“Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
Above all, taking the shield of faith. That the apostle would lay special stress upon this shield of faith is evident from the fact that he introduces this text with an expression which does not appear in connection with the previous three parts of the Christian’s amour: the girdle, the breastplate, and the spiked sandals or shoes.
A common interpretation of the expression, “above all,” would explain it merely as meaning: “in addition to.” The apostle, therefore, would not lay special emphasis upon this shield of faith, but he would simply mention now another part of the Christian’s amour in addition to what has already been mentioned.
However, we choose the translation: “above all.” The shield of faith must certainly have a priority rating—without it the breastplate of righteousness and the spiked shoes of the gospel of peace would surely be impossible. Our righteousness before God in Christ and our enjoyment of peace with God and therefore with all things are ours only through faith. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. By faith we are able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. Of course, this shield of faith does not emphasize what we are able to do, but it, too, constitutes a part of the armour of God by which we are able to stand. Faith is that activity of the child of God, as the fruit of God’s elective and irresistible grace, whereby he trusts and relies solely upon the God of his salvation as revealed in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Lord.
We must take the shield of faith. Two kinds of shields were used by the ancient soldier or warrior. The one shield was a small hand shield, circular in shape, used by a soldier when he was lightly armed. The other shield was a large, oblong type of shield, measuring about four feet by two and a half feet and rounded to the shape of the body. The large shield is meant in this text. It protected the soldier from his shoulders to his knees. Joined together, these large shields formed a wall, behind which a body of troops could be protected from the rain of the enemies’ missiles, the fiery darts of this word of God. We also understand that the apostle in this scripture speaks of faith as such a shield.
Some would understand this faith objectively, as referring to the Holy Scriptures, the object or content of our faith, what we believe. Now it is true that we often speak of our faith in this objective sense of the word, as when we speak, for example, of the Twelve Articles of Faith. This, however, cannot be the meaning in this text. Then there would be no difference between this shield and the girdle of truth, and we must surely distinguish between these various parts of this Christian armour.
This shield of faith surely refers to our conscious believing. We must take this shield of faith, and this certainly implies that faith here must be understood as our conscious act. As such it is one of the parts of a Christian’s armour with which we must fight. Now Scripture surely emphasizes the conscious salvation of the Christian. Indeed, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and ye shall be saved, may well be called the keynote of the gospel.
What, then, is faith? We can and must distinguish between the faculty or power or potential of faith on the one hand, and the activity of faith on the other hand. This is naturally true. A child learns to walk and talk only because he was created with these potential powers of walking and speaking. This is also spiritually true. Faith is indeed a gift of God, sovereignly bestowed only upon the elect. That we believe, consciously, is only because of the faculty of faith which we received at our regeneration. What, I ask again, is faith? Faith is that activity of the child of God whereby he cleaves unto the Lord Jesus Christ, or, whereby he cleaves unto the living God as the God of his salvation revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is always the activity of faith, also essentially. Faith is a living bond, always cleaves unto and lives out of God as the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ, our Lord. This also and surely applies to the Christian soldier in this text. It is always a cleaving unto Christ, a trusting and relying and confiding in the God of our salvation. Faith never doubts or wavers. United with Christ Jesus, we seek Christ, live out of Christ, depend in all things upon Christ, trust in Him and rely upon Him. And whereas this Christ has been revealed to us in the Scriptures, therefore this activity of faith always takes hold of those Scriptures, and the child of God places all his reliance upon the Word of God. And the reason why this faith is called a shield is because by it we are able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. This is what a shield does. This is what faith does. And therefore it is called a shield, which protects the Christian warrior completely. The fiery darts of the wicked.
Literally we read: “wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the darts of the wicked, the fiery ones.” So, the apostle lays all emphasis upon the fact that these darts or arrows are fiery, burning darts or arrows.
These darts were “fire-tipped” darts, around which combustible materials were bound or wrapped, which were then set on fire and projected against the enemy. During the old days of colonial America and the frontier days the American Indian resorted to these same tactics. These darts, now, would be rendered harmless by this shield. These military shields, made of wood and covered with thick leather, would ward off these fiery arrows of the enemy. These arrows, their fire extinguished, would fall harmlessly at the foot of the warrior protected by this shield.
The text speaks literally of the evil or wicked one. Indeed, the devil is meant here. He is the supreme field commander of all the forces of sin and darkness. Of course, he operates also through men and through our old nature. It is indeed the wicked men who actually hurl these darts at us. But their murderous intention is under the direction and control of the Evil One. He is the evil one because he is determined to corrupt and destroy us, to destroy the Cause of God and of His Christ, and he is also a brilliant and extremely capable commander-in-chief; we must never take him lightly; he is well qualified to carry on this murderous attack.
What are these fiery darts of the evil one? Now it must surely be granted that they presuppose the burning passions and inflamed ambitions which are set on fire within us. How well aware of them we are! We know these passions, inflamed ambitions, also sexual passion and lust and desire, pride, discontent, and vanity. And what a fire can rage within us because of these passions! The devil, being the superb commander that he is, will surely avail himself of these evil lusts and passions.
What are these fiery darts? O, he will hurl at you the fiery dart of ridicule and scorn with respect to your position in the midst of the world and in the midst of this conflict. He will remind you of the strength and overpowering might of his own force, at the same time reminding you of your hopeless smallness and insignificance. Besides, he will also accuse you. He will direct your attention to the sin that is within you, to which you are so prone, even day after day. And what shall we answer him? Shall we try to defend and, justify ourselves? God forbid! Fact is, we are more wicked than even he knows! He will also hurl at us the fiery dart of ridicule and scorn as far as our righteousness and peace with God are concerned. We have the boldness to put on the breastplate of righteousness and shoe our feet with the preparedness of the gospel of peace? We have the boldness to say that we are righteous in Christ before God, that we have peace with God and therefore with all things? We have boldness to believe that all things work together for our good? How ridiculous and absurd these claims appear to be! These darts are fiery, they are dangerous, very destructive and explosive. They would surely destroy you and separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Indeed, how important is this shield! How important that these fiery darts be extinguished! How important to know that all these darts are powerless, unable to effect what they desire, never able to pierce our armour, never able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Wherein, I ask you, lies the power of this shield of faith? Why is it that by it we are able, not in our own strength, but that by it we are able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one?
Why? To this there is but one answer: because of Christ Jesus. Faith is the bond that unites us with Christ Jesus; by faith we cling to Him; by faith we look away from ourselves, and our sole strength and confidence are in the God of our salvation, in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
This explains why this shield can extinguish every dart hurled by the wicked forces of darkness. Christ suffered and died for us. He paid for all our sins and trespasses. He merited for us everlasting life and glory. Christ is risen from the dead and exalted at the right hand of God! He is risen! Hence, He died not in vain; He really paid for all our sins and trespasses; we are righteous in Christ before God; we do have peace with God because in Christ God made peace. He is exalted in the heavens above. He does control all the forces of hell and of darkness; He directs also their every movement and attack; He causes all things to work together for our good. O, it is true that we do not see this. Is it true that all things appear to be against us. Yet, we believe this; we know this to be true, and therefore we can bear and endure every attack and onslaught of the foe, because we are more than conquerors through Christ Who loves us.
We are more than conquerors! And this shall certainly be revealed. Indeed, it shall not merely be revealed that we are conquerors as such, and finally. But it shall be revealed that we are more than conquerors; all the folly and stupidity of sin and also of these fiery darts will be fully revealed and exposed in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We may believe this, and we must believe this.
Let us, therefore, take up this shield of faith, and believe even until the end.