Saturday, January 9th, 2010...12:48 pm

Gates are not an offensive weapon

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I’m currently reading Holiness by J.C. Ryle.  It is a very good book.  One of the things I like about it is that it makes me think even when I disagree with him.  However, his chapter called “The Church Which Christ Builds” had me flabbergasted.  Here is one of the giants in the history of the English-speaking church whose shoes I am not worthy to untie, and yet he spends several pages trying to say that a phrase means almost the exact opposite of what it does.

“Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18

Ryle states that “By that expression [the gates of hell] we are meant to understand the power of the prince of hell, even the devil.”  He then goes on to tell about how the history of the church is that of being constantly assailed by Satan.  The church “has always been a bush burning, though not consumed—a woman fleeing into the wilderness, but not swallowed up.”  Our goal is essentially to endure the assaults of Satan without apostatizing and all of our hope in heaven.  Most of what he says is okay as far as it goes, but there is one problem:

GATES ARE NOT AN OFFENSIVE WEAPON.

When have you ever seen gates advance upon somebody?  Unless you interpret this passage in a Macbeth-style “never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him” fashion, there is no way to conclude that the gates represent an offensive onslaught.  That would be like saying that fire represents a waterfall or Michael Jackson represents masculinity.  To paraphrase C.S Lewis, we are apt to break out the fire extinguisher in a flood.  I don’t have a problem with stating that there are times that Satan attacks, but we need to keep in mind that they are desperate counter-attacks. Satan has been on the defensive ever since Jesus cried out “It is finished,” and the writing was on the wall long before that (Genesis 3:15).

Whether you see the life of the Church as one of hunkering down in a bunker and trying to merely survive while the world goes to hell in a hand-basket or whether you see it as one of plundering the strong man’s house and storming the very gates of hell will have a profound effect on your daily life. The boldness of great martyrs of the church throughout history has been a boldness that stormed the gates of hell, knowing that the gates would not prevail.

Every soul that is converted to Christ is a conquest over territory once held by the enemy.  Beyond that, your individual sanctification is offensive warfare against the powers of hell.  Every time you confess and forsake your sin, apologize without passing the blame or making excuses, and reconcile yourself with your brother, you are slamming a battering ram against the gates of hell.  If your wife has done something to upset you and you know exactly what you could say to make her burst into tears but refrain out of love for her and love for Christ (especially when you would have sinned in that manner a year ago), you are catapulting a boulder into a watchtower of Satan’s city.  When we assemble corporately on the Lord’s Day to worship the Triune God according to His word, how much more do we prevail!  Not only do we strike our most powerful blows against Satan’s principalities when we worship rightly, but we are also there equipped for our battle throughout the week ahead.

I know that things may look bleak at times.  You can look around and see the apparent demise of Western Civilization.  You can look to Washington and shudder.  You can look at our pulpits and see hucksters trying to manipulate people into signing a card and calling it a “conversion” or would-be gurus trying to lead you on a twelve step program to inner peace.  You can look to our congregations and see grown men shaking and barking to lyrics the Vogons would be ashamed of.  On the other side we have Calvinists who are right about the doctrines of grace (at least on paper), but are so preoccupied with intramural squabbles that we marginalize our influence on the world and the rest of the Church.  You can look at families where parents (at least the good ones that don’t commit infanticide) abandon their children to daycare at the age of six weeks and to government schools and latch-key lives at the age of six years.  There is certainly still much territory occupied by the enemy.  But do we get our theology from the six o’ clock news or the Bible?  If Jesus has said that He will build his church, we had better believe Him.

When the 12 spies went into the land of Canaan, 10 of them admitted that the land was good, but could only talk of the giants and the high walls, and the fortified cities.  Only Joshua and Caleb had enough faith to say “we can take ’em.”  Certainly the principalities and fortified cities of Satan are more impressive than those of the Canaanites, but Jesus has said he will build His church.  He himself has said “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:18b-20).”  Now are we going to respond to this with a hearty “Amen!” or are we going to say “No, Lord,” and try to take the Lord of Glory aside and rebuke him?

Be encouraged and rejoice.  We have been winning; we are winning now; and we will win.  Let Christ be true and every man a liar!

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