committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN IN TEMPTATION, COUNSEL AND CONSOLATION FOR THE TEMPTED

Octavius Winslow

 

THE FINAL OVERTHROW OF THE TEMPTER AND BLESSEDNESS OF THE TEMPTED.

"That through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage."-Heb. ii. 14, 15.

The mission of the Son of God in the flesh compassed a twofold object as it referred to Satan. The first, to destroy the works of the Devil; the second, to destroy the Devil himself. With regard to the first object, we read-"For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of this Devil." The second is equally as clear-"That He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil." No facts are more distinctly and solemnly revealed than the final overthrow and everlasting destruction of the Evil One, and the victory and eternal blessedness of the saints of the Most High, consequent upon that destruction. The "god of this world" is not to reign for ever! Too long, too widely and uninterruptedly has he maintained his supremacy and power over this fallen and sinful empire. In its history, as it will then be read and studied in the clear light of eternity, will be seen how central, significant, and appalling was the place usurped by him in the government of the race. And, as in the first creation of the world, he appeared conspicuous and active upon the scene, ere sin had yet defiled and the curse had yet blighted,-so, in the end of the world, he will reappear "the observed of all observers," to be arraigned and tried, overthrown and "punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power." The prophetic and significant words of our Lord-the great Tempted One concerning the great Tempter are yet to receive their full and solemn accomplishment-"I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." Oh, yes! the rebellious, bloodstained standard of Satan is not for ever to float over this dark empire of sin and woe. His overthrow is certain-his doom is fixed-his days are numbered-"the chain which is to bind him is forged, and the fires which shall encircle him are kindled;" "the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, has kindled them." And all who followed his standard, who wore his fetters, and who obeyed his behests, will share his sentence, condemnation, and punishment-"Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels." We have alluded, in our opening remarks, to the destruction of the works of the Devil, as constituting an important part of Christ’s mission. Let us briefly advert to this interesting and consolatory fact, as preparing us for the consideration of the final, ignominious, and total overthrow of the power and kingdom of the Devil himself at the Coming of the Lord. The passage we have placed at the head of this chapter limits our view to one particular work of Satan-his "power over death." And, probably, we could not specify any exercise of his power more terrible to the saints of God, or their deliverance from which is more firmly anticipated and ardently longed for than this.

"Him that had the power of death." The words are profoundly significant and solemn. They are not intended to ascribe to the Devil, originally and independently, an arbitrary and supreme power over death. This alone belongs to God, "with whom are the issues of death." And yet the language is strikingly significant and impressive-"Him that had the power of death." It refers, doubtless, to the fact that the Devil was the first introducer of sin, and consequently, of death; that he was the cause of death, and the instigator of death throughout his empire. That this power is limited and controlled by a higher power is implied and unquestionable. He has no power to inflict death in any single instance, beyond the permission of this superior and governing authority. But how appalling and far reaching this power! "He was a murderer from the beginning:" and all murders are the result of his instigation, and in the permitted exercise of his power. "The lust of your father the Devil ye will do," said Christ, addressing Himself to the Jews. And the crowning act of his murderous lust was his instigation of Judas to betray, and the Jews to murder, the "Lord of life and glory." And not content with thus suggesting and abetting the murder of our Lord, he strove with all the argument and persuasion he could command to prompt Him to an act of self-murder. "Cast Thyself down from hence." And still he exercises this terrible, though limited and curbed, power of death-as we have shown in a preceding chapter-by suggesting to the human mind the idea of self-destruction as a convenient and expeditious mode of escape from existing trouble, suffering, and shame. How graphically and accurately has our great national dramatist portrayed the mental exercises of the soul under the influence of this Satanic temptation to self-murder!

"To die,-to sleep;
No more; and, by a sleep, to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to,-’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die,-to sleep;-
To sleep perchance to dream:-ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long a life;
For who would hear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,-
The undiscovered country, from whose bourne
No traveler returns,-puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn away,
And lose the name of action."

