30 November 2007

Put on the armor of light

Both the Collect and the Epistle of Advent Sunday call us to “put on the armor of light”. Here are some reflections on what that means, from Handley Moule (1841-1920), New Testament scholar, and Bishop of Durham, 1901-20.

It remains for our time, as truly as ever, a fact of religious life—this necessity to press it home upon the religious, as the religious, that they are called to a practical and detailed holiness; and that they are never to ignore the possibility of even the worst falls. So mysteriously can the subtle “flesh”, in the believing receiver of the gospel, becloud or distort the holy import of the thing received. So fatally easy is it to “corrupt the best into the worst”, using the very depth and riches of spiritual truth as if it could be a substitute for patient practice, instead of its mighty stimulus.

But glorious is the method illustrated here for triumphant resistance to that tendency. What is it? It is not to retreat from spiritual principle upon a cold and naturalistic program of activity and probity. It is to penetrate through the principle to the crucified and living Lord who is its heart and power; it is to bury self in him, and to arm the will with him. It is to look for him as coming, but also, and yet more urgently, to use him as present… As it were, at our feet is laid the Lord Jesus Christ, in all he is, in all he has done, in his indissoluble union with us in it all, as we are one in him by the Holy Ghost. It is for us to see in him our power and victory, and to “put him on”, in a personal act which, while all by grace, is yet in itself our own. And how is this done? It is by the “committal of the keeping of our souls unto him” not vaguely, but definitely and with purpose, in view of each and every temptation. It is by “living our life in the flesh by faith in the Son of God”; that is to say, in effect, by perpetually making use of the crucified and living Savior, one with us by the Holy Spirit; by using him as our living deliverer, our peace and power, amidst all that the dark hosts of evil can do against us…

If we would indeed “arm ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” we must awake and be astir to “know whom we have trusted”. We must explore his word about himself. We must ponder it above all in the prayer which converses with him over his promises, till they live to us in his light. We must watch and pray, that we may be alert to employ our armament. The Christian who steps out into life “lightheartedly”, thinking superficially of his weakness, and of his foes, is only too likely to think of his Lord superficially, and to find of even this heavenly armor that “he cannot go with it, for he hath not proved it”. But all this leaves absolutely untouched the divine simplicity of the matter. It leaves it wonderfully true that the decisive, the satisfying, the thorough, moral victory and deliverance comes to the Christian man not by trampling about with his own resolves, but by committing himself to his savior and keeper, who has conquered him, that now he may conquer “his strong enemy” for him…

Yes, we can “put him on” as our “panoply of light”. We can put him on as “the Lord”, surrendering ourselves to his absolute while most benignant sovereignty and will, deep secret of repose. We can put him on as “Jesus”, clasping the truth that he, our human brother, yet divine, “saves his people from their sins”. We can put him on as “Christ”, our head anointed without measure by the eternal Spirit, and now sending of that same Spirit into his happy members, so that we are indeed one with him, and receive into our whole being the resources of his life.

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