THE POWER AND POLICY OF SATAN, BOUNDED AND BAFFLED BY
THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
This subject was handled in three sermons, preached on Saturday, Sabbath, and Monday, before, in time of, and after the celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper at Stirling, June 13, 1742.
[The First Sermon on this Text]
"And the Lord said, Simon, Simon; behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." Luke 22:31-32.
The quarrel between the seed of the woman, and the seed of the serpent, is ancient, mortal, and implacable. It is almost as old as the world, (Gen. 3:15). This enmity is maintained between the church militant, and the church malignant; between the synagogue of God, and the synagogue of Satan; as between the Israelites and the Philistines. Each of these parties have their champion; as the Israelites had David, and the Philistines Goliath. Satan's armies are legions of evil spirits, and evil men, seduced by errors, deceived by false promises, and hired by the wages of unrighteousness; their general is the Devil or Satan. Christ's armies are the good angels, who encamp about them that fear God, as so many horses and chariots of fire, as Gehazi saw, when his eyes were opened; and saints, who are as an army with banners; with banners displayed, ready to fight, having put on the whole armor of God. But the great General and Captain of the host, is the Lord Jesus Christ who did encounter our grand enemy two remarkable times, once in the wilderness, and once on the cross: and both times killed him with his own weapons, once by Scripture, and once by death, as David cut off the head of Goliath with his own sword; and so, Through death, did destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and, in sign of victory, brought away the keys, "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. For evermore! (Rev. 1:18), there is our part, and our hope. He is alive for evermore, until he shall tread down Satan under our feet, (Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor. 15:24-25). Till then, we must neither look for peace nor trace, but stand upon our ground with our swords drawn, and our watch set, and our armor girt on; knowing that our cause is good, our Captain great, our conquest certain, and our crown immortal, that fadeth not away.
This enmity in Satan proceeds from malice and envy, two active and stirring principles; malice to God, and envy to men: for, not being able, with his poison, to reach God, he casts it out upon man, his image-bearer. Now, as the quarrel is old, so it is deadly. He is a murderer from the beginning; a serpent, a lion, a dragon, an enemy, an accuser, a destroyer: yea, the older the subtiler; having still the more experimental subtility. And knowing that his time is short, he rages the more; as a stone moves fastest when it comes nearest the center. He is now the old serpent, the red dragon, (Rev. 12:3), the roaring lion, (1 Pet. 5:8), "A murderer from the beginning," (John 8:44). Satan practiced his cruelty upon the first pair of men that ever were in the world, and prevailed, when Cain slew his brother; and upon the old quarrel, because Abel's works were good, and Cain's evil, (1 John 3:12). Ever since the blood of Abel, red hath been the church's color, and sanguine hath been her complexion; their constancy in suffering being an evidence of the truth they suffered for. Yet, they had not been more sorrowful than fruitful; for, the blood of the martyrs hath still been the seed of the church. From Abel's time, to this day, the serpent hath never been idle: the devil hath never been asleep; never hath he changed in his mind, abated in his malice, nor desisted in his mischief, wherein he hath prevailed upon the children of men. His method hath still been either by subtility or cruelty; sometimes as a crooked serpent, by the insinuation of error, heresy, and delusion, wherewith the church hath been dangerously infested; at other times, like a flying dragon, or a roaring lion, by the fury of threatenings and tortures, battering down and devouring with tyranny and persecution. Hard and difficult is it to tell in which of these he hath been most successful. No sooner had the church rest and peace from the bloody sword, but they fell out in factions; insomuch that the church hath grown most, when most oppressed, as Israel multiplied in their bondage. It was so from the beginning; it was so in the first and best days of the church; as a serpent he began, and he will be but the old serpent still. It was so when Christ himself was present in the army: "Simon, Simon; Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat," &c.
