Puritan, Reformed, and others - quotes on spiritual warfare

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Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Professor
I am aware that there is in some Reformed folks an aversion (I like to call it “an allergy”) to even think about any and all spiritual phenomena not of God directed against the saints, apparently believing we have automatic protection against such so that vigilance and resistance in that area is unneeded. This was not what the Puritans themselves thought, however, as well as other solid Reformed teachers, and others (I am not sure I can call John MacArthur and John Piper “solid Reformed” though I know they are esteemed by some here at PB) as the quotes below demonstrate. To wit:


Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians; on 4:27, p 270 or <http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/charleshodge/hodge_ephesians.html#chap4sect2>

Neither give place to the devil.—"So give place to" is to get out of the way of, to allow free scope to; and therefore to give an occasion or advantage to any one. We are neither to cherish anger, nor are we to allow Satan to take advantage of our being angry. Anger when cherished gives the Tempter great power over us, as it furnishes a motive to yield to his evil suggestions.

On 6:16 pp 386, 387, or <http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/charleshodge/hodge_ephesians.html#chap6sect2>

As burning arrows not only pierced but set on fire what they pierced, they were doubly dangerous. They serve here therefore as the symbol of the fierce onsets of Satan. He showers arrows of fire on the soul of the believer; who, if unprotected by the shield of faith, would soon perish. It is a common experience of the people of God that at times horrible thoughts, unholy, blasphemous, skeptical, malignant, crowd upon the mind, which cannot be accounted for on any ordinary law of mental action, and which cannot be dislodged. They stick like burning arrows; and fill the soul with agony. They can be quenched only by faith; by calling on Christ for help. These, however, are not the only kind of fiery darts; nor are they the most dangerous. There are others which enkindle passion, inflame ambition, excite cupidity, pride, discontent, or vanity; producing a flame which our deceitful heart is not so prompt to extinguish, and which is often allowed to burn until it produces great injury and even destruction. Against these most dangerous weapons of the evil one, the only protection is faith. It is only by looking to Christ and earnestly invoking his interposition in our behalf that we can resist these insidious assaults, which inflame evil without the warning of pain. The reference of the passage, however, is not to be confined to any particular forms of temptation. The allusion is general to all those attacks of Satan, by which the peace and safety of the believer are specially endangered.

end Hodge


From Desiring God website:

John Piper sermon <http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/the-word-of-god-abides-in-you-and-you-have-overcome-the-evil-one>

The Victory of the Word of God over Satan

There are two activities of Satan that the word of God enables us to overcome. I think all of his faith-destroying efforts can be summed up under these two activities. One is Satan’s accusation. The other is Satan’s temptation. He accuses and he tempts. He accuses us with the sin that we have already done. And he tempts us to do the sin we haven’t yet done. What John teaches us is that the word of God abiding in us is the way we conquer the evil one in both of these activities. Let’s take them one at a time and see how the word of God works in both kinds of triumph.

1. The Victory of the Word over Satan’s Accusation

First, let’s make sure we see that accusation is one of Satan’s great activities against the believers. The very name Satan means accuser or adversary. And John in particular draws out this meaning in Revelation 12:10-11 and connects it to the word of God:

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

What John means is that Satan’s accusations fall to the ground—they are conquered—when believers trust in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, to cover all their sins, and make that truth their testimony even if it costs them their lives. They may die from the persecution, but they are more than conquerors over the accuser. The accusations of the devil are nullified when we are under the blood of the Lamb—that is, when we are “in” the Son of God who died for us.

Jesus Christ, Our Propitiation and Advocate

Now let’s go back to 1 John and see how he says this there. In 1 John 2:1-2, he writes: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (Cf. 1 John 1:7; 3:16).

The aim of his letter is twofold: 1) that we not sin, and 2) that if we do sin, Satan not be able to accuse us in such a way that we despair of heaven and holiness and just walk away into empty worldliness.


