GAD, THE CONQUERED, YET CONQUERING TRIBE; OR, THE VANQUISHED AT FIRST, THE VICTOR AT LAST.
This sermon was preached at Stirling, on Monday, June, 1740, being the
Thanksgiving Day after the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
"Gad, a troop shall overcome him; but
he shall overcome at the last."—Genesis 49:19.
GAD, THE CONQUERED, YET CONQUERING TRIBE; OR, THE VANQUISHED AT FIRST, THE VICTOR AT LAST.
This sermon was preached at Stirling, on Monday, June, 1740, being the
Thanksgiving Day after the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
"Gad, a troop shall overcome him; but
he shall overcome at the last."—Genesis 49:19.
Jacob is here upon his death-bed making his will: and though the eyes of his body were become dim, yet the eye of his mind was enlightened to see what would befall his children, and to prophecy their lot. The twelve sons of Jacob were men of renown: but the twelve tribes of Israel that descended from them, and were denominated by them, were yet more renowned. We find their names upon the gates of the New Jerusalem.
From the third verse of the chapter we have the predictions concerning each tribe: this verse is concerning Gad; and the prediction is in allusion to the name Gad, which signifies a troop. Jacob foresaw that they were to be a warlike tribe: and so we find they were, "The Gadites, it is said, were men of might; men of war fit for the battle, that could handle shield and buckler, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and were as swift as the roes upon the mountains," (1 Chron. 12:8). He foresaw that the situation of that tribe, on the other side Jordan, would expose it to the excursions of the neighboring enemies, the Moabites and Ammonites. And here two things are told about them.
1. Something for their humiliation, to prevent their pride; "A troop shall overcome him." That they might not be puffed up with their strength and valor, they are told that the troops of their enemies should in many skirmishes overcome them: "A troop shall overcome him."
2. Something for their consolation: to prevent their discouragement by their defeat, he assures them that they should "overcome at the last;" which, accordingly, was fulfilled, when, in Saul's time and David's, the Moabites and Ammonites were wholly subdued. See for this, "The sons of Reubenrand the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, of valiant men, men able to bear buckler and sword, and to shoot with bow, and skilful in war, four and forty thousand seven hundred and threescore that went out to the war. And they made war with the Hagarites, with Jetor, and Nephish, and Nodab. And they were helped against them; and the Hagarites were delivered into their hand, and all that were with them: for they cried to God in the battle, and he was intreated of them, because they put their trust in him. And they took away their cattle; of their camels fifty thousand; and of sheep, two hundred and fifty thousand; and of asses, two thousand; and of men, an hundred thousand. For there fell down many slain, for the war was of God. And they dwelt in their steads until the captivity," (1 Chron. 5:18-22). Thus it was accomplished what Jacob here foretold of Gad, "A troop shall overcome him, but he shall overcome at the last."
Now this, together with all other scriptures, is given for our instruction, and represents the case and lot of God's church and people to the end of the world. Hence I deduce the following observation.
Doctrine: "That the Israel of God may, for a time, be baffled, vanquished, and defeated by troops of enemies and oppositions; yet, they shall be victorious at last."
Thus grace in the soul is frequently foiled in its conflicts: troops of corruption overcome it. But the cause is God's; and grace will, in the issue, come off a conqueror; yea, more than a conqueror, (Rom. 8:37).
Instances in scripture, of the defeat and conquest of God's people, are many. Jacob seemed to be defeat, so as he was obliged to fly from the face of Esau: but he defeated him at last. Joseph was defeated by a troop of false cruel brethren, and mighty oppositions; but he overcame at the last. Israel was many times overcome by troops of enemies; but they overcame at last. Christ, the Captain of salvation, seemed to be overcome for a while, by troops and armies of assaulting oppositions from heaven, earth, and hell, by which he was brought down to the dust of death; but he was victorious, and overcame at last.
Here we may touch a little, through divine aid, at the following heads of method:—
At the foils which the Israel of God meet with; and show what are the troops that defeat them in this world, and how far the troops may overcome them.
Speak a little of their victory, and how they may be said to overcome at last.
Offer some reasons of the doctrine, showing why they are many times overcome, and why they shall overcome at last.
Make application of the whole subject.
I. We are to speak of the foils which the Israel of God meet with in this world. And I am here to observe these two things, 1. What are the troops that overcome them: and, 2. How far the troops may overcome them.
1st, What are the troops that overcome the Israel of God in this world? To this we reply in the following particulars:—
1. There is a troop of lusts and corruptions, by which they are many times defeat: "Iniquities prevail against me," says David, (Ps. 65:3). This is a numerous troop comprehending innumerable vain thoughts, and vile imaginations, besetting and besieging the soul in time of hearing, praying, communicating, and every religious duty. This troop is a body of sin that makes the Israel of God to cry out sometimes with Paul, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from it?" (Rom. 7:24).
2. There is a troop of ungodly men in the world that they have to fight with, and that sometimes overcome them: "Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation," (Ps. 43:1). This is a troop that many times bears down the work of God in a church, and the work of God in the heart. As it was with Israel of old, so it is with the church in all ages: she is never without enemies that annoy her; sometimes the tyrant, by heart-hatred and open persecution; the atheist, by profaneness of life; the heretic, by corruption of doctrine; and the hypocrite, by mere pretences to holiness.
