Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices: Part Ten; The Final Two

Brooks - Precious RedemiesLike X-Factor, we have been on a long journey. And we’ve made it to the final two. Today, we’re going to cover the two remaining devices Brooks identifies. We’re going to skim through the remedies that the gospel offers us. So, without further ado:

Device Nine: Such-and-Such.

Recently, I’ve been reliving 2005 through a TV show called Veronica Mars. It’s a crime-drama, set in the town of Neptune’s high-school. Often, characters justify their actions by comparing themselves to others. Sure, Weevil runs the biker-gang. Sure, Weevil beats-up everyone in his path. But: Weevil is ok. Why? Well, unlike other gangs, Weevil refuses any part in Neptune’s drug trade. Weevil’s criminality is justified because there’s ‘worse’ crime down the street.

Do you justify yourself by “frequent comparing [of yourself and your ways] with those that are reputed to be worse than [yourself]” (89)? Brooks points us to the Pharisee in Luke 18:11. Thank goodness he’s better than the vile tax-collector, right? In this device, Satan points us to the “such-and-suches” of our social circle (89). You only deceive your friend a little; such-and-such keeps deceiving your friend a lot. You only overeat a little; such-and-such won’t stop eating. “You are only a little proud in heart and habit”; such-and-such is proud “in looks and words” (89). We listen to the lie: if you’re just slightly better than such-and-such, then God will accept you.

How does the gospel remedy this? Brooks identifies three key remedies:

Remedy #1: seriously consider that hypocrites are quick-sighted abroad and blind at home.

Jesus helpfully defines hypocrisy as the ability to see a speck of dust in someone else’s eye, while failing to identify the great big log sticking out of, and pressing down on, your own eye (Matthew 7:3-4). If you justify yourself by picking apart other people’s sores, you’re a hypocrite in need of help.

Remedy #2: seriously consider all your actions in light of God’s Word.

“The man that, comparing his self with others that are worse than himself, may seem to himself and others, to be an angel; yet comparing himself with the Word, may see himself to be like the devil”. God’s Word picks apart our self-justifying righteousness. If you hear Satan’s lie – “you’re ok because everyone else is worse” – pick up your Bible, listen to God’s voice, remember that your self-made righteousness is shoddy and filthy and broken, and turn to Christ – our fountain of righteousness.

Remedy #3: seriously consider that without repentance, your sin isn’t dealt with.

Regardless of other people’s lifestyle, all sin is total rebellion against God. All sin demands that we are “shut out [forever] from the glorious presence of God…and shut up in hell forever (91)”. Rather than justify ourselves by looking at such-and-such, our duty is to repent by looking to Christ. “The God of Israel is very merciful…[if you] repent and return, your souls [will] live forever” (91). If we’re listening to this particular lie of Satan, we will not truly repent. Together, we must view all sin as total rebellion against God. Together, we must stop comparing ourselves to each other. Together, we must repent by looking, with great confidence, to Christ.

Device Ten: Error! Error!

In the classic Simpsons episode, “Trilogy of Error”, Lisa builds a robot called Linguo. Linguo is designed to correct error in grammar. Unfortunately, Linguo runs into the Italian Mob (Springfield is a crazy town!). Confronted by split infinitives, incorrect pluralisation, and the misuse of “me” and “I”, Linguo exclaims: “Bad grammar overload! Error! Error!”. He then, promptly, explodes.

Satan seeks to conquer us, not by grammatical error, but by “dangerous errors…that carry the souls of men to all looseness and wickedness” (92). These “Christ-dishonouring and soul-undoing” errors include (92): that the sacraments are low things, better to be lived without; that Scripture is full of logical fallacies and uncertainty; that man doesn’t need Christ-the-Mediator to worship God; that the resurrection has already occurred; that Jesus is simply an allegory; that there is no sin in the saints; that sin and grace are two, equally good, sides of the same coin; “with a hundred other horrid [errors] which [cause] wickedness to break in as a flood among us” (92). How does Christ preserve His people from error?

Remedy #1: seriously receive Christ’s truth and let it affectionately dwell in your souls.

The truth of the gospel fires up our hearts. Truth fuels our affections. Truth increases our love for Christ. We’re called to seriously receive Christ’s truth and allow it to fuel our soul’s affections. We receive truth when we gather together to hear God’s truth preached, and to share God’s truth around the Table. We receive truth when we gather together in our families for worship. We receive truth when we privately study God’s Word and pray. Let truth fuel your affections. “There are no men on earth so fenced against error as those that receive the truth in the love of it” (93). As truth impacts our hearts, our joy in that truth guards us from error.

Remedy #2: seriously keep humble.

“Humility will keep the soul free from many darts of Satan’s casting and the erroneous snares of his spreading” (97). The God of all truth delights to dwell with His humble people. God “leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9). Pride weakens our hearts to make room for error. Pride refuses to recognise the Creator-creature distinction. Pride craves knowledge above its capacity; pride blames God for its incapacity to comprehend this truth. Therefore, pride takes its limited deductions and claims understanding. So: in humility, we accept the Creator-creature distinction. In humility, we recognise our finitude. In humility, we ask that the God of all light and truth exposes our hearts to His truth and light. In humility, we ask that God fills us to the fullness of our capacity. In humility, we are utterly dependent on God and His revelation; a revelation that is supremely visible in Christ, and brought to us by His Spirit. Humility before God guards us from error.

So: we’ve made it. We’ve considered ten of Satan’s Devices, according to Brooks. We’ve considered oodles of remedies. So, the question stands: will I be committed to fighting my sin? Will you be committed to standing against Satan? May the gospel be thoroughly be applied to every aspect of our lives.

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices: Part Nine; Outward Mercy

Asaph expresses the confusion behind one of the great existential questions in the Christian life. In Psalm 73, he confesses:

“I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment…Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” (Psalm 73:3-6; 12-13).

So, what’s the question behind Asaph’s analysis of ‘the prosperity of the wicked’, we’re all asking? “Why should I struggle against sin? Why should I struggle, if the people who don’t struggle live-out their days in prosperous ease and enjoyment?” Is it all in vain that we have tried to keep our hearts clean? According to Brooks, Satan’s eighth device is to point our souls to this “outward mercy” that people, untroubled by their sin, seem to enjoy. Satan argues:

“the many mercies that [they] enjoy…and the many crosses that they are delivered from, even such as makes other men…spend their days in sighing [and] mourning…[means that] if ever thou wouldst be freed from the dark night of adversity and enjoy the sunshine of prosperity, thou must walk in their ways” (70-71).

