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CHRIST AND SATAN
When you meet anyone who professes not to believe in the existence of Satan and his demons, you can generally be sure that person has fallen into the clutches of Satan. Christ and Satan work in opposite ways. Christ does not leave a stone unturned to reveal His Name and thus redeem, but Satan does all he can to keep himself hidden from you so that he can destroy you by means of the mysterious influences he exerts over you. Here light and darkness stand over against each other. Christ is the light that constantly extends its rays farther and farther, while Satan represents the darkness that forever withdraws itself into dark and shadowy places in order, eventually, to lose himself along with all the world in the terror of the night. Not to believe in the existence of Satan and his influence is extremely dangerous, for this is just the attitude that will allow Satan to capture your heart. It is a form of backsliding and evidence of a weakening faith so that even in the Church of Christ and in the proclamation of the Gospel, these demonic powers are increasingly ignored.
There is some evidence for this alarming development. When people recite the Lord’s Prayer, they all pray, “Deliver us from the evil one,” but in free, spontaneous prayers we seldom call upon God to cover us with His shield against the poisonous arrows of Satan. Therefore, if the Kingdom of Christ is to regain its glory also in our eyes, it is imperative that we emphatically insist that Jesus Himself saw His life struggle as one fierce battle against Satan and that Jesus’ view of Himself is of decisive importance for us. We know nothing about the spiritual realm from ourselves, but He who came down to us from heaven, from the spiritual world, He has every right to speak in this respect. What we received from His lips was revelation and all those who confess that Christ is the way, the truth and the life, must take that revelation seriously. True, belief in the existence of this spiritual realm has been mixed up with superstitions against which we cannot struggle enough. However, to assert that faith in the existence of a demonic world is the fruit of mere superstition is nothing more than short-sighted superficiality. Throughout the centuries it has been the most profound and sensitive souls who have sensed that they were engaged in a mighty struggle for life against this demonic world.
Our point of departure is thus the sure data of revelation. These include the following twelve points:
1. There exists a spiritual world outside of and apart from our human race.
2. There are two hosts or groups of these spirits, namely angels and demons.
3. The host of demons is subject to the rule of Satan.
4. Both angels and demons have powers, gifts and talents that they received from their Creator.
5. These spiritual beings have been called to use their powers and gifts in the service of God, not only to praise Him, but also as instruments for the development of His Kingdom.
6. These spirits exert all kinds of influence on this earth, not only in the spiritual realm, but just as much in the physical, visible and material realm.
7. After their fall, the demons have misused their powers in order to destroy both this earth and our human race.
8. Until the coming of Jesus and with the exception of Israel, these demons had established the kingdom of Satan over the peoples and nations that made Satan in effect the ruler of the world.
9. Christ has come in order to destroy the works of the devil and to establish Himself as Head and King over this world.
10. The temptations of Christ in the wilderness and the gradual casting out of demons must be understood in the context of that struggle.
11. The power of Satan was broken down in principle during this struggle, so that Jesus could exclaim, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).
12. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost introduced into this world a holy spiritual force that was designed to ceaselessly push back that demonic atmosphere that had for so long oppressed the life of the nations.
Scripture testifies that from the time of Pentecost Satan has been bound. At the end of days he will once again be released with all his demonic powers (Rev. 20:7). Among the implications of the prophecy is that in our present age, Satan is not in full control of himself. This is true not only in the sense that Satan’s plans could never go beyond what God would allow him, but also that the Kingdom of Christ constantly chips away at the kingdom of Satan, so that the spiritual environment that through the Holy Spirit dominates in the church of the living God radiates out into the world and restrains the effects of Satan’s power. This is not to be understood as if Satan’s power has already been destroyed and thus can be ignored. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that this struggle of the evil one to destroy us continues and the apostle emphasised that behind the flesh and blood lies the fearful struggle with “the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).
Since the coming of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a great change has come about. Presently we recognise the existence of two very different, opposing, kingdoms on earth. One is that of the demonic that can be identified by its operations and influence among the unbelieving communities of this world. The other, standing next to and opposed to the former, is a totally different kingdom that is covered by holy baptism and where the Holy Spirit is the dominating power.
This symbolism is implied in the sacrament of baptism. The origin of baptism lies in the ancient image that, as water can clean the dirt from our bodies and clothes, so can spiritual cleansing take place by water, whether by sprinkling or immersion. Such religious water rituals are found among almost all the peoples of the world.
Members of pagan nations who wanted to be incorporated into Israel had first to undergo the so-called proselyte baptism. That is to say, they were to be symbolically cleansed from the contamination that clung to them as pagans. The symbolic meaning of this proselyte baptism was enhanced in various ways. For one, the baptismal candidate had to break all his relationships with home and family. The laws of Moses strongly emphasised the difference between the clean and the unclean. Many objects and beings were considered unclean or unholy such as various types of animals, the sick, human corpses, cadavers and others. Rituals for cleansing abounded in their culture in order to emphasise that demons affected not only the soul and the intangible world, but also the body, the physical.
