Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil … above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. Ephesians 6:11, 16
The “wiles of the devil” and the “fiery darts of the wicked one” cover a broad range of activity but no doubt include Satan’s attack upon our mind and emotions. Experiences such as condemnation, doubt, fear, evil thoughts, and depression emanate from his attacks. Now, I do not claim to understand how it is that Satan can access our mind and emotions, but that he can is clear both from Scripture and from the testimony of many of God’s servants throughout the long history of the church. Let’s consider two examples of “the wiles of the devil,” one from Scripture and one from church history.
The first involves the apostle Peter and is recorded in Matthew 16. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answers, saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus commends him for his response, “Blessed are you Simon, Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
Then as Jesus proceeds to tell them about His coming rejection by the leaders at Jerusalem and His subsequent death on the cross, Peter, well-meaning but misguided, takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”
Jesus turns and says to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Jesus’ response to Peter illustrates my point. In the first instance, Peter’s mind was influenced by the Lord. A few minutes later Peter was under the influence of Satan and his thoughts were satanically inspired.
The second striking example of the enemy’s attack on the mind of a believer is seen in the life of John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Describing his experience in the bookGrace Abounding, he writes:
“For about the space of a month … a very great storm came down upon me, which handled me twenty times worse than all I had met with before; it came stealing upon me, now by one piece, then by another; first, all my comfort was taken from me, then darkness seized upon me, after which, whole floods of blasphemies, both against God, Christ, and the Scriptures, were poured upon my spirit, to my great confusion and astonishment. These blasphemous thoughts were such as also stirred up questions in me, against the very being of God, and of his only beloved Son; as, whether there were, in truth, a God, or Christ, or no? and whether the holy Scriptures were not rather a fable, and cunning story, than the holy and pure Word of God?
“The tempter would also much assault me with this, how can you tell but that the [Muslims] had as good Scriptures to prove their [Mohammed] the Saviour, as we have to prove our Jesus is? And, could I think, that so many ten thousands, in so many countries and kingdoms, should be without the knowledge of the right way to heaven; if there were indeed spiritual warfare a heaven, and that we only, who live in a corner of the earth, should alone be blessed therewith? Every one … [thinks] his own religion [right], both Jews and [Muslims], and Pagans! and [what] if all our faith, and Christ, and Scriptures, should be [the same thing] too?
“Sometimes I have endeavoured to argue against these suggestions, and to set some of the sentences of blessed Paul against them; but, alas! I quickly felt, when I [did this], such arguings as these would return again upon me, though we made so great a matter of Paul, and of his words, [how do I know that Paul himself was not a deceiver and out to destroy his fellow men?]
“These suggestions, with many other which at this time I may not, nor dare not utter, neither by word nor pen, did make such a seizure upon my spirit, and did so [overwhelm] my heart, both with their number, continuance, and fiery force, that I felt as if there were nothing else but these from morning to night within me; and as though, indeed, there could be room for nothing else; and also concluded, that God had, in very wrath to my soul, given me up unto them, to be carried away with them, as with a mighty whirlwind.
“Only by the distaste that they gave unto my spirit, I felt there was something in me, that refused to embrace them. But this consideration I then only had, when God [gave me brief moments of relief], otherwise the noise, and strength, and force of these temptations, would drown and overflow; and as it were bury all such thoughts or the remembrance of any such thing. While I was in this temptation, I should often find my mind suddenly put upon it, to curse and swear, or to speak some grievous thing against God, or Christ his Son, and of the Scriptures.
“Now I thought, surely I am possessed of the devil; at other times again, I thought I should be bereft of my wits; for instead of [praising] and magnifying God the Lord with others, if I have but heard him spoken of, presently some most horrible blasphemous thought or other would bolt out of my heart against him; so that whether I did think that God was, or again did think there were no such thing; no love, nor peace, nor gracious disposition could I feel within me.
“These things did sink me into very deep despair; for I concluded, that such things could not possibly be found amongst them that loved God. I often, when these temptations have been with force upon me, did compare myself in the case of such a child, whom some [abductor had by force taken up and carried from family], friend and country; kick sometimes I did, and also scream and cry; but yet I was as bound in the wings of the temptation, and the wind would carry me away. I thought also of Saul, and of the evil spirit that did possess him; and did greatly fear that my condition was the same with that of his (1 Samuel 16:14).
“In these days, when I have heard others talk of what was the sin against the Holy Ghost, then would the tempter so provoke me to desire to sin that sin, that I was as if I could not, must not, neither should be quiet until I had committed that; now, no sin would serve but that; if it were to be committed by speaking of such a word, then I have been as if my mouth would have spoken that word, whether I would or [not]; and in so strong a measure was this temptation upon me, that often I have been ready to [clasp] my hand under my chin, to hold my mouth from opening; and to that end also I have had thoughts at other times, to leap with my head downward, into some … hole …, to keep my mouth from speaking.”1
What a vivid description of the kind of brutal warfare that we sometimes experience as God’s servants! More than a single “fiery dart,” Bunyan was assaulted with a continuous barrage of them. But he is not alone in this experience, for though we might not like to admit it, many of us have faced similar attacks. Having established that the enemy frequently attacks our mind and emotions, we will take a closer look next time at some of the “wiles of the devil” so that we can avoid being ensnared by them.
1 Bunyan, John. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. URL:www.johnbunyan.org/text/bun-abounding.htm (January 23, 2004).