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Soul Doctors

October 1, 2012

The Puritans excelled at pastoral care. Known today for emphasizing doctrine, they are less known for using this doctrine in their ministry as doctors of the human heart. The Puritan pursuit of divinity served the very practical purpose of helping people become more like Christ! As Richard Lovelace has put it, “A Puritan sermon was never a tape-recording of abstract doctrinal information, but an operation on the spiritual lives of the hearers in which no doctrinal tool was ever used which did not vitally relate to the needs of some class among them.” A powerful example of this pastoral, spiritual divinity is found in the writings of Thomas Brooks (1608 – 1680). One of his best known treatises is entitled Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. The work is well worth reading in its entirety, but a flavor of his thought (and some real help!) can come just by working through the table of contents. The power here isn’t in the information, but in the thoughtful, careful application to the soul under temptation. Brooks lists 12 devices the devil uses to draw the soul to sin and then puts forward a list of revealed remedies:

1. By presenting the bait and hiding the hook. For remedies, consider that (1) we ought to keep at the greatest distance from sin and from playing with the bait, (2) sin is but a bitter sweet, (3) sin will usher in the greatest and saddest losses, and (4) sin is very deceitful and bewitching.

2. By painting sin with virtue’s colors. For remedies, consider that (1) sin is never the less vile by being so painted, (2) the more sin is so painted the more dangerous it is, (3) we ought to look on sin with that eye with which within a few hours we shall see it, and (4) sin cost the life-blood of the Lord Jesus.

3. By the extenuating and lessening of sin. For remedies, consider that (1) sin which men account small brings God’s great wrath on men, (2) the giving way to a less sin makes way for the committing of a greater, (3) it is sad to stand [against] God for a trifle, (4) often there is most danger in the smallest sins, (5) the saints have chosen to suffer greatly rather than commit the least sin, (6) the soul can never stand under the guilt and weight of sin when God sets it home upon the soul, and (7) there is more evil in the least sin than there is in the greatest affliction.

4. By showing to the soul the best man’s sins and by hiding from the soul their virtues, their sorrows, and their repentance. For remedies, consider that (1) the Spirit of God records not only the sins of the saints, but also their repentance, (2) these stains did not make a trade of sin, (3) though God does not disinherit his sinning people, He punishes them severely, and (4) God has two main ends in recording to falls of His saints (as encouragements not to faint, and as warning lest you fall).

5. By presenting God to the soul as one made up all of mercy. For remedies, consider that (1) it is the sorest of judgments to be left to sin upon any pretense whatsoever, (2) God is as just as He is merciful, (3) sins against mercy will bring the greatest and sorest judgments on men, (4) though God’s general mercy is over all His works, yet His special mercy is confined to those that are divinely qualified, and (5) the saints now glorified regarded god’s mercy as a most powerful against, and not for, sin.

6. By persuading the soul that repentance is easy and that therefore the soul need not scruple about sinning. For remedies, consider that (1) repentance is a difficult work above our own power, (2) repentance changes and converts the whole man from his sin to God, (3) repentance is a continued act, (4) if repentance were easy, the lack of it would not strike millions with terror and drive them to hell, (5) to repent of sin is as great a mark of grace as not to sin, and (6) Satan now suggests that repentance is easy, but shortly he will drive his dupes to despair by presenting it as the hardest work in the world.

7. By making the soul bold to venture upon the occasion of sin. For remedies, consider that (1) certain scriptures expressly command us to avoid occasions of sin and least appearance of evil, (2) there is no conquest over sin unless the soul turns from the occasions of sin, (3) saints now glorified have turned from the occasions of sin as from hell itself, and (4) to avoid the occasions of sin is an evidence of grace.

8. By representing to the soul the outward mercies enjoyed by men walking in sin, and their freedom from inward miseries. For remedies, consider that (1) we cannot judge of how the heart of God stands towards a man by the acts of His providence, (2) nothing provokes God’s wrath so much as men’s abuse of His goodness and mercy, (3) there is no greater curse or affliction in this life than not to be in misery or affliction, (4) the wants of evil men are far greater than their outward blessings, (5) outward things are not as they seem, nor as they are esteemed, (6) God has ends and designs in giving evil men outward mercies and present rest from sorrows and sufferings that cause saints to sigh, (7) God often plagues and punishes those whom others things He most spares and loves, and (8) God will call evil men to a strict account for all the outward good that they have enjoyed.

9. By presenting to the soul the crosses, losses, sorrows and sufferings that daily attend those who walk in the ways of holiness. For remedies, consider that (1) all afflictions suffered by Christians turn to their profit, (2) all such affliction only reach their worst, not their best, part, (3) all such afflictions are short and momentary, (4) all such afflictions proceed from God’s dearest love, (5) it is out duty and glory to measure afflictions not by the smart but by the end, (6) God’s design in saints’ afflictions is to try, not to ruin, their souls, and (7) the afflictions, wrath and misery consequent upon wickedness are far worse than those linked with holiness.

10. By causing saints to compare themselves and their ways with those reputed to be worse than themselves. For remedies, consider that (1) to be quick-sighted abroad and blind at home proves a man a hypocrite, (2) it is far better to compare out internal and external actions with the Word than to compare ourselves with others worse than ourselves, and (3) though our sins may not appear as great as those of others, yet without repentance responding to mercy, we shall be as certainly damned as others.

11. By polluting the souls and judgments of men with dangerous errors that lead to looseness and wickedness. For remedies, consider that (1) an erroneous vain mind is as odious to God as vicious life, (2) it is needful to receive the truth affectionately and plentiously, (3) error makes its owner suffer loss, (4) it is needful to hate and reject all doctrines that are contrary to godliness, that lead to self-righteousness, and that make good works co-partners with Christ, (5) it is needful to hold fast to the truth, (6) it is needful to keep humble, and (7) errors have been productive of great evils.

12. By leading men to choose wicked company. For remedies, consider that (1) there are express commands of God to shun such company, (2) wicked company is infection and dangerous, (3) it is needful to look upon the wicked in such terms as Scripture describes them, and (4) the company of wicked men was once a grief and burden also to saints now glorified.

Brooks goes on to work through 8 devices satan uses to keep men from holy duties and hinder them in holy service, then 8 more devices used to keep saints in a sad, doubting or questioning condition, and he closes with 5 devices to destroy and ensnare all sorts and ranks of men. The writing throughout is lively and clear – and above all it is devastatingly helpful in identifying and counteracting the demonic diseases trying to infect the life of Christ within His people.

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