Last Updated on : Saturday, October 11, 2014
From The Bible
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IN THE religion of Christendom, the devil figures almost more prominently than God. If we have found Christendom astray as to the nature of man, it will not be wonderful if we find it astray on the subject of the devil, with which, scripturally, man has so much to do.
The theology of Christendom places the devil in juxtaposition with God. As the one is presented for worship as the source and embodiment of all good, so the other is held up for detestation and dread, as the instigator and promoter of all evil. Practically, the one is regarded in the light of the good God, and the other as the bad god. It is the polytheism of paganism in its smallest form: and the philosophy of the ancients embodied in names and forms supplied by the Bible.
Good and evil are regarded as separate essences, and each is attributed to the control of a separate being. Instead of having a god for war, a god for love, a god for thunder, a god for fire, a god for water, and so on, down the whole list of nature's phenomena, modern theology confines the ruling powers of the universe to two agencies, with whom respectively it leaves the contest of good and evil--God and the devil--a contest in which they measure strength in what would appear to be a somewhat equal encounter.
We have looked at Bible teaching concerning God. It is appropriate now to consider what it teaches about the devil, for there is a Bible doctrine of the devil, as there is a Bible doctrine of GOD. And it certainly is not less important to know the truth about the one than it is to know the truth about the other. The doctrine of the devil has as intimate a bearing upon the truth of Christ as the doctrine of God. This may be a surprising proposition at first; but on due investigation it will become apparent from two separate points of view.
First, the orthodox point of view. From this, the devil is seen in large proportions. He occupies the first position in the scheme of religion. He is the principal figure in the picture. He is the great enemy from which our immortal souls are supposed to stand in need of being delivered. He enters largely into Methodistic outpourings, hortatory or devotional. He is the great nightmare, the great object of terror, the great fowler, with net-snare, exerting his utmost cunning and device--which are something superhuman--to entrap souls. Cruden describes him as "a most wicked angel, the implacable enemy and tempter of the human race... deadly in. his malice, surprisingly subtle possessing strength superior to ours, having a mighty number of principalities and powers under his command . . . He roves, full of rage, like a roaring lion, seeking to tempt, to betray, to destroy us, and to involve us in guilt and wickedness . . . In a word, he is an enemy to God and man, and uses his utmost endeavours to rob God of His glory, and men of their souls."
Common belief assigns something like omniscience to the evil being thus described; he is regarded as universally at work, alike active in England and America, and all other parts of the globe at the same time, and exerting his seductive arts in millions of hearts at once. He is also believed to be, in some sense, omnipotent, achieving his behests by a power superior to nature, and certainly more successfully than God in the mutual strife for human souls; since hell, according to tradition, receives a far larger proportion of the earth's inhabitants than find their way to the celestial city.
If this be the truth about the devil, it is of the first importance to know it; for how can we mentally adapt ourselves to our spiritual exigencies if we ignore the very first relation we sustain, in our exposure to assault and capture at the hands of an unseen, but potent and untiring, malignant foe? A denial of this truth--if it be a truth--is a mistake of the first magnitude, and cannot fail to imperil the soul thus deluded, unless indeed--which no one believing the Bible can maintain--it is a matter of indifference whether a man know the truth of the matter or not. We must presume every orthodox believer will estimate the doctrine at its inherent value, and maintain that it is of vital consequence for a man to believe in the peril from which Christ came to save him.
From the second point of view, the doctrine appears in the same light-of essential importance, though the picture seen is different in hue and outline. Assuming for the moment that there is no such being as the devil of orthodox belief, but that the devil is something occupying an entirely different relation to the universe and ourselves from that assigned to the infernal monster of Christendom, it is equally important that we understand this, as it is that we accept the popular doctrine of the devil, if that is the truth. How this is will presently appear. No one acquainted with the teaching of the New Testament will dispute, that it is necessary to understand and believe the truth concerning Christ. James, speaking of himself, and those who were Christ's, says, "Of his own will begat he us with the word o! truth" (James i, 18). Paul, describing the spiritual cleansing to which obedient believers of the truth are subject, styles it "the washing of water by the word" (Eph. v, 26). Christ also says to his disciples: "Ye are clean through the word I have spoken unto you" (John xv, 3), and to the Jews who were disposed to be his disciples: "Ye are clean through the word I have spoken unto you free" (John viii, 32). Now, this truth is styled "the word of the truth of the gospel" (Col. i, 5), "by which also ye are saved" (I Cor. xv, 2).
Descending from these general intimations to particulars, we find that the word of the truth of the gospel, designed to cleanse and save men, consists of "the kingdom of God and those things that concern our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts xxviii, 31), elsewhere styled, "the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts viii, 12). From this it follows, that for a man to believe the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. i, 16), he must believe the truth concerning Jesus Christ. In view of this, let the reader ponder the following testimonies :--
Is it possible to believe the truth concerning Christ, and be ignorant of the nature of the devil that he was expressly manifested to destroy with his works? It is unnecessary to answer the question. It is necessary to put it for the purpose of shewing that the doctrine of the devil (in whatever form the truth of the matter may be found to exist) is so far from being an unimportant matter, that it is one of the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, ignorance of which argues a fatal want of knowledge in relation to the first of divine principles. The doctrine of the devil is not an "advanced" subject, but bears upon the most elementary aspects of divine truth. The idea that it is otherwise is due to the obscurity arising from tradition and an imperfect translation of the Scriptures. The sense of the thing, alone, would indicate the importance of the subject; for how can a man be in a state of enlightenment in relation to divine things, who is ignorant of a matter so vastly affecting the relation of man to God, on whichever side the truth may lie?
Now, we make bold at once to assert that the popular doctrine of a personal devil has no foundation whatever in truth, but is the hideous conception of the heathen mind, inherited by the moderns from the mythologies of the ancients, and incorporated with Christianity by those "men of corrupt minds," who, Paul predicted, would pervert the truth, "giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. iv, 1). In taking this position, we are not unaware that apparent countenance is given to the doctrine in the Scriptures. Nay, it is because of this circumstance that it becomes worth while to attack the monster conceit, in order that conscientious minds, over-shadowed with the nightmare of theology, may see that, as in other instances, the apparent sanction accorded by the Scriptures to a false doctrine is no sanction at all, but arises from a misconstruction under educational bias, of certain allusions to other agencies .altogether.
In the first place, there are certain general principles which exclude the possibility of the devil's existence. "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. vi, 23). "Sin entered into the world, and DEATH by sin" (Rom. v, 12). This is an eternal principle; death and sin are inseparable. "God ONLY hath immortality" (I Tim. vi, 16); and He bestows it on the principle of obedience. Disobedience, which is sin, in every case, He visits with death. Therefore, the angels which kept not their first estate, were cast down to hell (the grave), and reserved under chains of darkness (the bonds of death)--(Jude 6; II Peter ii, 2, 4), therefore Adam was sentenced to return to the ground (Gen. iii, 19); therefore Moses was prohibited from entering the promised land, and condemned to die (Deut. xxxii, 48, 52); and, therefore, Uzzah was slain for harmlessly (humanly speaking) saving the ark from a fall (II Sam. vi, 6, 7); therefore "the man of God that came out of Judah" was torn by a lion for turning back to eat bread with another prophet, in disobedience to a divine command, under the sincere impression that in so doing he was obeying the commands of the Almighty (1 Kings xiii, 1, 25).
An immortal rebel is an impossibility. With God is the fountain of life (Psalm xxxvi, 9). No one can steal a march upon Him, so as to retain life and power in rebellion. "In His hand is the life of every living thing" (Job xii, 10), and He cuts away the life that is lifted against Him; He consigns all disobedience and sin to death. Will it be suggested that God has made an exception in the case of the devil? The Bible devil is a sinner (1 John iii, 8): therefore the devil cannot be immortal. God is no respecter of persons, whether of men or angels. God is not double in His modes of action. He is one. He is the same for ever and in all places. He does not act one way on the earth, and on another principle in the sun or other parts of His dominion; His ways are wise, uniform, and unvarying. Therefore the operation of His law, which links death with sin, would destroy the devil if he were a person; "for the devil sinneth from the beginning," and must, therefore, have been mortal from the beginning.
In some cases, the popular view so far yields to this argument on the subject, as to admit that the devil cannot be immortal, and must, in course of time, be destined to die; but saves itself by suggesting that, though mortal, he may have an existence contemporaneous with that of the human race, and that his career will only end with the triumph of the Son of God on earth. But this is, if possible, more absurd and untenable than the ordinary view. The theory of an immortal, supernatural devil, who was once an angel, has an air of plausibility and consistency about it, when not scanned too closely; but the idea of a mortal devil--who never was anything but a sinner himself---entrusted 'with a general jurisdiction over other sinners (for it is said he has the power of death and disease), for the purpose, not of dispensing the divine law, but of antagonising the Deity in His dealings with the human race--doing all he can to afflict and damn those whom Deity is represented as striving to save, is something exceedingly difficult to conceive. If this is the Bible devil, why was it necessary that Jesus should die to compass his destruction? He took part of flesh and blood, that "THROUGH DEATH he might destroy him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. ii, 14). Why through death? If the devil is a being separate from mankind, what had the immolation of flesh and blood on Calvary to do with the process of his destruction? If he were the strong, personal, active power of evil contended for, it wanted strength, and not weakness, to put him down. It wanted "the nature of angels," and not "the seed of Abraham," to enter into a successful encounter with "the personal power of darkness." But Jesus, to destroy him, was manifested in the flesh, and submitted to death. Victory crowned his efforts, and the devil was destroyed; in what sense, we shall see..
The words "devil" and "Satan" occur repeatedly in the Scriptures, and are used in a personal sense; but there is no affirmation of the doctrine popularly attached to the words. This is remarkable; for if the doctrine be true, it would be reasonable to expect that it would be formally enunciated like other points of truth. The doctrine of God's existence; of His creative power; of His relation to His universe, is not only implied in the appellations He appropriates to Himself, but expressly propounded. "I am God, and there is none else" (Isaiah xlvi, 9). "To whom will ye liken Me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.. Lift-up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things" (Isaiah xl, 25, 26). "God dwells in heaven." "Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. There is ,not a word on my tongue, but lo, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid Thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me: it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from Thy spirit, or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?" (Psalm cxxxix, 2-7).
These and many other like declarations affirm the reality of God's glorious existence, His attributes, and power; but there is no such information in the case of the devil. The popularly received theory of his origin and relation to God and man is definite enough; and there are some things in the Scriptures at which we shall look, which are supposed to bear out the theory; but this is principally due to Milton, whose Paradise Lost has done more to give shape and body to the tradition of a devil than all other influences put together. His poetry has woven together a number of Scriptural things which have really no connection one with another, but which work admirably into a consistent whole when the parts are not too closely scrutinised. The narrative of the temptation in the Garden of Eden is one of those parts. In Milton, and in the general popular conception of the subject, the supernatural devil took the shape of a serpent, and became the tempter of Eve. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible narrative to warrant this view. The narrative exhibits the natural serpent, "more subtle than any BEAST OF THE FIELD which the Lord God had made" (Gen. iii, 1), as the tempter. The creature was endowed with the gift of speech (no doubt, specially with a view to the part it had to perform in putting our first parents to the test). Possessing this power, it reasoned upon the prohibition which God had put upon "the tree in the midst of the garden," and coming to the conclusion, from all he saw and heard, that death would not be the result of eating, he said, "Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen. iii, 5).
