By Adam Clarke
GOOD ANGELS —Our word "angel"
comes from the Greek angelos, which literally signifies "a
messenger," or, as translated in some of our old Bibles, "a
tidings-bringer." It is applied indifferently to a human agent or
messenger, 2 Sam. ii, 5; to a prophet, Haggai i, 13; to a priest,
Mal. ii, 7; to celestial spirits, Psalm ciii, 19, 20, 22; civ. 4.
The doctrine of the ministration of angels has been much abused, not only among the heathens, but also among Jews and Christians, and most among the latter. Angels, with feigned names, titles, and influences, have been and still are invoked and worshipped by a certain class of men, because they have found that God has been pleased to employ them to minister to mankind; and hence they have made supplications to them to extend their protection, to shield, defend, instruct, &c. This is perfectly absurd. 1. They are God's instruments, not self-determining agents. 2. They can only do what they are appointed to perform, for there is no evidence that they have any discretionary power. 3. God helps man by ten thousand means and instruments; some intellectual, as angels; some rational, as men; some irrational, as brutes; and some merely material, as the sun, wind, rain, food, raiment, and the various productions of the earth. He therefore helps by whom he will help, and to him alone belongs all the glory; for, should he be determined to destroy, all these instruments collectively could not save. Instead, therefore, of worshipping them, we should take their own advice: "See thou do it not; worship God."
Evil spirits may attempt to injure thee; but they shall not be able. The angels of God shall have an especial charge to accompany, defend, and preserve thee; and against their power the influence of evil spirits cannot prevail. These will, when necessary, turn thy steps out of the way of danger; ward it off when it comes in thy ordinary path; suggest to thy mind prudent counsels, profitable designs, and pious purposes; and thus minister to thee as a child of God and an heir of salvation.
Previously to our Lord's ascension to heaven these holy beings could have little knowledge of the necessity, reasons, and economy of human salvation, nor of the nature of Christ as God and man. St. Peter informs us that the angels desire to look into these things, 1 Pet. i, 12. And St. Paul says the same thing, Eph. iii, 9, 10, when speaking of the revelation of the gospel plan of salvation, which he calls "the mystery which from the beginning of the world had been hid in God;" and which was now published, that "unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God." Even those angelic beings have got an accession to their blessedness by an increase of knowledge in the things which concern Jesus Christ, and the whole scheme of human salvation, through his incarnation, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification.
BAD ANGELS —There are many demons mentioned in Scripture; but the word Satan, or devil, is never found in the originals of the Old and New Testaments in the plural number. Hence we reasonably infer that all evil spirits are under the government of one chief, the devil, who is more powerful and more wicked than the rest. From the Greek διαβολος comes the Latin diabolus, the Spanish diablo, the French diable, the Italian diavolo, the German teuffel, the Dutch duivel, the Anglo-Saxon deovle, and the English devil, which some would derive from "the evil;" the evil one, or wicked one.
I have remarked, among the simple, honest inhabitants of the counties of Antrim and Londonderry, in Ireland, that the common name for the devil or Satan was "the sorrow;" a good sense of the original word,—"the wicked one, the evil one, the sorrow;" he who is miserable himself, and whose aim is to make all others so.
It is now fashionable to deny the existence of this evil spirit; and this is one of what St. John, Rev. ii, 24, calls "the depths of Satan;" as he well knows that they who deny his being will not be afraid of his power and influence; will not watch against his wiles and devices; will not pray to God for deliverance from the evil one; will not expect him to be trampled down under their feet, who has no existence; and, consequently, they will become an easy and unopposing prey to the enemy of their souls. By leading men to disbelieve and deny his existence, he throws them off their guard, and is then their complete master, and they are led captive by him at his will. It is well known that, among all those who make any profession of religion, those who deny the existence of the devil are they who pray little or none at all; and are, apparently, as careless about the existence of God, as they are about the being of a devil. Piety to God is with them out of the question; for those who do not pray, especially in private, (and I never met with a devil-denier who did,) have no religion of any kind, whatsoever pretensions they may choose to make.
Those who deny the existence of Satan are generally men of desperate characters and desperate fortunes; and, as they will not listen to the voice of reason, nor to the sacred oracles, they must be left to their own desperation.
