I love that new GEICO commercial where the guy in the movie theater says, “Did you know there really is an ‘oldest trick in the book’?” Then the scene flashes back to ancient times where a man looks into an old book, and says, “Trick number one. Lookest over there.” The man then points across the room. His apprentice looks and of course sees nothing. Then the man says, “Madest thou look.”
The Puritan Thomas Brooks, in his wonderful work Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, reminds us that there is also an ‘oldest trick in the book’ when it comes to Satan’s devices against us. The title of his opening chapter is: “His First Device to Draw the Soul to Sin.”
What is this first device, Satan’s oldest trick in the book? Brooks tells us: “to present the bait, and hide the hook.”
The fundamental deception of sin is that it promises to bring blessing, when it only brings cursing. It promises to bring life when it only brings death. It never presents itself as it really is. Just as Satan presents himself as an angel of light, so sin presents itself as the bringer of joy and peace. Given that this was Satan’s means of tricking Adam and Eve, it really is the ‘oldest trick in the book.’
Brooks lays it out more fully:
Satan’s first device to draw the soul into sin is, to present the bait—and hide the hook; to present the golden cup—and hide the poison; to present the sweet, the pleasure, and the profit that may flow in upon the soul by yielding to sin—and to hide from the soul the wrath and misery that will certainly follow the committing of sin. By this device he deceived our first parents, “And the serpent said unto the woman, You shall not surely die—for God does know, that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened; and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5). Your eyes shall he opened, and you shall be as gods! Here is the bait, the sweet, the pleasure, the profit. Oh—but he hides the hook—the shame, the wrath, and the loss that would certainly follow!
What is the remedy against this trick? Brooks offers a very simple one: don’t play with the bait. He says:
Keep at the greatest distance from sin, and from playing with the golden bait which Satan holds forth to catch you… It is our wisest and our safest course to stand at the farthest distance from sin; not to go near the house of the harlot—but to fly from all appearance of evil (Proverbs 5:8, 1 Thess. 5:22). The best course to prevent falling into the pit is to keep at the greatest distance from it; he who will be so bold as to attempt to dance upon the brink of the pit, may find by woeful experience that it is a righteous thing with God that he should fall into the pit. Joseph keeps at a distance from sin, and from playing with Satan’s golden baits, and stands. David draws near, and plays with the bait, and falls, and swallows bait and hook!