In Christ, our hearts are made free to enjoy God. This is a joy-filled privilege. But, this privilege requires crucifixion. This privilege requires the crucifixion of “the flesh, with its passion and desires” (Galatians 5:24). It is a privilege to suffer this kind of death, so that we can live this kind of God-enjoying life. Satan, however, preaches that this cost isn’t worth it because those who don’t suffer this kind of death seem to really enjoy life. Brooks - Precious RedemiesIf your heart longs for the lives of others, seriously consider the following remedies.

Rather than outlining all eight of Brooks’ remedies for Satan’s eighth device, I’m going to focus on the four critical devices.

Remedy #1: seriously consider that we can’t know God’s approval by common grace.

God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45b). This is God’s common grace. Common grace is ‘common’ because all people, regardless of their moral state, share in God’s providential upholding of the cosmos. While Brooks doesn’t use the term, it’s clear the underlying idea behind common grace is a vital part of this remedy:

“no man knoweth either love or hatred by outward mercy or misery [what we are here terming ‘common grace’]; for all things come alike to all, to the righteous and the unrighteous, to the good and to the bad, to the clean and to the unclean. The sun of prosperity shines as well upon the brambles of the wilderness as upon fruit-trees of the orchard” (72).

We cannot equate that lack of suffering with God’s approval. We cannot equate outward ease and enjoyment with enjoying God. We cannot listen to Satan. In fact, as Brooks reminds us: “usually the worst of men have most of outward things; and the best of men have least of earth, though most of heaven” (72).

Remedy #2: seriously consider that God’s goodness and mercy is never an encouragement to sinfulness.

Brooks is narrowing an earlier remedy to an earlier device. Here, he’s specifically honing in on God’s goodness and mercy to others, in particular people who reject God in their day-to-day lifestyle. “To argue from [this outward or common] mercy to sinful liberty is sinful logic….this is wickedness at the height, for a man to be very bad because God is very good” (72-73, emphasis mine). God’s common grace, to both the righteous and the wicked, isn’t an excuse for sin.

Don’t embrace rebellion because it offers an outward life of ease and enjoyment. Instead, remember that God is good. He has freed us to enjoy Him through Christ. Don’t pour scorn on God’s specific redemptive goodness because you’re hungry for God’s general common grace. In fact, don’t pour scorn on God’s amazing redemptive goodness to you in Christ because you are hungry for the sins of others. God’s providential goodness is no excuse for sin.

Remedy #3: seriously consider that our wants are greater than all our outward enjoyments.

Brooks’ language is particularly effective here. Essentially, Brooks reminds his readers of the sheer enjoyment that is ours in the gospel. Those who don’t know Christ might have “many [outward] mercies, yet they want more than they enjoy; the mercies they enjoy are nothing to the mercies they want” (74). Do we really believe this? Does my heart really rejoice in this gospel truth? We readily listen to Satan as he encourages us to seek out any kind of enjoyment; we readily forget the gospel-truth of the sheer delight of knowing, and being known by, God. Reflecting on the gospel focuses our eyes on true enjoyment. Without Christ, Brooks argues:

“All this [outward mercy] is nothing to what they want. They want interest in God, Christ, the Spirit, the promises, the covenant of grace, and everlasting glory; they went acceptation and reconciliation with God; they want righteousness, justification, sanctification, adoption, and redemption; they want pardon of sin, and power against sin, and freedom from the dominion of sin; they want that favour that is better than life, and that joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, and that peace that passes understanding, and that grace, the least spark of which is more worth than heaven and earth…” (74).

This is not mere theology. This is the reality of the Christian life. These are not just doctrinal soundbites. These are (to borrow a phrase) thoughts to make your heart sing. Enjoy the gospel! The gospel is the one thing everyone who benefits from outward mercy longs to truly know.

Remedy #4: seriously consider the end and God’s design.

We left Asaph in an existential quandary. But, Asaph’s words are past tense. His shock at the level of outward mercy experienced by the wicked is not the last word of the Psalm. Instead:

“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors” (Psalm 73:16-19).

Common grace is not an excuse for sin. Common grace is not an excuse for abandoning worship. Common grace is not an excuse for discounting the gospel. Instead, from God’s sanctuary, Satan’s lie becomes clear. Common grace is a clarion call for thankfulness. Thankfulness, because our God is a just God who rules the cosmos according to His purposes. God’s outward mercy towards others leads us to rejoice in God. Asaph says: “whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).

Therefore, Brooks says, this should be the prayer rushing from our lips: “O Lord, I humbly crave that thou wilt let me be little in this world…and low here…let me be low, feed low, and live low, so I may live with thee forever…Lord, make me rather gracious than great, inwardly holy than outwardly happy…that I may be high [with thee] forever hereafter” (76-77).

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices; Part Nine: Outward Mercy

Asaph expresses the confusion behind one of the great existential questions in the Christian life. In Psalm 73, Asaph says:

“I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment…Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” (Psalm 73:3-6; 12-13).

So, what’s the question? Behind Asaph’s analysis of ‘the prosperity of the wicked’, we’re all asking: “why should I struggle against sin? Why should I struggle, if the Brooks - Precious Redemiespeople who don’t struggle live-out their days in prosperous ease and enjoyment?” Is it all in vain that we have tried to keep our hearts clean? According to Brooks, Satan’s eighth device is to point our souls to this “outward mercy” that people, untroubled by their sin, seem to enjoy. Satan argues:

“the many mercies that [they] enjoy…and the many crosses that they are delivered from, even such as makes other men…spend their days in sighing [and] mourning…[means that] if ever thou wouldst be freed from the dark night of adversity and enjoy the sunshine of prosperity, thou must walk in their ways” (70-71).

In Christ, our hearts are made free to enjoy God. This is a joy-filled privilege. But, this privilege requires crucifixion. This privilege requires the crucifixion of “the flesh, with its passion and desires” (Galatians 5:24). It is a privilege to suffer this kind of death, so that we can live this kind of God-enjoying life. Satan, however, preaches that this cost isn’t worth it because those who don’t suffer this kind of death seem to really enjoy life. If your heart longs for the lives of others, seriously consider the following remedies.

Rather than outlining all eight of Brooks’ remedies for Satan’s eighth device, I’m going to focus on the four critical devices.

Remedy #1: seriously consider that we can’t know God’s approval by common grace.

