The Devil's Cradle
by John Dickie
"LORD, rock us in Thy Cradle," So spoke a little child, the leader in prayer of a group of little ones who were overheard praying. It is a beautiful thought; and may the desire which it childishly expresses, be the continual desire of every heart. Yes, God has a Cradle for His wearied children, and they are happiest who know best by experience the perfect peace of those who in it sleep the soft sleep of faith which He giveth His beloved. "I will both lay me down in peace and sleep; for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety". (Ps. 4:8).
But every cradle is not God’s Cradle; neither is every sleep the sleep which God sendeth. Satan too has his cradle, in which with cruel craft, he lulls to sleep the ruined victims of his wiles. Alas, for the myriads that are sound asleep in the Devil’s Cradle. "The whole world lieth in the wicked one," (1 John 5:6), and lieth sound asleep, (1 Thess. 5:6). Despite of all appearances to the contrary, despite of steam and telegraph, of feverish change and restless bustle, man everywhere is locked in deepest slumbers, and all these seeming activities are only the idle night dreams with which he is diverted during his brief hour of guilty sloth. The wily destroyer spares no pains to keep the sleep unbroken, that thus his goods may be in peace. (Luke 11:21).
Christian brethren, let us not sleep as do others round about us, but let us watch and be sober. If we be kept awake, it is neither for want of a sluggard’s couch beside us nor a cunning temper coaxing us to try its softness. He spreads his downiest pillows for believers, and smiles his sweetest smile as he persuades us to rest a little from our watching and our toil. Full well he knows that no earthly weapon serves his frightful purpose half so effectively as does a sleeping saint, and therefore no stone is left unturned to get us in his cradle fast asleep. Alas, for those who listen to his sugared lies! He soon makes mournful work of them, and many have found it far harder to get out of his cradle when once they were in it, than they found it to escape from his prison house at the first.
And no past experience of the need and the blessedness of watching will preserve us. Look at Noah, trained by bitter discipline through centuries to watch, yet tempted at last into the Devil’s Cradle; and he, who while awake, had stood unseduced by the world’s crime, is seen, after a little rocking, a spectacle of shame within his tent. Look, too, at Lot. In filthy Sodom, his righteous soul was daily vexed, but a little while of the Devil’s Cradle, brought that righteous soul to rival the atrocities he had once bewailed. And no urgency of danger will keep us awake. When once Jonah lay down in the Devil’s Cradle, the tempest that could startle even heathen sailors, could not disturb his callous slumbers. Neither will any measure of past fellowship with God preserve us now. Look at David—the man according to God’s own heart. Alas, even he was seduced into the Cradle, and looking half asleep over its edge he saw what drew him on to awful crimes, and might have drawn him any length, had not God in mercy sent his prophet to awaken the demented sleeper. And no degree of natural wisdom will suffice to keep us. Solomon was the wisest of mere man, yet Solomon was tempted to lay down his head on Satan’s pillow; and the wisest of men has left us the lesson of his last years as a beacon to all ages for stupendous folly. Ah, who amongst us has strength to stand, when these men of might have been so shamefully befooled? What will not Satan attempt? So daring is he, that he tried to get, even Jehovah’s Servant, the Lord Himself, to lie down for a little in his Cradle. Aye, and to tempt Him to it, he succeeded in getting the use of an apostle’s tongue—Then Peter took Him and began to rebuke Him, saying, Pity thyself, Lord; this shall not be unto Thee" (Matt. 16:23, margin). The snare, of course, was in a moment detected, and He who alone could say, "The prince of this world hath nothing in Me," cast aside the lure—"Get thee behind me, Satan." Who of us, then, can hope to escape his assaults; or who of us, if he assail us, can, in our own strength, hope to stand? No one of us can imagine how eagerly Satan’s efforts are expanded in trying to quench our poor little spark of light which we have from God; and which, feeble as it may be, is yet his constant torment.
