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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

2 Corinthians 2

Verse 11


2 Corinthians 2:11. We are not ignorant of his devices.

MEN in general think but little of Satan and his agency: yet is he the most formidable adversary that we have to contend with. Great was the grief which he occasioned to the Apostle Paul; and imminent was the danger to which he reduced many of the Church at Corinth. When one of the members of that Church had been guilty of the crime of incest, Satan stirred up many to support his cause, and to protect him from the censures he had merited. Again, when, at the Apostle’s instigation, the Church had inflicted punishment on the offender, and the correction had produced the desired effect, the same subtle enemy prompted many to harden their hearts against him, and, notwithstanding his acknowledged penitence, to refuse him a re-admission to communion with them. In both these ways, he laboured equally to undermine the interests of true religion; and, if St. Paul had not authoritatively interposed to regulate the conduct of that Church by the Gospel-standard, Satan would soon have prevailed to root out of it all vital godliness.
The Apostle’s interposition was extremely painful to him. It was “with much anguish of heart and many tears” that he had written the former epistle: and the thought of having, however reluctantly, occasioned grief to those whom he had reproved, was so painful to him, that nothing but an assurance of good having accrued from it to them, and a consequent restoration of peace to their souls, could compose his mind [Note: ver. 2–4.]. Still however he was bound to proceed in the discharge of his high office, and to urge upon them that duty which they were so backward to perform. And this he does, requesting them to “confirm their love towards the offender, (whose name from delicacy he forbears to mention,) lest Satan should get a further advantage over them;” for, adds he, “we are not ignorant of his devices.” This was a weighty argument: and, that we may enter more fully into it, I propose to shew,


The devices of Satan—

It is but little that we know of them: yet, as far as we do know them, it will be profitable to consider,


Their number—

[This is great beyond all that we are able to conceive. I doubt whether the sands upon the sea-shore form such a countless multitude as do the devices of this great adversary. There is not a person of any age, or any condition, or under any circumstances, for whom he has not devices peculiarly fitted, as a key to the wards of a most ingenious and complicated lock. For every successive variation in their circumstances, he can in an instant adapt his temptations, and so modify them to the occasion, as to give them the greatest possible influence over the mind of his victim.
It must not be forgotten, that, though we speak of Satan as one, he has millions of other spirits at his command, all cooperating with him with an activity inconceivable, and an energy incessant. All of these were once bright and glorious angels around the throne of God: but “they kept not their first estate;” and, for their wickedness, were cast down to the regions of darkness; whence however for a season they are permitted to emerge, in order that they may exert their powers, and subserve unwittingly the counsels of the Most High. Of these there are distinct orders, called principalities and powers, all under Satan as their head and leader, whose will they execute, and whose designs they promote. Hence, though Satan is limited both as to space and knowledge, he is, by his agents, in every part of the globe, receiving information from them, and exercising rule by means of them: and hence his devices, founded on such a combination of wisdom, and carried into effect by such an union of power, become so manifold as to exceed what on any other supposition would have been within the power of any finite creature to devise and execute. In a word, they are to any but God himself altogether unsearchable and without number.]


Their subtilty—

[We have already said, that he knows how to adapt his temptations to all different persons and occasions. But the subtlety of Satan is yet farther discoverable in this, that he puts such a specious appearance on his temptations, as removes from us all suspicion from whence they come. “He transforms himself into an angel of light [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:14.],” so that his suggestions seem rather to bear the character of heaven than the stamp of hell. Who would think that he should pretend a zeal for God’s honour, and make use of the very perfections of God to countenance and confirm his impious suggestions? Yet so he did, both in his assaults on the first Adam in Paradise, and on the second Adam in the Wilderness. When he sought to prevail over our first parents, he asked “Hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree in the garden?” that is, You surely must have made a mistake: it cannot be that so good and bountiful a God should have laid upon you any such unkind restriction. Then again, when Eve replied, that God had not only forbidden the use of that tree, but had enforced the prohibition by the sanction of death, he answered, “Ye shall not surely die;” you may be perfectly assured that God is too good ever to inflict such an awful penalty for so trivial a transgression. In like manner, when he took our Lord to a pinnacle of the temple, and advised him to cast himself down, for that God had engaged to preserve him from all evil, and had given his angels charge over him for that very purpose; his argument was, in fact, You may safely cast yourself down, for God, who cannot lie, has pledged his truth and faithfulness for your preservation. Perhaps there is no one device in which his subtilty more appears than this: for it is by a pretended zeal for God’s honour more than by any other thing whatever, that he leads men to sin, and lulls them asleep in sin. To one, he suggests, that God is too merciful to consign over any man to everlasting torments: to another, that God is too holy and too just ever to pardon such iniquities as he has committed: and then to another, that God, as a mighty Sovereign, has ordained men to life, and will save them without any trouble or efforts of their own. In all these instances he employs the very name and character of God, in order to subvert God’s influence in the world.

