By Rev. James Petigru Boyce
SUPERIOR spiritual beings have heretofore been referred to, almost as though there are none except those who yet retain their position as sons of God. Only a hint or two has been given which would lead to the knowledge of the existence of others. But the important relations which angels bear to us, and the great power over us which they exercise, render useful the consideration whether evil angels actually exist, and in what position to us they may be supposed to stand.
The belief of evil spirits has been almost universal in the world. The exceptions may indeed be said to be only the few who, in more modern times, have supposed this universal opinion to be simply the result of superstition.
The Jews undoubtedly held this faith. It is not disputed that it is taught in their later books, and that in the time of Christ the belief in such spirits was universal. But it has been denied that such views can be traced prior to the time of the Babylonish Captivity. If by this is simply meant that prior to that time the Jews knew not of the fall of angels formerly pure, it is only equivalent to declaring that they knew not in what manner evil angels had come into existence. But if it is meant, as seems to be the ease, that they did not know of the existence of evil angels, the position may be easily refuted from the Scriptures. That this is the opinion of these objectors is plain from the fact that they suppose the origin of these ideas was the Persian belief of the two principles of good and evil which they had met with in Chaldea. That faith taught indeed the origin of evil in this world, but not among the spiritual intelligences above. Besides, it attributed the existence of evil to an antagonistic principle to the great good, perhaps equally powerful, yet constantly contending, perhaps finally to be vanquished.
The fact that the existence of these beings is taught at all, either in the Old or the New Testament, would be sufficient to make it an article of our faith. Yet, as this charge has been made, it is best to refer to it, and to show from the Scripture proofs that it is untenable. The truth is that with the exception of Zechariah 3:1, 2 (where the high priest Joshua is standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him), there is no passage in all the post-Babylonish Scriptures by which the doctrine of evil angels could be proved, while there are numerous such passages in the earlier books.
In the book of Job, supposed by some to be the oldest, and sometimes even ascribed to Moses, Satan is represented as presenting himself among the sons of God before the LORD. Job 1:6.
This may be said to be a merely dramatic work, yet scarcely can it be denied that the conception of such beings must have existed prior to a dramatic use of them.
In 1 Chron. 21:1, however, Satan is said to have provoked David to number Israel. In Ps. 109:6 the Psalmist says: "Set thou a wicked man over him, and let an adversary (Satan) stand at his right hand." The use of the word "devil" also teaches the existence of evil spirits. In Ps. 106:37 the Israelites are said to have sacrificed their sons and daughters unto devils (demons).
Evil angels are also spoken of by the name of "evil spirits." In Judges 9:28 God is said to have sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem. In 1 Sam. 16:14 the Spirit of the Lord is said to have departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord to have troubled him; in ver. 15 Saul's servants recognize this fact in addressing Saul, and verse 16 propose to send for a skilful player on the harp, through whom he should he made well, and in verse 23 this device is spoken of as successful.
When we turn now to the New Testament, we find the proofs even more abundant. No one questions that this is the apparent language of this part of Scripture, whatever explanations are resorted to for escaping its plain meaning. The passages are not here presented because they will be quoted in connection with other points, and enough of them will then he given to prove this a New Testament doctrine. Including both the singular and plural forms, the word "diabolus" is found in the New Testament about forty times, demon sixty times, Satan twenty-three times, evil spirit eight times, dumb spirit three times, and spirit of divination once.
The commonly received doctrine as to the original state of evil angels, is that they were once pure and holy, such as are now the angels of heaven, though not, as they, confirmed in holiness. This is founded upon the supposition that it is impossible for God to create beings otherwise than free from sin.
The only objection which can be made to this original innocence is suggested in such questions as these: how can a being perfectly holy be led to the commission of sin? how would a being realizing the character and power of the supreme being ever be so unwise as to revolt against it?
But these questions present only metaphysical difficulties which must vanish before actual facts. The existence of such beings is plainly taught; we are told in Scripture that they sinned, 2 Pet. 2:4, and all argument of this kind is merely an argument from our ignorance.
It might be supposed that appeal might he made to the case of Adam; but, while this is true to some extent, this difference must be observed, that there was present with our first parents an evil one to suggest the sin. Yet, even then, the suggestion might have arisen within the mind of either Adam or Eve as the result of desire in any way awakened, which, when fostered, may have become too strong. And, if this be psychologically possible with them, why may it not have been so with Satan and his angels?
It has been because of the difficulties which thus have seemed to perplex this question that on the one hand the very existence of such beings has been questioned; and, on the other, the theory has been advanced that Satan, either as created or uncreated, has always had a sinful nature, and been filled with enmity to God. Both theories are readily dispelled by the fact that the Scriptures speak of their having sinned with manifest allusion to some one particular act of sin.
