SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
THE SILENCE OF GOD
THE devil of Christendom is a myth. Just as human fancy,
working on a basis of fact and truth, has impersonated an object for its
worship, so by a like process it has created a scapegoat to account for the
crimes and vices of humanity. A mythical Jesus is the Buddha of Christendom; a
mythical Satan is its bogey. In the one case as in the other a gulf separates
the myth from the reality.
The Satan of Christian mythology is a monster of wickedness, the instigator to every crime of exceptional brutality or loathsome lust. The Satan of Scripture is the awful being who dared to offer his patronage to our Divine Lord. When a man is led into evil courses "he is drawn away by his own lust." The human heart, our Lord Himself declares, is the vile spring from which immoralities and crimes proceed. Using the word "immoral" in its narrow, popular sense, there is no basis for the belief that Satan ever provokes to an immoral act. Indeed, if we leave out of account his incitements aimed against Christ personally, the solitary instance of Ananias and Sapphira alone affords a pretext for asserting that he ever tempted any one to do anything which human judgment would condemn.
This statement may seem startling, but it is true, and its truth can be established. Of the unseen world we know absolutely nothing beyond what Scripture reveals: to the Scriptures, therefore, we must turn. And here the Old Testament is eloquent by reason of its silence. If the popular belief were well founded, is it possible that from Genesis to Malachi not a word could be found in support of it? In three passages only is Satan mentioned. The first describes the fall of man, and there the entire aim of the tempter was to alienate the creature from God In the role of philanthropist he appeared to our first parents, and sowed in their hearts the seeds of distrust. The next passage describes his assaults on Job, and here again his only aim was to lead the patriarch to doubt the Divine goodness. And the third narrates that mysterious incident in which he sought to hinder the high priest Joshua in the discharge of his sacred office.
When we turn to the New Testament we must avoid the popular error of confounding Satan with the angels that "kept their own principality, but left their own habitation." These are in bonds, awaiting "the judgment of the great day." They have no part in the course of human affairs. Demons, again, are beings of a wholly different order. It is assumed that they are subordinate to the devil, and as some of them are expressly called "unclean spirits," uncleanness is attributed to Satan. But the assumption is based in part upon Jewish beliefs, and, even if a true one, the inference is forced. A ruler may have vicious subjects and yet not himself be vicious?
But are not sins described as "the works of the devil"? And what of the words," He that doeth sin is of the devil "? Will the objector consider the definition of sin to which this refers - one of the only definitions in the Bible? "Sin is lawlessness."
(In Matt. xli. 2427, our Lord neither adopted nor rejected the Jewish belief. How grotesque is the suggestion that at such a time He should have discoursed to them on demonology? Passing the subject by, He turned their taunt back upon themselves by the words, "If I by Beeleebub cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out?" Unless the phenomena described by spiritualists may be explained by delusions or fraud, they must be attributed to demons; and there seems strong reason to believe that some men are possessed by "unclean" demons.)
The possession of an independent will is mans proud but perilous boast. His duty and safety and happiness alike demand that this will shall be subordinated to the will of God, and all revolt against the Divine will is sin. Lawlessness is its essence; the element of immorality is entirely accidental. And this explains the apostolic comment upon the precept "Be angry and sin not." Anger may in itself be right But if cherished it is apt to degenerate into vindictiveness; and thus what in its inception may betoken fellowship with God - for "God is angry every day " - may lead to thoughts and even acts which are only evil. Therefore the apostle adds, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath, neither give occasion to the devil" The Satan myth leads men to read this as though it were no more than a warning against homicidal violence. But the closing passage of this same Epistle gives proof that the apostles theology of Satanic temptations relates to a far different sphere. The normal conflict of the Christian life begins where the struggle with "flesh and blood" has ceased. It is in the spiritual sphere, and not in the domain of morals, that the panoply of God is needed. The Pharisee or the Buddhist can boast as high a standard of morality as the Christian. Their motives may be lower, but the outward results are the same. When some man of repute is betrayed into acts of shame, the devil would be held accountable for his fall in any ecclesiastical court. But not at the Old Bailey, where prejudice avails nothing, and proof must be full and clear. No one may assert that Satan might not stoop to such means to attain his ends, but we may aver that no "previous conviction" is recorded to his prejudice.
