The Devil and His Activities

2 Corinthians 2:11; 4:3-6; 11:2-3, 14; 12:6-9

It is my intention to talk about the devil. A strange subject, you say. Yes, but a most necessary one. It would serve his purpose well if we ignored or forgot his existence, for he would then be able to carry on his activities against us and we would be entirely unaware of them. And it is a fact that nobody was ever of much use to God who did not believe in the existence and malignant activities of the devil.

In Revelation 20, we are told that he is to be bound with a great chain and cast into the bottomless pit. When that judgment is executed upon him his character and work will be fully exposed, but it is there already revealed for us who believe. He is "the dragon, that old serpent, the devil and Satan." As the dragon he is the destroyer; as the old serpent he is the deceiver; as the devil, he is the accuser; as Satan, he is the adversary — the adversary of God, and of all good, and of our souls. Here then is his four-fold character — destroyer, deceiver, accuser, adversary. Now I want you to see how our Lord Jesus Christ stands out in contrast to the devil. If the devil is the destroyer, our Lord is the Deliverer; and if the devil is the deceiver, our Lord is the Truth — the Holy and the True; if the devil is the accuser — the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12), our Lord is the Intercessor and Advocate; and if the devil is the adversary, our Lord is the Friend. You must choose, young Christians, under whose control you will come. If you go in for the world you will come under the devil's control, for he is the "god" and the "prince" of it; if you seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness you will come under the control of Jesus, the Saviour, for He is Lord in that realm.

From this second Epistle to the Corinthians we learn that the devil is active against us in four distinct ways. The Epistle shows us Christian character — that is why the writer speaks in it of "the meekness and gentleness of Christ." There is in it also a remarkable autobiography of the Apostle Paul, in whom Christian character was so clearly displayed. Now the thing the devil hates above all else is that Christ should shine out through us in this world. He cannot shine out if He has not shone in, so the first great effort of the devil is to prevent Him from shining in. "If our gospel be hid it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine to them." The first of his activities is to BLIND the minds of men against the light of the knowledge of God.

How exceedingly devilish is this work of the devil. He would keep men in ignorance of the God who loves them, therefore he blinds their minds against the light that shines in the face of Jesus, for it is from His face that the light of what God is is shining now — from that face that smiled upon the children, that looked with compassion upon the leper, and was wet with tears at the grave of Lazarus, and was marred more than any man's when He gave Himself to suffer for sinners! The devil uses all his subtlety and power to blind men to the light of grace that shines in that most blessed face. This is confirmed by the Lord's own words, when He interpreted the parable of the Sower to His disciples. He said, "Those by the wayside are they that hear; then comes the devil, and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved." There is no pity in the heart of the devil, he labours for the damnation of men's souls; he wrought on us with this end in view, and succeeded for a while, but, thank God, we have been delivered from his blinding influence.

"Jesus the Lord, our night broke through
And gave us light divine."

And we know God now; we can say with rapture, "God is love," and in that we rest.

I speak to those who are specially interested in the going forth of the gospel, and I trust that is true of everyone of us. Let us remember that in preaching the gospel we have not only to meet the increasing indifference to God in the hearts of men, but we have to contend with the blinding power of the devil. How are we going to deal with that? That is not going to be overcome by eloquent words, and clever arguments. Fine singing and bright services cannot deliver souls from that darkness. This is a spiritual conflict, and we shall have to remember that we possess a pair of knees and we must use them in the presence of our God. We must learn what that means. "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." With man it is impossible, but not with God, and if we preach the word in dependence upon God, and carry on our service through God, we shall not be ineffective, but shall have the joy of seeing sinners turned from darkness to light, even as we were. Blessed be the Name of our God!

Think again of the face of Jesus, and of the grace that has beamed upon you from it; think of the fact that He in that glory is your righteousness, that in Him you have a righteousness that is without a flaw, and that you know now that God is for you, revealed to you in His grace in your glorified Saviour. How attractive is your Saviour, and how glad you are that you have escaped from the blinding power of the devil and that you live now in this glorious light — the light of the grace of God that shines in His face. But now follows a marvellous thing; and I beseech you to lend me your ears while I tell it to you. YOU ARE TO BE MARRIED TO THE MAN WHO HAS SAVED YOU! Yes, it is that that chapter 11 tells us. "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." Let that statement arrest and rivet YOU. The Man in the glory whose love and beauty have won your heart, the Man to whom you owe your deliverance from Satan's darkness, and to whom you owe your eternal salvation, is the One to whom you are to be bound by a bond that can never be dissolved. Not only are you going to bow in everlasting worship before Him, exulting in the fact that He is your Lord, but you are to be brought into this most intimate relationship with Him. The marriage day is not yet; these are the days of the espousals, but they are blessed days, and have their own peculiar sweetness.

Now the devil takes a hand in this business, he has set himself to mar these days of the espousals. He has been beaten in his efforts to blind you, and he cannot prevent the marriage day, but if he can BEGUILE you from your wholehearted devotion to Christ, to whom you are espoused, he will do it. "I fear," wrote the Apostle, "lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from your simplicity as to Christ." He will come to you with enticing words, and "a besugared mouth": and shrewd old John Bunyan tells us that he is never so dangerous as when he comes like that. He will insinuate that you may have something else as well as Christ, and that your Christian life will be none the worse for it, indeed it will be all the better; he may even use doctrine, and make you into a theologian; or service, and make you into a preacher — proud of yourself, your knowledge and your work. Then it will be self and not Christ. He will get the world into your heart if he can; it is this he desires above all things, and here his subtlety has full play; it will not seem to be the world at first, it will be the thin edge of the wedge that he will insinuate, but having accomplished that he will handle the beetle with force, and drive home the wedge, and thus he will separate you in your affections from your great Lover. It was thus with the church at Ephesus, to whom the Lord said, "Thou hast left thy first love." Oh, what a fall was there, my brethren, and what a grief to the heart of Christ; and how did it come about? Satan who beguiled Eve had beguiled them from their devotion to Christ. Are you safer from his wiles than they were? Are you stronger than they? In no wise. If Christ is the absorbing Object of your love, the devil is watching for an opportunity to beguile you; if Christ is not your absorbing Object, he has found that opportunity and has succeeded in his effort, and you too have fallen.

