SERMON LXXII & LXXIII
THE POWER AND POLICY OF SATAN, BOUNDED AND BAFFLED BY
THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
The following observations and meditations were, most of them, delivered upon the Monday. And though some of the heads here seem to coincide with the former, yet the enlargements are distinct.
[The Second and Third 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.
After what I have formerly said, I propose, at present, only to do these two things.
I. To offer some observations concerning Satan and his temptations.
II. Some meditations on the whole text.
I. We are to offer some observations concerning Satan and his temptations.
Observation 1: “The tempter is Satan,” which signifies “an adversary.” His hand is like Ishmael’s against every man. O that every man’s hand were against him! His name is full of danger and terror: “We wrestle not against flesh and blood,” (Eph. 6:12). Not with Pharaoh, or Sisera, or Sennacherib; not against Goliath, or the sons of Anak; but against the devil and his angels. You have a terrible description of Goliath; of his prodigious height, with his helmet of brass, and coat of mail; but yet little David laid him at his length, and overcame him, (1 Sam. 17:4, 7). But Satan is a more terrible enemy, if you consider these following particulars.
1. His nature, as a spirit; and such a one as can see and not be seen; do hurt to others, and suffer none himself.
2. His quality; being of wonderful activity and nimbleness; able to mingle with our fancies, and delude our imaginations, and work deceitfully against the souls of men. He can actuate a body, and make it move and speak: as in the experiment of the witch of Endor, in bringing up Samuel in his mantle. By reason of this spiritual and active quality a legion of devils were in one man. Evil spirits are able to convey themselves from place to place, as nimbly as thought; and their projects are undiscovered, except by the spiritual watchman.
3. His power. Devils are called powers, (Eph. 6:12), Not infinite, but limited powers; called “The prince of the power of the air;” whose power is conceived to extend to the shaking of the earth; the swallowing up of whole cities; the disturbing the course of the clouds, in causing storms of wind, and thunder, and lightning, when permitted. We read of the strength that the possessed man had, that no man could tame him; and how he broke asunder all his chains and fetters, (Mark 5:3-4); and what power there was in one angel. The same reason is in good and bad angels, for that natural power they have, when armed with God’s command and permission. Of Satan’s power you read in the first chapter of Job, (see also 2 Kings 19:35), where you will find a hundred and fourscore and five thousand destroyed in one night, by one angel, in the camp of Assyria.
4. His subtility. His knowledge is much improved by experience: though he cannot know the thoughts of the heart, till they be formed into words or actions; nor foretell things future, except such as follow by order of nature, and such as God hath revealed to him, by using his service for the punishment of the disobedient, whom he gives over to strong delusions to believe lies, (2 Thess. 2:11). By this subtility, knowing the several tempers, complexions, and inclinations of men, and how to fit his temptations thereto; God, in his righteous judgment, suffers him to delude and infatuate many.
5. His envy and deadly hatred against mankind: hence called the accuser of the brethren, (Rev. 12:9, 10); the great dragon, the devil, the deceiver of the whole world, the roaring lion, (1 Pet. 5:8). Lightning from heaven; “I beheld Satan, as lightning, fall from heaven,” (Luke 10:18). Smoke from hell represents some of his terrible temptations; but lightning from heaven is what may be more dangerous; or, his appearance as an angel of light. The more glorious, bright, and heaven-like he appears in his attack, the more his hatred and enmity is exercised, and yet covered.
6. His numbers: his name is Legion, for he is many; and called principalities and powers, in the plural number. Here are the tempters.
Observation: “Satan is a limited enemy: ‘Behold, Satan hath desired to have you.’” For all his power and wisdom, natural and experimental, his malice and multitude; yet he is limited and under authority. His power is not absolute, but limited; his actions, not authoritative, but under command and control: he is glad to go to God by petition. Satan, pray observe it, can do nothing against men, but by God’s permission: he must first ask leave. Though he be the prince of the air, and the god of this world, (Eph. 2:2; 2 Cor. 4:4), yet he is but a tributary prince, a semi-deus, or a demigod, as the heathens called some of theirs; not the chief prince, not the great God. For as furious and fiery as he is, God hath his hook in his nose, and his bridle in his jaws, as God said of Sennacherib, (2 Kings 19:28). We have two eminent examples of this truth.
1. In the case of Job, till he had his life signed from God, he could not touch his body; nay, nor his servants, nor his camels, nor asses. See how expressly God inhibits him from touching his body: “Behold, all that he hath is in thy power, only upon himself put not forth thine hand,” (Job 1:12), and then commits his body to him, but reserves his life, “Behold, he is in thine hand, but save his life,” (Job 2:6).
2. In the gospel, where a legion of devils become suitors to Christ for leave to enter into the swine, (Luke 8:26, 33); into unclean swine, a fit habitation for unclean spirits; yet into such he dare not enter, but by leave first obtained of Christ. And are ye not better than many swine? ye, to whom Christ is offered? He cannot touch your life; no, not your skin; no, not your swine at your gate; nay, a legion of them together dare not venture without God’s warrant.
The devil may, 1. Present the object, as the fisher lays in his bait 2. He may corrupt the organ, and so deceive; as a juggler casts mists before the eyes of his spectators. 3. He may persuade, as a cunning sophist, with feigned arguments. And, 4. He may take advantage of predominant humors in the constitution, as an experienced philosopher. Further, he cannot go to anything upon us, or within us, without God’s permission, and without our free consent. For, till we open the door, he cannot enter. He may knock and entreat, and persuade and promise. The spark is his; but we are the tinder, else it could not kindle. The bait is his, but we must take it, else we cannot be taken. It is our yielding to his temptations that hides his arrows, and makes them dangerous to us; for, if we consent not, and cast not ourselves in the way of temptation, the sin is upon his score. It is only a punishment to be tempted but it is a sin to yield to the temptation. Hence,
(1.) This observation reproves many that attribute only to the devil many things whereof they are not able to give a reason, as extraordinary storms in the air, and the like, but presently forget God. Satan, no doubt, can do great and marvelous things; but shall we not remember that Satan is but a hammer in God’s hand? Whatsoever the rod be, it is the hand of God that strikes you. Satan had inflicted a heavy evil upon Job, and taken away all that he had; yet Job says, “The Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken,” (Job 1:21). He saith not, The Lord giveth, and the devil taketh away. Satan is but an instrument, chained up till God let him loose; a poor, slavish, tributary, beggarly spirit. He is but the base executioner of God’s just vengeance: and it is but our guiltiness and faithlessness that arms his malice against us.
(2.) This observation is full of comfort to poor believers in all their temptations that God hath set his bound to Satan, as well as to the sea; and can rebuke him, as he did the winds and waves, and they obeyed him. It is comfort also, that more are with us than against us; for our God is stronger than the strong man armed, “Resist the devil, and he will fly from you,” for your “God will not suffer you to be tempted above measure.” When we fight, the Lord helps; and when we conquer, he crowns.
(3.) Is it Satan’s desire to tempt us? Then let our desire prevent his desire. He desires to have you, but let it be your desire that he may not have you at his will. So Christ taught you, “Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:” or, deliver us in it. No doubt, your desire and petition will be sooner heard than Satan’s; sooner accepted than his; because yours tends to good and his to evil. Put your petition and desire in the hand of the great Saviour, who is the favorite of heaven, whom the Father heareth always, and to whom God can deny nothing. Pray continually, that God may not deliver you to the mercy of Satan, which is cruel; his tender mercies are cruelty; and his most glorious appearances are deceit and delusion. One would wonder to see Satan at his prayers. The legion of devils besought Christ; and here they desire. Think not strange that hypocrites can pray, and Pharisees make long prayers; for here is Satan praying. Yet Satan had rather pray as them: for he prays that he may make a prey of them; Satan’s aim is their end and ruin.
