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by J. C. Ryle

There is a warfare of far greater importance than any other war that was ever waged by man. It is a warfare which concerns not two or three nations only, but every Christian man and woman born into the world. It is the spiritual warfare. It is as real as any war the world has ever seen. It has its hand-to-hand conflicts and its wounds. It has its sieges and its assaults. It has its victories and its defeats. Above all, it has consequences which are awful and tremendous.

It is of this warfare that Paul spoke to Timothy when he wrote those burning words, “Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life” (l Tim. 6:12). This subject is closely connected with that of holiness. If we would be holy we must fight.

True Christianity is a FIGHT

The true Christian is called to be a soldier, and must behave as such from the day of his conversion to the day of his death. He is not meant to live a life of religious ease. He must never imagine for a moment that he can sleep and doze along the way to heaven. With whom is the Christian soldier meant to fight? Not with other Christians. Wretched indeed is that man’s idea of religion who fancies that it consists in perpetual controversy! He who is never satisfied unless he is engaged in some strife between church and church, faction and faction, knows nothing yet as he ought to know. The cause of sin is never helped so much as when Christians waste their strength in quarreling with one another, and spend their time in petty squabbles.

The principal fight of the Christian is with the world, the flesh, and the devil. These are his never-dying foes. Unless he gets the victory over these three, all other victories are useless and vain. With a corrupt heart, a busy devil, and an ensnaring world, he must either fight or be lost.

He must fight the flesh. Even after conversion he carries within him a nature prone to evil, and a heart weak and unstable as water. To keep that heart from going astray, the Lord Jesus bids us “watch and pray.” The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak. There is need of a daily struggle and a daily wrestling in prayer. “The flesh [or sinful nature] desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other.” “If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” (Mark 14:38; Gal. 5:l7; Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5).

The Christian must fight the world. The subtle influence of that mighty enemy must be daily resisted. The love of the world’s good things–the fear of the world’s laughter, or blame–the secret desire to keep up with the world–the secret wish to do as others in the world do, and not run into “extremes”–all these are spiritual foes which oppose the Christian continually on his way to heaven, and must be conquered. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God: whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” “The world is crucified to me, and I unto the world.” “Whoever is born of God overcomes the world.” “Be not conformed to this world.” (Jam. 4:4; 1 John 2:15; Gal. 6:14; 1 John 5:4; Rom. 12:2.)

The Christian must fight the devil. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve that old enemy of mankind has been “going back and forth in the earth, and walking up and down in it,” striving to accomplish one great end–the ruin of man’s soul. Never sleeping, he is always “going about as a lion seeking whom he may devour.” An unseen enemy, he is always near us, spying out all our ways. “A murderer and a liar from the beginning,” he labors to cast us down to hell. Sometimes by one kind of tactics and sometimes by another, he is always carrying on a campaign against our souls. “Satan has desired to sift you as wheat.” This mighty adversary must be daily resisted by watching and praying, and fighting, and putting on the whole armor of God. (Job l:7; l Pet. 5:8; John 8:44; Luke 22:31; Eph. 6:11.)

You may think my statements are too strong. You feel I am going too far. You are secretly saying to yourself that men and women in our country may surely get to heaven without all this trouble and warfare and fighting. Listen, and I will show you that I have something to say on God’s behalf. What does God’s Word say? “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil….” “Strive to enter in at the narrow gate.” “I came not to bring peace but a sword.” “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.” “Fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience.” (2 Tim. 2:3; Eph. 6:11; Lk. 13:24; Matt. 10:34; 1 Cor. 16:13; 1 Tim. 1:18-19.) Words such as these all teach that true Christianity is a struggle, a fight, and a warfare.

We may take comfort about our spiritual condition if we know anything of an inward fight and conflict. It is the invariable companion of genuine holiness. It is not everything, I am aware, but it is something. Do we find in our heart of hearts a spiritual struggle? Do we feel anything of the flesh lusting against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, so that we cannot do the things we would? (Gal. 5:l7.) Do we feel anything of war in our inward man? Well, let us thank God for it! It is a good sign. It is strongly probable evidence of the great work of sanctification. Anything is better than apathy, stagnation, deadness and indifference! We are in a better state than many. Most so-called Christians have no feeling at all. We are evidently no friends of Satan. Like the kings of this world, he does not wage war against his own subjects. The very fact that he assaults us should fill our minds with hope! The child of God has two great marks about him, and this is one of them. HE MAY BE KNOWN BY HIS INWARD WARFARE, AS WELL AS BY HIS INWARD PEACE.

The Fight of FAITH

My second point about our warfare is this: True Christianity is the fight of faith. In this respect it is utterly unlike the conflicts of this world. It does not depend on the strong arm, the quick eye, or the swift foot. Faith is the hinge on which victory turns.

A general faith in the truth of God’s written Word is the primary foundation of the Christian soldier’s character. He is what he is, does what he does, thinks as he thinks, hopes as he hopes, for one simple reason–he believes in Holy Scripture. A religion without doctrine is a thing which many are fond of talking of in the present day. We might as well talk of a body without bones and sinews!

A special faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’s person, work, and office is the life, heart and mainspring of the Christian soldier’s character. He sees by faith an unseen Savior, who loved him, gave Himself for him, bore his sins, rose again for him and appears in heaven for him as his Advocate at the right hand of God. Seeing this Savior and trusting in Him, he willingly does battle against the foes of his soul.

