Satan, even from himself, besides the working of our own lust, doth do us wonderful injury, and hits our souls with many a fiery dart, that we think comes either from ourselves or from heaven and God himself.
Satan diligently waiteth to come in at the door, if Careless has left it a little ajar.
There is nothing that Satan more desires than to get good men in his sieve to sift them as wheat, that if possible he may leave them nothing but bran; no grace, but the very husk and shell of religion.
So long as we retain the simplicity of the word, we have Satan at the end of the staff; for unless we give way to a doubt about that, about the truth and simplicity of it, he gets no ground upon us. In time of temptation, it is our wisdom and duty to keep close to the word that prohibits and forbids the sin; and not to reason with Satan, of how far our outward and worldly privileges go, especially of those privileges that border upon the temptation, as Eve here did: "We may eat of all but one." By this she goeth to the outside of her liberty, and sees herself upon the brink of the danger. Christ might have told the tempter, when he assaulted him, that he could have made stones bread, and that he could have descended from the pinnacle of the temple, as afterwards he did; but that would have admitted of other questions; wherefore he chooseth to lay aside such needless and unwarrantable reasonings, and resisteth him with a direct word of God, most pertinent to quash the tempter and also to preserve himself in the way. To go to the outside of privileges, especially when tempted of the devil, is often if not always very dangerous and hazardous.
As long as the devil is alive there is danger; and though a strong Christian may lie too hard for, and may overcome him in one thing, he may be too hard for, yea, and may overcome the Christian two for one afterwards. Thus he served David, and thus he served Peter, and thus he in our day has served many more. The strongest are weak, the wisest are fools, when suffered to be sifted as wheat in Satan's sieve; yea, and have often been so proved, to the wounding of their great hearts and the dishonor of religion.
It is usual with the devil in his temptings of poor creatures, to put a good and bad together, that by show of the good the tempted might be drawn to do that which in truth is evil. Thus he served Saul; he spared the best of the herd and flock, under pretence of sacrificing to God, and so transgressed the plain command. But this the apostle said was dangerous, and therefore censureth such as in a state of condemnation. Thus he served Adam; he put the desirableness of sight and a plain transgression of God's law together, that by the loveliness of the one they might the easier be brought to do the other. O, poor Eve, do we wonder at thy folly? Doubtless we had done as bad with half the argument of thy temptation.
Satan by tempting one may chiefly intend the destruction of another. By tempting the wife, he may aim at the destruction of the husband; by tempting the father, he may design the dsstruction of his children; and by tempting the king, he may design the ruin of his subjects, even as in the case of David: "Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number the people." He had a mind to destroy seventy thousand, therefore he tempted David to sin.
I have sent you here enclosed a drop of that honey that I have taken out of the carcass of a lion. I have eaten thereof myself, and am much refreshed thereby. Temptations, when we meet them at first, are as the lion that roared upon Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them we shall find a nest of honey within them.
TEMPTATIONS OF THE WORLD.
If thou wouldst be faithful to do that work that God hath appointed thee to do in this world for his name, then labor always to possess thy heart with a right understanding, both of the things that this world yieldeth, and of the things that shall be hereafter. I am confident that most if not all the miscarriages of the saints and people of God have their rise from deceivable thoughts here. The things of this world appear to us more, and those that are to come less, than they are; and hence it is that many are so hot and eager for things that be in the world, and so cold and heartless for those that be in heaven. Satan is here a mighty artist, and can show us all earthly things in a multiplying-glass; but when we look up to things above, we see them as through sackcloth of hair. But take thou heed; be not ruled by thy sensual appetite that can only savor fleshly things, neither be thou ruled by carnal reason which always darkeneth the things of heaven; but go to the word, and as that says, so judge thou. That tells thee all things under the sun are vanity, nay, worse, vexation of spirit; that tells thee the world is not, even when it doth most appear to be: wilt thou set thine heart upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings, and fly away as an eagle towards heaven. The same may be said for honors, pleasures, and the like; they are poor, low, base things to be entertained by a Christian's heart. The man that hath most of them may in the fulness of his sufficiency be in straits; yea, when he is about to fill his belly with them, God may cast the fury of his wrath upon him; so is every one that layeth up treasure for himself on earth, and is not rich towards God. A horse that is laden with gold and pearls all day, may have a foul stable and a galled back at night. And "woe to him that increaseth that which is not his, and that ladeth himself with thick clay." O man of God, throw this bone to the dogs; suck not at it, there is no marrow there. "Set thy affections on things that are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God." Colos.3:1-4.