I am not urging you to be diligent in service, nor am I asking you to be valiant in fight. What I am pressing is — that you keep yourselves for Christ. That is the greatest thing you can do. Everything else will be right if you are right as to that. How can that be done? You will have to keep His company and listen often to the words of love that flow from His lips. Hear Him say to you, for instance "As the lily among the thorns so is My love among the daughters." What words of love are these! and what do they mean? Dr. Thompson, in his well-known book, The Land and the Book, says of this lily, "Our flower delights most in the valleys; but it is also found on the mountains. It grows among the thorns, and I have sadly lacerated my hands in extricating it from them." Do you now see the meaning of the words? Ah, it cost your great Lover something to secure you for Himself. How sorely lacerated was He, when He set Himself to extricate you from the thorns in which you grew, that you might be His, His wholly, now and for ever. His flesh was lacerated, for He showed to His disciples His wounded hands and side, and you will see those same wounds one day, but who shall tell what He suffered when His soul was wounded and bruised, when He was made an offering for your sin? Will you be indifferent in respect to Christ? Can you be fickle, or lukewarm towards Him who has suffered so much in His love for you? Resist the devil when he would beguile you from Christ; cleave close to the Lord, and then even if Satan comes as an angel of light, you will detect his wiles, and to detect him is to defeat him.

There was one man whom he could not beguile from Christ, and that man was Paul. Then he would BUFFET him, "There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me." You must be prepared for like treatment; if the devil cannot beguile you he will buffet you. As we read in this Epistle what Paul suffered for Christ's sake, we wonder that mortal man could have survived it; yet we never hear of him praying for relief from those sufferings, or complaining of the hardness of his life; but when this messenger of Satan began to buffet him it was different. This was something so terrible that he began to pray for himself. Behold him bowing down on his knees and stretching imploring hands to his Lord and beseeching Him to deliver him from this thorn in the flesh and the buffeting of it. It is an affecting sight, what shall be the issue? Three times he urges his case and then there comes the answer. Oh, wonderful answer! "My grace is sufficient for thee." "My grace" and "thee". How those words throb with the tenderness of a perfect love. And consider them: The Lord at one end of the sentence and Paul at the other, and an all-sufficient grace between. The Ocean and the thimble, and the ocean enough for the thimble! And Paul cries, "I glory in my infirmities." He exults; he hugs his thorn as a great treasure, and the devil is beaten. "Buffet as you will, O Satan, you do but drive me nearer to my Lord," is the triumphant cry of this weak saint.

Are you being buffeted, some of you? Are you undergoing some peculiar trial, perhaps something that you had dreaded, some special form of suffering, it may be physically, or spiritually, or through your circumstances; are you being battered and buffeted? Satan hopes that you will compromise in your faithfulness to Christ, or seek desperately for relief from your trial and get it. He hopes to make you murmur, or be discouraged, and give up. Consider buffeted Paul, and consider his Lord and yours, and let the words that stilled the storm in Paul's heart sing their peace-giving melody to you. "My grace is sufficient for thee, My strength is made perfect in weakness."

If the devil attacks the saints of God, he gets the worst of it. He is already a defeated foe; he knows that he has met his match and Master. The devil's Master, who is your Saviour and Lord, ever lives for you. If the devil desires to have you that be may sift you, your Intercessor has prayed for you, and through Him you may be more than a conqueror. And that is a great word. It belongs to the Divine Scriptures, and would have no meaning in mere human literature. There have been conquerors in the world's history; some of them have been great conquerors, such as Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, but they were not more than conquerors. What then is it to be more than a conqueror? To be buffeted and yet sing praises, to be going through the storm and yet rejoicing in the Lord; to have escaped the blinding, resisted the beguiling, and rejoiced in the buffeting of Satan: that is what it is to be more than a conqueror, and that you may be through Him that loves you.

Now a brief reference to his fourth activity, which was not individual but aimed against the whole company of the saints at Corinth. They were slow to forgive a repentant brother; it may be that their zeal for righteousness, for discipline, for correctness, was outstripping their grace and love; anyhow, wrote the Apostle — "FORGIVE, lest Satan should get an advantage over us: for we are not ignorant of his devices" (chap. 2:11). God had forgiven them, they were an assembly of God, to show forth His character; Satan's purpose was to blur that image, to BESMIRCH the Name of the Lord. He want those saints to give a blemished representation of God and of Christ. He is just as busy at that today. "Him that has an ear to hear, let hint hear."

Now see how this Epistle of the devil's defeat and of the saints' triumph closes. It begins with "Blessed be God," and it closes with our greatly loved benediction, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen." We are marching home to glory, and our great enemy besets us and ever hangs on our flanks, but God is round about us. Father, Son and Holy Ghost attend us, and grace, love, and communion fill us with triumphant song. Blessed for ever be the Name of our God!