“You have given a banner to those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of the truth.”
MOST writers upon this Psalm, after having referred the banner to the Kingdom of David, say that there is here a reference to the Messiah. We believe there is. Nor is that reference an obscure allusion. In the Lord Jesus we find the clue to the history and the solution of the prophecy. He is the banner–He is the ensign that is lifted up before the people. He is Jehovah-Nissi, “the Lord My Banner,” whom it is our joy to follow and around whom it is our delight to rally. We shall not stay to prove–though we might readily do so–that the banner here intended is no other than the Lord Jesus Christ in the majesty of His Person–in the efficacy of His merit–in the completeness of His righteousness–in the success of His triumph–in the glory of His advent. If you read it with an eye to Him, you have the meaning at once–“You has given Christ as a banner to those who fear You, to be displayed because of the truth.” So let us consider our Lord Jesus Christ, first, as He is compared to a banner. .And fourthly, for what purpose.
- Let us consider OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST AS HE IS COMPARED TO A BANNER.
The banner was far more useful, I suppose, in ancient, than it is in modern warfare. Times have changed and we are changed by them. Yet we still speak with reverence of the old flag. There is much meaning in the phrase, “the flag that’s braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze.” The soldier still waves the flag of his country and the sailor still looks with patriotic pride to the flag that has so long floated at England’s masthead. Our metaphor, perhaps, rather points to ancient than present use.
We should notice, first of all,
that the banner was lifted up and displayed as the point of union. When a leader was
about to gather troops for a war, he hoisted his banner and then every man rallied to the standard. The coming to the standard, the rallying round the banner, was the joining with the prince, the espousing of his cause. In the day of battle, when there was always a likelihood that the host would be put to flight, the valiant men all fought around the banner. Its defense was of the first and chief consequence. They might leave the baggage for a while–they might forsake the smaller flags of the divisions–but the great blood-red banner that with prayer had been consecrated–they must all gather round it, and there, if necessary, shed their heart’s blood.
Christ, my Brothers and Sisters, is the point of union for all the soldiers of the Cross! I know of no other place where all Christians can meet. We cannot all meet–I am sorry that we cannot–at the baptismal stream. There are some who will not be baptized–they still persist in the sin of putting drops of water in the place of the ordained flood and bringing infants where faith is required. We cannot all meet even around the table of the Eucharist–there are some who thrust aside their brethren because they do not see eye to eye with them. And even the Communion Table has sometimes become a field of battle. But all Christians can meet in the Person of Christ! All true hearts can meet in the work of Christ! This is a banner that we all love, if we are Christians, and far from it are those who are not. Here to Your Cross, O Jesus, do we come! The Churchman laden with his many forms and vestments. The Presbyterian with his stern Covenant, and his love of those who stained the heather with their blood. The Independent with his passion for liberty and the separateness of the free churches. The Methodist with his intricate forms of Church Government, sometimes forms of bondage, but still forms of power. The Baptist, remembering his ancient pedigree and the days in which his fathers were hounded even by Christians, themselves, and counted not worthy of that name–they all come to Christ! Various opinions divide them. They do not see eye to eye on many matters. Here and there they will have a skirmish for the old landmarks and rightly so, for we ought to be jealous, as Josiah was, to do that which is right in the sight of the Lord, and neither decline to the right hand nor to the left. But we rally to the Cross of Christ! And there all weapons of national warfare being cast aside, we meet as Brothers, fellow comrades in a blessed Evangelical Alliance who are prepared to suffer and to die for His dear sake! Forward then, Christians, to the point of union! In the crusade against the powers of darkness, with the salvation of sinners for my one undivided aim, little care I for anything but the lifting up of my Master’s Gospel and the proclamation of the Word of mercy through His flowing blood!
Again, the banner, in time of war, was the great guide-star; it was the direction to the soldier. You remember whatspecial care they took, in the day of battle, that in case the standard-bearer should fall, there might still be some means of guiding the warriors.
