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Christ speaks of Satan, would involve us in many absurdities. In illustrating this, it will certainly be a fair selection to take a passage which has been adduced by believers in a personal devil as sustaining their views. No less distinguished a writer than Isaac Taylor says that “ when the seventy delegates, after having borne their message through the towns of Jewry, returned to their master with joy, saying: Lord, even the demons are subject unto us through thy name!'.... he did not avail himself of so proper an occasion for rooting out of the minds of his disciples the belief of a malignant and hostile visible power; — far from it - he solemnly authenticates that belief when he says, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven ;' and again, “I give you authority over all the power of The Enemy.'” The true interpretation of Christ's words will be understood from what shall be said hereafter; at present let us see into what difficulties Mr. Taylor's literal interpretation would lead us.
Satan was seen to fall from heaven. By “heaven" certainly cannot be meant the abode of the blest, for why or how could Satan possibly be there. The only other literal signification of the word is the region of the atmosphere above us, which we more commonly call the “sky." Was Satan physically and bodily in the air, and did the seventy, by some mechanical or spiritual means, to us inconceivable, cause him to fall to the earth? What was the result of this fall? If the body of Satan was of a material constitution like that of man, it must have been dashed to pieces, and physical death, at least, have been the consequence; if of a more ethereal constitution than what we understand by matter, such a fall is inconceivable by us and beyond the range of our comprehension. In either case, what was the result ? Satan was certainly not annihilated, for Christ makes subsequent mention of him as though still in existence — taking his words literally, of course, as we are doing at present. No practical result seems to follow, no indication is given that the kingdom or power of Satan was weakened in the least. The fall of a physical Satan from the upper regions of the air to the earth -- what had that to do with the spiritual disenthralment of mankind ? But understood as a figure of speech, what wonderful sig. nificance attaches to these words of Jesus ! Physical suf
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fering, spiritual darkness, all the ills of body and soul, had yielded to the magical influence of the ministrations and teachings of the disciples. Already Christ saw the first fruits of his coming. All those evils which the popular mind ascribed to the agency of a powerful spirit of hate, which they called satanas and diabolos, he saw yielding to the more potent and sacred spirit of love; and using the phraseology of the people, he conveyed to them, couched in their own familiar forms of expression, a truth, which, in its abstract nakedness, they could have understood but very imperfectly at the best.
We are told that the Devil took Jesus up into an exceeding high mountain, and again up into the holy city and placed him on a pinnacle of the temple. There can be no reason in a literal interpretation of this passage, Christ so completely in the power of Satan that he could transport him by force, bodily, at will, wherever he wished! Is this the Christ, we are tempted to ask, who changed the water into wine, withered the fig-tree, healed the sick and raised the dead, all by a word ? This the Christ who gave such power to his disciples that thereby this very Satan was made to fall like lightning from heaven? No literal interpretation can save this and similar accounts from being classed with the old mythologies. They have a spiritual significance, else they are nothing to us, and worse than nothing. Satan, as Christ presents him to us, is the personification of evil in the world, or, to express it in another form, the concretion and aggregation of all evil, and more of an entity than this he is not.
We have already briefly and incidentally answered the question, why Christ should have chosen to express himself thus through what may be called a delusive phraseology, instead of making use of words which should embody the simple truth freed from popular fictions. A few words more upon this point.
We must remember that Jesus talked with men after the manner of men, and did not stop to disprove the existence of Satan any more than he did that of Jupiter or Mammon. In fact, “Satan” and “the Devil,” especially if we may judge from modern usage, are very convenient terms to use as synonymes of evil, and so long as Christ could instil truth into the hearts of his hearers through their prejudices
and erroneous opinions with much more certainty of success than if he had at first attempted to give them correct ideas on every point where they were in error, it would not have evinced the wisdom of the serpent to have voluntarily deprived himself of such means as fortune had thrown in his way. Nothing is more difficult to overcome than the prejudices of early education; and no prudent man will attempt to convince an opponent of radically opposite principles by offensively calling in question, at the outset, the truth of long established prejudices which lie at the very foundation of his whole system of thought and action, especially when these prejudices are in themselves comparatively harmless. How would a liberalist who desired to convince a bigot of his errors best manage his case? Would he commence by saying, “Sir, your God is a tri-headed Cerberus, a devil, a fiend, and it is only the fiendishness of your own nature which has manufactured and set up for your worship such a God; there is no such God as you worship; you are an idolater and as bad as a heathen; your material heaven and hell are fictions of the imagination, as wild delusions as ever ran riot in the brain of a madman ?” Now supposing every word of this to be true, how much less efficacy would it possess than an impassioned appeal to the man's better nature, which should fit him by degrees to discard for himself his superstitions, by first relaying in his nature the very foundations of truth on which the renewing and renewed heart might build a fairer superstructure.