(4.) Is Satan desiring to have you? Alas! sirs, let this put you in mind that Christ is desiring to have you. Satan is desiring to have you, that he may destroy you; but Christ is desiring to have you, that he may save you. There are two suitors, then, about you this day that have a great desire after you. O sirs, tell me, which of them shall have you? Which of them will you yield unto? A praying devil, or a praying Jesus? The devil is praying to God that he may have you; and praying you to come to him, and serve him, as the god of this world, and offering you all worldly advantages. Christ is praying to God that he may have you; and praying you to come to him, and sending us to pray you in his stead, that you may be reconciled to God. O! come, come to Jesus; and plead upon his prayer and intercession. Then surely your desire, and not Satan’s, shall prevail; for Christ’s desire is heard of God. O! shall not his desire be heard of you? If you neglect Christ this day, you give way to the devil’s getting his desire about you. Therefore, O! come, come; come to Jesus, and you are safe, though Satan should exert his utmost to obtain you.
Observation 3: “It is the constant endeavor of Satan to way-lay the children of God, that he may spoil and rob them of their graces and comforts.” Here we may, 1. Prove the point. 2. Speak of his sifting and winnowing work. 3. Give the reasons thereof 4. Apply what may be said.
[1.] For proof hereof, see 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour.” The devil is not idle, but walking about; not harmless, but as a roaring lion: not blind, but seeking; not to do good, but to devour. Hence Paul gives warning to be armed, and equipped with the whole armor of God, (Eph. 6:11, 18). Satan is an assiduous enemy, (Job 1:7; 2:5), still going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it, seeking whom he may devour; as the great red dragon stood before the woman, to devour her child as soon as it was born, (Rev. 12:4). There is not a child of the church of Zion, but Satan is ready, if he can, to strangle it in the birth, or smother it in the cradle, as the Egyptians did the Israelites’ children, and as Herod did the innocents in Bethlehem; especially if it be a male child, (as Rev. 12:5), of greater gifts, or place, or hopes. He goes up and down like a pack-horse in a market: and if he can spy an opportunity he will be making his assaults. A cheerful spirit, he will tempt to presumption; a sad dejected spirit to despair; young men to lust, and old men to covetousness. He has a bait for every fish, as a highway thief has his faces all to deceive.
[2.] I come next to speak of his sifting and winnowing work. He seems to sift as wheat. It is a phrase borrowed from husbandmen, that sift their corn to separate the wheat from the chaff, or the flour from the bran: and, applied to a spiritual sense, God is said sometimes to sift his people; “For lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations like as corn is sifted in a sieve; yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth,” (Amos 9:9). And here Satan would be sifting the apostles; but with a vast difference: for God’s end is to take away the dross, the husks, and leave the corn; but Satan’s end is to take away the flour, and leave but the bran. God would purify his people, but Satan would poison and corrupt them.
Now, in sifting there are four things: elevation, agitation, separation, and dejection. So there is a fit resemblance herein to Satan’s temptations.
1. In sifting there is elevation, or lifting up. So in temptation there is an uplifting by pride of graces and excellencies. Paul was in danger to be puffed up through abundance of revelations. As the eagle carries up the shell high to throw it down upon some rock, so Satan, when he puffs men up to a conceit of their own goodness, he intends their ruin, and, by flattering them, to tickle them to death.
2. In sifting there is agitation, or shaking the corn together. This shaking of God’s people is usually done by threatenings, stripes, imprisonments and persecutions, to vex, and trouble, and dishearten them, as we see clear from Acts 12:1-24. So, the Holy Ghost told Paul, that in every city bonds and afflictions did abide him, and he must abide them, (Acts 20:23).
3. In winnowing there is separation or scattering. This way Satan attempts, by dividing, to rule; and so to dissolve the communion of saints; to drive them to a cave, as Elijah was left alone, and these of whom the world was not worthy: “They wandered about in sheepskins, and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and in caves of the earth,” (Heb. 11:37-38).
4. There is dejection or casting down upon the earth: as he endeavors to puff up some to pride and presumption, so to deject others to sadness and despair. He labors by any means to make men more remiss in the service of God: either by the sun or by the wind, to make the traveler lay aside his cloak; to enervate our faith; to quench our zeal; to make the anchor of our hope to fail; and some way or other to spoil us of our graces or comforts, and to rob us of our security, and rob God of his glory.
[3.] What are the reasons why Satan is allowed to sift and winnow? We shall assign the following six reasons why he does so.
1. It must be, because we must be tried. As offences must come, and there must be heresies; so, there must be temptations. A good seaman is known in a storm; a good soldier in the day of battle. The seed that is sown among stones may appear fair to the eye, till the sun rise. As fire consumes the hay, but purges the gold; so, temptation discerns the good from the bad, the sound Christian from the hypocrite, the firm from the unstable.
2. To humble us by letting us know our own strength, and how little we can do, when we are put to it. David said in his prosperity, “I shall never be moved;” but God hid his face, and he was troubled. As the kind nurse lets the forward child take a fall, to make it look to its feet, and prevent a worse danger; so, God takes away his hand, and then we fall by some temptation. But he withdraws himself to make its hold faster, and stick the closer to him.
3. To increase our faith, and patience, and zeal in praying which would all of them greatly languish without exercise; as water corrupts with standing, and clears with running.
4. To make us know the worth and excellency of grace, that it is more precious than gold that perisheth, (1 Pet. 1:7); and lets us see how rich we are. Thieves break not into barns filled with husks or snares. It is a good religion that men and devils persecute.
5. That God may be glorified in destroying the work of the devil in the issue. A greater revenue of glory redounds to the Lord, by vanquishing and dispossessing the strong man, than there would have done had he made no assaults upon them.
6. That his people may be honored: for they, by whom temptations are conquered, are sure to be crowned. God suffers his children sometimes to be tempted, knowing they shall come off with honor, and be crowned overcomers of their enemy.
[4.] For application of this point, we may observe these four things.
1. Let none please themselves with this thought, that they were never tempted or assaulted by Satan. Carnal ease is no good evidence of spiritual safety.
2. Let no poor Christian be disquieted or discouraged, because Satan is busy about them. He set upon Christ; and, “Shall not the disciple be as the Master? When the strong man armed keeps the house, all is quiet. The devil rent the child grievously, when he was going out.”
3. Let us be always in readiness, with our armor on. Let us be sober, and watchful, and vigilant, that the enemy prevail not successfully against us.
4. In sifting and winnowing times, let us look to Jesus, that our faith fail not, and so the adversary overcome us.
Observation 4: “Satan’s temptations are very subtle and delusive.” His sieve may be very narrow. His sifting and winnowing time is a time of great and strong delusion. Here I would offer some remarks concerning Satan’s delusions.
Remark 1: “That there are two extremes to be much avoided, namely, the calling the work of the Spirit of God a delusion, and the calling the delusions of Satan the work of God’s Spirit.” To call the work of God’s Spirit a delusion, and to do it knowingly, is a doing despite to the Spirit of God: and again, to call the delusions of Satan the work of God’s Spirit, is an ascribing too much to the devil; giving him the place of God.
Remark 2: “That the devil is God’s ape.” Christ was evidently demonstrated to be the true Messiah; yet he said there should be false Christs: “Take heed that no man deceive you: For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many. There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect,” (Mat. 24:4-5, 24). There are deep things of God, and also the depths of Satan, that we read of, (1 Cor. 2:14; Rev. 2:24).
Remark 3: “That the delusions of Satan are as large as the operations of the Spirit of God.” The devil hath his false apostles, his false comforters, his false light, his false assurance. He is said to fill Ananias’s heart, i.e., made his heart audacious and bold, as some explain it. He hath also his false prophecies and foretelling events. The devil told Saul what should befall him. He may know some things to come, by revelation from God, for the punishment of these that shall be seduced. Amongst the Anabaptists in Munster, when a law was made for all to bring their goods to the common stock, the maids could tell, as Peter did of Ananias, how much every man had hid at home of his goods; “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder: and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spoke unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou halt not known, and let us serve them: thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet,” (Deut. 13:1-2) &c.
Remark 4: “That Satan accommodates his temptations to the times.” The time of the Reformation was a time of the deep delusions of Satan prevailing. The Reformers were reviled, as men concerned about the letter, not the spirit of the gospel, by these that pretended to extraordinary revelations.