3. There is a troop of devils that annoys and defeats them, while they wrestle not only with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers, (Eph. 6:12). The devil and his instruments are the troops of hell that surround them, and armies from the bottomless pit that assaults them, and throw many fiery darts of temptation at them.
4. There is a troop of officers in church and state, members of courts and judicatories, civil or ecclesiastic, that sometimes fall heavily upon them. Thus Christ warns his disciples, "That they will be delivered up to councils, and scourged in synagogues, and be brought before governors and kings, for his sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles," (Matt. 10:17). And he warns them not to be offended, saying, "They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth God service," (John 16:2). I might here mention many troops and armies of oppositions they may meet with; such as, a troop of earthly cares and vexations, a troop of hellish snares and temptations, a troop of grievous trials and tribulations, and cross dispensations that may attack and overcome them. But I hasten to show,
2dly, How far the troop may overcome them. I shall mention four degrees of victory that the troop of enemies and opposers may obtain over them.
1. The troop may overcome them so far, as to bring them to distress and great bondage, as Israel was under in Egypt, and in the days of Nehemiah, when he said, "Thou seest the distress we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste," (2:17). The child of God may be brought to David's prayer, "O bring me out of my distresses," (Ps. 25:17): a troop hath overcome me, and brought me into distress; O bring me out!
2. The troop may overcome them so far, as to bring them to discouragement and disquietude, as well as distress. Thus it was with David, when troops of sin and iniquity had defeat him, and gone over his head: "I am feeble and sore broken; I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart," (Ps. 38:8). A man may be outwardly distressed, and not inwardly disquieted; but then he is greatly defeated, when he is greatly disquieted.
3. A troop may overcome them so far, as to bring them to despair; this is yet a sorer defeat, when the church or child of God is so far vanquished and overcome, as to say, "My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord! remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall," (Lam. 3:18). So far were the disciples overcome with the troop of temptation, when their Lord was dead and buried, that their hope was giving up the ghost, when they said, "We trusted that it had been he that should have redeemed Israel:" but now, might they say, We find ourselves mistaken; our hope is gone. Oh! what a great victory does the enemy gain, when the Israel of God are brought to despair!
4. A troop may overcome them so far, as to bring them to death, to the sentence of death, and to death itself. To the sentence of death, as it was with the apostle, "We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, which raiseth the dead," (2 Cor. 1:9). Yea, to death itself, and actual killing: "Yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you, shall think he doth God service," (John 16: 2). And thus you read of the killing of the witnesses, (Rev. 11:7). The children of God may be so defeated and overcome, as in a spiritual sense to be killed, dead, and buried, and have the gravestone laid upon them, as it was upon their glorious Captain. Thus the church cries, "They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me," (Lam. 3:53). Alas! how has a troop overcome them! when they are saying, "Behold, our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts," (Ezek. 37:11). And as it is, "Our bones are scattered about the grave's mouth, as when one cutteth or cleaveth wood upon the earth," (Ps. 141:7).
Thus a troop may overcome them so far, as to bring them to distress, discouragement, despair, and death. And, O Sirs, where is the Christian that is not conquered many a time by a troop of inward corruptions, or outward temptations, or both? Where is the tribe of Israel that may not be named by the tribe of Gad? "A troop shall overcome them." How does the enemy overcome their faith, overcome their hope, overcome their patience, overcome their courage and comfort, and dash them down to the ground? So much of their foils.
II. The second thing proposed was, To speak of their victory: "They shall overcome at last." As did Gad, so shall all the true Israel of God. Here it may be considered, How they overcome, and when they overcome; or in what respects they may be said to overcome at last.
1st, How they shall overcome. I name six means, by which they effectuate this.
1. They overcome by knowledge; "The people that know their God, shall be strong, and do exploits," (Dan. 11:32). And particularly, by getting the knowledge of, and acquaintance with the Captain of salvation, having abandoned their old general, the devil, wider whose standard all the children of men by nature wage war against God; but now, by the knowledge of Christ, they are strong and do exploits; for, by him strengthening them, they can do all things. They overcome by the knowledge of the warfaring life of the Christian, so as to be resolved upon this life, and not to be always lying in a bed of ease. By the knowledge of the nature of the war, that it is spiritual, and that the weapons of it are not carnal, but mighty, through God, to the pulling down strongholds, casting down imaginations, &c. And by the knowledge of the necessity of new recruits of grace and strength from Jesus Christ. This knowledge comprehends acquaintance also with the opposite interest and parties concerned in the war; how it is grace on the one side, and corruption on the other; Christ on the one side, and the devil and the world on the other: the dragon and his angels, against Michael and his angels. It is necessary in order to overcome, that the soldier know his friends and foes. It comprehends also, a knowledge both of the power and policy of the enemy, and of the power and wisdom of the captain to counteract the enemy. "The people that know their God shall be strong, and do exploits."