John Bloom, Desiring God website <Joe Encouragement: Let’s Be Like Him | Desiring God>

“The devil is constantly trying to discourage us. He’s the “the accuser of [the] brothers…who accuses them day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10). And his minions are frequently throwing “flaming darts” of condemnation and jealousy and resentment at us (Ephesians 6:16). Resist them (1 Peter 5:9)!”

end Desiring God website


John Calvin

When Paul says in Ephesians 4:26, 27, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil”, it seems he is saying that the devil may use our opening our hearts to continuing sin by entering in himself.

Commenting on these verses Calvin says,

Neither give place (τῷ διαβόλῳ) to the devil. I am aware of the interpretation which some give of this passage. Erasmus, who translates it, “neither give place to the Slanderer,” (calumniatori,) shews plainly that he understood it as referring to malicious men. But I have no doubt, Paul’s intention was, to guard us against allowing Satan to take possession of our minds, and, by keeping in his hands this citadel, to do whatever he pleases. We feel every day how impossible, or, at least, how difficult it is to cure long-continued hatred. What is the cause of this, but that, instead of resisting the devil, we yield up to him the possession of our heart? Before the poison of hatred has found its way into the heart, anger must be thoroughly dislodged.​

end Calvin


Jonathan Edwards, A TREATISE CONCERNING RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS, IN THREE PARTS; <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works1.vii.iii.iv.html>, speaking of affections and thoughts in the mind:

And hence they determine, that what they have experienced, must be from the mighty influence of the Spirit of God, and is of a saving nature; but very ignorantly, and without grounds. What they have experienced may indeed not be from themselves directly, but may be from the operation of an invisible agent, some spirit besides their own: but it does not thence follow, that it was from the Spirit of God. There are other spirits who have influence on the minds of men, besides the Holy Ghost. We are directed not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits, whether they be of God. There are many false spirits, exceeding busy with men, who often transform themselves into angels of light, and in many wonderful ways, with great subtlety and power, mimic the operations of the Spirit of God. And there are many of Satan’s operations, which are very distinguishable from the voluntary exercises of men’s own minds. They are so, in those dreadful and horrid suggestions, and blasphemous injections, with which he follows many persons; also in vain and fruitless frights and terrors, of which he is the author. And the power of Satan may be as immediate and as evident in false comforts and joys, as in terrors and horrid suggestions; and oftentimes is so in fact.

end Edwards


Quotes from Joel Beeke’s and Mark Jones’, A Puritan Theology, the chapter, “The Puritans on Demons”, from Paul Tautges’ blog <http://counselingoneanother.com/2013/07/16/12-more-ways-satan-may-try-to-destroy-you/>

William Spurstowe and 12 Devices of Satan and His Demons

From Device 2: “The devil persistently urges men to a particular sin. He inserts evil thoughts in the mind (John 13:2)…He persistently presses until men succumb, as Delilah did with Samson (Judg 16:16).”

end Spurstowe


Selected Sermons of George Whitefield; from “Satan’s Devices” <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/whitefield/sermons.l.html>

But let me observe to you, that whatsoever shall be delivered in the following discourse is only designed for such as have actually entered upon the divine life; and not for carnal almost Christians, who have the form of godliness, but never yet felt the power of it in their hearts. . . .

Fourth device I am going to mention, his troubling you with blasphemous, profane, unbelieving thoughts; and sometimes to such a degree, that they are as tormenting as the rack.

Some indeed are apt to impute all such evil thoughts to a disorder of body. But those who know any thing of the spiritual life, can inform you, with greater certainty, that for the generality, they proceed from that wicked one, the devil; who, no doubt, has power given him from above, as well now as formerly, to disorder the body, as he did Job's, that he may, with the more secrecy and success, work upon, ruffle and torment the soul.

You that have felt his fiery darts, can subscribe to the truth of this, and by fatal experience can tell, how often he has bid you, “curse God and die,” and darted into your thoughts a thousand blasphemous suggestions, even in your most secret and solemn retirements; the bar looking back on which makes your very hearts to tremble.

I appeal to your own consciences; Have not some of you, when you have been lifting up holy hands in prayer, been pestered with such a crowd of the most horrid insinuations, that you have been often tempted to rise off from your knees, and been made to believe your prayers were an abomination to the Lord? Nay, when, with the rest of your Christian brethren, you have crowded round the holy table, and taken the sacred symbols of Christ's most blessed body and blood into your hands, instead of remembering the death of your Savior, have you not employed in driving out evil thoughts, as Abraham was in driving away the birds, that came to devour his sacrifice; and thereby have been terrified, lest you have eat and drank your own damnation?

But marvel not, as though some strange thing happened unto you; for this has been the common lot of all God's children. We read, even in Job's time, “That when the sons of God came to appear before their Maker, (at public worship) Satan also came amongst them,” to disturb their devotions.

And think not that God is angry with you for these distracting, though ever so blasphemous thoughts: No, he knows it is not you, but Satan working in you; and therefore, notwithstanding he may be displeased with, and certainly will punish him; yet he will both pity and reward you. And though it be difficult to make persons in your circumstances to believe so; yet I doubt not but you are more acceptable to God, when performing your holy duties in the midst of such involuntary distractions, than when you are wrapped up by devotion, as it were, into the third heavens; for you are then suffering, as well as doing the will of God at the same time; and, like Nehemiah's servants at the building of the temple, are holding a trowel in one hand, and a sword in the other. Be not driven from the use of any ordinance whatever, on account of those abominable suggestions; for then you let Satan get his desired advantage over you; it being his chief design, by these thoughts, to make you fall out with the means of grace; and to tempt you to believe, you do not please God, for no other reason, than because you do not please yourselves. Rather persevere in the use of the holy communion especially, and all other means whatever; and when these temptations have wrought that resignation in you, for which they were permitted, God will visit you with fresh tokens of his love, as he met Abraham, when he returned from the slaughter of the five kings; and will send an angel from heaven, as he did to his Son, on purpose to strengthen you.

end Whitefield


William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour: Daily Readings in Spiritual Warfare


Satan is an encroaching enemy. Therefore, you must resist him constantly. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath,” warns the apostle; “neither give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). A soldier assigned to guard duty on the outskirts of a city must keep watch as faithfully as the king’s personal bodyguard, or the enemy will break through the outer limits and thereby gain access to the heart of the town.

If you yield to temptation along the perimeter of your heart, you give the devil a foothold from which to create havoc in your inner spirit. For example, you may become angry and thoughtlessly spew out some bitter words. At the very moment this unholy language spills from your mouth, the devil finds the floodgates open and enters. Then come gushing forth such things as you never dreamed of saying! He is a cunning opponent and will not easily relinquish any ground he gains. The safest strategy, then, is to give him no ground at all from which to work. If you so much as hesitate as you walk by the door where sin dwells, you give Satan more time to entice you to enter. Then you are on his territory.

Who will stop by a tavern to enjoy the company of drunkards, or frequent places of sin, and yet pretend he does not intend to partake? Who will prostitute his eyes to unchaste objects, and yet remain chaste? Who will lend his ears to any corrupt doctrine of the times, and yet be sound in the faith? Such a person is under a strong delusion. If a man is not strong enough to resist Satan in a lesser thing, how can he believe he will be able to repel a greater temptation? You say you cannot avoid being surrounded by deep waters of temptation, yet you think you have the strength to hold your head above water? The give careful thought to some practical advice: It is far easier, when in the ship, to keep from falling overboard than, when in the sea, to get safely into the ship again. (reading for May 22)

end Gurnall


From William Hendriksen’s Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew
Peter was not possessed when he rebuked the Lord and told Him He should not go to Jerusalem to be killed (Matt 16:22), but where did he get that thought? Where did it come from? Did it originate from Peter’s own heart? The Lord seems to think otherwise as He turned to Peter and addressed Satan directly. Hendriksen, in his Matthew commentary, says on this passage,

“. . . the Lord recognizes that Satan is using Peter as his agent in an attempt to seduce Jesus to try to obtain the crown without enduring the cross. So Jesus, in speaking to Peter, is actually addressing Satan, or if one prefers, is addressing whatever in Peter has been perversely influenced by the prince of evil . . . Jesus continues: You are a trap [an offense AV] to me, for you are looking at things not from God’s point of view but from men’s. Jesus immediately recognizes the ‘trap’ Satan is setting. Not for a moment does he entertain the devil’s suggestion. He knows that he is being confronted by the same tempter who at a previous occasion tried to inveigle him with a false promise . . .

“Peter, allowing himself to be influenced by Satan, was speaking from the foolishly human point of view . . . [and] did not realize that he was asking for his own eternal damnation [if Christ had not gone to the cross].” (Wm Hendriksen Commentary on Matthew, pp. 655, 656)​

This is an example of both being influenced by Satan, and having one’s thoughts and even volition infiltrated. By infiltrated I refer to the evil suggestion of the devil taking root within Peter’s mind and then expressed and spoken to Jesus. The devil had gained entrance to Peter’s mind and his thoughts were channeled through him. The Lord reproved this instantly, and no doubt Peter was stung by this fearsome rebuke of Christ and repented instantly. This was the Lord’s doing, but sometimes evil advice – suggested by Satan – takes root in people’s hearts.

end Hendriksen


From Thomas Watson’s, The Godly Man’s Picture pp 162-163 <http://thomaswatsonquotes.com/the-schemes-of-the-devil-to-hinder-us/>

The devil, if he cannot hinder us from duty, will hinder us in duty. When we come before the Lord, he is at our right hand to resist us (Zech. 3:1). Like when a man is going to write, and another stands at his elbow and jogs him, so that he cannot write evenly. Satan will set vain objects before the fancy to cause a diversion. The devil does not oppose formality but fervency. If he sees that we are setting ourselves in good earnest to seek God, he will be whispering things in our ears, so that we can scarcely attend to what we are doing.

end Watson


William Perkins, The Combat between Christ and the Devil Displayed, p. 376

William Perkins noted the Devil “conveys into [a man’s] mind, either by inward suggestion or outward object, the motion or cognition of that sin which he would have him to commit.”

end Perkins


John MacArthur sermon, Fundamental Attitudes for Spiritual Maturity Pt 2

Now...but how does he attack Christians? How does he attack those who believe? How does he go around as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour among us? Well, the system comes at us through the same three gates. First John 2:15 to 17, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life...those are the only three ways he appeals to us. If you want a real simplification of the spiritual battle it all comes down to three things...lusting for what you see, lusting because of what you feel, and pride. That's always and only Satan's approach.

People say, "Well no, Satan cannot have anything to do with a Christian." That's not true...that's not true. There are a number of ways in which Satan can get involved in a believer's life. I'm going to give you a little bit of insight into it. Follow very closely.

First of all, sometimes God allows Satan to attack a believer. That's right. God will allow Satan to attack a believer in a very intimate way. And when I say Satan I mean Satan and his whole army of demons. . . .

So, God has some purposes in mind. Sometimes He turns us over to Satan for good reasons, to make a point to Satan about the strength of faith, to make us stronger, to make us to know Him better. Sometimes He turns people who name His name over to Satan to destroy them, to punish them, to chasten them. So by God's holy, sovereign design, Satan and his demons get involved in our life. Sometimes to prove us true, sometimes to punish us. Don't you think for a minute that we're not wrestling in combat with these spiritual beings because we are.


John MacArthur sermon, Fundamental Attitudes for Spiritual Maturity Pt 3

So they do attack us as individuals through the system around us.

