Read CHAPTER III - THE TEMPTER:HIS CHARACTERISTICS AND METHODS of The Warfare of the Soul Practical Studies in the Life of Temptation, free online book, by Shirley C. Hughson, on ReadCentral.com.

I. Satan, the Deceiver

The foremost characteristic of Satan is that which marks him as a Deceiver.It was by deceit that he brought death into the world and all our woe.Our first mother was “beguiled through his subtilty," and “being deceived, was in the transgression."Our Lord declares him to be the father of lies, and the constant apostolic warning is against his falsehood and deceit.He secures the active allegiance of men by blinding the minds of them which believe not"; he is able to lead astray Gods people by being transformed into an angel of light," and through his wiles and lying wonders he seeks “to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect." So we are taught to watch and pray lest the devil find room to deceive, who never sleeps, but goes about seeking whom he may devour."

Nevertheless there is great consolation in the fact that his chief weapon is deceit.By using it he bears his testimony that, though we be far gone from righteousness, yet, should we be permitted to see clearly, truth rather than error would appeal to us.

No man chooses evil for evils sake. Before he makes such a choice he is deceived into thinking either that the thing is good, or that under the particular circumstances it is right for him to make what, under other conditions, would be a sinful choice.Thus, much of the sin we commit comes from making ourselves an exception to rules which we ourselves acknowledge, and it has been said that such action is of the very essence of immorality.

One of Satan’s favourite deceptions is practised upon us in regard to himself.It has been well said that Satan’s master-stroke in these latter times is his policy of persuading men that he himself has no existence.If an army disbelieves in the existence of an enemy, no guard will be kept, and it will be easily surprised and overcome. So we may be sure that those who deny the personality of Satan will sooner or later be his captives.Knowing this he operates as hiddenly as possible.

How different is his plan of warfare from what it was two thousand years ago.Men believed in him then, and he fought them in the open.Now they question his existence, and he goes softly lest they should discover their error through his too manifest activity.In our Lord’s time, for example, demoniacal manifestation was common; it is rarely heard of now.Satan does not care to be too much in evidence.He encourages us to think lightly of him that we may all the more surely fall into his snares.

Here we see the evidence of his absolute devotion to his cause.Wiser in his generation than the children of light, he is willing to be effaced if thereby the glory of the kingdom of hell can be enhanced.We often mar what we do for God by conspicuously claiming the credit; he asks for no credit if only the result redounds to his power.

II. The Fact of his Personality

The question of the personality of Satan is one that we must briefly consider here.Do we believe in a personal devil? The answer to this question will show what is our attitude towards the spiritual conflict.We may go further, and say that it will show whether, in the last analysis, we believe there is any spiritual conflict.

In these days when man is made the measure of all things, both divine and devilish, we often hear it said that every soul is its own tempter, that what revelation calls temptation is but the working out of a so-called “evil principle” that resides by nature in every human spirit.

Of course, there is a partial truth in this, for when we yield ourselves to Satan’s power by consenting to sin, we then become his servants, and just as one man often acts as Satan’s agent in tempting another, so, too, we can act as his agent in tempting ourselves.But it is none the less his personal work though carried out through another.

To deny the personality of Satan involves one in all manner of denials of Scripture and Church teaching. Revelation declares that God made our first parents and pronounced them “very good." Whence then arose the inherent “principle of evil” that wrought their temptation? Did God create in them and pronounce “very good” that which asserted itself so desperately against His will, or did it come from a personally directed intelligence outside of them?

Again, in the second Adam, if He is indeed the God-man, the Incarnate Jéhovah, whence came His temptation? If it came from some principle within Him, then just in so far as His temptation was greater than ours must the evil principle dwelling in Him have been greater; and when we consider the extent of His temptation we must then conclude that His human nature had more inherent evil in it than that of any other who has ever braved the perils of the spiritual conflict.

Again, the verdict of the Christian experience of all ages has been that the more nearly men attain to the likeness of Christ, the more they are tempted. Does then the increase of the Christ-character give added virulence and strength to the evil that is within?

