Chapter 3 – The Sword of the Spirit

“So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”—Genesis 3: 24. “And the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”—Eph. 6: 17. “For the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”—Hebrews 4: 12.

We are accustomed to think of this scene at the gate of Eden as a picture of terror and judgment. Cowering under their awful curse, the fugitive pair stand in the front of the picture, hurrying forth from their happy Eden home, to return no more; while behind them, and above the gate that was closing upon them forever, a fiery sword flashes with angry severity, to keep the way of the tree of life from which they are henceforth to be debarred, as they go forth on their sorrowful journey to the grave.

But as we take a second look at that glorious symbol, it assumes a brighter phase; until, after a little while, we learn to behold it as a symbol of grace, and not of judgment. Doubtless it so became to them, and ere long, the very symbol of the divine presence that marked the place of worship where they came to meet with their covenant God at the gate of Eden.

The figure of the cherubim, which appears for the first time in this chapter, becomes in the later Scriptures the very signal of God’s covenant love and manifested presence. We see it in the tabernacle of the wilderness above the mercy-seat. We see it in the visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel in connection with the throne of God. And it reappears in the Apocalypse in the vision of heavenly glory.

It was doubtless a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, or, at least, a symbol of His person and glory. The four faces of the lion, the ox, the eagle, and the man, represent His kingliness, His sacrifice, His humanity, and His Deity; and the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are just an unfolding of His person in these four glorious aspects.

As this figure appeared at the gate of their lost Eden, it became to our first parents the symbol of Him, the promised seed of the woman, in whom that lost inheritance was to be restored and that forfeited paradise regained. It did not mean that the tree of life was lost forever; but rather it pointed out the new way by which that tree could be restored again, restored by way of the cherubim, through the redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ.


The sword was the token and emblem of the Holy Spirit, even as the cherubim was the figure of Christ. The word in the Hebrew is, The Lord God Shekinah, the cherubim, the flaming sword. This was the same Shekinah that afterward appeared in the Holy of Holies. This flaming sword, therefore, was nothing else than the special symbol of God’s immediate presence with the Holy Ghost.

It was the symbol, therefore, of grace rather than of judgment; and while it involved essentially the principle of the divine righteousness, which could no longer permit a sinful race to partake of the tree of life in the old way, yet it also pointed forward to the coming redemption and the provision through Jesus Christ which was to open those gates of mercy even to sinful men through the blood of Jesus and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit.

The flaming sword at the gate of Eden was the embryo of the cross. It emphasized the great truth that judgment must come before mercy, that death must be the gate to life, and that the old natural life must fall before the piercing sword, ere we can enter through the gates of the new paradise, and partake of the tree of life, that life that is incorruptible and everlasting.


It represents the slaying power of the Spirit. The sword is the symbol of death, and death is the deepest revelation of Christ’s great salvation. The grave is forever the symbol of the Gospel, and the Cross means not only His death, but ours too. Therefore Satan hated it, and tried to make Peter reject it, as he cried, “Pity Thyself, Lord”; but Jesus refused it, and told him his thought was born of Satan.

The reason men try to get the Cross and the Blood out of their new Gospel is because they have a shrewd suspicion that as there was a cross for Him, so there must also be a cross for them; but in no other way can we enter into life everlasting. All that is born of the flesh is flesh, and under the curse. Every fragment and fibre of the natural life is evil. You may coax it, you may flatter it, and it will smile upon you; but some day, if you cross its will, it will spring upon you and strike you.

Therefore, the sentence of death has passed upon all the Adam race, and the fiery sword must destroy every vestige of the old humanity before the new life can enter in and partake of that life-giving tree which stands behind the glorious cherubim.

And this is the work of the Holy Spirit, to put to death the life of self and sin. We cannot do it, He alone can. We may try to crucify ourselves and mutilate ourselves with a thousand blows; but every time we will succeed in just missing a vital part, and the old ‘I’ will come through the process, all alive still. Only the flaming sword can smite to death the self-centered, self-destroying life of the natural man. We, therefore, read in the eighth of Romans, “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”

We see this truth foreshadowed through the whole Old Testament. The destruction of the race by the flood was but a figure. The Apostle Peter says of the true baptism, “The like figure whereunto baptism doth also now save us, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Therefore, the apostle intimates that the eight souls who passed through the waters of the flood were saved by water, not from water.

