Adapted From a Sermon by John Angell James
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
I would draw your attention this morning to a deeply important, yet awful and mysterious subject; that is, the influence of Satan in our temptations to sin. Of the real personal existence of this dreadful being, there can exist no well-founded doubt to anyone who, with meekness and a teachable spirit, submits his understanding to the teaching of God's Word. To resolve what is there affirmed of Satan's varied attributes and actions into mere imagery, and to conceive that nothing more is intended than a bold personification of the evil principle, goes far to turn the whole gospel history into fable, and needs only another and more adventurous step in the interpretation of Scripture, to convert even the Savior himself into a mystical character, and to make him only the personification of virtue.
Of the history of Satan we know but little, except that he is an apostate spirit, a fallen angel, who existed before man, that he was cast out of heaven for his sin, and now in some unknown way occupies himself in seducing others to sin. He is, in all probability, the leader and chief of all the angels whom God did not spare “when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment," 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6.
He is by way of distinction called "the devil," a word that means a slanderer and accuser, a term that perhaps has reference to his past history in heaven, and his present conduct on earth. By way of emphasis he is called "the evil one," Matt. 13:19, 38; Ephes. 6:16; 1 John 2:13, 14; 3:12; 5:18; a fearful title, implying that his whole character is made up of unmingled vileness, and every kind of wickedness; that he is wicked in himself, and the leader of all wickedness in others. In other places he is designated "the tempter," Matt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5. This name he has earned not only from his seducing our first parents from their innocence—but probably from his successful schemes in heaven, and certainly from his constant occupation among the children of men.
It may be imagined that, filled and fired with powerless rage and revenge towards God, for his expulsion from heaven; with envy and hatred towards man, as selected in Divine sovereignty to be the object of Divine benevolence; and perhaps, above all, cherishing a poisoned personal hatred and hostility against the Lord Jesus Christ in his mediatorial character and redeeming work, he is ever seeking by his temptations to keep men under that yoke to which he has reduced them, and from which it is the design of the Savior to free them.
It would seem to have been his goal to be the tyrannical head of the human race, to have all mankind as his slaves, and to lead them by sinning against God, to do his will. Perhaps his goal was to be an object of worship and adoration, "the god of this world," 2 Cor. 4:4; thus his declaration to Christ, "All these (the kingdoms of the world) I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me," Matt. 4:8,9. His grand ambition and plan then, are to be a kind of rival with God, to lead men off from Jehovah, and draw them under his own influence. This accounts for his personal hostility to Christ, who "appeared … to destroy the works of the devil," 1 John 3:8. To counteract the work of redeeming mercy, as far as he is able, and so to oppose the purpose of God, the honor of Christ, and the happiness of man—he is ever tempting the children of Adam to sin, and following up, as far as permitted, his first success in the garden of Eden.
In what way Satan tempts men to sin is a deep mystery. That in some way he has access to the human mind is clear, for how else could he tempt at all, since he does not appear personally and visibly and tempt to iniquity? Peter in addressing Ananias said to him, "why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" Acts 5:3. Still the mode of his operation is concealed from us. We know very little of the nature of our own spirits; and how another spirit can act upon us, is a mystery we, in our present state, cannot explain.
The way in which Satan and his influence are described in the Word of God, and the earnestness with which we are admonished to guard against him, should lead us to deep concern and holy vigilance. It would seem that his power, though of course limited and restrained, is very great; that his trickery is equal to his power; and that his maliciousness is not inferior to either. The very idea that we have to combat with such an enemy, an enemy that had the courage to attack the Son of God—an enemy the more dangerous for the cloud of mystery that hangs around him, and conceals his movements from sight—an enemy that actually subdued our first parents, notwithstanding their perfect innocence and perfect situation in paradise—an enemy whom success has made bold, and experience wise, in ruining souls—an enemy that may be near us at any moment, unseen, and therefore unnoticed, and may be preparing some new kind of attack, is indeed sufficient to alarm us, far more than it does, and to put us upon the best means of escaping the danger.
With too many professing Christians, there seems be a careless confidence, and an air of unwarranted security, which their situation of extreme peril does not justify, and which is quite opposed to the solemn warnings contained in the Word of God.
How calculated is such language as the following to stir up a deep and watchful care against Satan, "Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat," Luke 22:31. "We are not ignorant of (Satan’s) designs," 2 Cor. 2:11. "I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. Satan disguises himself as an angel of light," 2 Cor. 11:3, 14. "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith," 1 Pet. 5:8, 9. What a description! Your adversary; one who for power is a "lion," for cruelty and rage, a "roaring lion," for activity, "prowls around," for diligence, "seeking" out his prey; for destruction and consuming purposes, "seeking someone to devour."
