The Young Lady's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character
by Harvey Newcomb, 1843
There is, in the Holy Scriptures, abundant evidence of the existence of an evil spirit, who is permitted, in various ways, to tempt mankind. This appears in the very beginning of the history of our race; for, according to the apostle John, in the Revelation, "that old serpent," which deceived our first parents, was "the Devil and SATAN." The same malicious being was also permitted to tempt the "second Adam," in the beginning of his mediatorial work for the recovery of lost man. He is represented as the father of the wicked, and as putting evil designs into the hearts of men. "The tares are the children of the wicked one." "You child of the devil." "You are of your father the devil." "And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel." "The devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray him." "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" Wicked men are spoken of as being carried captive by him at his will; and he is also represented as the adversary of the people of God, seeking to lead them into sin, and, if possible, to destroy them. "Your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour."
These, with numerous other passages, fully establish the fearful truth that we are continually beset by an evil spirit, who is seeking to injure and destroy our souls; and that, in some mysterious manner, which we cannot explain, he has access to our minds. It is of great importance, then, that we should know something of the character of our great adversary, and of his devices to deceive and ruin our souls. From the representations of Scripture, we learn the following things respecting him—
1. He is powerful.He is called "prince of this world," "prince of darkness," and "the god of this world." These titles denote the possession of power, and the exercise of dominion. The people over whom he exercises dominion are, other fallen spirits, called "his angels," and all mankind in their natural state. Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, represents that, in their former state, before their conversion, they walked "according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience;" and all unconverted men are children of disobedience. Hence, when any are converted, they are said to be turned "from the power of Satan unto God."
But, besides exercising dominion over natural men, he is permitted to tempt and try the true children of God. This is evident from the numerous cautions that are given them against his devices. He is also called Destroyer; and is said to walk about, seeking whom he may devour. So great was his power, and so mighty his work of ruin and destruction, that it became necessary for the Son of God to come into the world to destroy his works. "For this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil."
But, although he is powerful, yet his power is limited. This you see in the case of Job. No doubt his malice would have destroyed that holy man at once. But he could do nothing against him until he was permitted; and then he could go no farther than the length of his chain. God reserved the life of his servant. Jude speaks of the devils as being "reserved in chains;" which means that they are kept perfectly under the control of the Almighty, so that they can do nothing without his permission.
But the question arises, "Why is Satan permitted to exercise any power at all?" Perhaps it is not consistent with proper reverence for the Supreme Being to entertain this objection; for he is a righteous Sovereign, in no way accountable to us, or to any being but himself, for the measures of his administration; and "he gives not account of any of his matters." Nevertheless, it appears, from the Scriptures, that the temptations of Satan, and the power which he is permitted to exercise, are wisely overruled for good. The children of God on earth are in a state of trial and discipline; and these are among the means which the Lord uses to prove and develop their characters. Instance the case of Job. Satan had slandered that holy man, by accusing him of serving God from selfish motives. By allowing him to take away all he had, the Lord proved this accusation to be false; and Job came out of the furnace greatly purified. The apostle James says, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience." If the children of God were never tempted, they would never have an opportunity to prove the sincerity of their faith. But they have the blessed assurance that God will not allow them to be tempted above what they are able to bear, but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that they may be able to bear it. Satan is likewise permitted to exercise his power for the discovery of hypocrites, and for the punishment of sinners. "These have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away." "But, if our gospel be hid, it is hid to those who are lost: in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not."
2. Satan has much knowledge.He knew the command of God to our first parents, and therefore tempted them to break it. When those who were possessed with devils were brought to Christ, they cried out, "We know who you are; the Holy One of God." Satan has also a knowledge of the Bible; for he quoted Scripture in his temptation of Christ. And, as he has had a long experience in this world, he must have much knowledge of human nature, so as to be able to suit his temptations to the peculiar constitutions of individuals.
3. He is wicked."The devil sins from the beginning." He is called the wicked one; or, by way of eminence, "the wicked." He is altogether wicked. There is not one good quality in his character.
4. He is crafty, and full of deceit and treachery.He lays snares for the unwary. That he may the more readily deceive the people of God, he appears to them in the garb of religion. "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." In consequence of his cunning and craft, he is called the serpent. He is likewise represented as deceiving the nations. Hence we are cautioned against the wiles of the devil.
5. He is a liar.The first thing recorded of him is the lie which he told our first parents, to persuade them to disobey God. Hence our Savior calls him a "liar from the beginning."
6. He is malicious.As Satan is the enemy of God, so he hates everything good. He is continually bent on mischief. If his power were not restrained, he would introduce general disorder, anarchy, and confusion into the government of God. He loves to ruin immortal souls, and takes delight in vexing the people of God. Hence he is called destroyer, adversary, accuser, tormentor, and murderer.
