Thomas Brooks provides eight remedies to counter Satan’s schemes that use the allure of wealth to distract Christians. We deal with the first four here.
Chapter 2 of Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices focused on the schemes our enemy crafts to lure us into sin. As we move into chapter 3, we become familiar with the tactics Satan employs to discourage Christians from faithful service, from devotion to God, and from good works.
Device 1. By presenting the WORLD in such a dress, and in such a garb to the soul, as to ensnare the soul, and to win upon the affection of the soul.
Satan can present the world as so enticing and alluring that Christians may forsake their devotion to God to run after its riches and pleasures. There is much in the world that is beautiful, that brings joy and pleasure, that creates more emotional and even spiritual excitement than religious duty. The enemy can easily use these facts to his advantage.
Brooks’ choice of Zechariah 3:1 as this chapter’s anchor text is an interesting one. Joshua, son of Yehozadak, was the first person chosen to serve as high priest following the Judahites’ return from exile in Babylon. Thus he stands as not only a literal religious figurehead, but also an icon of hope that God’s promises of restoration would come to pass.
But Joshua’s meaning extends further. His name means “the Lord saves,” as does its Greek translation, “Jesus.” This high priest, then, becomes a type and shadow of the Great High Priest who eternally stands as the mediator between God and his elect.
Satan is the accuser of this mediator, in both senses. He comes against restored Judah’s hopes for a return to normal religious life. And he comes against all mankind’s hopes for reconciliation with God. We see this most plainly in the gospels’ account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, in which the Lord’s triumphs directly counter Israel’s failures in her desert wanderings.
Ultimately, for Israel then and Jesus later and the church today, it’s about devotion. Brooks’ warnings in this chapter center on Satan’s attempts to divert our devotion away from God and toward other things – possessions, false gods, personal ambitions, or whatever else might easily entangle us.
As we approach Brooks’ first remedy against this device of Satan, he uses three historical or literary metaphors to illustrate his point.
The inhabitants of Nilus
This is a difficult reference to decipher. Nilus was a god of the ancient Egyptians who represented the Nile river. It could be that “Nilus” here represents a city on the Nile. The important detail is that the river’s noisy rushing is so commonplace to these inhabitants that they no longer notice it. Similarly, the “noise” of worldly gain can dull our spiritual attenuation to the things of God.
Those not familiar with the Roman Catholic Bible will miss this reference. The story appears in the apocryphal book of Tobit, a faithful member of the tribe of Naphtali whose family lived during the time the Assyrians’ conquered Israel. Exiled in Nineveh, Tobias ensures that the bodies of his slaughtered kinsmen receive proper burials.
One day, exhausted from his work, Tobit falls asleep by a wall, under a swallow’s nest. Dung from the nest falls into his eyes, blinding him.
Brooks’ reference is odd, as Tobias is a faithful man apparently not swayed from his devotion by the world. Yet it is a caution that temptation can drive us from devotion at any time. Blindness would have prevented Tobias from continuing his service to his people.
The apple in Milo’s hand
This is another difficult reference to uncover. The most plausible is a story or fable about a great Greek champion, of wrestling or some other sport, named Milo. While his fellow competitors could not take an apple from his grasp, a woman could get it through cunning and charm.
Say what you will about gender stereotypes here. The story is ancient. It’s intent is to warn us that we can fall into irreligion when we let down our guard through idleness or distraction.
Brooks here provides eight remedies to counter the world’s allure that distracts Christians from devotion to Christ. His first four remedies each explain a particular negative quality of material gain.
Wealth and possessions are
- Unreliable, and
We will spend the rest of this post examining these four discouragements against worldly gain. And we’ll save rest of this device for the next post.
Remedy 1: Wealth is weak
Actor and comedian Jim Carrey has been quoted as saying: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
Carrey would be in a position to know. It’s hard to achieve more success in one’s field than he has. Carrey has spoken publicly in recent years of his search for meaning through spiritual pursuits.
A comedian’s millions can’t protect him from a sense of meaninglessness. A queen’s treasures can’t isolate her from the passage of time and ravages of age. The sometimes loveliness of this world can blind us from seeing our fate.
