- Sermon I. the Rising Generation Exhorted to Adopt the Religion of Their Christian Forefathers.
- Sermon II. Hope In God.
- Sermon III. On the Means and the Importance of Grace.
- Sermon IV. Corruption of Heart the Source of Irreligion and Immorality.
- Sermon V. Against Despair and Suicide.
- Sermon VI. On the Folly and Danger of Thoughtlessness.
- Sermon VII. Perseverance In the Religious Principles Taught In Youth, and Particularly In Faith and Hope, Recommended.
- Sermon VIII. Good Intentions the Least Fallible Security For Good Conduct.
- Sermon IX. Religion the Chief Concern of Life.
- Sermon X. On Conformity to Fashion and the Customs of the World
- Sermon XI. On Seeking a Remedy For Sorrow, In Vice and Dissipation.
- Sermon XII. Christian Politeness
- Sermon XIII. On the Duty of Preventing Evil, By Actual Coercion, As Well As By Advice and Remonstrance.
- Sermon XIV. On Pursuing Visionary Schemes of Happiness, Without Attending to Scripture, and Revealed Religion
- Sermon XV. the Pride of Human Learning and False Philosophy, a Great Obstacle to the Reception of Christianity.
- Sermon XVI. On the Duty of Servants.
- Sermon XVII. On the Wickedness and Misery of Envy and Contention.
- Sermon XVIII. the Cunning Oe the Wicked Inconsistent With Wisdom.
- Sermon XIX. On the Snares of the Devil, and Means of Escaping Them.
- Sermon XX. Moderation Necessary to All Solid and Durable Enjoyment.
- Sermon XXI. Happiness to Be Found Rather In the Enjoyment of Health and Innocence, Than In the Successful Pursuits of Avarice and Ambition.
- Sermon XXII. On the Duties of the Preacher and the Hearer.
- Sermon XXIII. * On the Benefits to Be Derived From the Sight of a Funeral.
- Sermon XXIV. a Preparatory Persuasive to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
- Sermon XXV. the Prospect of Perpetual and Universal Peace to Be Established On the Principles of Christian Philanthropy.
- Sermon XXVI. On the Necessity of Increasing the Places of Public Worship On the Establishment; and On the Duty of Supporting the Objects of the Philanthropic Society.
- Sermon XXVII. the Support of the Magdalen Hospital Recommended.
- Sermon XXVIII. the Education of the Poor Recommended.
on the snares of the devil, and means of escaping them.
Matt. vi. 13.—But deliver us from evil.
Any attempt to elucidate a passage in a prayer which every Christian uses privately in his closet, and which the wisdom of our church has directed to be used in every separate office, will justly claim your serious attention.
I mean not, however, to arrogate the merit of making a new discovery, when I inform you, that the words, deliver us from evil, have been commonly misunderstood. They have been supposed to convey a petition for a deliverance from evil in general, moral, and natural; and indeed, in this sense, the meaning is comprehensive, and such as must receive the sincere assent of every mortal.
But it is justly observed, that the original signifies a petition for deliverance from the power of the evil one, and ought to be translated—deliver us from THE EVIL ONE;—from Satan, the adversary of mankind, from whom all the sin and misery of man derive their origin.
In this age, in which many make pretensions both to wit and philosophy, without any just claim to common sense or common honesty, attempts have been made to ridicule or reason away the belief of an evil spirit ; and there seems to be cause for surmising, that they who believe not in the existence of Satan, are equally incredulous on the subject of all revealed religion. It is indeed certain, and beyond possibility of dispute, that the Holy Scriptures declare the reality of evil spirits and fallen angels, and of ONE, who is eminent among them, as their chief or tyrant. So that he who ventures to reject the belief of Satan, the adversary of God and man, must at the same time reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
They are, however, many who cannot induce themselves to avow a total disbelief of the Gospel, who yet would explain away the doctrine of devils as merely allegorical and figurative. They choose to be Christians; they are shocked at the idea of professing infidelity, yet they would fashion the Gospel according to their own ideas of propriety, and accept such doctrines only as quadrate with their own prepossessions.
Before I proceed any farther on the interesting subject which I have chosen for your present meditation, I will desire you to recollect those plain texts of Scripture, which no ingenuity of interpretation can so far distort, as to prevent them from declaring plainly, the actual existence and great power of the evil one.
