Hopefully, you’ve been reading Thomas Brooks’ Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices along with these posts. If that’s the case, you’ll probably have noticed something striking. It’s not the amount of classical allusions and illustrations; it’s not the seventeenth century prose. It’s the repetition. Over and over again, repetitious elements resurface in the remedies. Each specific remedy is tied to a specific device; but the remedies for that specific device as a whole recapitulate elements from previous sections. Over and over again, repetitious elements resurface in the remedies.
What’s the deal? Should Brooks’ tome be simplified to a tract? Should Precious Remedies be reduced from 253 pages to 23 pages?
Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
As excursus go, this is pretty important. If we want to crack the rest of the book, we need to grasp Brooks’ repetition. If we want to give our all in our combat against our sinfulness, we need to understand why repetition is vital.
Here’s my thesis. Last week (at the time of writing), I had a week off work. I know what you’re thinking: how does a young, married male, living on the fringe of Belfast, spend his free time? Naturally, I spent it catching up on housework. I carried out our household chores with aplomb. I tided. I hoovered. I washed. I dusted. But: seven days later? Everything is back to the way it was. The same floors need hoovered again. The same dishes need washed again. The same bins need emptied. If you want to keep your house tidy, you need to carry out the same chores again and again and again. If we want tidiness and order, we’ve got to keep repeating the same principles of basic cleanliness and applying them to specific instances of need.
So, in Precious Remedies, repetition is neither a vain, nor a dull, thing. If we want to fight for holiness, Brooks’ repetition teaches us that we must repeatedly apply the gospel to our specific instances of temptation. Every day, we keep working the gospel into our thinking. Perhaps this is why Brooks begins every remedy with the phrase “seriously to consider”. If our minds are to be Christ-shaped, it’ll take more than a once-off clash against our flesh. It’ll take repetition of the gospel. Through this daily application, the Holy Spirit will help us fight against our deep-dwelling, long-lingering sin.
Sins of the Saints.
I realise that “Sins of the Saints” sounds a bit like an exposé of the inner-machinations of Southampton F.C., so bear with me. Brooks argues that Satan’s fourth device is to expose our minds, hearts and souls to the “best men’s sins” (45). By this, Brooks has in mind infamous moments in Scripture: David’s murderous adultery, Hezekiah’s pride, Noah’s drunkenness, Job’s impatience, Peter’s denial, and so on. Brooks isn’t arguing that we should ignore these incidences, shrugging them away to preserve the untarnished reputation of our spiritual ancestors. Instead, Brooks highlights how Satan selectively preaches “the best men’s sins” to our souls, deliberately omitting the consequences of “the best men’s sins”. Satan hides “their sorrow and repentance from our souls” (45).
Essentially, this argument Satan uses to tempt us with this device: “David indulged his lust, and David was God’s covenant king. So, why shouldn’t you? Peter denied Jesus, and Peter was the main disciple. So, why shouldn’t you? “The ‘best men’ in Scripture sinned. Why shouldn’t you?”. Satan uses the sins of the saints to tempt our flesh toward disobedient rebellion against God. How will Brooks apply the gospel to this specific area of temptation?
Remedy #1: seriously consider that the Spirit has recorded the saints’ repentance.
David fell into adultery. But, he rose in repentance. Hezekiah’s heart inflated with pride. But, he humbled himself in repentance. Job cursed the day of his birth. But, he repents of this quick speech. The saints “knew that repentance was the key to the kingdom of grace” (46).
Brooks illustrates this remedy with a moment in church history:
“Theodosius the emperor…excuses his own foul act by David’s doing the like [therefore arguing that he should be allowed to partake in the Lord’s supper]; to which Ambrose replies, “Thou hast followed David transgressing [so] follow David repenting, and then think thou of the table of the Lord” (46).
Our souls are easily tempted to sin. The souls of the saints were easily tempted to sin. But: this is not an excuse for our sin. Instead, it’s a call to repent with the saints. “Many can sin with David and Peter that cannot repent with David and Peter, and so must perish forever” (46).
Remedy #2: seriously consider that the saints didn’t turn sin into their trade.
This remedy is not focused on our indwelling sin. Instead, Brooks’ focus is on deliberate and wilful acts of sinful rebellion. Brooks reminds us that the saints fell, in this manner, “once or twice, and rose by repentance, that they might keep the closer to Christ forever” (47). Therefore, we cannot use them as an excuse for our deliberate acts of sin. In a startling passage, Brooks exposes our hearts to the depravity of using Scripture in this manner:
“Thou hast [by using the recorded sins of the saints in this manner] contracted upon thy soul a kind of cursed necessity of sinning, that thou canst as well cease to be, or cease to live, as thou canst cease to sin…thou canst not, thou wilt not lay [sin] aside, though thou knowest that if thou dost not lay [it] aside, God will lay thy soul aside forever…if sin and thy soul do not part, Christ and thy soul can never meet” (47).
Deliberate sin is killing us. If we’re not killing it first, we’ll be trapped in depravity without Christ in the end.
Remedy #3: seriously consider that God disciplines His people for their sin.
This is a vital point. Following Brooks’ strong rebuke, we might be afraid that we’ve made ourselves apostate. But: if there’s no assurance of salvation through the gospel, there’s no point in Brooks applying the gospel to specific instances of temptation. Therefore, Brooks makes it clear: “God doth not, nor never will, disinherit His people for their sins” (47). Instead, the Father disciplines His children. Taking the example of David, we see that when David sins, God disciplines him (2 Samuel 12:10). Hebrews 12 makes it clear that this discipline applies to all children of the new covenant:
“”My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?…He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5-11)
God has always disciplined His children, so that they might share His holiness thereby yielding the peaceful fruit of righteousness. “It is mercy that our [discipline] is not execution, but a correction” (48). Therefore, “when Satan shall tell thee of other men’s sins to draw thee to sin, do thou then think of the same men’s sufferings to keep thee from sin” (49).
Remedy #4: seriously consider the reason God records the falls of His saints.
Brooks argues that there are two main reasons for God recording the sins of the saints in Scripture. The first reason is to keep us from despair, issuing from the burden of sins, when we fall, not wilfully or deliberately, but through our “weakness and infirmity”. The second reason is to warn us to stand firm, in case we fall in a similar way.
Therefore, God did not record His children’s sins as an incentive to sin for future generations. “There is nothing in the world that can so notoriously cross the grand end of God’s recording of the sins of His saints, than for any from thence to take encouragement to sin” (49). In fact, such a soul is “Christless [and] graceless” (50).
My soul, do not listen to Satan’s selectively preaching of the sins of the saints. Satan deliberately obscures their repentance; their affliction; the purpose of Scripture. Because Satan seeks to kill my faith. Instead, my soul: listen to the gospel. Sin must be repented. Discipline must be accepted. Scripture must be fully known. Because the Father, by the Spirit, through the Son, will bring my soul to share in His holiness and the peaceful fruits of righteousness.