Why God Allows Satan’s Temptations (Watson)

Why does God allow Satan to tempt Christians?  If he is sovereign, why doesn’t he just make some kind of force field around us, so to speak, so that Satan can’t touch us?  Temptations are a hard part of the Christian life, so why does our heavenly Father allow us to be tempted?  Thomas Watson gives some reasons from Scripture and experience:

  1. He lets them be tempted to try them.  Temptation is a touchstone to try what is in the heart.  The devil tempts that he may deceive, but God lets us be tempted to try us.  This is how God tries our sincerity (like he did Job).
  2. By temptation God tries our love.  When the devil showed Christ all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, such was Christ’s love to his Father, that he abhorred the temptation.  True love will not be bribed.  When the devil’s darts are most fiery, a saint’s love to God is most fervent.
  3. By temptation God tries our courage.  He is a valiant Christian that brandishes the sword of the Spirit against Satan, and will rather die than yield.  The heroic spirit of a saint is never more seen than in a battle-field when he is fighting with the red dragon, and by the power of faith puts the devil to flight.
  4. God allows his children to be tempted so that they may be kept from pride. Pride keeps grace in the heart low, that it cannot thrive.  God resists pride; and so that he may keep his children humble, he allows them sometimes to fall into temptation (2 Cor. 11:7).
  5. God lets his people be tempted that they may be more fit to comfort others who are in the same distress, and speak a word in due season to such as are weary.  Paul was trained up in the fencing-school of temptation and was able to acquaint others with Satan’s wiles and strategies (2 Cor. 2:11).
  6. God lets his children be tempted to make them long more for heaven, where they shall be out of the range of Satan’s guns, and free from the hissing of the old Serpent.  Heaven is the place of rest, no bullets of temptation fly there.  Temptations make the saint long to receive the crown of victory in the resting place of heaven.

I’ve edited and summarized Watson’s helpful discussion about why God allows Satan to tempt his children.  You can read the entire section in Thomas Watson’s book, The Lord’s Prayer, chapter six.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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When Satan Reminds You of Your Sin

Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Puritan Paperbacks) Satan is an expert at rubbing our noses in our past sins.  He knows how to plague Christians by telling them their sins are so great they should despair.  He masks the truth (“You have sinned greatly against God in thousands of ways…”) with a lie (“…Therefore you have no hope of salvation”).  Puritan Thomas Brooks (d. 1680) said that this is one of Satan’s wicked devices to keep Christians away from Christ: He suggests to the soul the greatness and vileness of his sins.  Brooks also gives biblical remedies for this wicked device of Satan.  Here are four (of eight) remedies (summarized/edited):

1)  The first remedy against this device of Satan is to consider that the greater your sins are, the more you stand in need of a Savior.  The greater your burden is, the more you stand in need of one to help bear it.  The deeper the wound is, the more need there is of a surgeon.  The Christian says: ‘The greater my sins are, the more I stand in need of mercy and pardon, therefore I will go to Christ, who delights in mercy, pardons sins, and is able to forgive beyond imagination” (Mic. 7:8, Is. 43:25).

2) Another remedy against Satan’s wicked device is to remember that the promise of grace and mercy is to returning souls.  You are never so wicked, if you return to God, that he will be yours, mercy will be yours, pardon will be yours: ‘For the Lord our God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return unto him (2 Chr. 30:9).  See also Jer. 3:12, Joel 2:13, and Is. 55:7.  Christ’s heart and arms are wide open to embrace the returning prodigal.

3) Consider that the greatest sinners have obtained mercy, and therefore all the angels in heaven, all the men on earth, and all the devils in hell cannot testify to the contrary, that you are able to obtain mercy.  Consider Manasseh, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.  Christ still hangs out a white flag of grace and mercy to returning sinners that humble themselves at his feet for favor.

4) The fourth remedy against this device of Satan is to remember that everywhere in Scripture Jesus welcomes the worst of sinners that are willing to receive him and rest upon him for happiness and blessedness.  Those that come to him he will not cast out, be they ever so filthy, sinful, unworthy, or rebellious.  Oh sinners, tell Jesus that he since he has not excluded you from mercy, therefore you are resolved to sit, wait, weep, pray, and knock at the door of mercy until he says to you, ‘Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven, you are justified, and your soul shall be saved.’  See also Heb. 7:25.

Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (appendix I.1.)

shane lems

Comfort In and Through Temptation

What comfort do Christians have in and through temptation?  How does the gospel apply when Satan tempts us?  Thomas Brooks answered these questions brilliantly in his book, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod.  One of the comforts Christians have in and through affliction is Christ’s continual priestly intercession for us.  Below is an edited summary of how Brooks explained this gospel truth.  If Satan has been busy tempting you again lately, read carefully.

“When Satan is tempting you, Christ in the court of glory is interceding for you (Luke 22:31-32).  Satan would have happily been shaking Peter up and down, as wheat is shaken in a fan; but Christ’s intercession frustrates Satan’s designed temptations.  Whenever Satan stands at our side to tempt us, Christ stands at his Father’s side to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25 ‘he ever lives to make intercession.’).