Thus powerful and thus malicious is our enemy; thus vigilant and thus implacable. What then shall we do? Shall we hang down our heads in despair? Or, like cowards, trust to our heels, as if they were better soldiers than our hands? No, says our Lord; as David of Goliath, "Let no man's heart fail because of him," (1 Sam. 17:32); more are with us than against us: yea, "If God be with us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31). Is the motto of the Christian warrior, Christ, the Captain of our salvation, is surely more vigilant for the safety of the church, than Satan can be for their ruin. He can break the lion's teeth, and take away the serpent's sting. His wisdom can baffle the subtility of Satan, unbottom his depths, and defeat his wiles; easily break through his forces; yea, "The God whom we serve, is able to deliver us;" for, as he hath promised, "The gates of hell shall not prevail." Neither his subtility nor cruelty shall be able to overthrow the faith of the elect, as the text assures us: "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
In the words, viewed more. generally, we have first a Premonition; and then an Admonition.
1. We have a Premonition: "Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat." And therein we may observe two things; first, the temptation, and then the success of it. In the temptation you may observe, 1. The person warning of the temptation, Christ. 2. The person tempted, Simon. 3. The quality of the temptation, a winnowing. 4. The limitation of it; it is a desiring to winnow you.
In the success of this matter, observe 1. The grace assaulted, his faith. 2. The power of this assault, tending to make faith to stagger and fail. 3. The protector in this case, Christ our defense, the seed of the woman. 4. The mean and prevalence thereof, I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.
2. The latter thing observed in the words, is the admonition here given to Peter, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
The subject being too copious for any one doctrine, we would just offer some remarks,
I. Upon the circumstances of the time and occasion wherein these words were spoke.
II. Upon the circumstances of the text.
III. Upon the warning itself
I. We are to offer some remarks upon the circumstances of the time and occasion wherein these words were spoke. Here the circumstances are to be considered, namely, 1. The time that Satan chose. 2. The occasion, Christ's suffering and passion. Hence observe,
1st, The afflictions of the godly are stumbling-blocks; so it was with the sufferings of the Head: the smiting of the Shepherd occasioned the scattering of the sheep, (Zech. 13:7). The afflictions of the godly are stumbling-blocks through Satan's policy. The cross of Christ is called a scandal. Paul's chain and bonds were matter of offence to many. But it is said of Onesiphorus, "he was not ashamed of any chain, (2 Tim. 1:16). "For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain," (Acts 28:20). But there are two ways whereby Satan makes the trials of the godly, and their afflictions, stumbling-blocks; and that,
1. By corrupting our judgments. The devil persuades men that the religion that is persecuted is not good. On this account Eliphaz was tempted to condemn Job, "Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? Or where were the righteous cut off?" (Job 4:7). When the wicked prosper, and the godly seem to perish, and be cut off in this life, it is a great temptation even to the godly: as it was to Asaph, who got not over this stumbling-block, till he went to the sanctuary, (Ps. 83:3-17). When we served the queen of heaven, we were in a better state, said the idolatrous Jews, (Jer. 44:17-19).
2. By stirring up base affections, self-love, and selfish inclinations: base fears. The Israelites were valiant till they arrived at the Red Sea: and till they heard of the Anakims. Set down therefore, what religion will cost you. Expect not to go to heaven in a chariot. Lay your account with the worst. Choose with Moses, to suffer affliction. Mortify your base affections, and get on a resolution to suffer. No fearful soldier should go to war. Love of God and the world cannot stand together.
