Text: II Kings 6:16
Friends – there are different days for all of us. Who is not troubled by the state of our nation – the prevailing irreligion and immorality, the economic and political uncertainty, and by wars and rumors of wars on the international scene? What Christian is not concerned about the church -“by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed?”‘ as one of our hymn-writers once put it? Who does not long and pray for revival? Who does not wonder, at times, whether or not the end is at hand?
In such times we need to be reminded how God’s people have been delivered in times past – and not by their own doing, but by His mighty power. One such occasion is related in Il Kings, chapter 6 – where the prophet Elisha seems to be in a hopeless situation – and his servant cries out, “Alas, my master how shall we do?”‘ And we read in verse 16 – And he answered, “Fear not – for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” Our theme today is “By Hosts Surrounded”.
I. Consider, first of all, will you, “they that are with them,” or the forces of that power that would capture and destroy our souls – yours and mine. The sacred historian tells us in this chapter, v. 8, that “the king of Syria warred against Israel” but it was apparently not an all-out campaign at this point but a kind of guerilla warfare which had as its object the capture of Israel’s king and principal men: hence he pitched his camp in such and such a place where he expected, apparently, that his prey would pass by unaware of his danger and so fall into his hands. But the prophet Elisha, who seems always to have been fairly close to the royal court, sent and said, “Beware that thou pass not such a place,” and we read further on that the king of Israel saved himself on this account, not once nor twice, that is to say, often! In fact, it was so often that the king of Syria suspected that there was a traitor in his own ranks: but one of his servants, who was perhaps himself a spy in Israel and therefore knew whereof he spoke, spoke up and said, “Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber.”
So the king of Syria sent this servant to find out where Elisha was then, and the report came back that he was in Dothan, a small walled city of Israel, and the king sent there “horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about.” And that was the frightening sight that met the eyes of Elisha’s servant when he arose next morning and went outside to look around and that brought him to his master with the cry, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?” The enemy had appeared in force! And it reminds us, does it not, of the enemy force which would seize and destroy us!
And in thinking of that enemy, I would like to remind you, first, of his influence and power within you: for it is great and dangerous. When Generalissimo Francisco Franco, was fighting the Civil War in Spain some forty years ago now, his objective was, of course, Madrid, the country’s capital and the center of the Communist republican forces that he was seeking to overturn. Someone asked him one day how he hoped to capture Madrid. “I have four columns marching against the city,’ he replied, “and a fifth within.” Thus originated the well-known designation of an inner enemy as a “fifth column,” but the reality is as old as war itself. The Syrian king had a fifth column within Israel, and he suspected that the Israelites had a fifth column within his own court and your soul and mine has a fifth column within as well, and the Bible calls it very simple the FLESH.
Now by the flesh, the Bible does not mean, of course, the meat – the tissues, muscles, and sinews with which these bones of ours are clothed. It uses the word symbolically, or figuratively for a much deeper and more important reality, namely, our human nature and all that that implies as it has been ruined by the fall, left incapable of any true knowledge of God, prone to all evil, and unfit for any good, of this the apostle Paul speaks in Romans 7:18, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing.”
In the unregenerate man, that is, in the person in whom no sovereign work of grace has been done, and who has not been born again unto a lively hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time, as Peter
describes it, the flesh produces spiritual death, or eternal condemnation away from the presence of God. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God,” Paul writes in Romans 8, and again in the same place, “To be carnally minded (or to be controlled by the flesh) is death!” It is a terrible enemy indeed.
But even the regenerate man is not free of its power! To be sure, sovereign grace has had its way in his heart. He is justified, that is, the death sentence pronounced against him has been blotted out, and he is completely pardoned. He has been baptized with the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit dwells within his heart. He has become a new creature in Christ Jesus – yet not to the exclusion of the flesh and its subtle influence. The law of his mind, as Paul puts it, or the ruling influence is Christ and Spirit of Christ, but the law in his members is still the law of sin, and it is warring against the law of his mind (Romans 7:23). Or, to put it another way, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other.” (Gal. 5:17) and only the final completion of the work of grace, when the believer dies and is glorified, brings an end to the struggle the struggle against the enemy within. But the enemy is not only within us but without as well and that outside enemy is called THE WORLD.
Again, the world is not the planet Earth in this sense, or its “rocks and rills, its woods and templed hills,” or anything else that is physical. In that sense we can say: “This is my Father’s world…. and though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” The world that is an enemy to our souls is rather “the lust of the flesh, and lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” and that whole system and way of looking at things that put them first and foremost in our life and loyalty! That’s the enemy!
Need I remind you of the power – the dangerous power – of the world’s standards? After all, they are the standards of millions of our fellow human beings. They are the standards of your neighbors, of the people that you work with or go to school with, and even of some of the people that you may go to church with who think that what everyone else is doing cannot possibly be too far wrong. These people are always attuned to the times. They are never really seriously concerned whether a thing is right or wrong – but only whether it’s popular or not, the “in” thing to be doing or saying. When others are in doubt, they say, “Everybody is doing it today – why shouldn’t I?” They laugh at those who do not go along with them. Or who profess unchanging standards and their greatest scorn is reserved for those who want to live by God’s Word alone.