The flood that destroyed and swept away the ungodly race that was engulfing everything in corruption, was God’s merciful judgment, sending salvation through destruction. God Himself had said, “The end of all flesh is come before me.” The deluge was just the death and burial of the great putrid carcase of corrupt flesh into which humanity had ripened.

The sacrifice on Mount Moriah was another foreshadowing of the life that comes through self-surrender. The sufferings of Joseph were the very pathway to his elevation and coronation. The passage through the Red Sea was Israel’s baptism of death. The death of the first-born and the destruction of Egypt’s host in the same flood emphasized and vivified the same picture. And the redemption of Israel’s firstborn was God’s own striking figure of the fact that the whole nation was accounted dead, and saved as from the dead.

Before Israel could enter Canaan, the old generation was left in Egypt to die, and a new race passed through the gates of Kadesh. The passage of the Jordan was but the type of deeper death. The death of Moses and the succession of Joshua who alone could bring them into the promised land, still further emphasized the death-side of their higher inheritance and ours.

The circumcision was the figure of God’s death-stroke upon our natural life. All the types of the canonical law were touched by the death-mark. Through the blood of burnt offerings, sin offerings, and peace offerings, the Hebrew worshippers and the Aaronic priests entered into their place of privilege and acceptance.

The cleansing of the leper was accompanied by the touching figure of the death of the little bird and the sprinkling of its blood upon the wing of its companion. The two were the parable of God’s cleansing of the sinful heart of man. Even the razor must cut off the last hair of his natural strength before he could pass in among the worshippers. And in the ordinance of the red heifer, not only the scarlet wool that was the figure of sin, but also the little hyssop which represented our natural life and the finest tendrils of its strength and beauty, must be consumed with the burning heifer.

Not only must “the grass wither, but the flower of the grass must perish, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it.” The death sentence must be executed against the beauty and the blossom, as well as against the grossness and the sensuality of the natural life.

Even the very best things become a curse to us so long as we hold them with our natural hands and hearts and self-centered spirits. That sweet and innocent child whom God has taught you to love, can be only an idol until he ceases to be your child, and becomes God’s child, and the death stroke passes upon your love, and you learn in the resurrection life to hold him for God, and love him not as a selfish pleasure but as a sacred trust.

Even the husband into whose strong hand God may have put your trusting little hand, may become but a substitute for your God, and a separating influence from Him, until you die to your own selfish affection, and learn to love him not for your own gratification, or his, but in God and unto God and for his own highest good.

Money cannot hurt you if you do not love it for its own sake. It is not your fortune that hurts you, but your clinging fondness for it; and so long as that fondness is alive, your little world of five hundred dollars a year is as much a hindrance to you as would be a millionaire’s palaces and vast investments. It is not the size of your world that God sees, but the extent to which it fills your heart.

Even your Christian influence, your reputation as a worker for God, and your standing among your brethren, may be to you an idol that must die, before you can be free to live for Him alone.
If you have ever noticed the type on a printed page, you must have seen that the little “i” has always a dot over it, and that this dot elevates it above the other letters in the line.

Now, each of us is a little ‘i’; and over every one of us there is a little dot of self-importance, self-will, self-interest, self-confidence, self-complacency, or something to which we cling and for which we contend, which just as surely reveals self-life as if it were a mountain of real importance.

This ‘i’ is a rival of Jesus Christ, an enemy of the Holy Ghost, and of our peace and life. Therefore, God has decreed its death, and the Holy Spirit, with His flaming sword, is waiting to destroy it, that we may be able to enter through the gates and come to the Tree of Life.

How can this be accomplished?

We must ourselves consent to it. We must recognize the true character of our self-life and the real quality of the evil thing. We must consent to its destruction, and we ourselves must take it as Abraham did Isaac, and lay it at the feet of God in willing sacrifice. This is a hard work for the natural heart; but the moment the will has been yielded and the choice has been made, that death is past; the agony is over, and we are astonished to find that the death is accomplished.

Usually the crisis of life in such cases hangs upon a single point. God does not need to strike us in a hundred places to inflict a death wound. There is one point that touches the heart, and that is the point God usually strikes, the dearest thing in our life, the decisive thing in our plans, the citadel of the will, the center of the heart. When we yield there, there is little left to yield anywhere else; and when we refuse to yield at this point, a spirit of evasion and compromise enters into all the rest of our life.