Despite, however, this plain teaching of Scripture as to the existence of evil spirits, efforts have been made, even by Christian men, to explain away its plain language, and especially that of the New Testament. It has been claimed that all that Christ and his Apostles said upon this subject is to be accounted for upon the principle of accommodation. It is said that they knew the prejudices of the Jews, and that, not wishing upon an unimportant matter to excite these prejudices, they accommodated the language of their teachings to Jewish ideas, and used such words as seemed to imply belief in such beings.
(1.) But the principle here assumed is dangerous. How can we know that Christ taught anything, if we be allowed thus to strip his language of its natural force?
(2.) The object of Christ was not to accommodate himself to prejudices; but to remove them. What instance can be given of such conformity? None can be justly claimed. On the contrary, he said that he came not to send peace, but a sword, and to preach not a gospel of accommodation, but one of contention and exclusiveness. He drove out, with a whip or small cords, those who defiled the temple. He persisted in healing upon the Sabbath day. He inveighed against the traditions of the elders. He attacked the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees who were reputed most holy. Does any of this conduct look like that of one who would have shrunk from declaring the non-existence of Satan? Was not the doctrine of the resurrection as against the Sadducees, and of the salvation of publicans and sinners and the adoption of the Gentiles as against the Pharisees, even more unpalatable than would have been the denial of the existence of evil spirits?
(3.) The idea of mere accommodation to the Jews would not have involved the language upon this point used to his disciples in private. The time of the return of the seventy was peculiarly suitable to remove these prejudices from their minds. They came to Christ saying: "Lord, even the devils are subject unto us in thy name." Luke 10:17. And Christ only teaches more plainly the existence or such beings, declaring that he beheld Satan, as lightning, fall from heaven, at the same time assuring them that even the power to cast out devils was no subject of joy in comparison with the fact that their names were written in heaven.
(4.) A still stronger objection may be drawn from the circumstances of the temptation. There the devil is said to have tempted Christ. In cases of human temptation, it may be said that it is the principle of evil in the heart that moves the man to do wrong, and that thus he is tempted. But what principle like this was there in Christ? Upon what ground can he be said to have been tempted except by the personal solicitation of the evil one?
Another question of interest has been as to the cause of the sin of angels. Some, because of a misconception of the meaning of Gen. 6:2, have attributed it to lust. But this is not only contrary to the nature of angels, but also places the fall of man before that of the devil. Some have held that it consisted in the temptation of man. But he who tempted with evil intent and falsehood must himself have sinned beforehand. Besides, this tempter was one only, and the evil angels are many. Others think that it was envy of angels superior to them. This was the idea of the Jews, who, holding the theory of guardian angels over nations, supposed that some of them aspired to higher positions than were allotted to them. But the more common opinion is that it was a sin of pride. The apostle says of a bishop, that he must not be "a novice, lest being puffed up, he fall into the condemnation of the devil." 1 Tim. 3:6. From this it appears probable that pride was the sin of Satan, and that for this he was condemned. See Kitto's Cyc., Art. Satan. Dick's Theology, vol. 1, p. 377. Knapp, p. 218.
Their relation to each other in this sin has been still further a subject of inquiry. In the fall of man we recognize both a natural and federal head. Through these we see that all have been made sinners. But did the angels have a federal head, or did they sin individually each one for himself? There is a difficulty in either hypothesis. On the one hand, how could a federal head, when he had sinned, infuse, by that sin, an unholy nature into those whom he represented; on the other hand, as we recognize the first beginnings of sin to be in the desire, how could so many simultaneously have revolted against God?
In favour of the federal theory, may be stated the fact of the headship of one over the others, and the nature of the sin, pride, which may have arisen from the occupancy of a position of such power. Yet these do not necessarily imply it. Supreme position may have existed without federal relation.
In favour of the other theory may be adduced (1.) the co-existence at that time of all those angels that sinned; this was not true of all mankind, and is a reason why they needed to act differently. (2.) The immediate intercourse, because of their nature, which all others as well as their head may have had with God, to know his will and to perform it. In man this existed only in Eve, and may account for her personal sin before that of her representative. (3.) The greater lack of excuse that would exist in a fall as the result of individual probation. (4.) The fact that no provision of salvation has been made for them, either in the representative Saviour of man or in one for angels.
The main difficulty in the way of this theory may be removed by the natural supposition, that all the angels, or a portion of them to which all of these belonged, were put at one time upon probation, just as Adam was. In that probation some sinned, and some did not. The fall of all may, therefore, have been instantaneous. That one of them may have been the instantaneous instigator of this, is not improbable. That he may have held rank over them before, is in accordance with what is taught of the rank of all angels. That he might in this act have attained this position is also not improbable.
For the sin which they have thus committed, they are held accountable by God. They seem to have been already punished by being "kept in everlasting bonds under darkness, unto the judgement of the great day." Jude, verse 6. But on that day their punishment will be probably consummated.
In the meantime they are permitted access to this world. Satan is called the God of this world. 2 Cor. 4:4. This access is evident from the history of the fall, from that of the temptation of Christ, from the warnings given to believers against him as their adversary, and from the declarations made as to the power he exercises to blind the minds of them that believe not.