2ndly, Observe from the time, that Satan is wary and watchful in taking opportunity to tempt: "The devil walketh about like a roaring lion," (1 Pet. 5:8). "He goes to and fro in the earth, and walketh up and down in it," (Job 1:7). We read how the whole armor of God is to be put on, to note, or point out to us, the vigilance of the enemy, his sleights and ambushes, snares and gins (Eph. 6). We have a remarkable instance of the cunning and subtilty of Satan, in the first temptation, when he assaulted Eve. 1. He tempts the weaker vessel. 2. When she was alone. 3. By a subtle lie: "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of the tree?" intermixed with some truth, to make the lie the more taking, "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil;" a truth, but the dreadfulness of it covered; for they were to be indeed as devils, knowing good and evil to their fearful experience. 4. By a solemn attesting God himself to confirm this truth; for "God knows, says he, that your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods." Where [we] learn that Satan's strongest attacks to delude are in God's name. If he did not father his lies, deceits, delusions upon God, they could not be so successful. Satan's slaves, and these that are tempted and deluded by him, are most ready with their solemn appeals to God, that he knows this or that to be a truth, which yet is but a lie; "God knows that you shall have your eyes opened, and be as gods, knowing good and evil." He then said, God knows you shall know; and now he is ready to suggest, saying, God knows that you do know. What if Satan, at this day, be making some to say, "God knows that now my eyes are opened; I see what I did not see. God knows that I know some good and evil that I did not know: God knows that a good work is wrought upon me; I am so sure of it, that I can attest God in the matter: I am so sure of it, that no man shall make me think otherwise. People may have confidence of this sort, and yet be under a devilish delusion. Satan teacheth them to say, God knows that my eyes are opened, and I see what I did not see, &c.
This should teach us to be wise and wary, because we are weak: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom be may devour," (1 Pet. 5:8). The devil will have some advantage, though we were never so watchful but the more watchful we are, the less he will have.
1. We are to watch and observe the time. It is like when we are weak in body and mind, distempered and discouraged, he will set upon us, and most successfully prevail against us.
2. When we are alone. Some sins are not committed but alone. The enemy sets upon his adversary alone, and too often prevails most powerfully over him.
3. When a faithful ministry is absent and forgot. Thus the Israelites turned to the golden calf in Moses' absence. In time of gospel-preaching, people do not provide for the time of temptation, but forgot the instructions they have got, and so lie open to snares.
4. When we are in evil company. Joseph in Egypt learns to swear; Peter, in the judgment-hall, to forswear. Put a coal in the fire, and it receives the color of the fire. The very sight of gaunting and yawning smites others with the same disease: a fit of laughter will provokes others to laugh; and so will the weeping and wailing of one or two set an hundred a weeping and wailing, which may be merely the fruit of a natural sympathetic temper in people. But when these take footing in places of temptation, especially spiritual and devout assaults of the enemy, the infection may prove very dangerous and dismal; and that even,
5. When we are in good company. So Peter was a temptation to Christ, and afterward to Barnabas, when carried away with the dissimulation: Aaron and Miriam were a temptation to Moses. So may good men and ministers be great temptations, through the power and policy of Satan.
6. When the occasions of sin are present, and tempting objects are in view, then we need to be most watchful and wary: "Look not on the wine when it is red, when it giveth the colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright," (Prov. 23:31). When occasions of sin are of a ruddy and beautiful color; when the cup of temptation moves itself aright; when spiritual temptations, and religious ones, have a fair and glorious-like appearance; look not then upon them; beware of them, they are like water and wind to a mill.
Again, if Satan be so wary and watchful, we need to take heed of four sins that are his opportunities; as, 1. The sin of our calling such as we are liable to therein. 2. Sins of custom that you have been long inured unto. 3. Sins of constitution; for, though all sins be like weeds in a garden, yet some are such as overtop the rest. 4. Sins that easily beset and sins that the present occurrence makes you most liable unto. So, when Christ had fasted long, then be is tempted to turn stones to bread, at the devil's motion. When people have prayed long, and not been heard, then he tempts to say, Why should we wait any longer? O sirs, look to a once tempted Jesus, who suffered being tempted that he might be able to succour them that are tempted, (Heb. 2:18).
II. We proposed next to offer some remarks upon the circumstances of the text; which are these four. 1. The person warning, namely, Christ. 2. The person warned, Simon. 3. The ingemination and doubling of the name Simon, Simon. 4. The solemnity of the warning, "Behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat," &c.
