The Devil Not a Personal Supernatural Being, but the Scriptural Personification of Sin in Its Manifestations Among Men
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 of truth” (James 1:18). Paul, describing the spiritual cleansing to which obedient believers of the truth are subject, styles it “the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). Christ also says to his disciples: “Ye are clean through the word I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3), and to the Jews who were disposed to be his disciples; “Ye are clean through the word I have spoken unto you free” (John 8:32). Now, this truth is styled “the word of the truth of the gospel” (Col. 1:5), “by which also ye are saved” (I Cor. 15:2).
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 28:31), elsewhere styled, “the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). From this it follows, that for a man to believe the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), he must believe the truth concerning Jesus Christ. In view of this, let the reader ponder the following testimonies:—
“For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might DESTROY THE WORKS OF THE DEVIL” (I John 3:8).
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, (Jesus) also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might DESTROY HIM THAT HAD THE POWER OF DEATH, THAT IS, THE DEVIL” (Heb. 2:14).
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” (I Tim. 4:1). 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. 6:23). “Sin entered into the world, and DEATH by sin” (Rom. 5:12). This is an eternal principle; death and sin are inseparable. “God ONLY hath immortality” (I Tim. 6:16); 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 2:2, 4), therefore Adam was sentenced to return to the ground (Gen. 3:19); therefore Moses was prohibited from entering the promised land, and condemned to die (Deut. 32:48, 52); and, therefore, Uzzah was slain for harmlessly (humanly speaking) saving the ark from a fall (II Sam. 6:6, 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 (I Kings 13:1, 25).
An immortal rebel is an impossibility. With God is the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9). 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 12:10), 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 (I John 3:8): 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. 2:14). 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 46:9). “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 40:25, 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 139:2–7).
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. 3:1), 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. 3:5).
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. 3:14). 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. 11:3).
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. 2:16)—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:—
“If God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment” (II Pet. 2:4).
“And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6).
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. 6:3). 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. 12:7, in proof of them:—
“And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the Dragon, and the Dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven; and the great Dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”
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. 4:1: “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. 1:1). 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. 21 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 14:12–15, and Ezek. 28:11–15; but these Scriptures have even less to do with the subject than Rev. 12. 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.
“Satan” is a Hebrew word, and transferred to the English Bible untranslated from the original tongue. Cruden (himself a believer in the popular devil) defines it as follows:—“Satan, Sathan, Sathanas: this is a mere Hebrew word, and signifies AN ADVERSARY, AN ENEMY, AN ACCUSER.” If Satan is “a mere Hebrew word, signifying adversary,” etc., obviously it does not in itself import the evil being which it represents to the common run of English ears. This conclusion is borne out by its uses in the Hebrew Bible. The first place where it occurs is Num. 22:22:—
“And God’s anger was kindled because he (Balaam) went; and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary (SATAN) against him.”
It next occurs in the same chapter, verse 32:—
“And the angel of the Lord said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? Behold, I went out to withstand (marg., TO BE AN ADVERSARY—a Satan to) thee.”
In this case, Satan was a holy angel. Understanding “Satan” to mean adversary in its simple and general sense, we can see how this could be; but, understanding it as the evil being of popular belief, it would be a different matter. The following are other cases in which the word is translated “adversary,” in the common version of the Scriptures:—
“Let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he be an adversary (SATAN) to us” (I Sam. 29:4).
“And David said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah, that ye should this day be adversaries (SATANS) unto me?” (II Sam. 19:22).
“But now the Lord my God hath given me rest on every side, so that there is neither adversary (SATAN) nor evil occurrent” (I Kings 5:4).
“And the Lord stirred up an adversary (SATAN) unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite: he was of the king’s seed in Edom” (I Kings 11:14).
“And God stirred him up another adversary (SATAN), Rezon, the son of Eliadah, which fled from his lord Hadadezer king of Zobah.”
“And he was an adversary (SATAN) to Israel all the days of Solomon” (I Kings 11:23, 25).
In these cases, the translators have translated the word, and by this means have fenced off the notion of diabolical interference in the matters recorded, which would certainly have sprung up if the word had been “Satan” instead of adversary. In one or two other cases, however, they have not translated the word, but simply transferred it in its Hebrew form, unaltered, to the English version, thus mystifying the idea of the original, and giving countenance to the popular Satanic theory.
A notable instance of this is found in the narrative of Job’s trials. “Satan” here plays a conspicuous part, and of course the common English reader thinks of the creature variously denominated the Devil, Lucifer, Old Harry, the Old Gentleman, the Prince of Darkness, Old Nick, Old Scratch, Sooty, Old Horny, the Gentleman in Black, etc. He sees the monster with horns, hoofs, and tail, bloodshot eyes, and fiery sceptre, every time he encounters the word “Satan” in the narrative; and a vivid imagination will supply the clanking of chains, the hissing of fire and smoke, and the general accessories of Satanic dignity, according to popular conceptions. This is purely owing to a mistaken use of the word, borrowed from bygone days of intense darkness. If the reader will substitute “the adversary” for “Satan,” which is done marginally in recent editions of the Bible, he will read strictly according to the original, and escape popular devilism.
But who was the adversary, it may be asked, who proved such a terror to Job, against whom he exerted such power? All the answer that can be made is, that there is no information as to who he was in particular. His title would show that he was an enemy of Job, and probably of the sons of God in general—a wicked, overbearing lord, whose envy and malice were only equal to the dominion he seems to have exercised. It is impossible to be more specific than this, in saying who he was. We can say who he was not. He was not the horned and sulphurous monster of popular superstition, for he did not come from “hell” to attend the assembly of the sons of God, but from “going to and fro in the earth.” He was not the “devil” of popular theology, who is so coy of spiritual influence that he flies when the Bible is presented, or the godly fall on their knees; for he came boldly into the blaze of the divine presence, among a crowd of worshippers. He was not the arch-fiend, who is represented to be on the alert to catch immortal souls, and drag them into his fiery hold; for he had his eye on Job’s estate and effects, and ultimately got his envious malice to take effect on Job’s body. The probability is he was a powerful magnate of the time—a professed fellow of the sons of God—but an envious and despiteful malignant, who looked on Job with evil eye, and sought to effect his ruin.