As a finite being, Satan must be limited in his approaches to man. The doctrine of Satan is often objected to, upon the ground that thus we make out a being of almost equal power with God, and everywhere present. But this power of constant approach arises, not probably from personal contact, but from the multitude of inferior agents which he thus controls. By these he is everywhere operating; perhaps not operating always thus directly upon each one; but always keeping in progress the influences which he puts in operation among men.
What then, we may inquire, is the extent of the power of evil spirits?
1. Undoubtedly they have great power over the minds of men. They may tempt, deceive, darken the minds of men, pervert the judgement of men, excite them to pride, anger and other evil passions. It was Satan that instigated the Jews to put Christ to death. The old phraseology of the courts of justice in indictments for murder recognize his power. It is not confined to the subjects of his kingdom; but over the people of God also, even after they have been rescued from their slavery to Satan, does he maintain and exercise the power to tempt, though not to destroy.
2. Satan also possesses power over the bodies of men. In Job 2:7, it is said that he "smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown." In Luke 13:16, a woman is spoken of who has been bound by Satan for eighteen years by disease. In Acts 10:38, one of the works of Christ is said to have been the healing of all who were oppressed with the Devil. In 1 Cor. 5:5, excommunication is spoken of as the delivering over of one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Satan is also said, in some sense, to have or to have had the power of death, Heb. 2:14.
It is here that naturally arises the question of demoniacal influence as proving, if true, the existence and number of such beings. Have Satan and his messengers the power thus to enter, and afflict the bodies of men?
The most serious objection to the idea of such possessions is that they have been confined to the age of Christ and the Apostles.
(1.) But this is not certain. We even have declarations to the contrary. The Jews of the second century professed that there were such in their day. This was true, also, of the Christians of the third century. But the evidence of such possessions at these periods is not conclusive. It is not probable that any existed at that time.
(2.) Dr. Macknight, quoted by Dr. Dick, Theol. vol. 1, p. 403, says "that the possessions mentioned may have been diseases carried to an uncommon height by the presence and agency of demons." And, if this is allowed, there have possibly been such in all ages.
(3.) But this difficulty must yield before the direct testimony of Scripture. A reason may be given for their especial prevalence in the time of Christ. The great struggle was about to take place between Christ and Satan, and uncommon freedom was doubtless granted to the Devil, and his assistants.
The following points show that the idea of demoniacal possessions is Scriptural.
(a) The demons are expressly separated from the persons possessed. See Luke 6:17, 18; Matt. 12:43-45; Mark 1:32, 34; 9:18.
(b) The actions and language show the personality of some evil being or beings within the sufferer. They beseech Christ not to torment them before their time; they answer his questions; they come out of the possessed and enter into the swine; they know Christ and call upon him as the Son of God.
(c) The writers mention facts connected with them, needless to he mentioned, which favour this. The number of demons cast from Mary Magdalene is given. In Mark 9:29 Jesus says of a demon, "this kind can come out by nothing save by prayer."
(d) Jesus addresses the demons, Matt. 8:32. He orders the demons to come out, and permits them to go into the swine. In Mark 9:25, Christ rebukes the foul spirit. See also Luke 4:85. In Mark 1:25, Christ orders the demon to hold his peace and come out.
These are sufficient to prove the Scripturalness of this doctrine, and to show that Christ did not speak and act merely from a spirit of accommodation.
3. As to their power over the laws of nature and natural causes.
They have no power to change the laws of nature. These are established by God, and are beyond the power of any of his creatures. He upholds and preserves with the same almighty power with which he created.
But, from Satan's superior wisdom, from his spiritual nature, and from his numerous emissaries, he has great power within the circle of those laws. It is thus that he performs the lying wonders by which, were it possible, he would deceive the very elect. It is thus that, in connection with his power over the mind, he has aided to establish false religions, to vitiate certain forms of the true religion, and to work as the great power of Antichrist in the world.
The connection held by him with the ancient heathen oracles is a subject worthy of study, and eminently suggestive of the extent of the power he exercises. Those oracles failed precisely where Satan's knowledge failed--the want of power to predict the future. Answers that affected present knowledge were abundant. Ambiguous replies that could hear various interpretations were frequent. "Undoubtedly," says Dr. J. Pye Smith, "fraud was practiced. * * * Still there appears satisfactory reason for believing that in some degree, and occasionally there was a real diabolical influence." [First Lines, p. 337.] The case of divination spoken of in Acts 16:16-18 seems conclusive upon this point; "a certain maid," says Luke, "having a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying. The same following after Paul and us cried out, saying, These men are servants of the Most High God, which proclaim unto you the way of salvation. And this she did many days. But Paul, being sore troubled, turned and said to the spirit, I charge thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And it came out that very hour."
Dr. J. Pye Smith presents in his First Lines of Theology some valuable points in reply to the objections that may he made to the doctrine of wicked spirits, and also on the practical uses of the doctrine. [See pp. 337-340.]