Secret Service Theologian




NOTE VIII. (page 131). How deep-seated and venerable is the popular belief that all misdeeds of a certain gravity are due to Satanic influence. But this belief suggests a difficulty which has perplexed and distressed many a thoughtful Christian. Multitudes innumerable thus transgress. Nor are they to be found only in the squalid dwellings of our city slums, but in the abodes of wealth and culture; not only in our great unlovely towns, but in every village and hamlet in the land. Nor are these shores in any special sense the domain of Satan On the contrary, if vice and crime are signs of his presence and power, other countries must claim more of his activity than our own. And when we turn to the darker scenes of heathenism, the appalling tale of hideous vice and cruelty gives proof that, there, the devil must be still more busy than in Christendom. But if the majority of the many thousands of millions of mankind are thus under his personal influence, he must be acquainted with the life and circumstances of each individual. Are we, then, to conclude that he is practically omnipresent and omniscient? Are we to ascribe to him these attributes of Deity?
As regards the unseen world, any belief which does not rest upon revelation is essentially superstitious: what, then, is the testimony of Scripture on this subject? The first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans treats of the condition of the heathen with a definiteness which leaves nothing to be desired. To this passage, then, let us appeal, and by it let the popular belief be tested. Here are the words :-
"Knowing God, they glorified Him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonoured among themselves: for that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. For this cause God gave them up unto vile passions. . . . And even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting" (Rom. i. 25-28, R.V.).
If Satan were immediately responsible for the baser immoralities of men, it is inconceivable that such a passage would contain no allusion to the fact; but allusion there is none. The words are clear and simple-" God gave them up"; and human nature in its alienation from God accounts for their depravity. Nor will it avail to plead that it is only pagan depravity which is here in question. If no devil is needed to account for the abominations of the heathen world, why appeal to the supernatural to explain the vices and crimes of Christendom? To do so is as unphilosophical as it is unscriptural.
And why should Satan tempt men in this way? His doing so would be intelligible if his power over them depended on their leading vicious lives. But Scripture vetoes this suggestion. Some who own his sway are slaves of vice, but others are religious zealots of blameless character; and our Lord expressly declares that it is the zealots who are farthest from the kingdom.'
The whole passage from ver. 18 claims careful study. Science explains the condition of civilised man by evolution-although the only Law it can point to is degeneracy: the rest is all mere theory- Revelation explains the state of the world generally by the fact that, having originally the knowledge of God, they wilfully lost it, and so God left them to the darkness of their own deliberate choice.
Not that immorality is any passport to heaven, any recommendation to Divine favour. On the contrary, it is a highway to "the City of Destruction"; but it is for this very reason that it brings a man within reach of hope, for in "the City of Destruction" it is that the Saviour is seeking the lost. The devotee of blameless life, who thanks God that he is not as other men, is entirely on the devil's side; whereas, were he tempted to open sin, he might be brought to his knees to pray that other prayer which would bring all heaven to his help.
How it would simplify matters if morality were a distinctive badge of the regenerate, and immorality characterised the rest! But vice is not the hall-mark of the devil's handiwork. "A form of religion' is one of his "devices." Among the most dangerous enemies of Christ and Christianity, are men who live pure and upright lives, and who preach righteousness. "And no marvel; for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light:
It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness." And if "the very elect" are deceived by the fraud, it is mainly because they are blinded by this error of the Satan myth.
It is not, I again repeat, in the domain of morals that the devil's influence is distinctively declared, but in the spiritual sphere. Our race has not sprung from Adam in Eden innocence, but from Adam the fallen and sinful outcast. Human nature is thus poisoned at its very source by ignorance and distrust of God. It is a fallen nature. And Satan it was who thus debased it. What wonder, then, that he is able to influence the main currents of human thought and action in regard to things Divine? What wonder that he can control the religion of the race!
All this may excite the contempt of the agnostic, but we challenge him to offer some other explanation of the well ascertained facts. The evolutionist pretends to account for the condition of the lower strata of humanity; but how can he explain the phenomena of the religion of Christendom? In spite of all the advantages which civilisation affords, men have bartered the sublime truths of Christianity for the superstitions of old-world paganism. Such figments as baptismal regeneration and the possession of mystic powers by a priestly caste are wholly repugnant to Christianity, and Judaism, even in its apostasy, was free from them; and yet they have been adopted as an integral part of the Christian religion. This one fact is proof that, so far at least as the origin of man is concerned, evolution is false and the story of the Eden fall is true.
