THE HEART TAKEN.
A SERMON ON
LUKE xi. 21, 22.
When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.
The miracles which our Lord performed were so obvious, that it was impossible for his greatest enemies to deny them; but such was the malice of their hearts, that they said he performed them by the power of the devil. Our Saviour, in answer to this, shows how unreasonable and absurd it is to suppose that Satan should cast out himself, or in any way oppose his own kingdom; "for every kingdom divided against itself is brought into desolation, and a house divided against itself falleth." But in the text he shows how he had performed the miracle of casting out Satan, namely, by his superior power. He compares Satan to a strong man, armed with weapons to defend his house; and he compares himself to one that is stronger than the strong man. He allows that the devil is strong, but asserts that he is much stronger, and therefore able to cast him out. By this similitude our Lord vindicates his miracles, and proves he did not act in concert with Satan. But the words are also fairly applicable to Christ's continual victories over the devil in the hearts of men, by that power which still goes along with the preaching of the Gospel. They describe two things:
I. The sad condition of an unconverted sinner; and,
II. The wonderful power of divine grace in his conversion.
I. Here is the sad condition of an unconverted sinner; his heart is the habitation of Satan; the faculties of his mind, and the members of his body are Satan's goods; they are employed by him in the service of sin; and while this is the case, there is peace—a false and dangerous security; until Christ by his gospel disturbs it, and by his grace, delivers the prey from the hands of the mighty.
(1.) The human heart is a palace, a noble building; at first erected for the habitation of the great and glorious God, who made man "in his own image, after his own likeness," "in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness." "But the holy God has withdrawn himself, and left this temple desolate. The stately ruins are visible to every eye, and bear in their front this doleful inscription —here god once dwelt. The comely order of this house is turned into confusion; the beauties of holiness into noisome impurities; the house of prayer into a den of thieves; the noble powers of the soul, designed for divine contemplation and delight, are alienated to the service of base idols and despicable lusts. The whole soul is like the ruined palace of some great prince, in which you see, here the fragments of a lofty pillar, there the shattered remains of a curious statue, and all lying neglected and useless among heaps of dirt. The faded glory, the darkness, the impurity of this place plainly show, the great inhabitant is gone!" But,
(2.) The heart is now become, the palace of Satan. Great is the power of the devil in this world, and over the minds of wicked men. This is an unwelcome truth; but it must be told. Our Saviour calls him (John xiv. 30) the prince of this world. He who rules in this kingdom of darkness, and who is called (2 Cor. iv. 4) the god of this world, because of the great interest he has in this world, and the homage that is paid to him in the world, and the great sway that, by divine permission, he beareth in the hearts of his subjects. The worship of the heathens is the worship of the devil. Those who worship Jupiter, Bacchus, Venus, or any other idol, do really worship the devil; and the foolish, filthy, and bloody rites and ceremonies of their worship, are very fit for such devilish gods. But it is not only among pagans that he reigns. St. Paul assures us, Eph. ii. 2, that unconverted men "walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air"—the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience—those who are disobedient to God, are obedient to Satan: he works powerfully in them; they follow his suggestions; they comply with his temptations; they are subject to his commandments, and are "led captive by him at his will." This is a very awful state. People may be in it without knowing it. But all are in it by nature: all are yet in it, who "walk after the flesh, fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and of the mind."
The dwelling of Satan in a sinner is further insisted on in this chapter, verse 24, &c. "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest: and finding none, he saith, I will return to my house." There may be a partial and temporary reformation in a sinner; but without a real change the devil will resume his power, "and the last state of that man is worse than the first."
