“Christ, the Scripture, your own hearts and Satan’s devices are the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched” (15).
So begins Thomas Brooks’ seventeenth century analysis of the human heart and it’s predilection towards sin: Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. Create a pie-chart for your mind; what percentage, if any, of your thought is devoted to considering Christ, the Scripture, your own heart and Satan’s devices?
Scarily scant, isn’t it? Brooks goes right for the last one. He argues that, in seventeenth century England, Satan’s methods of drawing souls towards sin were the last thing on the Church’s mind. This is a deadly state of affairs. Extrapolate that into twenty-first century evangelicalism. How far down the list does this kind of thinking come? I would suggest beneath gender-issues, Mark Driscoll and the flower rota.
I am embarking on a seven-part series of articles outlining, summarising, and applying Brooks’s first set of Satan’s Devices – twelve devices to draw the soul towards sin –, and the remedies Brooks proposes.
But, before we get there, allow me to consider why I think I need to study this; and the reasons Brooks gives for his study.
Remedies and I
So, firstly: me. Why am I writing a blog about Satan’s Devices? Is it simply an opportunity for me to take some cheap-shots at contemporary Christian piety?
I need to study this, because I’m a sinner. The kind of person who deliberately seeks out a volume called Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices is the kind of person who struggles in sin. I’m reading this book because I really want to mortify the sinful patterns of my flesh. I want to think hard about the ways in which I stumble into temptation. And By the Spirit’s work, I long to strive to Christ’s holiness. I want to wrestle with the Devices, and be thankful for the Remedies. Above all, I want to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. This isn’t a holier-than-thou quest; this is a I’m-sinful-but-repenting mission to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. After-all, this is one of the New Testament’s most frequent ethical commands to the church (3 John 6, 1 Thessalonians 2:12, Colossians 1:10, Philippians 1:27, Ephesians 4:1).
But, in some ways, this is easy to read about it and think that because I’ve read about it, I’m suddenly undefeatable. It’s a Rocky Montage Theology. It trades the hard-work and serious reflection, for a brief series of feel-good snapshots.
Brooks foresaw that tendency in his readers:
“it is not hasty reading, but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul…the doing man, that at the last, will be found the happiest man…if it be not strong upon thy heart to practice what thou readest, to what end dost thou read? To increase thy own condemnation?…Therefore read, and labour to know, that thou mayest do, or else thou art undone forever” (21-22).
This is Precious Remedies’ introduction. When you open the book, you pretty much walk into these words. That’s not exactly bestseller, light’n’fluffy, Rocky Montage material. The nature of the topic is so eternally significant, it demands reflection. Writing will help engage my brain in this reflection process.
Remedies and Brooks
So, what about Brooks? Why does he place such eternal significance on Precious Remedies? Is it hyperbole of the most puerile kind?
“Satan being fallen from light to darkness…makes use of all his power and skill to bring all the sons of men into the same condition and condemnation with himself…he can no sooner tempt, but we are ready to assent; no sooner have a plot upon us, but he makes a conquest of us” (15). The threat is real. The threat is serious. The sin that our fallen personalities and characters are most prone towards; that’s the very think he’ll push us towards. Sin, to keep us in a constantly dull, drab, and mediocre Christian life.
As his central text, Brooks choses 2 Corinthians 2:11: “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs”. After a brief exposition of the verse’s context – the penitent sinner should be drawn back into the church – Brooks focuses on Satan’s character. He is a “greedy merchant, that seekth and taketh all opportunities to beguile and deceive others…that devoureth men’s souls” (26). We have all experienced Satan’s designs. We all know his plots, through which he’s outwitted us all, since Adam’s forbidden fruit. We’re not ignorant in that sense; but, do we truly recognise his devices? Do we know the things through which he “deceives, entangles and undoes the souls of men” (26)?
Before we rush to accuse Brooks of dualism – that Satan is an equal and opposite opponent for God on the great spiritual battlefields – or of man-made perfectionism – that Christians, by acting thusly, can attain a state of spiritual perfection in this life – let’s consider:
“My desires for you are, ‘That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ that passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God’ (Ephesians 3:16-19)” (18-19).
For Brooks, there can only be precious remedies against Satan’s devices because of God’s great work of salvation. There is no hint of dualism: the Spirit of Christ’s rule in the heart of man is guaranteed to those who believe. Brooks’ desire isn’t for perfectionism, but that “ye would endeavour more to be inwardly sincere than outwardly glorious” (20). He’s exhorting believers to grow in tangible holiness in this life. He asks his readers to pray for his heart, that he “might understand the power of these things on [his]” life (20). Not perfectionism, but repentant sinners prayerfully committing themselves, by the Spirit’s work, to greater Christ-likeness.
So, I hope you’ll join me as we consider the precious remedies we find through the work of grace, and their impact against Satan’s devices. Hopefully, we’ll strive for holiness together.
“For a close, remember this: your life is short, your duties many, your assistance great, your reward sure; therefore faint not, hold on and hold up, in ways of well-doing, and heaven shall make amends for all” (20).
Why not buy a copy of Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, read along, and comment your thoughts below!