But if any cannot yet fully accept the idea that Christ should indirectly countenance, as it were, by not exposing so egregious an error as a belief in a mighty prince of evil, let us adduce a parallel instance, in which the great Teacher has not left us in doubt, but solved the question for us. When the Jews were anxious to know whether he was really the Messiah whom they had been so long hoping for and expecting, does he cut himself off from their sympathy by plainly declaring that he was not the Messiah they were expecting ? He knew that although he was not the Messiah, the glorious earthly sovereign, whom the Jews were anxiously awaiting, but who was only a creature of their imagination and hope, yet he was a Messiah, more potent and laden with greater blessings to their race than any monarch whom the world had ever seen or futurity was to reveal. Had he declared to the Jews at the outset his true character and mission, and that through him as a leader they could hope for no earthly glory, he would have been spurned from the threshold of even the meanest Jew. So he accepts the Messiahship and declares himself their king, knowing the fulness of his power and the bloodless contests which should establish his neverending spiritual kingdom.
If we would have another equally specific instance, let us see what Christ says of John the Baptist. The Jews were expecting the prophet Elias to re-appear in the earth and herald the coming of the Messiah. The character and preaching of John could not fail to suggest to them the expected prophet; but to their inquiries John replied that he was not Elias. But what does Christ afterwards say?Speaking of John he declares, “If ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come.” A natural explanation of this seems to be, that Jesus knew that Elias had not returned to earth to prepare for his coming, but that since the Jews had thus interpreted what they supposed to be a prophecy, and since John was a real forerunner, answering the expectation of the Jews, he tells them that John was the Elias who was to precede the Messiah. They had not rightly interpreted the second coming of Elias any more than they had the character of the coming Messiah ; in fact, they had no solid foundation for their hopes in respect to either, but rested on vague and uncertain interpretations of what, perhaps (and in many cases, certainly) were not intended for prophecies. To the Jews, then, if there was no Elias, there was no Christ. Should they be undeceived and told that their hopes were false and visionary ? That were to close their ears against every future syllable of truth. Jesus tells them, “I am your Messiah, John was your Elias.”— This was enough of the truth for them to know: had they then known more, they would evermore have known less.
We have dwelt long upon these illustrations because many fail to realize that Christ employed human means in the conversion of men. The human mind being ever the same, the same means of conviction must be resorted to in every age. Did Christ enjoin upon his disciples to be wise as serpents, without himself giving them an example? Is it not evident from the accounts which we have of his life, that he had ever a well of truth and knowledge from which
but comparatively the scantiest 'draughts were drawn for those around him, since to the reception of such only they were adapted ? What the world was prepared to receive, he taught plainly; what it could not yet comprehend, darkly and in parables, reserving, besides, inexhaustible, mysterious treasures of wisdom and truth.
It is not necessary to consider here, in detail, all that the New Testament hints to us concerning the Jewish views of Satan, neither is it worth while to attempt to discover, (with what scanty means we have,) just what each of the early disciples of Christ thought upon this subject. The main fact, perhaps the only one, which practically concerns us, is this,—that while the Jews as a nation believed in a personal devil, we have no scripture authority for supposing that Christ ever accepted or taught this doctrine ; while, on the contrary, the whole tenor of his direct teachings, is altogether different from what it must have been had there been such a spirit as Satan in the personal universe.
G. L. C.
1. God in his Providence: a Comprehensive View of the Principles and Particulars of an Active Divine Providence over Man,-his Fortunes, Changes, Trials, Entire Discipline as a Spiritual Being, from Birth to Eternity. By Woodbury M. Fernald. Boston: Otis Clapp. 1859. pp. 431.
Not many years since we had occasion to notice a pamphlet put forth by Mr. Fernald with the significant title, “ The Eternity of Heaven and Hell,” in which every form of Universalism was distinctly repudiated; though the " eternity of hell” was predicated of Swedenborgian principles, and, of course, widely different, in theory, from the Calvinistic view. We regretted the tone of positiveness with which the author insisted upon his views, as, knowing his mental antecedents, we felt sure in predicting another not very remote change. The book before us