Now, since we are beset by an adversary of such knowledge and power, so sly and artful, so false and so malicious—it behooves us to be well acquainted with his arts, that we may be on our guard against them. Paul says, "For we are not ignorant of his devices." O that every Christian could say so! How many sad falls would be prevented! I will mention a few ofthe devices of Satan, which are manifest both from Scripture and experience. It is the opinion of some great and good men, that the devil can suggest thoughts to our minds only through the imagination. This is that faculty of the mind by which it forms ideas of things communicated to it through the senses. Thus, when you see, hear, feel, taste, or smell anything, the image of the thing is impressed upon the mind by the imagination. It also brings to our recollection these images when they are not present. It is thought to be only by impressing these images upon the imagination, that he can operate upon our souls. Hence we may account for the strange manner in which our minds are led off from the contemplation of divine things by a singular train of thought, introduced to the mind by the impression of some sensible object upon the imagination. This object brings some other one like it to our recollection, and that again brings another, until our minds are lost in a maze of intellectual trifling.
Satan adapts his temptations to our peculiar temperaments and circumstances. In youth, he allures us by pleasure, and bright hopes of worldly prosperity. In manhood, he seeks to bury up our hearts in the cares of life. In old age, he persuades to the indulgence of self-will and obstinacy. In prosperity, he puffs up the heart with pride, and persuades to self-confidence and forgetfulness of God. In poverty and affliction, he excites discontent, distrust, and repining. If we are of a melancholy temperament, he seeks to sour our tempers, and promote habitual sullenness and despondency. If we are naturally cheerful, he prompts to the indulgence of levity. In private devotion, he stands between us and God, to prevent us from realizing his presence, and seeks to distract our minds, and drive us from the throne of grace. In public worship, he disturbs our minds by wandering thoughts and foolish imaginations. When we enjoy a comfortable and happy frame of mind, he stirs up pride in our hearts, and leads us to trust in our own goodness, and forget the Rock of our salvation. Even our deepest humiliations he makes the occasion of spiritual pride. Thus we fall into darkness, and thrust ourselves through with many sorrows. If we have performed any extraordinary acts of self-denial, or of Christian beneficence, he stirs up in our hearts a vainglorious spirit. If we have overcome any of the corruptions of our hearts, or any temptation, he excites a secret feeling of self-satisfaction and self-delight. He puts on the mask of religion. Often, during the solemn hours of public worship, he beguiles our hearts with some scheme for doing good; taking care, however, that self be uppermost in it. When we are in a bad frame, he stirs up the unholy tempers of our hearts, and leads us to indulge in peevishness, moroseness, harshness, and anger, or in levity and unfitting mirth.
There is no Christian grace which Satan cannot counterfeit. He cares not how much religious feeling we have, or how many good deeds we perform, if he can but keep impure and selfish motives at the bottom. There is great danger, therefore, in trusting to impulses, or sudden impressions of any kind. We ought to "try the spirits, whether they be of God." The Spirit of grace does not reveal truth or duty directly to us. He has finished his work of Revelation, and put the record of it into our hands, as our only rule of truth and duty. His office now is, to enlighten our minds to perceive the truth, and to stir us up to perform the duties required in his word. If, therefore, we find a secret impulse operating upon our minds to persuade us to perform known duty, we may know it is from the Spirit of God. But, if our conviction of duty arises from the impression upon our mind, we shall be liable to be led astray, and carried about by every wind. The fact that our religious feelings are not produced by ourselves, but that they arise in our mind in a manner for which we cannot account, is no evidence, either that they come from the Spirit of God, or that they do not.
Satan is sometimes transformed into an angel of light. He is often the author of false comforts and joys, very much resembling those which are truly gracious. Nor is it certain that religious feelings are holy and spiritual because they come with texts of Scripture, brought to the mind in a remarkable manner. If the feeling is produced by the truth contained in the Scriptures so brought to the mind, and is, in its nature, agreeable to the word of God, it may be a spiritual and holy affection. But, if it arises from the application of the Scripture to our own case, on account of its being so brought to our mind, it is probably a delusion. Satan has power to bring Scripture to our minds; and he can apply it with dexterity, as we see in his temptations of the blessed Savior. Besides, our hearts are exceedingly deceitful, and our indwelling corruptions are in league with the adversary. How easily, then, may he succeed in cheating our souls with false peace and selfish joys!
Satan, no doubt, often brings the most sweet and precious promises of God to the minds of those he wishes to deceive. But he misapplies the promises, as he did to our Lord, when he attempted to persuade him to cast himself down from a pinnacle of the temple, on the strength of the promise, "He shall give his angels charge concerning you; and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone." We must be satisfied that the promises belong to us, before we take them to ourselves. We have "a more sure word of prophecy," by which we are to try every impulse, feeling, and impression, produced upon our minds. Anything which does not agree with the written word of God, does not come from him; for he "cannot deny himself."
Satan manages temptation with the greatest subtlety and adroitness. He asks so little at first, that, unless our consciences are very tender, we do not suspect him. If he can persuade us to parley, he perhaps leaves us for a while, and returns again, with a fresh and more vigorous attack. He is exceedingly persevering; and, if he can induce us to give place to him at all, he is almost sure to overcome us at last. So it was with Eve. She parleyed at first; then listened to the suggestions of the tempter; then lusted after the fruit of the forbidden tree; then took and ate. Such is the progress, and such the end, of those who parley with temptation.
