George Whitefield Sermon 48

Satan's Devices.

2 Corinthians 2:11, "Lest Satan should get an advantage over us; for we are

not ignorant of his devices."

The occasion of these words was as follows: In the church of Corinth

there was an unhappy person, who had committed such incest, as was not so

much as named among the Gentiles, in taking his father's wife; but either

on account of his wealth, power, or some such reasons, like many notorious

offenders now-adays, he had not been exposed to the censures of the church.

St. Paul, therefore, in his first epistle, severely chides them for this

neglect of discipline, and commands them, "in the name of our Lord Jesus

Christ, when they were gathered together, to deliver such a one, whoever he

was, to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, that his Spirit might be

saved in the day of the Lord;" that is, they should solemnly excommunicate

him; which was then commonly attended with some bodily disease. The

Corinthians, being obedient to the Apostle, as dear children, no sooner

received this reproof, but they submitted to it, and cast the offending

party out of the church. But whilst they were endeavoring to amend one

fault, they unhappily ran into another; and as they formerly had been too

mild and remiss, so now they behaved towards him with too much severity and

resentment. The Apostle, therefore, in this chapter, reproves this, and

tells them, that "sufficient to the offender's shame, was the punishment

which had been inflicted of many:" that he had now suffered enough; and

that, therefore, lest he should be tempted to say with Cain, "My punishment

is greater than I can bear;" or to use the Apostle's own words, "Lest he

should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow;" they ought, now he had given

proof of his repentance, to forgive him, to confirm their love towards him,

and to restore him in the spirit of meekness; "Lest Satan, (to whose

buffetings he was now given, by tempting him to despair) should get an

advantage over us:" and so, by representing you as merciless and cruel,

cause that holy name to be blasphemed, by which you are called; "for we are

not ignorant of his devices:" we know very well how many subtle ways he has

to draw aside and beguile unguarded unthinking men.

Thus then, stand the words in relation to the context; but as Satan

has many devices, and as his quiver is full of other poisonous darts,

besides those which he shoots at us to drive us to despair, I shall, in the

following discourse,

FIRST, Briefly observe who we are to understand by Satan. And,

SECONDLY, Point out to you, what are the chief devices he generally

makes use of to draw off converts from Christ, and also prescribe some

remedies against them.

FIRST, Who are we to understand by Satan?

The word Satan, in its original signification, meant an adversary; and

in its general acceptation, is made use of, to point out to us the chief of

the devils, who, for striving to be as God, was cast down from heaven, and

is now permitted, "with the rest of his spiritual wickednesses in high

places, to walk up and down, seeking whom he may devour." We hear of him

immediately after the creation, when in the shape of a serpent, he lay in

wait to deceive our first parents. He is called Satan, in the book of Job,

where we are told, that "when the sons of God came to present themselves

before the Lord, Satan also came amongst them." As the scripture also

speaketh in the book of Chronicles; "and Satan moved David to number the

people." In the New Testament he goes under different denominations;

sometimes he is called the evil One, because he is evil in himself, and

tempts us to evil. Sometimes, "the Prince of the power of the air;" and,

"the Spirit that now ruleth in the children of disobedience;" because he

resides chiefly in the air, and through the whole world: and all that are

not born of God, are said to lie in him.

He is an enemy to God and goodness; he is a hater of all truth. Why

else did he slander God in paradise? Why did he tell Eve, "You shall not

surely die?" And why did he promise to give all the kingdoms of the world,

and the glories of them, to Jesus Christ, if he would fall down and worship


He is full of malice, envy, and revenge: For what other motives could

induce him to molest innocent man in paradise? And why is he still so

restless in his attempts to destroy us, who have done him no wrong?

He is a being of great power, as appears in his being able to act on

the imagination of our blessed Lord, so as to represent to him all the

kingdoms of the world, and the glories of them, in a moment of time. As

also in carrying his sacred body through the air up to a pinnacle of the

temple; and his driving a herd of swine so furiously into the deep. Nay, so

great is his might, that, I doubt not, was God to let him use his full

strength, but he could turn the earth upside down, or pull the sun from its


But what he is most remarkable for is, his subtlety: for not having

power given him from above, to take us by force, he is obliged to wait for

opportunities to betray us, and to catch us by guile. He, therefore, made

use of the serpent, which was subtle above all the beasts of the field, in

order to tempt our first parents; and accordingly he is said, in the New

Testament, "To lie in wait to deceive;" and, in the words of the text, the

Apostle says, "We are not ignorant of his devices:" thereby implying, that

we are more in danger of being seduced by his policy, than over-borne by

his power.