But still more impressive and appalling is the language of Paul, in another place, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one." Ephes. 6:10-12, 16. This gives us an awful and alarming view of the subject of Satanic opposition.
You cannot fail to see that in this passage, as well as in others, the temptations of Satan are characterized by peculiar trickery and cunning. The apostle speaks of "schemes," in another place of "designs," and in another of "cunning." We are led therefore to suppose that he knows us very well; situation; besetting sins; weaknesses; occupations; companions; conduct; un-watchfulness—and then adapts most skillfully his temptations to the case, taking advantage of whatever may possibly give power to his seductions.
It may be useful to consider to what kinds of sins his temptations are more usually applied. Probably he has some concern in all temptations to sin—but especially in those which make our character more like his own; to the vices which he himself is guilty of. To falsehood and error, for instance. He is called "a liar and the father of lies," John 8:44; a "deceiver," Rev. 12:9; 13:14; from this he takes his name "devil," or slanderer, and false accuser. It was with a lie that he filled the heart of Ananias. The whole system of error; idolatry, in all its forms; Islam; infidelity; and heresy in its numerous grades from the highest to the lowest, must be traced up to his subtle allurements.
Pride is especially his sin—and therefore the direction given by the apostle to Timothy concerning the appointment of elders, "He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil," that is, the sin for which the devil was condemned.
Ambition, with its helper, jealousy, cruel as the grave, is his vice and his temptation.
All the ugly passions are especially diabolical sins, envy, malice, wrath, revenge. These form his very character, and to these he is ever exciting the susceptible children of men. Hence the expression of the apostle, "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil," (Eph 4:26) that is, do not yield yourself up to him, and allow him to get the upper hand over you, by indulging in immoderate anger.
Discontent, murmuring, and resistance to God's will, in his dispensations towards us, form a state of mind to which Satan is anxious to reduce us; hence the language of the apostle, in his epistle to the Ephesians, "in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" Ephes. 2:2.
There is one passage, already quoted, which deserves special attention: that is the expression, "With which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one." It is supposed the allusion here is to the poisoned arrows which were used, among primitive tribes, the wound of which causes a sense of burning in the flesh; and that the apostle intends by this figure, to describe those horrid suggestions which sometimes arise in the minds of even godly people, and which, as they come from no external apparent cause, are to be traced to the malignant operation of our great adversary. Such suggestions certainly do occasionally arise, to the great distress of the one who has them—strange, unaccountable, horrid thoughts, savoring almost of blasphemy, or at any rate of infidelity and atheism in reference to God and his Word; of gloomy despair and misery as regards our own state; and of mischief and injury towards our fellow-creatures.
Perhaps all Christians are aware of the reality of such painful thoughts, which are indeed like fiery darts shot into the mind, by some cruel hand; and on account of which they go sorrowing, as if they were the evidences of a wicked and un-renewed heart. Let them not, however, on this ground doubt their conversion, or conclude unfavorably against themselves. We are not criminal for those evil thoughts which come into the mind—but only for those which we keep and encourage there! If we invite them, do anything that leads to them, or welcome and entertain them, there is in this case an act of the will in reference to them, and we become accountable for them. But thoughts which come unwanted and unwelcome, the presence of which causes in us alarm and distress—like a thief, or the discovery of a serpent, or a fire in the house—and which like these are hastily expelled and extinguished, may be things which afflict us—but certainly will not be matter of condemnation with Him who "knows our frame; (and) remembers that we are dust." (Ps 103:14)
Let us now go on to consider in what manner we are to carry on our conflict with Satan.
And here we should note that we are not to imagine some embodiment or personification of the evil one; so neither are we to think of any direct and immediate personal conflict with Satan himself, as if we could come to engage in battle with him, and to resist him in any other way but than by opposing all our own evil thoughts, feelings, and inclinations.
There are some enthusiastic people with a vivid turn of mind, who have gone so far from sound judgment, as to imagine that in their spiritual conflicts, they have been in such immediate, conscious struggles with the tempter, as almost to persuade themselves they have seen him. But this is only the effect of a heated, and misguided imagination. We can in no other way oppose Satan, than by opposing our own evil inclinations, or the enticements of people and things around us—for there is no other way in which he attacks us; or in which we can feel his attacks. We can in no way distinguish his influence from the workings of our own corruptions, so as to be able to say for sure—what is definitely the workings of Satan, and what is definitely the operation of our own corruption. We know nothing of his approach—save for in some movement of our mind or heart against the will of God; and it is by resisting that movement that we are to resist the devil.
