[I was impressed by the Holy Spirit to publish the following message exclusively for all our ministry friends. This particular section is from William Gurnall's book Christian in Complete Armour. Although this message was penned over 300 years ago, it still speaks with tremendous power and authority. Gurnall is considered to be one of the most pious, godly Puritans of his age. May the Holy Spirit add strength and courage to your faith through this excellent presentation of God's power over all the forces of Satan. D.W. ]
Satan, with all his wits and wiles, shall never defeat a soul armed with true grace. Instead, he who wears this armour of God shall defeat Satan. Look into the Word; you will not find a saint sifted and winnowed by this enemy who did not come off with an honorable victory. Our examples are David, Job, Peter, and Paul who were the most tried of any upon record. And lest some should attribute their victory to the strength of their inherent grace, the glory of their victories is attributable to God, in whom the weak are as strong as the strongest. These are two reasons why the Christian who seems to be so overmatched is yet so unconquerable (II Cor. 12:9; James 5:11).
First: The curse that lies upon Satan and his cause. God's curse blasts wherever it comes. The Canaanites with their neighboring nations were bread for Israel, though they were famous for war. Why? They were cursed nations. The Egyptians were a shrewd people. "Let us deal wisely," they said. Yet being cursed of God, this lay like a thorn at their heart, and was at last their ruin. In fact, when the Israelites themselves, who carry the badge of God's covenant on their flesh, by their sins once became the people of God's curse, they were trampled like dirt under the Assyrians' feet. Now there is an irrevocable curse which cleaves to Satan from Gen. 3:14, 15, "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed..." This meant the literal serpent, yet it refers chiefly to the devil and his spiritual serpentine brood. Now there are two things in that curse which may comfort the saints.
The curse prostrates Satan under their feet. "Upon thy belly shalt thou go" which is exactly what was promised, that God will subdue Satan under our feet. Now this prostrate condition of Satan assures believers that the devil shall never lift his head, that is, his wily policy, higher than the saint's heel. He may make you limp, but he cannot take your life; and this bruise which he gives shall be rewarded with the breaking of his own head–the utter ruin of him and his cause.
His food is here limited and appointed. Satan shall not devour whom he will. The dust is his food, which seems to restrain his power to the wicked, who are of the earth earthy, mere dust. But for those who are of a heavenly extraction, their graces are reserved for Christ's food, and their souls surely are not a morsel for the devil's tooth.
Second: Satan tempts not whom he will but when God pleases. We find Christ was not led by an evil spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, but by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 4:1). And the same Holy Spirit which led Christ into the field of temptation, brought Him off with victory. Therefore we find Him marching into Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit, after He had repulsed Satan (Luke 4:14). When Satan tempts a saint, he is only serving as God's messenger. Paul called his thorn in the flesh, "the messenger of Satan" (II Cor. 12:7), implying that the messenger was sent of God to Paul. The devil never meant to do Paul such a service, but God sends him to Paul to accomplish His own purpose. The devil and his instruments are both God's instruments; therefore let God alone to wield the one and handle the other.
Let the devil choose his way. God is a match for him at every weapon. If he assaults the saints by persecution, as the Lord of hosts, God will oppose him. If Satan works by a subtlety, God is ready there, also. The devil and his whole council are but fools to God. The more wit and art in sin, the worse, because it is employed against an all-wise god who cannot be outwitted. "The foolishness of God is wiser than men" (I Cor. 1:25). God is wiser in a weak sermon, than Satan is in his deep plots; wiser in His simple one, than Satan in his Ahithophels and Sanballats. "He disappointeth the devices of the crafty" (Job 5:12). God, by displaying His wisdom in the pursuit of the saints' enemies, adds a sweet relish to their deliverance at last. After He had hunted Pharaoh out of all his lairs and burrows, He broke the very brains of all his plots and served him up to His people, as a display of His wisdom and power.
How God Outwits the Devil
But how does God defeat Satan and outwit his strategy in tempting His saints? By accomplishing His own gracious purposes for the good and comfort of his people out of those temptations by which Satan designs their ruin. This is the noblest kind of conquest, to beat back the devil's weapon to the wounding of his own head – in fact, to cut it off with the devil's own sword! Thus God lays, as it were, His own ideas under Satan's wings and makes him hatch them. The evil brothers helped to fulfill Joseph's dream while they thought to rid their hands of him. God outwits Satan, for He turns the temptations of Satan to sin, to the purging of His saints from sin. Following are some of the ways He does this.
