John Alfred Trench.
Article 16 of 19 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 1.
(New and Enlarged Edition 1906.)
I wish to give you a motto, and I trust, if you come to see anything of the truth it contains, you will take it as a word to be next and dearest to your heart. The motto is this: "His banner over me is love." I know no more precious portion of God's word than the whole passage from which these words are taken, for it is full of Jesus, and the moment He is presented to the souls of those who know Him, their affections are drawn out toward Him, because of all He is, and has been to them. This Jesus, little known or thought of by the world, is our shelter from the heat of trial, and the food of our souls in the dearth and famine, so that we can say, "I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste."
But, my friends, is it really so with you? Do you know Jesus? I do not ask you by what name you call yourself, nor what doctrine you hold about Jesus, but I ask you earnestly, and must press my question, Do you know Christ for yourself? — do you know Him personally? Have you received Christ in your heart as the One whom you love above all others? do you know Him in your life as a power separating from the world and from sin? It is sad to listen to the vague and heartless way in which many who have not peace with God, but yet who acknowledge the claims of Christ, speak of Him in general terms. Oh, be warned of a religion without Jesus! — be warned of a form without power — an unreal, empty shadow! If you do not know Jesus now as "the friend that sticketh closer than a brother," you will find yourself alone when all other friends have failed — alone at the bar of God — alone in the solitariness of the soul without God.
But if, on the contrary, the truths about Jesus have brought you to Jesus, how blessed to have the peace and fulness of joy that He has given us before God! It is blessedly true that Jesus has died for us; He has borne our sins, and borne them away for ever. But this is not the whole truth; there is more to be told and to be enjoyed — far more than all this, wonderful as it is. He has brought us into the family of the Father. He has made us the children of God, He has given us the place of sonship, so that we can say, "He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love." His blood has not only availed to wash away my sins, so that God can say, "I will remember them no more," but He has rent the veil that separated the people of old from the Holiest of Holies, and has brought me in with my High Priest Jesus, even into the most holy presence of God. Nor am I then unclothed, for, by faith in that blood, I have been brought in as Jesus Himself, and stand there "the righteousness of God in him." Enveloped in that spotless robe, I take my place as no unwelcome guest at the banqueting-table of love. The arms of love, from which nothing can separate me, enclose me in their embrace. The kiss of reconciliation and peace is upon my brow, and the blood gives me my title to it all.
Oh, beloved, if as a poor sinner you have really cast the eye of faith — though it be with a feeble glance — to Jesus, this look of faith, this renunciation of self and trust in Jesus, gives you this place before God, whether you know it or not. In Christ you have your meetness for it all. Your place in the presence of God does not depend upon any merit of your own. It does not depend on your walk down here, or upon your realisation of all this blessedness, but it depends upon the value and efficacy of the blood of Jesus. May God give you to see it and enjoy it!
But, has the perfectness of my place before God given me immunity from trial, difficulty or temptation? No, no; each true heart answers "No." My path down here may be one of trial. Each one knows the uncertainty of all that is to come. Health may fail; friends may fail. Besides all this, there are things hard to be borne — the reproach of Christ — the opposition of those dear to us who know not the Lord — the want of sympathy from those who are the Lord's, from whom we might have looked for the right hand of fellowship. But, beloved, it is not with the path and with its roughness that I want to occupy your mind. No; but I would have you think of the banner that floats above your heads. Up! weeping eyes that are turned in upon self, or fixed upon the rough path, or strained, amid tears, from gazing into a future where all looks dark and gloomy! — look up, and listen to the words, the precious words, "His banner over me is love."
The trials and difficulties are from the hand of a Father, who deals with thee in love as with His child. He is drawing thee nearer to Himself. Thou must nestle all the nearer to the side of Jesus. There, perplexity or coldness or the withering blast of disappointed hopes has no power; or, if it blows at all, it serves to float over you the "banner of love."
"But the future!" you say. Well, the future — trust it to your Father. Bring Him all your care, for He careth for you, and leave it with Him. Have things turned out otherwise than you had looked or hoped for? Still "His banner over you is love," and it is your place and mine to bow our heads in meek submission to our Father's will. This was Jesus' yoke, and it is ours. "His banner over me is love!" What a thought to rest upon! — what a pillow on which to sleep or die!