Now we don't know all of the ways in which they can do that. I do believe that if they are given access into a believer's life that they then have some means by which they can effect that believer's thinking process. Else why would Peter have said, "Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" when he said it to Ananias and Sapphira? But I don't believe in a righteous Christian's life they have that access. In an obedient Christian's life I don't believe they have that opening. But somehow they can come and influence us through the system and if we're open to them and living in disobedience, they have some access to the controlling factors of our conduct. . . .

And if there's an opening in the life and disobedience, there is reason to think that he can somehow push the buttons even within us.


John MacArthur sermon, The Believer’s Warfare Part 2

Christian life is a struggle, a battle, a wrestling match as Paul calls it in verse 12. So, we literally exist as believers in a life and death struggle. And frankly, people, I don't think anybody understands this. I really don't. I think that there is a ... and this is easy to see here and I love you all and that's why I say what I feel because I want to help you all to understand it...but I feel you can get such a smugness about Christianity that you lose the whole perspective.

You know, you just kind of sit in the corner and you kind of dote over your theology for one thing. Where everything is so good, you know, at Grace Church, you know, your kids are in the junior high department and you've got one in the high school department, having a great time, everybody is going to camp, you've got little kids over there in the gym playing around and you've got them in Awana or you've got this going, you're buying them books, listening to tapes. The world is all beautiful and glorious and you get so wrapped up on your little thing that you forget what a warfare is going on. And you forget that there are literally millions of souls around the world who are in the grasp of Satan. And you forget the things Satan is doing so subtly to just debilitate you by what may be the greatest attack of Satan, lethargy, indolence, indifference, stagnation. . . .

And I think we're lulled to think the warfare isn't there when all the time Satan is gaining the victory in our lives because of our indifference and our lethargy. Oh, indifference is such a killing thing.

end MacArthur


John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners <http://www.ccel.org/b/bunyan/abounding/grace01.htm>

107. In prayer, also, I have been greatly troubled at this time; sometimes I have thought I should see the devil; nay, thought I have felt him, behind me, pull my clothes; he would be, also, continually at me in the time of prayer to have done; break off, make haste, you have prayed enough, and stay no longer, still drawing my mind away. Sometimes, also, he would cast in such wicked thoughts as these: that I must pray to him, or for him. I have thought sometimes of that – Fall down, or, 'if thou wilt fall down and worship me' (Matt. 4.9).

108. Also, when, because I have had wandering thoughts in the time of this duty, I have laboured to compose my mind and fix it upon God, then, with great force, hath the tempter laboured to distract me, and confound me, and to turn away my mind, by presenting to my heart and fancy the form of a bush, a bull, a besom, or the like, as if I should pray to those; to these he would, also, at some times especially, so hold my mind that I was as if I could think of nothing else, or pray to nothing else but to these, or such as they.

109. Yet, at times I should have some strong and heart-affecting apprehensions of God, and the reality of the truth of His gospel; but, oh! how would my heart, at such times, put forth itself with inexpressible groanings. My whole soul was then in every word; I should cry with pangs after God that He would be merciful unto me; but then I should be daunted again with such conceits as these: I should think that God did mock at these, my prayers, saying, and that in the audience of the holy angels, This poor simple wretch doth hanker after Me as if I had nothing to do with My mercy but to bestow it on such as he. Alas, poor fool! how art thou deceived; It is not for such as thee to have favour with the Highest.

110. Then hath the tempter come upon me, also, with such discouragements as these: You are very hot for mercy, but I will cool you; this frame shall not last always; many have been as hot as you for a spirit, but I have quenched their zeal. And with this, such and such who were fallen off would be set before mine eyes. Then I should be afraid that I should do so too; but, thought I, I am glad this comes into my mind. Well, I will watch, and take what heed I can. Though you do, said Satan, I shall be too hard for you; I will cool you insensibly, by degrees, by little and little. What care I, saith he, though I be seven years in chilling your heart if I can do it at last? Continual rocking will lull a crying child asleep. I will ply it close, but I will have my end accomplished. Though you be burning hot at present, yet, if I can pull you from this fire, I shall have you cold before it be long.

end Bunyan
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