by William Gurnall
"There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."1 Corinthians 10:13.
THE Devil's dupes. Many have yielded to go a mile with Satan, that never intended to go two. Thus Satan leads poor creatures down into the depths of sin by winding stairs, that let them not see the bottom whither they are going: first, he presents an object that occasions some thoughts, these set the affections on fire, and these fume up into the brain and cloud the understanding, which, being thus disabled, now Satan dares a little more declare himself, and boldly solicit the creature to that it would otherwise have defied. Give not place to Satan! no, not an inch in his first motions; he that is a beggar, and a modest one without doors, will command the house if let in.
The devil teaches sinners to cover foul practices with fair names — superstition must be styled devotion; covetousness, thrift; pride in apparel, handsomeness; looseness, liberty; and madness, mirth.
The Devil's wiles. Satan makes choice of such as have a great name for holiness: none like a live bird to draw other birds into the net. Abraham tempts his wife to lie: "Say thou art my sister." The old prophet leads the man of God out of his way (1 Kings 13).
Under the skirt of Christian liberty Satan conveys in libertinism; by crying up the Spirit he decries and vilifies the Scripture; by magnifying faith, he labours to undermine repentance and blow up good works.
If Satan get into thy spirit and defile it, O, how hard wilt thou find it to stay there? Thou hast already sipped of his broth, and now are more likely to sit down and make thy full meal of that, which by tasting has vitiated thy palate already.
When you hear one commend another for a wise or good man, and at last come in with a "but" that dasheth all, you will easily think he is no friend to the man, but some sly enemy, that by seeming to commend, desires to disgrace the more. Thus, when you find God represented to you as merciful and gracious, but not to such a great sinner as you; to have power and strength, but not able to save thee; you may say, Avaunt, Satan, thy speech bewrayeth thee.
When the flesh or Satan beg time of thee, it is to steal time from thee. They put thee off prayer at one time, to shut thee out at last from prayer at any time.
What day in all the year is inconvenient to Satan? What place or company art thou in, that he cannot make a snare for thy soul?
Satan knows what orders thou keepest in thy house and closet; and though he has not a key to thy heart, yet he can stand in the next room to it, and lightly hear what is whispered there. If once he doth but smell which way thy heart inclines, he knows how to take the hint; if but one door is unbolted, here is advantage enough.
The occasion of temptation. The least passage of thy life may prove an occasion of sin to thee: at what a little wicket many times a great sin enters! David's eye did but casually light on Bathsheba, and the good man's foot was presently in the devil's trap: hast thou not then need to pray that God would set a guard about thy senses wherever thou goest, and to cry with him, "Keep back mine eyes from beholding vanity"?
It should be our care, if we would not yield to the sin, not to walk by, or sit at the door of the occasion: parley not with that in thy thoughts, which thou meanest not to let into thy heart. If we mean not to be burnt, let us not walk upon the coals of temptation. Thou temptest God to suffer thy locks to be cut, when thou art so bold as to lay thy head in the lap of a temptation.
Set a strong guard about thy outward senses: these are Satan's landing-places, especially the eye and the ear. Take heed what thou importest at these; vain discourse seldom passeth without leaving some tincture upon the heart. 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).
The haft of Satan's hatchet, with which he lies chopping at the root of the Christian's comfort, is commonly made of the Christian's wood. First, he tempts to sin, and then for it. Satan is but a creature, and cannot work without tools; he can indeed make much of little, but not anything of nothing, as we see in his assaulting of Christ, where he troubled himself to little purpose, because he came and found nothing in Him (John 14:30). Though the devil throws the stone, it is the mud in us that disturbs our comfort.
Be sure thou art watchful more than ordinary over thyself, in those things where thou findest thyself weakest and hast been oftenest foiled. The weakest part of a city needs the strongest guard.
The devil would tempt Christ when he "shewed Him all the kingdoms of the world," and promised them all to Him, if He would "fall down and worship Him." Everyone that by unrighteousness doth seek the world's pelf goes to the devil for it, and doth worship him in effect. How much better it is to have poverty from God than riches from the devil! A temptation comes strong, when the way to relief seems to lie through the sin that Satan is wooing to: when one is poor, and Satan comes, "What, wilt starve rather than step over the hedge, and steal for thy supply?" This is enough to put flesh and blood to the stand.
Deliverance from temptation. What says thy soul, when God hedgeth up thy way, and keeps thee from that sin which Satan has been soliciting for? If on Christ's side, thou wilt rejoice when thou art delivered out of a temptation, though it be by falling into an affliction.
Christian, it is ill done of thee to make a breach in thy holy course, by tampering with any sin; but thou wilt commit a greater if thou turnest thy back on God also when thou shouldst humble thyself for thy former sin. Thou hast fallen into sin in the day, wilt thou not, therefore, pray at night? Take heed thou run not farther into temptation. Now is the time for the devil to set upon thee, when the weapon of prayer is out of thy hand. The best thou canst look for is a storm from God to bring thee back again, and the sooner it comes the more merciful He is to thee.
"Watch and pray," says our Saviour, "that ye enter not into temptation" (Matt. 26:41). They, not keeping this pass, gave the enemy, Satan, a fair occasion to come in upon them; and as they were led into temptation by neglect of prayer, so they were rescued and led out of it again by Christ's prayer, which He mercifully laid in beforehand for them: "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not."
Let this encourage thee, O Christian, in thy conflict with Satan; the skirmish may be sharp, but it cannot be long. The cloud, while it drops, is rolling over thy head, and then comes fair weather, and eternal sunshine of glory.
Thou canst not be long off thy watch, but the devil will hear on it. The devil knew the apostle's sleeping time, and then he desires leave to winnow them (Luke 22). The thief riseth when honest men go to bed. The devil begins to tempt when saints cease to watch. . . . The saint's sleeping time is Satan's tempting time; every fly dares venture to creep on a sleeping lion. No temptation so weak but is strong enough to foil a Christian that is napping in security. Samson asleep, and Delilah cut his locks. Saul asleep, and the spear is taken away from his very side, and he never the wiser. Noah asleep, and his graceless son has a fit time to discover his father's nakedness. Eutychus asleep, nods, and falls from the third loft, and is taken up for dead. The Christian asleep may soon lose his spiritual strength, be robbed of his spear, and his nakedness discovered by graceless men, to the shame of his profession. Yea, he may fall from a high loft of profession, so low, into scandalous practices, that others may question whether there be any life of grace in him.
The Christian's safety lies in resisting. All the armour provided is to defend the Christian fighting, none to secure him flying; stand, and the day is ours; fly, or yield, and all is lost.
From The Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall