At times governments issue the stark warning to “stay vigilant” concerning some threat. Other groups remind us of the ever present potential for abuse of power and the slogan “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Vigilance is watchfulness and the Scriptures warn us repeatedly of the need to stay awake to spiritual dangers (1 Peter 5:8; Mark 13:37; Acts 20:31). We neglect it at our peril (1 Corinthians 16:13–14). People who are watchful know there a present danger that threatens something valuable. But it is not merely a negative duty it has positive implications for us also. How then are we to be watchful?
The world and the evil one are powerful enemies that assail us but part of the difficulty is that the dangers are not only from outside of us. We have hearts that we need to keep a watch over because they are ready to deceive us through sin (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 26:41; Galatians 6:1; 2 John 8). We need not just self-examination that monitors our spiritual vitality, we also require prayer (Colossians 4:2; 1 Pet. 4:7). But in it all we need to be looking to Jesus and have a watchfulness for every way in which we may serve Him and be like Him (Colossians 3:1–2; Hebrews 12:2). Hugh Binning explains in the following updated extract what watchfulness is and how it is a duty for all of us.
1. Watchfulness is for Everyone
A Christian should watch. A Christian is a watchman by office. This duty of watchfulness is frequently commanded and commended in Scripture (Matthew 24:42; Mark 13:33; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Peter 5:8; Colossians 4:2; Luke 12:37). David waited as those that watch for the morning light (Psalm 130:6). The ministers of the gospel are described as watchmen in Scripture and every Christian should be to themselves as a minister is to his flock, they should watch over themselves. This implies the Christian’s condition in this world and expresses their activity in it.
2. Watchfulness Implies Warfare
Watching is a military posture and indicates the Christian’s situation in this world. They are encompassed about with enemies, and therefore must be a soldier (2 Timothy 2:3). The Christian has a warfare to accomplish in this world, and therefore the church here is militant, and in heaven triumphant (1 Timothy 1:18). Every Christian should war a good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.
Christ has drawn battle and appointed warfare to all His followers. In the strength of their past victory in Him, they may be made more than conquerors so that there may be a perpetual song of triumph and victory in heaven. He has made the saints strong and has made the strong weak.
The Christian’s heart and grace are like a besieged city blocked up on every side. There are enemies without and false friends within. Its enemy is great principalities and powers etc. (Ephesians 6:12) and these go around continually to look for a breach. All the things of the world besiege the heart and every sense is a gate to let the enemy in. All our dealings and trading in the world are as dangerous as inviting the countryside around a town to a public market within it when the enemy is surrounding it.
There is a desperately wicked heart within, that has deceived many thousands, and would surrender the city upon any occasion. There are fleshly lusts which war against the soul, (1 Peter 2:11) temptation to sin and unbelief. There is a heart within that can conceive and bring forth sin, and does not need any temptation, a heart within that can seduce temptation itself. When a foreign power is added to all this, who can stand? Christ Himself was tempted, but Satan found nothing in Him, and had nothing in Him, but when Satan comes, he finds everything in us, and we are like gunpowder to the flame. We can even tempt ourselves as well as be tempted by another.
3. Watchfulness is the Opposite of Sleeping
The Christian keeps a house that the enemy surrounds, and if they sleep the foe will enter. The Christian is a pilgrim here and not yet come home. They have to proceed through a dirty and dangerous way. The Christian is like a servant that left with appropriate provision by his master (who will come home when he pleases, Mark 13:33; Matthew 24:32). But woe to him if his master finds him sleeping. What then should his activity and posture be? He should be a watchman.
Watching is the opposite of complacency and sleeping. The Christian must keep their eyes open, or else they are gone. They must be vigilant or else the devil will attack them (1 Peter 5:8). The sluggard’s destruction comes as an armed man, because of his “little sleep” and slumber (Proverbs 6:10 and Proverbs 20:13). Complacency is the Christian’s night when they cease from their labour and the adversary does as he pleases with them. But the Christian is in a better condition when they are wrestling with temptation and getting heavy blows. When they are at peace and dwell securely (like the people of Laish, Judges 18:7) they are not troubled with anything but are in a dreamy state, but that is a condition of decay.
4. Watchfulness Requires Being Observant
To watch, is to observe everything (1 Samuel 4:13; Luke 6:7). This is a watchman’s special duty, to let nothing pass by them without observation. Whatever comes in they ask where it has come from and where it is going. The heart is a highway that everything travels along. If the Christian does not exactly know what comes in and what its purpose, they may be overcome before they are aware. They Christian should observe all the movements of the enemy and be well acquainted with all the subtleties of temptations. They must know their own spirit and thoughts and observe all the Lord’s dealings with his spirit. They must be concerned to know what is an enemy or friend. Therefore, the Christian should get up on the watchtower of the Word, and look through the telescope of faith round about them, that they may know what their spiritual condition is.
5. Watchfulness Requires Giving Warning
The watchman gives warning while it is timely and the enemy is far off. He raises the alarm so that everything is in readiness. This is how you ought to be. Come to Jesus Christ with all that you observe, inform the Captain of your salvation whose soldiers you are. It is best dealing with temptation far off, and resisting the first movements of sin because when it comes near it gets many friends within. They watchman’s duty is not to give his judgment of what he sees but only to report it. Do not sit down to pass sentence on whether anything is good or evil, sin or not, but come to Jesus and let Him speak. Often we reason according to flesh and blood.
6. Watchfulness Requires Constancy
There must be no interruption in this watching. The Christian must give diligent heed to it (Mark 13:33; 1 Thessalonians 5:6). It is a very laborious activity for a Christian to watch, all their senses are exercised. They must look up steadfastly, they must stand, and when they have done all they can, still stand. When the Christ has overcome they must continue to watch, lest they enter into temptation. They are in greater danger after victory than before (Ezra 6:13). They must watch when they have come out of one temptation lest they enter into another. Armies often get their greatest disadvantage after they have some victory, when they were at ease. Therefore, we ought to give all diligence, and not love sleep, lest we come into poverty.
From what has been said we see how few are in a warlike posture against Satan. Many serve under Satan’s flag and the strong man keeps the house. They do not watch against him but for him; they fight for him, and not against him. Many even watch for their sin, how to achieve it. Many seek every advantage to get their own heart’s desires, they watch against God’s Word, to keep off conviction. These are the children of darkness, in whom the devil reigns.
We also observe from this that even the children of God are seldom found watching. There is much woeful complacency among them. Who of you walks as if you were among enemies? You walk as if you were in a peaceful city without any gates, like the people of Laish who dwelt securely (Judges 18:7). You have no friend in all the world, and yet what fearful negligence and sleeping there is among you. The flesh is so weak that you cannot watch even one hour for Christ. And the neglect of one hour’s watching has brought down many strong ones. This made such a breach on David that could hardly be repaired ever again.
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