Because men cannot see as far as the Spirit of God does, therefore they deny his testimony. "There was no devil; there can be none." Why? "Because we have never seen one, and we think the doctrine absurd." Excellent reason! And do you think that any man who conscientiously believes his Bible will give any credit to you? Men sent from God, to bear witness to the truth, tell us there were demoniacs in their time; you say, "No; they were only diseases." Whom shall we credit? the men sent from God, or you?
Is the doctrine of demoniacal influence false? If so, Jesus took the most direct method to perpetuate the belief of that falsity by accommodating himself so completely to the deceived vulgar. But this was impossible; therefore the doctrine of demoniacal influence is a true doctrine, otherwise Christ would never have given it the least countenance or support.
God has often permitted demons to act on and in the bodies of men and women; and it is not improbable that the principal part of unaccountable and inexplicable disorders still come from the same source.
Satan was once in the truth, in righteousness and true holiness; and he fell from that truth into sin and falsehood, so that he became the father of lies, and the first murderer.
God, in his endless mercy, has put enmity between men and Satan; so that, though all mankind love his service, yet all invariably hate himself. Were it otherwise, who could be saved? A great point gained toward the conversion of a sinner is, to convince him that it is Satan he has been serving; that it is to him he has been giving up his soul, body, goods, &c. He starts with horror when this conviction fastens on his mind, and shudders at the thought of being in league with the old murderer.
It is very seldom that God permits Satan to waste the substance, or afflict the body, of any man; but at all times this malevolent spirit may have access to the mind of any man, and inject doubts, fears, diffidence, perplexities, and even unbelief. And here is the spiritual conflict. Now, their wrestling is not with flesh and blood; with men like themselves, nor about secular affairs; but they have to contend with angels, principalities, and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickednesses in high places. In such cases Satan is often permitted to diffuse darkness into the understanding, and envelope the heavens with clouds. Hence are engendered false views of God and his providence; of men and of the spiritual world; and particularly of the person's own state and circumstances. Every thing is distorted, and all seen through a false medium. Indescribable distractions and uneasiness are hereby induced. The mind is like a troubled sea, tossed by a tempest that seems to confound both heaven and earth. Strong temptations to things which the soul contemplates with abhorrence are injected, and which are followed by immediate accusations, as if the injections were the offspring of the heart itself; and the trouble and dismay produced are represented as the sense of guilt from a consciousness of having in heart committed these evils. Thus Satan tempts, accuses, and upbraids, in order to perplex the soul, induce skepticism, and destroy the empire of faith. Behold here the permission of God; and behold also his sovereign control: all this time the grand tempter is not permitted to touch the heart, the seat of the affections; nor to do even the slightest violence to the will. The soul is cast down, but not destroyed; perplexed, but not in despair. It is on all sides harassed: without are fightings; within are fears; but the will is inflexible on the side of God and truth, and the heart, with all its train of affections and passions, follows it. The man does not wickedly depart from his God; the outworks are violently assailed, but not taken; the city is still safe, and the citadel impregnable. Heaviness may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning. Jesus is seen walking upon the waters. He speaks peace to the winds and the sea; immediately there is a calm. Satan is bruised down under the feet of the sufferer; the clouds are dispersed; the heavens reappear; and the soul, to its surprise, finds that the storm, instead of hindering, has driven it nearer the haven whither it should be.
Satan's ordinary method in temptation is to excite strongly to sin, to blind the understanding and inflame the passions; and when he succeeds, he triumphs by insults and reproaches. No one so ready then to tell the poor soul how deeply, disgracefully, and ungratefully it has sinned! Reader, take heed!
A part of Job's sufferings probably arose from appalling representations made to his eye, or to his imagination, by Satan and his agents: I think this neither irrational nor improbable. That he and his demons have power to make themselves manifest on especial occasions, has been credited in all ages of the world; not by the weak, credulous, and superstitious only, but also by the wisest, the most learned, and the best of men. I am persuaded that many passages in the book of Job refer to this; and admit of an easy interpretation on this ground.
Satan, who works in the heart of the children of disobedience, possesses himself of the corrupt nature of man, produces bad motives in a bad heart, blinds the understanding, excites irregular appetites, and thence bad tempers, evil words, and unholy actions.
Satan is ever going about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour; in order to succeed, he blinds the understanding of sinners, and then finds it an easy matter to tumble them into the pit of perdition.