But a more awful illustration of the power of death as possessed by Satan is yet to appear-his power to inflict the inconceivable and indescribable horrors of the "Second Death." That this power is conferred-under the control of a yet higher power-to his hands, who can reasonably doubt? When the "wicked shall be cast into hell," and "whosoever is not written in the Book of Life" into the "lake of fire," the power of death then entrusted to Satan will be exhibited in its most appalling form. But let me relieve this awful picture by presenting a bright and blessed contrast-the contrast of those over whom the Devil will have no such control: "Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power; but they shall be priests to God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years."

An interesting and important inquiry here occurs! in what way did Christ thus destroy the Devil? "That He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil." We see not as yet his destruction. Far from it! The world is still Satan's empire, ruled with a despot’s unlimited sway. And, seeing that his time is short, and his overthrow inevitable and total, he would seem, in these "last days," to have ‘come down in great power and wrath,’ more wicked and fierce than ever. There are those who are blind to this fact. They tell us that the world as it grows older grows better! And, as proof of this assertion, they are wont to point to the rapid strides of civilization and refinement, of education, science, and social progress. They assure us that humanity is not so depraved, that the people are not so ignorant, and that society is more highly cultivated and refined. But what, and where, are the solid evidences of all this improvement? That civilization has increased-that education is on the march-and that luxury of living, polished manners, and advanced intelligence are the result, we readily admit. Nor do we overlook the results of sanitary reform-the efforts to reach the lowest strata of society-the great spread of Christian knowledge-the increased and honored labors of the evangelist at home, and those of the devoted missionary abroad. But with all this, the question still returns-Is the world really growing better? We trow not. Crimes the most hideous-social evils the most appalling-commercial immorality the most humiliating-atheism and infidelity the most bold-massacre and butcheries, legalized by the term of ‘war,’ and prosecuted in the name of Christ and under the holy banner of the cross,-are more rife, conspicuous, and widespread than ever! Who, as he intelligently surveys the present state of the world, and reads its history by the clear light of God’s Word, can with any show of reason and of truth affirm that Satan is losing his power-that his sceptre is passing from his hand-and that the world, which has so long groaned beneath his iron will, is growing wiser, holier, and happier? And yet, with all this, there is a present moral destruction of Satan by Christ going on, typical and anticipatory of his final and eternal overthrow and destruction when the Redeemer shall come to restore all things to their more than pristine holiness and beauty. We can only suggest for the further study of the reader two or three illustrations of this moral victory of Christ over Satan.

In the conversion of the sinner it is palpable and indisputable. When the Holy Spirit regenerates a soul-and there is no spiritual regeneration but that which He imparts-"It is the Spirit that quickens, the flesh profits nothing"-the supremacy of Satan in that soul is destroyed. "No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house." Oh, what a blessed overthrow, spoiling, and casting out of Satan is this! He is now dethroned-his scepter broken-his kingdom supplanted-his captive delivered-and, henceforth, Jesus reigns in that regenerated and emancipated soul, triumphant, supreme, and for ever! My reader! is Satan’s empire thus destroyed in your soul?

And what are the foiling and defeats in the after history and experience of the Christian but the continuous decreasing of Satan’s power by Christ? ‘When first emancipated from the supreme tyranny of Satan, by converting grace, it does not follow that the holy war is complete. The temporarily defeated foe-as in the case of our Lord-retires but "for a season," to return again and yet again to the battle, armed with a new shaft, and hurled with yet more skilful precision and potent effect. Thus we are taught that, when by Christ’s grace we foil him in one attack, we have need to expect another, and to strengthen those weak points of the citadel the most exposed to the renewed charge. The physical power of Christ over demoniacal power was, doubtless, typical of His moral power over Satan in the soul. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the Devil." Your daily life, O believer! is a continuous destroying by the Son of God of the works of Satan in you. The overthrow of his kingdom in the souls of the regenerate is a progressive, lifelong work: the last stone of the unholy edifice not cast down until the "earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved," and the freed spirit is clothed upon with its house from heaven. Oh, what a Divine and skilful Captain of Salvation is ours! He observes the shaft drawn from the quiver-places his finger upon the bow that hurls it-diverts its winged course-and covers the head in the day of battle. How sweet is then the new song we sing-"Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us a prey to their teeth! Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth."