"But," the objector will indignantly demand, "did not our Lord Himself denounce him as a liar and a murderer?" Yes truly, such were His words to the Pharisees who were plotting His death. But what is their significance? Let us consider them with open minds, for the Satan myth has so obscured their meaning that the commentaries will not help us. To the Jews vain boast of their descent from Abraham, the Lord replied that the patriarchs children would walk in their fathers ways; but as for them, they sought to kill Him because He had spoken to them God given truth. They then fell back upon that figment of the apostate, the fatherhood of God, thus bringing on themselves the scathing words, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning and has not stood in the truth because truth is not in him. When he speaketh THE lie he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar and the father of IT." These, remember, are not words of vulgar invective. They are the words of Christ Himself to men of character and repute, honourable and earnest men who, under their responsibilities as the religious leaders of the people, deplored His teaching as pestilent and profane. Such language addressed by such lips to such men is awful in its solemnity; but what does it mean? The devil was "a murderer from the beginning." The beginning of what? Not of his own existence, surely, for he was created in perfection and beauty. Nor yet of the Eden paradise, for Satan had dragged down others in his ruin long before our earth became the home of man. His being a murderer connects itself immediately with THE truth which he has refused and THE lie of which he is the father. As we listen to these solemn and mysterious words of our Divine Lord we are accorded a glimpse into a past eternity when the great mystery of God was first made known to "principalities and powers," the great intelligences of the heavenly world. Greatest of them all was the being whom now we know as Satan, and the promulgation of the purpose of the ages disclosed to him the fact that a First-born was yet to be revealed who was "in all things to have the pre-eminence."
Science has poured contempt upon the old belief that man is the centre of the universe. And yet the old belief was right. But He who claims this transcendent dignity is not the man of Eden- " vain insect of an hour "- but the Man who is "the Lord from Heaven." (This is probably the explanation of the "coincidences" between Christianity and some of the old religions of the world. I do not allude to Buddhism, for its seeming "coincidences" admit of a much more prosaic explanation (see, e.g., Professor Kelloggs work referred to at p. 68 ante, note) but to the cult of Tammuz and ancient Babylon. Scripture warns us that in the future Satan will travesty the Divine mysteries ; is it strange if he has done so in the past?) And He it is who is the object of the devils hate. In compassing the fall of Adam he may perchance have imagined that he was the promised first-born. But it was not till the Temptation of Christ Himself that Satan and his lie were at last revealed. Not one person in a thousand of those who read the record of it attempts to realise its significance. How could the Satan of Christendom dare to stand before the Lord of Glory! And how could the suggestions of such a loathsome monster be anything but hateful and repulsive? Suppose the biographer of some noble-minded and holy woman sought to emphasise the purity of her mind and the steadfastness of her character by recording that she was once closeted with a man well known to her as a coarse and shameless libertine, and yet passed through the ordeal unscathed! No less preposterous does the narrative of the temptation appear if we read it in the false light of the Satan myth.
The Satan of Scripture is a being who claimed to meet our Lord on more than equal terms. Having "led Him up" and given Him that mysterious vision of earthly sovereignty, "the devil said unto Him," we read, "To Thee will I give all this authority and the glory of them; for it hath been delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship before me it shall all be thine."
Is this no more than the raving of irresponsible madness or impious profanity? It is the bold assertion of a disputed right. Satan claims to be the First-born, the rightful heir of creation, the true Messiah, and as such he claims the worship of mankind. Men dream of a devil, horned and hoofed - a hideous and obscene monster - who haunts the squalid slums and gilded vice-dens of our cities, and tempts the depraved to acts of atrocity or shame. But, according to Holy Writ, he "fashions himself into an angel of light," and "his ministers fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness." Do "ministers of righteousness" corrupt mens morals or incite them to commit outrages? And this prepares the way for the further statement that it is the religion of the world that he controls, and not its vices and its crimes. "The god of this world" is his awful title - a title Divinely conceded to the Evil One, not because the Supreme has delegated His sovereignty, but because the world accords him its homage. It is in the sphere of religion, then, that the influence of the Tempter is to be sought - not in the records of our criminal courts, not in the pages of obscene novels, but in the teaching of false theologies.
The lie of which he is the father is the denial of the Christ of God, the Christ of Calvary, the only mediator between God and men, the propitiation for the worlds sins - the "mercy-seat" where an outcast sinner can meet a holy God and find pardon and peace. But "the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them." Hence it is that men turn to the Church, to religion, to morality, to "the Sermon on the Mount "- making the Lord Himself minister to their self-righteousness and pride - in a word, to anything and everything rather than to the Cross of Christ. What led to the discovery of the planet Neptune was the apparent disturbance from some unknown cause in the movements of other planets. And have we not reason to search for a "Neptune" in the spiritual sphere? Is it not clear that there is some sinister influence in operation here? How else can it be explained that in the full light of our advanced civilisation, even persons of the highest intelligence and culture are gulled by the tricks and superstitions which form the stock-in-trade of priestcraft?