2. They overcome by faith; "This is the victory whereby we overcome the world, even our faith," (1 John 5:5). The lusts of this world and the god of this world are thus overcome: "Whom resist, stedfast in the faith. Above all, taking the shield of faith." By faith we wax valiant in fight, (Heb. 11). Faith hath a sister that is called Hope, and they are both joined together, as part of the Christian armor. Where faith serves for a breastplate: and for an helmet, the hope of salvation, (1 Thess. 5:8).
3. They overcome by love; this is also joined with that same faith, "Let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breast-plate of faith and love," (1 Thess. 5:8). Love is a very strong piece of armor, that can go through troops of oppositions; "Love is strong as death, &c. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it," (Song 8:6-7).
4. They overcome by the means of prayer: "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation," (Matt. 26:41). This weapon ye find among the rest, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit," (Eph. 6:18). This weapon Paul used, when a troop invaded him, and a messenger from Satan attacked him; "For this I besought the Lord thrice." The prayerless man is a vanquished man: but as long as a man can pray in faith and in the spirit, he is armed against the devil and his troops. It is best wrestling against sin and Satan, fighting on our knees; but cease praying, and victory is gone.
5. They overcome by the blood of Christ, in a special manner; "They overcome by the blood of the Lamb," (Rev. 12:11). This is the principal weapon, without which the rest are useless. It is the blood of Christ that satisfies justice, purchases victory, cleanseth from all sin, and washes away enemies as a flood. It is the blood of Christ that poisons the old serpent, and destroys Satan's power: when Satan bruised the heel of the woman's seed, Christ, the promised Seed, gave the serpent's head a blow, as it were, with his bloody heel, and broke the devil's head therewith; for, "By death he destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil."
6. They overcome by the word, which is the sword of the Spirit, (Eph. 6:17). Hence Christ repels Satan still with this word, "It is written, it is written." (See 1 John 2:1), "I have written to you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abides in you; and ye have overcome the wicked one," (1 John 2:14). Are ye assaulted with the troops of temptation? Then call to mind God's word of command, his word of threatening, his word of promise. You may do thus and thus, says Satan: no, but say you, So and so hath God commanded. There is no harm, says Satan: nay, but say you, So and so hath God threatened. You will be nothing the better of your religion, says Satan: nay, but, say you, So and so hath God promised. Is sin and corruption strong? Then plead the promise, saying, as it is, "Hast thou not said that Solomon shall reign? and, behold Adonijah hath usurped the throne," (1 Kings 1:13). Thus they overcome.
These two weapons, the blood of Christ, and the word, are joined together; "They overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony," (Rev. 12:11). By cleaving zealously to the cause of truth, they were helped to convince their beholders, and confound their enemies, to confirm their friends, and so overcome the troop of opposers.
2dly, When they overcome, or in what respects they may be said to overcome at last. These six things are here imported.
1. The partial victory they obtain in time, so as they get day about, as it were, with the enemy, when the Lord returns to them, and faith gets up its head, and their spiritual armor is exercised.
2. The final and full victory they obtain at death and judgment, when, as the last enemy to be destroyed is death; so death itself shall be swallowed up in victory. They "shall overcome at last;" it imports,
3. A gradual victory; or that to which they come by various degrees, risings and fallings, hopes and fears; yet by little and little, as the Lord drove out the Canaanites before Israel.
4. A difficult victory that is not obtained till the last, after much ado; for. "The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." They must force their way all along to the very last. It imports,
5. A mysterious victory, wherein they conquer, even when conquered; and by being overcome, do overcome: as Christ, by death, destroyed death; so they, by being conquered, do conquer; when, by their foils, they are excited to fight more courageously: and by their falls they are made more circumspect, more, humble, tender, wary, and watchful. Thus "they overcome at the last."
6. It imports a certain victory in the issue; "He shall overcome at the last," however uncertain at first, it seems to be; yea, and not only dubious, but desperate like, when troops of enemies overcome them; yet he that promises the victory will give it to them, and make them ascribe it only to him, saying, "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory, through Jesus Christ, our Lord," (1 Cor. 15:27).
In a word, they may be said to overcome at last, when, however weak, yet, out of weakness they are made strong, (Heb. 9:34). When, after grievous dashes, they recover new strength; and so go from strength to strength, till they appear before the Lord, in Zion, (Ps. 84:7). When, in extremity, they are helped with surprising auxiliaries from heaven, so that it may be said, "Jehovah-Jireh, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen, the Lord will provide." When, in the heat of the battle, the Lord makes himself known by his ancient name, "Jehovah-Nisei, The Lord their banner." When he shows himself a present help in time of trouble, when all other helps and assistance is gone: "For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up or left," (Deut 32:36). When, though the enemy prevails, yet they keep the field; and when, though they lose many battles, yet they gain the war. Then, and in these respects they may be said to overcome at last.
III. The third thing proposed was, To offer the grounds of the doctrine. And here also, there are two things to be evidenced; 1. Why a troop shall overcome them. 2. Why they shall overcome at last.
1st, Why it is so ordered of God, that his people, while on earth, should be thus foiled, defeat, and overcome?
1. It is so ordered, for the honor of God's perfections. That his wisdom may appear in leading them through the midst of their enemies: his power, in enabling their dead men to rise and regain the conquest, and overleap a wall: his faithfulness in bringing them through fire and water to a wealthy land, according to his word: and his goodness in not suffering them to be tempted above what they are able, nor always trampled upon.