From this short description of Satan, we may easily judge whose

children they are, who love to make a lie, who speak evil of, and slander

their neighbor, and whose hearts are full of pride, subtlety, malice, envy,

revenge, and all uncharitableness. Surely they have Satan for their father:

for the tempers of Satan they know, and the works of Satan they do. But

were they to see either themselves, or Satan as he is, they could not but

be terrified at their own likeness, and abhor themselves in dust and ashes.

But, the justice of God in suffering us to be tempted, is vindicated

from the following considerations: That we are here in a state of disorder;

That he has promised not to suffer us to be tempted above what we are able

to bear; and not only so, but to him that overcometh he will give a crown

of life.

The holy angels themselves, it should seem, were once put to a trial

whether they would be faithful or not. The first Adam was tempted, even in

paradise. And Jesus Christ, that second Adam, though he was a son, yet was

carried, as our representative, by the Holy Spirit, into the wilderness, to

be tempted of the devil. And there is not one single saint in paradise,

amongst the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the glorious company of the

apostles, the noble army of martyrs, and the spirits of just men made

perfect, who, when on earth, was not assaulted by the fiery darts of that

wicked one, the devil.

What then has been the common lot of all God's children, and of the

angels, nay, of the eternal Son of God himself, we must not think to be

exempted from: No, it is sufficient if we are made perfect through

temptations, as they were. And, therefore, since we cannot but be tempted,

unless we could unmake human nature, instead of repining at our condition,

we should rather be inquiring, at what time of our lives Satan most

violently assaults us? And what those devices are, which he commonly makes

use of, in order to "get an advantage over us?"

As to the first question, what time of life? I answer, we must expect

to be tempted by him, in some degree or other, all our lives long. _ For

this life being a continual warfare, we must never expect to have rest from

our spiritual adversary the devil, or to say, our combat with him is

finished, `till, with our blessed master, we bow down our heads, and give

up the ghost.

But since the time of our conversion, or first entering upon the

spiritual life, is the most critical time at which he, for the most part,

violently besets us, as well knowing, if he can prevent our setting out, he

can lead us captive at his will; and since the wise son of Sirach

particularly warns us, when we are going to serve the Lord, to prepare our

souls for temptation, I shall, in answer to the other question, pass on to


SECOND general thing proposed; and point out those devices, which

Satan generally makes use of at our first conversion, in order to get an

advantage over us.

But let me observe to you, that whatsoever shall be delivered in the

following discourse is only designed for such as have actually entered upon

the divine life; and not for carnal almost Christians, who have the form of

godliness, but never yet felt the power of it in their hearts. This being

premised, The

FIRST device I shall mention, which Satan makes use of, is, to drive

us to despair.

When God the Father awakens a sinner by the terrors of the law, and by

his Holy Spirit convinceth him of sin, in order to lead him to Christ, and

show him the necessity of a Redeemer; then Satan generally strikes in, and

aggravates those convictions to such a degree, as to make the sinner doubt

of finding mercy thro' the Mediator.

Thus, in all his temptations of the Holy Jesus, he chiefly aimed to

make him question, whether he was the Son of God? "If thou be the Son of

God," do so and so. With many such desponding thoughts, no doubt, he filled

the heart of the great St. Paul, when he continued three days, neither

eating bread nor drinking water; and therefore he speaks by experience,

when he says, in the words of the text, "We are not ignorant of his

devices," that he would endeavor to drive the incestuous person to despair.

But let not any of you be influenced by him, to despair of finding

mercy. For it is not the greatness or number of our crimes, but impenitence

and unbelief, that will prove our ruin: No, were our sins more in number

than the hairs of our head, or of a deeper die than the brightest scarlet;

yet the merits of the death of Jesus Chris are infinitely greater, and

faith in his blood shall make them white as snow.

Answer always, therefore, his despairing suggestions, as your Blessed

Lord did, with an "It is written." Tell him, you know that your Redeemer

liveth, ever to make intercession for you; that the Lord hath received from

him double for all your crimes: And tho' you have sinned much, that is no

reason why you should despair, but only why you should love much, having so

much forgiven. A

SECOND device that Satan generally makes use of, to get an advantage

over young converts, is, to tempt them to presume, or to think more highly

of themselves than they ought to think.

When a person ha for some little time tasted the good word of life,

and felt the powers of the world to come, he is commonly (as indeed well he

may) most highly transported with that sudden change he finds in himself.