Perhaps we err if we think Satan’s great work is among the myrids of godless souls. These he leads "captive at his will." He deceiveth the whole world, and that whole world lieth in the wicked one. But possibly it is among God’s children that the great skill of the enemy himself, and the most persistent efforts of his unnumbered agents, are expended. And his great aim in our day and in our land is to get us asleep in his Cradle! In past ages, he sought to terrify the heavenly pilgrims by his wanton cruelties and his lion-like roarings. These, however, have failed; so now, in our land at least, he changes his policy while his nature is unchanged, and seeks to gain by flatteries and sweet words what he has failed in getting by his utmost force. For the present, among us, he has locked up his dungeons, and quenched his fires, and flung aside his racks and gibbets; but with a malignity as malicious as ever, and with a craft perhaps more perilous to us, he uses as his instrument of mischief, a harmless-looking, well-cushioned Cradle. To tempt us into it, he can change himself into an Angel of Light; and, pretending love, he can speak to us holy words out of the book of God; but all the while his aim is to dishonour God, and to destroy His children. He always was, and always is, a murderer and a liar; and he is never more murderous, or more false, than when he seem most fair. Says Rutherford, "Seeing that we must have a devil to keep the saints waking, I wish a cumbersome devil rather than a secure and sleeping one." Yes, a Black Devil—raging, burning, beheading—is far less to be dreaded than a White Devil, quoting Bible words, and working plausibly on the sluggishness, and unbelief, and worldliness of our hearts. Ah, let us beware of our danger and our need of constant watchfulness. It is just those who are in extremest peril that are least of all afraid of it. "I am much more afraid of Satan than I used to be," says McCheyne; and many of us are feeling the very same thing. Perhaps one of the most unwholesome features of the present day is the too general ignoring of Satanic power and craft. His enmity does not seem to be a fact so constantly realized as it has formerly been. Throughout the New Testament and in the experience of our godly fathers, we find Satan’s power continually recognized as a something with which they were distressingly familiar; whereas in much of the experiences of the present day, it might be said, "We know not whether there be any devil." There are many who seem to be little troubled by him. Whence is this? Is it because he has withdrawn? Nay, verily, He is as busy with the Church as ever, but it is oftimes in such guise that he is taken to be anything else than what he is. Nay, in more quarters than one, he has taken to preaching the Gospel! But, as Luther speaks of his day, so is it now; "Satan uses the Gospel to pervert the Gospel." To those who know no better, he still gives to eat the husks of abject superstition; but to those who know, at least intellectually, what bread is, he will offer what seems the very Bread of Life, only he mixes some narcotic in it, and the hapless eater is soon asleep in the Devil’s Cradle. Ah, we have need to cry continually to a wiser than ourselves for gracious keeping. And let us take our bread from God’s own hands, for if it pass through Satan’s hands, it is sure to be poisoned bread. "I am of opinion," gravely says Bunyan, "that there is nothing that is more abused among professors in this day than is the Love of God." And this word is as applicable still; for, as Bunyan elsewhere says, "The Gospel of grace and salvation is of all doctrines the most dangerous if, in word only, it be received by graceless men; if it be not attended by a revelation of man’s need of a Saviour; if it be not accompanied in the soul by the power of the Holy Ghost." So then, whether we know the letter of the Gospel or not, we can be safe only as kept by the power of God; and those whom He keeps He will incite to mistrust of self, to prayer and watching.
Let no one hope to escape notice among the crowd. Satan has a sharp eye on each of us, and has considered us as carefully as he considered God’s servant Job. No physician ever investigates all the symptoms of a patient’s case with half the care that Satan has expended in the searching of you and me. He knows us well, our vanity, our pride, our worldliness, our everything, and he will spare no pains to make his knowledge of our weak points ruinously available. Our earthly comforts he will use to ensnare us into fleshly ease. How many there are who, as long as they were poor, were in measure active, but since they increased their comforts, have gone to sleep in the Devil’s Cradle! He will try to use even our spiritual comforts to seduce us. He can make a lullaby song out of the believer’s unbounded privileges, and keep chanting to him of his place with Christ already in the heavenlies; while all the time he holds back the view of present duties and awful responsibilities, till the ease-loving heart drops over, lulled to sleep by Satan’s siren singing about "Grace! Grace!"