To say that a supernatural personal devil put this into the serpent's head is to go beyond the record. It is to put something into it that is not there. The narrative accredits the serpent as a natural agent with the part it took in the transaction, and the sentence afterwards passed upon the serpent, rests upon the same basis: "Because THOU hast done this, THOU art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field. Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life" (Gen. iii, 14). If the serpent had been a passive and irresponsible tool in the hands of Infernal Power, it is difficult to see the appropriateness or justice of a decree which heaps all the blame and visits all the consequences upon it, instead of upon the Being supposed to have instigated its crimes. To suggest that the serpent was Satan in reptile form is again to go beyond the record, and enter a region where one guess or one assertion is as good as another. The idea is forbidden by the sentence which condemns the serpent to eat dust all the days of its life. Paul evidently recognised nothing beyond the serpent in the transaction. "I fear," says he, "lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty," etc. (II Cor. xi, 3).
Some people make a great difficulty about the serpent speaking; but surely there is as much difficulty about a serpent speaking under satanic inspiration as in one speaking by faculty divinely conferred for a purpose. If a "dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, forbad the madness" of a Balaam----(II Pet. ii, 16)--why not a serpent be enabled to utter its thoughts when it was necessary to try the faithfulness of Adam and Eve? How otherwise could they be put to trial? It would never occur to their childlike and inexperienced minds to disobey. The suggestion had to come from without, and could only emanate from some of the living forms by which they were surrounded. If it be asked why temptation was necessary at all, it has to be answered that the obligation to obey is never so palpable to the consciousness, as when a temptation to the contrary is presented. Obedience that cannot stand the shock of temptation is weak and ready to die. Trial strengthens and makes manifest. Hence, the probation through which the race is passing.
It is commonly believed that the devil was once a powerful arch-angel, and that he was driven out of heaven on account of his pride; after which, he applied his angelic energies to oppose God in all His schemes and movements, and do as much evil as he could in the universe, being assisted in this by a host of angelic sympathisers, who were driven down to hell along with him. This view is supposed to have a certain degree of countenance in the Bible. Let us look at all the places where it is supposed this countenance is given, The case of the fallen angels is largely relied upon:.--
This is all the information we have on the subject. It is scanty and obscure, but, such as it is, it points in a very different direction and to a very different occurrence from that indicated in popular tradition. It does not tell of angels being expelled from heaven to engage in marauding expeditions against human interests and divine authority, wherever their caprice might lead them; but of disobedient angels, not necessarily in heaven, being degraded from their position, and confined in the grave against a time of judgment. It speaks of them as in custody, "in chains of darkness "--a metaphor highly expressive of the bondage of death--in which they are held and from which they will emerge, to be judged, at a time when the saints shall sit in judgment (I Cor. vi, 3). The time and locality of their fall are matters of-speculation. The probability is that the globe was the scene of the tragedy in pre-Adamic times, since both Peter and Jude categorise it with the Flood and the perdition of Sodom. The dark, chaotic, aqueous condition of things that prevailed at the time when the spirit of God illuminated the scene, preliminary to the six days' work of reorganisation, may be presumed to have been due to the catastrophe which hurled the illustrious transgressors into destruction. This idea is countenanced by the words addressed to Adam: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish (fill again) the earth," which was only appropriate on the supposition that the earth was occupied before Adam's time. This was the command delivered to Noah after the Flood, when the earth had been cleared of its population by judgment. The sin of the angels, so far as indicated in the statements before us, consisted in leaving the earth without authority, and probably against command.
Be that as it may, it will be seen that the Scripture allusions to the fallen angels afford no countenance whatever to the idea that there was "a rebellion in heaven" under the leadership of "Satan," resulting in the expulsion of the rebels, and the establishment in the universe of a great antagonism to God, having its centre and headquarters in the hell of popular creed. Superficial believers in the Miltonic antecedents of "the Prince of Darkness," quote Rev. xii, 7, in proof of them :--
Surely those who quote this to prove a rebellion in heaven before Adam, must stagger a little, when it is pointed out to them that it describes something that was to happen after the days of John. The things seen by John in "Revelation" were representative of events future to his time. This is evident from Rev. iv, 1: "Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter." Hence, how absurd to quote any of his descriptions as applicable to an event alleged to have occurred before the creation of the world!