But "the lie" has other phases. The mind of the Tempter is disclosed no less in some of our most popular books of piety. Eternal judgment and a hell for the impenitent, redemption by blood, and the need of salvation through the death of the great Sin-bearer - these and kindred doctrines are rejected as survivals of a dark and credulous age: it is for man to work out his own destiny, and to raise himself to the Divine ideal. And all this is prefaced and made plausible by boldly insinuating that plain words Divinely spoken are either misunderstood or spurious. A new gospel some men call this: it is the oldest gospel known. In every point it reminds us of the old, old words: "Hath God said?" "Ye shall not surely die:" "Ye shall be as gods knowing good and evil" The "Jesus" of this theology bears a sinister resemblance to the great philanthropist of Eden! In the name of that "other Jesus" the Christ of God would be again rejected if He returned to earth to-day.
During His ministry on earth the Lords acts and words to the fallen and depraved led to His being branded as the friend of the dishonest and the immoral. And why? This question is best answered by another: Did He not come to seek and to save the lost? How then could He save them from His presence? A strange Saviour such would be! Sin He could not tolerate, but for sinners His love and pity were infinite. And His detractors mistook sympathy with sinners for sympathy with sin. But when men refused to own that they were lost and separated themselves from Him by an impassable barrier of religion and morality, infinite love was powerless. Omnipotence itself was baffled! And He who had wept in silence in presence of human sorrow gave way to unrestrained outbursts of grief as He contemplated their doom. On yet another occasion He exclaimed, "How often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and ye would not." The hand stretched out to save them they thrust from them with obloquy. And what wonder! Men of blameless morality, of the deepest piety, of intense devotion to religion - men looked up to and respected by the people, who acknowledged them as leaders, were told that the degraded and depraved had better hopes of heaven than themselves. His teaching was a public scandal; His mission was an insult to them. And all truth and decency were outraged when He openly called them "children of hell," and told them they had the devil for their father!
When a malignant tumour is eating at the vitals the tenderness of the physician is useless; the surgeons knife must reach the mischief let the risk be what it may. And surely if He who was so gracious, so "meek and lowly in heart," spoke such scathing words as these, it was because no tenderer treatment could avail. It was because their own case was desperate, and their influence was disastrous. And such men must have successors and representatives on earth to-day. Who are they, then? and where? Let the thoughtful reader work out the answer for himself. But let him keep in view the factors of the problem. It was not the "publicans and harlots" who were branded thus as hell-begotten. Alas for human nature, no devil was needed to account for the sins of such! But to the religious Jews it was that these awful words were spoken. And why? Because the Satan cult is to be sought for, not in pagan orgies, but in the acceptance of the Eden gospel, and the pursuit of religious systems, which honour man and dishonour Christ.
EVERYBODY knows the little girl who, having heard her
father complain that his watch needed cleaning, stole away to clean it in a
basin of soap-suds! The story is but a grotesquely exaggerated instance of what
we all suffer from - ignorant zeal, unintelligent desire to please. No one but
a brute would vent his anger on his baby, when, with eyes sparkling and cheeks
flushed at the thought of having done a kind and useful service, she brings him
his ruined watch. But if this were done by one who ought to have known better,
no such restraint would be called for. To this every one will assent; but no
one seems to take account of similar considerations in our relations with the
"The chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy himself for ever." Such is the present-day reading of the first great thesis in the catechism of the Westminster Divines. And to attain this end man wants a religion and a god, just as a prince needs a private chaplain. But a chaplain should know his place, and not intrude where his presence would be embarrassing. And so with God. It is intolerable that He should claim to decide in what way alone we can please Him. In leading moral and religious lives we "render to God the things that are Gods." And we must not forget what is due to ourselves. But "the chief end of man is to glorify GOD." This is what the Westminster Divines really wrote; but that was long ago, and the Westminster Divines were ignorant, and knew nothing of"the gospel of humanity"!
