Satan begins with his more pleasant sins so that he may later entangle the victim more hopelessly. But the devil is too clever to lay his net of despair in the bird’s sight. Other sins are only the top cover, and once he flatters his prey into it, he has trapped him for eternity.
Despair, more than other sins, puts a man into a kind of possession of hell itself. As faith gives substance to the word of promise, so the cruelty of despair gives existence to the torments of hell in the conscience. This drains the spirit and makes the creature become his own executioner.
Despair puts a soul beyond all relief; the offer of pardon comes too late. Faith and hope can open a window to let out the smoke that offends the Christian in any circumstances. But the soul will be choked when it is fastened up within despairing thoughts of its own sins, and no crevice of hope is left for an outlet to the dread which smothers him.
Faith quenches the fiery dart of despair. The chief of Satan’s strengths is the greatness and multitude of a person’s sins, which he can use to bring a soul into such despair that he sees no way of escape from God’s verdict against them. When the conscience is breached and waves of guilt pour in upon the soul they soon drown all the creature’s efforts, as the great flood covered the tallest trees and highest mountains. And as nothing was visible then but sea and heaven, the despairing soul sees nothing except sin and hell. His sins stare him in the face as with the eyes of many devils, ready to drag him into the bottomless pit.
A mere fly dares to crawl over the sleeping lion, an animal whose awesome voice makes all beasts tremble when he is awake. Fools freely mock sin as soon as the eye of conscience is shut. But when God arms sin with guilt and lets this serpent sting the conscience, then the proudest sinner flees before it. Only faith handles sin in its fullest strength by giving the soul a glimpse of the great God.