This is part four of a series on Jonathan Edwards’ thought regarding the active work of Satan in the world.
Any discussion about the work of Satan must first begin with the character and nature of Satan. Just as God’s activity is necessitated by his character, so too Satan’s activity is necessitated by his character. Edwards writes,
The true beauty and loveliness of all intelligent beings primarily and most essentially consist in their moral excellency or holiness. herein consists the loveliness of angels, without which, not withstanding all their natural perfections, they would have no more loveliness than devils. . . . But though the devils are very strong, and of great natural understanding, yet they are not the more lovely. They are more terrible, indeed, not more amiable; but on the contrary, the more hateful. The holiness of an intelligent creature, is the beauty of all his natural perfections. . . . Herein consists the beauty and brightness of the angels of heaven, that they are holy angels, and so not devils. (279)
Included in Edwards’ discussion of “devils” is the chief devil, Satan. He is loathsome because of his lack of moral excellency, as are the angels who followed him in his rebellion. By equating “holiness” with “moral excellency,” Edwards intones that opposition to God is indeed opposition to moral excellency and holiness. Satan’s chief work is the opposition of that which is holy or morally excellent. God himself is pure holiness, and those who are holy are aligned under the lordship of God and actively promoting his purposes. Those who are not holy, who oppose moral excellency, strive against all that is morally excellent. As God is allergic to sin, Satan is allergic to goodness. Satan’s greater knowledge and sight of the holiness of God does not drive him to repentance, but rather even greater rage and rebellion.
Consequently, there is no master plan for the universe in the mind of Satan. He is not a jaded rival ruler, ousted by weak allies and bad fortune. He is a usurper whose coup failed, whose eternal doom is sure. Satan desired to be god, and that plan failed; all that he has left now is the active opposition of God. Satan’s work is always destructive, against the plan of God. When the demons possessed the Gadarene, they drove him to self-mutilation. When they were permitted release into the pigs, they immediately cast the swine down the embankment to their watery deaths. Demon possessed children are cast into fire or water in an attempt to destroy them. When given power over Job, Satan immediately destroys all of his possessions, servants and family. The Lord specifically places an injunction that Satan cannot kill the man, demonstrating that Satan’s intent would have been to kill Job along with the rest, even though this would not have advanced his purposes of testing Job’s trust in Yahweh. Cultures untouched by Christian influence have historically been worlds of murder, violence, cannibalism, sexual predation, loneliness, rebellion, suicide and the affirmation of those who practice such evil.
Since Satan’s chief goal is the unraveling of the good, the avenues he may have his children travel are far greater than those available to the children of God. There may be only one way to wire a building according to electrical codes, but there are a thousand ways to do it incorrectly. While only the belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ for salvation will save a man, legalism and license may both damn a man. Satan’s kingdom is advanced by the homosexual, and by the woodsman who enforces his own self-conceived notion of frontier justice on the homosexual with his Remington SP-10 Magnum.
Edwards pictures the Devil’s work within “the world” as being a work in harmony with the prevailing winds of culture. The preceding years had brought the fire of revival into the life of New England culture, and Edwards had the opportunity to observe reactions to that great work of the Spirit. He writes,
If persons did but appear to be indeed very much moved and raised, so as to be full of religious talk, and express themselves with great warmth and earnestness…it was too much the manner, without further examination, to conclude such persons were full of the Spirit of God, and had eminent experience of his gracious influences. This was the extreme which was prevailing three or four years ago. (243)
The height of the Awakening brought with it a fringe element which came to see bodily and emotional effects as proof of a work of the Spirit of God. This fringe element sadly began to permeate the majority of the work and ultimately, according to Edwards, quenched it.
In response to seeing many of those who had demonstrated such great manifestations of what was supposed to be grace plunging headlong into ruin, the winds of culture shifted back to the opposite stream of thought, that such excitable responses to religious things could not be a mark of the Spirit. Edwards continues, “But of late, instead of esteeming and admiring all religious affections without distinction, it is much more prevalent to reject and discard without all distinction” (243).
Edwards clearly does not attribute this swing to a reactionary spirit, but to Satan:
Herein appears the subtilty of Satan. While he saw that affections were much in vogue, knowing the greater part were not versed in such things, and had not much experience of great religious affections, enabling them to judge well, and to distinguish between true and false; then he knew he could best play his game, by sowing tares amongst the wheat, and mingling false affections with the works of God’s Spirit (243).