Another point wherein his subtilty appears is, in his choice of instruments whereby to operate the more forcibly upon our minds. He will be sure to employ such as will have most influence, and such as we should be least likely to suspect. Whom should he employ to seduce Adam from his allegiance, but Eve, whom God had given him to be his comfort and support? It was most probably with the hope of using her influence to tempt her husband, that Satan spared Job’s wife, whom he might have destroyed, together with his children: and how readily she concurred with Satan, appears from the advice she gave Job in his extremity, “Curse God, and die.” When he wanted to instigate Ahab to his destruction, whose agency did he employ but that of the four hundred and fifty prophets, whose united testimony Ahab could not withstand? and when he sought to divert even Jesus himself from the great work of redeeming a ruined world, by whom did he endeavour to accomplish his purpose, but by Peter, a favourite Disciple, and that too under a semblance of love [Note: Matthew 16:22-23.]?

Well is he called “that old serpent:” for, in truth, he is “a crooked serpent,” whose windings are only equalled by his venom.]


Their power—

[But who can estimate this, seeing that “he deceiveth the whole world [Note: Revelation 12:9.]?” It is on this account that he is called “the god of this world,” for he “worketh in all the children of disobedience [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 2:2.],” and “leads them captive at his will [Note: 2 Timothy 2:26.].” What he would effect, if suffered to execute all his own pleasure, we may see in Peter, whom he sifted as wheat, and would soon have reduced to chaff, if the Saviour himself had not interceded for him that his faith might not fail [Note: Luke 22:31-32.]. When expelled from the demoniac, he entered into a herd of swine, who all ran immediately down the mountain, and perished in the sea. And thus it would be with all of us, if God gave us over to his uncontrolled dominion; we should precipitate ourselves speedily into irrecoverable and endless ruin. In the hands of that “great dragon,” we should be no more than as a lamb in the jaws of a roaring lion.]

But though in all their extent they cannot be known by us, yet, as far as they can be known, we are anxious to mark,