("The Scotch Catechism" It is commony called, as though Westminster were somewhere north of the Tweed This catechism was compiled by pious and learned "Dons" of Cambridge University, and adopted by "an assembly of learned and godly divines" convened in Westminster Abbey. )
In a word, God claims our homage, and we offer Him our patronage. He claims the undivided devotion of our life, and we offer Him religion and morality. But God does not want our patronage; neither does He want either our morality or our religion. "Monstrous!" the reader will exclaim, preparing to throw down the volume. "Is it a matter of indifference whether we are moral and religious, or not?" By no means a matter of indifference as regards ourselves: not even as to our life on earth, to say nothing of the judgment to come. But of supreme indifference to God. The man who struts about, inflated by the conceit begotten of humanity gospels, is like the Jew who supposed he was doing the Most High a benefit when he piled "the fat of fed beasts" upon His altar - the altar of the "God who made the world and all things that are therein."
Strange though it may seem, God has a purpose and a will; and He is so unreasonable as to require the recognition of that purpose, and compliance with that will. But these are matters of revelation; and, therefore, here once again the ways divide. Human religion in every phase of it is of interest to men, and books about it will be read, noticed, and discussed. But Christianity is a Divine revelation, and, therefore, to use a popular vulgarism, it is "boycotted." But in the great truths of Christianity, now so little known, is to be found the only true philosophy, the only true solution of the deeper problems of life, which so perplex and grieve us.
Gods judgments are righteous. And the principles which govern them are clearly stated: He "will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life." Who will question the equity of this? The story is told of Bishop Wilberforce, that a Hampshire railway porter, a hedge theologian of local fame, tried to pose him with the question, "What is the way to heaven?" "The way to heaven?" said the bishop, as the train in which he was seated moved out of the station - "turn to the right, and keep straight on!" But what is the right? This is the vital question. And this every man claims to settle for himself. Whatever reason and conscience declare to be right is right - this is a maxim almost universally accepted. And in the absence of a revelation, it is, within certain limits, practically true. But when the Supreme makes known His will, compliance with that will becomes the test of well-doing.
In the Mosaic economy, religion and morality had prominence. And in the cult of Christendom, which, in one aspect of it, is but a corrupted form of Judaism, disguised by Christian phraseology, religion and morality are everything. But the era of religion and morality is past. These were like guides which were followed in the darkness till the goal was reached to which they led. The Mosaic economy was a state of tutelage which ended with the coming of Christ. To set up morality and religion now is to bring ourselves within the denunciation of the words which follow in the passage quoted: "But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath." Hence the Lords reply to the question, "What shall we do that we might work the works of God ? "This," He replied, "is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." "Then a man may be as immoral as he likes, provided only he believes, as you call it." Such is the rejoinder of the contentious. Such was the criticism of those who heard His words. Reason told them it was wrong; and clinging to their morality and religion, instead of believing in "the Sent One," they crucified Him.
To set up an altar "to an unknown God" is the highest possible attainment of natural religion. But as St. Paul said at Athens, even the light of nature should teach men that God does not want our service or our patronage "as though He needed anything." He wished men to seek Him, even though they had need to grope for Him blindly and in darkness - "to feel after Him and find Him." And He could give them blessing in spite of ignorance, for "He is a rewarder of diligent seekers." If they but "turned to the right and kept straight on," He could, as St. Paul declared, overlook the ignorance. "But now," he goes on to say, "He commandeth all men everywhere to repent." And the change depends on this, that God has revealed Himself in Christ, and therefore ignorance of His will is sin that shuts men up to judgment. A new era has dawned upon the world. "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." The darkness is past, the true light is shining. To turn now to conscience or to law - to religion and morality - is to act like men who, with the sun in the zenith, keep shutters barred and curtains drawn. The principle on which God deals with men is the same, but the measure of mans responsibility is entirely changed. Such was the great truth so plainly stated by our Divine Lord in His words to Nicodemus. This, He declared, was the condemnation, not that mens deeds were evil - though for these there shall be wrath in the day of wrath - but that, because their deeds were evil, they had brought upon themselves a still direr doom: light had come into the world, but they turned from it and loved the darkness. Men cannot and will not believe that the great controversy between them and God is altogether about Christ. To most men, indeed, the very statement seems to savour of mysticism. The death of Christ is one of the commonplaces of the philosophy, as well as of the theology, of Christendom. Men boast of it as the highest tribute to human worth. But Gods estimate of it is vastly different. "The Son of God has died by the hands of men! This astounding fact is the moral centre of all things. A bygone eternity knew no other future; an eternity to come shall know no other past. That death was the worlds crisis. For long ages, despite conscience outraged, the light of nature quenched, law broken, promises despised, and prophets cast out and slain, the world had been on terms with God. But now a tremendous change ensued. Once for all the world had taken sides. In the midst stood that cross in its lonely majesty: God on one side with averted face; on the other Satan, exulting in his triumph. And the world took sides with Satan."