Hence they had bitter conflicts, not only with Papists, but with men that pretended to be more enlightened than the Reformers were, and to have high teachings of the Spirit of God, even above the scriptures. These that did adhere to the scripture, and would try the spirits and revelations by it, were called Literistas et Vocalistas, “Literists and Vocalists;” men acquainted only with the words and vowels of the scripture, having nothing of the Spirit of God. Luther was inveighed against as having published nothing but carnale evangelicum, a carnal gospel. Wherever Reformation-light broke out, there these tares came up, whereby great divisions were raised, and the Reformation was made abominable and odious to the world. Such seem to be the attempts of Satan at this day, when the standard of a testimony is lifted up for a covenanted Reformation.1 The power and policy of hell is at work to bring any such endeavor after Reformation under contempt; which, we are forewarned, Satan may get leave to do, by strong delusions and lying wonders, as in the forecited, (Deut. 13:1-3). Where a false prophet is said to give a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder is supposed to come to pass. But observe there,
1. The devil’s design, verse 2, namely, to seduce, saying, “Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them.” Thus the present temptation seems to be, let us go to some other god, or some other way of worshipping God, or some other form of church-government and discipline, than what we have known and sworn to be founded upon God’s word; let us, after vows, make inquiry, and inquire after some new god, new worship, new government of the church. Why, here is a new prophet risen, giving signs and wonders that come to pass. Here is Satan’s design. But,
2. Observe why God permits this. Why, as it may be for hardening a backsliding generation, in his righteous judgment; so for trying of his people, (vv. 3, 4), “The Lord your God proveth you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul;” whether you will cleave to him and his truth, even when truth is persecuted, reproached, and brought into discredit by Satan’s delusions. O then, sirs, with what holiness, humility, and circumspection ought the children of God to walk in such times of temptation and delusion, “That they be not soon shaken in mind, by spirit, or by word, or by letter,” as you have the expression; (2 Thess. 2:2). We are told, that, “In the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits,” (1 Tim. 4:1).
Remark 5: “That the ordinary effects of delusion are “violence and confidence.” Violent motions are ordinarily from an evil spirit, hurrying the soul beyond all due bounds and limits, effecting very sudden alterations and strong passions; whereas, the Spirit of God is more sedate and composed. It is true, the power and efficacy of the Spirit of God is sometimes demonstrated by the appearing of fiery cloven tongues, and by a mighty rushing wind; but, at another time, appearing in the form of a dove; demonstrating, that it is such a fire and power, as is consistent with the other graces of meekness and humility, and with holy fear and trembling. Confidence is also an ordinary effect of delusion; self-confidence, ostentation. The Holy Ghost descended in the shape of a dove, to show how meek and humble the operations of the Spirit are in these in whom he dwells. The deluded are usually confident, because the delusions are strong; because they come by way of judgment, for abusing former light, and not receiving the truth in the love of it. These four hundred false prophets, in Ahab’s time, are thought by the learned to have been true prophets at first, and such as were of the company and college of the other prophets; but, abusing that gift to the pleasing of men, to the seeking of themselves, and aiding and complying with the times, they were justly delivered up of God to such a false way; and they were hardened like Pharaoh; hardened of God in their deceitful way, as you see in Zedekiah’s impudence, (1 Kings 22:24), when he struck Micaiah on the cheek, saying, “Which way went the Spirit of the Lord from me, to speak unto thee?” Spiritual judgments make men secure, and full of self-flattery, and confirm them more to believe a lie.
Remark 5: “That as the spirits are to be tried by the scripture; so there are signs and marks, whereby delusions of Satan may be known, and distinguished from the saving operations of the Spirit.”
Question: When are impressions and impulses evidently delusive?
Answer: Beside what is said already, we offer you the following six particulars, for a solution of this important matter.
1. When the impression carries a man out of his sphere, and turns private persons to be public preachers, without being called of God, as was Aaron, (Heb. 5:4), in a regular way to the sacred office, and when one is persuaded to that which is good, but without a commission or warrant. Uzziah’s holding up the ark was good but he had no commission, and therefore was slain.
2. When public devotion is brought in and practiced, to the prejudice of our particular callings. God calls men to be diligent in business, as well as fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, (Rom. 12:11). But when one duty excludes another, from time to time, it is delusive work.
3. When people are persuaded to duty unseasonably and immeasurably. The righteous bringeth forth his fruit in his season, (Ps. 1:3), God hath made everything beautiful in his season. The God of order, by his Spirit, puts not a man upon irregular duties. The duty is not from the Spirit of God that is immeasurable, no more than that which is quite unseasonable. As duty misplaced differs little from sin, if it be not just turned into sin; so a man is persuaded to duty immeasurably when he is tempted to such a multitude of duties as to weary out his spirits, and exhaust them, to the ruin even of the body. But he that came to save souls came not to destroy bodies.
4. When any truth is advanced, in order to make way for error, for one truth to the prejudice of another. Devils may confess Christ and his truths, to serve a turn, (Mark 1:24, Acts 16:17). It may be to divide Christ in his offices, and to disparage some other truths. He may allow false prophets to teach some things Christ has commanded, providing men be not taught to observe all things whatsoever he has commanded, as in Matthew 28:20. The devil may possibly extol Christ, as a Prophet, in his doctrine; that he may dethrone him, as a King, in his government, for he cannot endure that Christ should reign. He may suffer the flowers of gospel doctrine to be spread, upon condition he can get the hedge of discipline and government that should be about God’s garden of flowers overthrown; with a design, that the flowers themselves may be trampled on, and ruined in the issue.
5. That which hath no will and inclination to be tried is delusive. Truth seeks the light, and is willing to be searched: “Every one that doth evil, hateth the light: neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved: but he that doth the truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God,” (John 3:20-21).
6. That which hath a native tendency to promote sin and security is delusion. If it tend to encourage sin and corruption, whether personal or public corruption; and tend to discourage reformation, personal or public reformation, then it is evidently delusion; for, that unholiness cannot be from the Holy Spirit. Thus, these endeavored to discourage Nehemiah in building the walls of Jerusalem, showed thereby what a delusive spirit they were of; “My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear,” (Neh. 6:14). That cannot be of God, which opposes the work of God, and of reformation. Again, if it tend to lead to security, it is a delusion; “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,” (Rev. 3:17). Now, they think they are rich, they want nothing: but the Spirit of God thinks otherwise, and tells them they want all things.2
Remark 7. “That God may justly let loose a spirit of error and delusion.” This he may do,
1. To punish the sin of a visible church in not receiving the truth; “And for this cause, (namely, because they received not the love of the truth, v. 10), God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie,” (2 Thess. 2:11). “My people would not hearken to my voice, and Israel would none of me: so I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust; and they walked in their own counsels,” (Ps. 81:11-12). I shall not say how far God may punish a church that are corrupt, and will have none of God’s counsel, by leaving them to their own counsels; and, when they reject a testimony for God, by allowing them to receive a lying testimony, and to believe a lie.
2. To glorify himself, and wipe off the reproach of his people, by discovering them; for, “There must [also] be heresies [among you], that they which are approved may be made manifest [among you],” (1 Cor. 11:19); that they may appear to be men of conscience.
3. That the truth may be cleared by opposition: truth still gained, never lost ground by opposition. The opposition that the Sadducees made to the doctrine of the resurrection, made Christ clear it from some Old Testament scriptures, wherein we would never otherwise have known to have sought it.
4. To purge out practical errors in his own people. When we have low thoughts of the scripture, then he lets loose Deists, that we may conceive the higher value for the word. When low thoughts of the Son of God, then he lets loose Arians to deny his divinity, that we may begin to conceive more highly of Christ. When we have low thoughts and wrong conceptions of the Spirit, in his operations, then he lets loose a delusive spirit, that we may prize and value the gracious and saving operations of the Spirit the more.
Remark 8. “That special direction is necessary in a time of error and delusion, and in a sifting and winnowing time.” For clearing this, I here offer these four things.
1. Take not truth upon trust or report, but drink it from the fountain of holy writ; otherwise we will err, not knowing the scriptures.
2. Labor to find the truth, in the good thereof, from your experience: “I will never forget thy precepts; for with them thou hast quickened me,” (Ps. 119:93). You may as well shape a coat for the moon, as fix men in divine truth, that know nothing of the sweetness and savory relish of divine truth. This, and that, and the other persuasion, is all alike to them.
3. Fortify yourselves against a time of trial: “These things have I spoken unto you, that you should not be offended: they shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth God service,” (John 16:1-2).
