I have no doubt whatever in my heart, beloved, as to the message which the Lord desires to be given at this time. It is concerning the "overcomer". I am quite sure that there will be very few who will not agree that this is the day in which, of all matters, this is the matter to consider: for, if there is one thing pressing upon us more than another, it is the question of overcoming, overcoming in a day like this.
Let us, at the outset, prepare the way for a close application of things by a few concrete statements concerning the nature of the overcomer, what the overcomer is.
What the Overcomer is - His Position, Vocation and Adversary
We are made well aware in the Word that the overcomer is of considerable significance to the Lord. The seven-fold repetition of that word in the opening chapters of the Revelation makes that perfectly clear. The overcomer only comes into view in a day of decadence and declension. It is important for us to recognize that. It is when things are not as the Lord desires them to be, and has fully provided that they should be, are altogether otherwise in a general way, that the overcomer is brought to our notice. That is always so wherever you find that which answers to the meaning of the overcomer, though the term itself be not mentioned. The name does not matter so very much: it is what is signified that matters, and this you will find scattered right through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and it always appears at a time when things have fallen from the Divine standard. Remember that! Therefore the overcomer is set over against, not general evil, not a general state of sin, not a general bad condition, but the failure of God's people in particular. It is when the things of God have fallen to a low ebb and the people of God have lost their Divinely appointed position, that the overcomer is brought into view, or spoken of.
Then, further, the overcomer is the one, or the company, that is standing for that fullest thought of God when that thought has been let go. It is as well for us to know exactly what the overcomer is. There are some ideas about the overcomer which can be immediately dismissed. One of these ideas is that overcomers are a kind of elect of the elect, a spiritual elite chosen in the foreknowledge and counsels of God to occupy a special place. Let us dismiss that idea at once, for it is not true. That would be altogether contrary to God's mind. God's mind is that all His people should occupy the position which the overcomers are represented as occupying, and these only occupy it because the others have failed. So that overcomers are not an elect company out of the elect.
Another thing which we can dismiss at once is that overcomers occupy a different place from all other believers in the matter of grace. Quite a lot of wrong ideas have been made to circle round the overcomers in that connection, and these have discredited the whole matter. One of the ideas is that of reward. This has been given an exaggerated place, and grace has been made to be less in the case of the overcomers than it really is. Now believe me, beloved, of all the people in the history of this world right up to the end, the overcomers will know more than any others the necessity for the absolute grace of God, and will sing most loudly the song of grace in the glory. So often the reaction to this matter has just been this: Oh, when you speak of overcomers coming to a certain position, being rewarded in a special way, you are making a difference between them and all others in the matter of grace, as though they were a favoured people in a sense that is not the favour of grace. But that is not true. Let me repeat what I have said. There is one thing which will lie very, very near to the hearts of all who will become overcomers, and that is the deep, deep, unwavering conviction that, but for the grace and mercy of God, they will never get through, and they will be more conscious of it than any others. Well, let us dismiss these wrong ideas, and get the real meaning of the overcomer.
Now all this means that overcomers are those who have vision regarding God's fullest purpose and thought for His people. They have vision in a day when vision has been very largely lost. They see when others are not seeing. The eyes of their hearts are enlightened. That which God is really after, is a very clear and present thing with them, and one of the features of a time in which the overcomer is brought out, whether it be in the Old Testament or in the New Testament, is that it is in a day when, to use the phrase concerning the times of Samuel's boyhood, "there is no open vision". That is why this further word occurs and recurs in the Revelation alongside of the term "overcomer", namely, "he that hath an ear to hear, let him hear". He that hath an ear! That is but to change the faculty from that of seeing to that of hearing. The same thing is signified. It is perception, a faculty to perceive, a capacity for apprehending. I am not sure that there is not, in the repetition of that phrase, a suggestion that in the churches amongst the Lord's people, there are many whose faculty for hearing what the Spirit saith has become dulled or dead, and the Lord is appealing into the midst of His people to anyone who is not in that state to hear. So that the overcomer is one who has a spiritual faculty for seeing, hearing, grasping, perceiving what the Lord really is after and what His full thought is in a day when it is not so in general amongst the Lord's people.
