“The Gospel Sandals” - From Ephesians 6:15

“AND YOUR FEET SHOD WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE”

BY BISHOP EDWARD MALCOLM

I want to encourage you to stand firm, in peace, in the Gospel. The third piece of armour which the Christian soldier is to put on is footwear. The words ‘put on!’ are a military order. They ring out with the clear note of a bugle summoning to the fight without delay. The picture is of the Roman heavy infantryman, ten cohorts of whom provided the principal strength of an imperial legion. You, as a soldier of Jesus Christ, are compared to such a man, not to the lightly armed skirmisher, or the soldier in barracks to whom Paul was chained. Among the ten cohorts, you have chosen the post of honour, the thickest part of the fight, one of those eleven hundred and five soldiers of the first cohort, the guardians of the sacred eagle, the most approved for valour and fidelity. That is the Apostle’s comparison here, not to the Jewish warrior, even though Judah the Lion was and is formidable in the fight.

You have chosen, having done all, to stand and fight just where the devil is attacking, the most exposed place, the most criticized, marginalized, pitied, and despised. Hear what Martin Luther said. “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle front besides is mere flight and disgrace – if he flinches at that point.”

I say from my heart that you are the ones who have taken a logical position, where you can stand. Many are attempting to shut doors through which the horse has already bolted. I say this after many years of watching the situation: it is impossible to stand foursquare for the Gospel being preserved in the Church of England if your position involves some degree of unreality, or fighting at some other front than the hottest part of the battle. What is at stake is not some minor matter; it is the Gospel of peace as we know it.

1. YOUR SANDALS ARE FOR THE DEFENCE OF THE GOSPEL

Notice here the word ‘preparation’. One meaning is ‘preparedness’, defence being the foremost idea. But the word is not just that, it is more. It is the attack by the Christians with the Gospel. The Roman Empire had long frontiers facing the barbarian hordes. They despised as weakness keeping the legions in fortified cities. No! Instead they placed them on the frontiers in the open field, apparently in maximum danger. In fact it was wisdom, it gave them mobility, showing the barbarians they were not afraid, but would rush out like a swarm of bees if provoked. Preparedness thus is not just a prepared foundation. It is that, for we know and depend on the Gospel to give us peace and stability of life and conscience. But it is more, we stand unmoved against the foe, ready to defend ourselves and the Gospel at any moment. That is the great need today.

2. YOU HAVE GOSPEL SANDALS FOR FLUIDITY

The old Greek phalanx stood shoulder to shoulder, each man’s shield covering the next. The legions beat the Greeks by opening out the lines, three feet between each man, eight feet between the ranks. This gave room for long, rapid charges and room to weave and fight, and to run in reinforcements among the exhausted legionaries during long, hard-fought battles. The sandal speaks of disciplined manœvering.

The Gospel is under a thousand attacks today from every quarter. How quickly the devil can change his appearance, weapons and dispositions. He appears to hold the initiative, and we are always forced to respond. However, shod with gospel sandals we can move as fast as he. The gentle, quick movements of the Gospel are like the feet of a Roman soldier in the thick of the fight, turning this way and that as fresh waves of attackers come on, never taken at a disadvantage.

The movements of the National Church appear to me to be those of men responding – always one step behind the devil, always reacting, while he always advances. Now I say this, if they would only trust the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, they would take the initiative from the devil, and the world. The church behaves like the back wheel of a bicycle whose front wheel is the world. By this Gospel, in peace, not continual bickering over baptisms, services, an almost endless list, with clever men taking the chance to show their superior knowledge; but in peace, the Gospel makes us the front wheel.

3. YOU HAVE GOSPEL SANDALS TO GIVE GREAT SWIFTNESS

The central meaning of the word ‘preparation’ is ‘equipment’, meaning what makes the soldier prepared, ready. THE great mark of the Roman legion was speed, and that depended on the sandal. Caesar won his wars like Alexander or Napoleon, by the sandal! Again and again advancing so rapidly that the enemy were caught when they thought there was plenty of time yet to set up defensive lines. The first and great use of the nail-studded Roman sandal was to march – nearly 20 miles in the first six hours, 40 a day normally, over all types of terrain, in all weathers. The meaning is simple: swiftness of movement in response is the best method of defence.

4. YOU HAVE GOSPEL SANDALS BECAUSE YOU ARE IN CONFLICT

The idea Paul has in mind is wrestling with the devil, standing firm against all his many tricks, stratagems and powers. We have withstood the headlong rush of the devil’s troops, and now we are in the thick of it. Unless we stand in the Gospel of peace, we shall fall and be beaten. The sandal was designed to keep the soldier on his feet on blood-soaked, slippery, muddy ground, in the thick of battle, or running to the ramparts of the overnight fort to repel a surprise attack of the barbarians under cover of darkness. It included carrying the battle to the enemy in disciplined advance, preserving the battle lines, carrying all before.

5. AT ALL TIMES YOU NEED THESE GOSPEL SANDALS

Soldiers’ winter quarters had great sheds in which the Romans fulfilled their motto: prepare for war in time of peace. Here they fought daily, the only difference to the battlefield being the lack of blood. They had five years of exercises when training, which included endurance and agility training designed to learn to keep one’s feet in the thick of a fight. You must always remain fit and active, never let up.