1st, The person warning, namely, Christ, here called the Lord: "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat." Here we may observe that Christ is a Lord, the Lord of lords; the Lord of hosts; Lord over heaven, earth, and hell. He hath right by nature, as God, and by donation, as Mediator, to the universal government. All the devils in hell are under his check and control, being far exalted above all principalities and powers, and head over all things to the church.
2ndly, The person warned, Simon. But, perhaps, it may be inquired, Why doth Christ address himself to Simon, when the danger was general? The word here is, "He hath desired you; but I have prayed for thee." The reason may be either from the eminency of the person, or the imminency of Peter's fall, which Christ foresaw.
1. The reason may flow from the eminency of his person; for we can allow a pre-eminency and priority of order, though not of office. To them all was committed the word of reconciliation, the administration of sacraments, and the power of the keys, as well as Peter: nor is the promise here made to him, as a promise peculiar to him, and to his successor, the bishop of Rome, as a privilege of infallibility in judgment, and indeficiency of faith; as the flatterers of the Roman faction gather from hence; but, as a stake in a hedge, well shaken and knocked, should stand the faster; so, Peter being tempted, and then converted, should strengthen others as he soon attempted, in going first in to the sepulcher, though John was first there; for, though love be nimblest, faith is boldest.
2. The reason may arise from the imminency of Peter's fall, which Christ foresaw, and gave him: a swatch of it here; but more expressly anon, (v. 34), with a Peter, "I tell thee, that the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me." Christ saw where Satan had aimed his poisoned arrow, and warned him. He saw that he lay open by his presumption, and so calls upon him as Delilah did upon Samson, but with more sincerity, "The Philistines are upon thee, Samson;" so Christ here, "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you." As fine a web as that spider, Satan, can spin, to enwrap the souls of men; the nimble eye of Christ can espy it out, and when he pleases, he can sweep it down.
If any ask, Why did he not prevent what he foresaw, and could hinder? I answer,
1. The grace of God is not debtor to any man: God cannot be unrighteous in suffering that which he is not bound or obliged to hinder.
2. God would not suffer evil in, or upon, his children, if he did not know how to bring good out of evil; yea, the greatest good out of the greatest evil. So, out of Judas' treason, in betraying Christ to death, he brought the life and comfort of all the world. God suffers temptations to take place for many good reasons, as we may see afterward; but here I shall only say, from Simon's case, "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall."
Here we may remark, That these whom God advances to the greatest excellencies, Satan assaults with the greatest violence. As the sun beats hottest upon the rising bank; so is Satan's envy leveled most against those whom God hath advanced above others, either in grace or honor. God had no sooner marked out Job for his uprightness, but Satan marked him out for envy and mischief So the king of Syria commanded his soldiers to bend all their force against the king of Israel, (1 Kings 22:31). When Joshua stood before the angel of Lord, Satan stood at his right hand to resist him, (Zech. 3:1). Our first parents escaped not long, as we see from Genesis 3:1-5. Yea, he set upon Christ himself with all his forces, (Matt. 4:3-11).
Question 1: Why does God permit this?
Answer 1: God permits it for the trial, and so for the honor of his graces in them; Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ, (1 Pet. 1:6-7). Thus he turned Satan loose upon Job. As a cutler taking a sword, and striking it against an anvil; why, he knows what metal it is made of, so God knows what metal his servants are made of, and what Satan can do, what he would do, and what he shall do. By this means, God designs the advancement of his own glory, in the victory of faith in the issue: "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown," (Jam. 1:12).
2. God's grace is increased in his children by being exercised. Temptation is a school for training up Christ's soldiers; as a sword glisters by using, which would rust in the scabbard. Exercise is good for our spiritual health; especially such as God designs for high and honorable service: he will have them will tried; as we dig low when we have a mind to build high.
Again, as God has his ends, so Satan has his. And his design is, 1. To oppose God; out of envy, hating them most whom God honors most. It is the nature of envy to aim at the fairest. 2. This is his subtilty; by a compendious way of mischief to strike at the root, and so the branches must wither; to cut off the head, and then the body must die; to poison the fountain, and then the streams must needs be deadly; to cut off the captain, and then the common soldiers must needs yield or fly. Therefore, they that are most eminent must be most fiercely assaulted.