But this kind of Satanic influence involves no knowledge of the inner experience of each life, no possession of Divine attributes. It implies no special action directed simultaneously against millions of individuals scattered over all the globe. That the devil does deal with individuals we know, but Scripture indicates that such cases are exceptional. The warning to the Twelve, that Satan desired to have them, though intended for all, was specially for Peter. It is but natural that he should seek to drag down those who stand out as champions of the truth. Nor can even the lowliest disciple be sure of immunity from his attacks. He "walketh about," we read, "as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." And a prowling lion may seize even the very weakest for his prey. This may explain conflicts which sometimes try the faith even of the humblest Christian. The old classification of "the world, the flesh, and the devil" is a right one. And "our wrestling is not against flesh and blood." In the "flesh" sphere our safety is in flight. But flight from Satan is impossible. "Flee youthful lusts ;" but "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Such is the distinction clearly marked in Scripture. The baser "lusts of the flesh" are entirely under a man's control, unless indeed he is enervated by vicious indulgence; but with the strongest and holiest of men "the whole armour of God" is the only sure defence against the attacks of Satan.'
Of the devil's aim and methods I have already spoken. No one, I repeat, may assert that he might not use the basest means to ensnare a minister of Christ, and thus mar his testimony and destroy his usefulness. But it cannot be asserted too often or too plainly that his normal effort is not to tempt to the commission of sins such as lead to contrition, and teach us how weak we are; but, by drawing us away to mere human morality, or religion, or philosophy, to deaden or destroy our sense of dependence upon God. For sin may humble a Christian; but human philosophy and religion can only foster his self-esteem. And pride is "the snare of the devil" ; not humility.
That there are "unclean spirits" we know. And certain abnormal phases of depravity may be due possibly, even in our own day, to demoniacal possession; but this is wholly distinct from Satanic temptations. And demons even are not all "unclean." The warned-against "teachings of demons" in "later times" are not incitements to vice, but to a more exacting morality and a spirituality more transcendental than even Christianity enjoins. Marriage itself is repulsive to this fastidious cult, and certain kinds of food, "which God created to be received with thanksgiving," it absolutely rejects.' The flagrant immoralities of some of the Corinthian converts drew from the apostle no suggestion of Satanic agency, save indeed as a possible means towards the restoration of those who had sinned. The warning, "Lest Satan should get an advantage of us," was given when their zeal to clear themselves betrayed them into resentment against the offenders. And it was the advent of false teachers "preaching another Jesus" which evoked the further warning against the Serpent's "subtilty," lest their minds should be "corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." So again, when persecution prevailed in the Thessalonian church, he was solicitous "to know their faith," fearing "lest the Tempter should tempt them," and their confidence in God should fail.
There is one passage of Scripture which some seem to think refutes what has been here maintained. As a matter of fact it may be appealed to in support of it. The following are the opening words of the second chapter of Ephesians :-.-
"And you did He quicken, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein aforetime ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest" (Eph. ii. 1-3, R.V.).
Those who read this passage in the light of the Satan myth entirely lose its special teaching. The life of every unregenerate man, whether marked by the grossest vice or by high morality, by utter atheism or by intense religious zeal, is "according to the spirit that worketh in the sons of disobedience." The life of Saul the persecutor had been as pure and blameless as was the life of Paul the apostle of the Lord. And yet he here brackets himself with the Ephesian converts. Hence the emphatic "all" of the third verse. All alike had walked "according to the prince of the power of the air," and therefore "according to the course of this world," for Satan is this world's prince and god.' So far from implying that their "trespasses and sins" had been due to supernatural incitement, the apostle expressly declares they had been altogether natural and human. The Gentile sensualists were but "doing the desires of the flesh"; the Jewish zealot "the desires of the mind." For the terms immorality and sin are not convertible. The one refers to an arbitrary human standard of right; the other to a standard altogether Divine. As already indicated, the essence of sin is lawlessness. Man was endowed by his Creator with a will absolutely free. But, though all blessing depended on his keeping it in subjection, he asserted it in opposition to the Divine will. And as the result "the carnal (or natural) mind is enmity against God; for (as the apostle adds) it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Our fallen nature has thus become subject to its own law of gravitation; and it would be as unreasonable to expect a man to achieve the physical feat of mounting upward towards the sky, as to suppose that, apart from Divine grace, the life of an unregenerate sinner could turn Godward. In the one case as in the other, a miracle alone could account for the phenomenon. And such a miracle both the apostle himself and the Ephesian converts had experienced. Hence the added words :- "But God, being rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, quickened us together with Christ." ' No miracle, indeed, is needed to enable men to lead moral and religious lives. Here the words of Enid's song are true :- "For man is man, and master of his fate."