Secondly, what John saw were not real things, but signs or symbols of real things. This is evident from the opening statement of the Apocalypse: "He (Jesus) sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John" (Rev. i, 1). The seven churches of Asia were represented by seven candlesticks, and Christ by a seven-horned lamb; the totality of the redeemed by four beasts full of eyes; an imperial city by a woman, etc. This being so, it is inadmissible to read the above-quoted account of "war in heaven" literally, which must be done before the popular view can be maintained. The very nature of the scene described precludes the possibility of a literal construction. Only read the chapter and realise it.
A woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, is opposed by a dragon with seven heads and ten horns, who, with his tail, sweeps the third part of the stars from their places in the sky. The woman gives birth to a child, which the dragon is waiting to devour. The child is snatched up to heaven, whither it is apparently followed by the dragon, for we find the dragon engaged in a war upon Michael and his angels in heaven. The war ends in the triumph of Michael. The dragon is expelled, falls to the earth, gives chase to the woman, and, unable to catch her, ejects from his venomous jaws a flood of water intended to drown her, but the earth opens, the water sinks through the rent, and the woman is saved.
The fact is, it is a magnificent hieroglyph, with a deep political significance, which subsequent history has verified with the utmost exactness. This is not the place to go into the matter. We recommend the reader to peruse Dr. Thomas's Exposition of the Apocalypse (Eureka, in three vols.), for a logical, eloquently-written, intellect-satisfying, and heart-building explanation of this and all the mysteries of "Revelation." It suffices, at present, to show that Rev. xxi affords no countenance to the idea which it is the object of this lecture to destroy. The class of people who refer to it in support of a personal devil, also quote Isaiah xiv, 12-15, and Ezek. xxviii, 11-15; but these Scriptures have even less to do with the subject than Rev. xii. In both cases, if the reader will read the whole chapter he will find the personage addressed is an earthly potentate--in one case the King of Babylon, and in the other, the Prince of Tyre.
It is worthy of remark that in the divine dealings with the Jewish nation, as exhibited in Biblical history or the writings of the prophets, there is an absence of everything giving countenance to the idea of a personal devil. In all God's expostulations with His people, the appeal is to themselves. There is no recognition of diabolical agency or occult influence? How shall we account for this? If Satanic influence, of the type recognised by popular tradition, were a fact, it would surely be recognised in proceedings intended to remedy its evil working. Would it be righteous to charge the responsibility of devilish suggestion upon poor beleaguered human nature? Devil-influence must detract from human accountability in the ratio of its potency. No account of the existence of such an influence is taken in God's extensive communings with His chosen nation. This is one of the strongest evidences that it is a fiction.
If there is no such devil, then, as the arch-fiend of orthodox repute, busy hunting souls and scheming, with irrepressible and untiring activity, to thwart God's beneficent designs, what are we to understand by "the devil" so often mentioned in the Bible, and, spoken of in the "third personal pronoun, singular, masculine gender"? This is the question now demanding an answer, and the demand will be met by facts which will show the impossibility of the existence of the devil of popular superstition.
We first look at the original words, devil and Satan, for these (with very slight modification) are the original words, though now so long current as English words. Devil is Greek; Satan is Hebrew, and Greek only by adoption. Devil, in the singular number, only occurs in the New Testament; Satan is found in both Old and New. It is no use referring to an English dictionary to ascertain the exact meaning of the terms as employed in the original tongue. The English language was unknown at the time the words were written. An English dictionary only gives the meaning of current words as currently understood. No doubt the dictionary would favour the popular view of the matter, by defining the devil to be "a fallen angel, the enemy of God and man," but this is of no more value than any utterance on the subject one might hear in society. The whole question is whether the received (and, therefore, the dictionary) doctrine of the devil is true. This we can only settle by going to the original sources of information.
The Devil Not A Personal Super-Natural Being,
But The Scriptural Personification of Sin
In Its Manifestations Among Men