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is called that old serpent, which deceiveth the whole world, Rev. xx. 2. and xii. 9. And elsewhere we read of the depths of Satan, chap. ii. 24. that is, his deep-laid designs, and of his wiles, Eph. vi. 11. which it is an hard matter to withstand; and he is sometimes said to be transformed into an angel of light, 2 Cor. xi. 24. when he tempts to sin, under a pretence of our bringing glory to God, as well as good to ourselves and others. And there are other methods he takes, which, though managed with equal subtilty, yet he appears, not as an angel of light, pretending to help us in the way to heaven, but as a roaring lion, rendering himself formidable, and not concealing his design to devour, or make a prey of us, and to fill us with that distress of conscience, that brings us to the very brink of despair: These, as it is probable, the apostle intends by his fiery darts, as contra-distinguished from his wiles. In the former he shews himself a tempter, in the latter, an accuser. These are the usual methods which he takes in managing his temptations and we shall consider them under four heads;
1. His endeavouring to produce and strengthen the habits of sin.
2. What he does to prevent conviction of sin, or to hinder the efficacy thereof.
3. His discouraging those who are under convictions from closing with Christ by faith. And,
4. His injecting blasphemous and atheistical thoughts into the minds of men, and using endeavours to drive them to despair.
1. Satan endeavours to produce and strengthen the habits of sin. These are generally attained by frequent acts, or by making a progress in sin, by which the heart is more hardened; and it is with greater difficulty that such are reclaimed from it; of them the prophet speaks, when he says, Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots; then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil, Jer. xiii. 23. And in order thereunto, we may observe that he does not usually tempt, at first, to the vilest and most notorious acts of sin, especially where he has ground to suspect that these temptations will not be readily entertained or adhered to; this is the case of those who retain some impressions of a religious education, or are, at present, under the influence of restraining grace: these are first tempted to commit lesser sins before they proceed to greater. He generally begins with tempting to sins of omission, or to formality and indifferency in the performing of religious duties, or by pretending that God gives us some indulgencies or allowance to commit those sins that our natural constitution most inclines us to, and that we have been mistaken, when we have thought that religion is so difficult a
matter as some have pretended it to be; and that we may safely follow a multitude, though it be in doing that, which is in itself sinful; and that we are not to take an estimate of religion, from the apprehensions which some melancholy persons entertain of it; and that strictness in religion, is being righteous overmuch; or striving against the stream, is a needless precaution; and therefore we may consult our own honour and reputation in the world, and give into that scheme of religion that is uppermost; and that denying ourselves, taking up the cross and folowing Christ; though it may be reckoned a safe, yet it is not the only way to heaven. By this means the habits of sin are strengthened, the heart hardened therein, and persons proceed from one degree of impiety to another, till at last, they abandon themselves to every thing that is vile and profligate, and run with others, in all excess of riot. And, that his design may be more effectually carried on, herein he suits his temptations to every age and condition of life. Here we shall consider,
(1.) The method he takes with those who are in the prime and flower of their age: Accordingly these he endeavours to persuade, that it is time enough for them to think of being religious hereafter; and that it is too austere and melancholy a thing for them to pretend to it at present, as what is inconsistent with those pleasures and youthful lusts, which are agreeable to their age and condition of life. If they are children, then he suggests to them, that they have time enough before them; and when they are more advanced in years, they will have a greater degree of understanding, and be better able to take in the force of those arguments that are usually brought to induce persons to lead a religious life; and then they may make choice of it out of judgment. If they are servants, he persuades them, that they have other business on their hands, and that they had better stay till they are free from the engagements which they are, at present, under, to their masters; and, when they are at their own disposal, then it will be the fittest time for them to embrace the ways of God. This temptation carries in it the highest instance of presumption, tends greatly to harden the heart in sin, and has been the ruin of multitudes.
(2.) When persons are come to years of maturity, being no longer children or servants, but about to engage in those secular employments, which they are called to in the world, then he has temptations of another nature to offer to them. He has hitherto kept possession of their hearts, and desired them only to wait for this age of life, and then they would have a more convenient season to lead a religious life; but this convenient season is not yet come; for there are other stratagems which he now makes use of, to keep them in subjection to him. 3 L
Youthful lusts are now grown to a greater height, and the im pressions of a religious education, if they were favoured with it, almost worn out; and it is no difficult matter for him to persuade them, that the principal thing they are to be concerned about, is their living comfortably in the world; and, tha: they have now an opportunity to increase their substance, and make provision for their future happiness therein; therefore they ought to converse with those who are in the same station of life with themselves: And he generally points out such associates, which he tempts them to make choice of, that may be a snare to them, whose conversation is very remote from any thing that tends to promote religion and godliness. Sometimes he endeavours to make them ashamed of the ways of God, as though this were inconsistent with their reputation in the world, especially with their present situation or condition therein. And, on the other hand, if persons are poor and low in the world, and find it difficult to maintain themselves or families, then he persuades them that religion is not the business which they are called to engage in, but they must rather take pains to live; that God does not require more than he gives, or expect, that they should spend a great deal of time in religious duties, who have none to spare from that business, which is necessary for their getting a livelihood in the world; therefore this does not so much belong to them, as to others.