You cannot require a repetition of the history of Adam's fall, and of the part which Satan acted in effecting it. You cannot require to be informed, that Christ was to bruise the head of the serpent; that is, the Devil: and you must be credulous indeed, if you will believe that the Devil, so often mentioned in the New Testament, is only an allegorical personage.
It is the doctrine of the Scriptures, however it may be derided by minute philosophers, that the Devil and his angels, or evil spirits, have their present habitation in the circumambient air; from which convenient situation they survey mankind, and take every opportunity of seducing, corrupting, and leading them to destruction. Satan himself is called by St. Paul, the prince of the power of the air. This situation constitutes their place of exile from heaven. This is the prison in which God hath reserved them unto the judgment of the great day. And the angels which kept not their first estate, saith St. Jude, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day. For God spared not the angels, as we read in St. Peter, which sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; or, as it is interpreted by Joseph Mede, having adjudged the angels that sinned to hell torments, “he delivered them to be kept, or reserved, (in the airy region, as in a prison,) for chains of darkness at the day of judgment.”
But to discover the local residence of these evil beings, is not of the greatest consequence to us. Our first object with respect to them is, to be convinced of their real existence, and the greatness of their power. I could produce many other passages, which tend to prove, that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places; but you need only open the books of the Gospel to find them yourselves.
The grand adversary is called, “the god of this world, the prince of this world, and the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.”
I proceed to the practical consideration of my subject, from which I hope you will receive some imperfect hints, which may assist you in escaping the snares which the great adversary is continually placing in the path through which we are compelled to travel in the pilgrimage of life.
I pretend not to account for the mode in which the evil being acts on the human mind. I am no less ignorant of this, than the most ignorant of my hearers. It is one of those secret things which belong unto the Lord, and the knowledge of which is not allowed to man; because it would evidently serve no valuable end, and merely contribute to gratify a vain curiosity. But that evil beings are able to influence the mind, is evident; not only from Scripture, but from actual experience of that which passes in our own minds, and in the conduct of mankind in the transactions of life.
Who is there that has not frequently and habitually acted in contradiction both to his conscience and his reason? And to what will he ascribe his deviation from a rule which himself acknowledges to be a right one, and to deserve his observation? To his passions, perhaps; and it is indeed true that his passions will occasion sudden sallies, and temporary misbehaviour; the result of surprise and violent emotion. But they will not cause a long, a cool, a deliberate course of wickedness, in opposition to better knowledge. To account for such wickedness, we must have recourse to the influence which the Devil is allowed to exercise over those who neglect the proper means of resisting and subduing his dominion. I see and approve better things, says the wretched slave of Satan, but I follow worse. Why; but because he is dragged in chains by the enemy and tyrant, who has led him captive, deserted as he was by the shield of faith, and the armour of grace?
There sometimes appear among men, such abandoned creatures, as seem to delight in evil for its own sake, and to whom iniquity and all uncleanness are joys congenial with their nature, independently of any worldly profit, or carnal pleasure, which they may hope to derive from it. They wallow like the unclean animal, which has been so often an emblem of moral impurity, in all filthiness, which to them is grateful as the rose to the smell, or the rainbow to the eye.
To what is such depravity to be attributed? To early neglect, to bad company, to evil communication, which has opened the heart for the reception of the evil one in the tender years of infancy, when whatever takes possession is not easily displaced. The heart appears to be entirely possessed by the Devil, under his absolute disposal, so as to be hurried on with blind precipitation to all that is detestable and ruinous. These are they who are so frequently brought to the human tribunal; murderers, robbers, not from passion or sudden temptation, but delighting in blood, and glorying in successful deceit. These are they who are guilty of crimes not to be named; these are they who delight in diffusing mischief among their fellow-creatures, in corrupting and seducing all who are within their sphere of influence, and who not only refuse to pay to God the adoration due to him, but set omnipotence at defiance, and deride the power that can annihilate them with a nod, or, which is infinitely worse, doom them to eternal condemnation.