Satan did not sail against the prevailing winds of culture in an attempt to hinder the Great Awakening, but rather set a parallel tack, using the existing thoughts, desires and sensibilities of the people as a medium for deception.
This pattern is seen throughout the pages of church history. The Christians who had seen prior generations be fed to the lions and used as human torches rejoiced when Constantine declared their religion to be permissible to practice. However, it was a scant amount of time before permission became obligation enforced by a sword. Likewise, the reforms of Luther and other theologians who dared defy Papal authority reintroduced the gospel to the German people. However, this spirit of liberation quickly led to the bloody Peasant’s Rebellion, where thousands of Catholics and Protestants perished together.
Edwards does not expand this discussion to the prevailing winds in the culture outside of the church, perhaps because of the heavy ties between the church and government in New England and the centrality of the church in social life. In his context “the world” existed within the church, primarily due to the designs of church polity embrace by both his predecessors and, for a time, himself. However, the principles he has laid down certainly lend themselves to be expanded to the larger culture as a whole. The post-Enlightenment landscape of western thought decries any thought of the demonic as being superstitious. This is suitable to Satan, for wars are the easiest to win when one side denies the existence of the enemy. Meanwhile, the animistic religions of Africa see far greater direct demonic activity within the physical sphere. The faithful adherents to those religions are convinced of the deadly power of demons, and in this they are right; the world is “demon-haunted.” Satan will happily use this fear to bind animistic cultures under his dominion while using blindness to his reality to enslave the people of western cultures.
As the twisted and broken body of good king Josiah entered back through the gates of Jerusalem, slain upon the swords of Pharaoh Neco’s mighty army, Jeremiah knew what was about to befall his nation. Good king Josiah spent his few years of kingship restoring the nation of Israel to its worship of Yahweh. Over and against the traditions of his elders, the falsely assumed religion of his people, good king Josiah hacked to pieces the Asherah poles and the statues of the Baals. He carried them out of the the temple of Yahweh, deposed the pagan priests who were not priests, destroyed the houses of fertility-cult prostitution. He had the people read the Law and taught the Law. And he died defending his covenant land from an invading army, playing the man to the last.
But Jeremiah knew what course the nation would take after the mourning horns finally fell silent and the steady creep of decay consumed the body of their godly king. “Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares Yahweh.” (Jeremiah 3:10)
Pretense. That’s was the nation’s religion.
When the leaders fell and the people in the pews were reliant to draw up the waters of worship from their own hearts all they found was pretense. The words were right. The forms were right. But the heart was distant and cold. What happens when the iPod falls silent and all you have is the quiet ticking of the clock and your Bible? What happens when there is no Piper or Washer or Chandler to enliven your emotions? What happens in the quiet hours when you must pray? Can you do it without the Valley of Vision in your hands? Can you sing without the band? Can you witness without the assignment?
Who lives your worship of God? Is it you, or are you a vicarious host for the Christianity of someone else that’s never sunk into your heart?
This is the third part of a series on Jonathan Edwards’ thought regarding the active work of Satan in the world.
Many of the specific signs which are presented as positive distinguishing marks are very similar to the ideas Edwards dismantled in Part Two. The below chart distinguishes three examples:
|No Evidence (Part 2)||Evidence (Part 3)|
|Persons did not excite them of their own endeavors (Sec 4)||Arise from those influences and operations on the heart which are supernatural and divine (Sec 1)|
|Persons having religious affections of many kinds, accompanying one another (Sec 6)||Naturally beget and promote such a spirit of love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness, and mercy as appeared in Christ [Sec 8]|
|They make persons exceeding confident (Sec 11)||Attended with a conviction of the reality and certainty of divine things (Sec 5)|
The distinguishing factor in each of these cases is one of motivation or object, and sometimes both. That a man did not have his affections excited by his own endeavors does not mean they are divine, for God is not the only supernatural being. Likewise, a man may be confident in himself by counterfeit grace as well as saving grace, but saving grace produces confidence that is founded in the person and work of Christ, not in the self.
Rounded out by the remainder of the factors, Edwards makes clear that grace which is counterfeit is naturally motivated by self-exaltation and personal gain rather than a response to the greatness of the person of God. This mercenary spirit is love to self, desiring blessings, rather than a love to God, desiring to magnify him because he is worthy of magnification. Thus, for example, true affections are attended by a self-abasing humility, while counterfeit humility desires to be seen and therefore have honor brought upon it.