But, you say, what about the calamities of tempest and disease that befell Job? Was it in the power of a mortal man to control these? The answer is these were God’s doings, and not the adversary’s. “Thou movedst ME against him, to destroy him without cause” (chapter 2:3). This is the language in which God describes Satan’s transaction in the matter. It was God who inflicted the calamities at the adversary’s instigation. This is Job’s view of the case: “Have pity upon me, O ye my friends,” says he, “THE HAND OF GOD hath touched me” (chapter 19:21). And the narrator, in concluding the book, says: “Then came there unto him all his brethren … and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil THAT THE LORD HAD BROUGHT UPON HIM” (chapter 42:11). But even supposing the adversary had actually wielded the power that affected Job, that would no more prove him a supernatural agent, than do the miracles achieved by Moses prove him to have been no man. God can delegate miraculous power even to mortal man.
The three other cases in which Satan is untranslated are the following:—
“And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel” (I Chron. 21:1).
“Set thou a wicked man over him, and let Satan stand at his right hand” (Psa. 109:6).
“And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan, even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem,” etc. (Zech. 3:1, 2).
With regard to the first, the adversary seems to have been God; for we read in II Sam. 24:1, “The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and HE moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.” The angel of God was a Satan to Balaam, as we have seen, and, in this case, God proved a Satan to Israel. Moved, doubtless, by the general perversity of the people, He impelled David to a course which resulted in calamity to the nation.
In the second case, it is evident that Satan (margin, an adversary) is synonymous with “wicked man” in the first half of the verse. The second part of the verse is the first part repeated in another form, as is so frequently the case in Hebrew writing, e.g., “He washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes.” “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.” On the same principle, a wicked man standing over the subject of David’s imprecations, was Satan standing at his right hand; of course, not the orthodox Satan.
As to the case of Joshua, the high priest, the transaction in which “Satan” appeared against him was so highly symbolical (as anyone may see by reading the first four chapters of Zechariah), that we cannot suppose Satan, the adversary, stood for an individual, but rather as the representative of the class of antagonists against whom Joshua had to contend. The nature of these may be learnt from the following:—
“Then stood up Joshua, the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the Man of God.… Now when THE ADVERSARIES of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel, then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you, etc. But Zerubbabel and Joshua, and the rest of the chief Of the fathers of Israel said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God, but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel, as king Cyrus the King of Persia hath commanded us. Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even unto the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 3:2, 3; 4:14).
The individual adversary seen by Zechariah, side by side with Joshua, represented this class-opposition to the work in which Joshua was engaged. Those who insist upon the popular Satan having to do with the matter, have to prove the existence of such a being first, before the passage from Zechariah can help them; for “Satan” only means adversary, and in itself lends no more countenance to their theory than the word “liar” or “enemy.”
The Hebrew word “Satan” was adopted into the Greek language; whence we meet with it in the New Testament, which, as the generality of readers well know, was written in Greek. It is here where the word is most jealously cherished as the synonym of the popular “angel of the pit.” People think, if they cannot prove the existence of the devil from the Old Testament, they certainly can from the New, most abundantly. A critical consideration of the matter, however, will show that in this, they are entirely mistaken. Satan, in the New Testament, no more means the arch-fiend of popular superstition, than Satan in the Old. This will be quickly manifest to the unprejudiced mind.
In the first place, if Satan is the popular devil, in what a curious light the following statement appears, addressed by Jesus, in the first century, to the church at Pergamos:—
“I know thy works and where thou dwellest, even WHERE SATAN’S SEAT IS: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, WHERE SATAN DWELLETH” (Rev. 2:13).
According to this, in the days of John, the apostle, Satan’s headquarters were Pergamos, in Asia Minor. The fact is, the enemies of the truth were notably numerous, energetic, and powerful in that city, and indulged in relentless and successful persecution of those professing the name of Christ. This earned for the place the fearful distinction of being styled by Jesus “Satan’s (the adversary’s) seat,” and “the dwelling place of Satan” (the adversary). This is intelligible: but if the popular devil is in reality Satan, we are invited to contemplate the idea that the devil had forsaken hell in those days, and pitched his tent for a while in the salubrious city of Pergamos, whence to despatch his busy emissaries all over the globe!
Jesus, on a certain occasion, styled Peter “Satan”:—
“But he turned, and said unto PETER, Get thee behind me, SATAN: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matt. 16:23; Mark 8:33; Luke 4:8).
Understanding “Satan” to mean adversary, we can comprehend this incident. Peter protested against the sacrifice of Christ. He thereby took the attitude of an enemy, for had Jesus not died, the purpose of his manifestation would have been frustrated: the Scriptures falsified, God dishonoured, and salvation prevented. In opposing the death of Christ, Peter was, therefore Satan, in the Bible sense. This sense Christ actually defines: Thou (Peter) savourest (or favourest, or hast sympathy with) not the things that be of God but THOSE THAT BE OF MEN.” To be on the side of men against God is to be Satan. Peter was, for the moment, in this position. He made himself part of the great adversary—the carnal mind—as collectively exemplified in the world that lieth in wickedness (I John 5:19)—the friendship of which is enmity with God (James 4:4). Jesus, therefore, commands him from his presence. But how about the popular devil? Was Peter Satan in the orthodox sense? He was, if the orthodox construction of the word is correct; for Jesus says he was. But Peter was a man who became Christ’s leading apostle. Therefore, the orthodox construction is the mistaken and ridiculous construction, from which we shake ourselves free, in recognition of the fact that Peter for the moment was a Bible Satan, from which he afterwards changed by “conversion” (Luke 22:32).
Paul says, “Hymenæus and Alexander, whom I have delivered unto SATAN, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (I Tim. 1:20). This also shows that the New Testament Satan is not the popular Satan: for no one ever hears of the popular Satan being employed by Christian teachers to correct the blasphemous propensities of reprobates. It is presumable that Satan’s influence would have an entirely contrary effect; and accordingly clerical endeavours are generally directed with a view to rid sinners of his presence. At Methodist prayer and revival meetings—in which orthodox religion is carried to its full and consistent issue—the cry is, “Put the devil out”; and this prayer is uttered with especial vehemence over any hardened sinner who may be got hold of.
