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ON THE SCRIPTURAL ACCOUNT OF THE SPIRITUAL ADVERSARY.
WHEN we take a calm view of the moral degradation which marks the history and character of man; when we endeavour to trace the multiform appearances of SIN, and observe the force with which it rages and spreads in the world; and when we call to mind the consequence which it is calculated to produce, in the absolute ruin of our immortal partwe can scarcely continue insensible of a strong impression, that there exists some powerful, active, personal, agent, who rules over and conducts the kingdom of darkness; and who, in a proper sense of the expressions, is the AUTHOR OF EVIL.
If the inquiry be suggested, why the weight of this impression is not more fully acknowledged, and why some persons, who exult in the exercise of their reasoning powers, are found rashly rejecting the doctrine of a Satanic influence, as absurd and imaginary—a satisfactory answer to such an inquiry is afforded us in the lamentable fact, that this doctrine has been made the vehicle of so many foolish imaginations, and of so many idle tales-tales impressed on our minds and memories even from early youth-that the views of men on the subject have been very generally corrupted. Thus, that effort of the human mind, which is employed to sweep away the absurd and ridiculous phantom, is too often found to extend itself, until, in reference to the present awful subject, we have also discarded the sober dictates of good sense, probability, and truth.
In order, then, to form a just view of the doctrine in question-a view which shall be free at once from credulity and from scepticism-let us lay aside both our imaginations and our prejudices, and let us, with a humble spirit, examine the testimony given on the subject, in the records of divine revelation. For, as the Scriptures plainly declare that the Supreme Being is absolutely opposed to all moral evil-that his light condemns it, that his power subdues it, and that his judgments will, in the end, assuredly overtake it-so they also teach us, in a very explicit manner, that there exist powerful spirits, and
one eminent above the rest, in whom all manner of moral evil dwells, and to whose agency it may be directly traced.
We read that the beings now alluded to were once numbered among the angels of God; and we may therefore conclude, without a question, that they were created holy. In what manner they became sinful, the Scriptures do not reveal, and it is impossible for us to conceive; but certain it is, that these children of light became the "Rulers of the darkness of this world"—that they lost the character of saints, and with it the joys and privileges of heaven. The apostle Jude describes them as the angels which "kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation," ver. 6; and, respecting Satan, their governor and leader, (Eph. ii, 2,) our Saviour himself expressly asserts that he "abode not in the truth" John viii, 44. Again, on another occasion, when the disciples were astonished to find that "even the devils were made subject to them," Jesus explained the fact by a reference, as appears most probable, to the original fall of his mighty adversary. "I beheld Satan," said he, "as lightning fall from heaven:" Luke x, 18.
The next point in the history of Satan, revealed to us in the Bible, is one of mournful interest, because it has been fraught with the most destructive consequences to ourselves: I mean the seduction of our first parents into the commission of that sin of infidelity and disobedience, which resulted in the moral ruin of mankind. That the serpent who tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge was the devilor that the devil spake and acted in the serpent-is generally allowed and understood by Christians; and is amply evinced to be true, partly by the whole analogy of the character of Satan, as the deceiver and destroyer of men, and partly by the obvious bearing of particular passages in the New Testament. It was plainly in allusion to his appearance in the temptation of Eve, that the devil is described in the Revelation of John, as "that old serpent.... which deceiveth the whole world," Rev. xii, 9; and the same doctrine may be elicited from the declaration of Jesus, that Satan was a murderer from the beginning" John viii, 44. Cain, whose crime was one of the first conspicuous consequences of the fall of his parents, is described as being " of that wicked one," 1 John iii, 12; and that he, whom the early Christians were taught to consider as their spiritual tempter, was the very same being who beguiled Eve, appears to be with sufficient plainness indicated by the apostle Paul: "But I fear," said he to the Corinthian converts, "lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through
his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ:" 2 Cor. xi, 3.
In the subsequent parts of the Old Testament, there are but few allusions to the character of Satan; yet was he recognized, on more than one occasion, by its inspired writers, as a personal agent employed in resisting good and in actively promoting evil. It was, in all probability, no subordinate adversary, but the "Prince of the power of the air," who, under the name of Satan, is described, in the book of Job, as "going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it,” i, 7; and as laying the hand of sore afflictions upon that righteous man, in order that he might be induced to rebel against God and die. It was Satan, who is declared to have provoked David, at a moment of self-exaltation, into the sin of numbering the people: 1 Chron. xxi, 1. It was Satan, who, in the book of the prophecies of Zechariah, is described as standing at the right hand of the angel, to resist Joshua, the faithful servant and high-priest of the Lord: Zech. iii, 1, 2; comp. Ps. cix, 6.