So, to this day, Christ is the great Guide of the Christian in the day of battle. There is no fear that Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever, will ever fail. Fix your eyes upon Him, Christian, and if you would know the best way to fight, fight in His footsteps, imitate His every action, let your life be a copy of His life! You need never stop to ask for directions–the life of Christ is the Christian’s model. You need not turn to your fellow Believer and ask, “Comrade, what are we to do now? The smoke of battle gathers and the cries are various. Which way shall I go?” The Apostle Paul has given us our directions–“Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, 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.” Press forward, in Christ’s footsteps, saying, “God has given You, my Savior, to be to me a banner because of the truth.”
In these two respects, as the central point for rallying, and as the direction to the warrior, Christ is our banner!
And the banner. The moment the adversary sees it, hisobjective is to strike there. If it is not the most vulnerable point, it will be at least the point where the adversary’s power is most felt. Did they not of old aim their shots at the flagstaff so as to cut down the banner? Whenever the old Knights of the Red Cross fought the Saracens, they always endeavored to make their steel ring upon the helmet of the man whose hand held the standard of Mohammed! The fight was always fiercest around the standard. Sometimes, when the battle was over, the field would be strewn with legs, and arms, and mangled bodies, but, in one place there would be a heap where they were piled one upon another–a great mountain of flesh and armor, broken bones and smashed skulls–and one would ask, “What does this means? How came all this carnage is here? Why are they so trampled, one upon another, and in pools of human blood?” The answer would be, “‘Twas there the standard-bearer stood, and first the adversary made a dash, and stole the banner, and then 50 knights vowed to redeem it, and they dashed against their foes and took it by storm. And then again, hand to hand, they fought with the banner between them, first in one hand and then in another, changing ownership each hour.”
So, dear Friends, Christ Jesus has always been the object of attack! You remember that when Divine Justice came forth against Christ on Calvary, it made five tears in the great Banner, and those five wounds, all glorious, are still in that Banner! Since that day, many a shot has sought to riddle it, but not one has been able to touch it! Borne aloft, first by one hand and then by another, the mighty God of Jacob being the strength of the standard-bearers, that Banner has bidden defiance to the leaguered hosts of the world, the flesh and the devil! And never has it been trailed in the mire, and never once carried in jeering triumph by the adversary! Blessed are the tears in the Banner, for they are the symbol of our victory! Those five wounds in the Person of the Savior are the gates of Heaven to us! But, thank God, there are no more wounds to be endured–the Person of our Lord is safe forever. “A bone of Him shall not be broken.” His Gospel, too, is an unwounded Gospel and His mystical body is uninjured. Yes, the Gospel is unharmed after all the strife of ages. The infidel threatens to rend the Gospel to pieces, but it is as glorious as ever! Modern skepticism has sought to pull it thread from thread, but has not been able so much as to rend a fragment of it! Every now and then, fresh adversaries have found out some new methods of induction or declamation, attempting to prove the Gospel to be a lie, and Christ an impostor. Have they succeeded? No, verily, they have all had to fly from the field. The good old Banner of the Lord Omnipotent, even Christ Jesus, still stands exact above them all!
And why should the banner be the object of attack but for this very reason, that it is the symbol of defiance? As soonas ever the banner is lifted up, it is, as it were, flaunted in the face of the foe. It seems to say to him, “Do your worst, come on! We are not afraid of you–we defy you!” So, when Christ is preached, there is a defiance given to the enemies of the Lord. Every time a sermon is preached in the power of the Spirit, it is as though the shrill clarion woke up the fiends of Hell for such a sermon to say to them, “Christ is come forth again to deliver His lawful captives out of your power! The King of kings has come to take away your dominions, to wrest from you your stolen treasures, and to proclaim Himself your Master.” There is a stern joy which the minister sometimes feels when he thinks of himself as the antagonist of the powers of Hell. Martin Luther seems to have felt it when he said, “Come, let us sing the 46 th Psalm and let the devil do hisworst!” That was lifting up the standard of the Cross! If you want to defy the devil, don’t go about preaching philosophy! Don’t sit down and write out fine sermons with long sentences, three quarters of a mile in length! Don’t try and cull fine, smooth phrases that will sound sweetly in people’s ears. The devil doesn’t care a bit for this! But talk about Christ! Preach about the suffering of the Savior! Tell sinners that there is life in a look at Him and straightway the devil takes great offense.
