Ralph Erskine Archive

Ralph Erskine

SERMON XLVI


THE COMER’S CONFLICT: OR, THE BEGINNER’S BATTLE WITH THE DEVIL, WHEN ESSAYING TO COME TO CHRIST BY FAITH.

This subject was handled in two Discourses: The first was delivered at an evening exercise, on Saturday, July 19, 1735, before the celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, at Kinglassie, on the 20th. The second was preached on the Monday, after the administration of that ordinance.

“And as he was yet a-coming, the Devil threw him down, and tare him.” Luke 9:42

Here is the history of Christ’s healing a lunatic child, whose father came to the disciples, and they could not cure him; and now he cometh to Christ. As we ought to come to Christ ourselves for healing, so we ought to bring our children to him; and when ser­vants and other means can do us no good, we ought to go to the master, and look over the head of all ministers and servants. After Christ had reproached the disciples for their unbelief, he gives the poor man an encouraging word concerning his son; “Bring thy son hither,” (Luke 9:41). Bring him to me. We ought to bring our sons and our daughters to Christ; to bring our diseases and all our various cases to Christ. But after this encouragement, follows a trial in the text: “As he was yet a-coming, the Devil threw him down and tare him.”

In which words we have three things observable, namely,

    1. An excellent duty: that is, coming to Christ.

    2. An eminent trial and heavy dispensation that befel the comer; “The Devil threw him down and tare him.”

    3. The time and juncture when this heavy trial and great afflic­tion befel him, namely, “As he was yet a-coming.”

Hence we may observe the three following particulars,

(1.) The best course that any man can take for relief from what­ever afflicts him, is to come to Jesus the Saviour.

(2.) They who come to Christ for help, will be an eye-sore to hell and the devil; he will be sure to fly upon them.

(3.) They who come to Christ for help and healing, though they may be sure he will help and heal them, yet they may find their case worse, before the relief come; they may be thrown down, and torn, as it were, to pieces by the way. Or thus, Christ may under­take to deliver people, and yet their distress may grow upon their hand before their deliverance come. Here is Christ’s undertaking, “Bring him hither to me.” Here is the person coming with hope of deliverance, he is on his way coming to Jesus; and yet, behold, here is a dreadful dash, a mighty trial to faith and hope, both in the father and son: yea, after he was come to the physician, and the healing word spoken, as you see; where this same history is recorded, with other circumstances, “The spirit cried, and rent him sore, before he came out of him, and so he was as one dead, insomuch, that many said, He is dead,” (Mark 9:25-26)

Well then, the doctrinal observation, we would incline briefly to prosecute from these words, may be framed as follows:—

Doctrine: That people, who come to Christ, and whom he under­takes to heal and help, may have their distress growing on their hand, before the deliverance come, which yet will cer­tainly come.

It is in this case, as it was with Israel in Egypt “God saw their affliction,” and undertook to come, and save them; and yet, behold, before their deliverance comes their bondage becomes heavier than before. The darkest time of the night may be before day­break. Thus it was with Israel, in returning from Babylon, to re­build the temple in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. The king gives commandment to go and build; God stirs up the civil authority to give encouragement to them; but quickly the haters of Zion, misrepresenting the work, procure an order to cause them desist from it. This doctrine then is verified both with relation to God’s public work towards a church, and his particular work on the souls of his people, as you see it was with the ruler of the syna­gogue, (Mark 5:23), that applied to Christ in behalf of his daughter at the point of death, that he might come and heal her. Christ went with him; but see what sad news he gets from his house, “Trouble not the Master, for your daughter is dead,” (Luke 8:49). And now they looked upon the matter as hopeless, though yet Christ was on his way to save her.

