« ÎnapoiContinuă »
tions therein, is a sufficient ground for them to conclude, that they are in a state of grace; and if they resolve to go on in this way, he puts them upon depending and relying on their own righteousness, and expecting to be justified thereby, without seeing a necessity of laying hold on what Christ has done and suffered, in order to the removing the guilt of sin; and, so long as they continue in this way, they shall meet with no disturbance from Satan, this not being the method which God has prescribed for our attaining justification, or that peace which flows from it.
[3.] He puts them upon making vows and resolutions in their own strength, that they will perform several religious duties with the greatest exactness, and abstain from those sins which he is sensible they will commit, if not prevented by the grace of God, that so, by too great confidence in their own strength, they may provoke him to leave them to themselves; and, as the consequence thereof, they soon break their resolutions, and bring themselves under greater perplexities than they were in before: And, then to make them easy, he endeavours to persuade them, that God does not require them to lead so strict a life as they seemed determined to do, but has allowed them some innocent liberties, as he calls them, in giving way to those sins which their condition in life renders necessary; and, as he had before tempted them to rely on their own strength, now he tempts them to carnal security, and a slothful, stupid frame of spirit, whereby they will be rendered more receptive of those temptations he has to offer, to turn them aside from that strictness in religion, which they before resolved to maintain.
[4.] Satan dazzles their eyes with the glittering vanities of this world, that he might divert their minds from serious thoughts about, or any concern for a better; and if their secular callings are attended with some incumbrances, through the multiplicity of business, or the constant care they are obliged to take to live in the world; then he alleges the inconsistency hereof, with their giving way to those convictions of sin which will be an hindrance to the necessary business of life. Thus concerning the method which Satan uses to prevent conviction of sin, or to hinder the efficacy thereof: But inasmuch as this does not always take effect; especially when convictions make a deep impression upon us. We proceed to consider,
3. Those methods that are used by Satan, to hinder persons from closing with Christ, and believing in him. And this he does,
1st, By endeavouring to keep them in ignorance of the great doctrines of the gospel; and, as the consequence thereof, turn
ing them aside to embrace those errors, which are inconsistent with faith in Christ; and in order thereto, he suggests, that it does not belong to them, to press after the knowledge of the sense of scripture, but to persons of learning, or those who are called to preach or defend the truth; and that it is enough for them to have some general notions of the doctrines of religion, whereby they may be induced to practise those moral virtues which their station in life engages them to, and to leave the more abstruse parts thereof, to those whose inclination leads them thereunto.
Moreover, he improves the different sentiments of men about the doctrines of the gospel, to answer this end, and infers from thence, that since one asserts one thing for truth, and another the contrary, that therefore there is nothing certain in religion; so that they are safest who keep clear of all these controverted matters; and among them he includes the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ. This method of temptation leads men to scepticism, and, if complied with, is inconsistent with faith in Christ; and the consequence hereof is, their imbibing those doctrines that tend to sap the very foundation of revealed religion. And if they pretend to adhere to any scheme of doctrine, it is generally such an one, as has a tendency to strike at the divinity and glory of Christ, the necessity of his satisfaction, or of our justification, by his imputed righteousness, or denying the divinity of the Holy Ghost, and the need we have of his powerful operations in the work of regeneration, conversion, and sanctification. These are the doctrines on which our faith is built; therefore, to deny them, is not only inconsistent with our closing with Christ, as being the result of the alienation of our minds froin God; but it is agreeable to the working of Satan in the children of disobedience, whereby he answers his character, as a deceiver, as well as a tempter.
2dly, Satan endeavours to hinder men from believing in Christ, by persuading them to hope for salvation from the mercy of God, without any regard to the display of this attribute in Christ, as our Mediator, or faith in him, without which we have no ground to conclude, that we shall obtain mercy from him: Or, since faith is necessary to salvation, he persuades them to take up with such a kind of faith as consists only in a general assent to some things contained in scripture, without the exercise of other graces that are inseparably connected with, and flow from it; and if they have no other notion of saving faith than this, it is no wonder that Satan, by his false reasoning, carries on the temptation yet farther, and persuades them, that this is in their own power, and that it is an easy matter to believe, which is a certain indication that they are destitute of saving faith. Thus we have considered Satan as
endeavouring to strengthen the habits of sin, hinder the work, of conviction, or prevent its taking effect; and using methods to keep those who are under convictions, from closing with Christ by faith. We now proceed to consider,
4. His injecting atheistical and blasphemous thoughts into the minds of men, and using his utmost endeavours to despair.
(1.) He sometimes injects atheistical and blasphemous thoughts into the minds of men. His nature inclines him to hate and oppose God; and his malice breaks forth in tempting men to blaspheme his perfections: Thus some are represented as opening their mouths in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven, Rev. xiii. 6. which they do by the instigation of Satan: However, there is a vast difference between those blasphemous thoughts, which are injected into the minds of wicked men, and those which are oftentimes complained of by the believer. In the former, the Devil enstamps his own image upon them, and they are like a spark falling into combustible matter, which immediately sets it on fire: The latter is like a flash of fire that lights upon water, without doing any execution. We read of some who are entirely under his dominion, who blaspheme the God of heaven, because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds, chap. xvi. 11. But there are others into whom he injects such-like thoughts, which are a grief and burden to them. Some are tempted to deny the being or providence of God; and others to have unworthy and injurious thoughts of the divine perfections; which cannot be reckoned any other than blasphemy, and, so far as they proceed from us, bring with them a very great degree of guilt. That believers themselves have been sometimes guilty hereof, appears from what the Psalmist utters in words, when he says, Is his mercy clean gone for ever? Hath God forgotten to be gracious, Psal. lxxvii. 8, 9. And, indeed, it is no uncommon thing for believers to complain of their having such injurious and unworthy thoughts of the divine perfections, that they dare not utter in words; which fills them with the greatest uneasiness; Therefore it is necessary for us to enquire, when these blasphemous suggestions take their rise from ourselves, and when from Satan?