God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45b). This is God’s common grace. Common grace is ‘common’ because all people, regardless of their moral state, share in God’s providential upholding of the cosmos. While Brooks doesn’t use the term, it’s clear the underlying idea behind common grace is a vital part of this remedy:

“no man knoweth either love or hatred by outward mercy or misery [what we are here terming ‘common grace’]; for all things come alike to all, to the righteous and the unrighteous, to the good and to the bad, to the clean and to the unclean. The sun of prosperity shines as well upon the brambles of the wilderness as upon fruit-trees of the orchard” (72).

We cannot equate that lack of suffering with God’s approval. We cannot equate outward ease and enjoyment with enjoying God. We cannot listen to Satan. In fact, as Brooks reminds us: “usually the worst of men have most of outward things; and the best of men have least of earth, though most of heaven” (72).

Remedy #2: seriously consider that God’s goodness and mercy is never an encouragement to sinfulness.

Brooks is narrowing an earlier remedy to an earlier device. Here, he’s specifically honing in on God’s goodness and mercy to others, in particular people who reject God in their day-to-day lifestyle. “To argue from [this outward or common] mercy to sinful liberty is sinful logic….this is wickedness at the height, for a man to be very bad because God is very good” (72-73, emphasis mine). God’s common grace, to both the righteous and the wicked, isn’t an excuse for sin.

Don’t embrace rebellion because it offers an outward life of ease and enjoyment. Instead, remember that God is good. He has freed us to enjoy Him through Christ. Don’t pour scorn on God’s specific redemptive goodness because you’re hungry for God’s general common grace. In fact, don’t pour scorn on God’s amazing redemptive goodness to you in Christ because you are hungry for the sins of others. God’s providential goodness is no excuse for sin.

Remedy #3: seriously consider that our wants are greater than all our outward enjoyments.

Brooks’ language is particularly effective here. Essentially, Brooks reminds his readers of the sheer enjoyment that is ours in the gospel. Those who don’t know Christ might have “many [outward] mercies, yet they want more than they enjoy; the mercies they enjoy are nothing to the mercies they want” (74). Do we really believe this? Does my heart really rejoice in this gospel truth? We readily listen to Satan as he encourages us to seek out any kind of enjoyment; we readily forget the gospel-truth of the sheer delight of knowing, and being known by, God. Reflecting on the gospel focuses our eyes on true enjoyment. Without Christ, Brooks argues:

“All this [outward mercy] is nothing to what they want. They want interest in God, Christ, the Spirit, the promises, the covenant of grace, and everlasting glory; they went acceptation and reconciliation with God; they want righteousness, justification, sanctification, adoption, and redemption; they want pardon of sin, and power against sin, and freedom from the dominion of sin; they want that favour that is better than life, and that joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, and that peace that passes understanding, and that grace, the least spark of which is more worth than heaven and earth…” (74).

This is not mere theology. This is the reality of the Christian life. These are not just doctrinal soundbites. These are (to borrow a phrase) thoughts to make your heart sing. Enjoy the gospel! The gospel is the one thing everyone who benefits from outward mercy longs to truly know.

Remedy #4: seriously consider the end and God’s design.

We left Asaph in an existential quandary. But, Asaph’s words are past tense. His shock at the level of outward mercy experienced by the wicked is not the last word of the Psalm. Instead:

“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors” (Psalm 73:16-19).

Common grace is not an excuse for sin. Common grace is not an excuse for abandoning worship. Common grace is not an excuse for discounting the gospel. Instead, from God’s sanctuary, Satan’s lie becomes clear. Common grace is a clarion call for thankfulness. Thankfulness, because our God is a just God, who rules the cosmos according to His purposes. God’s outward mercy towards others leads us to rejoice in God. Asaph says: “whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever” (Psalm 73:25-26).

Therefore, Brooks says, this should be the prayer rushing from our lips: “O Lord, I humbly crave that thou wilt let me be little in this world…and low here…let me be low, feed low, and live low, so I may live with thee forever…Lord, make me rather gracious than great, inwardly holy than outwardly happy…that I may be high [with thee] forever hereafter” (76-77).

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices; Part Eight: The Line’s A Dot

Joey turns to Chandler. He exclaims: “over the line? You’re so far past the line, that you can’t even see the line. The line is a dot to you!”. And, unbeknownst to Joey, he brilliantly sums up Satan’s seventh device.

Satan’s seventh device, Brooks’ states, is luring our souls to sin “by making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin” (66). Let’s face it: this seventh device is obvious. In fact, it seems like a departure from Brooks’ previous surgical precision in identifying Satan’s work in our hearts. Of course Satan lures our souls toward sin by tempting them with sin!

But, if we scratch this device, we realise how puss-filled a spiritual sore it truly is. Brooks is arguing that Satan tempts the soul by not simply holding up sin itself but by holding up the occasions of sin. Satan lures us to sin by preaching the myth that Brooks - Precious Redemiesholiness is a line. If holiness is a line, then we can enjoy proximity to the occasions of sin without stumbling into sin. In other words, we can stop before we go past the line. If we manage our occasions of sin carefully, we can enjoy an unchanged life, and the line will never be a dot to us. We “may with Achan handle the golden wedge, though you do not steal the golden wedge” (66, emphasis mine). This “holiness is a line” mentality allows Satan to “make the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin”.

Remedy #1: seriously consider Scripture’s testimony concerning occasions of sin.

Scripture’s testimony concerning occasions of sin may be summed up thusly: “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Brooks contests that: “to abstain from all appearance of evil is to do nothing wherein sin appears of which hath a shadow of sin” (66). If we long for holiness, we must turn away from the shadow of sin. Indeed, our repentance is not simply for the act of sin itself, but for the attitude of our heart that often leads to a blasé ingratitude for our graciously life-giving union with Christ. We repent of a heart that willingly embraces occasions of sin. Following Solomon’s advice against adultery (Proverbs 5), reflecting particularly on verse eight, Brooks concludes:

“He that would not be burnt, must dread the fire….to venture upon the occasion of sin, then to pray, ‘lead us not into temptation’, is…to thrust thy finger into the fire and then to pray that it might not be burnt” (67).

Scripture is clear. Holiness is not a line, distinguishing between the occasion and act of sin. A grace-shaped life will repent of both occasion and act. Therefore, take no confidence from Satan’s message, as you have no confidence in the strength of your flesh.

Remedy #2: seriously consider that there’s no conquest over sin without turning from the occasion of sin.