2. It is so ordered, for the exercise of their graces, and of their spiritual arms; yea, he suffers them to be defeated, notwithstanding their arms, that they may learn not to trust to their graces and borrowed armor, but to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might
3. It is to make their victory the more remarkable, and their heaven the more sweet, where they shall sing an eternal epinicion [intense song of victory] a song of victory over all their enemies; and that while they are by the way, every new victory they obtain may be the more sweet, glorious, and wonderful; when, after they were dashed and conquered, they become conquerors.
4. It is so ordered, that there may be a conformity between them and their head, their Captain; for, they are predestinated to be conformed to his image, both in sufferings and glory. Now, he was made perfect through suffering: by death he overcame death; by being overcome, he overcame.
5. It is so ordered, to make them humble and dependent; humble in the sense of their own weakness, while they cannot stand before the enemy without being foiled and overcome; the devil, the world, and corruption being too strong for them; and that they may learn to live a life of faith and dependence upon their powerful General.
6. Hence it is thus ordered to help their memory; "Slay them not, lest my people forget," (Ps. 59:11). Slay not the enemy, says God, but rather let them slay and overcome, lest my people forget their prayers, and forget my promise, and forget what they have ado for me, and what I have ado for them; lest they forget to watch, and wait, and keep under my standard.
2ndly, Why they shall overcome at last. Their victory is sure.
1. Because their Head has overcome; their Captain hath conquered all their enemies, and spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in his cross, (Col. 2:15); and he is exalted far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, (Eph. 1:21). And therefore they may be convinced of judgment, and of victory, because the prince of this world is judged.
2. Because their Captain heads them, and goes before them in the van; "The breaker is come up before them: and their king shall pass before them, and the Lord on the head of them," (Micah 2:13). How can they but have success in the issue, the angel of God going before them, as with Israel of old?
3. They shall overcome at last, because the Captain follows them, and not only leads the van, but also brings up the rear; "Depart ye, depart ye; go ye out from thence; touch no unclean thing: go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear-ward," (Isa. 52:11-12); that is, God will both lead their van and bring up the rear, securing them from enemies that either meet them, or follow them; for, "With his favour will he compass them." God's presence with his people will be that to them, which the pillar of cloud was to Israel, both behind and before them. See, "Thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of the Lord shall be thy rear-ward," (Isa. 58:8). Christ, thy righteousness, before thee as thy vanguard; and the glory of God, Christ, the rearward, in whom God's glory shines, and on whom alone we can depend, when our sins pursue us, and are ready to take hold upon us, and when we are pursued by any other enemy.
4. They shall overcome at last, because their enemies are Christ's enemies; "I will be an enemy to thine enemies, and an adversary to thine adversaries," (Ex. 23:22). The troops that overcome them are the troops of hell that fight against the God of heaven; and therefore they shall not always prevail: "When God arises, his enemies shall be scattered, (Ps. 68:1). Moab shall be destroyed, because he magnified himself against the Lord," (Jer. 48:42).
5. Because his honor is engaged; his glory is concerned. It is said once and again, nay a fourth time, in the twentieth chapter of Ezekiel, He fought, or wrought for his name's sake, (vv. 4, 14, 22, 44). And, indeed, when his name and glory is concerned, he has more to lose than they, in case they should not overcome at last; they would but lose their life, their soul, their salvation; but, he would lose his truth, his honor, his glory, which is infinitely greater: therefore, they shall overcome at last.
6. Because they have more for them than against them: their name is Gad, a troop; a company of two armies; yea, they have many troops and regiments on their side: and, if our eyes were open, according to Elisha's prayer, (2 Kings 6:17), we might see mountains full of chariots and horses of fire, before the Israel of God. I will name ten regiments or (to keep by the words of the text) troops, they have upon their side, by which they cannot fail to overcome at last.
(1.) The greatest and strongest is a troop of divine attributes surrounding them, as the mountains are about Jerusalem, (Ps. 125:2). And hence, the place of their defense is said to be the munition of rocks; attributes of God, like rocks of defense about them. It is under the shadow of these attributes, they are safe and victorious; for he sends forth his mercy and truth for that end: "Be merciful unto me, O God; be merciful unto me; for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast. He shall send from heaven and save me from the reproach of him that would swallow me up: God shall send forth his mercy and his truth," (Ps. 57:1-2). "I am God all-sufficient," says God to Abraham; and so to all his spiritual seed. My wisdom, sufficient for your direction; my power, sufficient for your protection, &c. "My grace shall be sufficient for thee; my strength shall be made perfect in thy weakness." How can these that have such troops for them but overcome at last!
(2.) They have a troop of graces; namely, faith and all the rest, of which Christ hath prayed that they fail not; "I have prayed for thee, says Christ to Peter, that thy faith fail not." And so, he hath prayed that their hope fail not utterly; that their patience, fail not; that their love fail not; that their graces fail not: therefore, corruption shall fall before grace; "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law, but under grace." Under that grace of God, that is the fountain of all graces in them.