Of course, Brooks wrote this during a time before modern medicine. Today, enough money actually can rescue one from death by certain diseases – for a while, anyway. At best, all our medical advances really just buy us a little more time.
The world is a weak shield against the onslaught of eternity. Wealth is bad medicine against the malaise of sin. It has no power to aid us in a Christ-exalting life.
Remedy 2: Wealth is meaningless
During an interview, a magazine journalist asked a recent inductee to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame what he thought of the honor. His reply: “Things like that don’t have any inherent meaning, except for the value you personally place on them.”
Many musicians strive for decades to earn such an honor. Likely, some would disagree with this artist’s opinion. But it is closer to what Thomas Brooks might say about it than may be at first evident.
Brooks’ use of the word “vanity” to describe material matches earlier translations of a central word in Ecclesiastes: “meaningless.” It is surface-level, temporary. It comes with a clear expiration date.
If riches and honor weren’t so tantalizing this would be an easier truth to remember. We see the evidence of this in the number of well-known pastors, preachers, and self-proclaimed prophets who succumb to their unchecked appetites. Money, sex, fame, and power have destroyed untold ministry “careers.”
Do you, as Brooks says, smile when the world smiles on you? Do you sink into depression when the spotlight turns toward another? Remember the ultimate meaninglessness – the vanity – of these things. Their value to your flesh will fade as you learn to redirect your heart toward eternal things in God’s service.
Remedy 3: Wealth is unreliable
Do you know any Babylonians? How about Canaanites? Assyrians? Citizens of the Roman Empire? No?
Have your grandparents or great-grandparents ever shared their memories of the Great Depression? Do you recall following the events of Japan’s sudden plunge into recession following their massive increase in wealth during the 1980s? Do you know anyone who lost their retirement savings in the 2008 mortgage crisis?
Mighty empires have fallen. Bull markets have gone bear. Decades of compound interest can vanish overnight. Our culture assigns great fame to the latest pop star, then destroys her with gossip and scandal. One man’s media domination gives way to the next.
While the world seeks more and more of all it can acquire, Christ calls us by command and example to seek humility and servitude. His apostle Paul wrote that Jesus had enabled him to live with either much or little. Throughout history the Church has retained its greatest witness by shunning worldly gain and giving all of herself to her Lord’s cause.
Turn from unreliable wealth and place your hopes in our most reliable Savior.
Remedy 4: Wealth is dangerous
Rest, peace, comfort, contentment. Aren’t these the enjoyments that worldly gain brings? Aren’t they the fruit of a lifetime of hard work and accumulation? Brooks says, in fact, just the opposite.
Gain brings a new set of worries. It requires upkeep, protection, and maintenance. Every new thing we acquire brings with it an emotional and cognitive cost. It has been written of the children of wealthy parents, for instance, “Wealth isolates and distorts the social ties that make for healthy development.”
Wealth also creates social bubbles from which it can be hard to remove one’s self. The demands and energies required to tend to our accumulations remove us from larger swaths of the culture. It expends our energies where we might otherwise interact more with those in our neighborhoods and cities.
Brooks’ mention of the Duke of Alva struck me in an especially poignant way. At the time of this writing, we are two weeks from the great solar eclipse of 2017. My family happens to live in the narrow band of totality, one of the best places in the nation to see this remarkable event.
When I first heard the eclipse was coming some four years prior, I knew exactly where I would be on August 21, 2017: outside, watching, witnessing, marveling. Unless I am able to travel to another world locale to witness another eclipse, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event for me. I refuse to miss it.
I cannot imagine allowing earthly worries to keep me from such an experience. But then I also don’t know what it is like to have so much wealth that I couldn’t spare even a few minutes of an evening to experience a total eclipse of the sun. Perhaps I should be more regularly thankful for this than I realize.
Thus, the danger of the world’s treasures lies in their power to dull our spiritual senses against our need for God’s hand, for Christ’s mercy, for the Holy Spirit’s power. They can turn a devout Christian into an inactive bystander, a spectator rather than a participant in the good works of his kingdom.