But then, Satan will not be wanting, at such a time, to puff him up with a

high conceit of his own attainments as if he was some great person; and

will tempt him to set at nought his brethren, as though he was holier than


Take heed therefore, and let us beware of this device of our spiritual

adversary; for as before honor is humility, so a haughty spirit generally

goes before a fall; and God is obliged, when under such circumstances, to

send us some humbling visitation, or permit us to fall, as he did Peter

into some grievous sin, that we may learn not to be too high minded.

To check therefore all suggestions to spiritual pride, let us

consider, that we did not apprehend Christ, but were apprehended of him.

That we have nothing but what we have received. That the free grace of God

has alone made the difference between us and others; and, was God to leave

us to the deceitfulness of our own hearts but one moment, we should become

weak and wicked, like other men. We should farther consider, that being

proud of grace, is the most ready way to lose it. "For God resisteth the

proud, and giveth more grace only to the humble." And were we endowed with

the perfections of the seraphim; yet if we were proud of those perfections,

they would but render us more accomplished devils. Above all, we should

pray earnestly to Almighty God, that we may learn of Jesus Christ, to be

lowly in heart. That his grace, through the subtlety and deceivableness of

Satan, may not be our poison. But that we may always think soberly of

ourselves, as we ought to think. A

THIRD device I shall mention, which Satan generally makes use of, "to

get an advantage over us," is to tempt us to uneasiness, and to have hard

thoughts of God, when we are dead and barren in prayer.

Though this is a term not understood by the natural man, yet,

whosoever there are amongst you, who have passed through the pangs of the

new birth, they know full well what I mean, when I talk of deadness and

dryness in prayer. And, I doubt not, but many of you, amongst whom I am not

preaching the kingdom of God, are at this very time laboring under it.

For, when persons are first awakened to the divine life, because grace

is weak and nature strong, God is often pleased to vouchsafe them some

extraordinary illuminations of his Holy Spirit; but when they are grown to

be more perfect men in Christ, then he frequently seems to leave them to

themselves; and not only so, but permits a horrible deadness and dread to

overwhelm them; at which times Satan will not be wanting to vex and tempt

them to impatience, to the great discomfort of their souls.

But be not afraid; for this is no more than your blessed Redeemer,

that spotless Lamb of God, has undergone before you: witness his bitter

agony in the garden, when his soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto

death. When he sweat great drops of blood, falling on the ground; when the

sense of the Divinity was drawn from him; and Satan, in all probability,

was permitted to set all his terrors in array before him.

Rejoice, therefore, my brethren, when you fall into the like

circumstances; as knowing, that you are therein partakers of the sufferings

of Jesus Christ. Consider, that it is necessary such inward trials should

come, to wean us from the immoderate love of sensible devotion, and teach

us to follow Christ, not merely for his loaves, but out of a principle of

love and obedience. In patience, therefore, possess your souls, and be not

terrified by Satan's suggestions. Still persevere in seeking Jesus in the

use of means, though it be sorrowing; and though through barrenness of

soul, you may go mourning all the day long. Consider that the spouse is

with you, though behind the curtain; as he was with Mary, at the sepulcher,

though she knew it not. That he was withdrawn but for a little while, to

make his next visit more welcome. That though he may now seem to frown and

look back on you, as he did on the Syrophonecian woman; yet if you, like

her, or blind Bartimeus, cry out so much the more earnestly, "Jesus, thou

Son of David, have mercy on us;" he will be made known unto you again,

either in the temple, by breaking of bread, or some other way.

But amongst all the devices that Satan makes use of, "to get an

advantage over us," there is none in which he is more successful, or by

which he grieves the children of God worse, than a

FOURTH device I am going to mention, his troubling you with

blasphemous, profane, unbelieving thoughts; and sometimes to such a degree,

that they are as tormenting as the rack.

Some indeed are apt to impute all such evil thoughts to a disorder of

body. But those who know any thing of the spiritual life, can inform you,

with greater certainty, that for the generality, they proceed from that

wicked one, the devil; who, no doubt, has power given him from above, as

well now as formerly, to disorder the body, as he did Job's, that he may,

with the more secrecy and success, work upon, ruffle and torment the soul.

You that have felt his fiery darts, can subscribe to the truth of

this, and by fatal experience can tell, how often he has bid you, "curse

God and die," and darted into your thoughts a thousand blasphemous

suggestions, even in your most secret and solemn retirements; the bar

looking back on which makes your very hearts to tremble.