He sees his own many sins, and if he looked only at them he might well despair. But he sees also a mighty Savior, an interceding Savior, a sympathizing Savior–and he casts his whole weight on Him. Seeing Him he cheerfully fights on with a full confidence that he will be “more than conqueror through Him that loves him.”

Habitual lively faith in Christ’s presence and readiness to help is the secret of the Christian soldier’s fighting successfully. It must never be forgotten that faith has varying degrees. All men do not believe with equal strength. Even the same person has his ebbs and flows of faith, and believes more heartily at one time than another. According to the degree of his faith the Christian fights well or not, wins victories or suffers occasional defeats.

It is the one who can say, “I know whom I have believed,” who can say in time of suffering, “I am not ashamed.” He who wrote, “We do not lose heart” was the man who wrote with the same pen, “We look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen.” It is the man who said, “To me to live is Christ” who said in the same epistle, “I can do all things through Christ.” (2 Tim.1:12; 2 Cor.4:17-18; Phil.1:21 and 4:13.) Anyone who desires to fight successfully as a Christian soldier must pray for a continual increase of faith. Let him abide in Christ, and get closer to Christ. Let his daily prayer be that of the disciples–“Lord, increase my faith” (Luke 17:5).

The GOOD Fight

“Good” is a strange word to apply to any warfare. All worldly war is more or less evil. No doubt it is an absolute necessity in many cases–to procure the liberty of nations, to prevent the weak from being trampled down by the strong–but still it is an evil. It involves awful bloodshed and suffering. It calls forth the worst passions of man. And yet there is one warfare which is emphatically good — the Christian warfare. What are the reasons why the Christian fight is a “good fight”?

lst, the Christian’s fight is good because it is fought under the best of generals. The Commander of all believers is a Savior of perfect wisdom, infinite love and almighty power. The Captain of our salvation leads His soldiers to victory! His eye is on all His followers, from the greatest even to the least. The humblest servant in His army is not forgotten.

2nd, the Christian’s fight is good because it is fought with the best of helps. Chosen by God the Father, washed in the blood of the Son, renewed by the Holy Spirit–he does not go to war at his own expense, and is never alone. His daily supplies never fail. God the Son intercedes for him every moment — like Moses on the mount lifting his arms to heaven — while he is fighting in the valley below.

3rd, the Christian fight is a good fight, because it is fought with the best of promises. To every believer belong exceeding great and precious promises. They are sure to be fulfilled because they are made by One who cannot lie, and who has power to keep His word:

“Sin shall not have dominion over you.” “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” “My sheep shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of my hand.” Nothing “in all creation will be able to separate us from the love God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds.” (Rom. 6:14; Phil. l:6; Isa. 43:2; John l0:28; Rom. 8:38; Matt. 24:30-31.) Who does not know that promises of coming aid have cheered the defenders of besieged cities, and raised them above their natural strength? The promise of “help before night” gave great courage to the victors at Waterloo. Yet all such promises are as nothing compared to the eternal promises of God.

4th, the Christian’s fight is good, because it does good to the soul of him that fights it. All other wars have a bad and demoralizing tendency. They call forth the worst passions of the human mind. The Christian warfare alone tends to call forth the best things that are left in man. It promotes humility and charity, it lessens selfishness and worldliness, it induces men to set their affections on things above.

5th, the Christian’s fight is good because it does good to the world. All other wars have devastating and harmful effects. The march of an army through a land is an awful scourge to the inhabitants. Wherever it goes it impoverishes and wastes. Injuries to people, property, feelings and morals invariably accompany it. Far different are the effects produced by Christian soldiers. Wherever they live they are a blessing. They raise the standard of morality. They check the progress of drunkenness, unfaithfulness and dishonesty. Go where you please, you will rarely find that barracks and military fortresses do good to the neighborhood. But go where you please, you will find that the presence of a few true Christians is a blessing.

Finally, the Christian’s fight is good because it ends in a glorious reward for all who fight it. Who can tell the wages that Christ will pay to all His faithful soldiers? A grateful country can give to her successful warriors honors, medals and pensions. But it can give nothing that will last for ever, nothing that can be carried beyond the grave. But he who fights in Christ’s army shall have “a crown of glory that will not fade away.”

Let us settle it in our minds that the Christian fight is truly good, emphatically good. We see only part of it as yet. We see the struggle, but not the end. We see the campaign, but not the reward. We see the cross, but not the crown. We see a few humble, penitent, praying people, enduring hardships and despised by the world. But we see not the hand of God over them, the face of God smiling on them, the kingdom of glory prepared for them. These things are yet to be revealed. Let us not judge by appearances.

Fear not to enlist in Christ’s army. The great Captain rejects none who come to Him. Like David in the cave of Adullam, He is ready to receive all who apply to Him, however unworthy they may feel themselves to be. No one who repents and believes is too bad to be enrolled in the ranks of Christ’s soldiers. All who come to Him by faith are admitted, armed, trained, and finally led on to complete victory.

Let us remember that the time is short, and the coming of the Lord draws near. A few more battles and the last trumpet shall sound, and the Prince of Peace shall come to reign on a renewed earth. A few more struggles and conflicts, and then we shall bid an eternal goodbye to warfare, and to sin, sorrow and death. So let us fight on to the last, and never surrender. The Captain of our salvation says, “He who conquers shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Rev. 21:7).

[Condensed and adapted from chapter 4 in Ryle’s great book, HOLINESS, written in the mid-1800s. I recommend it to thoughtful readers. I hope it is still in print; you may have to seek it in used-book stores. Some Scriptures quoted here were taken from the NIV instead of the KJV as originally written.]

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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4