A Classic Study by John Flavel (1628Ė1691)
Beware the Devilís Bait
Whilst thou by art the silly fish doth kill,
Perchance the devilís hook sticks in thy gill.
There is skill in fishing that they that go to sea in a fishing voyage use, without which they can do nothing. They have their lines, hooks of several sizes, and their bait. They carefully observe their seasons when the fish fall in, then they ply their business day and night.
But how much more skillful and industrious is Satan to ensnare and destroy souls? The devil makes a voyage as well as you; he hath his baits for you, as you have for the fish: He hath his devices and wiles to catch souls (see II Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:11). He is a serpent, an old serpent (see Rev. 12:9). Too crafty for man in his perfection, much more in his collapsed and degenerated state, his understanding being cracked by the fall, and all his faculties poisoned and perverted.
Divines observe four steps, or degrees of Satanís tempting power:
First, He can find out the constitution-evils of men; he knows to what sin their natures are more especially prone, and inclinable.
Secondly, He can propound suitable objects to those lusts, he can exactly and fully hit every manís humour: as Agrippa mixed her poison in that meat her husband loved best.
Thirdly, He can inject and cast motions into the mind, to close with those tempting objects, as it is said of Judas: "The devil put it into his heart" (John 13:2).
Fourthly, He can solicit, irritate, and provoke the heart, and by those continual restless solicitations weary it: and hereby he often draws men to commit such things as startled them in the first motion.
All this he can do, and if he finds the work sticks, and meets with rubs and difficulties, yet doth he not act to the utmost of his skill and power, at all times, and with all persons? Neither indeed need he do so: the very propounding of an object is enough to some, and without any further solicitation, the devil makes an easy conquest of them.
And, beside all this, his policy much appears in the election of place, time, and instruments to tempt by: And thus are poor souls caught, "as fishes in an evil net" (Eccl. 9:12). The carnal man is led by sense, as the beast; and Satan handles and fits him accordingly. He useth all sorts of motives, not only internal and intellective, but external and sensitive also; like the sparkling of the wine when it gives its colour in the glass; or the harlotís beauty whose eyelids are snares, hiding always the hook and concealing the issue from them. He promises them gain and profit, pleasure and delight, and all that is tempting, with assurance of secrecy: By these he fastens the fatal hook in their jaws, and thus they are led captive by him at his will.
And is Satan so subtle and industrious to entice souls to sin? Doth he thus cast out his golden baits, and allure souls with pleasure to their ruin? Then how doth it behove thee, O my soul, to be jealous and wary! How strict a guard should I set upon every sense! Ah, let me not so much regard how sin comes towards me in the temptation, as how it goes off at last. The day in which Sodom was destroyed, began with a pleasant sunshine, but ended in fire and brimstone. I may promise myself much content in the satisfaction of my lusts: But O how certainly will it end in my ruin! Ahab doubtless promised himself much content in the vineyard of Naboth, but his blood paid for it in the portion of Jezreel. The harlotís bed was perfumed to entice the simple young man (see Prov. 7:17), but those chambers of delight proved the chambers of death, and her house the way to hell. Ah! With what a smiling face doth sin come on towards me in its temptations! How doth it tickle the carnal fancy, and please the deceived heart! But what a dreadful catastrophe and upshot hath it! The delight is quickly gone; but the guilt thereof remains to amaze and terrify the soul with ghastly forms, and dreadful representations of the wrath of God. As sin hath its delights attending it to enter and fasten it, so it hath its horror and stings to torment and wound: And as certainly as I see those go before it to make a way, so certainly shall I find these follow after, and tread upon its heels. No sooner is the conscience awakened, but all those delights vanish as a night vision, or as a dream when one awakes, and then I shall cry, "Here is the hook, but where is the bait? Here is the guilt and horror, but where the delight that I was promised? And I, whither shall I now go? Ah, my deceitful lusts! You have enticed and left me in the midst of all miseries."