He can use the love of the brethren to our ruin. Says old Ignatius to the Romans, "I fear your love, lest it do me an injury." He can use worldly company to do it, and this to any saint whomsoever, if only without his guard, that he will venture into. Says Henry Martyn; "I no longer hesitate to ascribe my stupor and formality to its right cause, unwatchfulness in worldly company. I thought that any temptation arising from the society of the people of the world, at least such as we have had, was not worthy of notice, but I find I was mistaken." And he can use solitude quite as effectually as company. Says Luther; "When I am assailed with heavy tribulations, I rush out among my pigs rather than remain alone. The human mind, unless it be occupied with some employment, leaves space for the Devil, who wriggles himself in and brings with him a whole host of evil thoughts." In truth, he works through everything, and works everywhere, and works on everyone.
And if once he gets a soul under his influence, who can tell how far his power may go? The heat of spiritual love he cools down rapidly, till from Ephesus, losing its first love, it comes down, down as low as Laodicea, far worse than cold, for it is lukewarm and ready to be spewed out as a loathsome thing. And just in proportion as it loses the fervor of love, so too does it lose the fervor of true prayer, which alone can bring it help. The empty form may indeed be carefully retained, for there are many asleep in Satan’s arms, who yet would not dare to abate a single unit of their full tale of daily prayers. And as it is with Love and Prayer, so too is it with all the manifestations of spiritual life—the soul passes rapidly down through growing languor towards death. To man’s eyes, indeed, the branch may retain some of its green leaves upon it, but it seldom now strikes a blossom, and never, never, bears a grape. As a fruitless branch it is ready to be cut off, if grace prevent not, and to be cast into the fire.
Meanwhile as spiritual joy declines, the love of fleshly ease and worldly comfort increases, for there is nothing else to fill the empty heart. The cross, felt to be a burden, is quietly laid down, and the pilgrim spirit of self-denial is completely abandoned. The earthly aims, once rolled into the Sepulchre of Jesus along with the heavy load of a life-time’s sins, are now one by one resumed; for the poor heart cannot possibly be empty, and if Jesus does not make it happy, then it will turn to the world to feed its hunger. There is now nothing whatever to distinguish the professor from a decent man of the world, save only his profession; and yet, so far from suspecting his danger, or mourning his declension, he is likely enough to be self-satisfied. He may be much troubled with the sins of his neighbours, but very little anxious about his own. Alas, poor sapless professor! Who shall wake thee? A little longer, and you shall be like unsavored salt, good for nothing in God’s house, good for nothing in man’s world, cast forth on the highway to be trodden under foot of men.
Beloved reader, this is what Satan aims at with you and with me, when he tempts us to rest in his sluggard’s Cradle. Do you know any reason why he should not accomplish it in our case, as well as in the case of thousands in every past age, and of thousands round about us just now? Let us be aware of our danger; let us realize our helplessness; let us realize the power of the grace of our Divine Helper, and keep ourselves hid in the secret of His presence. God’s Cradle is our only true refuge from the danger of lying down in the Devil’s Cradle.
Ah, beloved, this is not our time for slumber. We are not children of the night, but children of the day; why then should we sleep? We are Christ’s watchmen, with His earnest and oft-repeated call, "Watch," still ringing in our ears; why then should we sleep? There is a rest remaining for us—a sweet repose prepared for the warriors of the Cross when our day of battle is over; then why should we think of sleeping now? Sleep in the midst of battle! Sleep when he who plots our ruin never sleeps! Sleep when the whole world is sleeping round us! Nay, nay, let us rouse each other by our urgent exhortations, and press on to fight the good fight of faith, to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. We must never ungird our armour till our Lord Comes, or till death, our heavenly Father’s messenger, shall ungird it for us, and, hailing us as more than conquerors, shall bring the wearied soldier his welcome dismissal—Home!