“It is impossible for that man to get the conquest of sin, that plays and sports with the occasion with sin” (67). Take Sméagol, for example. In J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Sméagol is warped into the twisted Gollum by the Ring’s influence. Proximity to the Ring destroys Sméagol, but he cannot bear any distance between him and “his precious”. For Sméagol, proximity means slavery. If we’re prepared to dance “on the brink” of sin’s pit, then it is a “just and righteous thing with God that [we] should fall into the pit”. Our sanctification requires that we throw out the gunpowder of our frequent occasions of sin. If we don’t, all it takes is a single spark.

Remedy #3: seriously consider that avoiding occasions of sin is an evidence of life-giving union with Christ.

Brooks constantly contends: “a man is which he is in temptation” (70). He argues that the truth of a man’s life is most keenly seen in how he endures, and responds to, temptation. This, he argues, “speaks out both the truth and the strength of grace” at work in a given man (70). “A Christless soul will look for and long after occasions to sin” (70). Therefore, “nothing but grace can fence a man against the occasions of sin….[that man that is surely good] will be strongly tempted thereunto…on many occasions…but in his course will not be bad” (70). It might seem spiritually cool to put our souls closer to occasions of sin. But, our union with Christ is evidenced in our souls when we strive to shun all sin, even occasions toward sin.

Holiness is not a line. There’s not a spectrum of holiness. In Christ, we have been made holy, even as we struggle against the unholy sinfulness that plagues us. Therefore, don’t listen to Satan. Don’t allow him to fan the flames of our indwelling sin by wandering aimlessly toward occasions of sin. Instead, through your union with Christ, work hard at fighting this Satanic device.

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices; Part Seven: The Hardest Word

On September 9th 2015, Channel 4 weatherman Liam Dutton achieved the unachievable with incredible poise. As part of the broadcast, Dutton was confronted by the “second longest one word official place name in the world”: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Without a moment’s hesitation, Dutton easily says the hardest place name in the United Kingdom.

Is anything too hard for us to say? A prestigious list of celebrities assures that “sorry seems to be the hardest word”. Unfortunately for Elton John, Joe Cocker, Blue, Mary J. Blige, Ray Charles, Kenny G and Scatman John, a visit to any of Northern Ireland’s school playgrounds disproves this ‘sorry-seems-the-hardest-word-to-say’ hypothesis. After-all, up-and-down the country, children are being told to “look each other in the eyes and say ‘sorry’”. Sure, this happens begrudgingly through gritted teeth; but sorry, then, isn’t all that impossible to say. Sorry is easy to say. Sorry is hard to mean.

That’s Brooks’ sixth device. Brooks takes us from a God-who-is-all-mercy (his fifth device) to a repentance-that-is-all-empty. Satan “persuades the soul that repentance is an easy work” (55). “Repentance”, he may surreptitiously slander, “is as easy as saying sorry; there’s nothing else to it”. Satan’s device is convincing us that it isn’t all that difficult to return to God, to confess in sorrow, to beg God’s mercy, to experience pardon, to save your soul. If repentance is such light work? It follows that my soul “need not make such a matter of sin” (55). Indeed: “by this deBrooks - Precious Redemiesvice, Satan draws many a soul to sin, and makes many millions of souls servants [and] slaves to sin” (55).

Before we seriously consider each remedy, I wish to offer a brief caveat. It’s vitally important that we remember Brooks’ target audience. Brooks is addressing Christians. Brooks is engaging with people who have been saved by grace, through faith, in Christ. Brooks is categorically denying any form of salvation by works. This means: Brooks denies the idea that our work of repentance brings our salvation. Repentance is a grace; we draw the strength to “crucify all” in repentance only from union with “a crucified Christ” (58). Therefore: when Brooks discourses on the hard work of repentance, he is not simply arguing that genuine repentance may be reached by rolled-up shirt sleeves and elbow grease. This hard work is impossible bar Christ. So, please remember: repentance is a grace that is ours in Christ. It is only through Christ that we can genuinely repent. Therefore, the easy repentance Satan urges us toward is really ‘repentance’ – that is, false repentance.

So: is repentance really such an easy word?

Remedy #1: seriously consider that repentance is a difficult work, above our power.

Repentance is beyond our power. Brooks states this in its stark magnificence:

“There is no power below that power that raised Christ from the dead, that made the world, that can break the heart of a sinner or turn the heart of a sinner…men are not born with repentance in their hearts, as they are born with tongues in their mouths…it is not in the power of any mortal to repent at pleasure” (56)

In 2 Timothy 2:25-26, Paul urges Timothy to be a faithful servant to the Lord, in the hope that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will”. Repentance “is a gift that comes down from above” (56). It is granted by the Father to His stumbling people. It involves a powerful escape from Satan’s grasp. This is far beyond my strength. I can’t even get my dog to change direction; how can I hope my heart will be easier to fix?

So: repentance is a mighty work. Brooks repeats this over and over. He does not want us to settle for easy ‘repentance’. Believing “these five words ‘Lord, have mercy on me’ are efficacious to send them to heaven [by one’s own power in speaking them]…[is] buying a counterfeit jewel…[and resting] in the shadow of repentance” (56).

Remedy #2: seriously consider the nature of true repentance.

“Repentance hath in it three things: the act, subject and terms” (57). Here, Brooks delivers his most in-depth treatment of true repentance. The formal act of repentance, he ascertains, is “a changing and converting…turning from darkness to light” (57). The subject of this turning is the whole man: “both the sinner’s heart and life…first his person, then his practice” (57). The terms of this turning, from which both heart and life are changed, are “from sin to God” (57). The heart must be turned away from sin’s controlling power, and the life must deliberately turn from acts of sin. This means turning away from all sin, including the sinful actions, attitudes and inclinations we tell ourselves are part of our personalities and are essential to our wellbeing. In short, “repentance doth include turning from the most darling sin” (58). “Every sin strikes at the honour of God, the being of God, the glory of God, the heart of Christ, the joy of the Spirit…therefore [true repentance] strikes at all [sin], hates all, conflicts with all and will labour to draw strength from a crucified Christ to crucify all” (58). Therefore, true repentance “doth include a sensibleness of sin’s sinfulness…how opposite and contrary it is to the blessed God…[and] it breaks the heart with sighs, and sobs and groans” (59). But: “both [must turn] unto God” (57). Repentance is not a simple cease-and-desist toward sin. Instead, it is a turning, in gratitude, toward God-focused obedience. “The heart [is now] under [God’s] power in a state of grace, the life [is now] under His rule in all new obedience” (57). Repentance isn’t simply walking away from all evil; it is walking towards all that is holy and good.