(3.) They have a troop of divine offices, and divine officers on their side; Christ the chief officer, clothed with all saving offices; whether general, as that of a Saviour, Redeemer, Friend, and Captain of salvation: or particular, as Prophet, Priest, and King; by whom they cannot but overcome at last. And of under-officers, they have a guard about them, represented by Solomon's life-guard about his bed; "Threescore valiant men are said to be about it, of the valiant of Israel. They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh, because of fear in the night," (Song 3:7-8). These officers, when faithful to their prince, and armed with the sword of the Spirit, and their feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, are helped to defend the Lord's people from the snares and corruptions of the times, and the troops of corrupt teachers and corrupt judicatories.
(4.) They have a troop of saints and witnesses on their side. Witnessing saints, in past and present times; witnessing saints, old and late, are spoken of as helpers and encouragers in the holy war; as those spoken of, (Heb. 11), of whom it is said, "Wherefore, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us; Looking, especially, unto Jesus (that is, the head of the witnessing remnant) who, for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God," (Heb. 12:1). Witnessing saints at present also, so far as they are faithful witnesses for God, will be powerful wrestlers with him that shall prevail, and through God do valiantly.
(5.) They have a troop of angels on their side; "The angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear him, and delivers them," (Ps. 34:6). What havoc did one angel make in the camp of the Assyrians in one night, destroying an hundred fourscore and five thousand: they are all ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation, and destructive spirits to their enemies.
(6.) They have a troop of heavenly luminaries on their aide, whenever God pleases to call them to the assistance of his people; even as the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. God has made sometimes the stars of heaven, the sun in the firmament, to subserve the design of his people's overcoming their enemies.
(7.) They have a troop of earthly creatures on their aide: God has sometimes raised up an army of inferior despicable creatures, frogs, lice, flies, and vermin; the most inconsiderable like insects as a formidable troop to invade the enemies' camp, and make Israel to overcome, as in Egypt; for when their ways please the Lord, they are in league with the stones of the field; and the beasts of the field are at peace with them and at war with their enemies, (Job 5:23, Deut. 28:26-27).
(8.) They have a troop or army of prayers on their side, which God, the hearer of prayers, hath obliged himself to answer. Both the prayer of their High-priest upon the throne, whom the Father hears always, and who hath prayed for Jerusalem, (Zech. 1:12), and whom God answers with good words, and comfortable words, saying, "I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies, my house shall be built in it," (Zech 1:16) notwithstanding all opposing enemies: and also the prayers of his people, offered in the faith of acceptance through Christ: these shall be answered, for the Lord hath said it, "When the Lord shall build up Zion, he will appear in his glory; he will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer," (Ps. 102:16-17). As the prayer of faith hath power with God, so this troop hath sometimes been terrible to his enemies; as to the Scots Queen Mary, that was more afraid for John Knox's prayer, than for an army of ten thousand men.
(9.) They have a troop of promises to side with them, and assure them, that they shall overcome at last: though they be overcome, yet it is promised them, that they shall overcome at last: compare Revelation 13:7, "It was given him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them," with Revelation 17:14, "These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them; for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings; and they that are with him, are called, and chosen, and faithful." It is promised, the Lamb shall overcome them; and make his followers overcomers; and, "All the promises of God are Yea and Amen in Christ, to the glory of God:" and therefore, this troop shall overcome for them; "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but not a jot or tittle of his word shall fall to the ground."
(10.) They have a troop of providences, divine providences, however cross in appearance to bring about their complete victory; for, "All things shall work together for good to them," (Rom. 8:38); even all the victories that the enemy doth obtain over them: "All these things are against me," said Jacob; and yet they were working for him. All Joseph's troubles, and the afflictions that he met with, were but bringing about his advancement; and, so all the foils and defeats that the believer meets with, contribute to his being victor at last: even all the plots of hell, and rage of men and devils against Christ, contributed to bring about his triumphant victory; so, all his people, however contradicted and conquered, shall overcome at last. Though a troop overcome them, yet having these numerous troops upon their side, the final victory shall be on their side also.
IV. The next thing proposed was the application. If it be so, as in the first branch of the doctrine, that the Israel of God may for a time be foiled and defeat by troops of enemies and oppositions, hence see,
1. That the state of the church and children of God in this world, is not only a militant state, but may be a mastered state, may be conquered by their enemies within and without; Israel may be long in bondage to their enemies. Believers may be long under captivity to the law of sin and death: "I see a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members," (Rom. 8:23). Think it not a new or strange thing, to see the cause and people of God oppressed and born down, vanquished and overcome.
2. Hence see, it is no small opposition that the Lord's people should lay their account with: "A troop shall overcome him;" importing, that confederate forces against them may be expected: "The kings of the earth may set themselves, and the rulers of church and state may take counsel together against the Lord, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast their cords from us," (Ps. 2:2-3; See Ps. 83:1-8).
3. Hence see, that confederate powers against the people of God, may be conquering powers, for a time; they may gain the day for a while, and the Lord only knows how long. The Israel of God may be put to cry under the continued prevalence of inward corruption, and outward opposition, as "How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord, for ever? How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?" (Ps. 13:1-2).