Look at many of the ministers in London! They preach in their pulpits from the first of January to the last of December–and nobody finds fault with them because they prophesy such smooth things. But let a man preach Christ! Let him exclaim about the power of Jesus to save and press home Gospel Truths with simplicity and boldness–straightaway the fiends of darkness will be against him and, if they cannot bite, they will show that they can howl and bark! There is a symbol of defiance in the banner of the Cross–it is God’s symbol of defiance, His gauntlet thrown down to the confederated powers of Darkness–a gauntlet which they dare not take up, for they know what tremendous power for good there is in the uplifting of the Cross of Christ! Wave, then, your banner, O you soldiers of the Cross! Each in your place and rank keep watch, but still wave your banner, for though the adversary shall be full of wrath, it is because he knows that his time is short when once the Cross of Christ is lifted up!
We have not quite exhausted the metaphor yet. The banner was always a source of consolation to the wounded.There he lies, the good knight. Right well has he fought without fear and without reproach, but a chance arrow pierced the joints of his harness and his life is oozing out from the ghastly wound. There is no one there to unbuckle his helmet, or give him a draught of cool water. His frame is locked up in that hard case of steel and though he feels the pain, he cannot gain relief. He hears the mingled cries, the hoarse shouts of men that rush in fury against their fellows and he opens his eyes–as yet he has not fainted from his bleeding. Where, do you think, does he look? He turns himself round. What is he looking for? For friend? For comrades? No. Should they come to him, he would say, “Just lift me up and let me sit against that tree, but you go to the fight.” Where is that restless eye searching and what is the object for which it is looking? Yes, he has it! And the face of the dying man is brightened. He sees the banner still waving and with his last breath he cries, “On! On! On!” and falls asleep content because the banner is safe. It has not been cast down. Though he has fallen, yet the banner is secure!
Even so, every true soldier of the Cross rejoices in its triumph! We fall, but Christ does not! We die, but the cause prospers! As I have told you before, when my heart was most sad–as it never was before nor since–that sweet text, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name,” quite cheered my soul and set me again in peace and comfort. Is Jesus safe? Then it never matters what becomes of me! Is the banner all right? Does it wave on high? Then the adversary has not won the day! He has felled one and another, but he, himself, shall be broken in pieces, for the banner still shine in the sun!
And, lastly, the banner is the emblem of victory. When the fighting is over and the soldier comes home, what does he bring? His blood-stained flag. And what is borne highest in the procession as it winds through the streets? It is the flag. They hang it in the church–high up there on the roof, where the incense smokes, and where the song of praise ascends–there hangs the banner, honored and esteemed, borne in conflict and in danger. Now, our Lord Jesus Christ shall be our Banner in the last day and when all our foes shall be under our feet! A little while and He that will come shall come, and will not tarry. A little while, and we shall see–
“Jehovah’s banner furled,
Sheathed His sword; He speaks! ‘Tis done,
And the kingdoms of this world
Are the kingdoms of His Son.”
And then Jesus, high above us all, shall be exalted! And through the streets of the holy city, the acclamations shall ring, “Hosanna, Hosanna, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”
II. Let us turn to our second point for a few moments. It is this–Who gave us this Banner? BY WHOM WAS CHRIST GIVEN TO US?