I appeal to your own consciences; Have not some of you, when you have

been lifting up holy hands in prayer, been pestered with such a crowd of

the most horrid insinuations, that you have been often tempted to rise off

from your knees, and been made to believe your prayers were an abomination

to the Lord? Nay, when, with the rest of your Christian brethren, you have

crowded round the holy table, and taken the sacred symbols of Christ's most

blessed body and blood into your hands, instead of remembering the death of

your Savior, have you not employed in driving out evil thoughts, as Abraham

was in driving away the birds, that came to devour his sacrifice; and

thereby have been terrified, lest you have eat and drank your own


But marvel not, as though some strange thing happened unto you; for

this has been the common lot of all God's children. We read, even in Job's

time, "That when the sons of God came to appear before their Maker, (at

public worship) Satan also came amongst them," to disturb their devotions.

And think not that God is angry with you for these distracting, though

ever so blasphemous thoughts: No, he knows it is not you, but Satan working

in you; and therefore, notwithstanding he may be displeased with, and

certainly will punish him; yet he will both pity and reward you. And though

it be difficult to make persons in your circumstances to believe so; yet I

doubt not but you are more acceptable to God, when performing your holy

duties in the midst of such involuntary distractions, than when you are

wrapped up by devotion, as it were, into the third heavens; for you are

then suffering, as well as doing the will of God at the same time; and,

like Nehemiah's servants at the building of the temple, are holding a

trowel in one hand, and a sword in the other. Be not driven from the use of

any ordinance whatever, on account of those abominable suggestions; for

then you let Satan get his desired advantage over you; it being his chief

design, by these thoughts, to make you fall out with the means of grace;

and to tempt you to believe, you do not please God, for no other reason,

than because you do not please yourselves. Rather persevere in the use of

the holy communion especially, and all other means whatever; and when these

temptations have wrought that resignation in you, for which they were

permitted, God will visit you with fresh tokens of his love, as he met

Abraham, when he returned from the slaughter of the five kings; and will

send an angel from heaven, as he did to his Son, on purpose to strengthen


Hitherto we have only observed such devices as Satan makes use of

immediately by himself; but there is a

FIFTH I shall mention, which is not the least, tempting us by our

carnal friends and relatives.

This is one of the most common, as well as most artful devices he

makes use of, to draw young converts from God; for when he cannot prevail

over them by himself, he will try what he can do by the influence and

mediation of others.

Thus he tempted Eve, that she might tempt Adam. Thus he stirred up

Job's wife, to bid him "Curse God and die." And thus he made use of Peter's

tongue, to persuade our blessed Lord "to spare himself," and thereby

decline those sufferings, by which alone we could be preserved from

suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. And thus, in these last days, he

often stirs up our most powerful friends and dearest intimates, to dissuade

us from going in that narrow way, which alone leadeth unto life eternal.

But our blessed Lord has furnished us with a sufficient answer to all

such suggestions. "Get you behind me, my adversaries;" for otherwise they

will be an offense unto you; and the only reason why they give such advice

is, because they "favor not the things that be of God, but the things that

be of men."

Whoever, therefore, among you are resolved to serve the Lord, prepare

your souls for many such temptations as these; for it is necessary that

such offenses should come, to try your sincerity, to teach us to cease from

man, and to see if we will forsake all to follow Christ.

Indeed our modernisers of Christianity would persuade us, that the

gospel was calculated only for about two hundred years; and that now there

is no need of hating father and mother, or of being persecuted for the sake

of Christ and his gospel.

But such persons err, not knowing the scriptures, and the power of

godliness in their hearts; for whosoever receives the love of God in the

truth of it, will find, that Christ came to send not peace, but a sword

upon earth, as much now as ever. That the father-in-law shall be against

the daughter-in-law, in these latter, as well as in the primitive times;

and that if we will live godly in Christ Jesus, we must, as then, so now,

from carnal friends and relations, suffer persecution. But the devil hath a

SIXTH device, which is as dangerous as any of the former, by not

tempting us at all, or rather, by withdrawing himself for a while, in order

to come upon us at an hour when we think not of it.

Thus it is said, that he left Jesus Christ only for a season; and our

blessed Lord has bid us to watch and pray always, that we enter not into

temptation; thereby implying, that Satan, whether we think of it or not, is

always seeking how he may devour us.

If we would therefore behave like good soldiers of Jesus Christ, we

must be always upon our guard, and never pretend to lay down our spiritual

weapons of prayer and watching, till our warfare is accomplished by death;

for if we do, our spiritual Amalek will quickly prevail against us. What if

he has left us? It is only for a season; yet a little while, and, like a

roaring lion, with double fury, he will break out upon us again. So great a

coward as the devil is, he seldom leaves us at the first onset. As he

followed our blessed Lord with one temptation after another, so will he

treat his servants. And the reason why he does not renew his attacks, is

sometimes, because God knows we are yet weak and unable to bear them,

sometimes, because our grand adversary thinks to beset us at a more

convenient season.