4. Take heed of that light which cometh in an hour of temptation; for, though it may be right, yet it needs to be well tried; because, at such a time, Satan is busy to come in with wildfire that misleads the traveler. Hence special keeping is necessary in the hour of temptation, (Rev. 3:10); for then we are apt to favor that light that leads to shun the cross, and to side with the times.
When Satan’s sieve is very small, people need a very strong faith. If there be a picture of conversion drawn by the devil, as an angel of light, how hard may it be to perceive the depths of Satan? Think not strange, though Satan should counterfeit conversion: for, I know none of the graces of God’s Spirit but he may pretend to work. And we are sure he can cite scripture, as he did to Christ himself, (Matt. 4:3-11).
Question: How shall I know a scripture given by Christ, and one given by the Devil?
Answer: I shall only here observe, that the word that the devil brings in, tends always to some wicked effect; either to make the soul secure or desperate; either to depress it too much to despair, or elevate it too much to presumption. It tends either, to disturb and discompose the soul, or else to fill it with false peace and comfort. But it may be still inquired, “What if the soul that has been seemingly or really convicted of sin, be afterward comforted by the word; how may that be known to be of God, or to be of the devil?” To which we reply: We are sure that Satan may give false comfort and joy by words of scripture. The stony-ground hearers received the word with joy, (Matt. 13:20). But consult the place, in order to find the difference between that joy and the joy of the true believer, that he gets by the word.
1. The seed is said to be received in a stony place. The heart of stone was never made a heart of flesh.
2. “They hear the word, and anon with joy receive it.” No mention is here of their receiving Christ in the word. Their sudden joy was suspicious, when let in upon a stony heart, not melted with the rising of the Sun of righteousness, in his glory, upon their souls, giving light and heat; the light of life, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the mind and understanding; giving life and heat to the heart and affections. Sudden joy, without this, is deceitful and delusive.
3. It is said, “They have no root in themselves;” no inward root. True joy is rooted in the inward knowledge of Christ, and Christ revealed in the soul. It is rooted in the faith of the Son of God, “In whom believing we rejoice.” It is rooted in Christ the true vine, and built upon the sure foundation.
4. It is said to endure but for a while; like John’s hearers, that rejoiced in his light for a while; for, “When tribulation and persecution arises, because of the word, by and by they are offended;” they turn enemies and opposites to the persecuted cause of Christ, and have no mind to suffer for any such thing.
These four things discover their joy to be false and delusive. Though it come by the word, yet, when it hath these four defects, that here the Spirit of God speaks of; then it says, that the word that gives them joy comes not right, but by some evil spirit.
II. We proposed next to offer some Meditations upon the whole text.
Meditation 1: “Our Lord Jesus Christ would not have his children discouraged, though they have a powerful and political enemy to oppose them.” For the time of Satan’s tempting is the time of Christ’s praying. Satan, as described, 1 Peter 5:8, is,
1. A lion, the strongest of all the beasts: a most powerful enemy.
2. A roaring lion. There are several roarings of the lion of hell: as, when he persuades you that you have sinned against the Holy Ghost; that you are a reprobate; that the day of grace is over; that there is no mercy for you: when he tempts you, as he did Christ, to worship himself; to kill yourself; to curse God and blaspheme. When he persuades you that duty is sin, and sin duty. However, Christ hath him in chains: He is the lion of the tribe of Judah. He hath the command of that lion in hell.
3. Satan is a spiritual restless enemy. He never sleeps: if he seems to do so, it is with open eyes: He sees us when we see not him: and being a spirit, he walketh through stone walls and iron bars; no place can resist him.
4. A cruel enemy, “Seeking whom he may devour:” a devourer; yea, “A murderer from the beginning.” Watch most earnestly, after the greatest duty, and the greatest fervency: for there may be sudden cools after the greatest heats. When the apostles told Christ that the devils were subject to them, then he took them aside to pray. If you obtain mercy, pray; and watch unto prayer.
Meditation 2: “Satan is a great adversary to all true believers.” He makes it his work to divide between the soul and God; because he knows the great love that is between God and believers, and that they have no such friends as God: therefore he would have them divided. He accuses God to them, and endeavors to fill them with hard and harsh thoughts of God. He accuses them to God; and therefore he is called the accuser of the brethren. He leaves no stone unturned to draw them from God. Hence no wonder the men of this world, who are influenced by the god of this world, set themselves with such hatred to oppose the children of God, and the cause of God, and the kingdom of Christ, and any testimony for it. That is from the enmity between the serpent and the woman’s seed.
Meditation 3: “Satan cannot so much as lift up a finger against a child of God, until he has leave asked and given.” God hath him in his chain: not only in the chain of his justice, but in the chain of his providence; that he cannot go one whit further than he gets leave. This is a part of his torment that he cannot do what he would. Hence the devil cried out, “What have we to do with thee? art thou come to torment us before the time?” (Luke 8:28). Intimating, it was a torment to them that they could keep possession of these souls no longer. This may be quieting to tempted ones, and such as are under Satan’s buffetings, that he can do no more than God lets him. He cannot put one vexatious thought into the soul, further than he gets leave; nor one blasphemous thought. God hath him in his chain; and, when he will, he will rebuke him; and, when he rebukes him, he must come off. Let this support you that commit yourselves to Jesus.
Christ hath a threefold title to dominion over devils. 1. He is their Maker. It is true, as devils, they made themselves; but, as creatures, he made them. 2. Their conqueror: He spoiled principalities and powers; he made a show of them openly; not only on the cross, but in his triumphant ascension. 3. Their Judge, (John 12:31). They are his prisoners in chains; yet not close prisoners, but like malefactors in chains, that go abroad, reserved to the judgment of the great day.
Learn, hence, to whom you owe your safety, that you are not destroyed; and to whom to fly for the time to come. To whom should you commend your soul, body, and family, morning and evening? Christ rules in the midst of his enemies, the devil, and his instruments that have the venom of the devil in their heart, and are of their Father the devil. The church and people of God, and the cause of Christ, shall be maintained and preserved though every malignant opposer were a devil. Fear not the devil; otherwise you show yourself weak in faith; you dishonor Christ; you worship the devil. Resist the devil confidently: for, in Christ, you have overcome him already. Christ’s victory was not for his own sake, but for ours. If you are believers, you are delivered already from his ruling power, though not from his tempting power.
Meditation 4: “Satan loves to be vexing these whom he cannot ruin.” He desires to sift and shake them, though he knows he cannot prevail: “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea: for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth he hath but a short time,” (Rev. 12:12). It is a great affliction to be under Satan’s temptations: they are like thorns in the flesh, very grievous. Therefore when we are freed by the Son of God, we ought to be thankful, saying, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee,” (Ps. 116:7).
Meditation 5: God does sometimes hear Satan’s desire, and he may get part of it; “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you; but I have prayed for thee.” Satan hath prayed; and it is not said, I will free you from his sifting temptations; but, “I have prayed for thee.” Thus God gave Satan leave to tempt Job.
Question: But how does God give leave to Satan to tempt his children, since he is a Father to them?
Answer: God does it in a holy way. It is no sin to be tempted, though it is a sin to yield. The evil of a temptation is from the devil and ourselves: the good of it is from God; for God doth it wisely; he knows how to deliver us out of the temptation, and how to bring good out of it.
Again, God does hereby commend himself to us in all his attributes; as, 1. In his love. Though he suffers the evil one to tempt and sift you, he shall never be able to destroy you. 2. He commends to us his truth and faithfulness. God had promised, that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent: and what he made good to Christ, he makes good to them: “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,” &c. (1 Cor. 10:13). 3. He commends his wisdom to us herein; that, notwithstanding all Satan’s temptations and devices, yet he counterplots the enemy, and comforts his people in their tribulation, (2 Cor. 1:4). In this very way that God suffers Satan to bruise our heel, he will break his head.
Again, God suffers it for the believer’s own good; that, by shaking temptations, they may be the more firmly rooted. Their faith is hereby tried.
Hence, do not suddenly entertain suspicious thoughts of God, because he suffers you to be tempted; nay, he enjoins you to count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations, James i. 2.
