It is a great part of the Christian warfare to encounter temptations. When a man truly becomes Christ’s soldier, he is armed from head to foot by Him; because, from head to foot will his enemies attack him with all sorts of weapons, to inflict all possible distress, where they cannot overwhelm with destruction. He hath, because he needs, “the whole armour of God,” that he may both stand and withstand, during the evil day of this mortal life.
O how many fiery darts are thrown, with all the vehemence of spirits, against the Christian soul! If his armour doth not sit close upon him, and if the shield of faith be not well and constantly held up to catch and repel the assault; how many sore, and almost venomous wounds, will he not endure? Nay, if the Christian think to be only upon the defence, and fight not in his turn; it will be with him, as it is in all defensive wars among men, very troublesome and very disadvantageous. He hath therefore a weapon given him, that he may attack too; and when he wields, in the strength of his Captain, “the sword of the Spirit,” which is “the word of God,” the great spiritual foe remembers the deep strokes he received by it from Christ Himself at His temptation, and shrinks away from its edge. If the Christian should be so unwise as to fight the enemy in his own might, and without this armour, he would suffer as a man must do that would encounter a whole host in array, (every individual of which is almost infinitely stronger than himself), naked, unsupported, unarmed. None know the strength of the world, the flesh, and the devil, but those who have life, and are called to oppose them; just as the force of a stream is tried by the resistance made against it. The people of Christ too often fall into an unprescribed way of fighting, through a presumption of their own conduct and power, and therefore are often brought off from the field wounded and half dead: and it is through the mercy and grace of their Lord, that they are not entirely captured and destroyed. They are usually more ready to look to their armour, and call upon their Leader, in great trials, and therefore they prevail: but when they despise the strength of a little temptation, and fight against it in their own, then it is that they are often taught their inward and natural weakness, by losing the day. In their Captain’s armour, in His strength, and by His sword, “they must resist the devil;” and so to their joy shall they find, that he will presently fly away from them.
Nothing escapes the vigilance of this foe. He observes the particular constitutions of persons; and he makes his attacks upon all the weak and unguarded parts. He suits his devices to the frame
of their dispositions; and if they are ignorant of those devices, he will often make sad havoc and distress.
He also knows that the Christian hath traitors in his own bosom, once under full diabolical command, and now not absolutely suppressed and confined. These he bribes, entices, advises, corresponds with, and acts by; so that when the assault is made from without, these suspicious inmates are not idle within, but join hand, head, and heart, as it were, to throw all open to the enemy.
Hence, for these inbred foes, envy, pride, malice, lust, and all the confederacy of black and carnal principles, Satan finds out and proposes their several objects of desire. These are soon converted into engines of war against the soul; and if the Christian’s thoughts are not brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, they will lead him in bonds (as it were) to his old master, who used, before he was a Christian, to “take him captive at his will.” What disgrace doth this bring to his holy profession: and what misery, both before and after his recovery, to himself!
Satan hath also sly and subtle temptations, perverted from religion itself, by which he often assaults the mind. Sometimes he will raise snares from zeal, love, light, enlargement, and success in duties, by which to flatter the Christian into a high opinion of himself, and of his gifts and graces, in order to take him off his guard, or to unclothe him of his humility. When he can make a man proud, he makes him like himself; and when unclean, like a beast. At other times he will inject the very poison and curse of his own diabolical Spirit, by darting evil thoughts; despairing or blasphemous suggestions; vile conceptions of Christ, His word, His work, and all His salvation; preposterous, doubting, distracting, and presuming fancies; and an almost infinite variety of abominable suggestions; which, if the soul be unarmed and unguarded, will harass it to the utmost distress. He hath no pity; nor will he leave off for groans or wailing, agonies or tears. These rather encourage him, if there be nothing but these. The only thing he dreads is the sword of the Spirit; and the only thing he cannot pierce is the armour of God. Therefore, when all this sad business is going forward, the Christian should not lie crying on the ground like one bereft of his senses, but should call upon his Captain for the armour and the sword, and with these should venture on boldly, trusting to the divine strength which is promised against the foe. When he can do this, the conflict will soon be over. It is yielding, hearkening, reasoning, and parleying, which occasions all the mischief.
I can talk of all this, my fellow-christian, and I know it likewise to be right and true; but I am often beset, and have often been as much hindered as thou canst be, in this hard, yet glorious service. To this moment I feel my own miserable weakness, when left in the least
degree to myself. I have had my drubbings, my falls, my horrors, my conflicts, as well as thou; and I have been taught by them, though with much slowness, (I speak it with shame and sorrow), to fly to the right refuge, to lay hold of the right strength, to buckle on the right armour, and to fall on with the right sword. When I have done this with most alertness, and with the most unreserved confidence in my divine Master, I have been most successful, and most easily have prevailed. When I have lingered, or dallied, or tampered with my foe, or else thought that I could cope with him by myself, because he hath appeared under a mean disguise; then I have fainted and failed; then have I sunk, and been surely overthrown. My rebuffs have made me a little more wary of my own heart, as well as of my spiritual adversaries; and I find it the best way to begin speedily with prayer to Him that heareth, that I may truly be ready for whatever may come upon me.
While we are in the flesh, all this must be more or less our daily exercise. And the use of it is, chiefly, to keep our hearts from pride and sloth, to bring down the love of self in all its desires, and the love of sin in all its forms, to endear Christ to our souls in all the ways of His salvation, to cause us to give up ourselves to Him with less reserve, to wean us from earth and earthly comforts, and to fix our affections more firmly on heaven. If all this ensue, we shall then have happily disappointed the devil, and beaten him with his own weapons; and therefore shall rejoice for every trial and conflict, which have led us on towards the attainment of that blessed state of mind, which is the true life and expectation of a Christian in this world. O that I may remember these things for myself, while I am aiming to stir up the minds of others to the remembrance of them! Lord, Thy strength is made perfect in weakness, and Thy wisdom in folly; I call upon Thee, therefore, and upon Thee alone, to be the Guide, the Help, the Defender, and Deliverer of my soul! “Thou art FAITHFUL that hast promised;” and here I rest my every hope of safety and salvation.
* From The Christian Remembrancer.