4. Hence see, that the true Israel of God are at the worst, but involuntary captives to their enemies, viz. sin, Satan, and the world of wicked men, but are never voluntary subjects or servants to them: "Gad, a troop shall overcome him," against his will; he shall never incorporate or be embodied with the troop, nor make league with the enemy. The doctrine of the falls and foils of believers may be dangerous to the secure, and a stone of stumbling to them. Why, say they, I am daily overcome by sin; daily mastered with corruption; my heart dead like a stone in prayer; but, my blessing on the minister, for he gives me hope, saying, Believers may be just like me; and so I conclude myself among the number of believers, and hope to be saved as well as the best: alas I beware, man, lest this kind of reasoning prove your spot to be none of the spots of God's children. The saints may be foiled, and fall before the enemy, but they will not lie in the puddle like the swine in the mire, but rather struggle like a sheep in the mire, restless till relief and recruits come.
5. Hence see the reason of the variations and the changes in the believer's case and lot; a troop may overcome him, but he is overcome with a "but." There is opposition to opposition in the case; and, as the enemy treads upon him, so sometimes he treads upon the enemy; and, by alternate turns, they defeat one another, so as the issue seems dubious, and the poor believer fears, lest one day he fall by the hand of Saul.
6. Hence see matter of daily humiliation and exercise to the children of God, while they are here in this world, where they may expect, certainly, that a troop shall overcome them; and therefore they ought not to be secure, but watchful; they ought not to be proud, but humble; they ought not to be lazy, but active; they ought not to faint, but to fight. Spiritual action is the first, the second, the third, and the last part of a Christian. Religion is no easy business; nor is it enough to begin well in the way of God; unless we hold on, we cannot be victorious: "He that endures to the end, shall be saved." It is dangerous to sit down and make a truce with the enemy, or go into a cessation of arms. Yea, it is dangerous to parley with temptation, and to reason with the devil, whether you should venture on such a sin or not; though you should muster up arguments, you may find the devil is a better politician than you; his agents also, that oppose God's work and cause, may defeat you in point of policy, and reason more strongly against the cause of Christ, than you can do for it; they may silence you in dispute, but it were best for you in such a case, to say with the woman, that spake with the spirit of a martyr, "Indeed, I cannot dispute for Christ, but I can burn for him." So may you say, when unable to answer subtle adversaries, Though I cannot reason and argue for Christ, yet I will fight for him, witness for him, I will do for him, I will suffer for him; and, through grace, I will die for him.
7. Is it so, as in the second branch of the doctrine, that the true Israel of God shall overcome at last? Hence see, then, matter of examination and trial. Let us search and try if we be of the tribe of Gad, that however conquered for a while, shall overcome at last. See if you be, in a spiritual sense, what Gad was in another. The tribe of Gad was a warlike and a wrestling tribe, a valiant and a victorious tribe, (1 Chron. 5:18, 20; 12:8). Try then what Spirit you are of.
(1.) Have you got a warlike spirit; a disposition for the holy war against sin, Satan, and the world? If so, then you have seen yourself by nature, to be a slave to these enemies, a slave to your lusts, a slave to Satan, and a drudge to the world; you have found the cursed chain of sin, dragging you downward, downward, downward! You have seen yourself in prison and bondage to spiritual enemies, and would have given a thousand worlds to be out of the prison, out of the house of bondage. Next, you have got a view of the glory of the Captain of salvation, so as to embrace him as your General, and come under his colors, knowing that there is no fighting, no overcoming, but by his strength; "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord." Have you got a Spirit of warfare, so as to commence and carry on a perpetual warfare against sin, and never to be at peace with it?
(2.) The tribe of Gad was a wrestling tribe, they wrestled with their enemies, and they wrestled with God, like their father Jacob, for victory over their enemies: hence it is said of them, and the rest who joined with them, "They cried to God in the battle, and he was entreated of them; because they put their trust in him," (1 Chron. 5:20). Try if you have a wrestling spirit; know you what it is to wrestle with God for the blessing; to wrestle with God for victory over your lusts? And as it was the Lord's battle, that the tribe of Gad fought against the enemies of God; so, see what side you are upon, for only these that are upon God's side, upon Christ's side, upon truth's side, shall be overcomers, and at last victorious.
8. Hence see matter of terror to the enemies of God, and of his people, who are fighting against God, and his work, cause, and interest; though they should overcome at first, yet they shall be overcome at last. If the children of God, and his cause amongst their hands, shall overcome at last, then you shall be overcome at last; though you should fight and prevail for a while, you shall be dreadfully defeated at last. If you continue in the enemies' camp, fighting with the dragon and his angels, against Michael and his: fight as you will, you shall be destroyed at last. "The last enemy to be destroyed is death;" but you may be amongst the first enemies to be destroyed. If you remain, O sinner, an enemy to the Son of God, know, that he is manifested to destroy the works of the devil; and all the instruments of the devil, that are workers for him; they are all devoted to destruction: "The enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of rams, they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away." God hath promised to Christ, that his enemies shall lick the very dust; and that he will plague them that hate him. You may think that you carry the day, and carry all before you, when you get the ministers and people of God oppressed; the witnesses killed; pastors set to the door; and people set to the field; but yet a little while, and Zion will be a burdensome stone to her enemies; they that fall under the weight of it, shall be grinded to powder; for, "God shall arise, as in mount Perazim; and be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon. When he whets his glittering sword, and his hand takes hold of judgment, he will render vengeance to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him."