The heart of man is either God's house or Satan's. If God does not rule there by his Spirit, Satan does: and it may easily be known who rules. St. John plainly decides this matter, 1 Epist. iii. 7. "Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness, is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil." Our Lord spake the same language to the wicked Jews. They boasted that they were Abraham's children, and the people of God; but he faithfully told them "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.'' "Know ye not," saith the apostle Paul (Rom. vi. 16), "that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" Sin is the devil's work, and death is the wages of sin. One person is under the power of drunkenness, another of uncleanness, another curses and swears, another lies, another steals. All these are Satan's drudges and slaves. Their slavery is the most abject in the world, and is worse than any, for in other cases the poor slave longs for freedom, and gladly escapes if he can; but here the wretched sinner hugs his yoke, fancies music in his chains, and scorns the proposal of liberty. All this is owing to the power and craft of the devil, who
(3.) Endeavours by all means to keep possession —"the strongman armed, keepeth the house;" and this he does by hiding from his vassals the fatal consequences of sin—by hindering any intercourse with the right owner—and by filling the heart with prejudice against him.
He keeps possession of the sinner's heart by hiding from him the evil and wages of sin. He is called a ruler of darkness: he reigns in darkness, and by darkness. Sinners little think where he is leading them. "Surely, in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird." Prov. i. 17. The silly birds are wiser than sinners. Sinners are told of their danger, but to no purpose. Satan hath shut their eyes, and they are determined to keep them shut; "they love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil:" and how justly may a holy God doom that soul to everlasting darkness, who wilfully rejected the light of life.
Satan does all he can to prevent any intercourse between the sinner and the blessed God, who is the original and rightful owner of the heart. Such is the love of God to his rebellious creatures, that he has sent his Son into the world to make reconciliation; and he has also sent his servants to publish the gospel, or the ministry of reconciliation, "beseeching sinners, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to God." But Satan dreads the effects of the gospel, and therefore tries to hinder it. St. Paul says, "Satan hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, lest the light of the glorious gospel should shine into them." He would keep the light of the gospel out of the world if he could; and he tries hard for it in some places, by his persecuting agents; but as he cannot do this, he will keep it out of men's hearts if possible. He loves to keep men in ignorance and error. He persuades some to break the Sabbath and to forsake the house of God, and to neglect the bible; and he keeps others in a state of wretched formality; they worship God with their bodies, but their hearts are far from him.
He fills the hearts of many with prejudices against Christ and the gospel. Those who preach it and receive it, generally go under some name of reproach, and are so misrepresented by ignorant, interested, and carnal persons, that they are afraid to hear and judge for themselves. Where open persecution is not permitted, this is one of Satan's principal means of keeping the possession of the sinner's heart. But this snare would be broken, if men would remember that it has always been the lot of good men to be despised—that Christ himself was treated in the same manner; that he tells all his followers to expect reproach, and calls upon them to rejoice and be exceeding glad on that account. Thus you see that,
(4.) Satan is but too well qualified to maintain his ground —he is compared to a strong man—and to a strong man armed. Devils are fallen angels, strong in their natural powers; vastly superior to men; and they have been long practised in the arts of destruction; they are like enemies flushed with victory, having succeeded in millions of instances, and were therefore not afraid to attack the innocent Jesus himself. Satan is armed; armed with astonishing cunning; he is, "the old serpent, that deceived the whole world;" armed with inveterate malice against God and against man: as a hungry and ravenous lion, he goeth about seeking whom he may devour.
We read, in 2 Cor. x. 4, of Satan's strong holds—fortified places. Ignorance, prejudice, beloved lusts, evil habits, the way of the world, &c., are Satan's strong holds in the hearts of some; vain imaginations, carnal reasonings, and proud conceits of self-righteousness, exalt themselves in others against the knowledge of God; and by these means the devil keeps men from faith in Christ, and retains the possession of their hearts as his own property.
