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238

CHAPTER XX.
THE POWER OF SATAN AND ITS LIMITS.
HUMILITY THE FOUNDATION OF PENITENCE AND OF HOLINESS.

"Be subject therefore unto God; but resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall exalt you."—St. James iv. 7-10.

SUBMISSION to God is the beginning, middle, and end of the prodigal's return from disastrous familiarity with the world to the security of the Father's home. A readiness to submit to whatever He may impose is the first step in the conversion, just as unwillingness to surrender one's own will is the first step towards revolt and desertion. "I am no more worthy to be called Thy son: make me as one of Thy hired servants." As soon as the resolve to make this act of submission is formed, the turning-point between friendship with the world and fidelity to God has been passed. The homeward path is not an easy one, but it is certain, and those who unflinchingly take it are sure of a welcome at the end of it. The prodigal was tenderly received back by his offended father, and these adulterous souls will be admitted to their old privileges again, if they will but return. God has given them 239 no bill of divorcement to put them away for ever (Isa. l. 1). "If a man put away his wife, and she go from him and become another man's, shall he return unto her again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to Me, saith the Lord" (Jer. iii. 1). An amount of mercy and forgiveness which cannot be shown by an earthly husband to his unfaithful wife is readily promised by God.

But the return must be a complete one. There must be every guarantee that the penitent is in earnest and has utterly broken with the past. And St. James with affectionate sternness points out the necessary steps towards reconciliation. He will not be guilty of the crime of those who "have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people lightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace" (Jer. viii. 11). The results of intimacy with the world cannot be undone in a day, and there is painful work to be done before the old relationship can be restored between the soul and its God.

Among the most grievous consequences of yielding to the world and its ways are the weakening of the will and the lowering of the moral tone. They come gradually, but surely; and they act and react upon one another. The habitual shirking of the sterner duties of life, and the living in an atmosphere of self-indulgence, enervate the will; and the conscious adoption of a standard of life which is not approved by conscience is in itself a lowering of tone. And this is one of the essential elements of worldliness. The pleas that "I can't help it," and that "everybody does it," are among the most common excuses urged by those whose citizenship is not in heaven (Phil. iii. 20) but in that 240 commonwealth of which Satan is the presiding power. They like to believe that temptations are irresistible, and that there is no obligation to rise above the standard of morality which those about them profess to accept. Such men deliberately surrender to what they know to be evil, and place what they think to be expedient above what they know to be right, forgetting that even the worldlings who set them this low standard, and openly defend it, very often do not really approve it, but despise while they applaud the man that conforms to it.

St. James enters an earnest and simple protest against the weak plea that temptations are irresistible. To maintain that is to assert that the evil one has more will and power to destroy mankind than God has to save them. The truth is exactly the other way. God not only allows to Satan no power to coerce a man into sin, but He Himself is ever ready to aid when He is faithfully prayed to do so. Every Christian is endowed with sufficient power to withstand Satan, if only the will to withstand is present, because he has the power to summon God to his assistance. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you;" that is one side of the blessed truth; and the other is its correlative: "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you."

It will be observed that St. James, quite as much as St. Peter, or St. Paul, or St. John, speaks of the chief power of evil as a person. The passage is not intelligible on any other interpretation; for there is a manifest and telling antithesis between the devil who yields to opposition, and the God who responds to invitation. It is a contrast between two personal agencies. Whether St. James was aware of the teaching of the Apostles on this point is not of great moment; his own 241 teaching is clear enough. As a Jew he had been brought up in the belief that there are evil spiritual beings of whom Satan is the chief, and since he became a Christian he had never been required to revise this belief. He was probably well aware of the teaching of Jesus Christ as to the real source of temptations. He may have heard Christ's own interpretation of the birds in the parable of the Sower: "And when they have heard, straightway cometh Satan, and taketh away the word which hath been sown in them" (Mark iv. 15). He probably had heard of Christ's declaration to St. Peter, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat: but I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not" (Luke xxii. 31), where we have a contrast similar to this, an infernal person on one side, and a Divine Person on the other, of the man assailed by temptation. How easy to have interpreted the birds in the parable as the impersonal solicitations of a depraved nature, the hearers' own evil tendencies; and perhaps if we had not possessed Christ's own explanation we should so have explained the birds by the wayside. But Christ seems to have made use of this, the queen of all the parables (Mark iv. 13), in order to teach that a personal enemy there is, who is ever on the watch to deprive us of what will save our souls. And the warning to St. Peter might easily have been given in a form that would not have implied a personal tempter. Nor do these two striking passages stand alone in our Lord's teaching. How unnecessary to speak of the woman who "was bowed together, and could in nowise lift up herself," as one "whom Satan had bound," unless He desired to sanction and enforce this belief (Luke xiv. 11, 16). And why speak of having "beheld Satan 242 fall as lightning from heaven" (Luke x. 18), unless He had this desire? When the Jews said that He cast out devils by the aid of the prince of the devils, it would have been a much more complete contradiction to have replied that no such person existed, than to argue that Satan was not likely to fight against his own interests. If the belief in personal powers of evil is a superstition, Jesus Christ had ample opportunities of correcting it; and He not only steadfastly abstained from doing so, but in very marked ways, both by His acts and by His teaching, He did a great deal to encourage and inculcate the belief. He showed no sympathy with the scepticism of the Sadducees about such things. He argued convincingly against them as regards the doctrine of the resurrection and a future life, and He gave full sanction to the belief in angels and spirits, both good and bad. There is no need to lay much stress upon the disputed meaning of the last petition in the Lord's Prayer; the evidence is quite ample without that. Yet those who are convinced that "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil," must mean, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the tempter," have a very important piece of evidence to add to all the rest. Is a gross superstition embodied in the very wording of the model prayer?