- God uses the temptations of Satan to one sin as a preventive against another. Paul's thorn in the flesh prevents his pride. God sends Satan to assault Paul on that side where he is strong, that in the meantime He may fortify him where he is weak. God, who is the saint's true friend, sits in the devil's council, and overrules proceedings there to the saint's advantage. He allows the devil to annoy the Christian with certain temptations which will, together with the troubles of spirit they produce, drive the soul to commitment. Had not such a soul had his spirit of prayer and diligence kept awake by those afflicting temptations, it is likely Satan might have come as a seducer and led him astray.
- God purges out the very sin Satan tempts to, even by his tempting. Peter never had such a conquest over his self-confidence, never such an establishment of his faith, as after his denial in the high priest's hall. He, who was afraid to confess Christ before a silly maid, becomes an undaunted confessor of Christ before councils and rulers. And all this the product of Satan's temptation sanctified unto him! Indeed, a saint can discover by his fall what is the prevailing corruption in him, so that the temptation only stirs him to overcome that weakness.
- God uses these temptations for the advancing of the whole work of grace in the heart. One spot requires that the whole garment be washed. David, overcome with one sin, renewed his repentance for all (Ps. 51). A good husband, when he sees the roof leaking at one place, sends for the workman to look over all the house. This distinguishes a sincere heart from a hypocrite, whose repentance is partial. Judas cries out of his treason, but not a word of his thievery and hypocrisy; whereas true sorrow for one sin breaks the heart for others, also.
- Satan, by tempting one saint, has an evil plan to encourage others to sin by the example or discourage them by the scandal. But God here fools him, by making such sins a powerful warning to others to look to their condition. When you see a meek Moses provoked to anger, you keep more careful watch over your own unruly heart!
- God has a design in allowing Satan to trounce some of His saints by temptation, to train them in fitness to help their fellow brethren in a similar condition. He sends them to school - where they are under Satan's rod and lash - that his cruel hand over them may make them study the Word and their own hearts, by which they get experience in Satan's devices. At last they become masters in this art of comforting tempted souls. It is an art by itself to speak a word in season to a weary soul. It is not the knowledge of Scripture that will suffice, nor grace itself, unless it is exercised by these buffetings and soul conflicts.
Christ Himself we find trained up at this school. His sufferings (which were all along mingled with temptations), were the lecture from which Christ came out so learned, to resolve and comfort distressed souls. For the devil's part, he should have let Christ alone, and His saints, also. They do Satan a greater disservice in learning to comfort others. None will handle poor souls so gently as those who remember the pain of their own heart-sorrows. None are so skillful in applying the comforts of the Word to wounded consciences, as those who have lain bleeding themselves. Such feel others' pains in their own bosoms, which some that know the Scriptures–but lack experience–do not.
God Uses Satan's Temptations to Show His Love.
Satan, in tempting the saint to sin, labors to make a breach between God and the soul. He hates both, and therefore labors to divide these dear friends. "If I can get such a one to sin," he thinks, "God will be angry, and when angry, will whip His child soundly." By this means the devil thinks the saint will question God's love for His child, and thus will cool in his love for God. But God fools Satan in these devices in several ways.
- God uses the saints' temptations as His method to advance the communication of His love to them. The devil thought he had reached the goal when he got Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. He thought now he had man in the same predicament as himself. But this was intended by God to usher in that great gospel-plot of saving man by Christ. At God's command, Christ undertakes the charge of recovering lost man out of Satan's clutches and reinstating him in his primitive glory, with access to more than man ever had at first. What did Satan get by all his attacks upon Job, but to let that holy man know at last how dearly God loved him? When he foiled Peter so shamefully, do we not find Christ offering Peter as much love as ever? Peter was the only disciple to whom by name the joyful news of His resurrection was sent, as if Christ had said, "Be sure to let his sad heart be comforted with this news, that he may know I am friends with him, despite all his cowardice."
