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Chapter LIV.

Comforts Under Secret And Spiritual Temptations Of The Devil.

Behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.Luke 22:31, 32.

How great and implacable the enmity of the devil is to all mankind, we are abundantly informed, not only by Scripture (as 1 Pet. 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Eph. 6:12, and Rev. 12:12, “Woe to the earth, and to the sea, for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time;” and from the history of Job), but also more particularly by daily experience, and the many grievous and dangerous temptations with which he assaults the souls of good men in their spiritual warfare. At one time he assaults our faith, at another time our Christian calling, and then interrupts and disturbs us in the exercise of our devotions; all which is clearly expressed in the history of our Lord's temptation. Matt. 4:3, etc. Hence we may learn that no man is safe from his temptations. For if he spared not Christ our Head, how can sinful men expect to escape him? For which reason our Lord himself advises us, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” Matt. 26:41.

2. Among the various temptations with which the devil afflicts the soul, this is one, namely, the tormenting a man with blasphemous, profane, impure, and troublesome thoughts, so as 362 to sink him deep into melancholy and wretchedness. And these abominable suggestions are so crafty, sudden, and violent, that they will not give a man a moment's rest. Upon this account St. Paul calls them, “the fiery darts of the wicked one.” Eph. 6:16. As a public enemy is perpetually casting fire into a besieged town; so the devil is continually vexing such souls with his hellish suggestions. And as the wounds of an envenomed arrow are most exquisitely painful; so the wounds caused by the fiery darts of Satan, are far more sharp and intolerable than the severest bodily sufferings. Wherefore we shall here present some select heads of comfort against these secret and internal temptations, all drawn from the Word of God. First, as to the words prefixed to this chapter, it is plain that they were uttered by our blessed Saviour, with the utmost tenderness, and most ardent compassion. Whence we may gather, that the being afflicted with these temptations, is no mark of God's displeasure, much less that he designs to destroy us thereby, and deliver us up into the hands of the enemy. On the contrary, such a temptation is nothing but a chastising rod, whereby God intends to humble a man, and to draw him to Himself. This appears from the example of St. Peter, whose confidence and self-conceit opened a door to the most grievous temptation, and to the sin which followed. And St. Paul tells us of himself, “Lest I should be exalted (saith he) above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee.” 2 Cor. 12:7-9. From which words we may learn three things: 1. That St. Paul, and all others that are exercised with these trials, are humbled thereby. 2. That all those sufferings come upon us by the counsel of God. 3. That the utmost fury of the devil against a man who is so tempted, cannot exclude him from God's favor, which is expressed in these words, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”

3. The second ground of comfort is contained in these words: “Satan hath desired you.” From these words we may learn, that though the devil is always desirous and ready to cast his fiery darts at us, yet has he no power without the particular leave and permission of God; who never gives him more than a limited permission, beyond which he cannot go. To this belongs that place of St. Paul, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.” 1 Cor. 10:13. To which we may add the example of Job, against whom the devil dared not attempt anything, till he had first obtained leave of God; and even that clogged with a limitation. See chap. 1:12.

4. The third consolation arises from these words of our Lord: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” In what manner, and with what affection the blessed Jesus prayed for us to his Heavenly Father, we are told in John (chapter 17), namely, that He would be pleased to keep his faithful servants from the evil of the world; that he would dwell in them, and they in him; and that of those whom he had received of his Father, he might lose none. This prayer, were it but heartily applied to the distressed soul, would support it with a divine courage so as to abide in Christ by faith, not doubting but that Christ in her, by the 363 same faith, would conquer and triumph over all her enemies.