The process of “delivering over to Satan,” according to apostolic practice may be gathered from I Cor. 5:3–5:—
“For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed; in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
The meaning of this is, simply, the expulsion of the offender from the community of the believers. This is evident from the verse immediately preceding those we have quoted: “Ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed MIGHT BE TAKEN AWAY FROM AMONG YOU”, and also the concluding sentence, “PUT AWAY FROM AMONG YOURSELVES THAT WICKED PERSON” (verse 13). This was the apostolic recommendation in all cases of recalcitrancy.
“A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject” (Tit. 3:10).
“Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly … … If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him” (II Thess. 3:6, 14).
“Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17).
“I would they were even cut off which trouble you” (Gal. 5:12).
To repudiate the fellowship of anyone, was to hand him over to the adversary, or Satan, because it was putting him back into the world, which is the great enemy or adversary of God. The object of this was remedial:—“Have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (II Thess. 3:14, 15). In this way, Paul, by cutting off Hymenæus and Alexander, hoped to bring them to their senses, and arrest their contumaciousness. They were in the ecclesia, and speaking against Paul and others, and against things that they did not understand; and by the bold measure of excommunication, he hoped to teach them a lesson they could not learn in fellowship. It was likely to make a man think, to thus “hand him over to Satan” (the adversary). The object of it, in the recommendation to the Corinthians, was “for the destruction of the flesh”—that is, the extirpation of the carnal mind in their midst: for he says immediately after, “A little leaven leaventh the whole lump. Purge out therefore the old leven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened.… Put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (I Cor. 5:6–7, 13). By this policy they might hope to preserve in purity the faith and practice of the spirit, resulting in the salvation of the ecclesia as a whole. All this is intelligible. But if the New Testament Satan be the popular Satan, then the whole matter is involved in inextricable fog. The infernal devil is made to play a part in the arrangements of the apostles for sending men to heaven—a part, be it observed, which he is never called upon to perform now.
“Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again, but Satan hindered us” (I Thess. 2:18). Who obstructed Paul’s travels? The enemies of the truth. On several occasions they watched the gates of the city where he was, to intercept and kill him, and he only eluded them by adroit expedients. “Satan,” or the adversary, was the general name for the whole of them; but when he comes to particulars, Paul mentions names: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil The Lord reward him according to his works. Of whom be thou ware also, for he hath greatly withstood our words” (II Tim. 4:14). “As Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth, men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith” (II Tim. 3:8), “Their word will eat as doth a canker, of whom is Hymenæus and Philetus” (II Tim. 2:17). The orthodox devil took no part in the opposition which Paul encountered from these men. Who ever heard of Bunyan’s “Apollyon” stopping him in the way, and defying him with arrows and terrors of the pit? Yet, if the New Testament Satan be the popular Satan, this ought to have been among his experiences.
“And after the sop, Satan entered into him” (Judas)—(John 13:27). Judas’s adverse or Satanic intentions with regard to Jesus, developed themselves immediately after Jesus handed him a morsel of bread, dipped, after oriental custom, in the bowl on the table. Why? Because the handing of the sop to him marked him as the man who was to be traitor. Jesus had said, “One of you shall betray me.” The intimation excited a painful and eager curiosity among the disciples, who began to question to whom it was that Jesus referred. In answer to John’s whispered enquiry who it was, Jesus said “He it is to whom I shall give a sop when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot. And after the sop, Satan entered into him.… He then, having received the sop, went immediately out.” It was not surprising that Judas, thus openly identified, should no longer parley with his own evil designs. His treacherous inclinations took fatal decision. This was, in New Testament phrase, “Satan entering into him,” that is the adversary rising within him. If the Satan in the case was the popular Satan, the hard question would present itself, Why was Judas punished for the devil’s sin? “It had been good for that man, ” said Jesus, “if he had not been born,” showing that the sin of Christ’s betrayal was charged upon the man Judas.
There is another case where the sinful action of the human heart is described as the inspiration of “Satan” (Acts 5:3). Ananias and Sapphira went into the presence of the apostles with a lie on their lips; Peter said, “Ananias, why hath SATAN filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land?” The meaning of Satan filling the heart, crops out in the next sentence but one: “Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart?” (verse 4); also in Peter’s address to Sapphira, who came in three hours after Ananias. Peter said unto her, “How is it that YE HAVE AGREED TOGETHER to tempt the spirit of the Lord?” (verse 9). The action of Satan in this case was the voluntary agreement of husband and wife. But supposing we had not been thus informed that the lie of Ananias was due to a compact with his wife, from selfish motives, to misrepresent the extent of their property, we should have had no difficulty in understanding that Satan filling the heart was the spirit of the flesh, which is the great Satan or adversary, moving him to the particular line of action which evoked Peter’s rebuke. James defines the process of sin as follows: “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then, when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth death” (James 1:14, 15). Hence, the action of lust in the mind is the action of the New Testament Satan, or adversary. All sin proceeds from the desires of the flesh. This is declared in various forms of speech in the Scriptures, and agrees with the experience of every man. The following are illustrations:—
“OUT OF THE HEART proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness (this was the sin of Ananias), blasphemies,” etc. (Matt. 15:19).
“The CARNAL MIND is enmity against God. It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).
“Now the WORKS OF THE FLESH are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like” (Gal. 5:19–21).
“For all that is in the world, the LUST OF THE FLESH, and THE LUST OF THE EYES, and the PRIDE OF LIFE, is of the world” (I John 2:16).
The great Satan, or adversary, then, which every man has to fear, and which is ever inclining him to a course opposed to wisdom and godliness, is the tendency of the mere animal instincts to act on their own account. This tendency is the spirit or inclination of the flesh, which must be vigilantly repressed for a man to keep out of the way of evil. The truth alone, which is the utterance and power of the Spirit, will enable him to do this. If he surrender to the flesh, he walks in the way of death. “If ye live after the flesh ye shall die; but if ye, through the spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13).