Meditation 6: “There is no temptation befalls the Lord’s people, that Christ does not foresee, before it come upon us.” He knows what is in our heart, and what is in the devil’s heart, before it is in act. “Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befal you in the last days,” (Gen. 49:1). If Jacob could, by the Spirit of God, tell his children what should befall them for many ages to come; then much more can Christ tell Peter beforehand what death he should die, and here also what temptation he should come under, and how far the tempter should prevail. O! He knows all your temptations, before they come. Nothing can befall you unawares. But Jesus Christ, the Captain of salvation, foresees even all the wiles of the devil, and will preserve you to his heavenly kingdom.
Meditation 7: (From Satan’s desire and getting leave to tempt.) “It is not always a sign or token of the love of God to us, to bestow upon us the things that we desire.” Satan here desires; and God gave him, so far, his desire. God may give us our desire, and give it in anger. “He gave them their desire. But, while their meat was yet in their mouths, the wrath of God came upon them,” (Ps. 78:29-31) &c. “He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul,” (Ps. 106:15). “I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust,” (Ps. 81:12). We find God gave Israel their wish, They said, “Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or, would God we had died in the wilderness!” (Num. 14:2); and God, in his judgment, takes them at their word (v. 28): “Their carcases fell there (v. 29).”
Hence God, in love to us, many times withholds from us what we would have, and what our desire goes out after, and gives us that which is better. God knows, that through the weakness of our faith, and the remainder of our corruption, we are set upon these things that would do us no good.
Meditation 8: “Though Satan may, for a time, shake us in the sieve of temptation; yet it shall not be long; it will be but like the sifting of wheat; a few shakes, and so set down again.” Though temptations be grievous, yet they shall be but for a time; and then God will rebuke the enemy: for God’s anger is but for a moment. “Fear none of these things, which thou shalt suffer: behold the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days,” (Rev. 2:10). We have it limited sometimes to two days. “After two days will he revive us,” &c. (Hos. 6:2); yea, sometimes limited to an hour, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, (Rev. 3:10):” yea, sometimes limited to a little moment, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment,” (Isa. 56:7-8) &c. So that thou Satan may have leave for a time to sift and winnow you, it shall be but for a short time: and that upon the accounts following.
1. Because of God’s love to his children: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him,” (Ps. 103:13).
2. Because while they are afflicted, he is afflicted, in all their afflictions; “In all their afflictions he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them,” (Isa. 63:9).
3. God knows how frail we are, and how weak to bear the assaults of the enemy; and therefore will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able to bear: “He knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust,” (Ps. 103:14). And “He will not contend for ever, neither be always wroth, lest the spirit should fail before him, and the souls which he hath made,” (Isa. 57:14). He knows that if the rod of affliction and temptation should remain long upon our back, we would put forth our hands to wickedness, (Ps. 125:3). God knows if the temptation should be long, we would be weary and faint; “Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, When wilt thou comfort me? (Ps. 119:82). Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble: incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call, answer me speedily,” (Ps. 102:2). This is encouragement, that though trials be heavy, they shall not be long, at least in their extremity.
4. There is a need be for these temptations for a season, (1 Pet. 1:6), that his people may be stirred up to more earnestness in seeking to God. So it is said of Christ himself, when he was in an agony, he prayed more earnestly, (Luke 22:44). So does the Psalmist, “O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee: let my prayer come before thee; incline thine ear unto my cry,” (Ps. 88:1-2). And when God’s children come and cry to him, he cannot but relieve them: as a tender parent, when he hears his child cry, he cannot but look to it, and see what it wants. Thus God, when the children of Israel cry to him; “I have surely seen the affliction of my people, which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry, by reason of their taskmasters: for I know their sorrows. And I am come down to deliver them,” (Ex. 3:7-8) &c. They have the advantage of intercessions going up to God for them.
(1.) From their fellow-brethren, pleading with God in a trying time; they cannot let God alone, and so must be heard, (Ps. 102:13-22).
(2.) From Christ, the great Intercessor with God for the tempted ones. He is always at God’s right hand pleading for them, and the Father cannot deny him; but will hear speedily.
Hence, every one of us should look after our interest in Christ that we may be among his Simons’, whom he will undertake for to God against Satan; otherwise, how shall we stand? If the Simons’ that belong to Christ may come into Satan’s sieve, what shall become of others? “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the sinner and ungodly appear?”
Hence see the duty of believing, ye that are sometimes assaulted, and perhaps grievously molested by Satan. O sirs, do not cast away your confidence. Be not cast down, as if you were now cast out of God’s favor. Though the temptation be smart, it shall not be long: “The vision is for an appointed time; and it will speak:” therefore, wait with patience. When the trial is most grievous, the deliverance is nearest. O! how short are your temptations, in regard of what Satan would have, and would be at! Also, in respect of eternity: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of Glory,” (2 Cor. 4:17).
Meditation 9: “However great and grievous Satan’s temptations may be, and however fierce his fiery darts, Christ hath placed a But against them, that they shall not prevail altogether.” The gates of hell shall not prevail against Zion: “God shall help, and that right early;” particularly,
1. When matters come to an extremity, and their strength be almost quite gone; “For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and that there is none shut up or left,” (Deut. 32:36).
2. When men and means fail, and the help of these is vain; “Give us help from trouble, for vain is the help of men,” (Ps. 116:12; see Matt. 17:16-17). He remembers us when we are brought low; “I was brought low, and he helped me,” (Ps. 116:6).
3. When the power of Satan and his instruments has so far prevailed, that now they think they are sure to overcome; then will the Lord come with deliverance! When Pharaoh and his host have Israel hemmed in between them and the Red sea, then God shows his salvation nearest, when the enemy’s hope is highest.
Hence see, this should encourage the faith of God’s children under any affliction or temptation. Though they sigh and groan at present, yet they are to live by faith on Christ: for, when we are lowest, and our strength gone, and means fail, and enemies insult, then is God’s time to help, and Christ’s time to set up his but in the way: “But I have prayed for thee.”
Meditation 10. “Our strength and comfort, in an hour of temptation, lies not in any grace already received, or in what is with us; but in what Christ hath prayed for, and is with him.” Your relief lies in what I have prayed for; and, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” The centurion said, “Lord I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof; but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed,” (Matt. 8:8): so, when we see the greatness of our own prevailing corruptions, and the smallness a our faith, yet we may take encouragement in this, that Christ hath prayed for us, That, may the believer say, he hath prayed for me, and spoke a word for me: and, if he but speak the word, I shall be healed. So, when the prophet’s servant saw a great host, the prophet forbids him to fear; for “There be more with us than against us,” (2 Kings 6:16). “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:34). So, when Moses was praying for the people of Israel, when fighting against Amalek, (Ex. 16:11-12), and when Aaron and Hur held up his hand, and he prayed then Israel prevailed. Moses, you know, was the typical mediator; and there was that force and virtue in his prayer, that, while he was praying, the Israelites prevailed: and, O how much power and efficacy is there in the prayer and intercession of Jesus Christ! One word of Christ can rebuke the devil, and command him to be gone, as “Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee to come out of him,” (Mark 19:25).
Hence see the reason we get not more power over Satan and our prevailing corruptions within us, or the devil’s temptations without us; even because we look too much to our own strength, and look too little to the strength of Christ’s prayer, and to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. We, sometimes, are ready to neglect duties and ordinances; and, at other times, rely too much on duties and ordinances, and do not live by faith upon Christ Jesus, in the use of means.
Meditation 11: “Satan cannot be more ready with his desires and designs against us, than Jesus Christ is ready in his love and mercy; and well prepared to undertake for us.” “Satan hath desired you, that he may sift you;” but instantly Christ steps in to pray for us. And there is more power and virtue in Christ’s prayer to help us, than there can be in Satan’s malice to hurt us. When the people of Israel were to go against Jericho, (Joshua 5), see how the captain of the Lord’s host stood with his drawn sword in his hand, ready to help them, (vv. 13-14). Why, his people are his covenanted ones in Christ and his by donation: they are given to him of the Father, that he should lose none of them. Again, he is their elder brother; and therefore he cannot endure to see his brethren under the power of the envious one, but will step in for their help.
