|Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.| MATT 26:41.
MY DEAR SISTER,
That there is an evil spirit, who is permitted to exert an influence upon the hearts of men, is abundantly evident from Scripture. This truth is referred to in the beginning of the gospel of Christ, where it is said Jesus went up into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil. He is often represented in the Scriptures as the father of the wicked. |The tares are the children of the wicked one.| |Thou child of the devil.| He is also represented as putting evil designs into the hearts of men. |And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.| |The devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him.| |Ananias, why hath Satan filled thy heart, to lie to the Holy Ghost?| Wicked men are spoken of as being carried captive by him at his will. He is also represented as the adversary of the people of God, seeking to lead them into sin, and, if possible, to destroy them. |Your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.| These, and numerous other passages, which might be quoted, fully establish the fearful truth, that we are continually beset by an evil spirit, who is seeking, by every means in his power, to injure and destroy our souls.
When we have to contend with an enemy, it is very important that we should know his character. From the Scriptures, we learn several characteristics of the great enemy of our souls.
1. He is powerful. He has other fallen spirits at his command. Our Saviour speaks of the |fire prepared for the devil and his angels.| He is called |prince of the world,| |prince of darkness,| and |the god of this world.| All these titles denote the exercise of great power. He is also called destroyer; and is said to walk about, seeking whom he may devour. Indeed, so great was his power, and so mighty his work of ruin and destruction in this lost world, that it became necessary for the son of God to come into the world to destroy his works. |For this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.|
But, although he is powerful, yet his power is limited. This you see in the case of Job. No doubt, his malice would have destroyed that holy man at once. But he could do nothing against him till he was permitted; and then he could go no farther than the length of his chain. God reserved the life of his servant. And the apostle Jude speaks of the devils as being |reserved in chains, under darkness.| But the objection arises, |As God is almighty, why is Satan permitted to exercise any power at all?| To this objection the Bible furnishes satisfactory answers. (1.) It is to try the faith of his children. This was the case with Job. The devil had slandered that holy man, by accusing him of serving God from selfish motives. By suffering Satan to take away all he had, the Lord proved this accusation to be false; and Job came out of the furnace, greatly purified. The apostle James says, |My brethren, count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.| If the children of God were never tempted, they would never have an opportunity to prove the sincerity of their faith. But they have the blessed assurance, that God will not suffer them to be tempted above what they are able to bear, but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that they may be able to bear it. (2.) Again; the devil is permitted to exercise his power, for the discovery of hypocrites and for the punishment of sinners. |These have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.| |But, if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not.|
2. He has much knowledge. He knew the command of God to our first parents, and therefore tempted them to break it. When those that were possessed with devils were brought to Christ, they cried out, |We know thee, who thou art, the holy one of God.| He has also a knowledge of the Bible; for he quoted Scripture, in his temptation of our Saviour. And as he has great experience in the world, he must have a great knowledge of human nature, so to be able to suit his temptations to the peculiar constitutions of individuals.
3. He is wicked. |The devil sinneth from the beginning.| He is called the wicked one; or, by way of eminence, |The Wicked.| He is altogether wicked. There is not one good quality in his character.
4. He is crafty, and full of deceit and treachery. He lays snares for the unwary. That he may the more readily deceive the people of God, he appears to them in the garb of religion. |Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.| In consequence of his cunning and craft, he is called the serpent.[C] He is also represented as deceiving the nations.[D] Hence we are cautioned against the wiles of the devil.[E]
[Footnote C: Gen.3; Isa.27:1; Rev.12:9]
[Footnote D: Rev.20:8.]
[Footnote E: Eph.6:11.]
5. He is a liar. The first thing recorded of him is the lie which he told our first parents, to persuade them to disobey God. Hence our Saviour calls him a |liar from the beginning.|[F]
[Footnote F: John 8:44.]
6. He is malicious. As Satan is the enemy of God, so he hates everything that is good. He is continually bent on mischief. If his power were not restrained, he would introduce general disorder, anarchy and confusion, into the government of God. He loves to ruin immortal souls; and he takes delight in vexing the people of God. Hence he is called Destroyer,[G] Adversary, Accuser, Tormentor, and Murderer.[H]
[Footnote G: Abaddon signifies destroyer.]
[Footnote H: Rev.9:11; I Pet.5:8; Rev.12:10; Matt.18:34; John 8:44.]