You shall be overcome at last: though you be of the troop that overcomes the tribe of Gad a thousand times, yet you shall be overcome at last, even though you mistake, and think you are doing good service to God, while madly persecuting them. It may aggravate their trial at the time, that you pursue them as enemies to God, and disturbers of Israel, and such as turn the world upside down; but it shall aggravate your torment, that, under a profession of religion, you was an enemy to religion; that, in the name of God, you fought against God; that you hated and persecuted God's cause and people; and you said, Let the Lord be glorified. What shame and confusion will God rub upon such actions, and such agents for the devil? The countenance and authority of corrupt Judicatories and General Assemblies will be a poor defense, when you are arraigned for counteracting the great God. What shall become of magistrates that sit upon the throne of God, abusing civil authority, by opposing themselves to the work of God? And, what shall we think of ministers, who sit in the temple of God, exalting themselves above the heritage of God, oppressing and scattering them? [Alluding to such in civil power, at this time, who opposed a testimony for truth, and oppressed those who favored it; and to such ministers, who oppressed the Lord's people, in the affair of patronage, formerly observed]. This anti-Christian spirit is devoted to destruction and perdition, (2 Thess. 2:3-4). Let all wicked sinners, who continue in sin and rebellion against God, know that it is hard for them to kick against the pricks: they make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them, and oblige them to cry with the apostate emperor Julian, Vicisti [you have conquered], O Galilee?
9. Hence see matter of comfort to all the followers of the Lamb, that cleave unto him, and to his name, truth, and cause; for it is sure, the oppressed cause and heritage of God shall get up their head, however long they be run down: they shall not be always under the hatches of depression, or apprehension from enemies; no; they shall overcome at the last: "The rod of the wicked shall not always rest upon the lot of the righteous," (Ps. 125:3). The poor believing soul may be crying, Oh I am overcome: overcome with a troop of lusts and corruptions, a troop of devils and temptations, a troop of enemies within and without, but raise up your head and heart, believer, in the faith of this, that you shall overcome at last. Your victory over sin and Satan, death and hell, is secured by the word and oath of God, the two immutable things, by which it is impossible for God to lie. It is secured by the death, resurrection, and exaltation of your captain, Jesus Christ; because he lives, you shall live; and because he hath overcome, you shall overcome: "He was dead and is alive, and lives for evermore; and hath the keys of hell and death." It is secured by his victories, his blood and his intercession: this can answer all challenges of the adversaries; "Who can lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? is it Christ that died; yea, rather that is risen again, and sitteth at the right hand of God." Victory is secured by God's covenant with Christ your head, in whom it stands fast, and by the love the Father bears to the Son, our shield; "My loving-kindness will I not take away from him. If his children break my law, and walk not in the way of my commandments; I will visit their iniquities with the rod, and their transgressions with stripes: nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail," (Ps. 89:30-33). Victory is secured to you by the inhabitation of the Spirit of Christ; "But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you: he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in you: for, if he live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body ye shall live," (Rom. 8:11, 13). It is secured by the earnest of the victory already given: some gracious experiences are the earnest of the glorious victory; such as grace to hate sin and yourself for it; grace to pray and plead the promise against it: grace to rejoice in Christ, and in the hope of being forever with him: grace to hope against hope, that you shall overcome, because the victory is of the Lord; grace to esteem heaven on this account, because it is a place of perfect victory and freedom from sin.
Victory is secured; but alas! when shall it be? Why, you shall overcome at last: you may be sure of it, 1. At the last extremity: for, "In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen, the Lord will provide." 2. At the last battle you may be sure of it; for, "The battle is the Lord's." 3. At the last breath, for then your warfare shall be accomplished, and death will bring down the house upon the Philistines, and slay them all. 4. At the last day; for then the victory will be complete, not only over death, which shall be swallowed up in victory, but over the grave, which till then detains the dust of the saints, as an evidence that victory over the grave was not till then consummate. But "The Spirit of him that raised up Christ from the dead, shall then quicken our mortal bodies," that soul and body may for ever triumph together in him, that made them more than conquerors. It is said, "The righteous shall have dominion over them in the morning." Thus you shall overcome at the last.