5. The fourth comfort may be drawn from John 17:21, where our blessed Lord prays for us, and begs of his heavenly Father, that we may abide in Christ, and Christ in us. And St. John tells us, that “greater is he that is in us, than he that is in the world.” 1 John 4:4. Christ dwells in every believing soul by faith; and all the assaults of the devil cannot dispossess this illustrious guest. And as Christ himself, in whom God himself, that is, all “the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily” and personally (Col. 2:9), was tempted by Satan, thou must not, therefore, think that Christ is not in thee, because thou thyself art likewise tempted. And if Christ be in thee of a truth, thou needest not fear what the devil can do unto thee: for Christ will certainly defend the place of his own residence, against all opposers. Moreover, thou hast within thee the Holy Spirit, who “helpeth thine infirmities, and maketh intercession for thee with groanings that cannot be uttered.” Rom. 8:26. Whensoever thou findest these within thee, thou mayest assure thyself, that the Holy Spirit dwelleth in thee, and he will not forsake thee, as our blessed Lord assures us: “The Father shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.” John 14:16. Lastly, God has promised, that he will dwell in the humble and contrite heart: “I dwell with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit.” Isa. 57:15; 66:2. And such, undoubtedly, are all those who are tormented with these temptations of Satan.

6. The fifth ground of comfort, is contained in our Saviour's promise: “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” O divine comfort! as if our Lord had said: “Your infirmities shall never be so great, but that there shall be some sparks of faith left. Yea, though you feel in yourselves no comfort, and, on that account, are apt to think your faith quite extinct, yet will I never suffer the smoking flax to be entirely quenched.” Isa. 42:3. But, now, if you ask, How shall I know this? I answer, 1. By the earnest longing of your soul after faith. For, to desire and pray for faith above all other things, arises from a living spark of remaining faith. 2. By your resistance of temptation, which is a certain token of the presence of faith; and this resistance and opposition appear plainly in this, that all these wicked and blasphemous thoughts arise in your soul sorely against your will, and that you bear them with more pain, than you would any external violence offered to your body. Now whatsoever a man suffers of this kind against his will, is resisted by faith, and shall never be imputed to him as sin; for nothing but a voluntary violation of the divine law, makes a man sinful in the sight of God. If Adam had not yielded to the suggestions of Satan, he had not had sin; but as soon as he submitted his will to that of the tempter, he fell into the transgression. Whence it follows, that it cannot be sin, which is not attended with the consent of the will. A besieged city cannot hinder the enemy from throwing fire into it, but the inhabitants must endeavor to prevent it from spreading, and burning the town to ashes. So we cannot avoid the fiery darts of the devil, with which he delights to afflict the heart; but as we do not consent to them, but rather resist, they must at last be quenched, and can do us no harm. By such tokens as these we may discover, that 364 our faith, however weak, is not extinct.

7. Being once assured of this, we may likewise certainly depend upon victory; and this opens to us a sixth fountain of comfort. To this, therefore, refers that comfortable saying of our Saviour: “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” John 14:30. “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33. Whatsoever Christ did, he did for our sakes; that he himself, with all his benefits and merits, might be entirely ours. Since, therefore, he has conquered Satan, it follows that he has conquered him not only for himself, but for us also: his conquest is ours. All this was prefigured in the contest between David and Goliath. 1 Sam. 17:8, 9, 50-53. The conditions were, that if Goliath overcame David, the people of Israel should be the servants of the Philistines; but if David overcame Goliath, the Philistines should serve Israel. Now, even as David's victory was counted as the victory of all Israel, so the victory of Christ avails as the victory of all believers. Hence St. Paul says: “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” Eph. 6:10. And, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor. 15:57.

8. Seventhly, we ought to be comforted by the examples of the saints, who have also been cruelly tempted. Of these our blessed Saviour speaks, saying, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” By these words, our Saviour plainly sends us to be instructed by the examples of our brethren, who have been tempted and persecuted by the devil in like manner with us. Hence St. Peter says: “Knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” 1 Peter 5:9.

9. Lastly, we ought to be comforted by the example of Jesus Christ himself. Matt. 4:1, etc. Over him, though he was the beloved Son of God, the devil had so much power, as to hurry him from place to place, and use him with so much insolence, that it is wonderful the Son of God should suffer it from that rebellious, apostate spirit. But this was the condition of the humble Jesus, who emptied himself of all his glory and majesty, that he might be tempted as man, and be made like unto his brethren.

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