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Light and Truth: The Old Testament: Chapter 57 - Man's Extremity and Satan's Opportunity

By Horatius Bonar

      Isaiah 8:19-22

      "Man's extremity," says the good proverb, "is God's opportunity"; but we may coin another proverb, and say, "Man's extremity is the devil's opportunity.'' It was so in the case of Saul at Endor, and of Jehoram at Ekron, when, in the hour of despair they threw themselves into the arms of the devil. It will be so, as long as there is a devil to waylay and ensnare us. He is ready with his temptations always, but specially in the day of human darkness and depression. He has special work to do at such a time, and he knows how to do it. God and Satan stand with arms outstretched to receive the poor overwhelmed and sorrowful one; but how often does he prefer the embrace and the counsel of hell to those of heaven! He preferred it even in Paradise!

      The picture here drawn is that of Israel,--Israel specially in the last days, when their unbelief and darkness increase, when calamities the most appalling are overflowing them and their land. Then it is that when God's Spirit leaves them utterly, when judgments are showering clown, when despair takes possession of them, that Satan suggests, Try my wisdom, my wizards, my familiar spirits. They try these, but it only makes the evil worse. Hardly bestead and hungry, they fret and curse both king and God. They look above, but all is darkness; they look beneath, but all is trouble and "dimness of anguish"; all round them is darkness that may be felt. They are passing through great tribulation, their last sorrow; it is the time of Jacob's trouble. Let us learn God's lessons here.

      I. There are critical seasons in the history of a soul. It has been tossed fearfully; fightings without, and fears within. Unbelief, scepticism, atheism, uncertainty of every kind, these, like the four winds of heaven, rush at once over and through the soul. It feels itself drifting on the rocks; it turns round, and in desperation tries to face the storm. Like the stag at bay, it wheels round upon its merciless pursuers. Shall it battle them, or give itself up to be torn in pieces without a struggle? These are fearful moments for the soul. It is an unearthly struggle. It seems hurrying the sinner to despair. In such a condition, how profound should be our pity! Shall we be angry? Shall we rage at these troubled ones? Shall we call them hard names? No, let us compassionate them. They are just upon the rocks; the breakers are whitening over them. If ever there was a case for Christian love, it is here. "Let those rage against you," says Augustine, "who know not with what labour truth is found; with what groans and sighs we get to understand the very least of God."

      II. Of these critical seasons Satan avails himself. He comes proffering help; holding out his hand; offering his own wisdom and strength, or man's wisdom and strength; endeavouring in every way to prevent the soul betaking itself to God, to his Spirit, to the Bible. Anything rather than the cross, or the blood, or the righteousness! All doubts and difficulties in reference to these are started. It is whispered that the Bible is not true, not wholly inspired; that there is no hell, or that none shall go there; "ye shall not surely die;" that science is more noble than revelation, that reason is a higher thing than faith; that the creeds of other days are obsolete: that there must be progress and development. All these suggestions are grateful to the pride of man, and eagerly seized upon. In how many such cases and junctures has he triumphed. Man's extremity has been his opportunity. He has stepped in with his lies and flatteries, and he has prevailed. The soul has turned away from God and Christ, and the Bible, to "familiar spirits," to "doctrines of devils," to "strong delusions."

      III. These appliances of Satan only make matters worse. They remove no doubts; they only increase them; deepening the darkness; leading on from depth to depth; from error to error; from unbelief to unbelief, from blasphemy to blasphemy. No man ever gained by yielding to Satan, or lost by yielding to God. Dark as the soul may be, it only becomes darker by believing Satan's falsehoods. It becomes more wretched and more hopeless, the more that it deserts the divine teaching and listens either to that of earth or hell, however plausible it may be.

      At such seasons God comes specially near to proffer his aid. He never deserts a man on this side of hell. He follows him into the thick darkness, proffering light; into the lowest depth offering help. He is at hand in the day of evil, even to the most evil of the sons of men. No man can say, God has abandoned me to the devil, or to myself, or to error, or to sin. Christ's tears over Jerusalem are the proof of this.

      At such seasons Christians ought specially to pity and to help. These distractions and doubts that we see around us are the signals of distress, unconsciously held up by a wretched world. These errors and disbeliefs are the rockets sent up from wrecked barques. This is a day of fearful disbelief and change; men rushing from one opinion to another to soothe their restlessness. Surely it is a day for pity, not for anger; a day for prayer more than for argument. Now the world is in extremity, let the church's pity and prayers go forth day and night. Now is the time for tears and intercessions. To thy knees, O Church of God!