1. Hence learn, that we should pray for all; especially for those that are in eminent stations; as all the members of the body run to the succor of the head. We must pray for them, that our petitions may prevent Satan: "Pray for us," says the apostle, and for me. We have many enemies, we that are ministers; especially if aiming at the overthrow of Satan's kingdom, and the advancement of Christ's. The devil came with open mouth against Christ: "Why dost thou trouble us before the time?" The preaching of Christ crucified, and calling men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, troubles the devil exceedingly: and, alas! how many enemies did he inflame against Christ, scribes, Pharisees, lawyers, Herodians, and the people?
2. Let men be content with a low state, if God has put them into it; for the more honor, the more danger. The chimney and the weathercock are the highest in the building; but the one most foul, the other most shaken. The foundation that lies lowest, lies surest. Let everyone be content with his own place: God knows how to dispose of us. Again,
3. Men in [an] eminent place may expect to be much assaulted. There was never any tall cedar but was well shaken, and if not well rooted, in great danger.
4. Hence see, that you should pity these whose eminent place expose them to be shaken. Peter did not well understand himself when he said, "Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I." A coward may buckle on harness, and break the air with great words; but when he comes into the midst of the enemy, then his valor is put to it; as a pilot's skill is most seen in a storm. It is easy to discourse of wars and storms, and dying for Jesus Christ; but it is another thing to meet with them."
3rdly, Another circumstance of the text is, the ingemination and doubling of the name: "Simon, Simon; behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat." This ingemination of names in scripture is usual, and useful in these three respects.
1. It expresses an ardency of love and affection; as in David to Absalom, "Absalom, Absalom! my son, my son!" And our Lord Jesus to Jerusalem, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem how oft would I have gathered thee, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not!"
3. As it points out the dearness of love, so the nearness of danger to the person beloved; so the angel to Abraham, when he had his knife drawn in his hand to kill Isaac, the angel cries out, Abraham! Abraham! His words made haste, one after another, lest they come too late to relieve Isaac, that lay trembling on his father's knife.
3. It implies the security of the person thus in danger; as if one word would not awaken him. Thus, Christ called to Saul out of heaven, "Saul! Saul! why persecuteat thou me?" (Acts 9:4). So Christ here, Simon! Simon! for any, or all of these reasons complexly viewed: for,
(1.) What greater love can be than that which is showed to the soul? And what love comparable to the love of Christ? It is love infinitely surpassing the love of Jonathan. This moves Christ to double and ingeminate his name, "Simon, Simon; behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat," &c.
(2.) What greater danger than this of Simon, running into the mouth of the roaring lion, without fear or armor? Yea, his own security had stripped him naked of his strength: therefore Christ in commiseration of him doubles his name, Simon, Simon!
(3.) Security deafens us to counsel, and hardens us to danger; and therefore there is need, sometimes, of wakening ingeminations, Simon, Simon! We need sometimes to give hasty intelligence of what danger is a coming, lest the advertisement come too late at another time.
4thly, Another circumstance of the text, that I observe is this, the solemnity of the warning, Behold, "Satan hath desired to have thee," &c. Behold is a word like a beacon fired on a hilltop, that betokens some extraordinary thing, calling men's eyes to look to it; or as a trumpet that begets silence and commands attention. Here Christ is the preacher and the crier.
Here we may remark, ministers are called watchmen; and they should watch over the souls of men. Watchmen ought neither to be blind nor dumb; and we whose office it is, should be seers, to look out; and criers, to cry out, when we espy a danger; as good shepherds do over the flock, when they espy the wolf coming, and endeavor to gather them to the fold.
