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ON THE EXISTENCE AND INFLUENCE OF EVIL SPIRITS,
[Preached before the University of Oxford
and at Lincoln's Inn, 1822.]
EPHES. vi. 11, 12.
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand
against the wiles of the Devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiri
tual wickedness in high places. It was an usual practice with St. Paul to describe the profession of a Christian, under the likeness of a soldier on duty, and, by allusions to the oath, dress, and discipline of the Roman military, to shadow out the several obligations, and graces, and privileges which distinguish and support the follower of Jesus Christ in his warfare with the enemies of his salvation. The whole of the
passage from which these words are taken, is pervaded by this kind of allegory. In it he expects the Ephesian disciples to prepare themselves for this holy quarrel, as soldiers for the battle, or gladiators for the arena, and to case their souls in the panoply of
Heaven against the force or fraud of their opponents. The nature of this armour he explains in the following verses, in which he compares, with great liveliness of fancy and description, the entire equipment of an ancient warrior, with the graces and virtues of a worthy follower of the Messiah. To the helmet of the first he likens that exalted hope of salvation which is, to the latter, a defence and a crown. The impenetrable breast-plate of the soldier corresponds with the righteousness and good conscience of the saint; the iron-studded sandal of the one with that Gospel of prevents the foot of the other from sliding; and the shield, which it was death to forsake, and the sword which was, in closer fight, the Roman's only weapon, with that faith from which even fiery darts fall blunted and powerless, and with that knowledge of God's word, the edge of which no sophistry can withstand.
To point out, as it deserves, the beauty of this parallel, is not my present purpose. It is enough to observe, first, that those powers and graces are called God's armour, inasmuch as we derive them from God's free bounty; and, secondly, that the danger must needs be great against which so great precautions are enjoined us.
While describing that danger, the utterance of the Apostle almost seems to labour for words sufficiently strong to express the strength of his conceptions, and the most awful figures of might, and malice, and mystery, are collected to alarm us into
watchfulness. Principalities and powers are leagued against the soldier of the cross, and the believer has to contend against the united violence of the rulers of this world's darkness, and the spiritual wickedness which is in high places. High sounding words these, doubtless, are, and tremendous attributes of guilt and power; and it must deeply concern every one of us to understand their meaning rightly. To arrive at that meaning it may, in the first place, be observed, that all these terms are evidently employed by the Apostle in explana
tion of a phrase which he had used in the foregoing - sentence, and which he had more briefly assigned as the reason why we should betake ourselves without delay to our celestial weapons. “ Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to standagainst the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle," he continues, “ not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” It is plain, therefore, that the enemy with whose wiles we have to contend, is the same with those who are spoken of under the several names of " principalities," powers,” and “ rulers,” and that these several antagonists are included under the same term of “ the devil;" either because “ devil” is a generic name which applies to their whole multitude, or because these principalities and powers are the subjects and soldiers of one powerful and malicious being, to whom the name of " devil" is peculiarly, and by
way of eminence assigned; who lays wait, by their agency, for the souls of men, and who directs and stimulates their craft and violence in the manner most likely to destroy or injure us.
By which of these suppositions we explain the words of St. Paul, is a matter of indifference; the consequences deducible from either are, in all their bearings, the same, and either is consistent with the application of this particular passage, and with the general terms of the Gospel. It is certain that the term “ devil,” or 5 wicked one,” is often applied inclusively and generally to very many beings, who are represented as in perpetual hostility with God and good men; and it is also certain that these beings are described as under the government of one particular prince, whose angels they are, and with whom they are, hereafter, to be punished everlastingly.
* St. Matthew xii. 26. St. Mark iii. 26. St. Luke xi. 18. Grotius ad Marc. “ Satanas videtur mihi hoc loco dici, tota universitas malorum spirituum, quomodo o öveguros (homo) pro genere hu
aut natura humana. Non enim solus Princeps Spirituum sed omnes impuri spiritus eo nomine censentur.” In conformity with this interpretation, St. Chrysostom observes that Christ did not use a plural term when speaking of the devils on the above occasion, but called them under one name Satan, to express
the union which subsists among them, ουκ είπε τους δαίμονας, δεικνύς πολλήν αυτούς προς αλλήλους συμφωνίαν ούσαν. Archbishop Sharpe's Sermons, v. 3. p. 72. “ When we are speaking of the devil, we are not to understand any one particular being, or any one particular evil spirit, but the whole aggregate or company of evil spirits, which inhabit round about us in the lower regions of
A more important question, and one to which, for many reasons, it behoves us to be able to give an answer, is that which relates to the real nature of the enemies thus described. Are we to understand these alarming expressions in the plainest and most obvious sense, as instructing us that we are really surrounded by invisible foes; by beings superior to mankind in present power, but who envy mankind their hopes of future glory, and endeavour, in concert with each other, and in obedience to a common leader, to pervert our integrity, and destroy our happiness? Or are we rather to understand by the principalities here alluded to, those men who fight for, and forward the cause of Satan upon earth; those deceivers who would entice, and those persecutors who would terrify the Christian from his Heaven-ward journey? Shall we go farther still, and deny the existence of the wicked power that these enemies are said to serve? Is it only by a figure that they are represented as subject to one commander? Is that commander no more than an allegorical and abstract name for all which, in the visible world, opposes the establishment and progress of Christ's kingdom; an imaginary evil
the air. All these are, in the Scripture language, and in common speech, called by the name of the devil.” That, nevertheless, there is one person peculiarly, and by way of eminence, thus called, as the general of a hostile army is called “the enemy,'s is plain from St. Matt. xxv. 41. Rev. xii. 9. “Inter impuros spiritus unum esse qui præsideat et Judæorum et Apostolorum scripta nos docent." Grotius on St. Matt. xii. 24.