“When Satan puts in his pleas and commences lawsuit upon lawsuit against us, Christ still undertakes our cause; he answers all his pleas, and dismisses Satan’s charges at every point. …When Satan pleads, ‘Lord! here are such and such sins thy children have committed!  Here and here are such duties they have omitted!  Here are such and such mercies they have not improved upon!  Here are such and such sacraments they have slighted!  Here are such and such motions of the Spirit which they have quenched!’ 

“When Satan places those charge against us, divine justice answers: “All this is true, but Christ has appeared on their behalf; he has pleaded their cause, he has fully and fairly answered whatever has been objected and given complete satisfaction to the utmost farthing, so that here is no accusation nor condemnation that can stand in force against them.  ‘Who is he that condemns?  It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.’  Christ’s intercession should be the soul’s anchor-hold in time of temptation.  Jesus is most active for you when Satan is most busy tempting you.”

Without Christ’s continual intercession, we would no doubt be “sifted as wheat” by Satan.  We’d give into temptation at every turn.  But the good news is that Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us.  He prays for us, that our faith may not fail.  And because he is the Son of God, the perfect and eternal High Priest who lives forever, his intercession is effective.  We may be greatly tempted, but Christ’s intercession is greater.

The above quote is found in The Works of Thomas Brooks, volume 1, pages 367-368.

rev shane lems
hammond, wi

The Narrow Path, The Good Shepherd

Pilgrim's Progress In the first part of Christian’s journey, he had to travel through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  In this valley there was a very narrow path with hellish dangers on both sides.  If Christian would veer too much to the left or right, it would be the end of him.

The narrator explained it like this – which, by the way, is an outstanding analogy of the Christian life.

“I took notice that now poor Christian was so confounded, that he did not know his own voice. And thus I perceived it: just when he was come over against the mouth of the burning pit, one of the wicked ones got behind him, and stept up softly to him; and whisperingly suggested many grievous blasphemies to him–which he verily thought had proceeded from his own mind. This put Christian more to it than anything that he met with before, even to think that he should now blaspheme him that he loved so much before! Yet could he have helped it, he would not have done it; but he had not the discretion neither to stop his ears, nor to know from whence those blasphemies came.

When Christian had traveled in this disconsolate condition some considerable time, he thought he heard the voice of a man, as going before him, saying, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me” (Ps. 23:4).

Then was he glad; and that for these reasons:

First, because he gathered from thence that some who feared God were in this valley as well as himself.

Secondly, for that he perceived God was with them, though in that dark and dismal state; and why not with me, thought he, though, by reason of the impediment that attends this place, I cannot perceive it (Job 9:11)?

Thirdly, for that he hoped (could he overtake them) to have company by and by. So he went on, and called to him that was before; but he knew not what to answer, for that he also thought himself to be alone. And by and by the day broke; then said Christian, “He hath turned the shadow of death into the morning” (Amos 5:8).

John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, from the section called “The Valley of the Shadow of Death.”

rev. shane lems

Satan’s Temptings

  John Newton’s letters are, in my opinion, some of the most edifying, biblical, and practical pastoral letters ever written (aside from inspired epistles, of course).  Here’s a great section from his letter to a friend on the topic of temptation.  I’ve slightly edited it to make it easier to read.

“[Satan] hates the Lord’s people, grudges them all their privileges and all their comforts; and will do what he can to upset them, because he cannot prevail against them.  And though the Lord sets such bounds to Satan’s rage that he cannot pass, and limits Satan as to manner and time, God is often pleased to allow him to succeed in his rage to a considerable degree – not to gratify Satan, but to humble and prove Christians, to show Christians what is in their hearts, to make them truly sensible of their immediate and absolute dependence upon himself, and to excite them to watchfulness and prayer.”

“Though temptations, in their own nature, are grievous and dreadful, yet when, by the grace of God, they produce these effects (listed in the previous sentence), they deserve to be numbered among all things which are appointed to work together for the good of those who love God. …One gracious end that the Lord has in permitting his people to be tempted, is for the prevention of greater evils, that they may not grow proud or careless, or be ensnared by the corrupt customs of the world.”

This quote – along with Newton’s full discussion of temptation – is found in The Letters of John Newton.

shane lems

Satan and Election: Faith’s Fights

 In his 1000+ page discussion of the Christian’s armor, Puritan William Gurnall (d. 1679) explained how Satan tries to wreck the faith of a Christian.  Among those many ways, one of them is to get the Christian hung up on scrupulous questions.  Specifically, sometimes Satan torments the Christian by asking how he knows his election.  Here’s Gurnall’s advice on fighting this attack (I tweaked the wording a bit to make it easier to read):

“Now, Christian, keep to the plain things and you will be safe.  It is plain, we are not to make election a ground for our faith, but our faith and calling a medium or argument to prove our election.  Election is first in order of God’s acts, as he chooses us before we believe, but faith is first in order of our acting.  We must believe before we can know we are elected, yes, by believing we know it.  The farmer knows it is spring by the grass sprouting up, but he doesn’t know why, how, or exactly when the rains come.  You can know you are elect, as surely by a work of grace in you, as if you had stood by God’s side when he wrote your name in the book of life.”

Amen.  Though we can’t climb into heaven and pry into God’s secret will, we know  his revealed will: those whom he has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world will be effectually called, given faith, repentance, and never fall out of his merciful hands.  We can fight this attack of Satan by knowing this truth of the Word.

This quote of Gurnall’s is found on page 96 of The Christian in Complete Armor (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002)

shane lems