"And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." There are few portions of God’s Word over which the Christian mind has lingered with more painful and intense interest than this. Some of the most eminent saints-distinguished alike for great grace and heroic achievement-have dragged this oppressive chain for many a weary stage of the Christian life, nor dropping it until their feet smote the chill waters, and they passed over with the shout of victory upon their expiring lips-"O death! where is your sting?"

Having destroyed him that had the power of death, the destruction of death itself by Christ naturally and logically follows. The words of the Apostle in his letter to Timothy places this truth in a yet more clear and forcible point of light "Our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death, and has brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel." In what sense has Christ thus abolished death in the history of His Church? Not literally, of course, since death still reigns, and will continue to reign until the Second Advent-"Whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming:" then shall Antichrist be destroyed, and Death utterly and for ever abolished-"swallowed up in victory." But there are several senses in which Christ may be said already to have "abolished death" in the history of His Church. He has abolished death by destroying the law of sin and of death in the case of His people; and that law, thus repealed, death has no more legal power over them that believe in Jesus. Christ has abolished death as a penal evil, since, by putting away the sins of His people, He has taken from death its sting, rendering it a harmless foe! And how completely has Christ abolished death by changing the character of death in the dissolution of His saints! To these it is no longer death to die, but a gentle falling asleep, the soul awaking perfected in the likeness of Christ. How sweetly did Jesus thus speak of the death of the beloved brother of Bethany: "Our friend Lazarus sleeps: I go to wake him out of sleep." And it is recorded of Stephen-Christ’s first martyr-"He fell asleep"-Oh! glorious death!-amid the infuriated shouts of his murderers and the storm of missiles beating around his head-his bruised and bleeding brow reposed upon the bosom of Jesus! And, addressing the bereaved Thessalonians, how tender and consolatory the language of the Apostle-"I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him." To have so transformed this most appalling event of our being as to represent it by the exquisite image of a sleep-the very poetry of death-surely it may in truth be said-and in a sense most assuring to all those who dread the approach of the ‘last enemy’-"Christ has abolished death." In your case, O believer! Christ, by His obedience and sacrifice, has so changed the character and the conditions of death that it no longer is a penal crime, but a covenant blessing; no longer a stern law, but a precious privilege; no longer to die, but sweetly and calmly to sleep. Oh, what must Jesus have endured in His personal conflict with Death, thus to have changed the entire character of death in behalf of all His saints! He met death as none had ever met the "king of terrors" before-in all its unmitigated bitterness, unalleviated agony, and most appalling circumstances: His dying pillow, a cross; His attendants, murderers; His restorative, wormwood and gall! What do we not owe to You, You precious Jesus! of love, obedience, and service, who met ten thousand deaths in one, that, when we die, we might fall sweetly asleep in You?

"What is Life?-’tis sitting,
Jesus, at Your feet,
All things gladly quitting
For that favored seat:
Where, in sacred union,
Earth and Heaven meet!

"What is Death?-’tis springing,
Savior, to Your breast;
’Tis the freed bird winging
To her glory-nest:
Life and Death with Jesus-
Heritage how blest!"

The ‘love of Christ’! truly "it passes knowledge." The Lord the Spirit direct our hearts into this infinite ocean of love, tiding over all our sins, sorrows, and fears. "O Savior! was it not enough for You to be manifested in flesh? Did not that elementary composition carry in it abasement enough without any further addition; since, for God to become man, was more than for all things to be returned to nothing; but that, in the rank of miserable manhood, You would humble Thyself to the lowest of humanity, and become a servant? O Savior! in how despicable a condition do I find You exhibited to the world! lodged in a stable, cradled in a mange; visited by poor shepherds, employed in a homely trade, attended by fishermen, tempted by presumptuous devils, persecuted by the malice of envious men, exposed to hunger, thirst, nakedness, weariness, contempt. How many slaves, under the vassalage of an enemy, fare better than You did from ungrateful man, whom You came to save! Oh, let me not see only, but feel, this great mystery of godliness, effectually working me to all hearty thankfulness for so inestimable a mercy! And now, O Savior! what a superabundant amends is made to Your glorified humanity for all Your bitter sufferings on earth! Your agony was extreme, but Your glory is infinite; Your cross was heavy, but Your crown transcendently glorious; Your pains were inconceivably grievous, but short; Your glory everlasting. You, that stood before the judgment-seat of a Pilate, shall come in all heavenly magnificence to judge both the quick and the dead; You, that would stoop to be a servant on earth, rules and reigns for ever in heaven, as the King of eternal glory!"