Then in this introductory word, the final thing is this, that all this that we have said means that the overcomer stands to resist and nullify all the work of the Evil One in relation to the Church. So far as the overcomer is concerned, it means that all the work of the enemy is brought to nought, that the overcomer says, in a representative way, The Church is not overcome! There is that in the Church which denies to Satan a universal triumph, and I think that is what is conveyed or suggested here in the twelfth chapter of the book of the Revelation by the summarizing of Satan in this comprehensive way. First of all, in an inclusive way, he is presented as the great red dragon. That designation is seen to embrace these further terms: "the old serpent", "he that is called the Devil and Satan", "the deceiver of the whole inhabited earth"; and, later, "the accuser of our brethren". Can you find me any more titles for him? Well, here he is summed up. The dragon includes all that. I know the difference in the things represented by these words, but that is not the full meaning of things here. Satan, in the character of the serpent, the old serpent, is the beguiler. We recall the words of the Apostle Paul: "even as Satan beguiled Eve". The beguiler, the deceiver; that is the serpent. If you speak of the serpent, you always mean that which works in an underhand way to get an advantage by misrepresentation, by a lie; beguile by false presentations. The Devil - the maligner, the accuser, Satan - the adversary or hater. You gather that all up in the great red dragon and you have the ideas of ferocity, of cruelty, of strength, of destruction. All that is brought out in this twelfth chapter and the overcomer is up against that; Satan in full force, all that he is in all the forms of his historical activity and expression. The overcomer stands before that, and the issue is with the overcomer.
Now all that, mark you, is focussed primarily and mainly against and upon the Church, and it is as in the Church that the overcomer stands for the Church, to save the Church, to preserve the Church's testimony intact. It is a tremendous spiritual thing that we are up against. This is not a mere presentation of historic things. I know a great deal has been made about this great red dragon with his seven heads and his ten horns, and a good deal of history has been read into that about kingdoms and so on. Well, if you like to take it that way you can, but it is a tremendous spiritual thing that the Church is up against, terrific spiritual force, and all that we have in the first chapters of this book of Revelation, if really understood, emphatically bears that out and shows what Satan is really after in his assault upon the Church. We may see just a little of what his object is as we go on.
Well now, this is what the overcomer is, the position of the overcomer, the vocation of the overcomer, and what the overcomer has to face. All that wants breaking up and bringing nearer home.
Three Aspects of the Overcomer
We can reduce it to a threefold phase. There are three aspects to be considered in connection with the overcomer. Those three aspects are a state, a position and a testimony. The position is the result or the issue of the state. The testimony comes out of the state and the position to which that state brings. Now, that sounds a little technical, I know. If only you could just sit down with that and think about it, you would begin to see there is a tremendous amount gathered up into that. It is against these three things or this threefold thing that Satan is so ferociously, cunningly, mightily set.
1. His State
(a) Righteousness which is of Faith
He is set in the first place against the state of overcomers, that is, the state of the Church as the Lord would have it. What is the state? It is the righteousness which is of faith. Beloved, find righteousness which is the very righteousness of God, and you have completely and utterly and at every point demolished Satan. You have got rid of everything that represents Satan, all the ground of Satan's activity, all the ground of Satan's hope. You have got rid of all that side of God's activity which relates to judgment. Well; Satan is overthrown once you find a condition which is God's own condition of righteousness, His own righteousness. In order to maintain his position and do his work, Satan must find a ground of unrighteousness, produce a condition of unrighteousness, get a people into a position of unrighteousness. You can go right through the Word of God and find how that one thing opens it up. Satan's strength is always in the realm where there is unrighteousness. Satan's kingdom is not just an official thing, it is a moral thing. Of course, rightly speaking, it is an unmoral or an immoral thing, but you understand what I mean. It is a question of moral state. We have to get new ideas about that word "kingdom". Do not let us hold on to this idea about the kingdom of Satan or the kingdom of God being something official, something set up with officers appointed to rule. This ruling the nations with a rod of iron, this kingdom, does not merely mean that God sets up a state on the earth or in heaven and appoints people to occupy positions of authority. That is not the case. That is official. This whole thing is a moral question. Satan's kingdom falls immediately you find a state which is the righteousness of God. He has no more power when you come to that position.