These illustrations of temptation show that those who reject the personality of Satan and of his evil angels, and substitute for it the idea of temptation arising from an evil principle within, are involving themselves in conclusions which strike at the very fundamentals of divine revelation concerning God and His relations to man.

III. His Experience and Wisdom

One of Satan’s most powerful means of warfare lies in his experience in dealing with the souls of men.We dare not presume to think that we can oppose or overreach him with any gift of discernment that we have of ourselves.His experience in this warfare has been age-long.Ours has covered but a few brief years.His devotion to his cause has been unflagging, and so, by his strenuous attention to the business in hand, he has acquired vast stores of knowledge as to methods of temptation.Our knowledge of attack and resistance is a poor and beggarly thing, because when God would place us in the school of temptation that we might learn this military science, we are wanting in devotion to our cause and miss the numberless opportunities that are offered.

Furthermore, Satan has dealt with millions of souls of the same type as ours, dealt with them and mastered them.It were the height of folly for us to imagine that there might be any thing in our nature, or in our aim and purpose, that he has not met and studied in characters far stronger than ours.Taken apart from God, there is nothing in us that can for a moment baffle so powerful and experienced a foe.We can present no new front to him.Only the infinite strength and variety of God’s grace can supply that which will surely baffle and defeat him.

As we study the history of his dealings with the souls of men we see not only that he is faithful to his own abominable ideals and aims, and so acquires great knowledge of the methods which avail against us, but that he is faithful and methodical in using the experience he has gained.

He makes the most of what he has.If he discovers that a certain mode of temptation is effective against men, he wastes neither time nor force in wandering afield after new things.He works one method thoroughly, getting out of it all possible dishonour to God, before seeking new ways and means.He never scatters his force, but is ever intensifying and concentrating it, daily seeking to perfect more and more his method of warfare.

Let us see how careful he is to utilize his own tremendous experiences.Take the first recorded temptation that he brought against man.What was his course of reasoning in devising it?I fell through the desire to be like God, he reflects.This same temptation will ensnare this new handiwork of God whom He has made in His own image and likeness.It was to him unthinkable that any intelligent being should not have that aspiration, and he approaches our first mother, promising as the reward of sin, Ye shall be as gods." His confidence was not disappointed.The lure attracted, man fell, and sin and death entered the world.

We note that he again falls back upon his experience in tempting the second Adam.He hears the Father’s voice declare, “Thou art My Beloved Son," and immediately he proceeds to test Him.Mark the substance of his insolent assault.“If thou art the Son of God, prove it, vindicate your claim.I challenge it.Turn these stones into bread, and by this miracle show me that you are like God."

This he believed would be the supreme test.His own fall had come through his ambition; the fall of the human race had its beginning in the same proud aspiration; and surely, he argued, it would prove effective against this new opponent of his power as prince of this world.We know what was the issue of the attempt.No sin could enter the heart of the Sinless One, and yet He allowed Himself to be thus tempted that we might find in His example a means of offsetting the advantage our enemy has in his vast experience with men and their frailties.

IV. The Methods of his Might

Not in a single chapter, nor yet in many chapters, would it be possible for us to discuss all the forms of the might with which Satan wars against the servants of God.We must hasten on to the consideration of some of those that he most commonly employs.

(1) His activity.He never sleeps; he never rests on his arms.What seem to be pauses in the battle are only intervals he is employing to study us more carefully, and to plot some more subtle and ingenious method of attack.Even in moments of defeat he is alert to recover even the smallest advantage.How often when we have just won from him some hard-fought battle, and are pausing, as it were, for breath, our vigilance relaxed ever so little, does he discharge a Parthian shot of pride in our victory, or of impatience which, if it does not wound us grievously, at least mars the perfection of the victory we had secured by God’s grace.