ENCOURAGEMENTS FOR THE TEMPTED.
Let us cast ourselves upon this love of Christ. No greater encouragement can be given us, than what is in the text, Eph.3:18,19, and about it. It is great; it is "love that passeth knowledge." Men that are sensible of danger, are glad when they hear of such helps upon which they may boldly venture for escape. Why, such a help and relief the text helpeth trembling and fearful consciences to. Fear and trembling as to misery hereafter, can flow but from what we know, feel, or imagine; but the text speaks of a love that passeth knowledge, consequently of a love that goes beyond all these. Besides, the apostle's conclusion upon this subject plainly makes it manifest, that this meaning which I have put upon the text is the mind of the Holy Ghost. Now "unto him," saith he, "that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." What can be more plain? What can be more full? What can be more suitable to the most desponding spirit in any man? He can do more than thou knowest he will. He can do more than thou thinkest he can. What dost thou think? Why, I think, saith the sinner, that I am cast away. Well, but there are worse thoughts than these; therefore think again. Why, saith the sinner, I think that my sins are as many as all the sins in the world. Indeed this is a very black thought, but there are worse thoughts than this; therefore prithee think again. Why, I think, saith the sinner, that God is not able to pardon all my sins. Aye, now thou hast thought indeed; for this thought makes thee look more like a devil than a man; and yet, because thou art a man and not a devil, see the condescension and boundlessness of the love of thy God. He is able to do above all that we think. Couldst thou, sinner, if thou hadst been allowed, thyself express what thou wouldst have expressed -- the greatness of the love thou wantest -- with words that could have suited thee better? For it is not said he can do above what we think, meaning our thinking at present, but above all we can think; meaning, above the worst and most soul-dejecting thoughts that we have at any time. Sometimes the dejected have worse thoughts than they have at other times. Well, take them at their worst times, at times when they think, and think, till they think themselves down into the very pangs of hell, yet this word of the grace of God is above them, and shows that he can yet recover and save these miserable people.
And now I am upon this subject, I will a little further walk and travel with these desponding ones, and will put a few words in their mouths for their help against temptations that may come upon them hereafter. For as Satan follows such now with charges and applications of guilt, so he may follow them with interrogatories and appeals; for he can tell how by appeals, as well as by charging of sin, to sink and drown the sinner whose soul he has leave to engage. Suppose, therefore, that some distressed man or woman should after this way be engaged, and Satan should with his interrogatories and appeals be busy with them, to drive them to desperation; the text last mentioned, Eph.3: 18,19, to say nothing of the subject of our discourse, yields plenty of help for the relief of such a one. Says Satan, Dost thou not know that thou hast horribly sinned? Yes, says the soul, I do. Says Satan, Dost thou not know that thou art one of the vilest in all the pack of professors? Yes, says the soul, I do. Says Satan, Doth not thy conscience tell thee that thou art and hast been more base than any of thy fellows can imagine thee to be? Yes, says the soul, my conscience tells me so. Well, saith Satan, now will I come upon thee with my appeals. Art thou not a graceless wretch? Yes. Hast thou a heart to be sorry for this wickedness? No, not as I should. And albeit, saith Satan, thou prayest sometimes, yet is not thy heart possessed with a belief that God will not regard thee? Yes, says the sinner. Why then, despair, and go hang thyself, saith the devil. And now we are at the end of the thing designed and driven at by Satan. And what shall I now do, saith the sinner? I answer, take up the words of the text against him: Christ loves with a love that "passeth knowledge." And answer him further, saying, Satan, though I cannot think that God loves me, though I cannot think that God will save me, yet I will not yield to thee; for God can do more than I think he can. And whereas thou appealedst unto me, if whether, when I pray, my heart is not possessed with the belief that God will not regard me, that shall not sink me neither; for God can "do abundantly above what I ask or think." Thus this text helpeth where obstructions are put in against our believing, and thereby casting ourselves upon the love of God in Christ for salvation.