The object of the gospel being sent to the Gentiles by Paul, was to “turn them from DARKNESS to light, and from the power of SATAN unto God.” Ignorance, or darkness, is the great power of the adversary lurking within us; for where a man is ignorant of God’s will, the flesh has a controlling power with him. The Gentiles are alienated from God, “through the IGNORANCE that is in them” (Eph. 4:18). Enlightenment, through the hearing of the Word, creates a new man within, who, in process of time, kills the old man “which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Eph. 4:22), or, at least, keeps him under, lest the new man become a castaway (I Cor. 9:27). Introduce the active, plotting, intelligent fiend of orthodoxy, and the whole picture is changed and involved in bewildering confusion. But he cannot be introduced, Our experience forbids.
Look at the fact; men are prone to evil in proportion to the relative strength of the animal nature. Some men are naturally amiable, intellectual, benevolent, and correct; they cannot be anything else in the circumstances and with the organisation which they have. Others, again, are naturally coarse, rough, brutish, thick-headed, low, and selfish, through the power of ignorance and an inferior organisation, which prevent them ever ascending to nobility of nature. Jesus recognises this fact in the parable of the sower. The seed fell into different kinds of soil. One is styled “good ground.” In this, the seed grew well, and brought forth much fruit. In his explanation of the parable, Jesus defines the good ground to be “honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15). This is in exact accord with experience. Only a certain class of mind is influenced by the word of truth. There are people on whom the preaching of the Word is wasted effort. Jesus terms such “swine,” and says, “Cast not your pearls before them; give not that which is holy unto dogs.” A much larger result attends the proclamation of the truth among the English, for instance, than among the Caribs of South America, or the Zulus of Africa. The soil is better, both as to quality and culture. Now, in view of this fact that good and evil, in the moral sense, are determined by organisation and education, what place is there for the Satan of orthodox belief, whose influence for evil is reputed to be of a spiritual order, and whose power is believed to be exerted on all, without distinction of education, condition, or race?
These general explanations will cover all the other instances in which the word “Satan” is used in the New Testament. All will be found capable of solution by reading “Satan” as the adversary, and having regard to the circumstances under which the word is used. Sometimes “Satan” will be found a person, sometimes the authorities, sometimes the flesh; in fact, whatever acts the part of an adversary is, scripturally, “Satan.” “Satan” is never the superhuman power of popular belief.
We must now pass on to consider the word “devil.” This is the word which is more particularly associated, in the popular mind, with the tradition of a supernatural evil being. The orthodox believer, giving way to the Bible doctrine of Satanism herein set forth, is prone to cling to the word “devil” with the idea that here, at any rate, his daring theory is safe; that, under the broad shelter of this world-renowned term of theology, the personality of this arch-rebel of the universe is secure from the arrows of criticism. We might summarily dispose of this illusion, by pointing to the fact that “devil,” in many instances is used interchangeably and along with “Satan,” and that therefore, the two stand or fall together. But as this, though logical, might not be quite conclusive to the class of minds which these lectures are intended to reach, we shall investigate this part of the subject separately, and on its own merits.
First, then, with regard to the word “devil,” Cruden remarks: “This word comes from the Greek diabolos, which signifies a calumniator or accuser.” Parkhurst says, “The original word diabolos comes from diabebola, the perfect tense, middle voice of diaballo, which is compounded of dia, through; and ballo, to cast; therefore meaning to dart or strike through; whence, in a figurative sense, it signifies to strike or stab with an accusation or evil report.” Hence, Parkhurst defines diabolos as a substantive, to mean “an accuser, a slanderer,” which he illustrates by referring to I Tim. 3:11; II Tim. 3:3; Titus 2:3: in all of which, as the reader will perceive by perusing the passages, it is applied to human beings.
From this it will be perceived that the word “devil,” properly understood, is a general term, and not a proper name. It is a word that is, and may be, applied in any case where slander, accusation, or falsehood is exemplified. As Jesus applied “Satan” to Peter, so he applied “devil” to Judas: “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a Devil?” (John 6:70). Judas proved a liar, a betrayer, a false accuser, and, therefore, a devil. Paul, in I Tim. 3:11, tells the wives of deacons not to be devils. His exhortation, it is true, does not appear in this form in the English version. The words, as translated, are “Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers (diabolous).” This is a plural inflection of the word translated devil, and ought to be rendered uniformly with its occurrence elsewhere. Either this ought to be “devils,” or devil elsewhere ought to be false accuser. The same remark applies to II Tim. 3:2, 3: “For men shall be … without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers (diaboloi)”; and to Titus 3:3: “The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers (diabolous).”
Jesus applied the term to the persecuting authorities of the Roman State. He said in his letter, through John, to the church at Smyrna, “The devil shall cast some of you into prison” (Rev. 2:10). The pagan authorities were the accusers and hunters of the early Christians, bent upon “stabbing through” and killing to the ground, the whole sect. In the same book, the power of the world, politically organised on the sin-basis (introduced under the symbol of a dragon, having seven heads and ten horns), is styled “that old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan.” In these instances, the popular construction of the word “devil” is entirely excluded, and its meaning and use as a general term are illustrated.
There is, however, a wider use of it in the New Testament, which, while superficially countenancing the orthodox view, is more directly destructive of that view than even the limited cases cited, it is that which personifies the great principle which lies at the bottom of the rupture at present existing between God and man, as pre-eminently the accuser and striker through with a dart—the calumniator of God and the destroyer of mankind. First, let the fact of this personification be demonstrated. The evidence of it makes a powerful beginning in Heb. 2:14, where we read as follows:—
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he (Jesus) also himself likewise took part of the same, that through death he might DESTROY him that had the power of death, THAT IS, THE DEVIL.”
On the supposition that the devil here referred to is the orthodox devil, or a personal devil of any kind, there are four absurdities on the face of this passage.
In the first place, to take on the weakness of flesh and blood was a strange way of preparing to fight a powerful devil, who, it would be imagined, would be more successfully encountered in the panoply of angelic strength, which Paul expressly says Jesus did not array himself in; for he says, “He took not on him the nature of angels” (Heb. 2:16).
In the second place it was stranger still that the process of destroying the devil should be submission to death himself! One would have thought that to vanquish and destroy the devil, life inextinguishable, and strength indomitable, would have been the qualification. Undoubtedly they would have been so, if the Bible devil had been the orthodox devil—a personal monster.