Hence, our strength lies in Christ, his praying and appearing for us. So, when Joshua came to stand before God, Satan was at his right-hand: but then the Lord Jesus prays for him, and rebukes the devil, (Zech. 3:1-2). “It is Christ that died: yea rather that is risen again, and maketh intercession for us,” (Rom. 8:34). There is not one day’s temptation but we should be overcome by it, were it not that Christ upholds, as it is said, “This man shall be the peace,” (Micah 5:5). Habitual strength, will not do against the grand enemy. He was too strong for Adam in innocency; and he has manifold advantages more against us: For,
1. Our graces are very weak. Adam, in innocency when entering the lists with Satan, he had a power to have stood: and yet he was overcome.
2. We have a great deal of flesh and corruption; which Adam, in that state, had not. But the prince of this world hath enough in us to side with him. Therefore, we may easily be conquered.
3. Satan can now come within us. He hath this advantage, which he had not of Adam in innocence: therefore, he can soon overcome us, if left to ourselves.
4. The very corruption that remains within us would be too hard for our graces: and much more, when Satan joins with these corruptions to attack us. Satan is very strong, called, The strong man: and how shall we, who are such impotent creatures, deal with such a strong man! He is called the god of this world; how shall we stand before such a god, if we had not the true God upon our side, Immanuel; God with us? As Satan’s name, so his nature, shows him to be strong; he is an angel by nature. How shall we stand out against an angel of darkness, or against an angel of light? For he is both the one really, and the other seemingly.
Why then, see the need of betaking ourselves to Christ. We may be confident in him, though a legion of devils, were against us. He can discomfit them with a word, either by his own immediate word, or even by his ministerial word, in the power and strength of Jesus; for the design of the ministry of this gospel is to open men’s eyes, and to bring them from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God, (Acts 26:18). There is not one converted, but hath many devils cast out of him. So that herein lies all our strength, even in flying to Jesus, as Hezekiah did, “I am oppressed, undertake for me,” (Isa. 38:14). Go and plead with God in Christ’s name, to undertake for you. Alas! sirs, why do we prevail so little over our corruptions and temptations, but because we go not out of ourselves more into Jesus to undertake for us? If you would live by faith on Christ, you should not be so enslaved to your lusts. Give up yourselves wholly to him, and put yourselves under his shelter.
O sirs, be persuaded to set the power of Christ against the power of Satan. I will tell you the nature of the devil’s power.
1. All his power is but a derived power. It is but derived from Christ, who can soon cut him short. “Behold I have created the waster [a person who does little or nothing of value; ed.] to destroy,” (Isa. 54:16). The deceiver and deceived are his,” (Job 12:16). It may be said of the great waster of souls, and the great deceiver of souls, he would not have any power, were it not given him. Thus our Saviour speaks to Pilate, “Thou couldst have no power against me, were it not given thee of my Father:” Even so it may be said of Satan’s power.
2. As his power is a derived, so it is a conquered power. It is already conquered by Christ, who hath judged the prince of this world.
3. As it is a derived and conquered, so it is a limited power, (Job 38:8, 11). It is a limited power in a double sense:
(1.) It is limited in regard [that] he hath not the power he would gladly have: he would willingly know what is in our heart; he hath a good guess at what is there; but he cannot search the heart; that is God’s prerogative. He would incline not only to tempt us, but he would also have power to force us to sin; but this he hath not: he hath a tempting, but not a compelling power. He desires Christ to cast himself down, but he had no power to cast him down. So, he desires us to cast ourselves down into the mire of sin; but he hath no power, to force us thereto.
(2.) It is limited in regard [that] he cannot use the power he hath, any further than Christ will suffer him.
4. His power is a subservient power. It is such a power as Christ Jesus will serve himself in; for Christ will turn Satan’s power to God’s glory. So, when the incestuous person was to be given up to Satan, it was but for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus, (1 Cor. 5:5). Therefore, considering what a feeble and tributary power that of Satan is, we need not fear him. Why, consider the power of Christ: He is the power of God; and his power is almighty power, engaged for us. We have then no cause to fear the power of Satan, if we will, by faith, depend upon the power of Christ; and, for your help herein, consider these four things.
1. Ordinarily all our trouble arises from questioning the power of Christ; “The people among whom I am, are six hundred thousand footmen, and thou host said I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month,” (Num. 11:21). A probable like promise, might he say. Thus Martha and Mary, this was what they stumbled at,” If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died,” (John 11:32). As if Jesus had not been as able to raise him when dead, as to heal him while alive. Though you think many times you do not doubt so much of his power, as of his willingness; yet the truth is, this is the great hindrance of our faith, our doubting, and not depending upon the power of God and of Christ, when matters come to a pinch.
(2.) The Holy Spirit of God especially calls upon us to attend upon the power of Christ; “Wherefore he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him,” (Heb. 7:25) &c. “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? This that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save,” (Isa. 63:1). “Look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else,” (Isa. 45:22).
(3.) We do not find in Scripture any heroic instance of the faith of God’s people, wherein they did not eye the power of God. This was that which supported Abraham’s faith; “He staggered not at the promise, through unbelief; but was strong in the faith, giving glory to God,” (Rom. 4:20) Why? Because “he was fully persuaded, that he who had promised, was able to perform,” (v. 21). See, in the offering of his son Isaac, what supported him: “He accounted that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead,” (Heb. 11:19).
(4.) Our Lord Jesus doth ordinarily so order matters, in his great work towards his people, that they, and all bystanders, may see that it must be the work of his own power: “We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead,” (2 Cor. 1:9); that we might see and acknowledge the mighty power of Christ; and that hereby we may be encouraged in our faith, to trust in him, though we see never so much weakness and inability in ourselves; and that we may see, if we be overcome, it is because we go not duly to Christ for strength: for, “He gives power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength,” (Isa. 40:29). In a way of coming to him, we should be able to grapple with our strongest corruptions and temptations. Let us not fear Satan, but fly to him that says, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”
Meditation 12: “That whatever grace in us Satan does most envy and invade, that grace Christ Jesus will take most care to strengthen and defend. I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.’” “For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest, by some means, the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain,” (1 Thess. 3:5). There is no grace that Satan envies and invades so much as this of faith. This, though not expressed, is naturally included in the words. Our Lord Jesus, his care is principally to fortify that part, which Satan does most violently impugn; and that is our faith. The Captain of salvation does wisely defend that fort, which is most fiercely attacked. This is Satan’s method. Thus he began with the first Adam, by the means of Eve, to make him not believe God’s threatening, (Gen. 3:4). He attempted Adam’s faith: for he had faith, whereby he believed all God’s truths, revealed or to be revealed. It is past all peradventure; there was in the disposition and preparation of his mind, a potential faith; even to believe the promise of Christ, when it should be manifested unto him; and, as all sin was wrapped up in this one of Adam’s disobedience—pride, ambition, gluttony, unthankfulness, &c.—so principally infidelity, as the inlet of all the rest. Thus he attempted David; “I said in my haste, all men are liars,” (Ps. 116:11) even the prophets of God. Why, now he saw his kingdom deferred, his enemies increased. He thought (but in his haste, not waiting God’s leisure) that all men are liars. Thus he set upon our blessed Lord Jesus, “If thou be the Son of God,” (Matt. 4:3); if thou be.
Now, Christ was tempted for our sake, that he might give us, 1. Help, in compassionating that in us, which he had felt in himself: “He suffered, being tempted, that he might be able to succour them that are tempted.” 2. Warning, to expect that the enemy will not spare the soldier that ventured on the Captain. 3. Confidence and hope, that, as he conquered him for us, so he will conquer him by us. 4. Example; that we may be informed how he will assault us, and how we must resist him. His main ordnance is planted against the bulwark of our faith; the point of his sword against the breastplate of righteousness and helmet of salvation, which is our faith and hope. This manifestly appears in all these examples wherein Satan hath prevailed over men; by the inordinate fear of the creature, to make them let go their obedience and obligation to the Creator: as in Abraham, when he told a lie. Infidelity is the true mother of base fear. Hence says Christ to his disciples, “O ye of little faith, wherefore did ye fear?” And so to the ruler of the synagogue, about the enlivening of his daughter, “Fear not, only believe.” Faith banishes fear, and makes the righteous bold as a lion; because they know whom they have believed, and that the God whom they serve is able to deliver them.