For this reason, the baptism of John, Jesus and His apostles touched the raw nerve of Jewish pride so dramatically. This new baptism included Israel in the categories of the unholy and the unclean. It prophesied the coming of a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven, which by its nature excluded both Jew and Gentile, so that both had to undergo this cleansing before entering that new Kingdom.
That is the reason the early church tied the rite of exorcism to that of baptism. Before being baptised, the candidates had to deny Satan and free themselves from his service and influence. This promise was made on behalf of baptised infants by those who presented them for the sacrament. This practice of combining these two rites served to emphasise the rich meaning of the sacrament of baptism in a concrete way.
The problem arose with the second generation of Christians. The children of Christians could not possibly be placed on the same level as those of Jews and Gentiles. Born of Christian parents, these children are considered holy and clean in the New Testament. They were not born in demonic territory, but in territory where the Holy Spirit held sway. For this reason, the rite of exorcism did not make sense when applied to such children. Hence some of the churches of the Reformation rejected the association of infant baptism with exorcism.
With this the question has not been answered as to whether or not the old practice should not apply to the baptism of converts from other religions, whether, Jew, Secularist, Muslim or Traditionalist. Such converts do not come from holy, but from unholy territory. Through baptism they enter the holy territory. Literally, they move “from the dominion of darkness” into “the Kingdom of the Son"”(Col. 1:13). It would seem to us, therefore, that when we take seriously the principal distinction between holy and unholy territory, it may be advisable that converts from other religions, when they are baptised, also undergo the rite of renouncing the devil.
The difference between the baptism of John and that of the church was in fact that the latter was performed with the Holy Spirit. This implies two things. First, children of Christian parents do not need to be transferred to this holy terrain, for they are born into it. Thus, there is no need for exorcism in their case. Secondly, those converted from other religions are born in unholy territory. Through baptism they are transferred into the holy in order to make a clean break with the ruler of this world and replace him with Christ the King.
The entire doctrine of the covenant of grace depends on this distinction, a distinction that requires that we regard the work of the Holy Spirit in its broadest sense. Those who limit the work of the Holy Spirit to the regeneration of the soul, forget that the Holy Spirit radiates from our spirits throughout all the aspects of our lives and thus creates a totally different atmosphere. Satan created a demonic atmosphere through his effect on the souls of Gentile nations, but the Holy Spirit has an even greater effect when with divine omnipotence He penetrates human life once He has established His own center of radiation in the church.
With all this, we are not suggesting that the line of separation between the holy and unholy territories can always be observed. The church in the prosperous city of Corinth was little more than a very small oasis in a moral wilderness. The few Christians there were not very influential in the city. The dominant atmosphere of the city remained pagan. In fact, there was great danger that the demonic influences radiating from that pagan atmosphere would penetrate the church of Christ. That is the reason for Paul’s sharp admonitions in his letters to this church. It was only later, when the majority were baptised, that the church could influence public affairs.
This process of Christianisation took even more time among the tribes and nations of Central and Northern Europe. With such massive peoples’ movements it was only to be expected that the Christian life at first would be no more than a veneer. Under the veneer of Christianity the old paganism continued with its destructive demonic influences. The continuation of this ancient pagan spirit revealed itself not only in the retention of pagan customs and in a low level of morality, but also in the tendency to restrain demonic powers by means of superstitious practices. Occasionally such situations could degenerate to such an extent that a kind of satanic worship was established. The ancient traditions encouraged attempts to incorporate these demonic powers, to seek reconciliation with them, to make them subservient, and all of this would find expressions in shameful orgies. These traditions would express themselves in many forms of superstition and they have left us with fearful memories of awful with-hunts and witch trials.
The church and, upon the church’s insistence, the government sensed clearly the great danger that threatened the Christian community from the side of these demonic influences. Today there is the tendency to interpret all of this superstition as the result of ignorance and delusions. For those who deny the existence and the power of these unholy spiritual powers, that is the only interpretation possible. The Christian church never accepted that view. The church knew from the Gospel and from her Lord and King that these demonic powers were too real to deny. We have every right to regard such a widespread revelation of devilish appearances as a strong attempt of Satan to interfere in the Kingdom of Christ in order to retain his own influence and to prevent the expansion of the sacred territory of the Holy Spirit. The mistake of the church and government of those days was not their recognition that they were dealing with demonic powers. Their mistake was that they sought to battle against these phenomena with sword and persecution instead of with spiritual means. Because of this mistake, the struggle of the Christian church against these demonic powers constitutes a very somber, dark and shameful page in its history. This was not the casting out of demons by means of high spiritual superiority of which we read in the days of the apostles. This was an attempt to achieve by persecution through fire and sword what could only be undermined and overcome by spiritual means.