The method we would lay down, for the farther prosecuting this subject, through supernatural aid, shall be the following:—

I. We will speak a little of coming to Christ.

II. Enquire in what respect matters may grow worse with people, even when they are thus coming to Christ.

III. Enquire into the reasons whence it is that people who come to Christ for help, and whom he undertakes to help, may find their distress grow before their deliverance come. ‑

IV. Make some Application of the whole.

I. We are to speak a little of coming to Christ. There are only two things I would observe here.

1. Coming to Christ imports a view that vain is the help of man; vain is the help of the creatures; vain is the help of minis­ters, means, and ordinances of themselves. Thus it was here with the father of the child; “I besought thy disciples to cast him out, but they could not,” (Luke 9:40). So they who come to Christ, find all other refuges fail them, (Ps. 143:4); other physicians were of no value. None come to Christ till they can do no better; yet he is content with such comers that see there is no other shift for them.

2. This coming to Christ imports a putting the work in his hand; “Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son: “he prays, and he brings him to Christ, at the Lord’s call. They that truly come to Christ for help, put the work in his hand, and give him employ­ment in his saving offices, looking on him as able, and willing, and ready to save: the disease is half cured when it is laid at Christ’s feet. Happy they that come thus to him, and entrust him with their souls, and trust him with their cases: “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him, and he will bring it to pass,” (Ps. 37:5).

II. The second head proposed was, To enquire in what respects may matters grow worse with people, even when they are thus coming to Christ. Here two things are recorded; 1. Satan’s assault, “The devil threw him down.” 2. How he used him, “And he tare him.”

1. They who come to Christ, before they get the deliverance which is insured to them, they may meet with down-casting provi­dences; “The devil threw him down.” They may be cast down with discouragement and despondency for a while; cast down with fears and doubts; cast down with jealous apprehensions and unbe­lieving thoughts. Believing souls, after their coming to Christ, much more as they are coming at first, may be greatly cast down; “O my God, my soul is cast down within me,” (Ps. 42:6). They may be cast down with a multitude of perplexing thoughts, despair­ing thoughts, and manifold objections and scruples, their mind raises or rather unbelief frames within them.

2. They may not only be thrown down, but torn by the way “The devil threw him down, and tare him.” Whenever a man begins to come to Christ, and the devil begins to fear he shall lose his possession, then he rages against that man, and would tear him to pieces. Therefore think not strange, that beginners in religion, and such as are coming, or but lately come to Christ, or even these who have come formerly, and are coming again to him, may be mightily assaulted and attacked by all the powers of hell. So long as people remain at a distance from Christ, the devil does not meddle with them; “He keeps the house, and the goods are at peace;” but in coming to Christ they may lay their account to be torn by torments, torn by terrors, and blasphemous suggestions: they may lay their account with fiery darts. When we expect the Lord is about to re­move one burden, he may lay on another, that he may have the more mercy on us.

The next thing proposed was, to enquire into the reasons whence it is that people, who coming to Christ for help, and whom he undertakes to help, may find their distress grow before their deli­verance come. Whatever malicious hand the devil hath in this matter, God hath a holy hand in permitting it.

1. God’s design in it is to show his wisdom and power.

(1.) It is to manifest his wisdom: how he can advance his work, by the stops in the way of it; and enrich his people, by im­poverishing them; enlarge them, by imprisoning them; and give them meat out of the eater, and sweat out of the strong.

(2.) It is to evince his power: how he can support them under, and deliver them from their distresses, which would not appear so much, if their distress came not to a height. He suffers them to be dejected and torn, that his wisdom and power may appear the more evidently, in lifting them up and healing them.

2. It is to check the unbelief that attends our faith in coming to Christ. Sometimes when we commit our case to him by faith, we do not exercise this faith to a patient waiting for the Lord. Christ’s first word to his people is Come to me, (Matt. 11:28); and his last word is, Abide in me, (John 15:4). It is well done to come, but, alas! we do not abide; and therefore, to check our unbelief in coming, as it were, but one step, and going back the next step, he shows the need of going forward, by letting loose the enemy, and suffering matters to grow worse with us.