We stand aghast when we hear of such enormous wickedness, and thank Heaven that we are free from it. But let us not trust in ourselves with presumptuous confidence. There is not a crime of which human nature is capable, into which we, as partakers of that nature, may not fall, when deserted, through our own impiety, by the grace of God, and left to ourselves; which is, in truth, to be given over to the power of Satan. When left to ourselves, we cannot stand; but, like infants, totter at every step, or lie prostrate, at the mercy of him who will deign to take us up. But the Devil, we learn, is a vigilant being, always intent on his prey. The circumspection of man is not able to guard against him; for he assumes a thousand shapes, and will not hesitate to take even the lovely form of truth and innocence, to secure his devoted victim. And when once he has seized a son of Adam, who can say whither he will lead him? From small and insensible gradations, he will conduct him to the highest wickedness; and the most innocent among us, under his influence, may become not only habitually corrupt and evil, but the perpetrator of crimes, at the mention of which, he now cannot but shudder.
To avoid this dreadful misfortune of falling under the power of the evil one, let me conjure you, to avoid the beginnings of evil, the very first tendency to moral and religious degeneracy. Great, indeed, is the danger of every one of us. Be not secure and confident. You tread on embers, which may burst into a consuming fire; you walk on the brink of a precipice. All your anxious care, all your unwinking vigilance, is necessary to preserve you from your great adversary. But let me ask, whether hitherto your care and vigilance have not been chiefly bestowed in acquiring or securing a share of this perishable world, its riches, or its grandeur? Ask your own hearts the question, and to God and your own hearts make the answer; for to them, who are not to be deceived, you are accountable.
The world is indeed the enticing bait which Satan uses for the capture of men. Riches, honours, pleasures, these are the allurements which draw men to destruction, as the sweet ointment attracts the fluttering insect, who falls into the snare to rise no more. The wings on which it ascended with joy into the free region of aether, are all clogged and defiled, and after many a painful ineffectual struggle, the transient taste of sweets is followed by death.
On the love of riches I might enlarge without limits. It is so obviously the cause of sin and misery that every moralist, and religious teacher, has expatiated on it, as the misfortune of human nature, and the source of all evil. All kinds of fraud and violence which have disgraced and disturbed society, have originated from greediness of gain. It has been always observed and complained of, but with so little effect, that it is at this moment no less remarkable and deplorable, than in any age, which any satirist or observer on men and manners has ever laboured to stigmatize and admonish.
I hope ever to avoid the weakness and ignorance of those, who represent the times in which they live, as the worst to be found in the annals of history; but, at the same time, I cannot be so affectedly candid, as to conceal my opinion, that the frauds in the pursuit of money are, in the present age, conducted with more refinement and systematical ingenuity, than in ages of greater simplicity. The most eminent and honourable among the mercantile ranks have justly complained, that fraud is practised with an improved subtilty which marks the present times; and that it is difficult for the most sagacious and experienced to have transactions with the busy world without imposition.
I am sorry to be able to add, that much of this evil arises from the little reverence paid to the most awful asseveration that can be made, an appeal to the God of truth, for the truth of a solemn assurance. Oaths are used in many offices, in the transaction of commercial business, without any form; and it is to be feared, too often with such mental reservation as may deceive the world, yet cannot but involve the mercenary wretch who uses it in the atrocious crime of perjury.
Could I but lift up my voice, and be heard by that busy crowd which is hastening to be rich, and dares to trifle with oaths in pursuit of the mammon of unrighteousness∗ Foolish man, I might say to him who treacherously touches the holy book, for what art thou endangering thy immortal soul, and delivering thyself up to the power of Satan? For a few bags of pelf, worthless as the dust on which thou treadest, as soon as thou shalt cease to breathe, which must be soon, and may be this hour? Pause a while∗ Pray for grace, and thy eyes shall be enlightened from heaven; and Satan, who now beholds the contract sealing between him and thee, will retire to his native darkness, the region of sorrow; there to moan over his disappointment, while all heaven's choir shall sing with joy over the soul of a sinner snatched from hell.
So loud is the noise of business, as it is called, or the jarring turmoil which avarice occasions, that I fear the still small voice of reason will not be heard in the walks of the exchange, and in the storehouses of the crowded emporium. But let us pity the wretched multitude; and let us pray, that they may see the error of their ways, and escape the snares of the Devil, into which too many of them are eager to run, as the bird into the net, but knoweth not that it is for its life.
Let us take heed to ourselves while we sympathize with others; and if any one who now hears me, is in the way of unjust gain, let him pause, and pray with unaffected fervour, that God Almighty would deliver him from the evil one, who most certainly is tempting him with the powerful enticement of lucre, to such conduct and depravity, as, though it should gain the whole world, will terminate in the loss of the soul.