10. Hence see matter of exhortation and direction; in a word, first to the enemies, and then to the friends of God.
(1.) You that are the enemies to God and his cause and people, joined with the troops of hell that are in arms against heaven. Alas! Sirs, throw down your rebellious arms! We, as ambassadors for Christ would pray you, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled unto God. Why will you fight against him? you are not a match for him. "Who can harden himself against God and prosper?" Yea the tribe of Gad, and the troops that are upon their side will gain the day against you, and all the legions of hell, ere all be done: therefore, O come, come and enlist yourselves with our Captain of salvation? He is a glorious and victorious Captain; he hath upon his vesture and thigh, this name written, "King of kings, and Lord of lords: the standard-bearer amongst ten thousands." And, though you have been fighting against him all your days, to this very moment, by a loose and profane wicked life of rebellion, yet he is content to take all comers, though they have been rebels; for "He received gifts for men, even for the rebellious: he is obliged by his office to distribute of these gifts amongst the rebellious, to engage them to come in to his camp; and this is the money that the Captain is offering you, to allure you to come out from amongst the troops and tribes of hell, and to come to him, and to his side. O come, come to our Lord Jesus Christ! and I promise, in his name, you shall be as welcome as if you had never lifted up arms against him. Come, though you have no money; come without it; for he hath enough, he hath all fullness. Come, though you have nothing, for he hath all. Come, though you have no arms, he hath armor to give you. Come, though you be not able to stir, if you be but willing, he will take your hand and help you, saying, Come, give me your hand, for I am come to take you out of Satan's service and slavery, to be one of my soldiers henceforth. If enmity and unwillingness be still your darling that you hug, and you are resolved to go on in your rebellion, then his sword is drawn against you; "He will wound the head of the wicked, the hairy scalp of him that goes on in his trespasses," and you perish by your own choice. But, if enmity and unwillingness be your disease that you would have healed, your foes that you would have conquered, then come; come to him, and he will conquer your enmity, and make you a valiant soldier, a hearty volunteer, and more than a conqueror at last. The Lord effectually persuade you.
(2.) Our next exhortation is to you who have enlisted with this glorious Captain, and become his soldiers, desiring to fight under his banner, against the devil, the world, and the flesh: O Sirs, be encouraged to fight the good fight of faith. Be not discouraged, poor believer, even though a troop of temptations and corruptions shall overcome you, yet rise and fight again, by faith and prayer; for "You shall overcome at the last." Be not discouraged you who honestly espouse the cause of truth and reformation against the errors and corruptions of the day, though troops of opposition should arise from courts and judicatories in greater fury than yet they have done; though the cause may seem to be a lost cause, and utterly defeat, yet the cause of truth is the conquering cause, and shall overcome at last. Though a corrupt church should instigate the state against the witnesses for a reformation-interest, and overcome them, and kill them, as it is said of these, (Rev. 11:7), because their testimony torments them that dwell upon the earth; yet he that can give them power to prophecy in sackcloth, can, after three days and a half, make the Spirit of life enter into them, and make a living succession of witnesses, to be as terrible to their enemies, as an army with banners. See the courage of Nehemiah, (3:17-20), when building Jerusalem, and when Sanbalat and Tobiah laughed them to scorn, and despised them, and at the same time instigate the state against them, and represented them as enemies to the civil government, saying, "What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king," by disturbing the lieges? Nehemiah answers, "The king of heaven, he will prosper us: therefore we his servants will rise and build." Be not discouraged from duty, you who are amongst the praying and wrestling remnant, even though a troop of foreign enemies should invade and overcome the land, and turn it into a field of blood, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein, though the devouring sword should be sent to avenge the quarrel of his covenant, [It was formerly observed that this nation was, at this time, in open war with the courts of Spain and France]; yet the mourning remnant shall be safe: though a troop should overcome them, yet they shall overcome at last.
Let me exhort you, O soldiers of Christ, to put on your armor, and to look to heaven for skill to manage your arms.
1. Fortify your weakest aide with the strongest guard, by watching, especially against the sin that easily besets us.
2. "Endure hardness as a good soldier of Christ." The soldier is not well trained for war that cannot endure the hardship of coarse entertainment, or an ill made bed; how shall he watch all night, and fight all day? Again,
3. Let me exhort you to keep your eye upon the Captain General, that hath already overcome all your enemies; enter yourselves heir to his victories; "Be strong in the Lord," and in the strength that is in him, in the grace that is in him. And,
4. Fight much upon your knees, like the Christians that prayed down thunder and lightning upon their enemies. Luther calls prayer, Christianorurn bombard; "The gunshot and artillery of the Christians." Again,
5. Keep close to the Captain and his bands; do not disjoin the conquering tribe, the tribe of Gad, that you may be sealed as conquerors at last: for, of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand among the rest, (Rev. 7:5).
6. Be not dispirited with the foils you may get, and enemies you may meet with. You may have troops of them defeating you; but, O rise and take courage; for what can hearten a soldier more, than to be sure he shall overcome at last? Fight, therefore, in the faith of the final victory: never lay down your arms, nor give over praying, believing, trusting, hoping, waiting, watching, and warring, though you should be foiled and defeat a thousand times; the Captain's honor is engaged that you shall overcome at last. Set the troops of heaven against the troops of hell. Know, that it is Michael and his angels that fight against the dragon and his angels; therefore, whatever blows and overthrows you may meet with at first, whatever battles you may lose, yet remember what is coming at last. Be not surprised, if, after a communion, a troop overcome you; lo, he hath warned you it shall be so; but, he hath made victory as sure; "These things have I spoken unto you, that you should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father nor me; but these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them," (John 16:1-4). Be strong in the faith of everlasting triumph in heaven over all your enemies when the palm of victory will be put in your hands, and the crown of victory on your head. Lay your account with being conquered here; for, a troop shall overcome you: and perhaps too soon after this solemnity, you may be foiled by your surrounding foes within and without. But, O believer, rise and fight in the faith of complete victory at last: your Captain's name is "Jehovah-Nissi, the Lord your banner:" And therefore, O believer! your name at the lowest shall be, Gad, a troop shall overcome you, but you shall overcome at last.
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