The importance of being thoroughly acquainted with them—

It is of unspeakable importance to us all,



[There is not an individual amongst us, “at whose right hand he does not stand [Note: Joshua 3:1-2.],” and whom he is not seeking to destroy. “As a roaring lion, he is going about continually for this very end,” seeking to find some one off his guard, that he may prevail the more easily against him. He notices particularly the dispositions of our mind, and is constantly on the watch that he may ensnare us by means of our besetting sin. Does he see David inclining to pride and vain confidence? he puts it into his heart to give an order for the numbering of the people; well knowing that by means of that act God would be provoked to execute upon him and on his people some heavy judgment [Note: 1 Chronicles 21:1.]. Did he see in Judas the love of money? by that he draws him to betray his Lord. Did he behold in Peter the fear of man? he instigates several to accuse him as a follower of Christ, and thereby causes him to deny his Lord with oaths and curses. Did he see Ananias and Sapphira affecting man’s applause? he puts it into their heart to appear liberal at a cheap rate; and then, for the preservation of their character, to lie unto the Holy Ghost. Thus he will watch the motions of our hearts; and, by means of some evil propensity in us, drive us to the commission of some heinous sin. Nor is he inattentive even to the state and temperament of our bodies; since from that also he can derive much advantage against us. If he perceive that our bodies are enervated by heavy afflictions, or such disorders as induce both bodily and mental debility, he will be sure to assault the soul, in order to drive it to despondency. The whole system being weakened, he hopes that he shall the more easily prevail against us to destroy us. In a word, he knows the weak side of all, and will be sure to assault us there. Hence arises a particular necessity for watching against him with all possible care. Whatever there be, either in our minds or bodies, that seems to favour his temptations, it is only with our own concurrence that he can effect any thing: against our will he can do nothing. “If we resist him, he is constrained to flee from us.” But the difficulty is, to know when, and where, and how he will assault us. Could the bird certainly know that the fowler was laying a snare for him, he would take care not to run into the net; and could the fish be fully aware of the hook, he would never be induced to swallow the bait. Thus, if we knew beforehand what the devices were whereby Satan was studying to deceive us, we should stand on our guard against him. But it requires a very deep knowledge of “his wiles,” and a constant watchfulness over every motion of our hearts, to resist him with effect.]


In our collective capacity—

[Whole Churches are often grievously distracted by this powerful adversary. Where Christ is sowing wheat, he will be active in sowing tares. It was thus at Corinth: he had prevailed to a great extent, first in setting the people against all discipline, and then in urging them to carry their discipline beyond all reasonable bounds. The latter device would have been attended with incalculable evil, if it had not been exposed and counteracted by Paul: the offender himself might have been driven to despair, and constrained to go back for happiness to the ungodly world. The weak in the Church would have been greatly discouraged: and unbelievers would have been led to think of Christianity as the most odious system that had ever been professed in the world. In like manner, there are in every Church some circumstances which Satan would over-rule for the dishonour of God and the injury of immortal souls. Against these therefore, whatever they may be, both minister and people should be much upon their guard. In matters of doctrine, our subtle adversary may easily lead us astray; and in matters of discipline, he may easily succeed in stirring up contentions and divisions amongst us. If we neglect to purge out the old leaven, the whole lump will soon be leavened: and if with too indiscriminate a hand we attempt to pluck up the tares, we may root up also much of the wheat along with it. We are in danger on every side: and if we do not, with the utmost possible care, guard against his devices, he will, in some way or other, “get advantage of us,” to the weakening of our hands, and the great discouragement of our hearts.]

As an improvement of the subject, we will briefly shew how most effectually to counteract his devices—

Be ever on your guard against them—

[You have to contend, “not against flesh and blood only, but against principalities and powers:” and therefore must be continually on your guard. This is the advice which Peter gives, and gives from bitter experience. He had been warned by his Lord to watch and pray, and especially because Satan was peculiarly anxious to destroy him. But he slept, yea slept repeatedly, though repeatedly awaked by his Lord: and the consequence was, that he “fell into the snare of the devil.” Hence he warns others to “be sober and vigilant, because the devil as a roaring lion goeth about seeking whom he may devour.” Moreover, it was in consequence of the Saviour “praying for him that his faith might not fail,” that he did not ultimately perish, like Judas, in deep despair. Hence he adds this further direction, “whom resist, steadfast in the faith [Note: 1 Peter 5:8.].” It is scarcely to be hoped, however vigilant you may be, that Satan shall never get any advantage over you; but you must not on that account despond, as if he were invincible: for your God has pledged himself that “he will bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” Rely therefore on his word; and in the strength of it go forth again and again to the combat; praying always, that God would either “not lead you into temptation,” or, if he do, that he would “deliver you from the evil one.” It is said of young men in Christ, “that the word of God abideth in them, and they have overcome the wicked one.” Let it abide in you also; and success is yours. The Lord Jesus Christ drew all his arrows from that quiver: “It is written,” was the reply with which he vanquished every temptation: and with “that sword of the Spirit, the Word of God,” you shall speedily and eternally prevail.]


