Sermon 1459A. Satan's Punctuality, Power and Purpose
WRITTEN AT MENTONE,
BY C. H. SPURGEON.
"Then comes the devil, and takes away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved." Luke 8:12.
IT is a great comfort that such multitudes are willing to hear the Word of God. Even though many should turn out to be asthe rock, the wayside, or the thorny ground, still it is a cheering circumstance that the Seed can be sown broadcast overso large an acreage. Yet the thoughts excited by the sight of a vast congregation are not all pleasurable- the question mostnaturally arises-What will come of all this preaching and hearing? Will the heavenly Seed produce a harvest or fall on barrensoil? The thoughtful Christian, in considering this question, takes into consideration the condition of the persons addressedand remembers that many are unprepared for the Gospel. So far from being like a field furrowed to receive the Seed, they arelike a heavily traveled road.
They hear the Gospel and so far we are hopeful of them, but they have no idea of allowing it to enter their inmost souls.The ground of their hearts is already too much occupied. Other feet will tread there and speedily obliterate the sower's footprintsand as for the good Seed, it may lie where it falls-entrance into the inner man it can have none. Nor is this all, the anxiousobserver remembers that there is yet another difficulty-the arch-enemy of God and man is opposed to the salvation of soulsand, therefore, he is present with destructive power wherever the Seed of the Word is being sown.
It is of this we shall now speak-the activity of Satan during the preaching of the Gospel. He is out of sight, but we maynot allow him to be out of mind-he does all the more mischief if men sleep. Let us watchfully turn our eyes towards him andprove that we are not ignorant of his devices. Our Divine Lord, in the words before us, reminded His hearers of the devil'spunctuality-"then comes the devil," or his power-"and takes away the Word out of their hearts." And of his purpose, whichis the prevention of saving faith-"lest they should believe and be saved." At this time, when special services are being held,it may be well to bring these points clearly forward that all may be warned against the Wicked One and so, by the Grace ofGod, his designs may be frustrated.
I. First observe the Evil One's PUNCTUALITY. No sooner does the Seed fall than the fowls devour it. Our text says "then,"that is, then and there "comes the devil." Mark renders it, "Satan comes immediately." Whoever else may loiter, Satan neverdoes. No sooner does a camel fall dead in the wilderness than the vultures appear. Not a bird was visible, nor did it seempossible that there could be one within a radius of many miles, yet speedily there are specks in the sky and soon the devourersare gorging themselves with flesh! Even thus do the spirits of evil scent their prey from afar and hasten to their destroyingwork.
The lapse of time might give opportunity for thought and thought might lead to repentance and, therefore, the enemy hurriesto prevent the hearer from considering the Truth he has heard. When the Gospel has somewhat affected the hearers, so thatin some slight degree it is in their hearts, then swifter than the flight of the eagle is the haste of the devil to take theWord out of their hearts. A little delay might put the case beyond Satanic power, hence the promptness of diabolic activity.O that we were half as quick and active in the service of our Lord! One half as prompt to seize every opportunity for blessingthe souls of men!
No doubt Satan acts at times directly upon the thoughts of men. He personally suggested to Judas the selling of his Masterand many another black insinuation has he cast into men's minds. Like the foul vulture which constantly feasted itself uponthe vitals of Prometheus, so does the devil tear away the good thoughts which would be the life of a man's soul. Insatiablymalicious, he cannot endure that a single Divine Truth should bless the heart. Fearful blasphemies, lewd imaginations, grossunbeliefs, or vain frivolities the devil casts into the mind like infernal bombshells to destroy any newborn thought whichlooks toward Christ and salvation!
At one time he fascinates the mind and another he terrifies it. His one aim is to distract the man's thoughts from the Gospeland prevent its lodging in the conscience and heart. As Satan cannot be everywhere present at one time, he frequently doeshis evil work by his servants, sending the inferior spirits to act as fowls in devouring the Seed and these, again, employvarious agents. With great cunning are the common incidents of life used in the evil business, so that even by things indifferentin themselves, the purposes of the adversary are brought about. The preacher has some specialty in his manner, utterance,or appearance-and this becomes the bird which devours the Seed-the hearer is so taken up with a trifling oddity in the ministerthat he forgets the Truth of God which was spoken!
An anecdote was related, an illustration employed, or a word used which awakened a memory in the hearer's breast and awaywent the Word out of his heart to make room for mere vanity. Or if the sermon was preserved to its close, it then encountereda fresh peril-a lost umbrella, an extra pressure in the aisle, a foolish jest overheard in the crowd, or the absurd dressof an unknown person- any one of them may answer the devil's purpose and snatch away the Word. Little does it matter whetherthe Seed is devoured by black crows or white doves, by great fowls or little sparrows-if it does not abide in the heart, itcannot bring forth fruit and hence the devil arranges that somehow he will take away the Seed at once.
If he never visits a place of worship at any other time, he will be sure to be there when a revival has begun-"then comesthe devil." He lets many a pulpit alone, but when an earnest man begins preaching, "Satan comes immediately."
II. Secondly, we will now, for a moment, notice his POWER. "And takes away the Word out of their hearts." It is not said thathe tries to do it, but that he actually does so. He sees, he comes and he conquers! The Word is there and the devil takesit away as easily as a bird removes a seed from the wayside. Alas, what a sway has the Evil One over the human mind and howineffectual is the preacher's work unless a Divine power is put forth with it!
