Recently Thomas Brooks’ old book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, came up in conversation. I had made a joke about doing a course called, “Defense Against the Dark Arts” where we would study sin, temptation, and how to protect ourselves against them. There was some interest in the topic, so I’ll be blogging chapter by chapter through Brooks’ book. Brooks is an actual Puritan – he lived during the 17th century in England and was part of that movement – and his work shows all the marks of Puritanism. On the plus side, Puritan writings contain a deep theology aimed at helping people to know and experience God. This is often called “experiental” or “experimental” theology. Theology for the purpose of living worship. Another hallmark of this kind of writing is its extreme organization. Books were often meticulously outlined. This is a bit of a mixed blessing – while there is a good structure and organization to the book, just reading the outline can be overwhelming. Finally, Puritan were writers in the 17th century and so their language can be difficult and the sentences hard to read. I haven’t found Brooks to be too difficult but other writers’ styles – like John Owen – definitely hampers comprehension.
After 8 pages of outline, Brooks throws in essentially three introductions – the Epistle Dedicatory, a “Word to the Reader”, and an introduction. We’ll look at each section in turn.
The Epistle Dedicatory
Brooks’ addresses “Watchmen”, that is, pastors and those who have been charged to be caretakers of souls. To this end he enjoins them:
Christ, the Scripture, your own hearts, and Satan’s devices, are the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched. If any cast off the study of these, they cannot be safe here, nor happy hereafter. It is my work as a Christian, but much more as I am a Watchman, to do my best to discover the fullness of Christ, the emptiness of the creature, and the snares of the great deceiver; which I have endeavored to do in the following discourse, according to that measure of grace which I have received from the Lord.
He then goes on to describe Satan’s work in tempting believers to sin and the variety of ways and means he has. Temptations suit the unique frame of heart of each believer – “Whatever sin the heart of man is most prone to, that the devil will help forward.” (Page 10)
Brooks lists seven reasons he wrote this book:
- Satan has “a better advantage” against us than we think. In the famous words of G.I. Joe, knowing this is half the battle.
- A bunch of people asked him to write this book.
- While writing this he felt especially under spiritual attack.
- This stuff is really useful.
- He doesn’t know anyone else who has written on this.
- He has friends who are far away and wants to write to them.
- He doesn’t know when he will die, so he figures why not write a little somethin’-somethin’.
Finally Brooks blesses the readers, asks for their prayers, and makes his purpose clear:
That you would make it your business to study Christ, his Word, your own hearts, Satan’s plots, and eternity–more than ever. That you would endeavor more to be inwardly sincere than outwardly glorious; to live, than to have a mere name to live. That you would labor with all your might to be thankful under mercies, and faithful in your places, and humble under divine appearances, and fruitful under precious ordinances. That as your means and mercies are greater than others–so your account before God may not prove a worse than others.
For a close, remember this, that your life is short, your duties many, your assistance great, and your reward sure; therefore faint not, hold on and hold up, in ways of well-doing, and heaven shall make amends for all!
A Word to the Reader
Here Brooks addresses the reader directly and tells them to “buy the truth” (Proverbs 23:23) whatever the cost. He gives four pieces of counsel:
- “You must know that every man cannot be excellent, yet every man may be useful.”
- “It is not hasty reading—but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul… It is not he who reads most—but he who meditates most, who will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.”
- “Know that it is not the knowing, nor the talking, nor the reading man–but the doing man, that at last will be found the happiest man…Reader, If it is not strong upon your heart to practice what you read, to what end do you read? To increase your own condemnation?”
- There are marginal notes that are worth reading. (Seriously, that’s his fourth piece of counsel. We’re suppose to read them.)
Brooks sets the context in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11: a unrepentant church member who had been disciplined earlier (perhaps the incestuous person from 1 Cor. 5:1ff) was sufficient (v. 6) and asks the church to forgive this person (vv. 7-10) so that the disciplined member may not be overcome with sorrow. A second reason to forgive this disciplined member is in v. 11: “lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” Brooks takes this as his theme verse for the book. He unpacks this verse a little in the introduction:
- “Lest Satan should overreach us. The word … is taken from the greedy merchant, who seeks and takes all opportunities to beguile and deceive others. Satan is that wily merchant, that devours, not widows’ houses–but most men’s souls!”
- “He is but a Christian in title only, who has not personal experience of Satan’s stratagems.”
- “Satan has his several devices to deceive, entangle, and undo the souls of men.”
Brooks will prove that Satan has these “devices” (strategies, plots, machinations, stratagems, or more generally “ways”). He will then enumerate in good Puritan fashion each device. He will show us “the remedy” – that is, how to resist and overcome these devices not just generally but specifically for each device. Then Brooks wraps up with a few concluding remarks.
This post is already at one thousand words so we’ll pick up next time with “proving the point” – Satan has devices at his disposal to entangle and ensnare the souls of believers.Posted in Christianity | No Comments »