The man or woman who has honestly and entirely met God at the decisive point will always be found uncompromising and thorough at every other crisis; and the man or woman who has begun with a half-surrendered will always has a reservation up to the end of the chapter, unless he meets with God at some later point and begins where he ought to have begun before.

The cause of Saul’s ruin was his unwillingness to obey God and yield up Agag and Amalek to death. Saul carried out the divine commission through every chapter but one. He fought his battles bravely, he managed his campaigns skillfully, he subdued Amalek, he captured Agag, he left no point in the possession of the enemy; but he kept the best of the spoil and the life of the king for his own gratification, pretending that he did it for the worship of God.

This was the cause of his ruin. Old Samuel gave to the ages to come an object lesson of what God meant when he took his great broadsword and hewed Agag to pieces before the king, and told his cowardly master “that obedience is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”

At one time when we talked with a dear friend who had been struggling for years to enter into a satisfactory spiritual experience, she told us how disappointed and unsatisfied her heart was. As we looked at her earnest face it seemed to us that there must be something in the way, and we asked her if there were not some reservation in her entire consecration. We did not need to wait for the answer for it bespoke itself. We then asked her if she would not be brave enough to let the last cord go, to give herself unreservedly to Christ at any cost, and especially to let go the thing that she shrank most at the thought of surrendering. She looked so sadly in our face, and answered, “I have not the courage.”

Alas! it is the old and oft-repeated story; and yet those cowardly hearts who shrink from God’s gentle sword will yet have to bear sufferings inconceivably more severe, and to be pierced with sorrows that make one’s heart ache even to think of. The brave heart that dares to die once for all and forever is the wise heart, the happy heart, the heart that finds “the yoke easy and the burden light.”

Beloved, will you dare to die, or rather to yield unto death that thing in your heart, your life, your will, which constitutes the strength of your natural life, and the axis around which all your being is enfolded?

Having yielded yourself unto death, you must next believe that God accepts you, and that the Holy Ghost undertakes the work, and really accomplishes it. The command of the Scriptures is very simple and explicit at this point, “Reckon yourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This act is purely a matter of faith. Faith and sight always differ to such an extent that, while to your senses it does not seem to be so, your faith must still reckon it as true. This is a very difficult attitude to hold, and only as we thoroughly believe God, can we thus reckon upon His Word and His Working. As we do so, however, faith will convert it into fact, and it will be even so.

These two words, “yield”and “reckon,”are passwords into the resurrection life. They are like the two edges of the “Sword of the Spirit” through which we enter into crucifixion with Christ.

This act of surrender and this reckoning of faith are recognized in the New Testament as marking a very definite crisis in the spiritual life. It does not mean that we are expected to be going through a continual dying, but that there should be one very definite act of dying, and then a constant habit of reckoning ourselves as dead and meeting everything from this standpoint.

In the sixth chapter of Romans, the apostle takes the position that we are to meet God as those that are alive from the dead, and thus enjoy the benefit of an accomplished act of crucifixion. Once for all we are to hand over our sin, our self, and all our belongings to the Holy Ghost; and henceforth, whatever comes up in us, we are to reckon it as no longer a part of ourselves, but to steadily refuse to recognize it, and count it simply as a temptation. Thus we shall have power to overcome it, and shall be able to maintain our consciousness of purity and victory unmoved.

As any evil comes up, and the consciousness of any unholy thing touches our inner senses, it is our privilege at once to hand it over to the Holy Ghost and to lay it upon Jesus, as something already crucified with Him; and as of old, in the case of the sin offering, it will be carried without the camp and burned to ashes.

There may be deep suffering, there may be protracted pain, it may be intensely real; but throughout all there will be a very sweet and sacred sense of God’s presence, of intense purity in our whole spirit, and of our separation from the evil which is being consumed. Truly, it will be borne without the camp, so that even the smell of the burning will not defile the holy sanctuary of the consecrated heart; and we shall come out of the fire without even the smell of the flames upon our garments.

It is so blessed to have the Holy Spirit slay things. No sword but His can pass so perfectly between us and the evil, so that it consumes the sin without touching the spirit. Just as the skillful surgeon, with brave heart and keen instrument, can pass between the arteries and veins with such exquisite delicacy that no fibre is severed, and no injury done to a single organ, so the blessed Holy Spirit, and He alone, can separate the evil from the good, and “pierce even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow.”