On that memorable occasion, when Jehovah pronounced the sentence of condemnation on Eve, her husband, and the serpent, it was predicted that this wily enemy of God and man should bruise the heel of the seed of the woman; that is, of him who was "made of a woman"-the Messiah of Israel; and, on a reference to the New Testament, we perceive at once in what manner the events, thus obscurely indicated, were accomplished. Satan was the spiritual and powerful agent who tempted, buffeted, and persecuted, even unto death, the holy and suffering Jesus. Of all the circumstances recorded in the Gospels, there is no one more extraordinary, and no one at the same time more positively described as having actually taken place, than the temptation of Jesus by the devil: see Matt. iv, 1—11: Mark i, 12, 13. It appears to have been necessary to the completion of that comprehensive scheme which was appointed for man's redemption, that the author and minister of our faith should be subjected, in various ways, to the baptism of suffering, and, though incapable of sin, should be "tempted like as we are." Accordingly, we find that, previously to the commencement of his ministry, he was led of the Spirit into the wilderness, where, during forty days of fasting, he was exposed to the insidious aggressions of his enemy; and, however mysterious this part of the history of Jesus may be in some points of view, one thing is indisputable that the whole scene displays, in clear colours, the restlessness, artfulness, perseverance, and malignity, of Satan.
After that scene had been brought to its close, we read that Satan"departed from Jesus," but only "for a season:" Luke iv, 13. All the circumstances of the case are such as lead us to the conclusion, that his attacks upon the Messiah were renewed from time to time; and that, probably, in a rougher and more distressing form. When the Holy One of Israel was rejected, despised, spitted on, scourged, and insulted-when he endured the contradiction of sinners-when he wandered in desolate places, and had "not where to lay his head" when, on the view of his approaching crucifixion, he passed through his agony in the garden of Gethsemane—we have every reason to believe, that the Serpent was bruising the heel of the Seed of the woman. Finally, that it was the same spiritual adversary who procured the consummation of the sufferings of Jesus-his shameful and cruel death--we may conclude from our Lord's address to his Jewish persecutors, "Ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you..... ye do that which ye have seen with your father"—that is, with the devil: John viii, 37, 38: comp. 44. Again, it is expressly declared by the apostle John, that it was Satan who entered into Iscariot" after the sop," and who put it into the heart of the apostate to betray his Lord: John xiii, 2. 27.
That, during the whole course of the life and ministry of Jesus, there was a very extensive and probably unusual manifestation of Satanic influence, we may indeed collect, not only from the passages which have now been cited, and which describe some of the operations of Beelzebub himself, but from the very numerous accounts, contained in the four Gospels, of persons who were possessed and tormented by his subordinate agents. These persons appear, in an especial manner, to have excited the compassion, and to have claimed the miraculous aid, of him who came to destroy all the works of the devil. Now, when we reflect on the exactness with which these circumstances are described--when we recollect the conversations which sometimes took place between Jesus and the evil spirits, and the manner in which they were compelled to confess that he was the Christ, the Son of God--when we call to mind, for example, the instance in which the legion of devils were expelled from the maniac, and permitted, on their earnest entreaty, to enter into the herd of swine--and when, moreover, we remember that the evangelists were no writers of figures and allegories, but plain, accurate, and inspired historians-it seems impossible to reject the literal interpretation of these narrations, or to refuse to allow that, at that most important period of the world's history, the spirits of darkness
were permitted, in a very remarkable manner, to display their malignity, their activity, and their power.
The Hebrew word Satan signifies an adversary, and is, by way of eminence, applied as a name to the devil, because he is, of all adversaries, the principal-the most powerful, and the most malicious. He is the adversary of God, against whom he has rebelled, whose will he still resists, whose rule he endeavours to disturb. He is the adversary of Christ, whom he was at one time permitted to tempt, afflict, and persecute, and whose spiritual dominion over men it is still his constant endeavour to interrupt and impede. Between the Messiah of God, and Belial, the prince of darkness, diametrically opposed to each other as they are, in all their attributes, in all their operations, and in all their ends, there can indeed be no concord:" 2 Cor. vi, 15. More especially, Satan is the adversary of man, whose loss, both physical and moral, he has so successfully compassed, and is still for ever laboring to aggravate and confirm.
With respect to the former point, our physical loss, we are to remember that sickness, and death, and all their sorrowful train, are the indirect consequences of the moral fall into which man was betrayed by Satan. On particular occasions, moreover, the sufferings of mortality, whether bodily or mental, are traced immediately, by the inspired writers, to the operation of that adversary. It was by his instrumentality that Job was afflicted in body, family, and estate. The woman who for eighteen years had been "bowed together and could in no wise lift herself," is declared by our Saviour to have been bound by Satan: Luke xiii, 11. 16. The maimed, the halt, the withered, the blind, and the lunatic, who were the objects of the miraculous interposition of our Lord's compassion, are all described as persons oppressed of the devil:" Acts x, 38. And when, in the primitive and apostolic church, the transgressor was to be punished by some temporal disease or other affliction, he was for this purpose delivered for a season to the power of the devil:" 1 Corinth. v, 5: 1 Tim. i, 20.
The malice of our spiritual enemy however has, in this point of view, been often directed with especial force against the followers and disciples of the Lord Jesus; because, in hindering, buffeting, and persecuting them, he interrupts the progress of that word of truth, which it is their privilege to disseminate, and by which, in the end, his own kingdom must be subverted. "Simon, Simon," said Jesus to the apostle Peter, "behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as