Question: Why does Satan moat fiercely assault the faith of a Christian?
Answer 1: Because there is more of the power of God laid out upon this grace, than upon anything else almost, (Eph. 1:29).
Answer 2: Satan knows that it is the Spirit of God that works this faith in us; and he therefore envies it, and opposes the work of the Spirit.
Answer 3: He knows that God is most delighted with this grace, and glorified by it; without which, it is impossible to please him; and in the exercise whereof he is still pleased.
Answer 4: Satan knows, that of all other graces, faith is the strongest to overcome him: therefore we are exhorted, “Above all, to take to us the shield of faith,” (Eph. 6:16). And it is said, “This is the victory whereby we overcome the world, even our faith,” (1 John 5:4).
On the contrary, there is no sin that does more [to] undo the soul, than unbelief. By our unbelief we blaspheme God, and make him a liar. He hath said, that he will magnify his word above all his name, (Ps. 138:2). But unbelief discredits his word. Unbelief is the greatest sin, because it is the mother of all sin: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God,” (Heb. 3:12). When once we turn from God, then we lie open to all sin. Therefore Satan, above all graces, envies our faith.
Answer 5: Faith is the most uniting grace. It unites the soul to God in Christ; whereas, unbelief divides the soul from God.
Answer 6: As faith furthers good things to us, unbelief keeps outward good things from us. So that the lord, on whose hand the king leaned, that would not believe, he had no benefit by the plenty in Samaria, (2 Kings 7:2). It was unbelief that hindered Moses from entering into the land of Canaan. Therefore Satan sets himself most against our faith. And, because Satan sets himself so much against our faith, therefore Christ doth most of all take care of our faith. All the whole word of God is written for the encouragement and strengthening of our faith: “These things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name,” (John 20:31). Hence there is no objection [that] can be made against believing in the Son of God; but there is an antidote, somewhere in Scripture, to take away these objections. And, again, we may find that these very ways that Satan takes for the weakening of our faith, our Lord Jesus Christ, by these very means, does strengthen our faith. For example, by these temptations, whereby he thinks to overcome us, by these temptations Christ strengthens our faith, (2 Cor. 12:7-9); so as we shall see one day, that we could not have been without them. Again, Satan thinks, by exposing us in the world, to hurt us; therefore Christ, by these oppositions, does us good, (1 Cor. 1:5-9).
Hence learn the excellency of faith; although it seems the poorest and weakest grace, the most beggarly of all the graces. Love brings ointment to Christ’s head and repentance tears to wash his feet; but faith gives nothing, and brings nothing to Christ; yet it is designed to a higher office than any other grace: it is the hand that receives Christ, and receives all from him. That can be said of faith that cannot be said of any other grace. Why, as it justifies, the same thing may be said of faith, and is really attributed to faith, that is attributed to Christ. It is Christ that justifieth, and Christ that saveth; yet, we are said to be justified by faith, and saved by faith; not in opposition to Christ; but to live by faith, is to live by Christ; to be saved by faith, is to be saved only by Christ. Again, in the matter of justification, faith is alone. No other grace is said to justify. Further, observe these six particulars concerning it.
1. Faith is that grace by which we have access to God. It is many times with a poor soul, as it is with a ship that is tossed in a furious tempest, and cannot descry land. Faith is like one getting upon the top of the mast, and telling that he discovers the haven. It brings Christ and the soul together.
2. As it is the grace that brings us to Christ, so it is the grace that keeps Christ and the soul together, and preserves the soul in Christ; ye are kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation.
3. Faith is the grace that presents us to God, spotless and blameless. Faith receives the righteousness wherein we appear spotless before God, saying, “In the Lord have I righteousness.”
4. Faith is the leading and commanding grace. It leads forth all the other graces that are in us. It is that holy centurion, that says to one, “Go, and he goes; to another, Come, and he comes” for the working of all the graces is according to the measure of faith.
5. Faith is the binding and uniting grace. Love also unites the soul to Christ: but, though it be an uniting grace, the union that love makes is only a moral union, as one heart in two bodies, but the union that faith makes is a mystical union, it makes us spiritually and mystically one with Christ.
6. The excellency of faith lies in this, that it is the one grace that Christ especially enquires after, “Where is your faith?” is the great question. When a storm seems to drive hope, and courage, and all away, the question is, “Where is your faith? If thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God. If thou believest; all things are possible to him that believeth.” There are two things our Lord is said to wonder at: the one is, he wondered at their unbelief: “He marvelled because of their unbelief,” (Mark 6:6). Another is, he marveled at the centurion’s faith. So that it appears, that faith is the only grace that Christ enquires after, and is careful about; therefore it must be a grace that excels all the other graces.
On the contrary, we may hence see the vileness of the sin of unbelief. As faith is the most excellent grace, so unbelief is the most abominable sin. Why,
1. Unbelief is seated in the most noble part of the soul; in the understanding, it is darkness; in the will, rebellion and opposition to God.
2. Unbelief is a seminary of all kind of evil; it lets out the heart to all manner of sin. It is the unbelieving sinner that despises heaven, and mocks at hell.
3. Unbelief is a spiritual self-murder. It is that which shuts out the soul from mercy; and that by rejecting the kindness of God, the Christ of God.
4. See what God speaks of it: “He that believeth not God, hath made him a liar,” (1 John 5:10), as if there was no notice to be given to what God speaks, no regard to what he says. Hence Christ’s greatest care is, to have unbelief dashed, and faith furthered, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not,” (Luke 22:32).
It is owing to the mediation and intercession of Christ, that the faith of disciples, though it may fearfully languish, yet it shall not utterly fail. If you be left to yourself, believer, you will fall; especially in a day of temptation, in a winnowing and sifting time, but you are to expect keeping, by the power of God, and the prayer of Christ. The prayer of Christ is not only general, for all believers, but for particular believers, “I have prayed for thee,” which is an encouragement for us to pray for ourselves, and an engagement upon us to pray for others.
Having hitherto spoken to the premonition; there is next an admonition here given to Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” On which I only offer the following meditations:
Meditation 1: “In sifting times, the faith of disciples, if it does not fail, yet it may languish so far as that they may need a new conversion.” We hear of many conversions now-a-days, and would to God they were all true, and not delusive. But here is one mark of that conversion that is but a delusion; if they are so sure about their conversion, as to think they will never need another conversion. I know no converts in scripture but needed, as well as Peter, to be converted again and again. Some have been converted an hundred times.
Meditation 2: “When disciples are a new converted, they are not converted for themselves only, and for their own good, but for the good and benefit of their brethren, and for the advantage of the church of God, to strengthen them that stand, to prevent their falling, and to restore them that are fallen already, and endeavor their recovery.” See the fruit of David’s new conversion, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee,” (Ps. 51:12-13). “Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion; build thou the walls of Jerusalem,” (Ps. 51:18). He hath a concern for the conversion of others, and for the rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Hence, that must be a wrong conversion that hath no tendency toward the public good, but a tendency to oppose a public Reformation.
We shall now close the whole with a few advices, relating to these sifting and winnowing times.
(1.) See that your faith be such a faith as Satan fights against, and Christ prays for. Saving faith is the eye-sore of hell, but under the care of heaven.
Question: How shall I know if my faith be of this sort? Try your faith by these eight following particulars:
1. Have you ever found an utter impossibility to believe; yea, the power of enmity in your heart against it? Faith is a fruit of creating power, (Eph. 1:19). And you are utter strangers to faith, if you never found a power of darkness and enmity in you, and an utter impossibility to believe. Have you ever found that you could as soon raise your body to the starry firmament, as you could raise up your soul to embrace Christ in the gospel?
2. Is it a faith of the Lord’s operation? Hath the Lord carried you forth to believe with a strong hand? Israel had all the power of Egypt to withstand them, but the Lord sent his word, and commanded deliverance. You are, by nature, in an Egypt of spiritual bondage. What hath brought you out? Surely nothing but the Lord himself: the power of God. Can you say, when you concluded that the dry bones would never live, and that you was cut off, the Lord instructed you with a strong hand, and made you to believe, “We pray always for you, that our God would fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power,” (2 Thess. 1:11).