The means of opposing the devil are clearly pointed out in the Scripture. "Resist him, firm in your faith," (1 Peter 5:9) says one apostle, "In all circumstances, take up the shield of faith," says another, "with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one." (Eph 6:16) As one great part of our Christian conflict is with him, so the principal means by which he is to be resisted is faith. The figure used by the apostle in comparing faith to a shield is a very beautiful and instructive one; and his direction to put it on over all the other parts of the armor is equally striking. The shield was useful in covering every part of the body—if the enemy aimed his arrow at the head, the warrior could raise the shield to protect this important part; if he aimed it at the heart, the defense could be in an instant lowered to cover this also. And so whether Satan aims to tempt our mind with plausible error, or our hearts by seductive sins, faith is equally useful.
Nor does this exhaust the beauty of the metaphor, for the shield covered not only all the parts of the body—but all the other parts of the armor. So faith extends its protecting influence to all the other graces. Who would care about the belt of truth, if he did not believe there was a God to see and reward all that he does? The breastplate of righteousness would lie neglected if we did not believe that holiness is pleasing to God, and essential to our happiness. We would never put on the shoes of holy peace without that faith which produces it. Hope would languish without faith; and the helmet remain suspended on the wall, instead of being placed on our head. The sword of the Spirit would rest in its sheath, did not faith draw it out. The whole conflict with Satan is a fight of faith; and we thus account for the declaration of our Lord to Peter, "Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat," Luke 22:31.
By faith, we realize the existence and presence of God, as the spectator and helper of our souls in the conflict, warning us by his holiness and justice against compliance with temptations, and encouraging us by his grace and truth to resist them. Faith helps us to realize a present God, as well as a present devil; compels us to say, "How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" (Gen 39:9) and assists us to endure “as seeing him who is invisible." (Heb 11:27)
By faith, we go to the cross, and there find for our help all the power and might of the great atonement that there was made for sin. The cross of the Savior is the shelter and defense, to which the poor tempted soul turns to when severely beset by the great adversary. There we see the evil of sin, in opposition to all the disguised lies with which the enemy endeavors to deceive and entrap us. There we see how God has taken our side by the great sacrifice of his Son, and are encouraged to expect his gracious support. There we see how completely we are rescued from the power of Satan, and are no longer his captives. There we learn that we are bought with a price and belong to Christ, and are bound to obey him as our faithful Lord, and to give up all the unfruitful works of darkness. There we see the power of the Spirit provided for us, to assist us in all our spiritual conflicts. There it is, that the believer, in holy indignation, and in noble defiance, exclaims, "Get behind me, Satan; every drop of my Savior's blood proclaims my blessed freedom from your dominion, and my obligations to serve the Lord. I am more than conqueror through Him who has loved me."
By faith, we partake of the fruit and effect of Christ's victory over Satan. He gained a twofold conquest, one personal, in the wilderness to which he was led up by the Spirit to stand the trial, and where he was victorious, by himself—but not only for himself. It was as our Redeemer he endured that conflict, that he might, as it were, beat the enemy first, and lead us to battle with a conquered and humbled opponent; in this way extending to us the fruit of his victory, as well as teaching us how to gain one for ourselves.
Christ's second victory was at the cross, when, hanging upon it, "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them," Col. 2:15. It was then he bruised the serpent's head, Gen 3:15, and "through death he (destroyed) the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil," Heb. 2:14. Then he broke the power, and destroyed the dominion of Satan. Satan may now molest us—but cannot at will destroy us. It is a vanquished enemy we fight with. Faith in this blessed truth gives courage, confidence, and spirit to the believer in resisting the wicked one.
By faith, we are assured of the truth, excellence, and importance of God's Word, and thus oppose the whole Bible to Satan's darts. The doctrines and duties, the invitations and promises, the warnings and threatenings, are all useful by turns. Are we tempted by the difficulties and mysteries of some of the doctrines—to disbelief, and error? Faith fixes her powerful eye on the evidence of the truth, and with a "Thus says the Lord," to depend upon, receives the truth on the authority of Him who reveals it, and at the same time, conscious of its inability to understand even the most common matters in their full extent, bows the intellect into submission to the Scriptures, and admits, without dispute, whatever Divine wisdom has revealed.