It is our duty, and we must tell you, all places are full of temptations. You tread upon ice; you go among snares. Satan is laying snares for you everywhere. There is a snare in your profits, pleasures, and honors. There is a snare, and temptation in your meat, and drink, and sleep; a snare in your discourse, your communication, and company. Every night's sleep is a representation of death, and, as Satan, the prince of darkness, never sleeps, so you have need, when you sleep, to close your eyes towards heaven, and sleep every night, as Christ died, with a "Father, into thy hands I commend my Spirit." Every one of your senses is a window to let in temptation, if there be not a watch set upon them. Eve found Satan in an apple; Achan in a wedge of gold; Gehazi in two talents of gold. Yea, there is a temptation in your good works. When you hear, when you pray, take heed. Good works may be made great temptations to pride of duty; yea, good ministers may be made great temptations: as was Simon, once and again: "Blessed is the man that feareth always. Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation." You need to prepare for evils before they come; for, when they come, it will be too late to prepare. In plenty, we should think of want; in health, prepare for sickness; in a calm, prepare for a storm. But, alas! when men are most in danger, they are most presumptuous; so Jonah, in the danger of the storm, is fast asleep; and will not be wakened, unless he be called upon by name, and again called upon, with a Simon, Simon.
III. I am next to offer some remarks upon the warning itself; "Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat." On which we offer the following remarks:—
Remark 1: "There is no temptation of Satan, but our Lord is privy unto." And, 1. In regard to his omnisciency; for, "All things are naked and open unto him;" as a man anatomized, so all the depths of Satan are naked to him. His eye is like the eye of a well-drawn picture, that is in every corner of the room, and looks you straight, whatever way you view it. 2. In regard of his observing office; and he is called therefore a Shepherd, a Watchman; the Watchman of Israel, &c. This is ground of comfort to believers.
Our Lord Jesus is very observant of the devil's desires. He observes what way the devil goes; and he never goes to God, but Christ observes him. The devil goes to God sometimes to accuse the saints; Christ observes that; sometimes to seek advantage against them; Christ observes that; with many other such like designs. But why doth Christ so strictly observe Satan's designs against the saints? Why, 1. Christ is interested in his people. 2. He is our Advocate with the Father. 3. He is the friend, Satan the foe. When the devil gets leave to tempt them, yet Christ undertakes to baffle his temptations. O how great is the love of Christ to his children!
Remark 2: "The devil is an adversary, as his name Satan doth import." To whom is he an adversary? Why, he is an adversary to all the creatures of God, and man in particular, and to God's people in a special way. Why so? 1. Because of the quarrel in paradise; enmity placed between them; and a contrariety of nature. 2. Because he hates God, and consequently the image of God. How long will he be an enemy? He will remain always one. Why so? Because God ties him up: he is a chained adversary. O sirs, be apprehensive of the devil's malice and enmity. Christ requires us to love our enemies; that is, such as are curable; but devils are incurable. Oh! keep out of the devil's reach; and keep out of his ground. Watch against him, as David against Saul. Watch in prayer, in hearing. If he tempt to pride, answer him with a Scripture, such as that, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." Whatever be the temptation, repel him with a Thus saith the Lord; or, a Thus it is written. After the example of our blessed Lord, (Matt. 4:1-11).
Remark 3: "The devil assaults the best of men." What does the devil herein aim at? He aims at two things: 1. His credit: he strikes at the greatest; and if he be foiled, it is the leas discredit: if he can overcome them, it is the greater honor; if not, it is the less dishonor. 2. His advantage. By pulling down the pillars of the house, he makes all fall. Thus he pulled down Adam, and then all fell. Thus he would pull down Christ, that he might destroy all. But what doth God aim at in allowing him? Why, he likewise aims at two things: 1. His own glory; that he might be glorified. 2. That the graces of his people may be stronger. Great shaking winds make the trees take better root. Hence, want of temptation is an ill sign.
Again, The devil is most desirous to tempt the best of God's saints. Why? 1. Because the best saints may carry the richest treasures. 2. Because the devil knows that, if he can get an eminent saint down, he will be sure to get down many more with him, as Galatians 2:11-13. 3. It is the greatest disgrace to the Scripture. Hence, "Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall." A child of God may be cast down, though he shall not be cast away.