(3.) If persons are arrived to old age, the last stage of life, and have, as it were, their latter end in view, as not being far from it, according to the course of nature; this is that age of life which was formerly pretended, by Satan, to be the most fit and proper season to entertain thoughts of religion in; and it was in expectation hereof, that, when they were formerly under any convictions, the general method they took to stifle them, was by resolving, that they would apply themselves to a religious life in old age. By this means the tempter has hitherto beguiled them; and now he has other temptations to present to them, which are suited to this age of life, whereby he insinuates, that the weakness and infirmities of old age render them unfit for religious duties. And, indeed, their hearts have contracted such a degree of hardness, by a long continuance in sin, that it is difficult for any thing to make an impression on them. However, Satan endeavours to persuade them, that, notwithstanding all the wickedness of their former life, and their present impenitency for it, they may hope for salvation from the mercy of God, though they continue still in a state of unregeneracy, which is an instance of soul-destructive presumption; or else, he tempts them utterly to despair of the mercy of God, and tells them, that it is too late for them to begin that work which they have put off to the extremity of
life; and by either of these methods he effectually brings about their ruin. Thus concerning Satan's suiting his temptations to the several ages and conditions of life.
But besides this, we may observe, that there are some methods which he takes, that are agreeable to the temper and disposition of those whom he assaults, that so he may not shoot his arrows at random, without answering the end he designs thereby; in which his subtilty farther appears; as,
[1.] He observes those proper times in tempting men to sin, wherein it is most likely that his temptations should take effect. Therefore his assaults are generally most violent, when they are least upon their guard, and give way to sloth and indolence; or when the Spirit of God withdraws his influences, as the consequence whereof, their faith is weak, and they not able to make great resistance against his temptations, he crowds in a great multitude of them at once, and so lays hold on this opportunity to improve the success which he has gained against them. And if they are afraid of the consequences of a compliance therewith, he endeavours to stupify their souls, that they may have no present apprehensions of the evil that would ensue hereupon.
[2.] He often takes occasion to raise in our minds some doubts about the matter of sin or duty, whether, what he is about to tempt us to, be lawful or unlawful; or how far a person may venture to go in the way of temptation, and yet maintain his integrity? which is generally the first step towards the commission of those sins which we are tempted to.
[3.] If shame or fear are like to hinder the success of the temptation, he undertakes to find out some method of secrecy, whereby public scandal may be avoided. Thus Joseph's mistress tempted him to sin, when Potiphar was absent, and there was none of the men of the house there within, Gen. xxxix. 11. and therefore he had no occasion to fear that his crime would be detected. And sometimes he proceeds so far, as to insinuate, that they may even hide themselves from the all-seeing eye of God, and tempts them to say, How doth God know? Can he judge through the dark cloud? Thick clouds are a covering to him, that he seeth not, and he walketh in the circuit of heaven, Job xxii. 13, 14. Thus the prophet Isaiah denounces a woe against them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us, Isa. xxix. 15. and this method seldom fails of answering his end, or prevailing against them, who are hereby induced to a sinful compliance with it.
 If conscience be awakened, and deters them from adhering to the temptation, from a sense of that guilt which they will contract thereby; Satan is sometimes content to take the
blame hereof upon himself, that they may think that they are to be excused, by reason of the violence of the temptation, which they could not well withstand.
[5.] Sometimes he persuades them to throw the blame on providence, as being the occasion of sin, or rendering it necessary or unavoidable from our condition or circumstances in the world, which is the highest injury that can be offered to the divine Majesty. Thus Adam tacitly reproaches God, when he says, The woman, whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat, Gen. iii. 12.
[6.] He often tempts men to presume on the mercy of God, hoping that though they continue in sin, they shall obtain a pardon from him. Or, since this is not to be expected with out sincere repentance, he tempts them to presume, that by the influence of the Holy Spirit, they shall have this grace hereafter, whereby their perishing in their iniquities may be prevented. Thus concerning the methods which Satan takes to produce and strengthen the habits of sin. We proceed,
2. To consider how he endeavours to prevent our being brought under conviction of sin; or, if we are convinced thereof, to hinder its making any deep or lasting impression on us; and this he does various ways,
(1.) By dissuading others, who ought to deal faithfully with us, from reproving sin committed by us. Thus Ezekiel, speaking concerning the false prophets, says, that they strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life, Ezek. xiii. 22. Sometimes he improves the consideration of our circumstances in the world, to dissuade us from reproving sin in others, especially if they are our superiors, or those whom we are dependent on, or have some expectations from, lest we should make them our enemies, and thereby lose some advantages, which we hope to receive from them. And there are others whom he does not wholly dissuade from reproving of sin; but there are some circumstances attending the reproof, or the person that gives it, that he lays hold of, which hinders it from taking effect, whereby his end is no less answered than if sin had not been reproved at all. As,
[1.] When we reprove those that are notorious offenders, and ought to be treated with a greater degree of sharpness, with too much lenity, as though it were only a sin of infirmity, by which means they are more hardened in the commission of it. This was Eli's fault in dealing with his sons, when he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people: Nay, my sons, for it is no good report that I hear; ye make the Lord's people to transgress, i Sam. ii. 23, 24. Whereas, he ought to have restrained them