We are also liable to temptation from the world without, and from the corruptions of our own hearts within. "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare." The riches, honors, pleasures, and fashions, of this world are great enemies to serious piety. "Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lusts, and enticed." Remaining corruption is the greatest evil that besets the Christian. The temptations of Satan alone would be light, in comparison with the inward conflict he is compelled to maintain against the lusts of his own heart. But the devil makes use of both these means of temptation to accomplish his ends. The former he uses as outward enticements, and the latter act as traitors within. Thus you may generally find a secret alliance between the arch deceiver and the corruptions of your own heart. It is not sin to be tempted; but it is sin to give place to temptation. "Neither give place to the devil."
The heart is very properly compared to a castle or fort. Before conversion, it is in the possession of the great enemy of souls, who has fortified himself there, and secured the allegiance of all our moral powers. But, when Jesus enters in, he "binds the strong man armed," and takes possession of the heart himself. Yet Satan, though in a measure bound, loses no opportunity to attempt regaining his lost dominion. Hence we are directed to "keep the heart with all diligence." Now, we know how a castle, fort, or city, is kept in time of war. The first thing done is to set a watch, whose business is to keep constantly on the look out, this way and that way, to see that no enemy is approaching from without, and no traitor is lurking within. Hence we are so frequently exhorted to watch. "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation." "Take heed, watch and pray." "And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch." "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be strong like men." "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same, with thanksgiving." "Praying always, with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance." "Let us watch and be sober." "Watch, then, in all things." "Watch unto prayer." "Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame." "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips." If we were in a house surrounded by a band of robbers, and especially if we knew there were people in it who held a secret correspondence with them, we would be continually on our guard. Every moment we should be watching, both within and without. But not unlike this is our case. It is therefore with good reason that we are so frequently cautioned on this point, and directed to watch in all things. But there areparticular seasons when we should set a double watch.
1. We are directed to watch unto prayer. When you approach the mercy-seat, watch against a careless spirit. Do not allow your mind to be drawn away by anything, however good and important in itself, from the object before you. If the adversary can divert your mind, on the way to that consecrated place, he will be almost sure to drive you away from it without a blessing.
2. We are required to watch not only unto, but in, prayer. Satan is never more busy with Christians than when he sees them on their knees. He well knows the power of prayer; and this makes him tremble.
"Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees."
You should, therefore, with the most untiring vigilance, watch in prayer against all wandering thoughts and distraction of mind. You will often experience, on such occasions, a sudden and vivid impression upon your mind, of something entirely foreign from what is before you; and this, we have reason to believe, is the temptation of Satan. If you are sufficiently upon your watch, you can banish it without diverting your thoughts or feelings from the subject of your prayer, and proceed as though nothing had happened. But, if the adversary succeeds in keeping these wild imaginations in view, so that you cannot proceed without distraction, turn and beseech God to give you help against his wiles. You have the promise, that if you resist the devil, he will flee from you. These remarks apply both to secret prayer and public worship.
3. We have need of special watchfulness when we have experienced any comfortable manifestations of God's presence. It is then that Satan tempts us to consider the conflict over, and relax our diligence. If we give way to him, we shall bring leanness upon our souls.
4. We have need of double watchfulness, when gloom and despondency come over our minds; for then the adversary seeks to stir up all the perverse passions of the heart.
5. Watch, also, when you feel remarkably cheerful. Satan will then, if possible, persuade you to indulge in levity, to the wounding of your soul, and the dishonor of religion.
6. We have need of special watchfulness in prosperity, that we forget not God; and in adversity, that we murmur not at his dealings with us.
7. Set a watch over your tongue, especially in the presence of the unconverted. "The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity." David says, "I will keep my tongue with a bridle, while the wicked is before me." I do not mean that you should ever engage in any sinful conversation in the presence of Christians. Some professors of religion will indulge in senseless garrulity among themselves, and put on an air of seriousness and solemnity before those whom they regard as unconverted. This they pretend to do for the honor of Christ. But Christ says, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." God abhors lip-service. However, in the company of sinners and formal professors, we are peculiarly exposed to temptation, and have need, therefore, to set a double guard upon our lips. A single unguarded expression from a Christian may do great injury to an unconverted soul.
8. Watch over your heart, when engaged in doing good to others. It is then that Satan seeks to stir up pride and vainglory.
9. Set a double watch over your easily-besetting sin. "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us." Most people have some constitutional sin, which easily besets them. Satan takes the advantage of this infirmity, to bring us into difficulty.
10. Finally, keep a constant watch over the imagination. Since this is the medium through which temptation comes, never allow your imagination to rove without control. If you mortify this faculty, it may be a great assistance to your devotion. But, if you let it run at random, you will be led captive by Satan at his will. Strive, then, after a sanctified imagination, that you may make every power of your soul subservient to the glory of God.
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