I said that all that activity of God on the side of judgment is finished when you find the state of God's righteousness. You have that classic illustration in the case of Abraham and the cities of the Plain. God announced through His messenger that He was going to destroy the city, and Abraham entered into a controversy with God. What about the righteous? Are You going to destroy the righteous with the wicked? God said, No, I can never do that. That would, in effect, be to destroy Myself. Then it behooves you, Abraham, to go and find the righteous and if you can find them, then I cannot destroy; I should be turning My hand upon Myself. Then off Abraham goes, so to speak, and searches high and low for a number which he thought would justify his appeal to God, would be an adequate basis for answering God's requirement, and he had to reduce and reduce and reduce. Five righteous! No, he could not find five righteous. Therefore God is justified in judgment. Could Abraham have found among the Sodomites a modicum of righteousness which is of God, God's power to judge would have been stayed. A tremendous thing is righteousness; the righteousness of God, not our righteousness. "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags". There is no righteousness in us. No, God's righteousness is what is before us. Well, here all the way through from - yes, before Abraham's day - from Abel's day, right on through the whole of the Scriptures the question is that of the righteousness which is of faith. We recall Paul's tremendously comprehensive, closely-argued letter on the righteousness which is by faith in Jesus Christ. What a power it is!
Now, God's thought for His own people is that they should stand there, that they should be there as before Him, clothed in His own righteousness. What a state to be in! The very righteousness of God wrapping us round, so that, as God looks at us, He sees nothing but His own righteousness, and nothing of what we are by nature. Oh, do not let us think this is too elementary, beloved. This is an ultimate thing, this is one of the big issues for the overcomer at the end, and it is on this that Satan is fighting to the last. If he can get you or me or any child of God into the place where they lose that ground of faith, that ground of confidence, and accept condemnation under his accusations, he has won. If he can meet one child of God who, despite all the accusings and all the stirring up of nature and all that Satan, the great red dragon in fury and cruelty and hatred and accusation and power can bring upon him, none the less stands his ground in faith, and says, Yes, all that, all that may be true, yet in God's eyes, because of faith in Christ Jesus, I am a partaker of His very righteousness; Satan is defeated. That is the overcomer. It is a matter of a state by faith.
What is it that Satan is after with us? To destroy us? No, not in the way in which we sometimes think. He has one bull's-eye to his target and that is the faith which relates to the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. That is his objective and that is why righteousness is given the simile of a breastplate. You will remember the word that we have in Isaiah 59:17, "He put on righteousness as a breastplate". Again, in Eph. 6:14, we have the expression "the breastplate of righteousness". Here, you see, the very vitals of our spiritual being are involved - "the breastplate of righteousness". It is the covering for the heart. But what do we mean by the covering of the heart?
Well, let us look at one or two passages and we shall soon see what is meant. In the letter to the Hebrews, we have it very clearly explained in other language, "...which is a figure for the time present; according to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that cannot, as touching the conscience, make the worshipper perfect. How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb. 9:9,14).
It is a question of conscience. It is right there in the heart. You have a bad conscience, you feel uncomfortable in your heart. How are you going to deal with this evil conscience? Oh, what a word is this! Let us look at it again, "...that cannot, as touching the conscience, make the worshipper perfect." "As touching the conscience"! Do hold on to that. As touching the conscience, made perfect. That is the question at issue, that is what God is after. Now it says of these sacrifices and offerings which were but symbols, that they never could effect that, but "the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God", cleanses the conscience. This is the making of the conscience perfect. How does the Blood of Christ effect this? Righteousness is in that Blood. That Blood is the incorruptible nature of the Lord Jesus. Incorruptible! I always like to stay with that word. It is not just uncorrupted but incorruptible nature, nature which cannot be corrupted, which is beyond the power of corruption. "Which of you accuseth me of sin?" Was ever a man able to challenge the world on that wise? "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption" (Psa. 26:10). Impossible! That follows this statement: "Whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David saith concerning him... Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption" (Acts 2:24,27). Death had no power over Him because there was no corruption. Incorruptibility is the destruction of death's power.
Now the Blood of Jesus Christ is the value of God's own righteousness, and Satan is against the Blood because it is the righteousness. The appropriation of that precious Blood, the appropriation of that Divine righteousness by faith, is the thing which is going to destroy all the power of Satan. "They overcame him because of the blood." If you like to change the word, you can. The change will only be with regard to one aspect. The Blood is all-inclusive, but you can change the word for present purposes and say, They overcame because of the righteousness which is of faith. That is the word of their testimony, a breastplate covering the very conscience, defending the conscience. How are we going to defend our consciences against the Accuser, whose one object is in some way to bring us again under condemnation in our own conscience, to accept condemnation in our own hearts? How are we to meet that? How are we to defend ourselves against that? By the breastplate of righteousness, His righteousness, His incorruptible nature which is for us before God through faith.