Look to the Lord Jesus Christ as your Protector and Deliverer—

[He is “stronger than the strong man armed:” and, whilst he yet hanged upon the cross, he bruised the serpent’s head; yes, “by death he overcame him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” On the cross “he spoiled all the principalities and powers of hell, triumphing over them in it:” and in his ascension “he led captivity itself captive.” Then was the god of this world vanquished: “then was the prince of this world cast out.” It is therefore only with a vanquished foe that we have to contend; for “the prince of this world is judged.” Go forth then “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” Our almighty Joshua calls you to come and put your feet on the necks of your vanquished enemies. Do it; and assure yourselves, that through him you shall be “more than conquerors over all.” For a little time this subtle adversary will yet continue his assaults. It was only “for a season” that he suspended his efforts even against the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Depend upon it, therefore, that you shall have some “thorn in the flesh, some messenger of Satan, still to buffet you.” But “be strong and very courageous.” “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” “Gird on the whole armour” provided for you in the Gospel; and “quit yourselves like men.” If you say, “True, but I am weak;” know that, “when you are weak, then are you strong;” and “the strength of Christ shall be perfected in your weakness.” The palm of victory, and the victor’s robe, are already provided for you: and, after a few more conflicts, your triumph shall be complete. Already may you “behold Satan fallen from heaven, like lightning [Note: Luke 10:18.].” Hallelujah! hallelujah!]

Verses 15-16


2 Corinthians 2:15-16. We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?

THE difficulties which faithful ministers have to encounter, are great and numerous. Through the goodness of God, the flames of persecution are not permitted to rage against them, as in the apostolic age; but the embers are by no means extinguished; hatred and contempt are yet the portion of all who will bear their testimony for God, and reprove the wickedness of an ungodly world. But if “their afflictions abound, their consolations abound also.” They are sustained by the providence and grace of God, and have reason to “thank him for causing them always to triumph in Christ.” They have also the satisfaction of seeing, that God, by their instrumentality, “makes manifest the savour of his knowledge in every place.” And though they are unhappily the occasion of deeper condemnation to those who reject their message, yet are they accepted and approved of God, as well in their ineffectual, as in their successful, labours.
This is the consolation expressed in the text; from whence we shall take occasion to shew,


In what way the ministry of the Gospel is regarded by God—

God is pleased to speak of himself as delighting in the ministry of his Gospel—
[That which his servants labour to diffuse, is, the knowledge of Christ. They set forth incessantly his name, his work, and offices: and exalt him as the only Saviour of the world — — — This, like the sacrifice which Noah [Note: Genesis 8:21.], and which Christ himself, offered [Note: Ephesians 5:2.], is to God “an odour of a sweet smell.” It is to him “as ointment poured forth [Note: Song of Solomon 1:3.].”]

And good reason there is why he should be so delighted with it—
[The Gospel of Christ is that wherein all the glory of God is concentrated and made manifest. We may behold the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of God in the works of creation and providence; but in the work of redemption we see an united display of all his perfections: “Mercy and truth meet together; and righteousness and peace kiss each other [Note: Psalms 85:10.]” — — — No wonder therefore that his ministers, who proclaim this Gospel, are considered as rendering to him an acceptable service.]

Nor does his approbation of it at all depend on the success with which it is attended—
[God is certainly well pleased when any “are saved” by his Gospel: for then all his gracious purposes respecting them are accomplished — — — Then is his dear Son honoured, and, as it were, rewarded “for the travail of his soul [Note: Isaiah 53:11.].” Then “mercy,” his darling attribute, “in which he chiefly delights,” has free and full scope for exercise.

But God is no less glorified “in them also that perish:” for they must to all eternity acknowledge the goodness of God towards them; and confess his justice in the judgments inflicted on them.
To us the punishment of the wicked is a ground of lamentation only: but we must not “imagine that God is such an one as ourselves:” whatever tends to his glory, is pleasing in his sight.]