In the third place, the devil ought now to be dead, or whatever else is imported by the word “destroyed,” for Christ died nineteen centuries ago, for the purpose of destroying him by that process. How comes it then, that the devil is clerically represented to be alive and busier than ever in the work of hunting immortal souls with gin and snare, and exporting them to his own grim domain?
In the fourth place, what an extraordinary proposition that the popular devil has the “power of death!” It can only be received on the supposition that the devil acts as God’s policeman: but this will not square with the Miltonic and popular view, that God and the devil are sworn enemies, the latter delighting to thwart the former to the utmost extent of his power. Who made Adam mortal? Who punishes the infraction of divine law? It is He who says, “I kill, and I make alive” (Deut. 32:39). God, and not the devil, reigns. God dispenses retribution, and enforces His own law; not a hostile archangel, presumed to be at eternal enmity with Him.
John says, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8). Will Jesus effect the purpose of his manifestation? If so (and who will deny it?) will he not accomplish the overturn of all that is done by the Bible devil? Will he not destroy all his works? If so, it follows, if the Bible devil is a personal devil, with a blazing hell choke full of damned souls, that Christ will put out his hell, liberate his wretched captives, and abolish himself. If the Bible devil is the orthodox devil, and human beings are immortal souls, universalism is undoubtedly Scriptural; for Christ has come to destroy the devil and all his works’ but there is no devil of the supernatural order, and there are no immortal souls. The devil Christ has come to destroy is sin. If anyone doubts this, let him reconsider Paul’s words quoted above. What did Christ accomplish in his death? Let the following testimonies answer:—
“He put away SIN by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26).
“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3).
“He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5).
“His own serf bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (I Pet. 2:24).
“He was manifested to take away OUR SINS” (I John 3:5).
Christ, through death, destroyed, or took out of the way, “the sin of the world”. In this, he destroyed the Bible devil. He certainly did not destroy the popular devil in his death, for that devil is supposed to be still at large, but in his own person, as a representative man, he extinguished the power of sin by surrendering to its full consequences, and then escaping by resurrection, through the power of his own holiness, to live for evermore. This is described as “God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). Sin in the flesh, then, is the devil destroyed by Jesus in his death. This is the devil having the power of death, for it is sin, and nothing else but sin that causes death to men. Does anyone doubt this? Let him read the following testimonies:—
“By one man sin entered into the world, and death BY sin (Rom. 5:12).
“By man CAME DEATH” (I Cor. 15:21).
“The wages of sin IS DEATH” (Rom. 6:23).
“SIN hath reigned unto death” (Rom. 5:21).
“SIN … bringeth forth death” (James 1:15).
“The sting of death is SIN” (I Cor. 15:56).
Having regard to the fact that death was divinely decreed in the garden of Eden, in consequence of Adam’s transgression, it is easy to understand the language which recognises and personifies transgression, or sin, as the power or cause of death. The foregoing statements express the literal truth metonymically. Actually, death, as the consequence of sin, is produced, caused or inflicted by God, but since sin or transgression is the fact or principle that moves God to inflict it, sin is appropriately put forward as the first cause in the matter. This is intelligible to the smallest intellect: but what has a personal devil to do with it? He is excluded. There is no place for him.
And if he be forced into the arrangement, the result is to change the moral situation, alter the scheme of salvation, and produce confusion: for if the power of death lies with a personal power of evil, separate from and independent of man, and not in man’s own sinfulness, then the operations of Christ are transferred from the arena of moral conflict to that of physical strife, and the whole scheme of divine interposition through him is degraded to a level with the Pagan mythologies, in which gods, good and bad, are represented to be in murderous physical-force hostility for the accomplishment of their several ends. God is thus brought down from His position of supremacy, and placed on a footing with the forces of His own creation.
But, the objector may say, True, sin is the cause of death; but who prompts the sin? Is it not here that the devil of popular belief has his work? Nothing can be more directly met by a Bible answer:—“Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of HIS OWN LUST, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin, and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14, 15). This agrees with a man’s own experience of himself; sin originates in the untrained natural inclinations. These, in the aggregate, Paul terms “another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind.” Every man is conscious of the existence of this law, whose impulse, uncontrolled, would drive him beyond the restraints of wisdom. The world obeyeth this law, and “lieth in wickedness.” It has no experience of the other law, which is implanted by the truth. “ALL that is in the world” John defines to be “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16).
When a man becomes enlightened in the truth, and is thus made aware of God’s will in reference to the state of his mind and the nature of his actions, a new law is introduced. This is styled “the Spirit,” because the ideas upon which it is based have been evolved by the Spirit, through inspired men. “The words that I speak unto you,” says Jesus, “they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). Hence the warfare established in a man’s nature by the introduction of the truth is a warfare of the two principles—the desires of the flesh and the commands of the Spirit. This is described by Paul in the following words:—“The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other” (Gal. 5:17). “Walk in the Spirit,” says he, “and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (verse 16). He says in another place, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof” (Rom. 6:12). These principles are brought to a focus in the following extract from his letter to the Roman ecclesia:—
“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally-minded is death, but to be spiritually-minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his … Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:5–9, 12–14).
In view of these declarations of Scripture, the suggestion that the personal devil’s work is to suggest sin, has no place. It is idle, false, and mischievous. It puts a man off his guard to think he is all right if the devil let him alone. There is no devil but his own inclinations, which tend to illegitimate activity. These are the origin of sin, and sin is the cause of death. Both together are the devil. “He that committeth sin is of the devil” (I John 3:8).
But why, it is asked, should such a plain matter be obscured by personification? No other answer can be given than that it is one of the Bible’s peculiarities to deal in imagery where the principles involved are too subtle for ready literal expression. The world, which is merely an aggregation of persons, is personified: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own” (John 15:19).
RICHES ARE PERSONIFIED:
“No man can serve two Masters … Ye cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matt. 6:24).
SIN IS PERSONIFIED;
“Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of SIN” (John 8:34).
“SIN hath reigned unto death” (Rom. 5:21).
“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, HIS SERVANTS ye are to whom ye obey, whether of SIN unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?… Being then made free front sin, ye became the servants of RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Rom. 6:16, 18).