In the volume in this series which treats of the Pastoral Epistles is a passage on this subject respecting which a very friendly critic has said that he cannot quite see the force of it.7878   Sunday School Chronicle, March 15th, 1889; also the Durham Chronicle, Jan. 31st, 1890. As the argument is of value, it may be worth while to state it here more clearly. The statement criticized is the concluding sentence of 243 the following passage: "It has been said that if there were no God we should have to invent one; and with almost equal truth we might say that if there were no devil we should have to invent one. Without a belief in God bad men would have little to induce them to conquer their evil passions; without a belief in a devil good men would have little hope of ever being able to do so."7979   Expositor's Bible: Pastoral Epistles (Hodder and Stoughton, 1888), p. 80. The meaning of the last statement is this, that if good men were compelled to believe that all the devilish suggestions which rise up in their minds come from themselves alone, they might well be in despair of ever getting the better of themselves or of curing a nature capable of producing such offspring. But when they know that "a power, not themselves, which makes for" wickedness is the source of these diabolical temptations, then they can have confidence that their own nature is not so hopelessly corrupt but that, with the help of "the Power, not themselves, that makes for righteousness" they will be able to gain the victory.

The plea that the devil is irresistible, and that therefore to yield to temptation is inevitable, is only another form of the fallacy, against which St. James has already protested, of trying to shift the responsibility of temptation from oneself to God (i. 13-15). It is the old fallacy carried a stage farther. The former plea has reference to the temptation; the present one has reference to the fall. As regards both the facts are conclusive. We often provoke our own temptations; we always can resist them if we in faith draw nigh to God for protection. "To this end the Son of man was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John iii. 8). And the Son of God preserveth 244 every child of God, "and the evil one toucheth him not" (1 John v. 18). But the man himself must consent and co-operate, for God saves no man against his will. "Return unto Me, and I will return unto you," is the principle of the Old Covenant (Zech. i. 3); and "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you," is the principle of the New.

The converse of this is true also, and it is a fact of equal solemnity and of great awfulness. Resist God, and He will depart from you. Draw nigh to the devil, and he will draw nigh to you. If we persist in withstanding God's grace, He will at last leave us to ourselves. His Spirit will not always strive with us; but at last He Himself hardens the heart which we have closed against him, for He allows things to take their course, and the heart which refuses to be softened by the dew of His grace must become harder and harder. And the more we place ourselves in the devil's way, by exposing ourselves to needless temptations, the more diligently he will seek us and abide with us. Those who voluntarily take up their abode in the tents of ungodliness have surrendered all claim to be kept unspotted from the world. They have lost their right to join in the cry, "Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord? why hidest Thou Thyself in times of trouble?"

But the hands which one raises in prayer to God must be cleansed by withholding them from all evil practices, and from all grasping after the contaminating gifts of the world; and the heart must be purified by the quenching of unholy desires and the cultivation of a godly spirit. In this St. James is but repeating the principles laid down by the Psalmist: "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? and who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands 245 and a pure heart" (Ps. xxiv. 3, 4). And in similar language we find Clement of Rome exhorting the Corinthians, "Let us therefore approach Him in holiness of soul, lifting up pure and undefiled hands unto Him" (xxix.). In all these instances the external instruments of human conduct are mentioned along with the internal source of it.

St. James is not addressing two classes of people when he says, "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded." Every one whose hands have wrought unrighteousness is a sinner who needs this cleansing; and every one who attempts to draw nigh to God, without at the same time surrendering all unholy desires, is a double-minded man who needs this purification. The "halting between two opinions," between God and Mammon, and between Christ and the world, is fatal to true conversion and efficacious prayer. What is necessary, therefore, for these sinners of double mind, is outward amendment of life and inward purification of the desires. "The sinner that goeth two ways" must with "a single eye" direct his path along the narrow way. "Whoso walketh uprightly shall be delivered; but he that walketh perversely in two ways shall fall at once" (Prov. xxviii. 18). The whole exhortation is in spirit very similar to the second half of the second chapter of Ecclesiasticus. Note especially the concluding verses: "They that fear the Lord will prepare their hearts and humble their souls in His sight, saying, We will fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men; for as His majesty is, so is His mercy."

