Eph_6:11. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
TO be possessed of courage is not the only requisite for a good soldier; he must be skilled in the use of arms; he must be acquainted with those stratagems which his adversaries will use for his destruction; he must know how to repel an assault, and how in his turn to assault his enemy: in short, he must be trained to war. Nor will his knowledge avail him any thing, unless he stand armed for the combat. Hence the Apostle, having encouraged the Christian soldier, and inspired him with confidence in “the Captain of his salvation,” now calls him to put on his armour, and by a skilful use of it, to prepare for the day of battle.
To open fully the direction before us, we must shew you, first, the wiles of the devil; and next, the means of defeating them.
We shall endeavour to lay before you “the wiles of the devil”—
Satan is the great adversary of God and man; and labours to the uttermost to destroy the interests of both. In prosecuting his purpose, he has two grand objects in view, namely, to lead men into sin, and to keep them from God. We must consider these distinctly; and point out the stratagems he uses for the attainment of his ends.
To lead men into sin—
To effect this, he presents to them such temptations as are best suited to their natural dispositions. As a skilful general will not attempt to storm a fort on the side that it is impregnable, but will rather direct his efforts against the weaker parts, where he has a better prospect of success; so Satan considers the weak part of every man, and directs his artillery where he may most easily make a breach. He well knew the covetous dispositions of Judas, and of Ananias and Sapphira: when therefore he wanted the one to betray his Master, and the others to bring discredit on the Christian name, he wrought upon their natural propensities, and instigated them with ease to the execution of his will [Note: Joh_13:2; Joh_13:27. Act_5:3.]. Thus he stimulates the proud or passionate, the lewd or covetous, the timid or melancholy, to such acts as are most congenial with their feelings, to the intent that his agency may be least discovered, and his purposes most effectually secured.
Much craft is also discoverable in the seasons which he chooses for making his assaults. If a general knew that his adversaries were harassed with fatigue, or revelling and intoxicated amidst the spoils of victory, or separated from the main body of their army, so that they could have no succour, he would not fail to take advantage of such circumstances, rather than attack them when they were in full force, and in a state of readiness for the combat. Such a general is Satan. If he finds us in a stale of great trouble and perplexity, when the spirits are exhausted, the mind clouded, the strength enervated, then he will seek to draw us to murmuring or despair. Thus he acted towards Christ himself when he had been fasting forty days and forty nights; and again, on the eve of his crucifixion. The former of these occasions afforded him a favourable opportunity for tempting our blessed Lord to despondency [Note: Mat_4:2-3.], to presumption [Note: Mat_4:6.], to a total alienation of his heart from God [Note: Mat_4:8-9.]: the latter inspired him with a hope of drawing our Lord to some act unworthy of his high character, and subversive of the ends for which he came into the world [Note: Joh_14:30. Luk_22:44; Luk_22:53.]. Again, if we have been elevated with peculiar joy, he well knows how apt we are to relax our vigilance, and to indulge a carnal security. Hence, immediately on Paul’s descent from the third heavens, the paradise of God, Satan strove to puff him up with pride [Note: 2Co_12:7.], that so he might bring him into the condemnation of the devil [Note: 1Ti_3:6-7.]. And with more success did he assault Peter immediately after the most exalted honour had been conferred upon him; whereby he brought upon the unguarded saint that just rebuke, “Get thee behind me, Satan; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men [Note: Mat_16:16-19; Mat_16:22-23.].” Above all, Satan is sure to embrace an opportunity when we are alone, withdrawn from those whose eye would intimidate, or whose counsel would restrain, us. He could not prevail on Lot, when in the midst of Sodom, to violate the rights of hospitality; but when he was in a retired cave, he too successfully tempted him to repeated acts of drunkenness and incest. And who amongst us has not found that seasons of privacy, or, at least, of seclusion from those who knew us, have been seasons of more than ordinary temptation?
The means which Satan uses in order to accomplish his purpose, will afford us a yet further insight into his wiles. Whom will a general so soon employ to betray the enemy into his hands, as one who by his power can command them, or by his professions can deceive them! And is it not thus with Satan? If he want to draw down the judgments of God upon the whole nation of the Jews, he will stir up David, in spite of all the expostulations of his courtiers, to number the people [Note: Num_21:1-4.]. If he would destroy Ahab, he becomes a lying spirit in the mouth of Ahab’s prophets, to persuade him, and by him to lead Jehoshaphat also and the combined armies into the most imminent peril [Note: 1Ki_22:21-22. See the instance also of Elymas the sorcerer, who on account of his efforts is called “a child of the devil.” Act_13:10.]. Would he have Job to curse his God? no fitter person to employ on this service than Job’s own wife, whom he taught to give this counsel, “Curse God, and die [Note: Job_2:9.].” Would he prevail on Jesus to lay aside the thoughts of suffering for the sins of men? his friend Peter must offer him this advice, “Master, spare thyself [Note: Mat_16:16-19; Mat_16:22-23.].” Thus in leading us to the commission of sin, he will use sometimes the authority of magistrates, of masters, or of parents, and sometimes the influence of our dearest friends or relatives. No instruments so fit for him, as those of a man’s own household [Note: Mat_10:36.].
