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Youthful lusts are now grown to a greater height, and the impressions 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, that 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.
[4.] 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 without 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, 1 Sam. ii. 23, 24. Whereas, he ought to have restrained them
by those acts of severity, which the nature of the crime demanded.
[2.] Satan often prevents the reproof from taking effect, by inclining the reprover to use indecent behaviour in expressing the haughtiness of his temper, as though there were no respect due to superiors, as such, because they are worthy of reproof; or else by expressing a kind of hatred against the person that committed the sin; whereas, hatred ought to be principally directed against the crime itself, while we convince those whom we are reproving, that it is love to them, as well as zeal for the glory of God that moves us to do this.
[3.] Satan often hinders reproofs from taking effect, either by tempting those who give them to commit the same sin, or, at least, by persuading those against whom they are directed, that there are other sins equally great, which they are chargeable with, and therefore they ought to look to themselves, rather than take notice of what is done by others.
(2.) Satan hinders the work of conviction, by endeavouring to suppress the preaching of the word, or prevent the success thereof when preached. As to the preaching of the word, this is God's ordinary way by which he convinces of sin; and Satan sometimes stirs up those that are under his power and influence to persecute or suppress the preaching of the gospel. Thus the apostles were commanded by the Jews, not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus, Acts iv. 18. and when they refused to obey this command, they put them in prison, chap. v. 18. This method has been taken, in all ages, by Satan's instigation, with a design to hinder the spreading of Christ's interest in this world, which, by the blessing of providence, has been, notwithstanding, continued unto this day. Therefore, there are other methods which he uses to hinder the success of the word. Sometimes he does this by perverting them that preach it; so that they endeavour to corrupt the word of God, whereby the minds of men are turned away from that simplicity that is in Christ; at other times he tempts them to be very sparing in reproving sin, or to do this in a more general way, as though their only design was to let their hearers know that there are some sinners in the world, and not that they should be brought under conviction of sin themselves. This is done sometimes in compliance with the corruptions of those whom they do not care to disoblige hereby; and others shun to declare some of the most important truths of the gospel, and affect such a method of preaching as has not a tendency to bring that real advantage to the souls of men, as when it is delivered with more zeal and faithfulness.
Moreover, Satan endeavours to hinder the success of the word, by stirring up the corruptions of those that attend upon
it; for which reason he is represented, by our Saviour, in the parable of the seed which fell by the way-side, which the fowls came and devoured, as catching away the word, Matt. xiii. 4, 19. By this means they are not much affected with it, nor endeavour to retain it in their memories; and, sometimes he injects vain thoughts under the word preached. This our Saviour compares, in the parable but now mentioned, to the seed that fell among thorns; and explains it of the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choaking the word, ver. 7, 22. And sometimes he endeavours to raise prejudices in the minds of men, against what is delivered; so that the plainness of expression, when addressed to the consciences of men, in such a way, as that it has a tendency to bring them under conviction, is contemned, and called a low, mean way of address, and disliked, because it is not delivered with that elegancy of style, or ingenious turn of thought, that is adapted rather to please the ear, than affect the hearts of those that hear it. By those methods Satan endeavours to hinder persons from being brought under conviction: But if their consciences are, notwithstanding this, awakened under the word, or, by some providences which God often makes use of for that end; then there are methods of another kind, which Satan uses, to prevent convictions from making any deep or lasting impression on them. As,
[1.] By endeavouring to make the soul easy, from the consideration of the universal depravity of human nature; and accordingly he insinuates, that all have reason to accuse themselves of sins that would tend to their disquietude, if they made so narrow a search into their hearts as these do, or had such formidable thoughts of the consequences thereof as they have. Here he produces many examples of those who have been quiet and easy in their own minds, though they had as much ground to perplex and torment themselves with such-like melancholy thoughts as they have; yet they go on in a course of sin, without any checks of conscience, and, as Job speaks, spend their days in wealth, or, as it is in the margin, in mirth, and in a moment go down to the grave, Job vii. 22. being resolved to give way to nothing that shall disturb their peace, or render their lives uncomfortable.
[2.] If this stratagem will not take effect, inasmuch as they are sensible, that while they remain in an unconverted state, they can have no solid foundation for peace, then he endeavours to persuade them, that the work of conversion is over, and that conviction of sin, though destitute of faith, is true repentance, or that a partial reformation, and abstaining from some gross and scandalous sins, or engaging in the external duties of religion, especially with some degree of raised affec