Soldiers often esteem the colors for the sake of the person who first bestowed them. You and I ought greatly to esteem our precious Christ for the sake of God who gave Him to us–“You have given a Banner to those who fear You.” God gave us this Banner in old eternity. Christ was given by the eternal Father, from everlasting, before the earth was, to His elect people, to be the Messiah of God, the Savior of the world! He was given in the manger, when “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” He was given upon the Cross when the Father bestowed every drop of His Son’s blood, and every nerve of His body, and every power of His soul to bleed and die, “the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” “ You have given a banner.”
That Banner was given to each one of us in the day of our conversion. Christ became, from that time forth, our glory and our boast. And He is given to some of us, especially, when we are called to the ministry, or when the Holy Spirit’s guidance puts us upon any extraordinary work for Christ. Then is the banner, in a direct and especial manner, committed to our care. There are some here who have had this Banner given to them to carry in the midst of the Sunday school. A dear Sister here has it. A beloved Brother has it to bear in the midst of many of this congregation. The young men of our College, of our Evening Classes, and many others of you, workers for Christ, have that Banner, that you may bear it in the streets, that you may lift up the name of Jesus in the causeways, and in the places of assembly. And, in a certain measure, all of you who love the Lord, have that Banner given to you, that in your various spheres of service you may talk of Jesus and lift up His holy name!
Now, inasmuch as God Himself gives us this Banner, with what reverence should we look upon it, with what ardor should we cluster round it, with what zeal should we defend it, with what enthusiasm should we follow it, with what faith and confidence should we rush even into death, itself, for its defense!
III. Thirdly, TO WHOM IS THIS BANNER GIVEN? The text says, “You have given a banner to those who fear You.” Not to all men. God has a chosen people. These chosen people are known, in due time, by their outward character. That outward Divine Grace-worked character is this–they fear God, and they that fear God are the only persons whoought to carry this banner. Shall the banner be put into a drunkard’s hands? Shall the great Truth of Christ be left to those who live in sin? Oh, it is a wretched thing when men come into the pulpit to preach who have never known and felt the power of the Gospel! Time was–but times are changed somewhat–when, in multitudes of our parish pulpits, men whose characters were unhallowed, preached to others what they never practiced themselves! To such, the banner ought not to be given! Men must fear God, or else they are not worthy to bear it.
Moreover, none but these can bear it. What others bear is not the banner–it is but an imitation of it. It is notChrist they preach–it is a diluted thing that is not the Gospel of Jesus. They cannot proclaim it to others till they know it themselves! It is given to them that fear God because they will have courage to bear it. Fear is often the mother of courage. To fear God makes a man brave. To fear man is cowardly, I grant, but to fear God with humble awe and holy reverence is such a noble passion that I would we were more and more full thereof, blending, as it were, the fear of Isaac with the faith of Abraham! To fear God will make the weakest of us play the man, and the most cowardly of us become heroes for the Lord our God!
Now, inasmuch as this banner is given to those that fear God, if you fear God, it is given to you. I do not know inwhat capacity you are to bear it, but I do know there is somewhere or other where you have to carry it. Mother, let the banner wave in your household! Merchant, let the banner be fixed upon your house of business. Let it be unfurled and fly at your masthead, O sailor! Bear the banner, O soldier, in your regiment! Yours is a stern duty, for, alas, the Christian soldier has a path of briar that few men have trod. God make you faithful and may you be honored as a good soldier of Jesus Christ! Some of you are poor and work hard in the midst of many artisans who fear not God. Take your banner with you and never be ashamed of your colors. You cannot be long in a workshop before your companions will pull their colors out. They will soon begin talking to you about their sinful pleasures, their amusements, perhaps their infidel principles. Take your banner out likewise. Tell them that it is a game two can play at–never allow a man to show his banner without also showing yours! Do not do it ostentatiously–do it humbly–but do it earnestly and sincerely. Remember that your banner is one that you never need be ashamed of–the best of men have fought under it! No, He who was God as well as Man has His own name written on it! Surely, then, you need not be ashamed to wave it anywhere and everywhere. You can think bravely–now be great in action as you have been in thought–
“Presence of mind and courage in distress
Are more than armies to procure success.”