(5.) While the strong man thus armed, keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace. There is, indeed, "no (true) peace to the wicked:" God hath not spoken peace; but sinners speak peace to themselves, and Satan, by wicked and carnal ministers, who are some of his best agents, speaks peace also. Carnal persons have generally a good opinion of themselves and of their state; they think they have good hearts, are not so bad as others, and have no occasion to be uneasy. Just like St. Paul before his conversion—I was alive, saith he, without the law, once. He thought that if any man would go to heaven, he should. He trusted in his birth, and education; his good church, and his good life: Satan, the strongman armed, had then full possession of his heart, and therefore all was quiet; "but when the commandment came;"—when the holy, fiery, spiritual law, Christ's pioneer, came, and showed him he was a sinner, a great sinner, the chief of sinners; then farewell this old peace, this false peace, this fatal peace; then he saw what he was, and where he was; and was glad to get peace from another quarter, even from the blood of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
If a person were never uneasy about his sins, it is no good sign. It may be feared that Satan keeps his heart; for wherever the gospel comes, though it be the gospel of peace, it creates disturbance. It often occasions great agitation in a parish, in a family, and in the heart; and be not offended, brethren, if it do so among you. Jesus Christ has told us it will do so. Luke xii. 51. "Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you Nay; but rather division"—"a sword"— "a fire." Ver. 49. The gospel certainly tends to promote peace with God and man; but through the carnal enmity of the natural man, it becomes an occasion of great discord. Wherever the gospel was first preached by the apostles it excited disturbance and persecution; and to this day, where the true gospel is newly preached, it makes "no small stir,'' and people are ready to say, as of old, "The men who have turned the world upside down are come hither also," Satan will not quietly part with his prey; and ungodly men who know not the nature and need of the gospel, will oppose it.
The gospel is designed to bring the heart to rest and peace in Jesus; but, as the soul must change masters, this resolution cannot be brought about without division. There must be a separation of the heart from the creature, in order to its union with God; for peace with the world and peace with him are inconsistent.
Having thus shown you the first thing in the text, namely, The sad condition of an unconverted sinner, let us proceed to display,
II. The wonderful power of divine grace in his conversion —when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth the spoils.
Observe here, the greatness of the Conqueror, Jesus Christ; he alone is stronger than Satan. Strong as the devil is, he is but a creature, and his power is finite: Jesus Christ is the Creator, and his power is infinite. He made the worlds. This earthly ball, the glittering stars, the silver moon, and the glorious sun, are all the work of his hands; and by his power all nature stands: "in him all things consist;" "for of him and through him, and to him are all things, and to him be glory for ever, Amen." This glorious and gracious God, "was manifested in the flesh," he took our feeble nature, and became a man, that he might "destroy the works of the devil," and rescue his people from Satan's destructive hands.
See him in the wilderness encountering this hellish foe; he was tempted in all points like ourselves; but he vanquished the enemy, and he fled from him. See him displaying his superior power in casting out devils from the bodies of many miserable people. They could never resist his command. By a single word he relieved multitudes who had long been oppressed by Satan, and whose bodies as well as souls had been his habitation. He gave a portion of the same power to his disciples, who, returning from their mission, joyfully cried " Even the devils are subject unto us through thy name!" "I beheld," said he, "Satan fall as lightning from heaven." Thus was "the prince of this world judged." The conquest was completed when he hung on the cross; and the triumph was celebrated when he rose to the skies—he spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly:" "he led captivity captive, and received gifts for men."
The power of Christ over Satan was displayed in every country where the gospel was preached. The heathens became ashamed of their idols, and the altars of their gods were deserted. Those oracles in which perhaps Satan had been suffered to speak were struck dumb; the most abandoned of mankind were reformed and renewed; and the world was astonished at the triumphs of the cross. For it was not by the force of human laws; it was not by the edge of the sword; nor was it by the power of eloquence, that the gospel prevailed: no, "the weapons of this warfare were not carnal," and however mean they seemed in the eyes of men, they were "mighty, through God, to pull down the strong holds of the devil." Every man who knew its nature and felt its effects, would say with the apostle, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation to every one that believeth;" "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Christ; by which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world."
As the strong man was armed, Jesus Christ is also armed. So speaks the Psalmist, "Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty; and in thy majesty ride prosperously, because of truth, meekness, and righteousness; and let thy right hand teach thee, terrible things. Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies, whereby the people fall under thee." Ps. xlv. Here Christ is described as a warrior armed for the field. The sword is "the word of Christ," or the gospel. With this weapon he prevailed, and made his "glory and majesty " known throughout the world, subduing idolatry and iniquity to the faith and temper of the gospel, and thus rescuing his elect from the power of the devil.
