Christendom Astray
by Bro. Robert Roberts

The Devil Not A Personal Super-Natural Being, But The Scriptural Personification of Sin In Its Manifestations Among Men, continued

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. 8v 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. 4v 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. 4v 22), or, at least, keeps him under, lest the new man become a castaway (1 Cor. 9v 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 8v 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 darling 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. 3v 11; II Tim. 3v 3; Titus 2v 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 6v 70). Judas proved a liar, a betrayer, a false accuser, and, therefore, a devil. Paul, in I Tim. 3v 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.3v 2, 3 "For men shall be... without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers (diaboloi)"; and to Titus 2v 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. 2v 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. 2v 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. 2v 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. 32v 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 3v 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. 9v 26).

"Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (I Cor. 15v 3).

"He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities" (Isa. 53v 5).

"His own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree" (1 Pet. 2v 24).

"He was manifested to take away OUR SINS" (I John 3v 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. 8v 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. 5v 12)

"By man CAME DEATH (I Cor. 15v 21).

"The wages of sin is DEATH" (Rom. 6v 23). "SIN hath reigned unto death" (Rom. 5v 21). "SIN... bringeth forth death" (James 1v 15). "The sting of death is SIN" (I Cor. 15v 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 1v 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 2v 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 6v 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. 5v 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. 6v 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. 8v 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 3v 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 15v 19).

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