Stephen J. Tracey
Diabolical armor! It sounds horrible, grotesque, demonic. What is it? The term comes from John Bunyan's little book The Holy War, in which he describes how the city of Mansoul falls under the power of the tyrant Diabolus. When news of the fall of Mansoul reaches the court of the great king, El Shaddai, he publishes the following proclamation:
Let all men know who are concerned, that the Son of Shaddai, the great King, is engaged by covenant to his Father to bring his Mansoul to him again; yea, and to put Mansoul, too, through the power of his matchless love, into a far better and more happy condition than it was in before it was taken by Diabolus.
This proclamation deeply troubles Diabolus, and he takes several steps to retain Mansoul in his possession, one of which is to issue diabolical armor. In this imaginative and insightful way, Bunyan shows how the unregenerate heart arms itself against the gospel. The armor consists in the following pieces, none of which look archaic or obsolete to us today:
Vain hope can take many forms: believing that God is all love and mercy, with no justice or anger; believing that all good will be rewarded and sin overlooked; believing that all will be well in the end. In the book Two Years before the Mast, by R. H. Dana, Jr., a sailor is lost at sea and the crew concludes, "God won't be hard on the fellow. To work hard, live hard, die hard, and go to hell after all, would be hard indeed." Many a soul lives and dies wearing this helmet of vain hope.
Following the death of Princess Diana, this vain hope was clearly evident in the U.K. Uncontrollable grief was met with vain hopes of the rewards of God to the good, the young, the sad, the pretty, and the compassionate. This kind of popular gospel knows nothing of repentance, of faith in Christ's finished work, of the need to be born again, or of that righteousness which is of God by faith.
Many a soul has a heart as hard as iron, with no more feeling than a stone. The atrocities of Nazi Germany, of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, or of Bosnian "ethnic cleansing" provide ample evidence of how hard men's hearts can be. The Cross provides evidence of the hardness of every sinner's heart. Men crucified the Savior in favor of Barabbas the criminal. They threw back Christ's words of salvation as he suffered. They spat on the One who had wept for them.
It is bad enough to know that we are proud and obstinate and malicious toward men. That is difficult enough to cure. What is worse is that we strike out against God. The reason for it is very simple: "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom. 3:18).
Psalm 1:1 describes this as sitting in the scorner's chair. Before his conversion, John Bunyan himself swore profusely. The Bible speaks much more often and much more plainly about the sins of the tongue than many preachers dare to speak. There are numerous warnings in the Psalms and Proverbs, and James tells us that we are as good as perfect men if we can bridle our tonguesbut if we cannot, then our religion is only a sham and a mockery of God.
An evil tongue represents two things. First, it is a simple act of defiance. It is the ant defying the elephant, the plankton defying the whale, the creature defying the Creator. What arrogance! Second, it is a suppression of the voice of conscience. Says William Plumer in his comments on Psalm 1:1, "Scorning is an old artifice to keep conscience quiet." The louder we shout, the harder it is to hear. The more we stand defiantly shouting against God, against his Son, against his ways, against his people, the harder it is to hear the offers of mercy and pardon.
The first thing that sin does is to make us doubters. In the beginning, Satan asked, "Has God really said...?" Rather than believe God, we believe the liar. James Fisher's catechism states:
Q. Were our first parents guilty of sin before their eating the forbidden fruit?
A. Yes, they were guilty in harkening to the devil and believing him, before they did actually eat thereof.
Q. Why then is their eating of it called the first sin?
A. Because it was the first sin finished (James 1:15).
Bunyan imagines Diabolus as saying, "If he speaks of judgment, care not for it; if he speaks of mercy, care not for it; if he promises, if he swears that he would do to Mansoul, if it turns, no hurt, but good, regard not what is said, question the truth of all." It is this shield that keeps sinners sitting comfortably under God's Word rather than quaking with fear at every word.
This is not so much a piece of armor as it is the attitude of the diabolical pawn. Bunyan imagines Diabolus saying, "Another part or piece of mine excellent armor is a dumb and prayerless spirit, a spirit that scorns to cry for mercy: wherefore be you, my Mansoul, sure that you make use of this." In the fierce pride and dignity of the Native Americans, some tribes would accept pain silently so as not to give their enemy the pleasure of seeing them suffer. They would die a painful death without the slightest sound or sign of feeling. To cry for mercy was an indication of weakness.
The cure for such a proud spirit is to see that heaven is for those who find mercy in Christ. Hell is for those who never cry for mercy. The Israelites who refused to look at the bronze serpent in the wilderness died of their snake bites. Referring back to that very incident, Jesus said, "Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:14-15).
The diabolical armor will only keep you safe on your way to hell. Satan is exposed as a liar. He has been a liar from the beginning (John 8:44). He is strong, but, thanks be to God, Christ is stronger. With the finger of God, he casts out Satan, and by his grace he strips us of our diabolical armor. Sinners must flee to Christ and put on other armor, the armor of God which consists in truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of Godpraying always, watching always, and persevering to the end.
The author is the pastor of Lakeview OPC in Rockport, Maine. His Bible quotations come from the NKJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, October 2002.