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See Also:
   Chapter 1 - The Old and New Creation
   Chapter 2 - The Link Between Being and Non-Being
   Chapter 3 - A Happy World
   Chapter 4 - The Sin, the Sinner, and the Sentence
   Chapter 5 - Man's Fig-Leaves
   Chapter 6 - Expulsion and Re-Entrance
   Chapter 7 - The Blood of Sprinkling and the Blood of Abel
   Chapter 8 - The Way of Cain
   Chapter 9 - The Man of Rest
   Chapter 10 - Going Out and Keeping Out
   Chapter 11 - The Shield and the Recompense
   Chapter 12 - Liberty and Service
   Chapter 13 - The Day of Despair
   Chapter 14 - The Blood of Deliverance
   Chapter 15 - How God Deals with Sin and the Sinner
   Chapter 16 - The Fire Quenched
   Chapter 17 - The Vision from the Rocks
   Chapter 18 - The Doom of the Double-Hearted
   Chapter 19 - Be Not Borderers
   Chapter 20 - The Outlines of a Saved Sinner's History
   Chapter 21 - Divine Longings Over the Foolish
   Chapter 22 - What a Believing Man Can Do
   Chapter 23 - Song of the Putting Off of the Armour
   Chapter 24 - The Kiss of the Backslider
   Chapter 25 - The Priestly Word of Peace
   Chapter 26 - Human Anodynes
   Chapter 27 - Spiritual and Carnal Weapons
   Chapter 28 - Divine Silence and Human Despair
   Chapter 29 - Jewish Unbelief and Gentile Blessing
   Chapter 30 - The Restoration of the Banished
   Chapter 31 - The Farewell Gift
   Chapter 32 - God's Dealing with Sin and the Sinner
   Chapter 33 - God Finding a Resting-Place
   Chapter 34 - The Moriah Group
   Chapter 35 - Diverse Kinds of Conscience
   Chapter 36 - The Soul Turning from Man to God
   Chapter 37 - Man's Dislike of a Present God
   Chapter 38 - True and False Consolation
   Chapter 39 - Gain and Loss for Eternity
   Chapter 40 - Man's Misconstruction of the Works of God
   Chapter 41 - The Two Cries and the Two Answers
   Chapter 42 - The Knowledge of God's Name
   Chapter 43 - Deliverance from Deep Waters
   Chapter 44 - The Excellency of the Divine Loving-Kindness
   Chapter 45 - The Sickness, the Healer, and the Healing
   Chapter 46 - The Consecration of Earth's Gold and Silver
   Chapter 47 - The Gifts of the Ascended One
   Chapter 48 - The Speaker, the Listener, the Peace
   Chapter 49 - The Believing Man's Confident Appeal
   Chapter 50 - The Love and the Deliverance
   Chapter 51 - The Sin and Folly of Being Unhappy
   Chapter 52 - The Book of Books
   Chapter 53 - The Secret of Deliverance from Evil
   Chapter 54 - The Voice of the Heavenly Bridegroom
   Chapter 55 - The Love that Passeth Knowledge
   Chapter 56 - The Vision of the Glory
   Chapter 57 - Man's Extremity and Satan's Opportunity
   Chapter 58 - The Day of Clear Vision to the Dim Eyes
   Chapter 59 - The Unfainting Creator and the Fainting Creature
   Chapter 60 - The Knowledge that Justifies
   Chapter 61 - The Heritage and its Title-Deeds
   Chapter 62 - The Meeting Between the Sinner and God
   Chapter 63 - God's Love and God's Way of Blessing
   Chapter 64 - Divine Jealousy for the Truth
   Chapter 65 - Divine Love and Human Rejection of it
   Chapter 66 - God's Desire to Bless the Sinner
   Chapter 67 - The Resting-Place Forgotten
   Chapter 68 - The Day that Will Right all Wrongs
   Chapter 69 - The Glory and the Love
   Chapter 70 - False Religion and its Doom
   Chapter 71 - No Breath No Life
   Chapter 72 - Every Christian a Teacher
   Chapter 73 - Work, Rest, and Recompence
   Chapter 74 - Human Heedlessness and Divine Remembrance
   Chapter 75 - Lies the Food of Man
   Chapter 76 - The Love and the Calling
   Chapter 77 - The Anger and the Goodness
   Chapter 78 - Darkness Pursuing the Sinner
   Chapter 79 - Jerusalem the Centre of the World's Peace
   Chapter 80 - Jerusalem and Her King
   Chapter 81 - Looking to the Pierced One
   Chapter 82 - The Holiness of Common Things
   Chapter 83 - Wearying Jehovah with our Words
   Chapter 84 - Dies Irae


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