There is a circumstance in the nefarious conduct of many who perjure themselves for the sake of clan-destine gain, which seems to evince, that they are under the influence of the evil spirit. They sin not from want; for though want may not excuse, yet it may, in some degree, extenuate the malignity of their offence; but they thus insult both God and man in the midst of abundance, aud for the sake of adding to stores already superfluous. This is unmixed covetousness, and leads to every base and wicked action. As it is entirely unreasonable even in a worldly light, and contributes to no real enjoyment, but merely to fancied bliss, there is no doubt, but they who are under its influence, are, at the same time, under the dominion of Satan. Mistaken mortals, who sell their peace and their souls for that which can afford them no equivalent∗ Equivalent? what can be a compensation for the loss of peace and the favour of God?
But those who are actuated by the love of lucre are frequently urged to the commission of crimes of which the consequences are death by human laws. They know it; they see the gaol and the gibbet prepared for them. They are convinced that pain and shame will be their portion; yet do they rush on in the same evil course, as if they were unable to retard their progress to destruction. Such unhappy persons do indeed exhibit most melancholy proofs, that Satan, is able to govern the mind entirely, when it is once depraved. And he who duly attends to such examples, will not, I think, long hesitate to believe the great influence of the evil one, and to pray for deliverance from him. Men who supported a character of integrity and honour have, we know, fallen into the most disgraceful and fatal frauds, in opposition to the tenour of all their former words and actions. Let us take warning; for if we are not upon our guard, the degeneracy which we deplore in others, may be our own.
But honours and rank in life are objects which Satan holds out to many, when he attempts to seduce them from obedience to God. With what ardour do men pursue civil and political distinctions? Their whole souls are engaged in the pursuit. Truth, justice, and mercy, are forgotten or violated. Murder by violence, or secret assassination, has been the frequent effect of ambition. Deceit of all kinds is judged wisdom, in the machinations of those who, pretending a regard to their king and country, intend only their own personal advancement. Whence comes this madness? Comes it not from him who is styled in the Scripture, the prince of this world; who was himself an example of ambition, and who delights in suggesting temptations to mortals, which may lead them to tread in his steps, and accompany him in his wretched degradation?
But the most powerful allurement which the apostate angel offers, is sensual pleasure. He knows that man, in his present state, participates the nature of the brutes; and he is constantly endeavouring to bring him still nearer to that humiliating condition.
To contend against pleasure, when innocent, would be to contend against nature. Every animal is endowed with sensibility, and must prefer the agreeable to the disagreeable sensations; and nature has constituted pleasure one of the chief inducements to man, for the accomplishment of her purposes. So far all is right and wise; for it is the ordinance of God; but the subtle power of darkness avails himself of this constitution of human affairs in producing evil and misery.
Who is it that suggests to the heart of man, that unlawful pleasures are more agreeable than lawful? Who can it be, but that malignant spirit who urged our first parents to taste the forbidden fruit? It is very apparent to reason, that a prohibition can have no natural and regular effect in exalting an enjoyment. It might reasonably be supposed, that it would lower it, by a consciousness of doing wrong, and a fear of detection, and its consequences. But the Devil whispers to the corrupt heart of man, that the fruit is the sweeter because it is stolen.
All excessive and irregular pleasures, such as degrade man even below the brutes, are pursued from the instigation of the Devil. And as all kinds of wickedness are allied to each other, since indeed they are the offspring of the same parent, he who is led into excessive and irregular pleasures, seldom stops at the criminal indulgence, but, either in defence or concealment of it, proceeds to perjury, robbery, murder, every sin which Satan can delight to promote, in defiance of the God of purity.
I have thus briefly considered the three great objects of human pursuit, riches, honours, pleasures; things which, under the conduct of reason and virtue, may be pursued with the utmost propriety; but which the enemy of man makes use of, as allurements to every sin and evil.
But there are many who do not appear to be particularly influenced by the love of either of these idols, who yet give too much reason to fear, that they are under the malignant influence of the evil one. I mean those who, arrogating to themselves, I know not what, of philosophy and superior strength and reason, reject all revelation, and seem to live without God in the world. weak as they certainly are, like every mortal, they dare to depend upon themselves alone, and scorn to ask happiness from any superior. They send forth writings, in which they censure the oldest and most important institutions, with the decisive air of an oracle. They would be the legislators of the human race; and in order to show their superior understanding and spirit, would begin the work, by dismissing all religions, or, as they contemptuously term them, all modes of human superstition. Their foolish presumption arises from pride, and their pride is derived from him whose pride was his ruin.