Brooks’ penetrating question bears repeating: “would it be such an easy thing to repent as Satan would make the soul to believe?” (60). In union with Christ, true repentance requires the power that “made the world or raises the dead” (60). Repentance can never lead to a downplaying of the seriousness of sin. Satan’s ‘repentance’ is not repentance.

Remedy #3: seriously consider that repentance is a continued act.

Often, we present repentance as a one-time-only deal. We repent at conversion, and we lead a sorrow-free life afterwards. But, this is not true repentance. “True repentance inclines a man’s heart to perform God’s statutes always, even unto the end” (60). Indeed, “repentance is a grace, and must have its daily operation as well as other graces” (60). We cannot settle with a once-in-a-lifetime view of repentance. This does not undermine the efficacy of God’s saving-power, or the fullness of our union with Christ, or the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Instead: this undermines our human pride. At conversion, sin’s power over us is broken; but in our daily lives, sin’s nature remains unchanged. Sin is sin, so “repentance is no transient act, but a continued act of the soul”. It is not easy. True repentance turns from “more and more sin”, and turns “nearer and nearer to God” everyday (61).

Remedy #4: seriously consider that repentance is a great work of grace.

Sin is in our nature. Sin weakens us, killing parts of our conscience and corrupting our worship toward, and our sensibility of, God. But: “for a soul…to repent of his falls…is as great a work of grace…as it is not to sin” (63). God’s grace draws us to repent; a focus on His loving-kindness leads us to turn toward Him (Psalm 26:3-5, Luke 7:37-50). Repentance is a powerful work of God’s grace. It cannot be easily manufactured. Don’t be fooled by Satan’s lies.

Remedy #5: seriously consider that Satan will use easy repentance to lead you to despair.

Satan is snake. He’s slippery; his devices refuse to be pinned down. Satan urges us to put our confidence in easy repentance so he can “break the neck of the soul” (64). He’ll tell us it’s easy, but when we start to wake-up, he’ll tell us that repentance is the most difficult thing in the world. He’ll set our sin before us, and tell us that we belong to him. The sin he told us was a “mote”? He’ll tell us that it is an unmovable “mountain…and [it is] vain to repent of them…for such a wretch…to attempt repentance is to attempt an impossible thing” (65).

Satan’s offer of easy repentance will break our necks. We need to mean the hardest word. “Oh that you were wise to break off your sins by timely repentance” (65).

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices; Part Six: Oh Mercy

Murder: it’s the one thing Batman doesn’t do. Batman drives a tank. He dances. He fights sharks; disposes of bombs; acts like a pirate. But, Batman never kills. After his parents’ murder, Bruce Wayne refuses to kill. He’ll beat you, but he won’t kill you. Ultimately, Batman favours mercy over murder.

Yet, in an infamous scene at the end of Batman Begins, Batman’s mercy runs dry. Batman Begins ends with Batman, vastly outnumbered, racing against time to save his city. An ancient army of ninjas are focused on destroying Gotham by unleashing fear through a train and a microwave. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Batman clashes with their leader, Ra’s al Ghul, as the train hurtles towards Gotham’s destruction. Batman manages to overpower Ra’s al Ghul. But: Ra’s isn’t afraid. He knows, from past experience, that Batman favours mercy over murder.

Ra’s is relying on Batman’s mercy. Mercy means Ra’s al Ghul’s plot will be successful: Gotham will be crippled by fear. So, will Batman be merciful?

“I won’t kill you”, Batman grumbles, “but I don’t have to save you”. He leaps from the train, and leaves Ra’s al Ghul to die.

What’s this got to do with Precious Remedies?Brooks - Precious Redemies

Brooks’s fifth device is about mercy. Satan lures us into sin by “presenting God to the soul as one made up all of mercy” (50). Unlike Batman, God doesn’t break His word or His rules. God’s mercy is not arbitrarily determined. God doesn’t offer His mercy on a Sunday, and then determine to crush us on a Monday. If you’re in union with Christ, as the gospel proclaims, God’s mercy is constantly guaranteed: “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Yet, Satan’s lies are so outrageous; he even warps our understanding of God’s wondrous mercy. Satan makes little Ra’s al Ghuls out of us all. He convinces us that God’s mercy means God’s passivity. If God is a God of mercy, delighting in mercy? Satan convinces our hearts “”you need not be so fearful of sin…so unwilling to sin…[God] will not take [action] against [this sinning soul]…so why should you make such a matter of sin?”” (50). In our wilful pride, we twist God’s mercy and grace. We bend our union with Christ into an excuse for sin.

How are we going to fight this device?

Remedy #1: seriously consider that it’s the sorest judgement to be left to sin.

“O unhappy man, when God leaveth thee to thyself, and doth no resist thee in thy sins”. Before exile, Israel was left to wallow in sin. This was judgement. There is no horror greater than being left to our stubborn hearts. There’s no terror more terrifying than being left to follow our own counsels (Psalm 81:12). Being left in sin isn’t a sign of God’s mercy; it is an unmistakable sign of God’s judgement. In fact, Brooks shows God’s true mercy when he prays: “ah Lord, this mercy I humbly beg…lay what burden thou wilt upon me, so thou dost not give me up to the ways to my own heart” (50-51, emphasis mine). Indeed, our false conceptions of God’s mercy lead us into true judgement:

“in the gospel days, the plagues that God inflicts upon…abusers of mercy are…blindness of mind, hardness of heart, benumbedness of conscience, which are the thousand times worse than the worst of the outward plagues that can befall you” (53).

In Brook’s mind, it’s self-evident: God is merciful when He reveals our sinfulness. God is merciful when He deals with our sinfulness through union with Christ. God is merciful when He empowers us to resist sinfulness by His Spirit. Therefore, Satan lies. The ‘mercy’ Satan promises only results in judgement.

Remedy #2: seriously consider that God is as just as He is merciful.

Scripture is clear: God is a merciful God. On Mount Sinai, the LORD proclaims: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). Overwhelmingly, the LORD’s self-revelation is one of mercy and grace to stubborn, hard-hearted, golden-calf-following people. YHWH is a merciful God. But: the very next words remind God’s people that He is at the same time a holy-just God: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7). God is a just God.

It’s on the Cross that we see justice and mercy so clearly: “witness the pouring forth of all His wrath upon His bosom Son, when He did bear the sins of His people” (51). Our response, to the fully just and fully merciful God, should never be a continuation of our sin. Instead, like Moses hearing the LORD’s self-revelation, we worship God for His mercy and justice (Exodus 34:6-7).

Remedy #3: seriously consider that God’s saving mercy isn’t universal.