Now, since we are beset by an adversary of such knowledge and power, so sly and artful, so false, and so malicious, it becomes us to be well acquainted with all his arts, that we maybe on our guard against them. The apostle Paul says, |For we are not ignorant of his devices.| O, that every Christian could say so! How many sad falls would be prevented! I Will mention a few of the devices of Satan, which are manifest both from the Holy Scriptures, and from the experience of eminent saints who have been enabled to detect and distinguish his secret workings in their own hearts. It is the opinion of some great and good men, that the devil can suggest thoughts to our minds only through the imagination. This is that faculty of the mind by which it forms ideas of things communicated to it through the senses. Thus, when you see, hear, feel, taste, or smell anything, the image of the thing is impressed upon the mind by the imagination. It also brings to our recollection these images, when they are not present. It is thought to be only by impressing these images upon the imagination, that he can operate upon our souls. Hence, we may account for the strange manner in which our minds are led off from the contemplation of divine things, by a singular train of thought, introduced to the mind by the impression of some sensible object upon the imagination. This object brings some other one like it to our recollection, and that again brings another, until we wander entirely from the subject before us, and find our minds lost in a maze of intellectual trifling.
Satan adapts his temptations to our peculiar tempers and circumstances. In youth, he allures us by pleasure, and bright hopes of worldly prosperity. In manhood, he seeks to bury up our hearts in the cares of life. In old age, he persuades to the indulgence of self-will and obstinacy. In prosperity, he puffs up the heart with pride, and persuades to self-confidence and forgetfulness of God. In poverty and affliction, he excites feelings of discontent, distrust, and repining. If we are of a melancholy temperament, he seeks to sour our tempers, and promote habitual sullenness and despondency. If naturally cheerful, he prompts to the indulgence of levity. In private devotion, he stands between us and God, prevents us from realizing his presence, and seeks to distract our minds, and drive us from the throne of grace. In public worship, he disturbs our minds by wandering thoughts and foolish imaginations. When we have enjoyed any happy manifestations of God's presence, any precious tokens of his love, then he stirs up the pride of our hearts, and leads us to trust in our own goodness, and forget the Rock of our salvation. Even our deepest humiliations he makes the occasion of spiritual pride. Thus we fall into darkness, and thrust ourselves through with many sorrows. If we have performed any extraordinary acts of self-denial, or of Christian beneficence, he stirs up in our hearts a vain-glorious spirit. If we have overcome any of the corruptions of our hearts, or any temptation, he excites a secret feeling of self-satisfaction and self-complacency. He puts on the mask of religion. Often, during the solemn hours of public worship, he beguiles our hearts with some scheme for doing good; taking care, however, that self be uppermost in it. When we are in a bad frame, he stirs up the unholy tempers of our hearts, and leads us to indulge in peevishness, moroseness, harshness, and anger, or in levity and unseemly mirth.
There is no Christian grace which Satan cannot counterfeit. He cares not how much religious feeling we have, or how many good deeds we perform, if he can but keep impure and selfish motives at the bottom. There is great danger, therefore, in trusting to impulses, or sudden impressions of any kind. Such impressions may be from the Spirit of God; but they may also be from Satan. The fact that your religious feelings are not produced by yourself, but that they arise in your mind in a manner for which you cannot account, is no evidence, either that they come from the Spirit of God, or that they do not. There are many false spirits, which are very busy with people's hearts. As before remarked, Satan sometimes appears to us like an angel of light. He is often the author of false comforts and joys, very much like those produced by the Holy Spirit. We are, therefore, directed to |try the spirits, whether they be of God.| Nor is it certain that religious feelings are holy and spiritual because they come with texts of Scripture, brought to the mind in a remarkable manner. If the feeling is produced by the truth contained in the Scripture so brought to the mind, and is, in its nature, agreeable to the word of God, it may be a spiritual and holy affection. But if it arises from the application of the Scripture to your own case, on account of its being so brought to your mind, you may be sure it is a delusion of the devil. He has power to bring Scripture to your mind when he pleases, and he can apply it with dexterity, as you see in his temptations of the blessed Saviour. Our own hearts are exceedingly deceitful; and our indwelling corruptions will gladly unite with him in bringing false peace and comfort to our souls. Satan, no doubt, often brings the most sweet and precious promises of God to the minds of those he wishes to deceive as to their own good estate. But we must be satisfied that the promises belong to us, before we take them to ourselves. We have |a more sure word of prophecy,| by which we are to try every impulse, feeling, and impression, produced upon our minds. Anything which does not agree with the written word of God does not come from him, for he |cannot deny himself.|
Satan manages temptation with the greatest subtlety. He asks so little at first, that, unless our consciences are very tender, we do not suspect him. If he can persuade us to parley, he perhaps leaves us for a while, and returns again, with a fresh and more vigorous attack. He is exceedingly persevering; and, if he can persuade us to give place to him at all, he is sure to overcome us at last.