And yet this is not all; for the text is yet more full: "He is able to do abundantly more, yea, exceeding abundantly more, or above all that we ask or think." It is a text made up of words picked and packed together by the wisdom of God; picked and packed together on purpose for the succor and relief of the tempted; that they may, when in the midst of their distresses, cast themselves upon, the Lord their God. He can do abundantly more than we ask. O, says the soul, that he would but do so much for me as I could ask him to do: how happy a man should I then be. Why, what wouldst thou ask for, sinner? You may be sure, says the soul, I would ask to be saved from my sins. I would ask for faith in, and love to, Christ; I would ask to be preserved in this evil world, and ask to be glorified with Christ in heaven. He that asketh for all this, doth indeed ask for much, and for more than Satan would have him believe that God is able or willing to bestow upon him. But mark: the text doth not say that God is able to do all that we can ask or think, but that he is able to do above all, yea, abundantly above all, yea, exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. What a text is this! What a God have we! God foresaw the sins of his people, and what work the devil would make with their hearts about them; and therefore, to prevent their ruin by his temptation, he has thus largely, as you see, expressed his love by his word. Let us therefore, as he has bidden us, make this good use of this doctrine of grace, to cast ourselves upon this love of God in the times of distress and temptation.
The bird in the air knows not the notes of the bird in the snare, until she comes thither herself.
When I have been laden with sin, and pestered with several temptations, and in a very sad manner, then have I had the trial of the virtue of Christ's blood, with trial of the virtue of other things; and I have found that when tears would not do, prayers would not do, repentings and all other things could not reach my heart, O then one touch, one drop, one shining of the virtue of THE BLOOD, of that blood that was let out with a spear, it hath in such a blessed manner delivered me, that it hath made me to marvel. O, methinks it hath come with such life, such power, with such irresistible and marvellous glory, that it wipes off all the slurs, silences all the outcries, and quenches all the fiery darts and all the flames of hell-fire, that are begotten by the charges of the law, Satan, and doubtful remembrances of my sinful life.
There are three things that do usually afflict the soul that is earnestly looking after Jesus Christ.
1. Dreadful accusations from Satan.2. Grievous, defiling, and infectious thoughts.3. A strange readiness in our nature to fall in with both. By the first, of these, the heart is made continually to tremble. Hence his temptations are compared to the roaring of a lion. For as the lion by roaring killeth the heart of his prey, so doth Satan kill the spirit of those that hearken to him; for when he tempteth, especially by way of accusation, he doth to us as Rabshakeh did to the Jews; he speaks to us in our own language. He speaks our sin at every word; our guilty conscience knows it. He speaks our death at every word; our doubting conscience feels it.
2. Besides this, there do now arise even in the heart such defiling and soul-infectious thoughts, as put the tempted to his wit's end, For now it seems to the soul that the very flood-gates of the flesh are opened, and that to sin there is no stop at all; now the air seems to be covered with darkness, and the man is as if he was changed into the nature of a devil. Now, if ignorance and unbelief prevail, he concludeth that he is a reprobate, made to be taken and destroyed.
3. Now also he feeleth in him a readiness to fall in with every temptation -- a readiness, I say, continually present. Romans 7:21. This throws all down. Now despair begins to swallow him up; now he can neither pray, nor read, nor hear, nor meditate on God, but fire and smoke continually burst forth of the heart against him; now sin and great confusion puts forth itself in all. Yea, and the more the sinner desireth to do a duty sincerely, the further off he always finds himself; for by how much the soul struggleth under these distresses, by so much the more doth Satan put forth himself to resist, still infusing more poison, that if possible it might never struggle more, for stragglings are also as poison to Satan.