You will see that I am tremendously convinced of the necessity of a word like this. You may think it is the elementary Gospel. It is that, but it is something more than that. We shall find as we go on that Satan will endeavour to wear us out, and to wear us out on this wise, by pressing upon us our own unworthiness, our own wickedness, our own sinfulness, our own awfulness, all that we are that we would not and should not be, all that we are not that we would be and should be. He will never give up playing on that ground. If ever you entertain a thought, to say nothing of employing words about fighting Satan, meeting the adversary, victory over him, remember that it is on this wise. This is no objective fight. You cannot go out against the enemy in an objective way like that. The fight is felt in your own heart. Those who can use very bold language about Calvary's victory, and all that sort of thing, may all the time just be the playthings, the pawns of Satan in this matter of 'victory because of righteousness'. In that matter, they may be altogether defeated. Well, this is where the testimony of the Blood comes in. You and I hold precious the Blood of Jesus. Herein is the preciousness, that it brings an end to Satan's authority and power. It is through the Blood that we come to the throne; and do not make that material and objective for the moment. Recognize that basically that is spiritual, spiritual ascendancy, spiritual and moral reigning. But if we do not come experimentally into that now, there is not much hope for us at some terminal point in the ages. We have to know something of this now. It is basic to reigning with Him. "They that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life..." That is bringing a throne position, in a spiritual and moral sense, to bear upon the enemy now. Oh, the Lord cover this word in our hearts!
Brethren, if our heart condemn us not, what a strong place we are in and what a weak place the enemy is in! How can that be? "The blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, purge your conscience..." - "If our heart condemn us not..." So Romans 8 follows on Romans 6. The Cross in Romans 6 sees all the ground of unrighteousness purged, put away, and "there is therefore no condemnation".
(b) A Life Governed by the Principle of Righteousness
In speaking of our hearts, the very vitals of our spiritual man being covered by God's righteousness, in addition to a standing, there has to be a life which is governed by the principle of righteousness. So we find that word taken from the Psalm and applied to the Lord Jesus in the first chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, "Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." Do you notice the immediately preceding words? "Of the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom." "Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity." That is a heart state. A breastplate of righteousness! This brass is to be a mighty strength of hatred against unrighteousness and a mighty strength of love for righteousness as characterizing the life. We have to be concerned and exercised on this matter of practical righteousness. Our standing is glorious, the state which is ours through faith is a glorious state, but He who was the Righteous One was governed by righteous interests throughout his life, and of Him it was said, "Thou hast loved righteousness".
I will not go further now, other than to remind you that this is what constitutes an overcomer. The very first application of that word was to Ephesus. What was the matter with Ephesus? "Thou hast left thy first love. Remember from whence thou art fallen." You see the principle. Fallen! That love, that first love, which is the love of righteousness and a hatred of iniquity, that heart matter has somehow become affected, injured, and it has brought them crashing down from spiritual elevation, from the heavenliness that is set forth in Ephesians. Satan is after this state. If he can get at that, he has cheated us of the throne, he has brought us out of the heavens, and that is what he is after; because the issue of this state, this overcoming because of the Blood is that "there is no more place for him in heaven". The dragon and all that are his hurled down! How? Ah, not by an objective battle, but because a people have come to the utterness of that position, righteousness which is of faith. They have come there despite every kind of antagonism and opposition, despite all the fury of the red dragon. They have stood there, taken that position, and they have come to the throne. It is against that the enemy is set. How will he achieve his end? Well, he will set the value of the Blood aside. He will do anything to take the mighty testimony of the Blood from the Church. He will somehow get the saints to occupy another position than that of the utter righteousness which is theirs by faith. The Lord save us then in the day of the dragon's fury, maintain us in this position. It is not something romantic. It is going to find us in our secret places. It is going to find us alone. It is going to seek us out in the hour when we are tired, when we are exhausted, when we are not well, when things are discouraging. The enemy will bring up all sorts of pictures and present them and say, You see this and that and that, and take the heart out of us, and then say, Well, you are wrong, you see! Then we begin to say, Well, it must be: we must be wrong or else this would not be! He works so subtly, and with cruelty. The dragon tramples upon the weak and has no mercy upon the feeble. The cruelty of the dragon! Oh, to get that vital faith, the faith of the Son of God! The Lord keep us faithful!