Hand in hand with this goes the equally dangerous power of the world’s associations! We cannot help meeting and dealing with non-Christians in our everyday life – and it is our duty to be courteous to them, yes, even helpful, kind, and charitable; and in so doing we may have an opportunity to influence some of them for good, yes, even of winning some of them for Christ. But shall they be our intimate friends, our daily companions? Shall we – if single – even allow a romantic interest to develop with those who do not believe in Christ? Bishop Ryle says in one place, “Health is not infectious, but disease is.” It is so easy to let the world get ahold of you through wordly friends – wordly companionship.
Do you realize the power of worldly amusements and recreations? The money spent on these things alone – totaling in the billions here in the United States – is an index of their power. Do they have power over you? Do you love worldly entertainment? Do you spend much of your time reading worldly books? Have you allowed any of these things even otherwise harmless games and pass-times – become your god so that you cannot give them up for anything else at all? Millions have been enslaved by worldliness – for it looks like such an easy master – until you realize what the Bible says about it (James 4:4), “The friendship of the world is enmity with God,” and James 1:27, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Our souls – like the little city of Dothan with Elisha within are encompassed by the world as by an enemy army.
And behind and above them all stands their master – the master of the enemy within and without, the hidden foe, old and evil, the DEVIL HIMSELF. Paul writes of his power when he says in Ephesians 6, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” and advises, “above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
Peter names him when he declares, “your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Yes, and John – in the Book of Revelation – sees him still at large until the very end of the age, and only then “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are”‘ to be “tormented day and night forever and ever.” He is a power to be reckoned with, then, and never to be underestimated. The enemy’s array, you see, is great – and it is but natural for us to ask as Elisha’s servant did when he saw them drawn up there, surrounding their little city on every side, “Alas…how shall we do?”‘ We may ask it concerning our souls! “How” indeed?
I. But lest we despair, let us go quickly to the other consideration here, namely “they that are with us,” or the horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha that the young man saw when his master prayed and
asked the Lord to “open his eyes, that he may see.” Over against the flesh the Christian has the HOLY SPIRIT – as we have already noted in passing and that’s no minor consideration. In the Old Testament (Isaiah 11:2) He is called, “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” He is the Spirit of the almighty God, the “Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead.” He is the Spirit of Christ. Great power is associated with His coming (Acts 1:8), “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you.” And His superiority to every rival is abundantly clear. John 6:63. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing.”
II Corinthians 3:6, “The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” Do you think for a moment that the flesh – its stronghold upon us already loosened by the work of grace in our hearts can prevail in the continuing struggle? The flesh is against us – but the Spirit of God and of His Son are with us – oh, that our eyes might be opened to see that, if we are Christians, and to be thankful. And what defense do we have against the world? Isn’t it JESUS CHRIST THE SON OF GOD who is with us, to overcome? “I am not of this world,” He says, declaring His origin, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, being one substance with the Father by whom all things were made, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and suffered for us also under Pontius Pilate. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven. What a Savior is ours! Hallelujah!
Again He says, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” He acknowledges the enmity between Himself and the world. He accepts the contest – the struggle. He names the enemy! But that’s not all He says. John 16:33, Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” The world may be with them, with all its power – but with us, there is the Victory over the world, our Lord Jesus Christ.
And finally – if the devil is against us and he is – GOD ABOVE is on our side. He is our Refuge and Strength. He is our Light and our Salvation. Though a host should encamp against us, our heart shall not fear. He shall set me up upon a rock. Jesus Christ our Savior has given us this precious promise (Luke 12:31), “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ Do we doubt that His pleasure is also accomplished? The horses and chariots of the enemy are many. Count them – the flesh within, the world without, and the devil behind and above them both. But the horses and chariots of God are more the Spirit, the Son and the Father – and they are one and almighty. If our eyes were open that we might really see, we would perceive, like Elisha the great prophet of the Lord, that “they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” FEAR NOT he says. This counsel is given scores of times in Scripture – and especially when God is about to overturn all human wisdom and expectation – as when the angels sang at the Savior’s birth on earth – or when His resurrection was announced. So here! God was about to reveal His almighty power that is greater than all the power of the enemy therefore, Fear not.
It is always foolish – and dangerous, too to underestimate an enemy: and we dare not underestimate the power of the flesh within, the world without, or the city around us. Many are destroyed by them. Many are dragged to destruction. Many are deceived right now and in grave danger. Perhaps some of you who are listening to me this morning are still all together in the power of the evil one. Perhaps others are in grave danger because of compromise, carelessness, carnal security. I do not want to leave you in such danger. The enemy of your souls is great. His plans and purposes are terrible. It would not be right, or safe to say less than this. But don’t give the enemy too much credit either. Don’t despair. A mighty God has undertaken to save us.
An infinitely compassionate Savior has entered the contest on our side. A living and powerful Spirit the Spirit of God – will dwell within believers. If we don’t see this, or understand it, we are foolish, too. We deprive ourselves of much-needed comfort and strength.
God – for Christ’s sake – is on our side – and therefore with us are more than with them in any reckoning. And God will prevail. His cause will stand. His people will rejoice in His great and eternal salvation. May He open every believer’s eyes that they may see even this!
Sermon written by: Rev. Charles W. Krahe, Seventh Reformed Church