III. The Devil is Fearless and Cunning When he Comes to Tempt
Thirdly, he [the Devil] then came to him [Jesus] when he was fasting, which discovers [discloses, demonstrates] the Devil’s desperate [extraordinary] boldness, as also his craftiness , in that he waited his time to stay till he was hungry. Notwithstanding, Christ was newly come from his baptism and was full of the Holy Ghost , and even now in his exercise of mortification, yet had the Devil courage to set upon him. There is no place so holy, nor exercise so good, as can repress his courage, or give a stay to the boldness of his attempts , as we see Mark. 4. 14 . The word is no sooner sown, but Satan comes immediately, and takes it out of their hearts: which must needs be done in the Church, for the word is out, before they be out of the Church : so that he is not afraid of hearing the word, but can abide it well enough, yea, better than many. And though they carry the word out of the Church, he will wait on them home, and choak the word with cares, and riches, and voluptuous living [luxury, ease], like the seed that fell among thorns Luke 8. 14 .
And no more doth the care for the exercise of prayer: for even then immediately after the repetition of forgiveness, when we have made even with all the world, when GOD hath forgiven us, and we others; then does the Devil give us occasion to say, Lead vs not into temptation, as standing by there ready to tempt us.
And as little cares he for the Sacraments: for presently after they had received the Sacrament , and sang the hymn, Christ tells them they shall al be offended in him that night Mat. 26. 31. Thus, we see his courage serves him at all times, nothing is able to quail it .
As this ought not to discourage the children of God, having so faithful an assistant to take their part: so it gives them this caveat, that they be at no time secure, but always to keep sure guard. Saint Bernard in the midst of a Sermon was solicited to vainglory, because he thought he pleased his auditors and the thereupon brake off his speech, and turned it to the Devil saying; Non propter te hoc opus coeptum est; nec propter te, nec in te finitur .
And as he is courageous so is he subtle: for notwithstanding his eager desire, he stayed the fittest time , wherein consists a chief point of wisdom . So when he tempted Eve, he stayed [waited] till her husband was away, and till he could show her the fruit, which was so pleasing to the eye. So when David lay with Bethsheba Uriah’s wife, he tempted him in the evening, and after his sleep, 2. Sam. 11. 2. a very fit time for the purpose. So, when they were asleep, the enemy sowed tares, Matt. 13.
And as he is wary in choosing his time, so is he as cunning in choosing the means, observing the dispositions of men. For wanton and voluptuous men, he hath the daughters of Moab, a bait fit for their humous, whereby to tempt them to idolatry, Num. 25. 1 . For men secure and careless, he hath a net that suffices to throw over them, (2. Tim. 2. 26) & snare them in. For others, that have more care to seek and inquire into things, he hath quills to blow them p, as knowledge, which puffs up, 1. Cor. 8. 1. Yea, even the best things can he make serve for his purpose, and to be occasions of temptations; so that he may find better entertainment, for the good exercises sake that come with him. He will come sometimes shrouded in the necessity of nature, as here; for when a man is hungry, nature requires somewhat to assuage it .
Prayer, no man doubts to be a godly exercise: yet thereby he tempted them that loved to pray in the Synagogues, and make much babbling, and repetition, Matt. 6. 5. 7 . In like sort doth he abuse the name of good counsel, as in Peter to Christ, Matt. 16. 22. who (as a friend) wished him to spare himself, and live out his time.
Thus, can he put on a faire show, the sooner to beguile: & for good reason, for if he should come unmasked in his own likeness he would be rejected; as if Jehoram the king of Israel had come himself without Jehoshaphat, Elisha would not have looked on him so by a good pretence the temptation shrouds & insinuates it self, otherwise, it would not be looked on.
The way in which the Devil comes to Christ, teaches us something of the nature of temptation. First, if the Devil was not frightened to tempt Christ, he certainly will tempt us. If he was willing to come to Christ when Christ had been publicly affirmed by God at his baptism, we cannot think there is anything we can do or any place we can go where temptation will not seek us out.
If we come to Church, temptation will be there. If we are the Lord’s Table, the Devil will pull up a seat next to us. If we are at prayer, he will be there, too. Even when we pray, we must pray to avoid temptation. Therefore, we must be on guard at all times.
Second, the temptation will be fitted and timed to maximize the likelihood of success. Timing: the temptation will come at a time which it is most likely to be effective. The young man in Proverbs 7 is tempted at night, when no one is watching, and when he is alone. Christ is tempted with food when he is hungry. Temptation will also be matched to the nature of the one being tempted. We are all susceptible to one thing, while we may be immune to another temptation. The Devil studies us to know what will work best.
Thomas Watson writes of this as follows:
He observes the temper and constitution; he lays suitable baits of temptation. Like the husbandman, he knows what grain is proper for the soil. Satan will not tempt contrary to the natural disposition and temperament: this is his policy, he makes the wind and tide go together; that way the natural tide of the heart runs, that way the wind of temptation blows. Though the devil cannot know men’s thoughts, yet he knows their temper, and accordingly he lays his baits. He tempts the ambitious man with a crown, the sanguine man with beauty.
- Satan observes the fittest time to tempt in; as a cunning angler casts in his angle when the fish will bite best. Satan’s time of tempting is usually after an ordinance; and the reason is, because then he thinks he shall find us most secure. When we have been at solemn duties, we are apt to think all is done, and we grow remiss, and leave off that zeal and strictness as before; just as a soldier, who after a battle leaves off his armour, not once dreaming of an enemy. Satan watches his time, and, when we least suspect, then he throws in a temptation.
Thomas Watson, A Divine Cordial; The Saint’s Spiritual Delight; The Holy Eucharist; and Other Treatises, The Writings of the Doctrinal Puritans and Divines of the Seventeenth Century (The Religious Tract Society, 1846), 32–33.