Have we a definite position? Do we know what we stand for? The Romans reduced warfare to an art, teaching tactics, especially knowing how to choose their ground on which to make their stand. Here we stand, this is our chosen position. Will we yield, move away, compromise? Many are saying, why do the various different Continuing Churches not combine? That would give numbers, unity, strength. At present there are at least 20, from Anglo-Catholic to Protestant, from Traditionalist to ourselves. Our answer is, we have no wish to interpret ‘stand’ as immobility, stubborn refusal to be reasonable, but we do mean we have taken our stand on both doctrine and practice, and have no wish to get into contradictory positions. Indeed the call is to accept certain anti-gospel traits of others, so as to include everyone. But above all we are in earnest, and as I look around, many are simply playing with words, lacking deep seriousness, taking a step back from reality and seeming to shrug off responsibility. My answer is, better to reduce one’s army from 32,000 to 300 with Gideon, all determined to stand, for the devil is roaring today. Like Luther let us say: ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’. 

Almighty GOD, to the intent his most holy Name should be had in honour, and evermore be magnified of the people, commandeth that no man should take his Name vainly in his mouth, threatening punishment unto him that irreverently abuseth it by swearing, forswearing, andblasphemy. To the intent therefore that this commandment may be the better known and kept, it shall bee declared unto you, both how it is lawful for Christian people to swear, and also what peril and danger it is vainly to swear, or to be forsworn.

Unto a Christian man, there can be nothing either more necessary or profitable, than the knowledge of Holy Scripture; forasmuch as in it is contained God’s true word, setting forth his glory, and also man’s duty. And there is no truth nor doctrine, necessary for our justification and everlasting salvation, but that is, or may be, drawn out of that fountain and well of truth. Therefore, as many as be desirous to enter into the right and perfect way unto God, must apply their minds to know Holy Scripture; without the which, they can neither sufficiently known God and his will, neither their office and duty. And as drink is pleasant to them that be dry, and meat to them that be hungry; so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying of Holy Scripture, to them that be desirous to know God, or themselves, and to do his will. And their stomachs only do loathe and abhor the heavenly knowledge and food of God’s word, that be so drowned in worldly vanities, that they neither saviour God, nor any godliness: for that is the cause why they desire such vanities, rather than the true knowledge of God. As they that are sick of an ague, whatsoever they eat and drink, though it be never so pleasant, yet it is as bitter to them as wormwood; not for the bitterness of the meat, but for the corrupt and bitter humour that is in their own tongue and mouth; even is the sweetness of God’s word bitter, not of itself, but only unto them that have their minds corrupted with long custom of sin and love of this world.

Of all things that be good to be taught unto Christian people, there is nothing more necessary to be spoken of, and daily called upon, then charity: as well for that all manner of works of righteousness be contained in it, as also that the decay thereof is the ruin or fall of the world, the banishment of virtue, and the cause of all vice. And for so much as almost every man, maketh and frameth to himself charity after his own appetite, and how detestable soever his life be, both unto God and man, yet he persuadeth himself still that he hath charity: therefore you shall hear now a true and plain description or setting forth of charity, not of men’s imagination, but of the very words and example of our Saviour Jesus Christ. In which description or setting forth, every man (as it were in a glass) may consider himself, and see plainly without error, whether he be in the true charity, or not.

Among all the creatures that God made in the beginning of the world most excellent and wonderful in their kind, there was none (as the Scripture beareth witness) to be compared almost in any point unto man, who as well in body and soul exceeded all other no less, then the Sun in brightness and light exceedeth every small and little star in the firmament. He was made according to the image and similitude of God, he was endued with all kind of heavenly gifts, he had no spot of uncleanness in him, he was found and perfect in all parts, both outwardly and inwardly, his reason was incorrupt, his understanding was pure and good, his will was obedient and godly, he was made altogether like unto God, in righteousness, in holiness, in wisdom, in truth, to be short in all kind of perfection.

In the last Sermon was declared unto you, what the lively and true faith of a Christian man is, that it causeth not a man to be idle, but to be occupied in bringing forth good works, as occasion serveth.

Of our going from God, the wise man saith, that pride was the first beginning: for by it mans heart was turned from God his maker. For pride (saith he) is the fountain of all sin: he that hath it, shall be full of cursings, and at the end it shall overthrow him. (Ecclus 10) And as by pride and sin we go from God, so shall God and all goodness with him go from us. And the Prophet Hosea doth plainly affirm (Hos 5), that they which go a way still from God by vicious living, and yet would go about to pacify him otherwise by sacrifice, and entertain him thereby, they labour in vain. For, notwithstanding all their sacrifice, yet he goeth still away from them. For so much (saith the Prophet) as they do not apply their minds to return to God, although they go about with whole flocks and herds to seek the Lord, yet they shall not find him: for he is gone away from them.

A Sermon of the Misery of all Mankind and of his Condemnation to Death Everlasting, by his own Sin.

Because all men be sinners and offenders against God, and breakers of his law and commandments, therefore can no man by his own acts, works, and deeds (seem they never so good) be justified, and made righteous before God: but every man of necessity is constrained to seek for another righteousness or justification, to be received at God’s own hands, that is to say, the forgiveness of his sins and trespasses, in such things as he hath offended. And this justification or righteousness, which we so receive of God’s mercy and Christ’s merits. embraced by faith, is taken, accepted and allowed of God, for our perfect and full justification.

The first coming unto God (good Christian people) is through Faith, whereby (as it is declared in the last Sermon) we be justified before God. And lest any man should be deceived, for lack of right understanding thereof, it is diligently to be noted, that Faith is taken in the Scripture two manner of ways.

If ever at any time the greatness or excellency of any matter spiritual or temporal hath stirred up your minds to give diligent care (good Christian people, and well-beloved in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ) I doubt not but that I shall have you now at this present season most diligent and ready hearers, of the matter which I have at this time to open unto you. For I come to declare that great and most comfortable Article of our Christian Religion and faith, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.