Part 15: Preparations for Sufferings
As is often the case in our Christian walk, we are our own worst enemies. Our own sins, corruptions and lusts can do us in. As if that isn't bad enough, we also have an external enemy, the Devil, who enjoys working overtime to wreak havoc on our lives. Furthermore, there is a "secret correspondency" between Satan and our own "corruptions" when we enter a time of trial, suffering or persecution, according to John Flavel,* in his time-honored work "Preparations for Sufferings," He says that persecution is a particularly dangerous time when we are most vulnerable to the "wiles of the devil" (Eph. 6:11), his "methods and devices" and "desperate strategems":
The hazards and dangers of Christians in times of persecution arise not so much from their sufferings, as from the temptations that always attend, and are by Satan planted upon their sufferings: for the most part, sufferings and temptations go together, Heb 11:37 [cited above].
Flavel reminds us that the Apostle Paul wrote "for we are not ignorant of [Satan's] devices" in 2 Corinthians 2:11. So how do we NOT be ignorant? Flavel insists that we must have a heightened awareness about the fact that in times of trials there are also temptations, and that the Devil will take advantage of us when we are down, nasty fellow that he is. Flavel suggests that we heed Christ's instructions to his disciples when He found them sleeping at a time they should have been alert in the Garden of Gethsemane: "And said unto them, 'Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation'" (Luke 22:46). In other words, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8)
At the first sign of impending temptation we should be a "judicious Christian" who runs to "the throne of grace with strong cries, see 2 Cor. 12:8." Why should we fly to the Lord so desperately and immediately? Because things can get much worse in a big hurry! Flavel warns us of Satan's real intentions:
It is not so much their blood that he [Satan] thirsteth after, as their fall by temptation: and all persecutions are designed by him to introduce his temptations. These work upon our fear, and fear drives us into his trains and snares, Prov. 24:25 ["The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe."] The devil's work in raising persecution, is but as a fowler's work in beating the bush in the night, when the net is spread to take the birds, which he can affright out of their coverts.
This picturesque statement concerns an activity performed by a fowler, a person whose job it was to capture edible birds with nets ("trains") and snares. This job would most often be done at night when the birds were sleeping, to catch them unawares, frightening them out of their hiding places ("coverts") and into the nets. The Bible contains several vivid references to being caught in the snare of the fowler:
- Psalm 91:3a: "Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler..."
- Proverbs 6:5: "Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler."
- Hosea 9:8b: "...but the prophet is a snare of a fowler in all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God."
While Flavel instructs us with these unpleasant facts about Satan's temptation tactics, he does remind us that "there hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man" (1 Cor. 10:13). He warns that during times of trials there is an uncanny synergy between Satan and our circumstances:
- Satan loves to hit us with "strange and unusual temptations," of the type that "daunt and amaze the soul," creating "despondency," and even going so far as to cause some "strange disease."
- Beware of your own proclivities to sin, your weak areas, because where you are most vulnerable, there Satan will tempt: "Mark them for most dangerous temptations, that are adapted and suited to your proper sin, or evil constitution."
- Be aware that your own best friends can become "instruments to manage" the devil's temptations. Recall the corrupting influences of "A Teacher, Gal. 2:14, A Wife, Gen 3:6, Job 2:9, and Friends, Acts 21:12."
- Satan may start out gradually "with little things first, and then by degrees" work up to greater temptations so that we are caught unawares.
- Satan also catches us off guard by engaging "the soul upon his own ground,..." tempting us to leave our "station and duty" where God has placed us, where we are quietly abiding with God, 1 Cor 7:24: "Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God."
- The devil "loves to strike while the iron is hot," waiting until our troubles are at their worst, while we are facing tortures such as "prison, gibbet, or fire" and then offering us deliverance if we will just compromise, Heb 11:35. He loves "to fall upon us, as Simeon and Levi did upon the Shechemites, when we are sore and wounded" (see Genesis 34).
- The devil is relentless, "in tiring our souls with a long continuance of temptations. What he cannot win by a sudden storm he hopes to gain by a tedious siege," such as the 40 days of temptation our Lord endured" (See Psalm 125:3).
So, all of this is bad enough. But it gets even worse! Flavel observes that there is a "secret correspondency Satan holds with our bosom enemies." Satan often works through others to hammer us when we are already under assault, drain us when we are already exhausted, and raise more havoc, destruction and confusion when we are enduring great spiritual battle. This "correspondency" doesn't just come from our sworn enemies, however (see point 3 above). Those who have experienced the sudden betrayal of a friend during a trial, know this experience can be devastating. Our Lord Himself was, after all, betrayed by Judas, one of his twelve disciples.
Flavel never neglects to remind us that it is our own "passions and affections" that can betray us more than anything else, at any point along this treacherous path. He lists "self confidence and pride" and "inbred lusts" as dreadful enemies. While "Satan works externally and objectively," lust works "internally and physically... a subtle enemy" (see Romans 7), James 1:14.
Remedies for Resistance
During this terrible double-trial, there are several Scriptures that are encouraging:
- Thankfully, Satan is "put to flight by resistance," James 4:7b: "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."
- We need the heavenly outlook described in Hebrews 10:34: "For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance."
- Look to the example of Moses: "Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." (Hebrews 11:25)
- "Live up this principle that there is no policy like sincerity and godly simplicity, Ps. 25:2."
Flavel concludes his exhortation by counseling believers to "never engage a temptation in your own strength," and advises us that "your best posture to wrestle with temptation, is upon your knees." He reminds us to keep this perspective: "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son" (Revelation 21:7)
"Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10)
1. Works of John Flavel (6 vol set), Banner of Truth Trust (1820, 1968), ISBN 0-85151-060-4. Flavel's dissertation titled "Preparations for Suffering, or The Best Work in the Worst Times" appears in Volume 6, pages 3-83.
2. 2 Cor. 12:8 states: "For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me."
3. The whole of this verse encourages us with this promise: "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."
4. Galatians 2:14 Paul wrote: "But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" In Genesis 3:6 Eve fell under Satan's lie, "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." During the time of Job's greatest suffering, in Job 2:9, we read of his wife's terribly bad advice: "Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die." And Paul's friends, advised against the Lord's will in Acts 21:12: "And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem." [Note: Flavel cites verse 13 in this instance, but 12 is better understood in this context.]
5. According to http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/gibbet, a gibbet is "a gallows with a projecting arm at the top, from which the bodies of criminals were formerly hung in chains and left suspended after execution."
6. Hebrews 11:35, in the list of those who by faith served the Lord, reveals that these saints did not compromise by accepting offers of deliverance: "Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection."
7. Here Flavel paraphrases Psalm 125:3 to state: "When the rod of the wicked lies long upon the back of the righteous, it is much if he put not forth his hand to iniquity." In other words, after a long siege, we are sorely tempted to fight back.
8. James 1:14 states: "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed."
9. Psalm 25:2 simply states this fervent prayer: "O my God, I trust in Thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me."
*ED. NOTE: Italics in original, bold added. We have taken minor liberties to reformat some of the published text by altering some of the punctuation, Roman numerals, and other obsolete forms. Emphasis added in Bible verses.