- God turns the saints' temptations, even their falls, to the further establishment of their faith, which, like the tree, stands stronger for its shaking. False faith, once foiled, seldom comes on again, but true faith rises and fights more valiantly, as we see in Peter. Temptation is to faith, as fire is to gold (I Peter 1:7). The fire not only discovers which is true gold, but makes the true gold more pure. It comes out less in bulk and weight, being severed from that soil and dross which was mixed with it, but it is greater in value and worth. Faith before temptation has much extraneous stuff that cleaves to it and passed for faith, but when temptation comes, this is discovered and consumed by the fiery trial. The quality of faith that emerges is like Gideon's handful of men, stronger when all these accessories to faith are sent away, than when they were present. And here is all the devil gets. Instead of destroying the saint's faith which he aims at, he is the cause of the refining of it, thereby adding to its strength.
- The love of tempted saints is enkindled to Christ by their temptations, and in their ultimate victory. The shame and sorrow which a gracious soul feels in his bosom for his sinful mistake while under the temptation will provoke him to express his love to Christ above others. No child is so dutiful in all the family as he who has returned from his rebellion. The experience of Christ's love which such a one has will increase his love. Christ' love is fuel to ours. It is both mother and nurse to our love. The more Christ puts forth His love, the more heat our loves get. And next to Christ's dying love, none is greater than His rescuing love in temptation.
The mother never has such success in showing her affection to her child as when he is in distress, sick, poor, or imprisoned. So Christ shows His affection to His children when tempted, or when bested by temptation. When His children lie in Satan's prison, bleeding under the wounds of their consciences, this is the season He takes to give an example of His tender heart in pitying, His faithfulness in praying for them, His mindfulness in sending help to them, His dear love in visiting them by His comforting Spirit. Thus Jesus Christ, whom Satan thought to bring out of the soul's favor and liking, comes in the end to sit higher and surer in the saint's affections than ever.
God's Wisdom Prevails
God allows His dear children to fall into temptation to enable them to outplay Satan at his own game and in the very thing in which Satan planned to outwit the Christian to gain victory over him. God will not only be admired by His saints in glory for His love in their salvation, but for His wisdom in the way to it. Wisdom is the attribute which the creature chiefly glories in, and that which was chosen by Satan for first bait, when he made Eve believe she should be like God in knowledge and wisdom. Therefore God, to give Satan the more shameful fall, gives him permission to use his wits and wiles in tempting and troubling His children. But in the end, the way to God's throne will be paved with the skulls of devils.
Be still, troubled Christian, and know that the contest is not between the church and Satan, but between Christ and Satan. These are the champions of the two sides. Stand still, army of saints, by faith, to see the all-wise God wrestle with a subtle devil. You shall behold the Almighty smite off this Goliath's head with His own sword, and take this cunning hunter in the trap of his own schemes. That faith which ascribes greatness and wisdom to God will shrink up Satan's subtlety into a thing of nothing. Unbelief fears Satan as a lion; faith treads on him as a worm.
Behold therefore your God at work, and be assured that what He is arranging is an excellent deliverance. None can drive him from His work. The architect cannot work when night draws the curtain, and he is driven off the scaffold with a storm of rain. Man's wisdom may be leveled with folly, but God is never interrupted. All plots of hell and commotions on earth have not so much as shaken God's hand to spoil one letter or line that He has been drawing. The mysteriousness of His providence may hang a curtain before His work so we cannot see what He is doing. But when darkness is about Him, righteousness is the seat of His throne forever. Where is our faith, saints? Let God be wise, and all men and devils fools. Even if a Babel seems more likely to be going up than a Babylon to be coming down, yet believe God is making His secret approaches and will besiege the stronghold.
What does it matter though the church be like Jonah in the whale's belly, swallowed up out of view by the fury of men? Do you not remember that the whale had no power to digest the prophet? Do not be too quick to bury the church before she is dead. Trust while Christ tries His skill before you give up on the church; by your prayers bring Christ to its grave to speak a resurrection word. The saints of old exhibited admirable faith in such difficulties. Jeremiah purchased a field from his uncle and paid the money for it, even though the Chaldean army surrounded Jerusalem, ready to take the city and to carry him with the rest into Babylon (Jer. 32). And all this was by God's appointment, that Jeremiah might show the Jews by this how undoubtedly he believed in the fulfillment of the promise for their return out of captivity. Indeed, God counts Himself exceedingly discredited in the thought of His people if, when the church's power is at its lowest ebb, His naked word and the single bond of His promise are not taken as sufficient security to the saints' faith for the church's deliverance.
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