J. A. Trench.
Article 5 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
It is to the last of these verses that I desire to call attention. They are the fullest setting forth in Scripture of the blessedness of the new heaven and new earth, wherein all things are made new. It is the eternal state, where God rests in the blessing of His redeemed people according to the perfection of His nature. The scene of His ways in government in time has closed. The earth and the heaven that now are have fled away from before Him who sat on the throne, "and there was found no place for them." (Rev. 20:11) The first eight verses of this chapter lift the veil from eternity. But there is one link taken up with the things that are passed away, of such wonderful grace: "He that overcometh shall inherit these things" (margin, see N.Tr.) — i.e. the things that have been brought out in the preceding verses "and I will be his God and he shall be my son." In the eternal state there will be no more overcoming; there will be nothing to overcome. Such a note of triumph carries us back to the battle-field of the past, and the part that His own have taken individually in those battles upon which God thus put His seal. Who but He could have so recalled them? Far different would have been their account of themselves, and their experience in the conflict, even on the part of the most faithful of His servants. We might have thought the record would have been of nothing but failure and defeat. But in sovereign grace this is the character He gives them: all else is remembered no more. Could anything affect our hearts more deeply, or be more calculated to nerve us up for the conflict that remains, and in which ever increasingly we find ourselves in these last days? If rightly apprehended, shall not the precious grace of such a God, beyond all our thoughts, be the strongest incentive to seek to answer to the character He gives, and to be overcomers indeed?
If it be asked what are the circumstances to which the overcoming refers, let it be observed how general it is. No particular conflict is specified, as if the whole Christian life had to partake of this character. But in turning to Scripture to seek light as to it, a precious clue is found in another passage in this book. "To him that overcometh will I give to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father in his throne." (Rev. 3:21) Nor can this refer to the special character of the conflict or overcoming in the Epistles to the seven assemblies of Asia. At each phase in the history of the responsible vessel of Christ's testimony in the world, as given us prophetically in such a remarkable way in these addresses, all who were really Christ's were so characterised and encouraged by promises suitable to the state of things in which they had to overcome. But nothing of this entered into the conflicts through which the blessed Lord passed when here: for the assembly was not then formed until He was glorified and the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. Yet that little clause may well arrest the attention: it has a peculiar sweetness, "Even as I also overcame." For it recalls to us the Lord Jesus in His pathway here, and occupies us with the perfection in which He passed through conflict, and how He overcame; and as the pattern for us, to our great strengthening of faith in following Him. Can we, then, learn from the Gospels anything of the opposing forces, and the character of the conflict and the manner in which He overcame?
But before we turn directly to them there is a little word in the epistle to the Romans which, though it is not exactly applied to Him, can only be understood as we see in Him the perfect expression of it: "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom. 12:21) Could anything be more characteristic of the path of the blessed Lord? In a world of evil He who was the revelation of the perfect goodness of God, in the power of that good rose above all the evil — was never overcome by it. We have to go through the same world, and are tested in our experience every day. Shall I be overcome of evil, or has the revelation of the infinite good I know in Christ so taken possession of my heart that in the power of it I can overcome? And that instead of the thought of avenging myself I fulfil the word, "If thine enemy hunger feed him, if he thirst give him drink," and so on. What can be more humbling in our relations with one another than the ease with which we are affected by some fancied slight or insult? Taken off our guard in an instant we flare up, bitter feelings are engendered, telling the sad tale of how we have been overcome, when by greater dependence and nearness to the Lord there might have been but the triumph of His grace.
Twice in the Gospels the Lord speaks to us of His overcoming, first in the gospel of Luke 11:21, 22. "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils." How well we know the truly awful peace in which we, once the strong man's goods, were firmly held, until the advent of the stronger than he who overcame him; and we are spoils of that victory, now at the disposal of the Victor.