The final overthrow and doom of the Great Tempter will not be more certain and appalling than it is distinctly and emphatically predicted. Among the apocalyptic visions which floated before the eye of the exiled Seer of Patmos, was one graphically and sublime descriptive of this signal and stupendous event. The prophecy would seem to divide itself into two parts-the one bearing upon the present scene of Satan’s empire, the other referring to his future judgment and everlasting doom. With regard to the first, we thus read:-"And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him." This vision clearly refers to the position of Satan in the Millennium. During that blissful period of the world’s history the devil will be relegated to "his own place." For six thousand years this Archfiend has maintained his cruel despotism over the entire earth, walking to and fro, seeking whom he may devour. Then a new and more blissful era in the world’s history will have dawned. The Millennium-long the inspired song of the poet and the evangelical prediction of the prophet-will have arrived; and banished to the prison-house from whence he came-pinioned with a massive chain-the door of his dungeon secured with a great seal from heaven-Satan is "permitted to deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled." Oh, what a halcyon period of holiness and rest will the earth-long travailing in weariness and woe-now experience! How changed the scene! The curse giving place to blessing-sin and crime to holiness and security-pestilence and sickness to perfect sanity and health;-national wars and feuds to universal concord and love-want and misery to plenty and delight; suffering, bereavement, and woe to a deathless, sorrowless, and tearless world. Blessed inhabitants! "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away."

"No sigh, no murmur, the wide world shall hear;
From every face He wipes off every tear;
In adamantine chains shall death be bound,
And hell’s grim Tyrant feel the eternal wound."

But this thousand years of millennial holiness and repose-like all earth-bound objects-has an end. It must be remembered that Satan, though confined, is not yet cast into Gehenna; sin, though suppressed, is not yet extinct; and War, though ceasing, has not yet sheathed its sword. Humanity, though restrained, is still fallen and depraved; and Satan, though fettered and sealed, waits but his release. His temporary imprisonment terminates. "After that he must be loosed a little season," and resume his cruel reign of sin and bloodshed until his final and everlasting overthrow and doom, as thus graphically predicted in the apocalyptic vision of St. John, shall have arrived. "And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and, the beloved city; and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil, that deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast (the Papal power) and the false prophet (the Mohammedan) are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." How awfully sublime the scene! The doom of Satan is at hand-the last scene in the dark drama of his history is reached-and the chief Criminal of the universe is about to receive the due and just reward of his deeds. The great white throne is fixed; upon it the "Ancient of Days" is seated-and before Him all beings,-angels and men,-are cited to appear. Central, and towering above all of that countless throng, is Satan, the Head-Centre of Pandemonium. His trial commences and takes precedence of all the rest. In that trial, O tempted Christian! you will personally participate. "Know ye not that we shall judge angels?" You who once stood as a target for his flaming darts, frequently foiled, wounded, and cast down: you into whose mind this malicious Fiend-the seducer and destroyer of our first parents-often suggested the skeptical doubt-the blasphemous thought-the unhallowed imagination-the hostile will-you shall hear the voice of the Judge saying-"Come near, My saints, sit with Me upon My throne and aid the judgment, approve the sentence, and witness the doom of your great Adversary, malicious Tempter, false Accuser, and fiendish Foe. Come, place your feet upon his neck-and unite with the grand chorus of all the host of heaven in the universal acknowledgment of the holiness, equity, and truth of the sentence which consigns him to the "everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels."-"You art righteous, O Lord, which art, and was, and shall be, because You hast judged thus." Tempted Christian! fight on-pray on-hope on. A few more flaming shafts, a few more hard fights, and the last battle is fought and the glorious victory won: and you shall see your great Tempter no more for ever. "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb."

 
 
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