This is a razor-thin trail of truth to walk upon. There is only one gospel by which we might be saved by, and it is a narrow and difficult way. The possibilities of delusion are very real, with catastrophic results for the blind traveller. We live in a culture that ignores the presence of the demonic, a spirit of the age that has heavily influenced the church. For the majority of believers, there most likely would be no little or no change in their practical Christianity if all of the references to the demonic element were deleted from the Scriptures. Even within “reformed” circles, we often focus upon self-deception to the exclusion of demonic deception, treating self-deception as though it was merely the construct of an individual mind isolated from any outside influence. Though self-deception ultimately is located in the self, that does not mean that there are no unseen powers pacifying the conscience and insulating that self-deception from opposition.
The Scriptures portray three broad categories which oppose the work of the Spirit. First is the intrinsic antagonism towards God within the fallen nature, inherited through Adam’s rebellion in the garden. In Psalm 51:5 David laments that his own opposition to God began even before his own birth: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Peter urges those who have been saved and sanctified by Christ to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet 2:11). James likewise attributes the believers’ quarrels to “passions at war within you” (Jas 4:1). Though regeneration reverses the totally corrupt nature, it does not eradicate every rebel strand of thought and will. The fallen nature continues to wage guerrilla war against the conquering power of God. There is nothing external in this category, but rather it provides a friendly partner for the demonic cooperation.
The second category is the rather intangible concept of “the world.” The book of 1 John offers the most detailed treatment of this category in the Scriptures, making statements such as “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16). There is a cunning power behind this system who constantly incites its continued rebellion against the Lord for, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).
Satan does not influence the world only as a catalyst but also as a ruler. He is evil and directly does evil, but he is also a mastermind conspirator moving all of his servants to cooperate with his opposition to Christ’s kingdom. Jesus does not dispute Satan’s authority claims over this world during the temptation in the wilderness. Paul writes of blinded unbelievers, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers . . .” (2 Cor 4:4). To the Ephesians he writes regarding ungodly actions, “in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:2).
The third category is the individualization of the second. Beyond being the governing authority (though illegitimately so) behind the world, Satan also is depicted in the Scriptures as a direct interactive agent in the world. The serpent encountered by Eve in the Garden was no mere reptile, but Satan Himself taking the body of a snake. Luke writes of the temptation of Christ as being a direct conversation between Jesus and Satan, though he does not elaborate if Satan appeared as a corporeal being or whether the conversation existed on a metaphysical plane. Perhaps most terrifying of all, Paul declares during a conversation about the existence of false apostles masquerading as righteous teachers, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).
man of renown
The son of the king
son of the crown
A gleam in the eye
of the young maids
Mind like a charger
tongue like a blade
Toasted by nobles
with goblets of wine
Raised in his honor
Lads on their ponies
would fain be him
With toy lances drawn
faces set grim
came to be crowned
Looked at the crowds
then cast it down
would rather be
The darling of crowds
than noble king
*Michael DeJeeter is a fictional character.
This is part two of a series exploring Jonathan Edwards’ thought about Satanic delusion in the hearts of believers and unbelievers. All page numbers reference Religious Affections in Hendrickson’s The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 1 (Jump to Edwards and Demons: Part I).
Part 2 of Religious Affections consists of Edwards detailing “what are no certain signs that religious affections are truly gracious, or that they are not” (245). Much of this material builds upon his Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, published in 1741. The rhetorical structure of each proposition discussed elucidates Edwards’ position as both a great supporter of the revival, and a great critic of the excesses to which the revivalist spirit was taken. A sampling of his subject matter reveals that Edwards is greatly concerned about the emphasis on flamboyant emotion and practices as proof that a work is produced by regeneration, or that such flamboyance is proof that it is not a work of the Spirit.
- It is no sign, one way or other, that religious affections are very great, or raised very high (245).
- It is no sign that affections have the nature of true religion, or that they do not, that they have great effects on the body (246).
- It is no evidence that religious affections are saving, or that they are otherwise, that there is an appearance of love in them (250).
- It is no certain sign that affections have in them the nature of true religion, or that they have not, that they dispose persons to spend much time in religion, and to be zealously engaged in the external duties of worship (255).