But we are taken back to the arena of the conflict of which no other eye but God's was witness, and learn who He was that proved Himself to be the stronger, and how He overcame. He was "led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." We have to be led of the Spirit to be with God: He, who was ever with God as His normal state, had to be led ("driven," Mark says) of the Spirit to be with Satan. "And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights he was afterward an hungered" — in what utter contrast to the circumstances of the first man who, surrounded by every token of God's providential care, so easily succumbed to the serpent! The tempter came to Him and said, "If thou be the Son of God command that these stones be made bread." What subtlety! for had He not divine power and title as the Son of God to exercise it? But He had become man, and man's place was to obey. He answered and said, "It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." He might have said: "I am God," and then no rebel creature would have stood up against Him, but there would have been no example for us. He overcame by keeping the place He had taken as man, and that was to obey. Blessed, perfect obedience! He would not help Himself to bread when in view of it without the word out of God's mouth, by which man was to live, and not by bread alone. So it was written: that was enough for Him. And Satan had to change his ground.
"Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God cast thyself down, for it is written, he shall give his angels charge concerning thee . . . lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone." He could quote Scripture too, and even apply a Messianic psalm to the Messiah Himself, if only to falsify its truth, but he omitted the cardinal condition of such care, "In all thy ways." (Ps. 91:11) To cast Himself down from a pinnacle of the temple was no part of God's ways, for Him, or for any man. In those ways He knew God too well to need to test Him to see if He would be as good as His word. And so His simple answer was, "It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." Thus too we learn what tempting God means. Men say that we tempt Him if we do not the best we can for ourselves, but this is the absolute opposite of the truth: we tempt God when we do not trust Him entirely in everything. The dependence of the Lord was as perfect as His obedience; He confided in God, and would not depart from the appointed path of His will: and in all this He is the perfect example for us.
Thus if John (1 John 2:13, 14) writes to the young men because they have overcome the wicked one, we learn the source of their strength: it was that the word of God abode in them — again the "It is written" — "even as I also overcame." How we need to seek to be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that we may ever have the word ready in suited application to meet the varied wiles of the enemy.
But there was another weapon in the armoury of the strong man and wherein he trusted, still to be tried against the Lord. "The devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee" (and in Luke he adds, "for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it") "if thou wilt fall down and worship me." Nor was this an altogether vain pretension of the devil. There is a measure of truth in the power he assumes, which makes it so serious for us. It is not that he can put any one in the satisfied possession of anything. All he wants is gained when he has set our hearts on the pursuit of any object in the world of which he is prince and god. "If thou therefore wilt worship me all shall be thine." Here he fully declared himself, and was met by the ever-faithful Lord with, "Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." The Lord God filled His heart for worship and service, and there was no attraction in anything of the world's glory, or room within His heart for what Satan would present to Him. Do we know anything of a heart so preoccupied and absorbed with God Himself as its object as to be proof against everything that would attract or distract us from Him, so that Satan can gain no foothold? "Even as I also overcame." Note, too, the perfection of the blessed Lord in taking His stand, in His conflict with Satan, on the book of Deuteronomy. It was the revelation of God's mind for an Israelite in the land. The Lord had come into that place in grace, and when everything as to God's glory and the accomplishment of His purposes of blessing depended on the issue of that conflict, He staked all on the "It is written" of Deuteronomy.
Now nothing can be of more solemn significance for us than that the order of the enemy's tactics with the Lord is the same that the young men have to be warned against in 1 John 2. They have overcome the wicked one, coming openly against them as such, by the word of God abiding in them. The world is the danger now: "love not the world," and, because of the treachery of our hearts that would construe "the world" as something which is outside the horizon of our own hopes and ambitions, it is added, "neither the things that are in the world." For it is not possession that is in question, though we know from the Lord the danger of anything a man possesses here as tending to link him up with the world under God's judgment — "with what difficulty shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God:" but here it is what a man hopes to possess, what the heart is set upon: "Love not." All God's objects for us are centred in Christ, and found where He is. He can present nothing to the heart that is of, or in, a world that has cast out His Son. If there is anything here that has attracted us so as to become the object of our pursuit, it is the wily tempter, who, turned away from the front door, has, as it were, come round by the back door, and gained an entrance by what we have desired for ourselves or our families. As another has said: A bit of ribbon in a shop window may do his work; but it is well to know that if it will not he can enlarge the bait up to all the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them — not, however, one thing outside the world. Yet what a vast cheat of the enemy we see the world to be when we learn that, in God's estimate, there is nothing in it morally but lust and pride — the miserable lust of what we have not, or the contemptible pride of what we have.