The fly in the spider's web is an emblem of the soul in such a condition: the fly is entangled in the web; at this the spider shows himself; if the fly stirs again, down comes the spider to her, and claps a foot upon her; if yet the fly makes a noise, then with poisoned mouth the spider lays hold upon her; if the fly struggles still, then he poisons her more and more: what shall the fly do now? Why, she dies, if somebody does not quickly release her. This is the case of the tempted; they are entangled in the web, their feet and wings are entangled; now Satan shows himself; if the soul now struggleth, Satan laboreth to hold it down; if it now shall make a noise, then he bites with blasphemous mouth, more poisonous than the gall of a serpent. If it struggle again, then he poisoneth more and more; insomuch that it must needs at last die in the net, if the man, the Lord Jesus, helps not out. The afflicted conscience understands my words.
Further, though the fly in the web is altogether incapable of looking for relief, yet this awakened, tempted Christian, is not. What must he do, therefore? How should he entertain hopes of life? If he looks to his heart, there is blasphemy; if he looks to his duties, there is sin; if he strives to mourn and lament, perhaps he cannot; unbelief and hardness hinder. Shall this man lie down and despair? No. Shall he trust to his duties? No. Shall he stay from Christ till his heart is better? No. What then? Let him NOW look to Jesus Christ crucified; then shall he see his sins answered for, then shall he see death dying, then shall he see guilt borne by another, and then shall he see the devil overcome. This sight destroys the power of the first temptation, purifies the heart, and inclines the mind to all good things.
Didst thou never learn to outshoot the devil with his own bow, and to cut off his head with his own sword, as David served Goliath, who was a type of Satan?
QUESTION. O how should a poor soul do this? This is rare indeed.
ANSWER. Why, truly thus: Doth Satan tell thee thou prayest but faintly, and with very cold devotion? answer him thus, and say, I am glad you told me, for this will make me trust the more to Christ's prayers, and the less to my own; also I will endeavor henceforward to groan, to sigh, and to be so fervent in my crying at the throne of grace, that I will, if I can, make the heavens rattle again with the mighty groans thereof. And whereas thou sayest that I am so weak in believing, I am glad you remind me of it; I hope it will henceforward stir me up to cry the more heartily to God for strong faith, make me the more restless till I have it. And seeing thou tellest me that I run so softly, and that I shall go near to miss of glory, this also shall be through grace to my advantage, and cause me to press the more earnestly towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. And seeing thou dost tell me that my sins are wondrous great, hereby thou bringest the remembrance of the unsupportable vengeance of God into my mind if I die out of Jesus Christ, and also the necessity of the blood, death, and merits of Christ to help me; I hope it will make me fly the faster and press the harder after an interest in him. And so all along, if he tell thee of thy deadness, dulness, coldness, or unbelief, or the greatness of thy sins, answer him and say, I am glad you told me; I hope it will be a means to make me run faster, seek more earnestly, and be the more restless after Jesus Christ. If thou didst but get this art, so as to outrun him in his own shoes, as I may say, and to make his own darts to pierce himself, then thou mightest also say, Now do Satan's temptations, as well as all other things, work together for my good.
OBJECTION. But I find so many weaknesses in every duty that I perform, as when I pray, when I read, when I hear or attempt any other duty, that it maketh me out of conceit with myself; it maketh me think that my duties are nothing worth.
ANSWER. Thou by this means art taken off from leaning on any thing below Jesus for eternal life. It is likely, if thou wast not sensible of many by-thoughts and wickednesses in thy best performances, thou wouldst go near to be some proud, abominable hypocrite, or a silly, proud, dissembling wretch at the best; such a one as wouldst send thy soul to the devil in a bundle of thy own righteousness.
Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinner? Let the tempted harp upon this string for their help and consolation. The tempted, wherever he dwells, always thinks himself the biggest sinner, one most unworthy of eternal life.
This is Satan's master-argument: Thou art a horrible sinner, a hypocrite, one that has a profane heart, and one that is an utter stranger to a work of grace. I say, this is his maul, his club, his masterpiece; he does with this, as some do by their most enchanting songs, singing them everywhere. I believe there are but few saints in the world that have not had this temptation sounding in their ears. But were they but aware, Satan by all this does but drive them to the gap out at which they should go, and so escape his roaring.