God’s mercy is extended to all who are made in His image. He mercifully sustains the universe; sustains the earth; sustains our lives. But, His saving mercy only extends to those He’s set apart through Christ for holy obedience by the Spirit. He shows “steadfast love to thousands of those who love [Him] and keep [His] commandments” (Exodus 20:6). “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep His covenant and His testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).

Brooks’s mediates on these passages, before asserting:

“when Satan attempts to draw thee to sin by presenting God as all made up of mercy…reply that though His general mercy extends to all the works of His hand…His special mercy is confined…to them that love Him and keep His commandments…trusting in Him…and thou must be such a one here” (54).

As partakers in God’s special mercy, we rejoice in the gospel by holy obedience to the One who has set us free.

Remedy #4: seriously consider that God’s mercy is the most powerful argument to fence your soul against sin.

Finally, Brooks brings this device to its point. Batman’s mercy isn’t an excuse to overthrow Gotham with a microwave. If anything, Batman is a deterrent. God’s mercy has never been an excuse to overthrow His holiness. God’s mercy has never been an excuse for our rebellion. Instead: God’s mercy to us in the gospel is the single most powerful argument to flee from sin. Indeed, “there is nothing in the world that renders a man more…like Satan, than to argue from mercy to sinful liberty; from divine goodness to licentiousness” (55). Experiencing mercy is the “choicest means” to preserve our soul from sin. No-one makes this point clearer than Paul:

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?…For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:1,2,5).

When Satan lies, muttering “oh, mercy” to our souls, Brooks reminds us of our best defence. We respond to his lies with “oh, the wondrous mercy of the Father, that has set me free”.

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices; Part Five: Sins of the Saints

Brooks - Precious RedemiesHopefully, 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.”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.

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices; Part Four: It’s Just A Little One

One sunny afternoon in Springfield, Lisa Simpson embraces vegetarianism. Thus, an iconic episode of The Simpsons begins.

Lisa’s father, Homer, can’t get his head around this decision; after-all, you don’t make friends with salad. So, he invites the entire town of Springfield to a barbeque. In the centre of his back-garden is a huge, spit-roasted, pig. Suddenly: Lisa’s anger bursts. She hops on a ride-on lawnmower, and steals the pig. And as the pig hurtles through hedges, roads, rivers, and eventually the sky, Homer cries out these lines:

“It’s just a little dirty. It’s still good, it’s still good! It’s just a little slimy. It’s still good, it’s still good! It’s just a little airborne. It’s still good, it’s still good!”.

For the sake of the pork, Homer’s prepared to minimise the dirt; the slime; everything.

Despite my butchered retelling, this incident is supposed to be humorous. Even if we’re only slightly less dysfunctional than Homer, we’ll care about the integrity of the food we’re consuming. If someone drops your burger into a flowerpot, then hands it to you, you probably won’t minimise the impact of the soil with “it’s just a little soily. It’s still good, it’s still good!”.

Yet: Thomas Brooks argues that we listen to this logic daily. Every day, to tempt our hearts, Brooks - Precious RedemiesSatan says: “it’s just a little ___. It’s still good, it’s still good”. No doubt, our hearts can fill in the blanks:  “it’s just a little look; just a little treat; just a little lie; just a little boast”. Brooks expects that his readers find pleasure in God. Therefore, he’s highlighting how Satan attempts to misdirect that pleasure by “extenuating and lessening…sin” (38). Satan tells you that you can commit this “little sin”, and there’ll be no consequences. My flesh tells me that this sin is microscopic, so I don’t really need to repent. Our world says that sin is such an out-dated concept, there’s no danger to our souls. Just like Homer, we’ve got a misplaced hunger. We’re prepared to minimise the dirt, the slime, the sinfulness of sin.

That’s Satan’s third device: “it’s just a little sin. It’s still good, it’s still good”.

This clearly follows on from Brooks’ previous assertions: if we’re already seeing sin’s hook and acknowledging sin’s painted virtue, then we can’t “extenuate or lessen sin” (38). Therefore, we need to remember the pleasure we have in our Triune God by considering the great horror of sin.

Remedy #1: seriously consider that the things we call “little sin” face God’s greatest wrath.

It’s just a tiny touch of the Ark. Uzzah just “puts out his hand to the ark of God” and takes “hold of it, for the oxen stumbled” (2 Samuel 6:6). He’s just trying to help, right? But “the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error” (2 Samuel 6:7).

It’s just a tiny bite of the fruit. Eve hands the fruit to Adam, and he eats. But “the LORD God…drove out the man…from the garden of Eden” (Genesis 3:23-24).

It’s just a little “unauthorised fire”. Nadab and Abihu offer some “unauthorised fire” in the Holy Place (Leviticus 10:1). But “fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them”.

It’s just a little lie. Ananias sells his field, claiming to give all the proceeds away, yet “lying to the Holy Spirit” and hiding a little for himself. And: “he fell down and breathed his last”.

The “least sin is contrary to the law of God, the nature of God, the being of God, the glory of God” (38). Uzzah rejects God by localising God to the Ark so that God needs propped up. Nadab and Abihu reject God by adding extra experiential components to God’s law for godly worship. Ananias rejects God by limiting His knowledge to Ananias’ financial advantage. Adam rejects God by trying to usurp God’s kingly authority for himself. And, they all reject God by tiny actions.

Sin is totally contrary to God; “therefore, it is…punished severely by God” (38).

Remedy #2: seriously consider that little sin paves the path to greater sin.

“Sin is never at a stand” (39). Sin constantly spirals downwards. It creeps on the soul by degrees, step by step, till it hath the soul to the very height of sin…corruption in the heart, when it breaks forth, is like a breach in the sin, which begins in a narrow passage, till it eat through and cast down all before it” (39-40). If we listen to the idea that “just a little sin” is “still good”, then we open our hearts to a humanly-unstoppable surge of sin.

Remedy #3: seriously consider that there is great danger in the smallest sin.

I’m not very good at following recipes. Most dangerously, I often mix my “tsp” and my “tbsp” up. My wife can create visually stunning banana breads; but if she hasn’t realised that I’ve put slightly too much baking powder in? It’ll be overpoweringly salty. A little baking powder can ruin the whole batch. And, it ruins it without drawing any attention.

“Greater sins startle the soul, and awaken the soul to repentance…but little sins often slide into the soul…and work secretly and undiscernibly in the soul, till they come to be so strong, as to trample upon the soul” (41-42). We know we need to take notice of sin in our hearts. We know can’t neglect “those heavenly helps” (42) that God’s provided to weaken and destroy sin. But: my heart must see that the creeping little sin must be killed too, or I might “utterly fall before it…and perish in it, unless the power of Christ’s free grace doth act gloriously”. My heart needs to see the great danger, in the smallest sin.