There is also something further observable in the manner in which Satan tempts the soul. An able general will study to conceal the main object of his attack, and by feints to deceive his enemy [Note: Jos_8:5-6; Jos_8:15; Jos_8:21]. Thus does Satan form his attack with all imaginable cunning. His mode of beguiling Eve will serve as a specimen of his artifices in every age. He first only inquired whether any prohibition had been given her and her husband respecting the eating of the fruit of a particular tree; insinuating at the same time, that it was very improbable that God should impose upon them such an unnecessary restraint. Then, on being informed that the tasting of that fruit was forbidden and that the penalty of death was to be inflicted on them in the event of their disobedience, he intimated, that such a consequence could never follow: that, on the contrary, the benefits which should arise to them from eating of that fruit, were incalculable. In this manner he led her on, from parleying with him, to give him credit; and, from believing him, to comply with his solicitations [Note: Gen_3:1-6.]. And thus it is that he acts towards us: he for a time conceals his full purpose: he pleads at first for nothing more than the gratification of the eye, the ear, the imagination; but is no sooner master of one fort, or station, than he plants his artillery there, and renews his assaults, till the whole soul has surrendered to his dominion.
The other grand device of Satan is, to keep men from God. If, after having yielded to his suggestions, the soul were to return to God with penitence and contrition, all Satan’s wiles, how successful soever they had before been, would be frustrated at once. The next labour therefore of our great adversary is, to secure his captive, that he may not escape out of his hands. The wiles he makes use of to accomplish this, come next under our consideration.
He will begin with misrepresenting to his captives their own character. One while he will insinuate that, though they may have transgressed in some smaller matters, yet they have never committed any great sin, and therefore have no need to disquiet themselves with apprehensions of God’s wrath. If he cannot compose their minds in that way, he will suggest, that their iniquities have been so numerous, and so heinous, as to preclude all hope of forgiveness. He will endeavour to make them believe that they have been guilty of the unpardonable sin, or that their day of grace is passed; so that they may as well take their fill of present delights, since all attempts to secure eternal happiness will be fruitless. To such artifices as these our Lord refers, when he tells us, that the strong man armed keepeth his palace and his goods in peace [Note: Luk_11:21; Luk_11:26.].
Next he will misrepresent to his captives the character of God. He will impress them with the idea that God is too merciful to punish any one eternally for such trifling faults as theirs. Or, if that fail to lull them asleep, he will intimate, that the insulted Majesty of heaven demands vengeance: that the justice and holiness of the Deity would be dishonoured, if pardon were vouchsafed to such offenders as they. Probably too, he will suggest that God has not elected them; and that therefore they must perish, since they cannot alter his decrees, or save themselves without his aid. He will, as in his assaults upon our blessed Lord [Note: Mat_4:6.], bring the Scriptures themselves to countenance his lies; and, by a misapplication of difficult and detached passages, endeavour to hide from us the perfections of our God, as harmonizing and glorified in our redemption [Note: 2Co_4:4.]. It was in this manner that he strove to discourage Joshua [Note: Zec_4:1-2.], and to detain David in his bonds [Note: Psa_77:7-9.]: such advantage too he sought to take of the incestuous Corinthian [Note: 2Co_2:7; 2Co_2:11.]: and, if this stratagem be not defeated, he will prevail over us to our eternal ruin.
But there is another stratagem which, for the subtilty of its texture, the frequency of its use, and its successfulness in destroying souls, deserves more especial notice. When effectual resistance has been made to the foregoing temptations, and in spite of all these misrepresentations, the sinner has attained a just view both of his own character, and of God’s, then Satan has recourse to another wile, that promises indeed to the believer a speedy growth in the divine life, but is intended really to divert him from all proper thoughts both of himself and of God. He will “transform himself into an angel of light,” and make use of some popular minister, or some talkative professor, as his agent in this business. He will by means of his emissaries draw the young convert to matters of doubtful disputation: he will perplex his mind with some intricate questions respecting matters of doctrine, or of discipline in the Church. He will either controvert, and explode acknowledged truths, or carry them to an extreme, turning spirituality to mysticism, or liberty to licentiousness. Having entangled him in this snare, he will puff him up with a conceit of his own superior attainments, and speedily turn him from the simplicity that is in Christ. Little do his agents, who appear to be “ministers of righteousness,” imagine that they are really “ministers of the devil;” and little do they who are inveigled by them, consider “in what a snare they are taken;” but God himself, who sees all these secret transactions, and discerns their fatal tendency, has given us this very account, and thereby guarded us against this dangerous device [Note: 2Co_11:3; 2Co_11:13-15.].