Saith he, Thou art a great sinner, a horrible sinner, a profane-hearted wretch, one that cannot be matched for a vile one in the country.
And all this while Christ says to his ministers, Offer. mercy in the first place to the biggest sinners. So that this temptation drives thee directly into the arms of Jesus Christ.
Was therefore the tempted but aware, he might say, Aye, Satan, so I am, I am a sinner of the biggest size, and therefore have most need of Jesus Christ; yea, because I am such a wretch, therefore Jesus Christ calls me; yea, he calls me first -- the first proffer of the gospel is to be made to the Jerusalem sinner. I am he; wherefore stand back, Satan, make way for me, my right is first to come to Jesus Christ.
This now will be like for like. This would foil the devil. This would make him say, I must not deal with this man. thus; for then I put a sword into his hand to cut off my head.
Well, sinner, thou now speakest like a Christian; but say thus in a strong spirit in the hour of temptation, and then thou wilt, to thy commendation and comfort, quit thyself well.
This improving of Christ in dark hours is the life, though the hardest part of our Christianity. We should neither stop at darkness, nor at the raging of our lusts, but go on in a way of venturing and casting the whole of our concerns for the next world at the foot of Jesus Christ. This is the way to make the darkness light, and also to allay the raging of our corruption.
What a brave encouragement is it for one that is come for grace to the throne of grace, to see so great a number already there on their seats, in their robes, with their palms in their hands and their crowns upon their heads, singing of salvation to God and the Lamb!
And I say again -- and speak now to the dejected -- methinks it would be strange, O thou that art so afraid that the greatness of thy sins will be a bar unto thee, if amongst all this great number of pipers and harpers that are got to glory, thou canst not espy one that, when here, was as vile a sinner as thyself. Look, man; they are there for thee to view them, and for thee to take encouragement to hope, when thou shalt consider what grace and mercy have done for them. Look again, I say, now thou art upon thy knees, and see if some that are among them have not done worse than thou hast done. And yet behold, they are set down; and yet behold, they have crowns on their heads, their harps in their hands, and sing aloud of salvation to their God and the Lamb. Behold, tempted soul; dost thou not yet see what a throne of grace here is, and what multitudes are already arrived thither, to give thanks unto His name that sits thereon, and to the Lamb for ever and ever? And wilt thou hang thy harp upon the willows, and go drooping up and down the world, as if there was no God, no grace, no throne of grace, to apply thyself unto for mercy and grace to help in time of need? Hark; dost thou not hear them what they say? "Worthy," say they, "is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven" -- where they are -- "and on the earth" -- where thou art -- "and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are therein, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever."
And this is written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope; and that the drooping ones might come boldly to the throne of grace, to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
In general, God was pleased to take this course with me: First, to suffer me to be afflicted with temptations concerning the truths of the gospel, and then reveal them to me; as sometimes I should lie under great guilt for sin, even crushed to the ground therewith; and then the Lord would show me the death of Christ, yea, and so sprinkle my conscience with his blood, that I should find, and that before I was aware, that in that conscience where but just now did reign and rage the law, even there would rest and abide the peace and love of God through Christ.
Thus by the strange and unusual assaults of the tempter, my soul was like a broken vessel driven as with the winds, and tossed, sometimes headlong into despair, sometimes upon the covenant of works, and sometimes to wish that the new covenant and the conditions thereof might, so far forth as I thought myself concerned, be turned another way and changed. But in all these, I was as those that jostle against the rocks; more broken, scattered, and rent. Oh, the unthought of imaginations, frights, fears, and terrors that are effected by a thorough application of guilt yielding to desperation. This is the man that hath his dwelling among the tombs, with the dead -- that is always crying out, and cutting himself with stones. But I say, all in vain; desperation will not comfort him, the old covenant will not save him: nay, heaven and earth shall pass away before one jot or tittle of the word and law of grace will fail or be removed. This I saw, this I felt, and under this I groaned. Yet this advantage I got thereby, namely, a further confirmation of the certainty of the way of salvation, and that the Scriptures were the word of God. Oh, I cannot now express what I then saw and felt of the steadfastness of Jesus Christ, the Rock of man's salvation: what was done could not be undone, added to, nor altered.