Remedy #4: seriously consider that other saints chose the worst suffering over the least sin.

In the Christian life, we are not alone. The Spirit helps us resist the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). The Church helps build us up (1 Thessalonians 5:11). And the great cloud of witnesses urge us to lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and run with endurance towards Christ (Hebrews 12:1). Their refusal to engage in the least sin, even if it meant the worst suffering, shows us that resistance is not futile, but is vitally important and achievable. “Their tenderness of the honour and glory of God, and their hatred and indignation against sin…[was so great] that they would rather burn than sin” (43). When we look to those who walk before us, we can be encouraged to suffer the worst torment rather than dishonour God; this is the road they walked, even if it led them through the furnace.

Satan will tempt us with: “it’s just a little sin; it’s still good, it’s still good”. Brooks argues that our resistance to this phrase must incorporate each of these elements. But, our resistance does not begin here. Our resistance begins when we focus on the Cross. There: “the severe dealing of God the Father with His beloved Son” shows “that there is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction” (44). There: the Father let “all the vials of His fiercest wrath upon Him…for the least sin as well as the greatest” (44). There: we clearly see that “the wages of sin is death…whether great or small” (45). But, there: we tremble with fear and joy, because “God the Father would not spare His bosom Son” from “drinking [even] the dregs of His wrath”, decisively dealing with our little sins forever.

Here are the links to the first, second and third posts.

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices; Part Three: Painted Virtue

There’s something inherently suspicious in the phrase: “sure, all it needs is a lick of paint”. You’re looking at a second (or, perhaps, seventy-second) hand wardrobe. The walls are chipped; the handles are broken; and the doors are most definitely kaput. The salesman optimistically blurts out: “sure, all it needs is a lick of paint”. See? Inherently suspicious.

But, according to Thomas Brooks, we fall for that phrase all the time. Satan’s Brooks - Precious Redemiessecond device, in Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, is painting virtue onto sin. Satan is the king shark among salesmen. He knows: if Christians see sin as it truly is, the full horror of soul-crushing rebellion against God, they’d fly miles to avoid it. So, “he presents it unto us, not in its own proper colours, but painted and gilded over with the name and show of virtue, that we may be more easily overcome by it, and take more pleasure in committing of it”. Gossip and slander, he paints with the cause of truth: “I’m not going to lie, but she told me…”. Pride, he covers with neatness and cleanliness: “I’m just ‘OCD’ about my appearance”. Covetousness, well, that’s just being economically sound! Satan takes sin, gives it a lick of virtue-paint, and sells it to us. How can we resist such salesmanship?

Remedy #1: seriously consider that painted sin is more vile and dangerous to your soul.

For some reason, the story of Little Red Riding Hood is etched in terror in my brain. I think it’s down to the particularly peculiar creepiness of the Big Bad Wolf. He breaks into Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s house to eat this elderly lady, and then disguise himself in her clothes. He’s disguised, but his nature is unchanged. The grandmother’s clothes don’t lend him any maternal qualities. The Big Bad Wolf remains the Big Bad Wolf. And, all this makes him more dangerous than ever before. Because the disguised Wolf has a chance to fatally defeat his nemesis.

Sin remains sin, even when Satan disguises it as virtuous. Lust doesn’t become any less filthy because you believe you’re ‘appreciating the beauty of creation’. Greed isn’t less abominable because you’re ‘having great fellowship at dinner’. “Wantonness” can’t be excused because it’s “a trick of youth”. Painted virtue cannot improve sin any more than a lick of paint can restore a destroyed wardrobe. And, because we don’t notice it, it becomes more dangerous than ever. Until we have stumbled into painted sin, “Satan is a parasite; when we have sinned, he is a tyrant”. Thinking we’re pleasing God, we block-out the “sweet and glorious communion God offers”. Painted sin is still vile, and it’s more deadly.

Remedy #2: seriously consider the future consequences of painted sin.

One of the most neglected aspects of Christian life for the contemporary evangelical is the future. Our culture is largely hidden from death, and our church is embarrassed by the rampant end-times speculation of the Left Behind series and their ilk. But, the future is essential in our present fight against sin. Brooks urges us: look to the future.

When you shall lie upon a dying bed, and stand before the judgement-seat, sin shall be unmasked…then it shall appear more vile, filthy and terrible than hell itself…that which formerly appeared most sweet will appear most bitter, and that which appeared most beautiful will appear most ugly, and that which appeared most delightful will then appear most dreadful to the soul…sin will surely prove evil and bitter to the soul when its robes are taken off.

We might protest that this is hyperbole. How can our sin be worse than hell itself? Firstly, hyperbole is incredibly good at pricking our conscience. It reveals how seriously we really see sin. If we’re protesting that sin’s not as bad as Brooks makes out, then maybe we’ve bought virtue-painted sin. But secondly, Brooks might just be right. Sin, on that future day, will be proven to be evil and bitter to soul. If we’re Christians, we’ve been chosen by the Father in Christ from before the beginning of time. And in this life the Father has incredibly applied that gracious gift of union with Christ to us by the Holy Spirit. So, when our disobedience is fully revealed, can you imagine how deeply it’s going to shame us? When we prefer our painted sin, we’re attempting to overthrow God; we’re rejecting those incredible gifts. So, maybe we’ll share with Paul: “wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25a).

“So therefore, look upon sin now as you must look upon it to all eternity, and as God…will present it to you on that day”.

Remedy #3: seriously consider the cost of painted sin on Christ.

Here, Brooks is at his strongest. Let me quote, at length, this remedy:

That Christ should come from the eternal bosom of His Father to a region of sorrow and death…that He that was clothed with glory should be wrapped with rags of flesh…that the God of the law should be subject to the law, the God of circumcision circumcised…that He that binds Satan in chains should be tempted…that the God of strength should be weary, the Judge of all flesh condemned, the God of life put to death…that that head, before which angels do cast down their crowns, should be crowned with thorns…those hands that freely swayed the sceptre of heaven, nailed to the cross for man’s sins…his soul, comfortless and forsaken; and all this for the very sins that Satan paints and puts fine colours upon! How the consideration of this should stir up the soul…to use all holy means whereby sin may be subdued and destroyed.

Christ died for our sin. So, even our virtue-painted sin “hath slain our Lord Jesus”. Never let the thought of our crucified Christ leave your mind. Instead, let such thoughts be “your sweetness and consolation…your reading and meditation, your life, death and resurrection”, because such thoughts tear through virtue-painted sin. Pray that the risen Christ opens our eyes to the true cost and reality of sin.