Thus have we seen the temptations by which Satan leads men into sin, together with the seasons, the means, and the manner, of his assaults. We have seen also how he keeps them from God, even by misrepresenting to them their own character, and God’s, or by diverting them from a due attention either to themselves or God.
Let us now proceed in the second place to point out the means by which these wiles may be defeated—
This part of our subject will come again into discussion, both generally, in the next discourse, and particularly, when we treat of the various pieces of armour provided for us. Nevertheless we must distinctly, though briefly, shew in this place, What we are to understand by the whole armour of God; and, How we are to put it on; and, In what way it will enable us to withstand the devil’s wiles.
Armour is of two kinds, defensive and offensive: the one to protect ourselves, the other to assail our enemy. Now God has provided for us every thing that is necessary for a successful maintenance of the Christian warfare. Is our head exposed to the assaults of Satan? there is “a helmet” to guard it. Is our heart liable to be pierced? there is a “breastplate” to defend it. Are our feet subject to such wounds as may cause us to fall? there are “shoes,” or greaves, for their protection. Is our armour likely to be loosened? there is a “girdle” to keep it fast. Are there apertures, by which a well-aimed dart may find admission? there is a “shield,” which may be moved for the defence of every part, as occasion may require. Lastly, the Christian soldier is furnished with a sword also, by the skilful use of which he may inflict deadly wounds on his adversary.
But here it will be asked, How shall we get this armour? and, how shall we put it on? To obtain it, we must go to the armoury of heaven, and receive it from the hands of the Captain of our salvation. No creature in the universe can give it us. He, and he only, who formed it, can impart it to us. As, when God had decreed the destruction of Babylon, we are told, that “the Lord opened his armoury, and brought forth the weapons of his indignation [Note: Jer_50:25.];” so, when he has commissioned us to go forth against sin and Satan, he must supply us with the arms, whereby alone we can execute his will: and we must be daily going to him in prayer, that he would furnish us from head to foot, or rather, that he himself would be “our shield and buckler,” our almighty protector and deliverer [Note: Psa_84:11; Psa_18:2.].
When we have received our armour, then we are to “put it on.” It is not given us to look at, but to use: not to wear for amusement, but to gird on for actual service. We must examine it, to see that it is indeed of celestial temper, and that none is wanting. We must adjust it carefully in all its parts, that it may not be cumbersome and useless in the hour of need: and when we have clothed ourselves with it, then we must put forth our strength, and use it for the purposes for which it is designed.
Our more particular directions must be reserved, till we consider the use of each distinct part of this armour. We shall only add at present, that, if we thus go forth to the combat, we shall surely vanquish our subtle enemy. We say not, that he shall never wound us; for the most watchful of us are sometimes off our guard; and the most experienced of us sometimes deceived. But we can assure the whole army of Christians, that Satan shall never finally prevail against them [Note: Mat_16:18.]. Their head shall be preserved from error [Note: Isa_35:8]; their heart, from iniquity [Note: Rom_6:14.]; their feet, from falling [Note: 1Sa_2:9. 2Pe_1:10.].
What remains then but that we call on all of you to put on this armour? Let not any imagine that they can stand without it: for, if Adam was vanquished even in Paradise, how much more shall we be overpowered? If the perfect armour with which he was clad by nature, proved insufficient for the combat, how shall we stand, who are altogether stripped of every defence! If Satan, while yet a novice in the art of tempting, “beguiled our first parents by his subtilty,” how much more will he beguile and ruin us, after so many thousand years of additional experience! Arise then, all of you, and gird yourselves for the combat. Ye careless ones, know that ye are already “led captive by the devil at his will [Note: 2Ti_2:26.];” and the more you think yourselves secure, the more you shew that you are the dupes of Satan’s wiles. Ye weak and timid, “be strong, fear not; hath not God commanded you? Be strong, and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you, whithersoever ye go [Note: Jos_1:6; Jos_1:9.].” Only go forth in dependence upon God, and “no weapon that is formed against you shall ever prosper [Note: Isa_54:17.].” But take care that you have on the whole armour of God. In vain will be the use of any, if the whole be not used. One part left unprotected will prove as fatal, as if you were exposed in every part. But if you follow this counsel, you may defy all the hosts of hell: for “the weakest of you shall be as David, and the house of David shall be as God [Note: Zec_12:8.].”