There must be no "light healing," or treatment of the grievous sins of the past as of no moment. There must be genuine sorrow for the unfaithfulness which 246 has separated them so long from their God, and for the pride which has betrayed them into rebellion against Him. "Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep." The first verb refers to the inward feeling of wretchedness, the other two to the outward expression of it. These two are found in combination in several passages, both in the Old Testament and in the New (2 Sam. xix. 2; Neh. viii. 9; Mark xvi. 10; Luke vi. 25; Rev. xviii. 15, 19). The feelings of satisfaction and self-sufficiency in which these friends of the world have hitherto indulged, and the glowing complacency which has been manifest in their demeanour, have been quite out of place, and must be exchanged for feelings and manifestations of grief. Their worldly merriment also must be abandoned; those who have cut themselves off from God have no true spring of joy. "Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness." The last word (κατήφεια), which occurs nowhere else in Scripture, refers primarily to the dejected look which accompanies heaviness of heart. The writer of the Book of Wisdom uses the adjective (κατηφής) to express the "gloomy phantoms with unsmiling faces" which he supposes to have appeared to the Egyptians during the plague of darkness (xvii. 4). The term admirably expresses the opposite of boisterous lightheartedness.

St. James ends as he began, with submission to the Almighty. He began his exhortation as to the right method of conversion with "Be subject unto God." He ends with "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will exalt you." The root of their worldliness and their grasping at wealth and honour is pride and self-will, and the cure for that is self-abasement and self-surrender. If it is God's will that they should 247 occupy a lowly place in society, let them humbly accept their lot, and not try to change it by violence or fraud. If they will but remember their own transgressions against the Lord, they will admit that the humblest place is not too humble for their merits; and it is the humble whom God delights to honour. Here, again, St. James is reproducing the teaching of his Divine Brother: "Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke xiv. 11; Matt. xxiii. 12). And the Old Testament teaches the same lesson. "The humble person He shall save," says Eliphaz the Temanite (Job xxii. 29); and the Psalmist gives us both sides of the Divine law of compensation: "Thou wilt save the afflicted people; but the haughty eyes Thou wilt bring down" (xviii. 27).

"Humble yourselves;" "He that humbleth himself." Everything depends on that. It must be self-abasement. There is nothing meritorious in chancing to be in a humble position, still less in being forced to descend to one. It is the voluntary acceptance, or the choice, of a lowly place that is pleasing to God. We must choose it as knowing that we deserve nothing better, and as wishing that others should be promoted rather than ourselves. And this must be done "in the sight of the Lord;" not in self-consciousness, to "to be seen of men," which is "the pride that apes humility," but in the consciousness of the ineffable presence of God. That is the source of all true self-abasement and humility. To realize that we are in the presence of the All-holy and All-pure, in whose sight the stars are not clean, and who charges even the angels with folly, is to feel that all differences of merit between man and man have faded away in the immeasurable abyss which 248 separates our own insignificance and pollution from the majesty of His holiness. "Now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes," is the language of Job (xlii. 5, 6). And it was the same feeling which wrung from St. Peter, as he fell down at Jesus' knees, the agonizing cry, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke v. 8). Hence it is that the most saintly persons are always the most humble; for they realize most perfectly the holiness of God and the ceaselessness of His presence, and are therefore best able to appreciate the contrast between their own miserable imperfections and His unapproachable purity. The language which they at times use about themselves is sometimes suspected of unreality and exaggeration, if not of downright hypocrisy; but it is the natural expression of the feelings of one who knows a great deal about the difference between a creature who is habitually falling into sin and One who, in holiness, as in wisdom and power, is absolute and infinite perfection. Humility is thus the beginning and end of all true religion. The sinner who turns to God must be humble; and this is the humility which St. James is urging. And the saint, as he approaches nearer to God, will be humble; for he knows what the approach has cost him, and how very far off he still remains.

"And He will exalt you." This is the result, not the motive. To strive to be humble in order to be exalted would be to poison the virtue at its source. Just as the conscious pursuit of happiness is fatal to its attainment, so also the conscious aim at Divine promotion. The way to be happy is not to think about one's own happiness, but to sacrifice it to that of others; and the way to be exalted by God is not to think of one's 249 own advancement, but to devote oneself to the advancement of others. The exaltation is sure to come, if only humility is attained; an exaltation of which there is a foretaste even in this life, but the full fruition of which lies in those unknown glories which await the humble Christian in the world to come.

Note.—It may be that in the phrase "Resist the devil" we have an echo of another unrecorded utterance of Christ, of which we have possible traces also in St. Paul's "Stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph. vi. 11), and St. Peter's "Whom withstand, steadfast in your faith" (1 Peter v. 9). Comp. Shepherd of Hermas, Mand. XII. v. 2; iv. 7; Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Neph. viii., where James iv. 7 (or its source) would seem to be quoted.


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