What a wide-wasting wo and evil is one sinner! He spreads desolation and death wherever he comes. Satan drives, and he runs; or, spontaneous with the tempter, he is led captive by him at his will. By the instrumentality of one wicked man Satan can do ten thousand times more evil than he can in his own person. He deceiveth the world, waters the infernal seed, and powerfully works in the hearts of the children of disobedience. What a dishonour to be a servant, and much more to be a slave, of the devil! Owhy do not sinners lay this to heart!
Satan takes advantage of our natural temper, state of health, and outward circumstances, to plague and ruin our souls.
An unholy spirit is the only place where Satan can have his full operation, and show forth the plenitude of his destroying power.
Neither the devil nor his servants ever speak truth but when they expect to accomplish some bad purpose by it.
Satan makes himself master of the heart, the eyes, and the tongue of the sinner.
His heart he fills with the love of sin; his eyes he blinds, that he may not see his guilt and the perdition that awaits him; and his tongue he hinders from prayer and supplication, though he gives it increasing liberty in blasphemies, lies, slanders, &c. None but Jesus can redeem from this threefold captivity.
After having sown his seed, Satan disappears. Did he appear as himself, few would receive solicitation to sin; but he is seldom discovered in evil thoughts. Satan has a shoot of iniquity for every shoot of grace and when God revives his work, Satan revives his also. No marvel, therefore, if we find scandals arising suddenly to discredit a work of grace where God has begun to pour out his Spirit.
It is the interest of Satan to introduce hypocrites and wicked persons into religious societies, in order to discredit the work of God, and to favour his own designs.
Men, through sin, are become the very house and dwelling place of Satan, having, of their own accord, surrendered themselves to this unjust possessor; for, whoever gives up his soul to sin gives it up to the devil. It is Jesus, and Jesus alone, who can deliver from the power of this bondage. When Satan is cast out, Jesus purifies and dwells in the heart.
Since a demon cannot enter even into a swine without being sent by God himself, how little is the power or malice of any of them to be dreaded by those who have God for their portion and protection.
The devil himself has his chains; and he who often binds others is always bound himself.
A man must consent to sin before he can sin. God has so constituted the human will that it cannot be forced. Satan may present false images to the imagination, darken the mind, and confound the memory; but he cannot force the will. He may flatter, sooth, and promise pleasure in order to gain over the will, but before he can ruin us he must have our consent. Were the case otherwise, we could not possibly be saved.
Satan is never permitted to block up our way without the providence of God making a way through the wall. God ever makes a breach in his otherwise impregnable fortification. Should an upright soul get into difficulties and straits, he may rest assured that there is a way out as there was a way in; and that the trial shall never be above the strength that God shall give him to bear it.
The devil cannot conquer you if you continue to resist. Strong as he is, God never permits him to conquer the man who continues to resist him. He cannot force the human will. He who in the terrible name of JESUS opposes even the devil himself, is sure to have a speedy and glorious conquest. He flees from that name, and from his conquering blood.
Be vigilant: awake and keep awake; be always watchful; never be off your guard; your enemies are alert, they are never off theirs. Your "adversary the devil:" This is a reason why ye should be sober and vigilant; ye have an ever active, implacable, subtle enemy to contend with. He "walketh about:"—He has access to you everywhere: he knows your feelings and your propensities, and informs himself of all your circumstances; only God can know more and do more than he, therefore your care must be cast upon God. As a "roaring lion:"—Satan tempts under three forms: 1. The subtle serpent; to beguile our senses, pervert our judgment, and enchant our imagination. 2. As an angel of light; to allure us with false views of spiritual things, refinement in religion, and presumption on the providence and grace of God. 3. As a roaring lion; to beat us down, and destroy us by violent opposition, persecution, and death.
What a comfortable thought it is to the followers of Christ, that neither men nor demons can act against them but by the permission of their heavenly Father; and that he will not suffer any of those who trust in him to be tried above what they are able to bear, and will make the trial issue in their greater salvation, and in his glory!
"Every man has his price," was the maxim of a great statesman, Sir Robert Walpole, "But you have not bought such a one." "No, because I would not go up to his price. He valued himself at more than I thought him worth, and I could get others cheaper, who, in the general muster, would do as well!" No doubt Sir R. met with many such; and the devil, many more. But still God has multitudes that will neither sell their souls, their consciences, nor their country, for any price; who, though God should slay them, will nevertheless trust in him, and be honest men, howsoever tempted by the devil and his vicegerents: so did Job; so have thousands; so will all do, in whose hearts Christ dwells by faith.