Often when I have been making towards the promise, John 6:30, I have seen as if the Lord would refuse my soul for ever; I was often as if I had run upon the pikes, and as if the Lord had thrust at me, to keep me from him, as with a flaming sword. Then would I think of Esther, who went to petition the king contrary to the law. I thought also of Benhadad's servants, who went with ropes upon their heads to their enemies for mercy. The woman of Canaan also, that would not be daunted though called a DOG by Christ, and the man that went to borrow bread at midnight, were also great encouragements unto me.
I never saw such heights and depths in grace and love and mercy, as I saw after this temptation. Great sins draw out great grace; and where guilt is most terrible and fierce, there the mercy of God in Christ, when showed to the soul, appears most high and mighty. When Job had passed through his calamity, he had twice as much as he had before. Blessed be God for Jesus Christ our Lord.
If ever Satan and I did strive for any word of God in all my life, it was for this good word of Christ: "Him that cometh to me, I will in nowise cast out;" he at one end, and I at the other. Oh, what work we made. It was for this, in John.6:30, I say, that we did so tug and strive: he pulled, and I pulled; but, God be praised, I overcame him and got sweetness from it.
I prayed to God, in prison, that he would comfort me, and give me strength to do and suffer what he should call me to; yet no comfort appeared, but all continued hid. I was also at this time so really possessed with the thought of death, that oft I was as if on the ladder with a rope about my neck: only this was some encouragement to me: I thought I might now have an opportunity to speak my last words unto a multitude, which I supposed would come to see me die; and thought I, if it must be so, if God will but convert one soul by my last words, I shall not count my life thrown away nor lost.
But yet all the things of God were kept out of my sight, and still the tempter followed me with, But whither must you go when you die? What will become of you? Where will you be found in another world? What evidence have you for heaven and glory, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified? Thus was I tossed for many weeks, and knew not what to do; at last, this consideration fell with weight upon me, That it was for the word and way of God that I was in this condition; wherefore, I was engaged not to flinch a hair's breadth from it.
I thought, also, that God might choose whether he would give me comfort now, or at the hour of death; but I might not therefore choose whether I would hold my profession or no. I was bound, but he was free: yea, it was my duty to stand to his word, whether he would ever look upon me, or save me at the last. Wherefore, thought I, the point being thus, I am for going on and venturing my eternal state with Christ, whether I have comfort here or no: if God doth not come in, thought I, I will leap off the ladder even blindfold into eternity, sink or swim, come heaven come hell. Lord Jesus, if thou wilt catch me, do; if not, I will venture for thy name.
Before I had got thus far out of these my temptations, I did greatly long to see some ancient godly man's experience, who had writ some hundreds of years before I was born; for those who had writ in our days, I thought -- but I desire them now to pardon me -- that they had writ only that which others felt; or else had, through the strength of their wits and parts, studied to answer such objections as they perceived others were perplexed with, without going themselves down into the deep. Well, after many such longings in my mind, the God in whose hands are all our days and ways, did cast into my hand one day a book of Martin Luther's: it was his Comment on the Galatians; it was also so old that it was ready to fall piece from piece, if I did but turn it over. Now I was pleased much that such an old book had fallen into my hands; the which when I had but a little way perused, I found my condition in his experience so largely and profoundly handled, as if this book had been written out of my heart. This made me marvel; for thus thought I, this man could not know any thing of the state of Christians now, but must needs write and speak the experience of former days.
Besides, he doth most gravely also, in that book, debate of the rise of these temptations, namely, blasphemy, desperation, and the like; showing that the law of Moses, as well as the devil, death, and hell, hath a very great hand therein: the which, at first, was very strange to me; but considering and watching, I found it so indeed. But of particulars here I intend nothing; only this methinks I must let fall before all men, I do prefer this book of Martin Luther upon the Galatians, excepting the Holy Bible, before all the books that ever I have seen, as most fit for a wounded conscience.