Satan is a spirit of mighty abilities; and his abilities to lay snares before us are mightily increased by that long experience of his. He has had time enough to study all those ways and methods which tend most to ensnare an undo the souls of men. He has made it his whole study, his only study, his constant study to find out strategems to entangle and over throw the souls of men. When he was but a young serpent, he did easily deceive and outwit Eve; but now he is grown that ‘old serpent’ as John says in Rev. 12; he is as old as the world and is grown very cunning in experience. – If Satan has such a world of devices to ensnare the souls of men, then, instead of wondering that so few are saved, we might well marvel that any escape the snares of this cunning fowler.
I intend to set before you some special helps against all his devices. Now, to prevent objections. I shall first lay down this proposition:
Though Satan has his devices to draw souls to sin, yet we must be careful that we do not lay all our temptations upon Satan, that we do not wrong the devil, and father upon him what is to be fathered upon our own base hearts. Man has such an evil root within him, that were there no devil to tempt him, no wicked men in the world to entice him, yet that cursed sinful nature that is in him would draw him to sin, though he knows beforehand that the wages of sin is eternal death. The whole frame of man is out of frame: the understanding is dark, the will cross, the memory slippery, the affections crooked, the conscience corrupted, the tongue poisoned, and the heart wholly evil, only evil, and continually evil. If God should chain up Satan, and give him no liberty to tempt the sons of men to vanity or folly, they would not, they could not but sin against Him by reason of that cursed nature that is in them. Satan has only a persuading sleight, not an enforcing might. He may tempt us, without ourselves he cannot conquer us. In every sin our hearts carry the greatest stroke: the fire is our wood, though it be the devil’s flame. Satan can never undo a man without himself; but a man may easily undo himself without Satan. Don’t excuse yourself by your accusing him.
Now for the helps I want to offer.
- Walk by rule. He that walks by rule walks most safely, most honorably, most sweetly. When men throw off the Word, then God throws off them and then Satan takes them by the hand and leads them into snares at his pleasure. He that thinks himself to be too good to be ruled by the Word, will be found too bad to be owned by God; and if God do not or will not own him, Satan will by his stratagems overthrow him. They that keep to the rule, shall be kept in the hour of temptation. Rev. 3:10. ‘Because thou hast kept the word of My patence. I also will keep thee in the hour of temptation.’
- Take heed of grieving the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that is best able to discover Satan’s plots against us; it is only He that can point out all his snares, and enable men to escape those pits that he has digged for their precious souls. Be sure the Spirit be not grieved by your enormities, nor by refusing the cordials He sets before you, nor by slighting and despising His gracious actings in others.
- Labor for more heavenly wisdom. Though there is no fear of knowing too much, there is much fear in practising too little. There are many knowing souls, but there are but a few wise souls. There is oftentimes a great deal of knowledge where there is but little wisdom to improve that knowledge. Ah! Souls, you have need of a great deal of heavenly wisdom to see where and how Satan lays his snares, and wisdom to find out proper remedies against his devices, and wisdom to apply those remedies seasonably, inwardly and effectually to your own heart, that so you may avoid the snares which the evil one has laid for your precious souls.
- Make present resistance against Satan’s first motions. It is safe to resist, it’s dangerous to argue. Eve argued, and fell in paradise: Job resists, and conquers upon the dunghill. He that will play with Satan’s bait, will quickly be taken with Satan’s hook. The promise of conquest is made over to resisting, not to arguing: ‘Resist the devil, and he will fly from you,’ James 4:7. Ah, souls! were you better at resisting than at disputing, your temptations would be fewer.
- Labor to be filled with the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord is a Spirit of light and power; and what can a soul do without light and power against spiritual wickedness in high places? Eph. 4:12. That is a sweet word of the apostle. ‘Be filled with the Spirit,’ Eph. 5:18: i.e., labor for abundance of the Spirit. He that thinks he has enough of the Holy Spirit, will quickly find himself vanquished by the evil spirit. Satan has his snares to take you in prosperity and adversity, in health and sickness, in strength and weakness, when you are alone and when you are in company, when you come on to spiritual duties and when you come off from spiritual duties; and if you are not filled with the Spirit, Satan will be too hard and too crafty for you, and will frequently and easily take you in his snares, and make a prey of you in spite of your hopes. Therefore, labor more to have your hearts filled with the Spirit than to have your heads filled with notions, or your shops with wares, or your chests with silver, or your bags with gold; so shall you escape the snares of this fowler and triumph over all his plots.
