Now there are six special arguments by which Satan subtly insinuates and winds in the temptation, in all which I shall offer thee some help for the keeping of thy heart.
The first argument is drawn from the pleasure of sin: O, saith Satan, here is pleasure to be enjoyed. The temptation comes with a smiling countenance and charming voice: What, art thou so sluggish and dull a soul as not to feel the powerful charms of pleasure? Who can withhold himself from such delights? Now thine heart may be kept from the danger of this temptation by turning back this argument of pleasure upon the tempter, which is done in two ways:
1. Thou tellest me, Satan, that sin is pleasant; be it so. But are the gripes of conscience and the flames of hell so too? Is it pleasant to feel the wounds and throbs of conscience? If so, why did Peter weep so bitterly? (Matt 26:75). Why did David cry out of broken bones? (Ps 51). I hear what thou sayest of the pleasure of sin, and I have read what David hath said of the terrible effects of sin in his Psalm to bring to remembrance: “Thine arrows stick fast in me, and Thy hand presseth me sore. There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones, because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness. I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease: and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart” (Ps 38: 2-8). Here I see the true face of sin: if I yield to thy temptation, I must either feel these pangs of conscience, or the flames of hell.
2. What talkest thou of the pleasure of sin, when, by experience, I know there is more true pleasure in the mortification, than can be in the commission of sin? O how sweet is it to please God, to obey conscience, to preserve inward peace! To be able to say in this trial, I have discovered the sincerity of my heart; now I know I fear the Lord, now I see that I truly hate sin. Hath sin any such delight as this? This will choke that temptation.
The second argument is drawn from the secrecy of sin. O, saith Satan, this sin will never disgrace thee abroad, none shall know it. This argument may be answered and the heart secured thus: thou sayest, none shall know it; but, Satan, canst thou find a place void of the divine presence for me to sin in?
Thus Job secured his heart from this temptation: “Doth he not see my ways, and count all my steps?” (Job 13:4) Therefore he makes a covenant with his eyes (v 1). After the same manner Solomon teacheth us how to answer this temptation. “And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He pondereth all his goings” (Prov 5:20,21). What if I hide it from the eyes of all the world for the present? I cannot hide it from God; and the time is at hand when all the world shall know it too, for the Word assures me that what now is done in secret, shall be proclaimed as upon the house top (see Luke 8:17). Besides, is not my conscience as a thousand witnesses! Do I owe no reverence to myself? Could the heathen man say, “When thou art tempted to commit sin, fear thyself without any other witness,” and shall not I be afraid to sin before mine own conscience, which always hath a reproof in its mouth, or a pen in its hand to record my most secret actions?
The third argument by which Satan tempteth to sin is taken from the gain and profit arising out of it; why so nice and scrupulous? It is but to stretch the conscience a little and thou mayest make thyself; now is thy opportunity! The heart may be kept from falling into this dangerous snare by answering the temptation thus: But what profit will it be if a man should gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Shall I hazard thee for all the good that is in this world? There is an immortal spirit dwelling in this earthly tabernacle, of more value than all earthly things, which must live to all eternity when this world shall lie in white ashes. A soul for which Jesus Christ shed His precious and invaluable blood. I was sent into this world to provide for this soul; indeed God hath also committed to me the care of my body, but (as one happily expresses it) with this difference: a master commits two things to a servant – the child, and the child’s clothes; will the master thank the servant if he plead, I have kept the clothes, but I have neglected the life of the child?
The fourth argument is drawn from the smallness of the sin; it is but a little one, a small matter, a trifle; who would stand upon such niceties? This argument may be answered three ways:
1. But is the majesty of heaven a little one too? If I commit this sin, I must offend and wrong a great God (Is 40:15-22).
2. Is there any little hell to torment little sinners in? Are not the least sinners there filled with the fulness of wrath? O there is great wrath treasured up for such as the world counts little sinners.
3. The less the sin, the less the inducement to commit it: What, shall I break with God for a trifle? Shall I destroy my peace, wound my conscience, grieve the spirit, and all this for nothing? O what madness is this!
The fifth argument is drawn from the grace of God and hopes of pardon: Come, God will pass by this as an infirmity, He will not be extreme to mark it. But stay, my heart:
1. Where do I find a promise of mercy to presumptuous sinners? Indeed for involuntary surprisal, unavoidable and lamented infirmities, there is a pardon, of course; but where is the promise to a daring sinner that sins upon presumption of pardon? Pause a while, my soul, upon that scripture: “And if a soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she-goat of the first year for a sin-offering . . . . But the soul that doth ought presumptuously, the same reproacheth the Lord, and that soul shall be cut off from among his people” (Num 15:27-30).
2. If God be a God of so much mercy, how can I abuse so good a God? Shall I take so glorious an attribute as the mercy of God is, and abuse it unto sin? Shall I wrong Him because He is good? Or should not rather the goodness of God lead me to repentance? (Rom 2:4). “There is mercy with Thee that thou mayest be feared” (Ps 130:4).
The sixth argument. Sometimes Satan encourages to sin from the examples of good and holy men; thus and thus they have sinned and been restored. Therefore this may consist with grace, and thou be saved nevertheless. The danger of this temptation is avoided, and the heart secured, by answering the argument these three ways:
1. Though good men may commit the same sin materially, which I am tempted to, yet did ever any good man venture to sin upon such a ground and encouragement as this?
2. Did God record these examples for my imitation, or for my warning? Are they not set up as sea-marks, that I might avoid the rocks upon which they split? “Now these were our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (1 Cor 10:6).
3. Am I willing to feel what they felt for sin? O, I dare not follow them in the ways of sin, lest God should plunge me into the deeps of horror, into which he cast them.
Thus learn to keep your hearts in the hour of temptation to sin.
1. This is an extract from Flavel’s work A Saint Indeed (Works, vol 5, pages 477-480). Flavel (1628-1691) was one of the best known of the Puritans, and also one of the easiest to read. He exercised a fruitful ministry in the English seaport of Dartmouth. His Works, in six volumes, are available from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom.