Helps Against Satan's Temptations

by William Gurnall

Question. But what help have we against ... Satan's temptations?

Answer. I suppose thee a Christian, that makest this question; and if thou dost it in the plainness of thy heart it proves thee one. Who, besides, will or can desire in earnest, to be eased of these guests? Even when a carnal heart prays for deliverance from them, he would be loath his prayer should be heard. "Not yet, Lord, the heart of such a one cries, as Austin confessed of himself. Sin is as truly the offspring of the soul, as children are of our bodies, and it finds as much favour in our eyes; yea more, for the sinner can slay a son to save a sin alive, Micah 6:7, and of all sins, none are made more on, than these heart sins.

1. Because they are the first-born of the sinful heart, and the chiefest strength of the soul is laid out upon them.

2. Because the heart hath more scope in them than in outward acts. The proud man is staked down oft to a short state, and cannot ruffle it in the world, and appear to others in that pomp he would; but within his own bosom he can set up a stage, and his own foolish heart present himself as a great a prince as he pleaseth. The malicious can kill, in his desires, as many in a few minutes, as the angel smote in a night of Sennacherib's host. Nero thus could slay all Rome on the block at once.

3. These sins stay with the soul when the others leave it. When the sinner hath crippled his body with drunkenness and filthiness, and proves miles emeritus ”cannot follow the devil's camp longer in those ways”then these cursed lusts will entertain him with stories of his old pranks and pleasures. In a word, these inward lusts of the heart, have nothing but the conscience of a Deity to quell them. Other sins put the sinner to shame before men; and, as some that believed on Christ durst not confess him openly, because they loved the praise of men, so there are sinners who are kept from vouching their lusts openly, for the same tenderness to their reputation. But here is no fear of that, if they can but forget that heaven sees them, or persuade themselves there is no danger from thence, the coast then is clear; they may be as wicked as they please. These make inward sins so hugged and embraced. If thou therefore canst find thy heart set against these, I may venture to call thee a Christian. And for thy help against them, improve the following.

First Help. Be earnest with God in prayer to move and order thy heart in its thoughts and desires. If the tongue be such an unruly thing that few can tame; O what is the heart, whence such a multitude of thoughts are flying forth as thick as bees from the hive, and sparks from the furnace! It is not in man, not in the holiest on earth to do this without divine assistance. Therefore we find David so often crying out in this respect, to order his steps in his word, to unite his heart to his fear, to incline his heart to his testimonies. As a servant, when the child he tends is troublesome and will not be ruled by him, who no sooner speaks but all is whist with him. No doubt holy David found his heart beyond his skill or power, that makes him so oft do his errand to God. Indeed, God hath promised thus much to his children, to order their steps for them, Ps. 37:22, only he looks they should bring their hearts to him for that end. "Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established, Prov. 16:3, or ordered. Art thou setting thy face towards an ordinance, where thou art sure to meet Satan, who will be disturbing thee with worldly thoughts and may be worse? Let God know from thy mouth whither thou art going, and what thy fears are. Never doth the soul march in so goodly order, as when it puts itself under the conduct of God.

Second Help. Set a strong guard about thy outward senses. These are Satan's landing places, especially the eye and ear. Take heed what thou importest at them. Vain discourse seldom passeth without leaving some tincture upon the heart; as unwholesome air inclines to putrefaction things sweet in themselves, so unsavory discourse to corrupt the mind that is pure. Look thou breathest therefore in a clean air. And for thy eye, let it not wander. Wanton objects cause wanton thoughts. Job knew his eye and his thoughts were like to go together, and therefore, to secure one, he covenants with the other, Job 31:1.

Third Help. Often reflect upon thyself in a day, and observe what company is with thy heart. A careful master will ever and anon will be looking into his workhouse, and seeing what his servants are doing, and a wise Christian should do the same. We may know by the noise in the school [that] the master is not there. Much of the misrule in our bosoms ariseth from the neglect of visiting our hearts. Now, when thou art parleying with thy soul, make this threefold inquiry.

1. Inquire, Whether that which thy heart is thinking on, be good or evil. If evil and wicked, such as are proud, unclean, distrustful thoughts, show thy abhorrency of them, and chide thy soul sharply for so much as holding a conference with them, of which nought can come but dishonour to God, and mischief to thy own soul; and stir up thy heart to mourn for the evil neighbourhood of them, and by this thou shalt give a testimony of faithfulness to God. When David mourned for Abner, "all Israel", it is said, understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner. Thy mourning for them will show, that these thoughts are not so much of thee as of Satan.

2. Inquire, If thy thoughts be not broadly wicked, then inquire whether they be not empty, frothy, vain imaginations, that have no subserviency to the glory of God, thy own good or others; and if so, leave not till thou hast made thyself apprehensive of Satan's design on thee, in them. Though such are not for thy purpose, yet they are for his; they serve his turn to keep thee from better. All the water is lost that runs beside the mill, and all thy thoughts are waste which help thee not to do God's work withal, in thy general or particular calling. The bee will not sit on a flower where no honey can be sucked, neither should the Christian. Why sittest thou here idle ”thou shouldst say to thy soul when thou hast so much to do for God and thy soul and so little time to despatch it in?

3. Inquire, If thou findest they are good for matter thy heart is busied about, then inquire whether they be good for time and manner, which being wanting they degenerate.

( 1.) Are they good for the time or the season? That is good fruit which is brought forth in its season. Christ liked the work his mother would have put him upon as well as herself, John 2:4, but his time was not come. Good thoughts and meditations misplaced, are like some interpretations of Scripture's good truths but bad expositions; they fit not the place they are drawn from, nor these the time. To pray when we should hear, or be musing on the sermon when we should pray, is to rob God one way so as to pay him another.

(2.) Are they good for the manner? Thy heart may meditate a good matter, and spoil it in the doing. Thou art, may be, musing of thy sins, and affecting thy heart into a sense of them, but so, that while thou art stirring up thy sorrow, thou weakenest thy faith on the promise. That is thy sin. He is a bad chirurgeon that in opening a vein goes so deep that he cuts into an artery, and lames the arm, if [he does] not kill the man. Or thou art thinking of thy family, and providing for that; this thou oughtest to do, and wert worse than an infidel if thou neglectest; but, may be, these thoughts are so distracting and distrustful, as if there were no promise, no providence to relieve thee. God takes this ill, because it reflect upon his care of thee. O how near doth our duty here stand to our sin! So much care, is necessary ballast to the soul; a little more sinks it under the waves of unbelief. It is like some things [which are] very wholesome, but, one degree more of hot or cold would make them poison.

Excerpt from A Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall