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“Con man” comes from “confidence man”, that is one who gains the confidence of another and then proceeds to use that “confidence” to gain an advantage over another.


In my work, I have had the chance to meet a few confidence men. The best of them are extraordinary, truly.  They exude attraction, they draw one in and offer a promise of good. They instill faith and hope. But their power all lies in illusion.


At the first, they dangle some great benefit, some intangible tangible, some false truth which beguiles and bewitches until the mark bites long and hard. In that moment, the mark receives every good which will ever come. The promise was all one of hope, of expectation — a movie facade without a structure. As soon as the door opens, the building disappears. As soon as the mark bites, the promise vanishes.


All of the good lies in the offer, none in the reality. How then does the mark beat the confidence man? Only by knowing the offer is a lie before the offer is heard.  Unless you have experienced the work of a truly great con-man, you cannot understand the power of the offer.  The con man truly inspires confidence.


Brooks makes this point in remedies three and four to device one: If temptation works by presenting the bait and hiding the hook, the only protection will be to avoid the bait altogether. If complete avoidance cannot be had, then know before that the temptation will first overpower your sense and second bring on sorrow.


I will take 3 & 4 in reverse order. First, sin is bewitching


Sin so bewitches the soul, that it makes the soul call evil good, and good evil; bitter sweet and sweet bitter, light darkness and darkness light; and a soul thus bewitched with sin will stand it out to the death, at the sword’s point with God; let God strike and wound, and cut to the very bone, yet the bewitched soul cares not, fears no but will still hold on in a course of wickedness, as you may see in Pharaoh, Balaam, and Judas. Tell the bewitched soul that sin is a viper that will certainly kill when it is not killed, that sin often kills secretly, insensibly, eternally, yet the bewitched soul cannot, nor will not, cease from sin.


You cannot understand temptation until you understand that temptation will bewitch your sense. Moreover, you cannot discover the trick until the dagger has entered your heart:


21 With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him.

22 All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast

23 till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.


Proverbs 7:21-23. The verb translated “compel is a very strong concept.  It elsewhere is used to refer to casting out (Ps. 5:10). In Deuteronomy 30:1 it refers to God driving the rebellious Israelites into exile.  The translator’s handbook for Proverbs notes, “She compels means she forces, pressures, or obliges him.” The power of the temptation compels — until the true end is revealed.


That is the second remedy offered by Brooks, know that sin will not merely seduce, it will destroy:


Solemnly to consider, That sin will usher in the greatest and the saddest losses that can be upon our souls. It will usher in the loss of that divine favour that is better than life, and the loss of that joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, and the loss of that peace that passeth understanding, and the loss of those divine influences by which the soul hath been refreshed, quickened, raised, strengthened, and gladded, and the loss of many outward desirable mercies, which otherwise the soul might have enjoyed.


How then does one put this information to use?  One must consider the sin in the absence of the temptation.  Temptation so overwhelms the sense that an unarmed man has no chance. A friend who lives in rural Montana has impressed upon me the need for care in the forrest. To come upon a lion or bear without defense could end one’s life. To come about temptation without defense is to fall.


First, avoid the temptation.


If the temptation cannot be avoided, then I must recognize the temptation for what it is: a deceit.  A movie compels as long as the illusion is maintained. But once you notice the reflection of a crew member holding a candy bar in the bedroom mirror, you no longer feel fear for the monster in the window.  Before the resolution arrives, know that is false. See it for a fraud.


But also, plug your ears and hurry away as quickly as possible: for the illusion is persistent, and the nagging of temptation will draw the heart should it divert its gaze from Christ.


Moreover, consider carefully – in writing is good, very good – the damage which this sin will wreck in one’s life. Sit down, write down every ill you can conceive will flow from the sin. Think of how often the sin has deceived you before, think of the sorrow it has brought in.


Aside: The earliest usage of the phrase I could find was as of William Thompson in New York:


Arrest of the Confidence Man.—For the last few months a man has been traveling about the city, known as the “Confidence Man,” that is, he would go up to a perfect stranger in the street, and being a man of genteel appearance, would easily command an interview. Upon this interview he would say after some little conversation, “have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until to-morrow;” the stranger at this novel request, supposing him to be some old acquaintance not at that moment recollected, allows him to take the watch, thus placing “confidence” in the honesty of the stranger, who walks off laughing and the other supposing it to be a joke allows him so to do. In this way many have been duped, and the last that we recollect was a Mr. Thomas McDonald, of No. 276 Madison street, who, on the 12th of May last, was met by this “Confidence Man” in William Street, who, in the manner as above described, took from him a gold lever watch valued at $110; and yesterday, singularly enough, Mr. McDonald was passing along Liberty street, when who should he meet but the “Confidence Man” who had stolen his watch. Officer Swayse, of the Third Ward, being near at hand, took the accused into custody on the charge made by Mr. McDonald. The accused at first refused to go with the officer; but after finding the officer determined to take him, he walked along for a short distance, when he showed desperate fight, and it was not until the officer had tied his hands together that he was able to convey him to the police office. On the prisoner being taken before Justice McGrath, he was recognized as an old offender by the name of Wm. Thompson, and is said to be a graduate of the college at Sing Sing. The magistrate committed him to prison for a further hearing. It will be well for all those persons who have been defrauded by the “Confidence Man” to call at the police court Tombs and take a view of him.


Source: New-York Herald, July 8, 1849