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Satan, while they denounce as childish the declarations of others concerning him, who have felt within themselves that mighty conflict—the overcoming of the strong man, taking away the armour wherein he trusted and dividing the spoils, what does it prove but the necessity for increased earnestness on our part, in declaring the reality of what Satan, for his own sake, would represent as a fiction ? So long as the natural man remains ignorant or incredulous of the fact that he is himself a palace of Satan, he will not throw open the door of his heart to the Deliverer who stands and knocks at it: so long as the believer can be induced to forget the strong testimony of God to the enemy's restless designs and efforts, he will leave the door so unguarded as to endanger the re-entrance of its former master, to the clean-swept and garnished habitation. Surely, then, it is a point of great moment with the enemy to lull our minds, and banish as far as he can our salutary dread of him; and hence what some, smarting from the bitter conflict, have recorded for the warning and encouragement of others, is stigmatized as weakness or insanity. Assuredly he who dared to face, to taunt, and to tempt the Lord Jehovah himself, deserves a higher rank than that assigned to him by such deceived commentators—the rank of a nursery hobgoblin !
Another very important fact bears upon the same point: Satan has no compulsory power over man. Let him do his utmost, he cannot compel any human being to transgress; he can only suggest, stimulate, provide occasion, and work in the children of disobedience to
accomplish their own ruin. If we were helpless machines it would be different; but an act of volition on our part is necessary to constitute actual sin against God. Eve thought to cast the whole burden of guilt from herself upon the serpent; and if he had forced the fruit down her throat, contrary to her will, no doubt she would have stood guiltless; but she was a consenting party, and so are we in every advantage that the devil obtains over us. Even the heathen Gentiles who never heard of a divine revelation, have a law written in their hearts; a conscience accusing or else excusing them; (Rom. ii. 15;) and among us who is there able to plead actual compulsion or anything beyond a temptation so strong perhaps as to appear irresistible, because he did not at the moment lay hold of the promise annexed to a precept that none ever fol. lowed in vain. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James iv. 7. It is our resistance that Satan dreads; he knows we can put him to flight if we detect and face him : therefore his step is noiseless, his movement stealthy, and his battery masked.
It is evident that our Lord's incarnation shook the kingdom of Satan upon earth in a peculiar manner; but without leaving the direct testimony of Scripture, and hazarding conjectures where the least error may lead to very dangerous results, we cannot say much on that subject. This we know, that the evil spirits expressed great terror at his approach, deprecating his interference, and crying out against the exercise of a power which they with one voice acknowledged. The seventy disciples, also, having been sent forth, returned
again with joy, saying, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” Luke x. 17–20. This certainly implies a great blow inflicted on the visible kingdom of Satan among men; but that its extent was limited by the area to which the Gospel spread, seems also clear, from the case of the seven sons of Sceva, (Acts xix. 13–16,) who took upon themselves like some others, to exercise in the name of the Lord in whom they did not themselves believe. “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.” To which the unclean spirit replied, “ Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are
? ?” and instead of obeying the unauthorized command to come out of the man, he gave him strength to leap upon and overcome all the seven pretenders, so that they fled from the house, naked and wounded. But though we cannot define either the precise nature or extent of the curb laid down upon the enemy by the first advent of our Lord, it is certain that a great change took place shortly after in the manifestation of Satanic influences, which assumed more of a spiritual and less of a physical character, so that cases of obvi. ous possession and witchcraft became less frequent, gradually disappearing before the advancing light of the Gospel. In our day they have apparently ceased,
and with them, in a great measure, the belief in their having ever existed, while doubts that give the direct lie to the inspired Scriptures are started, listened to and canvassed with a grievous insensibility of the gross insult thus put upon the divine Author of that Book. Satan knows better than we do the extent of our power over him: the weakest believer is more tha
a match for him and all his angels, and would be able to prove it if brought to the test in the sight of men : therefore Satan lurks in ambush, forbearing to show himself openly as of old, lest he should draw forth the dormant . energy of the Christian, inducing him to unsheath the sword that has slumbered in the scabbard until its mas. ter forgets that he holds such a weapon.
The enemy indeed seems to be preparing for his last campaign against the church, by inducing such an oblivion of his history and features, that when he advances again she will not recognise him as the old serpent; while among the ungodly he prevails to have his existence so utterly disbelieved, and his name converted into a jest, that he may work in them to any extent. They will obey his worst impulses as the dictates of their own wisdom, and exhibit as honourable trophies of liberty and independence, the heaviest fetters that he can rivet on their enslaved minds.
We may then safely assert that a limit exists, beyond which the power of Satan and his crew cannot pass; and that it is known to us where that limit lies. Our blessed Lord disclosed it, when he said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed
for thee, that thy faith fail not.” Luke xxii. 31, 32. It is our faith that effectually baffles his strongest efforts, as St. Paul declares, “ Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Eph. vi. 16. And in a case of possession, where Jesus cast out a devil which his disciples had vainly tried to expel, when the latter asked the Lord, “ Why could we not cast him out ?'' he answered, “ Because of your unbelief.” Matt. xvii. 19, 20. It is evident that man, being himself the lawful captive of Satan, and naturally inclined to follow his suggestions and to do his bidding, has nothing in himself calculated to oppose any effectual resistance to his power; and it is only as Christ, the conqueror of Satan dwells in him by faith, influencing his desires, and strengthening him with strength in his soul, that many may venture to face so terrible a foe. All other means of defence are utterly vain : Satan knows no fetter in his actings among men, but that which Christ has thrown upon him; and there is nothing so sure to drive the sinner to seek refuge in his Saviour, or to keep the believer close to him, as the clear compre. hension of this momentous truth, that Satan, “going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it,” meets no restraint but where he meets Christ enthroned in the heart of a ransomed sinner.
These hinderers of Satan's work of destruction, which he, “a murderer from the beginning,” (John viii. 44,) is ever seeking to carry on and extend, are the people of God: they occupy through the reconciled blood of the cross, that position in the divine favour