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices; Part Two: The Hook

Stratego is quality. Cross Guess Who? with Risk, and you’ve pretty much got Stratego. It’s a game for two players. The aim is simple: capture your rival’s flag. But, this simple aim requires careful strategy. Soldiers, castles, spies, and generals all must be carefully regimented, if you’re going to win.

But, here’s the catch: you’ve no idea where your opponent’s pieces are. All you can see is the identical back of each of their pieces. You’ve got to move; you’ve got to attack. But, you’ve got no idea what you’re attacking! Every move is risk.

Is your life like Stratego? When it comes to fighting sin, are you wandering blind about the battlefield? Have you carefully considered Satan’s strategies? Sin’s tactics? Your heart’s weak-spots? If not, you’re at risk.

Thomas Brooks was concerned. In his seventeenth century generation, Christians Brooks - Precious Redemiesincreasingly appeared oblivious to the necessity of mortifying sin. And those that did had no idea where to start. So, in Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, Brooks wants all Christians to consider Christ, Scripture, their own hearts, and Satan’s strategies (or devices), to help them identify sinful patterns, and encourage them – by Christ’s mighty sin-crushing power – to mortify them.

In this series of posts, we’re considering Satan’s devices, and then considering the remedies put forward by God in Scripture (see part one here).

Device #1: Satan shows us the bait, but he hides the hook.

If you’re currently human, you’ve experienced temptation. You’ve been shown the pleasure, the profit, the exceedingly sweet comfort you’d delight in, if you just put down your convictions for two seconds, and grabbed hold of that sin. There’s no catch, right?

The catch; the hook is hidden. Your brain refuses to connect “the wrath and misery that certainly follow the committing of sin” with what you’re about to do. Isn’t this how our first parents fell? “But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).

This is the bait. Satan promised that their minds would be opened to moral joy. He hides the hook. His intention was never joy; it was shame and confusion. He gave them an apple, and it was paradise they exchanged for it. The bait was displayed; the hook was hidden.

And, if you think about it, this is how Satan tempted Jesus. He offered Christ all glory, without suffering, provided Jesus disobeyed His Father and bowed down. But, Jesus resisted. In Christ, we’re joined to this victory. We don’t have to fall for the bait. There are, in Christ, remedies against this device.

Remedy #1: Don’t play with the bait.

“Don’t play with your food!”, my parents often shouted when I tried to build potato castles. “Don’t play games with your food”, because they knew the gravy-based disasters that would inevitably unfold. Stop fooling around with the bait Satan extends. Don’t entertain it. Don’t play with it. “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9b). That word, “abhor”; it means to hate with horror.

Go as far as you can from the bait held out before you. Flee lies. Retreat from lust. Vacate the premises, before anger explodes. Running as far as you can from the appearance of evil is the wisest and safest thing to do. Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife; David didn’t retreat from his roof. Joseph avoided the bait, and therefore the hook; David swallowed bait and hook in one gulp. Sin is infectious. Give it a little ground, and it attacks your conscience like a virus. Stay away from the bait, and from a distance you’ll see the hook. Don’t play with the bait, so you don’t fall for the hook.

Remedy #2: seriously consider how sin is bitter-sweet.

There’s a sweetshop in Dublin which sells the world’s sourest sweet. Take more than one at once, and your throat might blister. But, you don’t taste the bitterness at first. For just a moment, it tastes fine. But, then; all you’re left with is the throat-blistering sourness.

Sin is like this bitter sweet. At first, sin tastes alright. Our conscience isn’t that pricked. Our lives don’t seem much worse. But, for the believer, that sweetness is momentary. In fact, that sweetness is an illusion; “sin is just a seeming sweet”. The mirage quickly fades, leaving only lasting shame, sorrow, horror and terror. You’ve got to think about this. You’ve got to seriously consider how vile sin is. It is a “murdering morsel”; with every bite it kills you. So, don’t try it. Recognise how disgusting sin is; how momentary the pleasure it offers is.

Job puts it well: “Though evil is sweet in his mouth, though he hides it under his tongue, though he is loath to let it go and holds it in his mouth, yet his food is turned in his stomach; it is the venom of cobras within him” (Job 20:12-14). Don’t “meddle with the murdering morsels of sin”. They give you no nourishment. They give you no comfort. They fully satisfy none of your desires. All sin does is tear your stomach. Sin is poison to your soul. It’s bitter, masquerading as sweet.

Finally, Remedy #3: seriously consider how sin is bewitchingly deceitful.

Sin is the great deceit. The greatest lie the devil ever pulled isn’t convincing the world that he doesn’t exist; it’s that sin is beneficial, virtuous, and self-improving. Sin “will kiss the soul, and pretend fair to the soul, and yet betray the soul forever”. We’ve just considered sin as an infectious poison, which attacks your conscience to destroy your soul. How does it achieve this? By spreading bewitching deceit. It convinces us that it is absolutely integral to our personality. It seduces us with lies: Sin convinces us that our sin is exceedingly useful. It assures us of the lunacy of trying even to fathom our lives without particular sins: “I was born this way; it’s part of me”, “I can’t change that; that would totally ruin me”.

Antiquity tells of Theotimus, whom doctors told to cease from “drunkenness and uncleanness”, or he’d lose his eyes. His reply typifies someone bewitched by sin’s bait; it points clearly to one who has swallowed sin’s hook and savours sin’s lies. “You’ll lose your eyes”, Theotimus’s reply: “then farewell, sweet light”.

Sin bewitches us with deception. It makes us rejoice in its vainglory, while it crushes our windpipe, stops our breath and kills us. If you’re totally bewitched by sin, you’re only giving Satan the Accuser grounds to accuse you. If you don’t see the hook, and allow the bait to seduce you into grabbing it, then it’ll make you rather lose God, Christ, heaven and your own soul before you let go. So, don’t be deceived. Understand that sin kills secretly, insensibly and eternally. Cling to the fountain of truth; not the broken and ruined cisterns of sin.

So, Satan loves the bait and hook. If we’re going to fight, we can only do it in Christ’s strength. We need Jesus to open our eyes to the reality of sin. It is bitter and deceitful, and so we must flee it. Prayerfully consider your own heart, asking: am I being deceived by sin? Do I know how bitter sin is? Am I fooling around with sinfulness? My prayer is that we see the hook behind the bait, and cling closer to Christ in our efforts to kill sin.