It is in the spiritual sphere that, by the law of his nature, he ever gravitates downward, and falls away from God.
Finally, I would again remark that the Christian who turns to prophecy with a mind unbiased by traditional views about Satan will find new meaning in the predictions relating to the "latter days." Delegated authority was all the devil claimed in the Temptation, as appears from the very words he used. To him, he declared, had been "delivered" the kingdoms of the world, with all the power and the glory of them. But the power and the glory the Christian has been taught to ascribe to God alone. In his last great effort, therefore, Satan incarnate will claim to be Divine. And the lie, we are told, will be accredited by "all power and signs and lying wonders." God's "millennium" will be anticipated and travestied by the reign of the Man of Sin. And the fact that the devil will yield to him "his throne and great authority"' has led to the assumption that his rule will be marked by Saturnalian orgies of violence and lust. But how, then, can we explain the words of Christ, that the world will hail him as the true Messiah, and that, if such a thing were possible, the very elect would be deceived by the imposture? If read with a right appreciation of the Satan of Scripture, these words of our Divine Lord are a most solemn warning to the believer, even for the days we live in; but read in the false light of the Satan myth, they remain an insoluble enigma.
According to English law "the Lord's day "-as Sunday is designated in the old statutes- is a day on which no judge or magistrate may sit, and no jury may be empanelled. The criminal may be taken red-handed, but all that the law can do is to hold him in ward until the day of grace has run its course, and a competent tribunal may adjudicate upon his crime. If our law went further in the same direction, and the functions of the constable also were suspended, it would afford an apter illustration of the great truth that is here in question. But to make the parable complete, we must go even further still, and suppose not only that the criminal enjoys for the moment freedom even from arrest, but that there is an amnesty in force by which he may secure absolute immunity from all the consequences of his crime.
But to hold such language is to speak in an unknown tongue; and to turn to the words of Scripture in support of it is to risk losing men's attention altogether. The mystery of the gospel is that God can justify a sinner, and yet be just. He justifies the ungodly. "To him that worketh not, but believeth in Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Rom. iv. 5). Here is another kindred statement:
"The grace of God hath appeared salvation-bringing to all men." And the passage proceeds: "For we also were aforetime foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Saviour, and His love-toward-man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to His mercy He saved us" (Tit ii 1-14, and iii. 3-5). Or if any would wish to have words spoken by the lips of our blessed Lord Himself, they will be found in many a passage of the Gospels. Here, for example, is His testimony to Nicodemus: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Are we not justified, then, in saying that forgiveness and eternal life are brought within reach of all; that heaven is made as free to sinful men as infinite love and grace can make it? If words have any meaning, this, and nothing less than this, is the truth. But how is this gospel treated? In the minds of the religious it excites the utmost indignation. They no longer burn men at the stake for proclaiming it, as in darker days they used to do, but though their anger shows itself in gentler ways it is just as real. And upon common men it makes no impression whatever. A man once stood on London Bridge, for a wager, offering real sovereigns for a shilling each. The notice he displayed was plainly worded, and it was read by hundreds of the passers-by. But by all it was read incredulously, and therefore with indifference. He won his wager: not a single coin was taken from him! And for the same reason "the gospel of the grace of God" is ignored. It will be thus ignored by hundreds who will read these pages. Men are possessed by the belief that eternal life can be attained only upon impracticable conditions, and so their attitude towards the whole matter is one of apathy. But apathy gives place to anger if any one dares to speak of eternal judgment and a hell for the impenitent No blasphemy can be too daring to hurl at a God who would not bring a sinner to heaven in the way that a constable brings a drunken prisoner to the lock-up without his will, or, if needs be, against his will!
But man, made in the image of God, is endowed with a will, and to that will the Divine appeal is addressed. "Ye will not come to Me that ye might have life" was the Lord's yearning intreaty to those who listened to His words, but refused to give heed to them. "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." God's own heaven is the home to which He is calling sinful men. Hell has been prepared, not for such, but for the devil and his angels. But if men refuse Christ and take sides with Satan, they must reap what they sow.