THE SPIRIT IS PERSONIFIED:
“When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of himself” (John 16:13).
WISDOM IS PERSONIFIED:
“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.… She is more precious than rubies, and all the things that thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honour” (Prov. 3:13, 15, 16).
“Wisdom hath builded HER house; she hath hewn out HER seven pillars” (Prov. 9:1).
THE NATION OF ISRAEL IS PERSONIFIED:
“Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O Virgin of Israel; thou shalt again be adorned with thy tablets” (Jer. 31:4).
“I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus: Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; turn Thou me, and I shall be turned; for Thou art the Lord my God” (Jer. 31:18).
THE PEOPLE OF CHRIST ARE PERSONIFIED;
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto A PERFECT MAN” (Eph. 4:13).
“There is ONE BODY” (Eph. 4:4).
“Ye are THE BODY OF CHRIST” (I Cor. 12:27).
“Christ is the head of the church, and he is the saviour of the body” (Eph. 5:23).
“He is the head of THE BODY, the church, … I fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for HIS BODY’S SAKE, which is the church:” (Col. 1:18, 24).
“I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (II Cor. 11:2).
“The marriage of the Lamb is come, and HIS WIFE hath made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).
THE NATURAL DISPOSITION TO EVIL WHICH A MAN FORSAKES ON BECOMING CHRIST’S, AND ALSO THE NEW STATE OF MIND DEVELOPED IN THE TRUTH, ARE PERSONIFIED:
“Ye have put off THE OLD MAN with his deeds” (Col. 3:9).
“Put off concerning the former conversation the OLD MAN, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts … put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:22, 24).
“Our OLD MAN is crucified with him” (Rom. 6:6).
THE SPIRIT OF DISOBEDIENCE WHICH DWELLS IN THE WORLD IS PERSONIFIED:
“Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the Prince of the power of the air, THE SPIRIT THAT NOW WORKETH IN THE CHILDREN OF DISOBEDIENCE, among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Eph. 2:2, 3).
“Now is tho judgment of this world. Now shall THE PRINCE OF THIS WORLD be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die” (John 12:31–33).
Now these proofs and examples of personification furnish an answer to the question why sin in the abstract should be personified. They show, first, that principles and things are personified in the Bible; and, second, that this is done with great advantage. A metaphorical dress to abstractions gives a palpability to them in discourse, which they would lack if stated in precise and literal language. There is a warmth in such a style of speech, which is wanting in expressions that conform to the strict proprieties of grammar and fact. This warmth and expressiveness are characteristic of the Bible in every part of it, and belong to the Oriental languages generally. Of course it is open to abuse, like every other good, but its effectiveness is beyond question. The subject in hand is an illustration. Sin is the great slanderer of God in virtually denying His supremacy, wisdom, and goodness, and the great ground of accusation against man even unto death. How appropriate, then, to style it THE ACCUSER, THE SLANDERER, THE LIAR. This is done in the word devil; but through the word not being translated, but merely Anglicised, the English reader, reared with English theological prejudices, is prevented from seeing it.
There is an historical aspect to the question, which greatly tends to place the matter in an intelligible light. We refer to the incidents connected with the introduction of sin into the world, in the contemplation of which, we shall see a peculiar fitness in the personification of sin in the word devil. Adam’s sin was not spontaneous. It was suggested by his wife; but neither on her part was the disobedience self-suggested. She acted at the instigation of a third party. Who was that? The answer is, in the words of the record, “THE SERPENT was more subtle than any BEAST OF THE FIELD which the Lord God had made.” The natural serpent, more observant than other animals, and gifted for the time with the power of expressing its thoughts, reasoned upon the prohibition which God had put upon “the tree in the midst of the garden;” and concluding 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, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4, 5).
Thus the serpent was a slanderer, a calumniator of God, in affirming that what God had said was not true. Thus he became a devil, and not only a devil, but the devil, inasmuch as he originated the slander, under the belief of which our first parents disobeyed the divine command, and introduced sin and death to the world. He was, therefore, the natural symbol of all that resulted from his lie. “That old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan,” is the symbolic description of the world in its political totality at the time when Christ turns it into “the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (Rev. 20:2; 11:15). The serpent being the originator of the lie which led to disobedience, the fruits of that disobedience might well be said to be “his works.”
The individual serpent itself has long since passed away in the course of nature, but the fruits remain, and the principle lives. The idea instilled by it into the minds of our first parents has germinated to the production of generations of human serpents. Mankind has proved but an embodiment of the serpent idea; so that they are all calumniators of God in disbelieving His promises, and disobeying His commandments. Hence, Jesus could say to the Pharisees, “Ye serpents … how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt. 23:33); and again, “Ye are of your father the devil (slanderer, serpent), and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning (he brought death upon mankind by inciting Adam and Eve to disobedience), and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). All who are in the first Adam, are “the children of the devil,” because they are the progeny of a serpent-devil contaminated paternity. Their mortality is evidence of this, whatever be their moral qualities, because mortality is the fruit of the serpent-devil conceit operating in Adam to disobedience. But those who, upon a belief of the promises of God, are introduced into “the second Adam” (who in his death destroyed the bonds of the devil in taking away sin), are emancipated from the family of the devil, and become sons of God.