It is one of Satan's masterpieces to induce men to take some one truth of Scripture, and to magnify its importance beyond all due bounds, and to exalt it not only above all other truths—but to the utter exclusion of them, thus founding error upon truth, and heresies upon the sacred Scriptures. One system takes the humanity and example of Christ—but leaves out his Divinity and atonement. Another system, perverting the indwelling of the Spirit, insists on the inward light, to the neglect of the work of Christ, and the outward revelation. Still another triumphs in free grace and justification by faith—but neglects good works; while self-righteousness is proud of good works to the neglect of faith. Rigid predestinarianism asserts the sovereignty of God to the subversion of man's freedom; while the opposite boasts of man's own sufficiency, to the denial of God's decrees and human dependence. But a simple faith takes the whole Word, and in this way repels the ploys of the tempter.
In the same way, when the temptation is to sinful indulgence, and when the father of lies urges all kinds of arguments, and brings up all kinds of excuses for sin, such, for instance, as that it was committed by some of the good men in Scripture; that it is but a little offence, or a common one; that repentance can soon follow it; that there is no perfection here; that it is a part of the conflict for us to be occasionally defeated; that it need not be repeated—then faith meets the whole, by this one declaration, "It is still sin! God has forbidden it. How can I do this wickedness, and sin against the Lord?" And so, as Christ himself overcame the tempter by quoting Scripture, so does the believer.
Faith conquers Satan by laying hold of the promises of help and reward contained in the Word. Paul was buffeted with a messenger from Satan. In his distress he knocked three times at the door of heaven, and cried for help. All the answer he could get was, "My grace is sufficient for you," 2 Cor. 12:9. It was enough. With this he went to the conflict, and came off more than conqueror. And what was said to him, is said equally to us. With God's grace to help us, we need not fear the wicked one.
We may seem little in his hands—but he is far less in the hands of God. The lion from the bottomless pit is nothing compared to the Lion of the tribe of Judah! He may be mighty—but he is not almighty. He may be formidable—but he is not invincible. We have a promise not only of help—but of victory. "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet" Rom. 16:20. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" James 4:7. Though he comes raging and roaring, he will, if resisted, leave in shame and confusion.
And then there are also promises of a rich and eternal reward. "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him," James 1:12. We will soon put our foot upon the neck of this foe, and with the victor's crown upon our head, exclaim, "thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," 1 Cor 15:57.
And then faith leads to all other appropriate and necessary duties. We should be much in prayer for Divine help. When we are weak—then we are strong. Prayer for God's Spirit is a confession of our weakness, and a reliance upon God's mightiness. It is in this way that we take hold upon God's strength. What is the infernal spirit of hell, to the Spirit of God? Be much in prayer, then, and let this be one of your special petitions—to be delivered from the power of Satan. We never feel so strong, we never are so strong, as when we are bowing down before the throne of God. Satan has little hope of conquering the man whom he cannot draw away from his private prayer. He looks upon him in that refuge, as in an impregnable fortress.
The apostle exhorts us also "be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour," 1 Peter 5:8. Sober-mindedness means not merely a restraint on our fleshly appetite, so as not to be intoxicated with strong drink—but a restraint also on the lusts of the mind, so as not to have the soul intoxicated with the love of the world. Many a man has a drunken soul, who never had a drunken body in his life. Beware of spiritual drunkenness. Let us "watch ourselves lest our hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life," Luke 21:34. What can an intoxicated man do against a roaring lion? He can neither fight nor flee.
And we must add vigilance to sober-mindedness . Watchfulness is an essential duty of the Christian life; none is more necessary; none more frequently or more solemnly enjoined. Who that is asleep can defend himself against a lion? How cautiously, how prudently would we walk, if we were in a country where wild beasts are common, and saw the footprints, and actually heard the roar of a lion. Such is our situation. See to it, then, that you do walk cautiously—looking all round, watching every object, lest it conceal the enemy; your trials, your comforts, your occupations, your tastes, your pleasures, your thoughts, your desires, your besetting sins—and especially watch your hearts with all diligence. An unwatchful Christian is sure to be an unsuccessful one.
And now, as a closing summary of all that has been said on this subject here are two short remarks:
It is a mysterious subject, and we should not allow a restless and unwholesome curiosity to pry further into it than God has seen fit to reveal. It is a solemn one, and should never be spoken of lightly or irreverently. It is a scriptural one, and should not be viewed with skepticism and distrust.
And finally, we should never allow ourselves to throw the blame of our sins upon Satan, nor in the smallest degree plead the strength and subtlety of his temptations, as an excuse for our guilt in complying with them; for though he may entice, he cannot compel.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, and he will flee from you.