"Of what value, then, is prayer?" some one will ask, and "What place is there for it?" It is with extreme diffidence that I venture to give expression to thoughts on this subject which have long taken possession of my own mind. And I do so only because it may possibly bring relief to many who are sorely distressed at the seeming failure of the prayer -promises of the Gospels. Words could not be plainer than those in which our Lord impressed on His disciples that Almighty power was absolutely at their disposal, if only they had faith. When they wondered that the fig-tree withered at His word, He told them that they too could command this, or even the moving of a mountain. And He added," And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" (Matt. xxL 20-22). How many there are who in intensest earnestness have claimed such promises, and have reaped bitter disappointment which has staggered their faith! It is easy of course to explain the failure by reading into the promise conditions of one kind or another, though the Lord Himself made no conditions whatever. But instead of tampering thus with His words, let us consider whether the true solution of the difficulty may not be found in the truth which these pages have endeavoured to unfold.
And here the striking fact claims attention that while the record of the Pentecostal dispensation presents us with the practical counterpart of all such promises, the Epistles, which unfold the doctrine of the present dispensation, and describe the life which befits that doctrine -the life of faith - inculcate thoughts about prayer which are essentially different, and which are entirely In accord with the actual experience of spiritual Christians. Some perhaps may urge that while the earlier Gospels may thus be explained, St. John cannot be treated in this way. I can in reply but plead with the thoughtful reader to consider whether every word addressed to the apostles is intended to apply to all believers at all times. Take John xiv. 12 as a test of this. Is every believer to be endowed with miraculous powers equal to or greater than those exercised by the Lord Himself? We are prepared at once to limit the scope of such words: is it so clear, then, that the words which immediately follow are of universal application? We have the fact, I repeat, that both these promises were proved to be true in the Pentecostal dispensation, and that neither has been proved to be true in the Christian Church.2 So also of chap. xv. 16, and of xvL 23, &c.
But, it will be asked, Is not the promise explicitly repeated in St. John's First Epistle (i John iii. 22 and v. 14, 15)? I think not. It seems to me that the apostles were in a special sense empowered both to act and to pray in the name of the Lord Jesus, whereas the Christian should bow in presence of the words, "according to His will." As Dean Alford here remarks, "If we knew His will thoroughly, and submitted to it heartily, it would be impossible for us to ask anything, for the spirit or for the body, which He should not hear and perform. And it is this ideal state, as always, which the apostle has in view." But the Christian too commonly makes his own longings, or his supposed interests, and not the Divine will, the basis of his prayer; he goes on to persuade himself that his request will be granted; he then regards this "faith" as a pledge that he has been heard; and finally, when the issue belies his confident hopes, he gives way to bitterness and unbelief. True faith is always prepared for a refusal. Some, we read, "through faith," "obtained promises"; but, no less "through faith," "others were tortured, not accepting deliverance."
Some, perhaps, may think it a sufficient refutation of all this to appeal to what are called "striking answers to prayer," such as certain Christians have experienced in every age. But the appeal refutes itself. They are justly regarded as "striking answers" precisely because they are exceptional. No one may dare to limit what God will do for the believer. But to make the experience of some the standard of faith for all is one of the greatest errors and snares of Christian life. If these promises are of universal application, the fact that any answer to prayer should be considered striking in any sense is proof of general apostasy.
A detailed examination of the passages in the Epistles which refer to this subject would far exceed the limits of a note. One more may suffice. I allude to the familiar words of Phil. iv. 6, 7: "In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus" (R.V.). It is a solemn thing to make unconditioned demands upon God. To the record of such prayers may often be added the solemn words: "He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul." Hezekiah prayed in this way. He claimed a prolongation of his life, and God granted his petition; and the added years gave him his son Manasseh, and the consequences of Manasseh's sin (that God "would not pardon ") still rest as a blight and a curse upon that nation! Such a prayer, I make bold to say, is unfitting to the Christian. How different the teaching of the Divine Spirit! It may be the life of husband or wife, of parent or child, that is in the balance: what then shall be the believer's attitude? To claim it, as Hezekiah did, and chance the awful risks which the answer may entail? Or "by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving," to leave the request with God; and having thus left it all with Him, to trust His love and wisdom with the issue? It was thus the apostle prayed, when he sought relief from that mysterious hindrance to his ministry; and the denial of his request, instead of bringing bitterness of soul, only served to teach him more of "the power of Christ" (2 Cor. xii. 8, 9). Above all it was thus the Master prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt. xxvi. 39, 42).