IV. This is our last question, FOR WHAT PURPOSE WAS THIS BANNER GIVEN TO US?
Our text is very explicit upon that point–it was given to us to be “ displayed because of the truth.” It is to bedisplayed. In order to display a banner, you must take it out of its case. Members of this congregation, Brothers and Sisters in the Church, I pray you study the Scriptures much. I would not have men attempt to preach unless they have some power. To go forth without some study would be like a man attempting to do execution with a gun that had much powder in it and no shot. Young men, save your spare hours to study the Bible. Steal them from your sleep if you cannot get them any other way. Sunday school teachers, be diligent in your preparations for your classes. Let your banner out of the case. It is of little service lifting it up in the midst of the ranks without its being unfurled. See that you know the holy art of unfurling it. Practice it! Study it! Be well acquainted with Him who is the wisdom of God and the power of God!
And, after the flag is unfurled, it needs to be lifted up. So, in order to display Christ, you must lift Him up. Lift Himup with a clear voice, as one who has something to say which he would have men hear. Speak of Him boldly, as one who is not ashamed of His message. Speak affectionately, speak passionately, speak with your whole soul–let your whole heart be in every word you say, for this is to lift up the banner!
But, besides lifting up the banner, you must carry it, for it is the business of the standard-bearer, not merely to holdit in one place, but to bear it here and there if the plan of battle shall change. So, bear Christ to the poor lodging houses, to the workhouses, to the prisons, if you can get admittance, to the back streets, to the dark slums, to the cellars, to the solitary attic, to the crowded rooms, to the highways and the byways! And you especially who are private Christians and not preachers, bear it from house to house! We had a complaint, the other day, that some of you had been going from house to house to try and talk to others about their souls. You had entrenched upon the parochial bounds of the authored gamekeeper! I pray you to entrench again! What is my parish? The whole world is my parish! Let the wholeworld be your parish likewise! What does it matter to us if the world is parceled out among men who probably do little or nothing? Let us do all we can! No man has any right to say to me, “Visit in such-and-such a district, not here–this is my ground.” Who gave it to you? Who gave him lordship of the world, or any portion of it? “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” The earth is your field and no matter upon whose district, territory, or parish! Let me encourage you who love the Savior, you who have the pure Gospel, to go and spread it! Let nothing confine you, or limit your labors, except your strength and your time!
Still, after all, if we carry the Gospel and lift up the banner, it will never be displayed unless there is wind to blow it.A banner would only hang like a dead flag upon the staff if there were no wind. We cannot produce the wind to expand the banner, but we can invoke heavenly aid. Prayer becomes a prophecy when we say, “Awake, O heavenly wind, and blow, and let this banner be displayed.” The Holy Spirit is that gracious wind who shall make the Truth of God apparent in the hearts of those who hear it. Display the banner, talk of Christ, live Christ, proclaim Christ everywhere! He is given to you for this very purpose. Therefore, let not your light be hid under a bushel. “You are the light of the world.” “Let your light so shine before men.” Let the old flag be held up by firm hands. Go forth in new times, with new resolves, and may you have constant renewing as new opportunities open before you!
Oh, but are there not some of you who could not bear this banner? Let me invite such to come and take shelter under it. My Master’s banner, wherever it goes, gives liberty! Under the banner of old England, there never breathes a slave. They tread our country, they breathe our air and their shackles fall! Beneath the banner of Christ, no slave can live. Do but look up to Jesus, relying upon His suffering in your place, and bearing your sins in your place and forthwith you shall have acceptance in the Beloved! And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your heart and mind through Jesus Christ. So may God enlist you beneath the banner, to His Glory! Amen.