- Keep humble. A humble heart will rather lie in the dust than rise by wickedness, and sooner part with all for the peace of a good conscience. Humility keeps the soul free from many darts of Satan’s casting, and snares of his spreading; as the low shrubs are free from many violent gusts and blasts of wind which shake and rend the taller trees. The devil has least power to fasten a temptation on him that is most humble. He that has a gracious measure of humility, is neither affected with Satan’s proffers, nor terrified with his threatenings. It is reported of Satan that he should say thus of a humble man: You do always overcome me; when I would exalt and promote you, you keep yourself in humility; and when I would throw you down, you lift up yourself in assurance of faith.
God has said that ‘He will teach the humble’, that ‘He will dwell with the humble’, and that ‘He will fill and satisfy the humble’. And if the teachings of God, the pourings-in of God willnot keep the soul from falling into Satn’s snares, I do not know what will. And therefore as you would, be happy in resisting Satan and all his snares, keep humble; I say again, keep humble.
- Keep a strong, close and constant watch, I Thes. 5:6. A secure soul is already an ensnared soul. That soul that will not watch against temptations, will certainly fall before the power of temptations. Satan works most strongly on the fancy when the soul is drowsy. The soul’s security is Satan’s opportunity to fall upon the soul and to spoil it, as Joshua did the men of Ai. The best way to be safe and secure from all Satan’s assaults is, with Nehemiah and the Jews, to watch and pray, and pray and watch. By this means they became too hard for their enemies, and the work of the Lord did prosper sweetly in their hands. Remember how Christ chided His sluggish disciples, ‘What! could ye not watch with Me one hour?’ what, cannot you watch with Me, how will you then die with Me? – Satan always keeps a crafty and malicious watch. ‘seeking whom he may devour’. Shall Satan keep a crafty watch, and shall not Christians keep a holy, spiritual watch?
- Engage not against Satan in your own strength. but be every day drawing new strength from the Lord Jesus. Undoubtedly, that soul that engages against any old or new temptation without new strength, new influences from on high, will fall before the power of the temptation. You may see this in Peter; he rested upon some old received strength. -‘Though all men should deny Thee, yet will not I.’ and therefore he falls sadly before a new temptation, denying Christ thrice, that had thrice appeared gloriously to him. Ah, souls! remember this, that your strength to stand and overcome must not be expected from grace received, but from the renewed influences of heaven. You must lean more upon Christ than upon your duties; you must lean more upon Christ than upon your experience; you must lean more upon Christ than upon your graces, or else Satan will carry you into captivity.
- Be much in prayer. Prayer is a shelter to the soul, a sacrifice to God and a scourge to the devil. There is nothing that renders plots fruitless like prayer; hence says Chnst, ‘Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation.’ Ah, souls! take words to yourselves and tell God that Satan has spread his snares in all places and in all companies; tell God that he digs keep and that he has plot upon plot, and device upon device, and all to undo you; tell God that you have neither skill nor power to escape his snares; tell God that it is a work too hard for any created being to work your deliverance, unless He put under His own everlasting arms; tell God how His honor is engaged to stand by you, and to bring you off, that you be no ruined by Satan’s plots; tell God how the wicked would triumph if you should fall in his snares; tell God if He will make it His honor te save you from falling into Satan’s snares, you will make it your glory to speak of His goodness and to live out His kindness.
Many a man by a common hand of providence escapes many a snare that man has laid for him, but yet escapes not the snares that Satan has laid for him. Many men are lifted up above the snares of men by a common hand of providence, that are left to fall into the snares of the devil by a hand of justice. – Deliverance from Satan’s snares does carry with it the clearest evidence of the soul and heart of God to be towards us, Ps. 140.141.
This world, this wilderness, is full of snares; all employments are full of snares, and all enjoyments are full of snares. In civil things, Satan has his snares to entrap us; and in all spiritual things he has his snares to catch us. Satan, who acts by an untired power, and who will never let the saints rest till they are taken up to an everlasting rest in the bosom of Christ, Satan is so powerful and subtle that he will often make the greatest and dearest mercies to become our greatest snares.
How should the consideration of these things make your soul say with the Church, ‘Make haste, my Beloved, and be like a roe or a young hart upon the mountain of spices,’ and to love, and look, and long for the coming of Christ. Till you are taken up in the bosom of Christ, your comforts will not be full, pure, and constant; till then Satan will still be thumping on you and spreading snares to entangle you; therefore you should always be crying out with the Church, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’