Thursday, January 15, 2015
The Vision (1.15.15): Thomas Watson: 27 of Satan's Subtleties
Note: A few weeks ago I gave a Sunday School message on the sixth petition in the Lord’s Prayer: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matt 6:13). At the time I made mention of a 2010 message I did on the same topic in which I made use of Thomas Watson’s peerless study of the Lord prayer in which the Puritan father lists no less than 27 of Satan’s subtleties in tempting men to sin (see Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer [original 1692; Banner of Truth, 2009]: pp. 262-282). Here are my notes from that 2010 sermon in which I summarized and adapted Watson’s list. In this list it is as though he had discovered Satan’s playbook. Here are some of Satan’s strategies noted by Watson:
1. He knows our natural temper and constitution.
As a farmer knows the proper seed to plant, Satan knows just the right temptations to sow in our hearts. “Satan tempts the ambitious man with a crown, the sanguine [passionate] man with beauty, the covetous man with a wedge of gold.”
2. He chooses the fittest seasons to tempt in. Watson lists six such seasons:
First, in our first initiation and entrance into religion. He attacks most sharply at the first signs of conversion.
Second, when he finds us unemployed [not meaning here without a job but without spiritual employment]. The hunter shoots the bird that sits still, so Satan aims at the man who is not active in spiritual life.
Third, when a person is reduced to outward wants and straits. He hits us when we are on hard times and hungry. Esau traded his birthright for a bowl of stew. Satan came at Jesus after he fasted for 40 days.
Fourth, after an ordinance. After hearing a sermon or a baptism or the Lord’s Supper.
Fifth, after some discovery of God’s love. As a pirate likes to attack a ship laden with treasure, so Satan seeks to rob us at just the times when we are full of joy.
Sixth, when he sees us at our weakest. He likes to break over the hedge at the lowest point. This often comes on two occasions: (1) when we are alone; this was when Satan approached Eve in the Garden; and (2) when the hour of death approaches. Like a crow, Satan likes to peck at the weak saint on his deathbed with temptation. He tells the saint he is a hypocrite. Like a coward, he strikes us while we are down.
3. He often baits his hook with religion.
He sometimes tempts men into sinful and unwarrantable actions by making them think that they are honoring God all the more.
4. He tempts to sin gradually.
He tempts first to lesser sins, that he may bring on greater. Think of the addict who begins with drinking and moves on to “recreational drugs” and then moves on to hard drugs.
5. His policy is to hand us over to temptations by those we least suspect.
He can use friends, family members, even religious friends to ensnare and entice.
6. Satan tempts some persons more than others.
He “tempts most where he thinks his policies will most easily prevail.”
Five types of persons that Satan works on most often:
First, Ignorant persons.
Third, proud persons.
Fourth, melancholy persons. He works on those who have a discontented spirit.
Fifth, idle persons. “The devil will find work for the idle to do…. If the hands be not working good, the heart will be plotting evil.”
7. Satan might give some respite but he does not completely go away.
He lulls us into complacency. Just as a man who wants to scale a wall has to run back a bit to make a greater jump, sometimes when he is quiet he is just preparing for a more bold attack. Thus, we must always be watchful.
8. He either tries to make men leave off the means of grace or to miscarry them.
He tells men that they are not worthy and that they are not making any progress to discourage them and make them stop.
Or he causes them to miscarry by being distracted or slipping into formalism or pride (doing acts of piety to be seen by men—see Matthew 6).
9. Satan can color over sin with the name and pretense of virtue.
“He can cheat men with false wares; he can make them believe that presumption is faith, that intemperate passion is zeal, revenge is prudence, covetousness is frugality, and prodigality is good hospitality.”
10. He labors to ensnare us by lawful things.
Example: “Relations are lawful, but how often does Satan tempt us to overlove! How often is the wife and child laid in God’s room! Excess makes things lawful become sinful.”
11. He jostles our callings (to vocation and Christian service).
So, some spend all their time in spiritual activity “and under a pretense of living by faith, do not live in a calling.” “Others, Satan takes off from duties of religion, under a pretense that they must provide for their families; he makes them so careful for their bodies that they quite neglect their souls.”
12. He misrepresents true holiness so as to make others fall out of love with it.
He tries to make religion seem like a most melancholy thing. He tries to make holy men seem like dour, unhappy, kill-joys. He “paints holiness with a deformed and mis-shapen face as he can.”
13. Satan draws men off from the love of the truth to embrace error.
He comes as an angel of light. He loves to spread error. He glories in division in the church. “The devil dances at discord.” His “policy in raising errors is to hinder reformation. He was never a friend to reformation.”
“Satan tempts to error, because error devours godliness.”
14. Satan bewitches and ensnares men by setting pleasing baits before them.
“The pleasures of the world are the great engine by which Satan batters down men’s souls. His policy is to tickle them to death, to damn them with delights.”
15. Satan in tempting pleads necessity.
He tells us that our case is extreme and thus he entices us to justify ungodly behavior.
16. Satan draws men to presumption.
He makes men think, I can do this and God will forgive me. At one point in his book, Watson says there is a difference between a soldier who is taken captive while actively fighting and resisting and one who willfully defects to the other side or who acts a traitor.
17. Satan often comes under the highest pretenses of friendship.
He comes as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He makes us think that the wrong he tempts us to do is for our good.
18. Satan persuades men to keep his counsel.
That is, he would rather we conceal and hide our sin rather than deal openly with it.
19. He “makes use of such persons as may be the most likely means to promote his designs.”
He can use men of renowned and seeming dignity and authority. “He carries on his designs by men of wit and parts, such as, if it were possible, should deceive the very elect.” He also makes use of bad company. He uses men high and low.
20. He strikes at some graces more than other; and he aims at some persons more than others.
Watson says the thing he attacks most is faith. He knows he cannot take away our faith but if he can disturb it he can rob us our peace, comfort, and joy in Christ. By this he can also make us lame and invalid in the other graces.
21. He encourages doctrines that are flesh-pleasing.
He “tells man there is no need for strictness; nor so much zeal and violence; a softer pace will serve.”
22. His policy is either to hinder us from duty, to discourage us in our duty, or to put us too far in duty.
He does not want us to meditate on the Word, to mortify sin, or to engage in self-examination.
He discourages us by telling us we are hypocrites.
He takes us too far. Not only do we wade into the waters of repentance but we are drowned in the gulf of despair.
23. He tempts to sin also by urging a “speedy repentance.”
He makes us think long-standing habitual sins can be easily or quickly overcome and we fall right back into them after brief victories.
24. He puts us upon doing good things but unseasonably.
Watson gives the example of a man who stayed home to read the Bible, but in so doing he missed the gathering of the church to hear preaching and teaching and to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Likewise, I knew a man who would come to mid-week meeting and read his Bible in a room but not join with the gathered church in study and prayer, and a man who did not attend the evening services of a church where he was a member because he was doing family devotions.
25. Satan persuades men to delay repentance and turning to God.
“Many now in hell purposed to repent, but death surprised them.”
26. Satan assaults and weakens the saints’ peace.
If he cannot keep them from heaven, he will try to keep them from heaven upon earth.
27. He even tempts men through plausible arguments “to make away with themselves” (take their own lives).
Watson concludes his list of these 27 subtleties by noting that once there was a story of a plot against the life of the Reformer Martin Luther. It was learned that a man wanted to poison him, but a friend sent to Luther a picture of his would-be assassin so that he might recognize him when he saw him. In these 27 traits, Watson says, “I have shown you the picture of him that would murder you. Being forewarned, I beseech you take heed of the murderer.”