We are also liable to temptation from the world without, and from the corruptions of our own hearts within. |They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare.| The riches, honors, pleasures, and fashions, of this world, are great enemies to serious piety. |Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lusts and enticed.| Remaining corruption is the sorest evil that besets the Christian. The temptations of Satan alone would be light, in comparison with the inward conflict he is compelled to maintain against the lusts of his own heart. But the devil makes use of both these sources of temptation to accomplish his ends. The former he uses as outward enticements, and the latter act as traitors within. Thus you may generally find a secret alliance between the arch deceiver and the corruptions of your own heart. It is not sin to be tempted: but it is sin to give place to temptation. |Neither give place to the devil.|
The heart is very properly compared to a castle or fort. Before conversion it is in the possession of the great enemy of souls, who has fortified himself there, and secured the allegiance of all our moral powers. But when Jesus enters in, he |binds the strong man armed,| and takes possession of the heart himself. Yet Satan, though in a measure bound, loses no opportunity to attempt regaining his lost dominion. Hence we are directed to |keep the heart with all diligence.| Now we know how a castle, fort, or city, is kept in time of war. The first thing done is to set a watch, whose business is to keep constantly on the look out, this way and that way, to see that no enemy is approaching from without, and no traitor is lurking within. Hence we are so frequently exhorted to watch. |Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.| |Take heed, watch and pray; for ye know not when the time is.| |And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.| |Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.| |Continue in prayer, and watch in the same, with thanksgiving.| |Praying always, with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance.| |Let us watch and be sober.| |Watch then in all things.| |Watch unto prayer.| |Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.| |Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.| If we were in a house surrounded by a band of robbers, and especially if we knew there were persons in it who held a secret correspondence with them, we should be continually on our guard. Every moment we should be watching, both within and without. But such is the state of our hearts. Surely, no ordinary danger would have called forth from our Lord and his apostles such repeated warnings. We are directed to watch in all things. Keep a continual guard over your own heart, and over every word and action of your life. But there are particular seasons when we should set a double watch.
1. We are directed to watch unto prayer. When you approach the mercy seat, watch against a careless spirit. Suffer not your mind to be drawn away by anything, however good and important in itself, from the object before you. If the adversary can divert your mind on the way to that consecrated place, he will be almost sure to drive you away from it without a blessing.
2. We are required to watch not only unto but in prayer. Satan is never more busy with Christians than when he sees them on their knees. He well knows the power of prayer; and this makes him tremble.
|Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.|
You should, therefore, with the most untiring vigilance, watch in prayer against all wandering thoughts and distraction of mind. You will often experience, on such occasions, a sudden and vivid impression upon your mind of something entirely foreign from what is before you. This is no doubt the temptation of Satan. If you are sufficiently upon your watch, you can banish it, without diverting your thoughts or feelings from the subject of your prayer, and proceed as though nothing had happened. But, if the adversary succeeds in keeping these wild imaginations in view, so that you cannot proceed without distraction, turn and beseech God to give you help against his wiles. You have the promise, that if you resist the devil he will flee from you. These remarks apply both to secret prayer and public worship.
3. We have need of special watchfulness when we have experienced any comfortable manifestations of God's presence. It is then that Satan tempts us to consider the conflict over, and relax our diligence. If we give way to him, we shall bring leanness upon our souls.
4. We have need of double watchfulness when gloom and despondency come over our souls; for then the adversary seeks to stir up all the perverse passions of the heart.
5. Watch, also, when you feel remarkably cheerful. Satan will then, if possible, persuade you to indulge in levity, to the wounding of your soul, and the dishonor of religion.
6. We have need of special watchfulness in prosperity, that we forget not God; and in adversity, that we murmur not at his dealings with us.
7. Set a watch over your tongue, especially in the presence of the unconverted. |The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.| David says, |I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.| I do not mean that you should ever engage in any sinful conversation in the presence of Christians. I know some professors of religion will indulge in senseless garrulity among themselves, and put on an air of seriousness and solemnity before those whom they regard as unconverted. This they pretend to do for the honor of Christ. But Christ says, |Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.| God hates lip service. However, in the company of sinners and formal professors we are peculiarly exposed to temptation, and have need therefore to set a double guard upon our lips. A single unguarded expression from a Christian may do great injury to an unconverted soul.
8. Watch over your heart when engaged in doing good to others. It is then that Satan seeks to stir up pride and vain-glory.
9. Set a double watch over your easily besetting sin. |Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.| Most persons have some constitutional sin, which easily besets them. Satan takes the advantage of this infirmity, to bring us into difficulty.
10. Finally, keep a constant watch over the imagination. Since this is the medium through which temptation comes, never suffer your fancy to rove without control. If you mortify this faculty of the soul, it may be a great assistance to your devotion. But, if you let it run at random, you will be led captive by Satan at his will. Strive, then, after a sanctified imagination, that you may make every power of your soul subservient to the glory of God.
Your affectionate Brother.