This brings us to the searching power of the Holy Spirit, for this fiery sword is a heart-searching weapon as well as a sin-destroying power. Undoubtedly the passage in the fourth chapter of Hebrews already quoted, refers to this ancient figure. “The Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart; neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight.”

There is a strong and subtle power in electric fire to search out and discriminate between substances and detect abnormal and unwholesome conditions. When the electric sponge passes over the human frame, it leaves no sensation in the healthful places; but if there is disease anywhere it will cling to the spot and seem to search it out and penetrate it with a subtle touch, often with the keenest pain.

In like manner the Holy Ghost passes through those portions of our being that are right and pure, without any sense of resistance, or, perhaps, without any sensation whatever. He has such free course that He just seems to blend with our own consciousness. But when He comes to anything wrong, there is immediate resistance; and as He presses His hand upon it, there is intense suffering. The sword of the Spirit is searching out the evil and compelling it to declare itself, just as the skirmishing companies in the advance guard of the army, by their firing and their feint attacks, bring out the foe and compel him to show his position. The greatest hindrance to our spiritual life and progress is found in the disguise of the enemy and the deception of our own nature. The evil cannot be crucified until it is recognized, diagnosed, brought into the light, and delivered over to death.

Self clothes itself in so many disguises that nothing but the piercing sword of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures can compel it to take its true place, and own its evil character. Some one has said that it is half the battle of life to call things by their true names. The Holy Spirit searches out our sins, and He finds sin in many places where our own self-complacency would never have suspected it. Not only does He detect and condemn the grosser forms of immorality and disobedience, which have to deal directly with the ten commandments and the law of righteousness; but He brings us face to face with the law of love, and shows us that even the unkindly thought is murder, the unforgiving spirit is an unpardonable sin, the habit of living to ourselves rebellion against God, and a selfish motive, even in the holiest act, a soul-defiling sin.

He brings us face to face with the law of faith, and shows us that to doubt God is a crime, to treasure an anxious care for the morrow is wickedness, to pray in unbelief is to take the name of God in vain, and, in short, that “whatever is not of faith is sin.” He takes us through the realm of truth and error. He gives us the touchstone whereby we detect the false, and learn to answer even Satan’s quotation of Scripture by Christ’s own weapon, “It is written again.”

He discriminates between the false peace and the true, the earthly and the incorruptible joy, the love that is purely a natural instinct and the charity that is Christ’s love, which never fails, the zeal of Jehu, which is but a selfish passion, and the holy zeal that burns as strongly when no man approves, and stands as firmly when it costs us our very life as when it leads us to a throne. He discriminates between the false and the true worship, the prayer prompted by the Holy Spirit to the Father who seeth in secret, and the religious emotion which is kindled in the aesthetic nature by an eloquent sermon, a pathetic story, a sentimental appeal, or a sublime musical symphony which may bring tears to the eyes while the heart is as hard as adamant to God and our fellow-men.

He shows us the difference between true and false submission and the weakness that yields to sickness and Satan. On the other hand, He shows us the true patience that lovingly bows to the will of God, but refuses the weights that the adversary would put upon us.

He leads us to pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” He gives us that perfect abandonment of spirit which makes us willing to be searched and glad to be laid open to the eye of God, and to cry, “See if there be in me any way of grief,” as the margin reads, or “any way of pain,” as the new version renders it. It makes us glad to be sanctified from not only the wicked but also the earthly thing, and to be so separated from all self-life that every way of pain shall be prevented, and everything in us that could hurt us will be subdued. Thus shall we be enabled not only to lay aside the sin that so easily besets us, but every weight that would so lightly hold us back.

The blessed Holy Spirit, who possesses the consecrated heart, is intensely concerned for our highest life, and watches us with a sensitive, and even a jealous love. Very beautiful is the true translation of that ordinary passage in the Epistle of James, “The Spirit that dwelleth in us loveth us to jealousy.” The heart of the Holy Ghost is intensely concerned in preserving us from every stain and blemish, and bringing us into the very highest possibilities of the will of God. The Heavenly Bridegroom would have His Church free not only from every spot, but also from “every wrinkle, or any such thing.” The spot is the mark of sin, but the wrinkle is the sign of weakness, age, and decay. He wants no such defacing touch upon the holy features of His Beloved. Therefore, the Holy Ghost, who is the Executor of His will, and the divine Messenger whom He sends to call, separate, and bring home His Bride, is jealously concerned in fulfilling in us all the Master’s will, and is ever searching us through and through, with more and more tenderness, and with the most earnest solicitude, to find out every hidden fault and every unsupplied lack, and to bring us up into the fullness of the stature of spiritual manhood and entire preparation for the marriage of the Lamb.