We belong to another world — the world of the Father — and there is nothing in common between it and Satan's world. There is no possible point of contact between these spheres. "All that is in the world is not of the Father but is of the world: and the world passeth away and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."
But how are we to overcome the devil's snare of the world? Chapter 5 of the epistle brings us to the resources to enable us to do so. And first (1 John 5:4), "Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world": by the very life and nature we have received from God we have a principle of victory over the world. "And this is the victory that overcometh the world, our faith:" that is, by the object presented to faith. "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" If it be a question of who is my brother that I am to love (1 John 4:21), the answer is, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1) — the Spirit goes down to the feeblest apprehension of His glory, even as a few might believe on Him as the Messiah. This suffices to mark one begotten of God. But more was needed for victory over the world. Nothing short of the full glory of His person as the Son of God sufficed for that: we need the full shining before the opened eyes of our faith of His infinite glory as Son of God to give us victory over the poor unreal tinsel of this world and its shams. Then shall we know something of a heart so filled with Him for worship and service that, as with the Lord when He was here, there shall be no room for any object of Satan's world.
And now once more the Lord Himself as an overcomer is brought before us in His closing words with His disciples in John 16:33: "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." We can easily see that this is another side of the world. It is not the seductive aspect of it by which Satan hoped to overthrow the Lord, and which is the danger of the young men, but the persecuting aspect of it — a world where much tribulation was to be encountered on the way to the glory. It is our appointed portion here, and the danger is of yielding before the pressure of it and becoming unfaithful. If Satan cannot seduce the Christian by the world, he will persecute by it, as in Smyrna. "Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days:" (there is no limit to his power) "be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." (Rev. 2:10)
This aspect of the world may not be so insidious, but it is very real; and our only safety is in keeping the eye upon Him who tells us of it with words of cheer as a world in which He has been tried, and been ever faithful: "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." And thus, again, "even as I also overcame" has its full bearing upon our path. It was given to the Philippians "in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; having the same conflict" which they saw in Paul and now heard to be in him. (Phil. 1:29-30) It was not God's will that they or we should be discouraged — "in nothing terrified by your adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God."
But if we have to meet the power of Satan in the world it is in a very different way from that in which the Lord met him, flushed as he was with the success of forty centuries. Never had he met a man able to stand against him, always and absolutely, before. But now he is completely discomfited. "When the devil had ended all the temptation he departed from him for a season," and Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit, the same power in which He had gone to meet him, into Galilee. (Luke 4:13, 14) And if that season was spent by Satan in gathering up all his resources for the last onslaught on the Lord Jesus, it was only to meet with his final overthrow. For through death He has brought to nought him that had the power of death, to deliver them who through fear of death had, as in Old Testament times, been all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb. 2:14, 15); so that he is a vanquished foe, to faith; and it can be said, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." (James 4:10) He cannot stand before the weakest saint that will but lift the little finger of resistance to him. And shortly the God of peace shall bruise Satan under our feet. The world, too, shall have passed away and the lust thereof; and in a new heaven and a new earth we shall hear of war no more. He that overcometh will have eternity to enjoy in peace the inheritance of these things. "I will be his God, and he shall be my son," the sum of all the blessedness. Yet that little word, become characteristic of those thus blessed, tells of how God had not forgotten the conflicts of the past, though only recalled by the grace that made them overcomers, and, as it is said in another place, "more than conquerors" (for the word is the same, though with a strengthened force) "through Him that loved us."
The Lord, by the wonderful grace of the example He has set us, stir up all our hearts to more earnest and devoted faithfulness in the conflict that yet remains. "Even as I also overcame."