Watch carefully over thy heart, O Christian; and whenever thou

perceivest thyself to be falling into a spiritual slumber, say to it, as

Christ to his disciples, "Arise (my soul) why sleepest thou?" Awake, awake;

put on strength, watch and pray, or otherwise the Philistines will be upon

thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldst not. Alas! Is this life a time to

lie down and slumber in? Arise, and call upon thy God; thy spiritual enemy

is not dead, but lurketh in some secret place, seeking a convenient

opportunity how he may betray thee. If thou ceasest to strive with him,

thou ceasest to be a friend of God; thou ceasest to go in that narrow way

which leadeth unto life.

Thus have I endeavored to point out to you some of those devices, that

Satan generally makes use of "to get an advantage over us;" many others

there are, no doubt, which he often uses.

But these, on account of my youth and want of experience, I cannot yet

apprise you of; they who have been listed for many years in their master's

service, and fought under his banner against our spiritual Amalek, are able

to discover more of his artifices; and, being tempted in all things, like

unto their brethren, can, in all things, advise and succor those that are


In the mean while, let me exhort my young fellow-soldiers, who, like

myself, are but just entering the field, and for whose sake this was

written, not to be discouraged at the fiery trial wherewith they must be

tried, if they would be found faithful servants of Jesus Christ. You see,

my dearly beloved brethren, by what has been delivered, that our way

through the wilderness of this world to the heavenly Canaan, is beset with

thorns, and that there are sons of Anak to be grappled with, ere you can

possess the promised land. But let not these, like so many false spies,

discourage you from going up to fight the Lord's battles, but say with

Caleb and Joshua, "Nay, but we will go up, for we are able to conquer

them." Jesus Christ, that great captain of our salvation, has in our stead,

and as our representative, baffled the grand enemy of mankind, and we have

nothing to do, but manfully to fight under his banner, and to go on from

conquering to conquer. Our glory does not consist in being exempted from,

but in enduring temptations. "Blessed is the man, (says the apostle) that

endureth temptation;": and again, "Brethren, count it all joy, when you

fall into divers temptations:" And in that perfect form our blessed Lord

has prescribed to us, we are taught to pray, not so much to be delivered

from all temptation, as "from the evil" of it. Whilst we are on this side

eternity, it must needs be that temptations come; and, no doubt, "Satan has

desired to have all of us, to sift us as wheat." But wherefore should we

fear? For he that is for us, is by far more powerful, than all that are

against us. Jesus Christ, our great High-priest, is exalted to the right

hand of God, and there sitteth to make intercession for us, that our faith

fail not.

Since then Christ is praying, whom should we fear? And since he has

promised to make us more than conquerors, of whom should we be afraid? No,

though an hose of devils are set in array against us, let us not be afraid;

though there should rise up the hottest persecution against us, yet let us

put our trust in God. What though Satan, and the rest of his apostate

spirits, are powerful, when compared with us; yet, if put in competition

with the Almighty, they are as weak as the meanest worms. God has them all

reserved in chains of darkness unto the judgment of the great day. So far

as he permits them, they shall go, but no farther; and where he pleases,

there shall their proud malicious designs be stayed. We read in the gospel,

that though a legion of them possessed one man, yet they could not destroy

him; nor could they so much as enter into a swine, without first having

leave given them from above. It is true, we often find they foil us, when

we are assaulted by them; but let us be strong, and very courageous; for,

though they bruise our heels, we shall, at length, bruise their heads. Yet

a little while, and he that shall come, will come; and then we shall see

all our spiritual enemies put under our feet. What f they do come out

against us, like so many great Goliaths; yet, if we can go forth, as the

stripling David, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, we may say,

O Satan, where is thy power? O fallen spirits, where is your victory?

Once more therefore, and to conclude; let us be strong, and very

courageous, and let us put on the whole armor of God, that we may be able

to stand against the fiery darts of the wicked one. Let us renounce

ourselves, and the world, and then we shall take away the armor in which he

trusteth, and he will find nothing in us for his temptations to work upon.

We shall then prevent his malicious designs; and being willing to suffer

ourselves, shall need less sufferings to be sent us form above. Let us have

our loins girt about with truth; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation;

"praying always with all manner of supplication." Above all things, "Let us

take the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God," and "the shield of

faith," looking always to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who

for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the

shame, and is now sat down at the right hand of God.

To which happy place, may God of his infinite mercy translate us all,

through our Lord Jesus Christ.

To whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, three persons and one

eternal God, be all honor and glory, now and for evermore. Amen.