These pretended philosophers are engaged in the work of the Devil, and might with propriety be called his apostles. Their writings have, in our own times, disseminated many of those evil principles which have been adopted by the fashionable and fanciful, and have produced corresponding practices. I must earnestly recommend it to all who are desirous of escaping a most dangerous infection, to avoid such writings entirely, or at least not to approach them till they are furnished with the powerful antidote of faith in Jesus Christ.
I come to the most important part of my subject. I have endeavoured to represent to you the extent of Satan's influence, and the danger every one incurs, of falling into his snares, in pursuing the usual objects of human desire. I proceed to suggest such means as will infallibly secure every man who will have recourse to them, from the power of this formidable adversary.
The means, indeed, are such, as must occur to every thinking Christian; and I mention them rather for the sake of admonition, than as pretending to give you information.
The two means prescribed, both by reason and Scripture, are vigilance and prayer. Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.
Every prudent commander proportions his defence to the strength and subtilty of his enemy. We know that we have to contend with a being, who, though fallen, still possesses great power and peculiar cunning. We must therefore fully convince our own minds, that we shall not be able to escape him unless we use the utmost circumspection. There is no doubt, but that he will exert his powers, in every form and mode which his experience, as well as his craft, proposes to him, as the most likely to succeed. He will even assume the specious garb of truth and goodness. We read, that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” But, notwithstanding all his arts and disguises, our consciences will discover him in his true shape, if we listen impartially to their suggestions; and the assistance of Heaven will certainly be afforded whenever we seriously prepare to resist him. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. The angel of the Lord encampeth about them that fear him, and delivers them. Angels are sent to minister to them that are appointed heirs of salvation. Though the good man should fall, through temporary inadvertence, he shall not be cast down;. for the Lord upholdeth him in his hand, and greater is he that is in us, than he that is in the world.
But to secure the assistance of Heaven, and our conquest over the apostate, it will be necessary to have recourse to prayer; and, fortunately for us, our Lord Jesus Christ hath himself taught us the prayer which shall be effectual. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Our Saviour has, in these words, pointed out the great objects which we ought to have in view in our daily prayer; but there is no reason to suppose, that he intended to confine us to any form of words. Whenever, therefore, we shall be assaulted by temptation, and the powerful solicitations of the diabolical tempter, let us express our prayer to God in the warm ejaculation which the particular circumstance shall suggest. We must be instant in prayer, for nothing can repel our enemy so certainly. We must not be satisfied with formal repetitions of prayer on the Lord's day, or at morning and evening; but, in every dangerous assault, lift up our hearts to God, our succour and support. “The life of a good man,” it was said by one of the heathens, “is full of prayer.” And let us not imagine, that the church or our closet only, are fit places for supplication. We may secretly pray without ceasing, as we are following our occupation; in the street and forum, in the field, or amidst the family. The heart may pray, though the voice be silent, and no expression of the countenance disclose what passes within us. Guard yourselves with prayer, as with armour in your Christian warfare; but avoid hypocrisy.
So kind and condescending is our Father in heaven, that he will certainly shower down his grace in plentiful emanations, if we will but duly prepare our hearts for its reception, by following the commands of our blessed Redeemer. Under his guidance, as the captain of our salvation, we shall march on to certain victory against the combined powers of the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Let us not faint, but, like good soldiers, persevere with fidelity in the service in which we are engaged, till we shall be dismissed with honour as conquerors, and rewarded with a triumphal jubilee.
Glorious day∗ when we shall be exalted to the society of those pure spirits who never rebelled, and far removed from the influence of those powers of darkness, who are doomed to everlasting misery, and who vainly hope to alleviate their woe, by increasing the number of their fellow-sufferers∗ May God, of his infinite mercy, take pity even on those accursed beings, and, in his own good time, give them to see their error, and to repent∗ But I forbear to speak of dispensations, in which short-sighted men cannot interfere without danger of sinful presumption. Sufficient unto mortals are their own sin and misery, and ever blessed be he, who has given us opportunities in this life, to raise our nature to higher improvements in virtue and happiness, and to partake at last, through the merits of a triumphant Redeemer, of that heavenly dignity and happiness, which Satan and his companions in apostasy forfeited by rebellion.