Our pleasure, however, in ministering the Gospel, is mixed with pain, when we reflect on,


The effects which it produces upon men—

To some we are an occasion of deeper condemnation—
[It had been foretold by the prophet, that Christ should be, not merely for a sanctuary, but also for a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence [Note: Isaiah 8:14.]. The holy patriarch, who embraced our Saviour in his arms, declared, that he was set for the fall, as well as for the rising again, of many in Israel [Note: Luke 2:34.]. Our Lord himself also attests, that the design of his coming was, to shut the eyes of those who proudly imagined that they saw aright, as well as to open the eyes of those who were sensible of their blindness [Note: John 9:39.]. And the ministrations of his Apostles were actually attended with these contrary effects [Note: 1 Peter 2:7-8. with Acts 28:25-27.]. Thus we also find it at this time: we are, however unwillingly, the unhappy occasion of increasing the misery of many whom we labour to save. Some hear our word, and disregard it—others despise it—others abuse it, to encourage themselves in their evil ways. For all such persons it would have been better never to have heard the word at all [Note: John 15:22.Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 11:20-24.].]

To others, we are the means and instruments of their salvation—
[As odours which are most offensive to some are most pleasing and refreshing to others, so are we in the discharge of our ministry. Some hear our word, and receive it with joy and gratitude. The name of Jesus becomes truly precious to them: they trust in him for salvation: they are brought by him into a state of reconciliation with God: they receive out of his fulness all the grace which they stand in need of: they are enabled by him to live a new and heavenly life; and, finally, they are exalted by him to a state of everlasting happiness and glory. In effecting this blessed work, we are his highly-honoured instruments: by our word he quickens them from the dead; by our word he gives them life more abundantly; by our word he carries on, and perfects, the work he has begun. And thus, while to some we are “a savour of death to their death” and condemnation, we are to others “a savour of life to their eternal life” and salvation.]
Well might St. Paul, in contemplating these effects of his ministry, express his sense of,


Its arduousness and importance—

Let it only be considered what a sacred trust is committed to us: on the one hand the glory of God, and on the other hand the salvation of man, is entrusted to our care: What a treasure is this to be deposited in such earthen vessels as we are! “Who is sufficient for these things?” Who is sufficient,


In wisdom and knowledge—

[To discharge the ministerial office aright, we should understand in all its bearings that mystery which was hid from ages—the redemption of man by the incarnation and death of God’s only-begotten Son. We should be acquainted also with all the devices of Satan, whereby he is continually labouring to defeat the gracious purposes of our God. We should be able also to discriminate between all the shades of Christian experience, so as to administer suitable advice to all who are under our care. The effects of ignorance would be most fatal: we should be “blind leaders of the blind;” and thus, together with our deluded hearers, should “fall into the ditch.” Alas! alas! Who has not reason to lament his utter insufficiency for so great a work?]


In zeal and love—

[If we duly considered the importance of our work, we should find neither time nor inclination to think of any thing else. We should scarcely allow ourselves the necessary refreshments of food and sleep. Persons who see us a little earnest are ready to give us credit for our zeal, or perhaps to condemn us for it: but we should not minister in the way we do, if we justly appreciated the value of a soul, or the glory of our God. No, truly; we should never think of you but with the tenderest compassion, nor even speak to you but with floods of tears. Whether we spake to you in public or in private, we should take no denial: and, in our addresses to God in your behalf, we should “give him no rest, till he arose, and made our Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”]


[Inquire, What improvement you have made of our ministry? We ask, not merely whether you approve of what you hear? but whether you find it a sweet savour unto your souls? Does it endear to you the Lord Jesus Christ? Does it bring you into closer and more habitual communion with him? Does it stir you up to live more to his glory? Let not our labours of love be the means of augmenting your guilt and misery. Force us not to be “swift witnesses against you” in the day of judgment: but rather seek, that we may have you as our joy and crown of rejoicing in that day.
In the meantime, “pray for us.” Our responsibility is great and fearful. It is no light matter to answer for our own souls: but to have your souls also required at our hands, is formidable in the extreme. May God pity our infirmities, and pardon our insufficiency! Yea, may he so “perfect his own strength in our weakness,” that, through our feeble ministrations, his name may be glorified, and your souls be saved!]

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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 2". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.