And in presence of that cross God calls upon every one to whom the record comes to declare himself on the one side or the other. But men struggle to evade the issue. Many, of course, ignore it altogether in a selfish or a vicious life; but not a few attempt a compromise by turning to religion. But so far as this supreme question is concerned the result is the same for all. What the end will be of those who never heard of Christ we know not. But there is neither reserve nor mystery in Scripture as to what the portion will be of those who "obey the gospel" and of those who reject it. Upon that choice depends the eternal destiny of each. Hence the virulence with which the Bible is attacked; for if Christ be beyond our reach our responsibility is at an end. Some there are indeed who affect personal devotion to Himself though they disparage or despise the Scriptures. But every thoughtful person recognises that it is only through the record that we can reach the person, that it is only through the written Word that we can reach the Living Word. Hence His declaration: "He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not My words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" The consequences, then, of accepting or rejecting Christ are eternal. No other question is open.
Morality! In morals, as in physics, the greater includes the less, and the gospel teaches a higher morality than conscience and law combined. But in this Christian dispensation God is not imputing their sins to men. Were it otherwise the silence of Heaven would give place to the thunders of His judgments. Every question of judgment was either settled for ever at the Cross, or has been postponed to the day that is still to come: God "knows how" "to reserve the unjust to the day of judgment to be punished," and the day of judgment is not yet. A red-letter day it must have seemed to the village community of Nazareth when the great Rabbi who had grown to manhood in their midst reappeared in their synagogue, and stood up to read the Sabbath lesson from the Prophets. Opening the roll delivered to Him, He found the passage beginning, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord - " and abruptly closing the book, He handed it back to the attendant and sat down. Having stood forward to read the lesson for the day, He stopped in the middle of the opening sentence. What wonder that all eyes were fastened on Him! "This day," He broke the silence by declaring, "is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears."
"And the day of vengeance of our God" were the words that followed without a break on the open page before Him; but He left those words unread. "The acceptable year of the Lord" He then and there proclaimed, and it still runs its course, but the great day of judgment is even now still future. Not that the moral government of the world is in abeyance. Even here and now men reap what they sow. Righteousness prospers and iniquity brings its own penalty. Not always indeed, nor openly; but generally, and with sufficient definiteness to make it clear that this is the rule - the ordinary course of things. And further, in the Divine economy provision is made for human government; and the sword is entrusted to men that rulers may be a terror to the evildoer and a protection to the good. Were it otherwise society would be impossible. But while men are thus empowered to punish offences against human laws, the judgment of sin is altogether with God. And here we recall another declaration of our Divine Lord. "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son."
"We believe that Thou shalt come to be our judge" is upon the lips of thousands who in their hearts imagine that He will mediate in the judgment between them and an offended God. But it is to the crucified One Himself that in virtue of the Cross the Divine prerogative of judgment has been assigned. And He, the sinners only Judge, is now the sinners Saviour. Purification for sins accomplished, He has "sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." The official attitude of Christ, if such a phrase may be allowed, is one of rest. The work of redemption is complete. The great amnesty has been proclaimed. Heaven is thrown open to the lost of earth. Eternal life is brought within the reach of the weakest and the worst of men. God is not imputing trespasses, but preaching peace. And the only Being in the universe who has power to punish sin is now seated on the throne of God as Saviour, and His presence there has changed that throne into a throne of grace. Grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life; for "the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." "How monstrous all this is! The idea of supposing that people who have consistently lived religious lives are to be shut out of heaven, while the worthless and depraved can obtain forgiveness and acceptance simply by believing in Christ!" Such will be the criticism these statements will generally evoke. Monstrous it may seem; but before men hold it up to censure or ridicule let them pause and reflect what it is that they are thus rejecting. "To Him bear all the prophets witness that through His name every one that believeth on Him shall receive remission of sins." Nor is it a dogma of "Pauline doctrine," but the teaching of one of the simplest parables of Christ, that waifs and tramps from the highways and the slums sit down in the Kingdom of God, while the once invited guests - the moral and religious - are excluded. And the parable is explained by the doctrine that His Divine mission was "not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
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