Progeny is according to paternity; like produces like; “Children of the devil” must be devil; and hence it is that the world of human nature as a whole is regarded as the devil, because it is the embodiment of the devil principle. That principle originated in a personal agent; and for that reason, the principle retains the personality of the originator in common discourse, for the sake of convenience; and thus by a very natural process, the abstract principle which lies at the bottom of human misery and mortality is personified. Hence, Jesus destroying the devil and his works, is Jesus taking away the sin of the world, which will ultimate in the complete abolition of human nature on the Adam or serpent basis, and the swallowing up of death in victory. It will be the suppression of the prevailing order of things, and the establishment of a new one, in which righteousness and peace will reign triumphant, and the knowledge of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
The temptation of Jesus is usually cited in opposition to these conclusions; it is supposed that this incontestably proves the personality and power of the Bible devil. The great feature of the narrative relied upon, is the application of the word “devil” to the tempter; but this proves nothing. If Judas could be a devil and yet be a man (John 6:70), why may the tempter of Jesus not have been a man? His being called “devil” proves nothing. But what about taking him to the pinnacle of the temple? it is asked: does it not require something more than human power to carry a man through the air to the top of a steeple? If this was what happened, it would, doubtless, be a little difficult to explain; but this is not so. The pinnacle of the temple, as we are informed by Josephus, was an elevated court or promenade, which, on one side, overlooked the depths to the valley of Jehoshaphat to a depth of 200 feet, and offered the facility for self-destruction which the tempter asked Jesus to wantonly brave, on the strength of a promise made in reference to inevitable suffering. To this court, the tempter, doubtless, walked with Jesus, and made the vain proposal suggested by the circumstances. The objector will then point to Christ’s conveyance to “a high mountain,” from which the devil “showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.” It is obvious that this must be taken in a limited sense; for the fact of ascending a mountain, to see what was to be witnessed, shews that the field of vision was in proportion to the altitude. The tract of country seen would be Judea and neighbouring provinces. The offer of power would therefore relate to these. If it be contended that Christ was absolutely and miraculously shown “all the kingdoms of the world,” what shall be alleged as the reason for the tempter ascending an elevation to shew him then? This would have been no assistance to see “ALL” the countries on earth. If there was anything supernatural in it, there was no necessity for going up a hill at all.
But who was the devil who thus busied himself to subvert Jesus from the path of obedience? The answer is, it is impossible to say positively who he was. As in the case of Job’s Satan, we can only be positive as to who he was not. Various probabilities are suggested by the circumstances of the temptation according to the phase in which they are contemplated. Some think the devil in the case was Christ’s own inclinations; but this is untenable in view of the statement that “When the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season” (Luke 4:13). It is also untenable in view of the harmony that existed between the mind of Christ and the will of the Father (John 8:29). It has been suggested, from the fact that the tempter had power to allot the provinces of the Roman world, that he was a leading functionary of state, or the Roman emperor himself. Others have contended that, not the Roman emperor, but the angel controlling his position, could say concerning “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them,” these “are delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give them.” A fourth suggestion has been that the temptation took place in vision or trance.
Be these suggestions true or false, the temptation affords no real countenance to the popular theory which it is brought forward to prove. In fact, there is no real countenance to that theory in any part of the Bible. The countenance is only apparent; it is all an appearance, the chief power of which lies in the fact that there is a personal-devil theory of pagan origin extant, and taught from the days of infancy. Bible words and pagan theories are put together and made to fit; and superficially considered, the result is striking and impressive, and highly demonstrative of a personal devil. It is, however, a mere juggle and a deception of the most mischievous kind.
It would be unwise to conclude the subject without a few words on “devils,” in which the reader may see some lurking evidence of personal supernatural diabolism. As to the Old Testament, the word is only found four times, viz., in Lev, 17:7; Deut. 32:17; II Chron. 11:15; and Psalm 106:37. These passages only require to be read for the reader to see, that so far as the Old Testament is concerned, the word “devils,” in Bible use, is applied very differently from that which popular views of the subject would indicate. For instance:—
“They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; TO GODS whom they knew not, to NEW GODS that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not” (Deut. 32:17).
Here the “devils” sacrificed to by Israel, were the idols of the heathen. This is still more apparent from Pslam 116:35–38:—
“They were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works; and they served their idols, which were a snare unto them—yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed UNTO THE IDOLS OF CANAAN.”
It is needless to say that the idols of Canaan were “lifeless blocks of wood and stone,” and that, therefore, their designation as “devils” shows that the Old Testament use of the word gives no countenance to the idea that “devils” are personal beings, of a malignant order, aiding and abetting, and serving the great devil in his works of mischief and damnation.
But it is to the New Testament that the orthodox believer will point, as the great stronghold for this belief. Thither we shall go, and with a result, we shall find, as unavailing for the popular creed, as that which has attended all the foregoing endeavours. In the first place, Paul’s use of the word in the same way as it is used in the Old Testament, suggests that Paul ignored the Pagan view of the matter. He says:—“The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God, and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils; ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (I Cor. 10:20, 21). Now, that “devils” here applies to the idols of Pagan worship is manifest; first, from the fact that the sacrifices of the Gentiles were offered at the shrines of the idol-gods of their own superstition; and second, from the following words of Paul in the same chapter:—“What say I then? that the idol is anything? or that which is offered in sacrifice TO IDOLS is anything?” (verse 19). This is conclusive. Paul applies the word “devils” to idols, of which he says:—“We know that an idol is NOTHING in the world” (I Cor. 8:4). Thus the word “devils” as used by Paul, lends no countenance to the popular view.