But there are those who say our motto might be otherwise rendered. They say the word "banner" might be rendered "standard." Be it so, we will follow them in the change, and see if it is not still a motto for us, and if it does not remind us of how we are taken from the gentler scenes of rest in a Father's house to the sterner activities of the camp, the battlefield and the fight. The standard at once summons me to the thought and the very presence of the enemy. Need we stop to inquire who and what he is? Nay, we are in the fight already. The world, the flesh and the devil are opposed to us in formidable array. Our conflict is "with principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, wicked spirits in the heavenlies." We were once found on the side of those that are now opposed to us — we walked according to their course and according to their prince; but we have been quickened, raised with Jesus and seated in the heavenlies — brought in to the banqueting-house. But our foes ever seek to bring us down from our excellency, and make us walk in the flesh. Oh, which of us has not felt the power of the enemy? But how blessed to look up now and again — nay, even from the scene of strife and conflict — to repose in the thought that the standard over us is love!
God, in His great love wherewith He has loved us, has given us to fight under that standard, and not all the powers of the enemy can prevail against us. Sin shall not have dominion over you! Our standard is one of victory: there is not one blot on the unsullied fame of that standard. Far and wide it has been carried over the earth, and everywhere it has prevailed. We fight, then, in no uncertain cause, for the Lord has triumphed, and in Him the victory is secured to us. Look up, faint-hearted one, and see the names of the victories that love has won inscribed upon thy standard, and once more gird thy sword upon thy thigh, rally closer round the standard, for it is when we wander from it we fall: oftentimes we go forth in the impetuosity of self-confidence and fall, but round that standard all is victory — victory through "the blood of the Lamb."
But then, again, as the standard is borne in the fight, it suffers. I have seen one that had never known defeat through a century of war hanging in threads by its pole. Oh, as we gaze upon our standard of love, we see it bathed in blood; it is pierced with the spear and the nails; it has been in the deadliest conflict, when none of us were there to fight around it. Ah! you see it — the standard is love — God's love manifested in the cross of Jesus.
Jesus is our standard, and all this He has borne for us. He has fought for us alone. He has in death triumphed over death and hell. He has bruised the head of the serpent that had the power of death. He that led captivity captive, has gone up on high — He is our standard of victory. Well may we take courage, for even in death we can cry, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" "Thanks be unto God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
But there is another and a third sense in which I think we may use our motto with effect. We speak of a standard of right and wrong, and I conclude the meaning is not altogether unassociated with that which we have just been considering. As the regiment follows the standard, never hesitating to follow where it leads, the standard becomes its guide — its rule; so we take the Word in the sense of a rule of life, and then how blessed to read, "His standard over me is love!"
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what has been your rule of life today? Have you been setting for yourself some human model — even the dearest servant of God that you can find? If so, I say, you have been lowering God's standard. Worse again, have you been making your own experience your rule? I walked up to such a mark last year. I will make it a higher one next year. Or has it been your highest thought that you are under a system that consists of rules of right and wrong — of do this, and don't do the other? Then, no wonder you look so unhappy, and do so little. Look for a little moment at God's standard as set before us in the light of the truth which we are considering, and now we have both parts of our verse brought into connection. Love has brought me into the banqueting-house, and now this very place before God is to be the rule of my walk down here. In other words, my standing is my standard. How influential, then, does all this truth become if one could only live in the full realisation of it! What is the place which God has given me? He has brought me into His presence — made me one with Christ. Now what conduct on my part will be suitable to this position? Am I risen with Christ? then why set my affections on things below? Is my home in heaven? then let me walk as a pilgrim and a stranger here. Is my citizenship in heaven? oh, then, let every word, every act, be consistent with such a dignity.
Were these blessed truths made, by the Holy Spirit, part and parcel of ourselves, how should we be enabled, as it were, to look down from heaven to earth and judge of things as God judges.
But the thought goes higher still: Christ is my standing before God. I am accepted in Him. Then I should walk as Christ Himself. Would Christ be found in such a scene of gaiety or revelry? would He give way to such a thought? Neither can I. Would such a word be His? Then let me not utter it! Oh, how such a rule transcends all miserable questionings as to whether there is any positive command against one thing, or any harm in another! Love is a thousand times more influential than law. When the love of Christ fills the soul, there is an end of all these cold calculations of selfishness which would bargain for yielding as little to the Lord as could not be withheld with an easy conscience. Oh, how different is the boundlessness of the obedience of love, that if it had a thousand hearts, would regard them all as too little for Jesus, and that finds its supreme delight in seeking to please Him in all things!
Let us, then, above all things, set Jesus before us. Let us look unto Him as One whose banner over us is love — as our standard round which to rally in every hour of conflict, and as our rule by which to order all our ways. Following in His footsteps, let us lean upon His arm, assured of His sympathy, His help, and ever looking for the moment when, according to His promise, He will come to take us to Himself