(2) His aggression.We are, perhaps, in many instances, ready to use the opportunities that present themselves to labour for God’s glory, but how salutary a lesson have we to learn from him who, in the interests of eternal unrighteousness, does not wait for opportunity, but labours unceasingly to create occasions for the dishonour of our God.He goes up and down the world “seeking whom he may devour," letting nothing slip that can forward his infernal designs.

In furthering the glory of God and the work of the kingdom we count ourselves to have done well if we have been fairly faithful to the opportunities that come.We hear much, among even the best of spiritual teachers, of seizing opportunities of grace, but little is said of making such opportunities, of watching and labouring, keen and alert to turn to good account and to God’s glory every circumstance, whether or not it seem in itself to bear the hall-mark of heaven-sent opportunity.

How much more zealous is Satan in the evil cause!He not only uses every opportunity that comes, but he counts himself to have done little unless he has forced occasions for wounding the divine Majesty and enslaving souls made in the image of God.

(3) His persistency.Though it is within the power of the soul, by a stout and persistent defence, to discourage Satan in regard to certain particular temptations, yet in regard to temptation in general he is never discouraged.However many times we may inflict defeat upon him, however mighty in battle the soul of saint or sinner may wax, he never resigns the hope that he may yet secure dominion in the heart in which God now reigns.

What a frightening suggestion this offers!He who knows us so well, better than we know ourselves, better than anyone knows us save God and our Guardian Angel, sees ever in us possibilities of final and eternal failure.There is always some definite thing in us that buoys up his hope that he may yet be able to persuade or deceive us into rejecting the service of God and accepting his. Every time we yield to the slightest sin or laxity, we encourage and embolden him still more, until he feels that he can safely attack the soul that but a little time before he feared.It is thus that we become responsible for our own temptations, raise up occasions for sin, and give, by our often deliberate acts, vantage ground and footing to him from which he can drive home a deadly stroke.

(4) A fourth characteristic is the patience with which he works.He bides his time.We should naturally think that when he found a soul in a sinful environment he would immediately use the occasion to lead it into some serious sin, but by no means does he always take this course.Often in the most sinful surroundings he does not, for a long time, allow the sight of sin to suggest participation in it.He waits until we are accustomed to its presence; until the sense of shock wears off.He begins by getting us to tolerate the fact of sin about us, for he knows that any toleration of sin in the general life with which we are surrounded is a long step towards tolerating it in ourselves.

So he waits with a patience born of a deep-laid plot.He notes that after a while we see our Lord fearfully dishonoured, and our souls are not thereby grieved and outraged; that we come and go in a world where He is being crucified daily, but with a smiling countenance that masks no broken heart beneath.

Then he begins to insinuate his suggestions to evil.Perhaps the temptation at first is to some slight sin only, merely venial.He would not rouse our slumbering conscience by the frightening temptations to that which is serious.But Satan has no interest in a soul committing venial sins merely for their own sake.Venial sin cannot deliver us into his power, and cannot keep us out of heaven.

It is well for us to remember this.Satan cares nothing for venial sin per se.He never tempts a soul to it save as a cunningly laid preparation for that deadly sin which follows logically upon a long and reckless course of venial sin; and the soul that deliberately yields to little temptations is knowingly, wilfully, and deliberately aiding and abetting the devil in his plan for the supreme dishonour of our God.

So through all these steps the Satanic patience endures.He sees the soul’s sensibilities becoming more and more blunted; the conscience less and less sensitive.He sees the little act of sin lightly consented to, then the habit formed.He marks the soul’s defences crumbling, and in a well-chosen hour, subtly and in some familiar guise, he presents the temptation to the great offence, and his triumph is complete.

(5) The last characteristic we shall consider is his ready adaptability to every circumstance that transpires in the midst of the battle.He cares not how we are tempted, if only our fall can be secured.We, in our self-will, often desire to serve God in some particular way, and lose interest when we have to change our method.Satan gives us an example in this, for he cares not how he fights, if only he can, in some small measure at least, accomplish God’s dishonour.He has no pet plans to which he clings in a self-willed way.Utterly devoted to his cause, he feels no reluctance or sense of personal chagrin at having to give up a certain method he has been using to dishonour God in us.He gladly and immediately resigns what he finds is not to the purpose.