Will we welcome His loving scrutiny and His faithful care? Will we cry, “Search me, 0 God, search me and know my heart, Search me and try me in the hidden part; Cleanse me and make me holy as Thou art, and lead me in the way everlasting.”


The Holy Ghost is God’s Executive not only for the salvation and sanctification of His people, but for the conviction of sinners and the judgment of wicked men, the destruction of the enemies of God, and the final punishment of the devil and his angels. This sword is God’s weapon for slaying the proud and willful sinner and laying him at the feet of mercy. We can entertain and interest men, but only the Holy Ghost can convict them of sin, and pierce them to the heart with profound and soul-saving conviction. We are so glad that there is One who bears this mighty sword, and uses it through His Holy Word, when faithfully presented, to break the sinner’s heart and bring him to the feet of Jesus.

But the Holy Spirit is also God’s mighty hand to avenge His honor against the wicked, and punish those who disobey Him and harm His people. The same power that struck down Ananias and Sapphira in Pentecostal days is still in the church and the world; and wherever God’s presence is, there, in a remarkable degree, His judgments are made known. It is a very solemn thing to presume against the Holy Ghost. He is the author of human life, and in a moment He can take it away. “If I whet my glittering sword, and my hand take hold on judgment,” God Himself has said, “Who is he that can deliver out of my hand?” That is a true and awful word : “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord,” and again, “Defraud not one another, for God is the avenger of all such.” I would not like to have orphan children and widowed wives cry out against me to God. I would not like to have the little hand of wronged and innocent children pleading to heaven for my punishment. I would not like to have to meet that tremendous sentence, after a life of reckless evil-speaking against the servants of God, “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” I would rather play with the forked lightning, or take in my hands living wires with their fiery current, than speak a reckless word against any servant of Christ, or idly repeat the slanderous darts which thousands of Christians are hurling on others, to the hurt of their own souls and bodies.

You may often wonder, perhaps, why your sickness is not healed, your spirit filled with the joy of the Holy Ghost, or your life blessed and prosperous. It may be that some dart which you have flung with angry voice, or in an idle hour of thoughtless gossip, is pursuing you on its returning way, as it describes the circle which always brings back to the source from which it came every shaft of bitterness, and every idle and evil word. Let us remember that when we persecute or hurt the children of God, we are but persecuting Him, and hurting ourselves far more.

Finally, there is an hour coming, in which “the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan, the piercing serpent, even leviathan, that crooked servant; and He shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” Then even Satan himself will feel the sharp and fiery force of that flaming sword, which he saw for the first time in its awful gleam, as he went out from Eden’s gate with the fearful crime of man’s destruction upon his head, and the tremendous curse which that fiery sword is yet to execute. That hour has not yet fully come; but even yet, thank God, that Blessed Holy Spirit is here to resist and to overcome the power of the destroyer.

He was Christ’s strength and defense in the conflict in the wilderness, and He Himself has said, “When the enemy cometh in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”

There are some things that only God can wither; and it is very blessed that, in connection with the only miracle of judgment that Christ performed, the withering of the fig tree, He gave to us His strongest lesson touching upon human faith, and told us that we might claim such faith as would wither the barren fig tree, and destroy the powers of evil that were too strong for us.

It is blessed to have a God who knows how not only to cleanse and purify us, but to destroy our spiritual foes, and to deal even with our human adversaries. “Our God is a consuming fire, and the Lord shall judge His people.” If we could only realize what those tremendous words mean, “Our God is a consuming fire,” we should feel so sorry for the man who wrongs us, that we should wish him no evil, but would tremble at the thought of his judgment. We would get down upon our knees and plead with God to have mercy upon him.

Beloved, let us pass through this flaming sword without a reservation. Then we shall not only be fearless of its power to harm us, but it will be our mighty weapon against every adversary and every evil, and the power of our aggressive warfare for the service of men and the triumph of our Master’s Kingdom.