First. Satan labours to corrupt the mind with erroneous principles. He was at work at the very first plantation of the gospel, sowing his darnel as soon almost as Christ his wheat. This sprung up in pernicious errors even in the apostles’ times, which made them take the weeding-hook into their hands, and, in all their epistles, labour to countermine Satan in his design. Now in this his endeavour to corrupt the minds of men, especially professors, with error, Satan hath a threefold design,
First Design. He doth this in despite to God, against whom he cannot vent his malice at a higher rate, than by corrupting his truth, which God hath so highly honoured, ‘For thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.’ Ps. 138:2. Every creature bears the name of God, but in his word and truth therein contained it is writ at length, and therefore he is more choice of this than of all his other works; he cares not much what becomes of the world and all in it, so he keeps his word and saves his truth. Ere long we shall see the world on a light flame; ‘The heavens and earth shall pass away, but the word of the Lord endureth for ever.’ When God will, ha can make more such worlds as this is, but he cannot make another truth, and therefore he will not lose one iota thereof. Satan, knowing this, sets all his wits on work to deface this truth, and disfigure it by unsound doctrine. The word is the glass in which we see God, and seeing him, are changed into his likeness by his Spirit. If this glass be cracked, then our conceptions we have of God will misrepresent him unto us, whereas the word in its native clearness sets him out in all his glory unto our eye.
Second Design. He endeavours to draw into this spiritual sin of error, as the most subtle and effectual means to weaken, if not destroy, the power of godliness in them. The apostle joins the spirit of power and a sound mind together, II Tim. 1:7. Indeed the power of holiness in practice depends much on the soundness of judgment. Godliness is the child of truth, and it must be nursed, if we will have it thrive, with no other milk than of its own mother. Therefore we are exhorted to ‘desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow,’ I Peter 2:2; if this milk be but a little dashed with error, it is not so nutritive. All error, how innocent soever it may seem, like the ivy, draws away the strength of the soul’s love from holiness. Hosea tells us whoredom and wine take away the heart, now error is spiritual adultery. Paul speaks of his espousing them to Christ. When a person receives an error, he takes a stranger into Christ’s bed, and it is the nature of adulterous love to take away the wife’s heart from her true husband, that she delights not in his company so much as [in that] of her adulterous lover. And do we not see it at this day fulfilled? Do not many show more zeal in contending for one error, than for many truths? How strangely are the hearts of many taken off from the ways of God, their love cooled to the ordinances and messengers of Christ!—and all this occasioned by some corrupt principle got into their bosoms, which controls Christ and his truth, as Hagar and her son did Sarah and her child. Indeed Christ will never enjoy true conjugal love from the soul, till, like Abraham, he turns these out of doors. Error is not so innocent a thing as many think it; it is as unwholesome food to the body—that poisons the spirits, and surfeits the whole body—which seldom passeth away without breaking out into sores. As the knowledge of Christ carries a soul above the pollutions of the world, so error entangles and betrays it to those lusts, whose hands it had escaped.
Third Design. Satan in drawing a soul into this spiritual sin hath a design to disturb the peace of the church, which is rent and shattered when this fire-ship comes among them. ‘I hear,’ saith Paul, ‘that there be divisions among you, and I partly believe it, for there must also be heresies,’ I Cor. 11:18,19 —implying that divisions are the natural issue of heresy. Error cannot well agree with error, except it be against the truth; then indeed, like Pilate and Herod, they are easily made friends; but when truth seems to be overcome, and the battle is over with that, then they fall out among themselves, and therefore it is no wonder if it be so troublesome a neighbour to truth. O sirs, what a sweet silence and peace was there among Christians a dozen years ago. Methinks the looking back to those blessed days in this respect—though they had also another way their troubles, yet not so uncomfortable, because that storm united, this scatters the saints’ spirits—is joyous, to remember in what unity and love Christians walked. The persecutors of those times might have said, as their predecessors did of the saints in primitive times, ‘See how they love one another,’ but now, alas, they may jeer and say, See how they that loved so dearly, are ready to pluck one another’s throats out.