Tremble at the thought of eternity, if there is none? All these unbeliefs begin to fly before the knowledge of God. A natural man is filled with enmity against God and His truth. Why does he hate it? Because it exalts God and humbles man. How many people have no liking for the truth Â— they are full of enmity against it. So was the Apostle Paul. But the knowledge of God is powerful in the heart, casting down his imaginations, and every high thing that was exalting itself against the knowledge of God. Gradually or suddenly, it is all brought down to nothing, shattered about your ears, and the language of your soul is, ‘Where shall I hide myself from Him that sitteth upon the throne?’ Can you follow me, my friends? I speak from the heart. I can look back now to where all my religion seemed to vanish from me, and I felt I was wrong at the foundation. But there is not only bringing down of the imagination against God. That is only part of the Spirit’s work.
Every thought brought into obedience
Let me now speak of the bringing of every thought into obedience. The great purpose is the exaltation of His Son, that at His name every knee should bow, that Christ should be exalted, and wear the crown. Look at this for a moment Â— the obedience of Christ. He was obedient; He was the Father’s servant; He came to do the Father’s will; He was obedient for others. He came down to this world, and assumed our nature that He might fulfil the Father’s will in that nature. ‘Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my heart rejoices’ How wonderful to enter into this mystery! Well might the Apostle speak of it as a mystery; it is a mystery and ever must remain so. Jesus Christ of Nazareth is a mystery in Himself, because in that body dwelt the fulness of the Godhead. It was in that body He fulfilled the obedience of Christ. He was really God and really man. Forasmuch as we are partakers of flesh, He shared the same Â— the same weakness, the same feelings. He was a real man; spoke as you speak; felt as you feel; suffered as you suffer, and died a death beyond comprehension. In that nature He came to accomplish that obedience: ‘I come to do thy will, 0 my God’ That righteous and holy law He obeyed. He was spiritual as the law was spiritual, and holy as it was holy. All that the law required He rendered to it. This, no man could have done. Where will you find a man as pure as God’s law, as holy as God’s law, as spiritual in heart and thought as God’s law? But Jesus Christ was. He said, ‘Thy law is within my heart’ He obeyed the law in its every demand. If He had not obeyed the divine law its penalty would have fallen upon us. Unless the law is honoured it is a condemning law. All that He did was in obedience to the divine will.
How willingly! Look at Him in the garden of Gethsemane. He said, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.’ There you have it; there is obedience to the divine will Â—`Let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.’ And there came an angel from heaven strengthening Him. There was the obedience of Christ Â— a weak man, obeying the divine will; a suffering man, obeying the divine will. This is the obedience of Christ. I cannot speak of it as I would: it was a suffering obedience, the obedience was such that He suffered in it. ‘Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.’
He did not learn obedience in such a way that exempted Him from suffering. He learned obedience through sorrow and suffering. Though He was a Son yet the Divine Sonship of the Son of God did not exempt Him from sorrow or from Gethsemane’s sweat and blood, or from the agonies of the cross, or the broken heart. He learned the experience of obedience by it. What He suffered and felt! It was a suffering obedience. Look at what He suffered there as a sinner’s Mediator and Surety Â— ‘It pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief.’ It was obedience in suffering, and so He assented: there was no rebellion when He said, ‘My God, my God, why halt thou forsaken me?’ There never was such a word spoken on earth before. He learned obedience by that suffering of the cross, and so the Apostle says, ‘He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.’ God was satisfied in it; the Father demanding and the Son meeting that demand. The Father requiring all the guilt of His people to be atoned for, and Christ enduring it. The Father pouring out His judgment and wrath and His Son enduring it, giving Himself up to it and saying, ‘Father here am I’ This is the obedience of Christ.
Now I must pass on to show that every thought is brought into subjection.