In this conquest. "Christ takes away the armour," on which so much dependence was placed. By the teaching of the Holy Spirit, he takes away the scales of ignorance which covered the eyes: the soul discovers its danger and ruin. He renews the will, for his people are "made willing in the day of his power:" they are glad to quit the service of their old master, and "willingly yield themselves unto the Lord." Thus is that prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled, "I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong." Chap. liii. 12. Having conquered Satan, he takes possession. Much of the glory of Christ consists in vast multitudes of redeemed souls becoming his faithful subjects and humble followers. Subdued by his grace, they give up themselves to him, to be saved, taught and governed: "thus he sees the travail of his soul," the fruit of his sufferings; and thus "the pleasure of the Lord prospers in his hands."
"He divideth the spoil." As a conqueror takes possession of the enemy's property, so Christ, having subdued the sinner, now possesses what was before at the disposal of Satan. It is a sad truth, that whatever gifts a natural man has, they are applied to the purposes of sin; his wealth, his wisdom, his time, his influence, and all that he hath. How reasonable is it, then, that the saved sinner, constrained by the mercies of God, should present his body a living sacrifice to the Lord, holy and acceptable. It is indeed his reasonable service, and the poet's sweet language will be cordially adopted:—
"Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all."
Whose habitation are we? Christ's, or the devil's? One or the other rules in our hearts. Every man is under the influence of the good Spirit of God, or the evil spirit of the devil. "Know ye not that ye are the temples of the Holy Ghost?" said the apostle to the first Christians. So we may say to wicked men, know ye not that ye are the temples of Satan, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience? Does sin reign in you, or Christ? What is your leisure time devoted to? What are your affections set upon? Is it upon vanity, pleasure, the lusts of the flesh? while Christ and his great salvation are neglected, the soul forgotten, sin indulged, prayer omitted, religion despised? O, my friends, your case is dreadful. You may, perhaps, laugh at all this; you may even say there is no such being as the devil; that the scriptures speak in a figurative way, and use strong eastern figures; but you may as well deny that you have a rational spirit within you, as deny the existence of good and evil spirits without you. Our Lord teaches us daily to pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;" or as it might be rendered—the evil one. O that you might put up that prayer from your heart. O that you had a wish to be delivered from his power: for if you should live and die under it, you must hear that awful sentence from the mouth of Christ,— "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Horrible company! frightful association! Yet, how just! Sinners hearkened to his temptations, and they must partake in his torments. His works they would do, his wages they must receive. In this life they joined with devils against God and holiness; in the other they must be shut up with them for ever. O that men would consider this in time; renounce the devil and his works, and open the door of their hearts to the Lord. Why should men choose that company in this world which they would abhor in the next? Those who hate the company of the religious now will not be troubled with it hereafter; but as ungodly company is their delight now, they will have a miserable eternity to pass with it: and let those who foolishly invocate the devil to take them soberly consider, that the company so often invited will be terrible when it comes.
But, O believer in Jesus, hail! thou art happily delivered. Adore and love the great deliverer. Had not he interposed; had he not conquered Satan for thee on the cross, and in thee by his Spirit, thou hadst still been his wretched vassal. When Jesus had cast the devil out of a man, who had been miserably treated by him, he was so transported with love and gratitude, that he besought him, "that he might be with him;" Luke viii. 38; he longed to enjoy his company, as Mary Magdalene and others whom he had healed did; but our Lord saw fit to deny him this request; and ordered him "to return to his own house, and show what great things God had done for him." Go, Christian, and do likewise. Like him, "publish throughout the whole city, how great things Jesus has done for thee."
The castle of the human heart,
Strong in its native sin,
Is guarded well in every part
By him who dwells within.
Thus Satan for a season reigns,
And keeps his goods in peace;
The soul is pleas'd to bear his chains,
Nor wishes a release.
But Jesus, stronger far than he,
In his appointed hour—
Appears, to set his people free
From the usurper's power.
The rebel soul that once withstood
The Saviour's kindest call,
Rejoices now, by grace subdued,
To serve him with her all.