3. It is to raise the worth and esteem of his mercies in the hearts of these who come to him. We usually do not know the worth of mercy, till we are deprived of it; nor the worth of deliver­ance, till the distress be extremely great: help is then highly esteemed, when we can say, “I was brought low, and he helped me.”

4. It is to try our faith, whether or not it be such as will not only come to Christ, but also abide with him till he work the deli­verance; and if we can keep our eye upon the deliverer, when the deliverance is delayed; our eye upon the promise, when cross providences appear; and can hope against hope. He designs the trial of faith for the present, and a more glorious issue there­after.

IV. The last general head proposed was, To make some Appli­cation. Is it so, That people who come to Christ, and whom he undertakes to heal and help, may have their distress growing on their hand, before the deliverance come, which yet will certainly come? Hence we may see.

1. What a cruel enemy the devil is to immortal souls, and their eternal salvation: for, whenever the soul begins to mind reli­gion in earnest, and to come to Christ for help and deliverance, then that soul becomes the object of the devil’s spite and malice. As long as people remain graceless, and Christless, and formal, the devil will let them enjoy themselves, and hugs them asleep in their security; but as soon as they begin to come to Christ, then he will attempt to cast them down and tear them, and stirs up all his wicked instru­ments, either to discourage and ridicule them, or to tear their name and reputation to pieces, and to persecute them with tongue or hand, or to raise a hue and cry against them, as if they were turned dis­tracted, and out of their wits. As they are coming, the devil throws them down and tears them.

2. Hence see the reason of all the melancholy moods, heavy damps, and great discouragements of many beginners, that are setting on in the Lord’s way; though Wisdom’s ways be ways of pleasantness, yet Satan, who is a liar from the beginning, would make the world believe that it is a bitter and unpleasant way; and that the beginning of religion is but the beginning of sorrows.

3. Hence see the difference between the conviction of the Spirit and the temptation of Satan; and the difference between the distress of soul, that arises from a law-work before conversion, and that which arises from the assault of the enemy of our salvation; whenever conviction begins, and the soul comes to be troubled for sin, and under fear of hell and wrath, Satan indeed fishes in the muddy water, and mixes his temptations with the Spirit’s convic­tions; and if he can bring all convictions to nothing, either by force or fraud, he will do it, that the convinced soul may never come to Christ for a cure; Satan will stand at his right hand to resist him. But the difference between them is,

(1.) The convictions of the Spirit are before a man come to Christ, and tend as a severe schoolmaster, to lead him to Christ, (Gal. 3:24). But the temptations of the devil are especially when a man is coming to Christ, in order to keep him from coming. If the Spirit of God, by a law-work, seem as it were, to cast down the man, and tear him to pieces, the design is to oblige him to go to Christ for help and healing; and to provoke him to come to the Saviour, and fly to the city of refuge. But the design of the devil’s tempta­tions, when he throws down and tears the soul is, when he is coming, or as he is coming to Christ, in order to detain him from coming, or discourage him in coming.

(2.) The convictions of the Spirit are humbling, tending to make the soul despair of help in himself, or in God out of Christ. The temptations of the enemy are terrifying, tending to make the soul despair of help in Christ, or in God through him: the former shuts the door of hope by the law; but the devil would shut the door of hope by the gospel.

4. Hence see there is no ground to blame religion and religious duties, notwithstanding discouragement and down-casting trials in the way of duty: though matters grow worse with you in the way of duty, and in the way of coming to Christ, blame not yourself for coming to Christ, because the devil attacks you by the way. You have enough to charge yourself with, though you charge not your­self foolishly. It would be far worse with you, if the devil and your own wicked heart prevail to take you off from the use of pro­mising means. When, like Peter, you cast yourself upon the water to come to Christ, be not terrified, though the devil raise a storm; the Lord Jesus sits upon the floods, and, is mightier than the noise of many waters, (Ps. 93:4). Never think the worse of Christ, though matters seem to grow worse with you, when you come to him for rest, and yet find trouble: for it is the devil and the ill heart that breeds all the trouble: keep honorable thoughts of the Lord Jesus; believe he can do for you, and wait till you find that he will do. Bring wind from all cross providences to hasten you nearer to your resting place; for all that come to him shall find rest in spite of the devil; some begun rest here in time, however disturbed by the devil from time to time, and unbelief, until rest be perfected in heaven.