The reader must understand the “devils” in the original Greek, is a different word from that translated “devil.” The distinction between the two must be recognised, in order to appreciate the explanation applicable to “devils,” as distinct from “devil.” While “devil” is, in the original diabolos, “devils” is the plural of daimon, which has a very different meaning from diabolos. Daimon was the name given by the Greeks to beings imagined by them to exist in the air, and to act a mediatorial part between God and man, for good or evil. These imaginary beings would be expressed in English by demon, evil genius, or tutelar deity, all of which belong to Pagan mythology, and have no place in the system of the truth. We quote the following observations on the subject from Parkhurst’s Greek Lexicon in exemplification of the origin of the idea:—
“DAIMONION, from daimon—a deity, a god, or more accurately, some power or supposed intelligence, in that grand object of heathen idolatry, the material heavens or air. Thus the word is generally applied by the LXX., who use it, Isa. 65:11, for the destructive troop or powers of the heavens in thunder, lightning, storm, etc., in Deut. 32:17; Psa. 116:37, for the pourers forth or genial powers of nature; and, as by the midday demon, Pas. 91:6, we may be certain they intended not a devil, but a pernicious blast of air—Comp. Isa. 28:2—in the Hebrew; so from this and the forecited passages, we can be at no loss to know what they meant, when in this translation of Psa. 96:5, they say, All the gods of the Gentiles are daimonia—i.e., not devils, but some powers or imaginary intelligence of material nature.… Most expressive are the words of Plato in Sympos, ‘Every demon is a middle being between God and mortal men.’ If you ask what he means by ‘middle being,’ he will tell you, ‘God is not approached immediately by man, but all the commerce and intercourse between gods and men is performed by the mediation of demons.’ Would you see the particulars? Demons are reporters and carriers from men to the gods, and again from the gods to men, of the supplications and prayers of the one, and of the injunctions and rewards of devotion from the other. Besides those original material mediators, or the intelligence, residing in them, whom Apuleius calls a higher kind of demons, who were always free from the incumbrances of the body, and out of which higher order Plato supposes that guardians were appointed unto men—besides these, the heathen acknowledged another sort, namely, the souls of men deified or canonised after death. So Hesiod, one of the most ancient heathen writers, describing that happy race of men who lived in the first and golden age of the world, saith that ‘after this generation were dead, they were, by the will of great Jupiter, promoted to be demons, keepers of mortal men, observers of their good and evil works, clothed in air, always walking about the earth, givers of riches; and this,’ saith he, ‘is the royal honour that they enjoy.’ Plato concurs with Hesiod and asserts that he and many other poets speak excellently, who affirm that when good men die, they attain great honour and dignity, and become demons. The same Plato, in another place, maintains that ‘All those who die valiantly in war, are of Hesiod’s golden generation, and are made demons, and that we ought for ever after to serve and adore their sepulchres as the sepulchres of demons.’ ‘The same also,’ says he, ‘we decree whenever any of those who were excellently good in life, die, either of old age or in any other manner.’ … According to Plutarch tom 1, p. 958, E. edit. Xylander, it was avery ancient opinion that there were certain wicked and malignant demons who envy good men, and endeavour to disturb and hinder them in the pursuit of virtue, lest remaining firm (unfallen) in goodness, and uncorrupt, they should, after death, obtain a better lot than they themselves enjoy.”
In view of the heathen origin of this “doctrine of demons,” it is a natural source of wonder that it should appear so largely interwoven with the gospel narratives, and receives apparent sanction both from Christ and his disciples. This can only be accounted for on one principle; the Grecian theory that madness, epileptic disorders, and obstructions of the senses (as distinct from ordinary diseases), were attributable to demoniacal possession, had existed many centuries before the time of Christ, and had circulated far and wide with the Greek language, which, in these days, had become nearly universal. The theory necessarily stamped itself upon the common language of the time, and supplied a nomenclature for certain classes of disorders which, without reference to the particular theory in which it originated, would become current and conventional, and used by all classes as a matter of course, without involving an acceptance of the Pagan belief. On the face of it, the nomenclature would carry that belief; but in reality it would only be used from the force of universal custom, without any reference to the superstition which originated it. We have an illustration of this in our word “lunatic,” which originated in the idea that madness was the result of the moon’s influence, but which nobody now uses to express that idea. The same principle is exemplified in the phrases “bewitched,” “fairy-like,” “hobgoblin,” “dragon,” “the king’s evil,” “St. Vitus’s dance,” etc., all of which are freely used denominatively, without subjecting the person using them to the charge of believing the fictions originally represented by them.
Christ’s conformity to popular language did not commit him to popular delusions. In one case, he apparently recognises the god of the Philistines: “Ye say that I cast out demons through Beelzebub: if I by Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out?” (Luke 11:18, 19). Now, Beelzebub signifies the god of flies, a god worshipped by the Philistines of Ekron (II Kings 1:6), and Christ, in using the name, takes no pains to dwell upon the fact that Beelzebub was a heathen fiction, but seems rather to assume, for the sake of argument, that Beelzebub was a reality; it was a mere accommodation to the language of his opponents. Yet this might, with as much reason, be taken as a proof of his belief in Beelzebub, as his accommodation to popular speech on the subject of demons is taken to sanction the common idea of “devils.”
The casting out of demons spoken of in the New Testament was nothing more nor less than the curing of epileptic fits and brain disorders, as distinct from bodily diseases. Of this, any one may be satisfied by an attentive reading of the narrative and a close consideration of the symptoms, as recorded:—
“Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is lunatic, and sore vexed, for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.… And Jesus rebuked the devil (demon) and he departed out of him (Matt. 17:15–18).
From this the identity of lunacy with supposed diabolical possession is apparent. The expulsion of the malarious influence which deranged the child’s faculties was the casting out of the demon.
“Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb; and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw” (Matt. 12:22).
“And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit” (Mark 9:17).
There is no case of demoniacal possession mentioned in the New Testament, which has not its parallel in hundreds of instances in the medical experience of the present time. The symptoms are precisely identical—tearing, foaming at the mouth, crying out, abnormal strength, etc. True, there are no exclamations about the Messiah, because there is no popular excitement on the subject for them to reflect in an aberrated form, as there was in the days of Jesus, when the whole Jewish community was pervaded by an intense expectation of the Messiah, and agitated by the wonderful works of Christ.
The transference of “the devils” to the swine, is only an instance in which Christ vindicated the law (which prohibited the culture of the pig), by acting on the suggestion of a madman in transferring an aberrating influence from the latter to the swine, and causing their destruction. The statement that the devils made request, or the devils cried out this or that, must be interpreted in the light of a self-evident fact, that it was the person possessed who spoke, and not the abstract derangement. The insane utterances were attributable to the insanifying influence, and, therefore, it is an allowable liberty of speech to say that the influence—called in the popular phrase of these times, demon or demons—spoke them; but, in judging of the theory of possession, we must carefully separate between critical statements of truth and rough popular forms of speech, which merely embody an aspect, and not the essence of truth.
It is needless to say more on the subject: enough has been advanced to show the unfounded mischievous nature of popular views, and to furnish a key for the solution of all Scripture texts which appear to favour those views. This accomplishment, if successfully achieved, will suffice for the present effort. The doctrine of a personal devil, or devils, is a spiritual miasma; it is itself an evil spirit, of which a man must become dispossessed before he can become mentally clothed, and in his right mind. It obscures the shining features of all divine truth from the gaze of all who are subject to it. It is companion to the immortality of the soul, to which, with other fables of heathen invention, men have universally turned according to Paul’s prediction (II Tim. 4:3, 4); and, in accepting which they have necessarily rejected the truth proclaimed by all the servants of God, from Enoch to Paul.