“The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” Luke 8:12
But how does the devil come and take away the word from their hearts? The Lord doesn’t explain. Still, we wonder.
F. W. Farrar proposes, “It is done in a moment; by a smile at the end of the sermon; by a silly criticism at the Church door; by foolish gossip on the way home.” Doubtless, all true.
Matthew Henry proposes more searchingly, “The devil does all he can to keep us from believing, to make us not believe the word when we read or hear it; or, if we heed it for the present, to make us forget it again and let it slip; or, if we remember it, to create prejudices in our minds against it or divert our minds from it to something else; and all lest we should believe and be saved, lest we should believe and rejoice, while he believes and trembles.”
I wonder if the Lord did not explain further, because the devil’s strategy is implied in his title, the devil, which means the slanderer. He is “your adversary, the devil” (1 Peter 5:8). He is “the accuser of our brothers” (Revelation 12:10). One way he can take the gospel from our hearts is by slanderous accusations. And because these dark thoughts come to us as morally serious matters, and we don’t want to be glib people, we might let them overrule the joyful release of the gospel. We might believe the gospel at a principial level, but at a personal level where we need it most the slanderer insinuates his fiery dart accusing thoughts, and we might let them land hard on us. So, not letting the good news land even harder on us, we might not experience salvation at that painful point in our existence.
We want to be open to the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit. I propose some ways to distinguish his wonderful conviction from the devil’s cunning accusations here. But let us not assume that every morally serious thought is of the Lord. False holiness is just as much a threat as casual sinfulness.
We can test ourselves. Maybe like this: “Hey Mr. Negative Thought, where did you come from? From Jesus? Are you what he would say to me, if he were standing right here right now? Or did I invent you myself? Or are you from the devil? You sure don’t sound like Jesus. You might have come up out of the darkest depths of me. But you smell like the smoke of hell. And I will submit to the biblical gospel, and nothing but the biblical gospel. If the Holy Spirit wants to confront me about something, I am so listening. But he will confront me in ways that help me. You’re not helpful at all, Mr. Negative Thought. You’re only destructive and demoralizing. I owe you no further attention. Be gone.”
It is also important to be cautious in what we say to one another, lest in our misguided good intentions we bring harm to a struggling believer.