The prayer of the Pentecostal age was like drawing cheques to be paid in coin over the counter. The prayer of the Christian dispensation -that is, of the life of faith -is to make known our requests to God, and to be at peace. If the matter were one within the power of a friend to deal with a friend whose wisdom we could trust and of whose love we were assured -should we not be content to say, after telling him all, "Now you know my feelings and my wishes, and I leave the case entirely in your hands." And this is just what God invites.
The sceptic seldom admits that any position once held by him is untenable, and a signal exception to this is deserving of special notice. Not content with making havoc of the Old Testament, criticism has long been "running amuck" through the New Testament also. "It has been demonstrated" (says a recent writer) "that the selection of the books composing it and their separation from the vast mass of spurious gospels, epistles, and apocalyptic literature was a gradual process, and, indeed, that the rejection of some books and the acceptance of others was accidental."' But all this is now exploded by the greatest living authority upon the subject, Professor Harnack of Berlin. And his testimony is all the more telling because he gives no sign of repentance as regards his utter rejection of Christianity. Himself the foremost champion of unorthodoxy, he freely owns that in this matter the critics are wrong and the orthodox are right. Here is an extract from the preface to his recent work on "The Chronology of the oldest Christian Literature" Mr. Andrew D. White's "Warfare of Science with Theology," vol. ii. p. 388. This writer's appointment to the American Embassy at Berlin will no doubt call increased attention to his book. Real forensic skill is apparent in the use he makes of his great erudition; for, allowing for one important omission, his work is quite encyclopedic. His indictment of "theology" is overwhelming, and with much of it I am of course in thorough sympathy. But of Christianity, so far as appears from his treatise, he knows absolutely nothing. To him our Divine Lord is merely "the Blessed Founder" of the Christian religion -the Buddha of Christentiom. Indeed he belongs to that large class of persons who, without offence, may be aptly described as Christianised Buddhists.
"There was a time-the general public indeed has not got beyond it-in which the oldest Christian literature, including the New Testament, was looked upon as a tissue of deceptions and forgeries. That time is passed. For science it was an episode in which it learned much, and after which it has much to forget. The results, however, of the following investigations go in a 'reactionary' direction, beyond what can be described as the middle position of present-day criticism. The oldest Literature of the Church in all main points and in most details, from the point of view of literary criticism, is genuine and trustworthy. In the whole New Testament there is in all probability only a single writing which can be looked upon as pseudonymous in the strictest sense of the word- the Second Epistle of Peter."
This is but one of many proofs that the tide has turned which in recent years has threatened to undermine the Christian faith. In the scepticism of the day there is nothing distinctive save that so many of its champions are men who are publicly pledged and subsidised to teach what they deny. It is only the unstable and the ignorant who are overwhelmed by a book like that above cited. Neither the well-instructed nor the spiritual can be thus led to reject the Bible as a fraud and Christianity as a superstition. They can understand the difference between a Divine revelation and human comments and commentaries. To take a single example -they do not regard the Ussher-Lloyd Chronology in the margin of our English Bible as "equally inspired with the sacred text itself."' And while refusing to accept open-mouthed the wild conjectures of certain Egyptologists as to the antiquity of ancient dynasties, they recognise that the "conjectural periods" between the Deluge and the Kingdom must be largely extended. If we eliminate the blunders of theologians and "reconcilers" on the one hand and the theories (as distinguished from the facts) of science on the other, a ponderous treatise like Mr. A. D. White's would be reduced to very small proportions. The whole "Mosaic Cosmogony" controversy is ruled out at once, and many questions which seem of serious moment shrink into the background or entirely disappear. Moreover, there is in Holy Scripture a "hidden harmony" unknown to those who ignore the scheme of type and prophecy which permeates the whole. This study is a sure antidote to scepticism. No student of prophecy is a sceptic. And as regards the typology of Scripture, which is the alphabet of the language in which the New Testament is written, there is not one of the rationalists who has given proof of possessing any knowledge whatever. Ignorance of the alphabet is a fatal defect in those who claim to expound the text; and this ignorance, which Hengstenberg deplored in his day, is still absolute in the case of all without exception who are seeking to prove that the Bible is but a human book "Truth brings out the hidden harmony, when unbelief can only, with a dull dogmatism, deny"

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