Withal taking up the shield of faith–Eph 6:16 (R.V.) T
he Power That Protects Us
The armor of the ancients was of two different kinds, and both kinds were absolutely necessary. It was partly armor for attack and partly armor for protection. Now very generally, in the New Testament, faith is one of the weapons of attack (1Jo 5:4). We see that magnificently illustrated in the pageant of the eleventh of Hebrews. But here, and it may be only here, Paul looks on faith in quite another light, for he sets it among the armor of protection. Faith is not here the power that leads to victory; it is the power that protects us in the battle. It keeps us unembittered and serene amid the mysteries and buffetings of life. To believe that love is on the throne and that through everything there runs a loving purpose, is in the deepest of all senses to be shielded.
How effectual that shielding is, is shown by the apostle‘s choice of words. An exquisite and unfailing niceness of selection is the real meaning of verbal inspiration. There are two words in the Greek tongue for shield; the one is common and the other rare. The one connotes a little shield or target; the other a frame that covered the whole man. And it is notable that only here–nowhere else, I mean, in the New Testament–is the latter word employed. Faith is not a partial protection; it casts its defense over the whole of life. It is a means of safety for the intellect, as surely as for the passions of the heart. It guards the feet when they are prone to wander, and the hands when they are growing weary, and the eyes when they are drawn to what is wrong. The shield of faith is an all-embracing shelter. It is coextensive with our being. Faith in God through our Lord Jesus Christ is nothing less than a universal safeguard. All was choicely shown to the Ephesians by the word which the apostle used when he bade them take up the shield of faith.
Faith Is Given to Guard Life in Everything; Not from Everything
But if faith be a protecting shield, what then of the apostle’s own experience? So far from being defended from life’s ills, he knew them all in an abounding measure. He was not protected from cold or heat or hunger, nor from shipwreck, nor from the hand of robbers (2Co 11:1-33). He was not protected from bodily infirmity, for he suffered from his lacerating thorn (2Co 12:1-21). Everything that makes life bitter was mingled in the cup of the apostle, and yet he dares to speak of faith’s protection. I think there are many who have still to learn that faith was never intended for exemption. Faith is not given to guard the life from anything; it is given to guard the life in everything. It empowers one to bear, and to bear cheerfully, what otherwise would break the heart and darken the loving ordering of God. To pass through the very worst that life can bring, undismayed in soul, and unembittered; to tread the darkest mile and sing in it; never to lose heart, or hope, or love; that is what faith achieved for the apostle and can achieve for everyone of us, and that is the shielding power of faith. So was it with our blessed Lord. When He came here, He was offered no exemption. He was a man of sorrows, and He suffered, and He was tempted in all points like as we are. Yet to the end, in a faith that never faltered, He was loving, tranquil, and forgiving and under the cross spoke about His peace.
This Protecting Faith Has to Be Taken Up
One should notice, too, that this protecting faith is one that we require to make our own. In the apostle’s words, we have to take it up, in the same way as we take up our cross. There is a faith that is part and parcel of our being. It is ours without any conscious effort. We believe quite naturally when the sower sows his seed that there will be a harvest in the autumn. But to believe, when life is stem and sorrowful, that God is with us and loves us as a Father, that is not natural to sinful man. We have to take it up, in the apostle’s words. We have to summon up the resources of the soul. We have to use our will in a deliberate effort, if such a faith is to be part of life. And it is just there that the Lord Jesus makes all the difference to us in our weakness, for God commendeth His love to us in this, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.