It is certain, that sometimes they proceed from ourselves: Thus our Saviour says, Out of the heart proceed blasphemies that defile a man, Matt. xv. 19. and we have reason to charge ourselves therewith, when they arise from, or are accompanied with other presumptuous sins; or when we do not strive against, but rather give way to them, and other suggestions S M
of Satan, which tends to God's dishonour, grieves the Holy Spirit, and defiles our own consciences.
But, on the other hand, we may humbly hope and trust, that they are rather to be charged on Satan than ourselves, when they are the result of some bodily distemper, as in those that are under the prevailing power of melancholy, in whom it may be observed, that when by the use of natural means, the distemper is abated, and the constitution mended, these blasphemous suggestions cease. Moreover, when our souls tremble at the temptation, and oppose it with the utmost abhorrence, as our Saviour did, when the Devil tempted him to fall down and worship him; to whom he immediately replies, Get thee hence, Satan, chap. iv. 9, 10. Again, when we confess, and can appeal to the heart-searching God, that we are so far from having any inclination to comply with the suggestion, that nothing is more grievous to us, than to be assaulted with it and especially when we take occasion from hence, to exercise that reverential fear of the divine Majesty, that is opposite there
(2.) As Satan gives disturbance by blasphemous suggestions, so he uses endeavours to drive persons to despair. We observed, under a foregoing head, that so long as he can persuade any one to take up with a false peace, and fancy himself secure though going on in a course of rebellion against God, he gives him but little uneasiness, endeavouring rather to increase his stupidity, than awaken his fears. Before this, he attempted to bring ruin upon him, by suggesting those temptations that led to presumption, and pretended to him, that all things were well, when the ground was sinking under him, and his hope built on a sandy foundation: But, when the frame of his spirit is somewhat altered, and he is brought to a sense of his miserable condition; so that none of those stupifying medicines that have been used, will heal the wound; then Satan endeavours to persuade him, that his condition is hopeless, or that there is no help for him in God. This temptation believers, as well as the unregenerate, are sometimes liable to; of which, we have many instances in scripture, besides those that are matter of daily experience. But it may be observed, that there is this difference between the one and the other, in that we scarce ever read of a believer's despair; but we have, at the same time, something added, which either argues his faith in God, or, that there was a mixture of hope, which was like a beam of light shining in darkness: Thus the Psalmist, in Psal. lxxxviii. expresses himself like one in the depths of despair; yet it may be observed, that he addresses himself to God, in ver. 1. as the Lord God of his salvation. And when the church is represented in Lam. iii. 18. as
saying, My hope is perished from the Lord; it is considered afterwards as encouraging itself in him, as in ver. 24. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul, therefore will I hope in him; and, in ver. 31. For the Lord will not cast off for ever. But when unbelievers are tempted to despair, it is attended with an obs stinate resolution to go on in a course of sin, and a total withdrawing themselves from the ordinances, or instituted means of grace. Thns when Cain complains that his punishment was greater than he could bear; it is said concerning him, that he went out from the presence of the Lord, Gen. iv. 13, 16. In this case despair, especially if it does not proceed from a bodily distemper, as it sometimes does, is a sad mark of a person's being under the dominion of Satan, who was before a tempter, but now proves a tormentor to him.
Here we may take occasion to consider how Satan proceeds against men in tempting them to despair.
1st. He takes the fittest opportunity, when we are most like to be overcome by his temptation; he observes our constitution when most addicted to melancholy, and therefore more easily led to despair: He also takes notice of some circumstances of providence that we are brought under, which are more than ordinarily afflictive, and tend to deject and render us more receptive of this temptation, in which he endeavours to add weight to our burden, and depress our spirits under it: He also lays hold on those times, more especially when we are under divine desertion; and, as the consequence hereof, our faith is weak, and very much indisposed to seek help from God. Moreo ver, he often takes occasion, from some great fall and miscarriage which we have been guilty of, whereby we have grieved the Holy Spirit, and wounded our own consciences, to aggra vate our crime, so far that from hence we may conclude our state to be altogether hopeless.
2dly, He endeavours to stop all the springs of comfort, that might fortify us against, or afford us any relief under this temptation; and accordingly he turns our thoughts from the promises of the covenant of grace, and persuades the soul to conclude that they are not made to himself; therefore he ought not to apply them to himself for his comfort; and to determine peremptorily against himself, that he is not elected to salvation; not from any marks of reprobation that he finds in himself, but by entering into God's secret counsels, and pretending to search the records of heaven, which he has no warrant to look into, (in which respect despair contains in it a mixture of sinful presumption,) and, at the same time, he has a secret aversion to converse with those who are able to speak a word in season to him; and if any endeavours are used to convince him that the mercy of God is infinite, his thoughts