Perhaps from the striking manner in which it was stated, a little of the Truth of God abides in the memory, but the enemytakes it quite out of the heart-and so the main part, the all-important part of our work is undone! We may be foolish enoughto aim at the head only, but he who is crafty beyond all craft deals with the heart. Anyone may win the intellect-if Satancan keep the affections he is quite content. To the man's heart the good Seed is lost, the fowls have devoured it. It hasbecome to him nothing, having no power over him, no life in him. Not a trace is left-no more than there would be a mark remainingof seed cast on the wayside after the birds had taken it away-so effectual is the work of the Prince of the Power of the Air.
When Satan thinks it worth his while to come, and come immediately, he means business and he takes care that his errand shallnot fail. His power is partly derived from his natural wisdom. Fallen as he now is, he was once an angel of light and hissuperlative faculties, though perverted, defiled and dimmed by the blighting influence of sin, are still vastly superior tothose of the human beings upon whom he tries his arts. He is more than a match for preacher and hearer united if the HolySpirit is not there to baffle him. He has also acquired fresh cunning by long practice in his accursed business! He knowsthe human heart better than anyone, except its Maker. For thousands of years he has studied the anatomy of our nature andis conversant with our weaker points. We are all young and inexperienced compared with this ancient tempter-all narrow inour views and limited in our experience compared with this serpent who is more subtle than all the beasts of the field-whatwonder that he takes away the Word which is sown in hard hearts!
Moreover, he derives his chief power from the man's condition of soul. It is easy for birds to pick up Seed which lies exposedon a hard path. If the soil had been good and the Seed had entered it, he would have had far greater difficulty, he mighteven have been foiled. But a hard heart does the devil's work for him in great measure. He need not use violence or craft-therelies the unreceived Word upon the surface of the soul and he takes it away. The power of the Evil One largely springs fromour own evil. Let us pray the Lord to renew the heart that the testimony of Jesus may be accepted heartily and may never betaken away. Great is the need for such prayer!
Our adversary is no imaginary being, his existence is real, his presence constant, his power immense, his activity indefatigable.Lord, match him and overmatch him! Drive away this foulest of fowls! Break up the soil of the soul and let Your Truth trulylive and graciously grow within us!
III. Our short sermon closes with the third point, which is the devil's PURPOSE. He is a sound theologian and knows that salvationis by believing in the Lord Jesus and, therefore, he fears above all things lest men should "believe and be saved." The substanceof the Gospel lies in those few words, "believe and be saved," and in proportion as Satan
hates that Gospel, we ought to prize it. He is not so much afraid of works as of faith. If he can lead men to work, or feel,or do anything in the place of believing, he is content. But it is believing that he dreads, because God has coupled it withbeing saved.
Every hearer should know this and be instructed to turn all his attention to the point which the devil considers to be worthyof his whole activity. If the Destroyer labors to prevent the heart's believing, the wise will have their wits about themand regard faith as the one thing necessary. "Lest they should believe and be saved" Satan takes away the Word out of theirhearts. Here also is wisdom-wisdom hidden within the enemy's cunning. If the Gospel remains in contact with the heart, itstendency is to produce faith. The Seed abiding in the soil springs up and brings forth fruit and so will the Gospel displayits living power if it dwells within the man and, therefore, the devil hastens to take it away.
The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit and the devil does not like to see it lie near the sinner for fear it should woundhim. He dreads the influence of Truth upon the conscience and if he cannot prevent a man's hearing it, he labors to preventhis meditating upon it. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God"-to obliterate that which has been heard isthe Satanic method of preventing faith. Here, again, is a practical word for the ear of prudence-let us keep the Gospel asmuch as possible near the mind of the unconverted-let us sow and sow again, in the hope that some grain may take root.
Countrymen were known in planting certain seeds to put in "one for the worm, and one for the crow, and then a third whichwould surely grow," and we must do the same. In the book of Jeremiah the Lord describes His own action thus-"I spoke untoyou rising up early and speaking, but you heard not; and I called, but you answered not." Surely, if the Lord Himself hasthus continued to speak to an unanswering race, we need not murmur if much of our preaching should appear to be in vain! Thereis life in the Seed of the Gospel and it will grow if it can be put into the soil of the heart! Let us, therefore, have faithin it and never dream of obtaining a crop except by the old-fashioned way of sowing good Seed. The devil evidently hates theWord-let us, then, keep to it and sow it everywhere!
Reader or Hearer, you have often heard the Gospel-have you heard it in vain? Then the devil has had more to do with you thanyou have dreamed! Is the thought a pleasant one? The presence of the devil is defiling and degrading and he has been hoveringover you as the birds over the high-road and lighting upon you to steal away the Word. Think of this! You are missing, byyour unbelief, fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ-and instead thereof you are having fellowship withSatan!
Is not this horrible? Instead of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you as He dwells in all Believers, the Prince of Darkness ismaking you his resort, coming and going at his pleasure into your mind! You remember Jacob's dream of a ladder and angelsascending and descending from himself to Heaven? Your life experience may be set forth by another ladder which descends intothe dark abyss-and up and down its rungs, foul spirits come and go to yourself! Does this startle you? The Lord grant it may!Do you desire a change? May the Holy Spirit turn your heart into good ground and then shall the Seed of Divine Grace growin you and produce faith in the Lord Jesus!