The formula used in the Reformed Church for the Lord’s Supper followed a better way. Here the demonic is attacked in its nerve center. It acknowledges that even in the Christian church traces of this evil are found, but the power to resist is sought in ecclesiastical discipline and in exclusion from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This spiritual attack has been so successful that in no church has superstition been erased as thoroughly as in Calvinist churches. The prime initiative came from the churches and their attack was purely spiritual in nature,1717The Reformed churches not only lost their superstition, but they also lost all sensitivities to that large spiritual world, the reality of which Kuyper is arguing so strongly. A case of the baby being thrown out along with the bath water. though governments also sought to suppress these evils.
One dangerous side of this continued demonic influence was that people thought they could break its power by means of magic. In other words, they sought to stem the fatal influence of Satan by means obtained from Satan himself! That constitutes superstition. It is the belief that there are secret means to resist the evil effects of demonic powers, whether these powers tempt us to sin, or lead to sickness or evil in person or animal, or disturb life by means of other fearful phenomena. Superstition seeks deliverance through amulet, talisman, magical formula or incantation. Satan is thought to have created evil by magic, and superstition seeks to overcome him by even stronger magic. By trying to overcome the demonic with demonic means people in fact confirmed the rule of the demonic in their hearts. It looked better when deliverance could be attributed to a religious relic or symbol associated with the Christian religion. However, in essence it was still an attempt to meet the demonic with an external, secret magical power instead of facing it with the spiritual force of the Holy Spirit. The Christian veneer of relic or symbol did not render the attempt less magical.
Because of this fatal mix-up, it took centuries to erase this superstition from the public life of countries where the Gospel was slowly penetrating deeper and deeper. Among peoples still under the sway of traditional religions and Islam we find that all sorts of secret working of demonic origin, no longer common among Christianised people, are still daily occurrences. Such people continue to depend on magical formulas to resist demonic influences.1818My experiences in Nigeria bear out these assertions as already indicated previously. However, these people not only use magical formulas to resist demonic influences, but the sorcerers among them also use formulas to harness these influences for their own benefit.
Nevertheless, even now we should not fool ourselves into thinking that there are no traces of superstition left among the Christianised people of the world. Gambling and other types of games encourage belief in the effect of a mysterious fate on our lives. You will find fortune tellers and soothsayers in all large cities. Members of the highest social classes seek their advice. Various superstitious means are used throughout Christianised people to determine the number of people with whom a person should sit at the dining table or the day of arrival of a certain ship at sea. In even the most highly cultured circles where sensitivity and experience of the Holy Spirit is lost, you find that people resort to spiritism and clairvoyance, as if they have access to greater light there than they have in the Light of the Gospel.
We do not deny that there is truth in all these phenomena or that they are worth our attention. But evil creeps in when the Gospel is pushed aside and people search for a higher revelation in these phenomena than has been given us in Christ. Do not forget that the Bible teaches that even Satan can work signs and miracles. For this reason, Christians have constantly to be aware of the need to test the spirits.
It is only the greater power that radiates from the Holy Spirit throughout private and public life that can deliver us permanently from the dominion of these demonic powers and superstitions. Christ, our King who is seated at the right hand of God, has poured out the Holy Spirit into the midst of our lives. By means of this Spirit, Christ has established the church, of which He is head, as a spiritual power on earth whose workings and influence already serve as instruments of His dominion. The influences of this Holy Spirit radiate far beyond the limited circle of this living church. You can find its traces in the life of the people, in public opinion, in the law, on morals and customs, in short, everywhere. Those influences of the Holy Spirit have formed a dam that obstructs the flow of the demonic. It is in this way that the Holy Spirit has gradually freed public life from demonic powers.
The Christianised peoples of the world are free. 1919It would appear here as if Kuyper had a very high and uncritical opinion of western culture. In fact, those acquainted with his writings and works know that Kuyper was a tireless champion against the secularism and decadence of his culture. His positive attitude here is directed to developments in science. In his days, people could be excused from failing to recognize the negatives associated with science and technology today. See Introduction. The superstitious attempts to control the results of the curse by magical means has largely disappeared from among them. This freedom, this liberated spirit has awoken in them the power and realisation that, through scientific research, inventiveness and penetration into the mysteries of nature, it is possible once again to master the mysterious powers of nature that God has created.
Those who see in Christ only the Saviour of the souls of the elect may have difficulty understanding these broad concepts. But those who understand that Christ has been given all power on heaven and on earth, spiritual and material, will recognise the great drama surrounding Christ, the Lion of Judah. He is the center of that divine struggle involving the principles and powers, a struggle that will continue until its bitter completion, when Satan will fall from heaven like lightning and this world has been released from his grip, while God’s holy dominion over this world will have been fully established.
This process, during which the ruler of this world is dethroned and the glorious dominion of Christ is established over this world, constitutes the red line throughout history.
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