5. Hence see an evidence of a true believer and comer to Christ; if the devil be no enemy to your faith, you may know it is a false faith. Many have a faith that the devil is well enough pleased with; and therefore he never troubles them nor it; but if you have saving faith, it will be the eye-sore of hell; or if you be truly coming to Christ, you may expect the devil to be upon your top. No sooner doth true faith begin, but the fight of faith begins. Some may bless themselves they were never assaulted by the devil, and yet they are but sleeping as it were, in the devil’s cradle; he is rocking them. Try your faith; if it be from heaven, it will meet with opposition from hell; “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the dark­ness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” (Eph. 6:12). Therefore we are called, as part of the Christian armor, to take the shield of faith, whereby we shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked, (v. 16). The devil may let you peaceably go about duty; read, and pray, and communicate, because you may do these things carnally and formally, and go to hell when all is done; but if once you begin to come to Christ, or to go about any duty believingly, then you are on the way to heaven, and if the devil can, he will draw you back, and throw you down with dis­couragements, and tear you with temptations, either as you are coming, or after you are come. But it is always the best faith that is most opposed by the devil.

This doctrine may be applied by way of address, 1. To these who never yet came to Christ for help and salvation. 2. To these who are coming in obedience to his call.

1. To you who never yet came to Christ for help and salva­tion. Oh! stay not away from him for fear of the devil, lest he throw you down and tear you. Better be thrown down by the way in coming to Christ, than thrown down to hell, with the devil at last, by the hand of God, who will throw you and the devil down to hell, if you do not come to Christ. Better that the devil tear you to pieces, when there is a Deliverer, even Jesus, at hand to deliver you from him, than that God himself tear you to pieces, when there shall be none to deliver: “Consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver,” (Ps. 1:22). Come, otherwise you remain slaves to the devil and your lusts. O be sensible of your slavery and malady! Know none can save you but our Lord. Jesus Christ; he is a mighty Saviour, and a merciful one “No name is given under heaven, whereby a sinner can be saved, but the name of Jesus.” Put the work in his hand; put your soul in his hand. “Bring him here to me,” says Christ, to the man here. O come, and bring your children with you; hear him saying, Bring your son to me, bring your daughter to me, bring your soul and your case to me; 0 bring your disease to me, bring your hard heart to me, and I will soften it; bring your filthy heart to me, and I will cleanse it; bring your heart possessed of the devil to me, and I will cast out the devil; bring your seven devils to me, and I will cast them out.

2. We address ourselves to you who are coming in answer to his call. O be not dismayed, though the devil throw you down and tear you as you are coming! Here is a Saviour ready to lift up, whom the devil throws down: ready to heal, whom the devil tears; ready to help all that are hurt by the old serpent. It is his trade to destroy the works of the devil. You may be always sure that it is an evil spirit that is dealing with you, that would mar and hinder you in your coming to Christ; for the voice of the Spirit of God is, “Come; The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” The Spirit of God, as a Spirit of bondage, may cast down the soul before it come to Christ, and in order to its coming; but it is not the Spirit of God that casts down the coming believer; no, “We have not re­ceived the spirit of bondage again unto fear,” (Rom. 8:15). After coming to Christ, and believing in him, it is only the devil that casts down and tears you. Fear not the lion of hell: here is the Lion of the tribe of Judah to defend you; it is unbelief and depart­ing from Christ, that may bring you to the greatest danger; there­fore, “Fear not, only believe.”

This ends what was delivered on the Saturday evening. In the first edition of this discourse, we are acquainted that the author enlarged the application, in some other inferences, upon the Sabbath day; but the notes of that discourse were not written. What follows, we are told, was delivered upon the Monday after the Sacrament.

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