It is the devil's great and earnest desire of God that he may tempt. There are times when the devil goes to God, and seeks to have leave to tempt; as, 1. In time of carnal security. 2. In time of spiritual pride. 3. After the soul hath been sealed, and had communion with God. 4. After Christ's approbation of a soul. So, Job chapter 1:1, 8 and 9; 2:3 and 7. So, Peter in Matthew 16:17 and 23. Therefore they need to be always keeping their armor about them.
Remark 4: The devil cannot tempt the saints without God's leave and commission." This is plain, 1. From God's absolute power over all the world: hence the devils are at his beck, (Mark 9:25). 2. From God's gracious promise, setting bounds and limits to Satan's temptations: "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able, but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape," (1 Cor. 10:13).
Remark 5: "Sifting is all that the devil can do to the children of God." He may trouble and tempt, but he cannot overthrow. The devil, indeed, in his temptations aims at soul and body, and all. But it may perhaps, be inquired, Why does the devil sift and winnow them? And why can he do no more? To which we reply, 1. Because they are a people in covenant with God. 2. They are a people whom God loves; therefore the devil hates them. 3. They are set up for great designs of God in the world: This people have I formed for myself, they shall show forth my praise." 4. Because God hath given all believers to Christ, that he should secure them: He takes care that none of them be lost, (see John 6:39; 10:28; 17:12). Therefore, though the devil may cast down a child of God, yet he cannot keep them down.
Hence see the great love of God to his people. It is not because he does not love them, that they are tempted; but that he may take occasion the more to show his delight in them. See also the great care that the Lord Jesus takes of his children, that Satan cannot hurt them, but sift them.
Remark 6: "Christ's prayers are opposite to the devil's prayers." Christ prays for his people's good; but the devil for their hurt. The devil seeks that our faith may be destroyed; Christ that our faith fail not. And, though the devil's prayer should be heard sometimes, so as he may get leave to tempt and toss a child of God, yet Christ's prayer is heard always. And hence, though the devil should get the better in a cabinet, yet he shall never win the war; the victory shall be upon Christ's side; for, though Satan may seem to vanquish the saints for a while; yet, as Christ hath spoiled principalities and powers, they shall in him be victorious at last. The devil can never go to God, but Christ prevents him, and goes before him: "I have prayed for thee."
Remark 7: "Neither former sins nor future provocations can hinder Christ's prayer for his children." Peter had formerly tempted Christ; and, for the present, he is presumptuous; and, for the future, Christ foresaw how he would foreswear; yet all this does not hinder Christ's prayer for Peter; but made him pity Peter the more, and pray for him the more, instead of casting him off. O the permanency of the love of Christ!
Remark 8: "The children of God ought to make particular improvement of Christ's intercession: I have prayed for thee." It is not enough to say, Christ intercedes for his saints, his sinning saints on earth; but his sinful people, while in a sinning world, with their sinful nature cleaving to them, ought to make particular use of Christ's intercession for themselves. Christ says, it is for thee; and you may say, therefore, it is for me. O! he loved me; he laid down his life for me; he died for me; he rose for me; he ascended for me; and he liveth forever to make intercession for me.
Remark 9: "The falls of the godly are owing to the failures of faith: an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God." By unbelief, they lose sight of the Captain of their salvation; and then they are discouraged and discomfited. By faith we stand, because by Christ we stand. The many falls, at this day, amongst the saints, argue the many failures of faith. This gives a vast advantage to the enemy. Satan would not get such advantage, if we were strong in the faith giving glory to God.
Remark 10: "If any be established in the faith, and are kept from total falling; it is owing to the author and finisher of faith, Christ, who says, "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." You would loose hold of me quite, might he say, if I did not keep the grip of you. A praying Jesus, by his prayer, takes hold of God, and takes hold of your faith; and so you are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation. Pray, pray then; but rely upon Christ's prayers.