Now there is that in the cross of Christ and in His obedience and sufferings, that wherever it is felt, it brings everything beneath it. There is that about it that is stronger far than all the terrors of the law of God. Joseph Hart was right when he said:
Law and terrors do but harden,
All the while they work alone;
But a sense of blood-bought pardon
Soon dissolves a heart of stone,
Now the bringing down of every imagination and high thing before the knowledge of God leaves the soul incomplete. Knowledge of God does not bring any peace into the heart alone. Knowledge of God does not bring any comfort into the heart alone. If there were no Mediator, no Daysman to come between us, the knowledge of God would be eternal misery. But there is a bringing of them all into subjection to the
obedience of Christ. How is it done? It is revealed outwardly in the Scriptures, inwardly by the Spirit Â— outwardly by the word of truth, inwardly by the divine revelation of it to the soul. It is through faith. When faith rises up it brings an apprehension of Christ, when faith rises up in your heart to believe the divine testimony of God concerning His Son, that whosoever believeth in Him hath eternal life, then it is that hope rises first in the soul; then it is that peace begins first to be felt in the conscience; the thoughts begin to be brought into captivity to Christ. But there is not only a revelation of it to the understanding and heart, there is a being brought into a blessed fellowship with it. That is what the Apostle so wanted to feel. He says, ‘That I may know him, and the fellowship of his sufferings.’ What is fellowship? It is something that two have in common. Fellowship is two hearts beating together, it is two hearts united in common sorrow or joy, walking together in agreement, bound in one bond, having a mutual interest in one concern. So in the things of God: it is to have a heart melted with a sense of His great grace. It is to have had raised up in your soul a real sympathy of heart for that dear Man who, in His weakness, felt your guilt, and bore your sin; to feel Christ’s sorrow in your heart, till His sorrow becomes yours, as well as your sorrow being His. Do we not read, ‘He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows?’ But there is fellowship in this mystery. Christ bore your sorrows, and you are brought to feel His. Christ bore our griefs, and you are brought to feel His. Isaac Watts wrote:
When I survey the wondrous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
That is very beautiful, but there is something beyond poetic beauty; there is a being brought into fellowship with Christ in it. Is not this the centre of vital godliness? Here you have fellowship with Christ in His sufferings. This is what brings every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ? Look at it, you that know what I am preaching. Have you ever felt a divine love in your soul even if only for a few passing moments, a little of the sorrow the Son of God passed through? Did it not bring every thought into captivity, and was not this the language of your heart?
Oh crucify this self, that I
No more, but Christ in me, may live;
Bid all my vile affections die,
Nor let one hateful lust survive.
What was it? Every thought brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. No wish but that Christ should be glorified, and that everything in you might be sacrificed to His cross. Every thought was toward
Christ, and centred in Christ Â— the world was nothing, the hearts and minds of these things were useless to you: the language of your heart was this,
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small,
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my life, my soul, my all.
No unconverted man ever gets there. A man may feel terror, may feel judgment; but none but a child of God ever feels this love. A man may feel even deeper terror of judgment, by the preaching of eternity, than a quickened child of God, but none but those taught of God are ever brought to solidly feel and desire that everything in them may be brought into subjection to that suffering Man. There is that in the knowledge of God that is all powerful. I speak of an experimental knowledge, of a feeling one. To know Jesus Christ like that is to have eternal life. How much is comprised in those words, ‘That they may know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou bast sent.’ To know the only true God, is to feel your heart brought down before Him, to feel His love in your heart. He is pure, you are impure; He is pure, you are sinful. To know Christ is to know His precious love shed abroad in your heart, to feel the virtue of His atoning blood in your conscience, to take away the fear of death and guilt in your conscience. To feel His Spirit in your hearts bearing witness in your soul, with the water and the blood: and the terror of death is removed, and you can say, ‘I hope and believe God is my Father.’ This then is to have every thought, desire, affection, controlled by divine love. It is to be brought where the Apostle was, ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; …and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.’
An hot iron, though blunt, will pierce sooner than a cold one, though sharper.
There be two signal and remarkable acts of faith, both exceedingly difficult, viz. its first act, and its last. The first is a great venture that it makes of itself upon Christ; and the last is a great venture too, to cast itself into the ocean of eternity upon the credit of a promise.