We see this illustrated in the swiftness with which he shifts the point of attack, often with great readiness and seeming graciousness accepting as his own the point of view from which we reject his first overture.

This is vividly illustrated in his temptation of our Lord in the wilderness.In response to the first temptation, our Lord shows that man is not to live by bread alone, not by merely natural means, even though in themselves they may be good, but that he is to be sustained by a trust in God.Instantly Satan changes his front.He takes Him up upon a pinnacle of the temple and delivers the second temptation, which in substance is this:“You are entirely right.God must be trusted implicitly and in all things.Now give an evidence of your trust in Him.Cast yourself down, for it is written (and here we see how the devil so completely shifts to our Lord’s point of view that he begins to quote Scripture himself), ’He shall give His angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.”But the Blessed One could not be deceived.Again fell the crushing Scriptum est, and again the tempter is vanquished.

As we have just seen in his quotation from Scripture, if it suits his purpose he will make use of the best and holiest things if only he can balk God’s will, things which, in themselves, he must fear and hate.“So he may cozen and deceive thee, he cares not whether it be by truth or falsehood,” says a Kempis. He will try to induce us to go to church when he knows that in so doing we may be neglecting plain, God-sent duties at home.He could not possibly desire us to meditate on holy things, and yet a self-willed meditation, to the neglect of charity or obedience, is most pleasing to him, and he will incite us to it, even smoothing the way for us, suggesting to us beautiful and holy thoughts, and glad to help us with our meditation because he knows it is being made selfishly, and therefore contrary to the divine will.

V. The Soul’s Safety

Our assurance of escaping the power of this malignant and tireless foe lies:

(1) In never parleying or arguing with him.He is far cleverer than we are, and if we stop to consider his proposals, or to reason about them, our fate will, sooner or later, be that of our first mother, who, because she was willing to hear what the tempter had to say, found herself deceived to her utter undoing.Our only safe course lies in instant and vigorous rejection of all that he suggests.

(2) But, although we shall see later that it is often wise to ignore him wholly, our resistance is not to be merely a passive one.We are to meet point with point, attack with counter-attack.If he is tirelessly active in his cause, there must be in us a corresponding activity and zeal for God’s service and for the safety of our souls; a like aggressive spirit, a forcing of circumstances and conditions, wherever possible, that glory may be won for our King, and the power of the devil diminished; a like persistency, and equal alertness, a ready trying of one method, then another; and no matter what past failures may have been, a continuing the fight, that in the end we may be worthy of the victory.

If we can learn these lessons, though the strength and prowess of Satan be an hundred-fold greater than that which human might can own, yet we shall have no fear of him.On the contrary he will fear us, delivering his attacks warily, lest he find his power shattered by the weapons with which we shall be able to oppose him.

We were considering a little while ago how Satan “walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." These words of St. Peter have another significance.True, he goes about with strong and ceaseless aggression, but he goes about seeking only those whom he may devour.He does not fall without discretion upon the throngs of men, as the lion upon the flock.He seeks only those who will, he thinks, in the end yield themselves to him.He skulks about, hiding himself, seeking, as we have seen, to blind men to the very fact of his existence, until he finds opportunity for attack when he thinks the soul will yield.Some strong souls he does not openly seek, for too often has he been defeated by them, and he fears to tempt them save in some insidious, hidden way.In dealing with such souls he loses his lion-like character, and lies in ambush like the coward who is afraid to strike save from behind.

A great comfort, therefore, we must draw from the thought that Satan’s career has been one of failure as well as of victory.God’s Saints, following the lead of the King of Saints, have on a thousand battle-fields trampled him under their feet; and with whatever insolent confidence he may approach us, it is never without a haunting, unnerving fear lest the issue be what it has been many times before, a crushing defeat.

It is not the weak human soul only that trembles at the impending conflict, but the soul of Satan, so often beaten down and humiliated at the hands of the weakest of the soldiers of God.