3. Do you find the same omnipotent power necessary to draw forth every act of faith, by which at first it was wrought? As no instrument can make itself, so it cannot put itself in tune. As you could not make yourself a believer, so you cannot keep or maintain faith, without a skilful, powerful hand. It is the Lord himself that puts you in tune, otherwise you would continue at a stand forever, and be as unable to put forth any one act, as you was unable to plant faith. Hence the believer’s cry is, “Awake, O north wind, and come thou south, blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out,” (Song 4:16). “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” (Ps. 51:10).
4. Try the qualities of your faith, whether it be weak or strong. If it be real and saving, it will be the spring of spiritual motion and action; anything you enjoy of the influence of grace, you enjoy it in this way. Can you say, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life I live is by the faith of the Son of God?” True faith is the root of holiness. As the body, without breath, is dead, so is faith without works. It sets the soul upon the mortifying of every sin, and upon the performance of every duty, and the exercising of every grace, and the bearing of every cross the Lord lays upon one’s back. True faith breathes in sanctification. This is the element of every believer, whether weak or strong, insomuch that when sin and lusts prevail, or lead them into captivity, they are then out of their element.
5. Saving faith makes everything disappear but Christ, and is swallowed up wholly in Christ. Grace itself disappears; faith itself disappears, as the stars at the rising of the sun. When one comes to a court, if the king be not there, he is taken up with the view of the house, but when the king is upon the throne, then he is taken up wholly with him.
6. Saving faith is the eye-sore of hell. It is a suspicious evidence and black mark, if you enjoy your faith quietly without opposition. When the believer has escaped the enemy by regenerating grace, Satan pursues him to the very gates of heaven, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” (2 Tim. 4:7).
7. Saving faith is, notwithstanding, proven by these trials. The fire may melt down the vessel: but, while it is in the fire, our gracious Lord sits as a refiner; nothing is lost: “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that periaheth, though it be tried in the fire, might be found unto praise and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ,” (1 Pet. 1:7).
8. The man seeks to exercise faith in everything he goes about, and in every duty he performs: to read in faith, to hear in faith; for, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin:” and, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” If the believer can get faith exercised, though it were in a dungeon, he is well, it is like a palace to him: but when otherwise all is wrong.
(2.) A second advice I would give you, relating to these sifting and winnowing times is, Do not cast yourself in the way of temptations: shun all appearance of evil: and do not speak for Satan. Avoid the company of enemies and wicked men; and, “If sinners entice thee, consent thou not,” (Prov. 1:7). Yea, watch against the snares that may be in the company of the godly in winnowing times. Peter may be a snare to draw away many with the dissimulation of the time, and the temptations of the day.
(3.) Beware of being either Gallios [a Roman senator and brother of famous writer Seneca. He is best known for his impartial judgment of a legal case involving Paul the Apostle in Corinth, ed.] or Gamaliels at this day.
1. No man ought to be of Gallio’s temper that cares for none of these things that belong to the testimony of the day; as if the affairs of the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of the house of God were light matters. Satan seems, at this day, to be plotting especially against Christ’s government, as if his doctrine might be tolerate, but his government were intolerable, or a trivial and impertinent thing, that no man needs trouble his head about. Satan seems content that Christ preach, providing he do not reign and rule: knowing his doctrine will not be long uncorrupted, if his government can be overturned. Therefore, men had little need to be Gallios in this matter.
2. Men ought not to be of Gamaliel’s temper. He was a grave, learned, and peaceable man, and highly esteemed among the people; a man of great wit and good sense. However, his counsel was crafty and corrupt; he acted the politician. He laid this down for a foundation, That the work was either of God or of man: if of man, it would come to nought; if of God, it could not be overthrown. But what was the tendency of all this? Namely, to judge of religion by events: and, in the meantime, to lie by, and do nothing for the good cause, but just leave it to the providence of God. Thus many are for acting the politician, and remaining neuter, and halting between two opinions: but, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whether thou goest,” (Eccl. 9:10). Neglect not present duty.
(4.) Be watchful and armed. Let spiritual watchfulness be joined with the spiritual armor, (Eph. 6:11-18). Let a man be never so well armed, if he be asleep, his armor will do little service.
In a word, would you be safe in a day of temptation? Then endeavor, through grace, to make it sure, that you are interested in Christ’s prayers; or, that he is praying for you. Christ prays not for the world, but for these that were given him, (John 17:9). What a cordial would it be to you, could you take home to yourself what Christ here says to Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”
Question: How shall I be sure he is praying for me?
Answer: In order to have it made sure to you, consider that word of Christ’s prayer, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for all them also, that shall believe, through their word,” (John 17:20). Christ is praying for all them that do or shall believe through his word, which he calls their word: Our word, that are ministers of the gospel. What word? It is the word of reconciliation, committed to us, That God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. Dost thou believe through this word? It is the word, That Christ was made sin for you, that you might be made the righteousness of God in him. It is the word of Salvation, which is sent to you, lost sinner; Dost thou believe through this word? It is a word of remission to you, guilty sinner, saying, “I will be merciful to your unrighteousness:” Dost thou believe through this word? O come to Jesus, in the faith of this word. It is a word of liberty, for you that are captives, saying, “The Lord looseth the prisoners:” therefore, “Go forth, ye prisoners of hope,” and believe his word. It is a word of power for the weak that can do nothing, and have no might to do anything; a word, saying, “He giveth power to the faint, and to him that hath no might, he increaseth strength.” O may you believe in him, through this word. It is a word of life to the dead soul, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” O will you believe on him through this word? It is a word of help to you that say, you cannot believe, if it be not a cannot of obstinacy, but of impotency, that you would willingly be delivered from. It is a word of help, saying, “I have laid help upon One that is mighty.” O will ye have his helping hand, and believe on him through this word? This is what he calls their word: I pray for all them that shall believe through their word.” And, “Do you now believe?” Then take home with you the cordial for an hour of temptation, namely, that, though Satan should an hundred times desire to have you, that he may sift you as wheat yet Christ is saying to thee, to thee in particular, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” Therefore, though you should meet with a sifting trial or temptation, that may lay you on your back for a little; yet you shall be recovered and converted again: and, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Do all the good you can, to your friends and neighbors. Do all the service you can, in your station to immortal souls; and promoting religion and reformation, personal and national. Beware of Peter’s self-confidence, saying, “Though all men forsake thee, yet will not!” lest, before the cock crow, you deny him, and turn your back upon him and his cause. Apply to yourself the advertisement and admonition here given to Peter: “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.”
1 As a key to this, and some similar passages both in this and some subsequent sermons, it may not be improper to observe, that, without doubt, our Author here has his eye upon what was called, The extraordinary Work at Cambuslang, which first commenced, Feb. 18th, 1742, and afterwards diffused itself through several parts of the kingdom, much promoted by Mr. Whitfield’s ministrations, and perusing his Journals; and approved by many, both ministers and people, and attested by not a few, as a genuine work, and remarkable down-pouring of the Spirit of God, though alleged by others, to be a delusion of Satan; in regard it was divested of the positive and permanent evidences of a real work of conversion, held forth by the Spirit of God in the scriptures: the subjects of it being strangely agitated by strong convulsions, fearful extortions, loud out-cryings, imaginary sights, visionary representations, great swoonings, foamings, faintings, &c.; which led them off from the righteousness of Christ, without them in the word, to build upon something wrought in them as the ground of their hope; filled them with a vain apprehension that the Spirit was poured down in a remarkable manner upon the church, though going on in a deep course of defection and apostasy; breeding in them lax principles of religion, and an indifference with respect to all professions; filling them with bitterness of spirit against all who did not approve of the work, though never so eminent in piety and holiness; and begetting in them an utter aversion to our Reformation principles. The event, indeed, greatly confirmed the allegation; many of the most eminent subjects of this work, turned out to be vary naughty persons; and the work itself soon entirely evanished. (Back to reading)
2 In the above-mentioned extraordinary commotion, which took place at Cambuslang, and some other places in the west of Scotland, all the particulars now mentioned were ingredients in it. Many private persons became public exhorters, praying publicly in the midst of vast crowds of people; multitudes left off business: gave themselves wholly to these matters night and day: and could not endure to be tried. (Back to reading)