Central to all of Edwards’ considerations is a tremendous skepticism of the heart’s ability to discern its own state before the Lord. Because of the guilt incurred by man from the fall, every man is possessed by a desperation towards delusion in an attempt to justify himself before the tribunal of his own conscience. Natural man desires to believe himself either to be free from the claim of the law or to be justified before the Law. Add to this the malicious work of Satan, whose work is described in Scripture as work of deception and blinding, and there is ample reason for such skepticism.
Given that Edwards has defined true religion as “in the great part, consist[ing] in holy affections” (236) which are indistinguishable from actions as ordered by the affections-informed will, the conclusion of Part Two leaves us in a difficult position. Edwards has categorically and methodically argued against judging spiritual health by perception of religious affections, yet he speaks of affections as proved by the actions. To solve this dilemma we must understand that a man’s perceptions of reality and reality itself may be two very different objects. The role of Satan as a counterfeiter will be explored in the second half of this paper, but at this juncture we must understand that it is precisely this tension that Edwards is attempting to solve. The world is not a simplistic environment where all is as it seems. Actions are the greatest proof of affections, but in a world of counterfeits, a man must be willing to diligently study every facet of his actions to seize a glimpse of the nature of his affections.
It is in Part Three that Edwards turns to this, “showing what are distinguishing signs of truly gracious and holy affections” (262). Edwards quickly places two caveats that the reader must keep in mind. His propositions are not infallible guides, for Edwards acknowledges that hypocrites will most likely twist anything to convince themselves of their own favorable state. He writes,
I am far from undertaking to give such signs of gracious affection, as shall be sufficient to enable any certainly to distinguish true affections from false in others; or to determine positively which of their neighbors are true professors or hypocrites. . . . No such signs are to be expected, that shall be sufficient to enable those saints certainly to discern their own good estate, who are very low in grace, or are such as have much departed from God, and are fallen into a dead, carnal, and unchristian frame (262, 263).
In our modern day, we typically think of assurance as a synonym for positive emotions confirmed by deep introspection. To be assured of something means to be at peace regarding it, to be convinced because of a lack of emotions suggesting the contrary. Emotions, not deeds, are proof of saving grace. While this model does positively guard against works-righteousness salvation, it also serves to convince those without grace that they possess it because they have no feelings to the contrary. Edwards finds this emphasis upon introspection as contrary to the way Scripture evaluates assurance.
It is not God’s design that men should obtain assurance in any other way, than by mortifying corruption, increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it. And although self-examination be a duty of great use and importance, and by no means to be neglected; yet it is not the principal means, by which the saints do get satisfaction of their good estate. Assurance is not to be obtained so much by self-examination as by action.
There is a violence in assurance that is not often bespoken of in contemporary thought. Mortification of sin is the principal demonstration of saving grace, as said in Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of Yahweh is hatred of evil.” Counterfeit will not be intent upon mortifying that which feeds it, for all false work is ultimately fed by evil desires. There may be the appearance of mortification in a false work by shifting sin from one category to another, but a work of grace will see mortification touch every category of thought and deed.
The second she walked through the door I knew that we might a problem. I was working as a math tutor, she was a high school junior who had been assigned to me weeks before. Except that particular day she must have dug through the closet and assembled her outfit from the clothes haunting the dark recesses of the closet – clothes that somehow didn’t get donated with the rest of the shirts and shorts she had grown out of a few grades ago.
Five minutes into the tutoring session I did what any red-blooded human male should do. I excused myself to the restroom, pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and lit up my friends’ phones with emergency “here’s the unescapable situation, pray for me” texts.
They did. And the strength given to my heart for the next hour was noticeable.
For some reason this episode from almost a year ago has been in my mind today. I share it as an idea in the war on sin. Joseph’s exit strategy isn’t always possible. But there’s always the text. What better ally than fellow brothers in the battle standing beside you as you seek to murder your sin? Depression and sins of the tongue and bitterness and anger and jealousy and lust and sluggardry and lasciviousness and self-promotion and paralyzing fear haunt us as believers. Pull out your cell phone and enlist the body of Christ for immediate aid. God’s mercies are found in strange places sometimes. Even in technology.
I’ve fielded a few requests to publish a paper I wrote as my final project in Jonathan Edwards class. Religious Affections has been a book that’s endured for a reason. Edwards wrote it that men may have assurance of their salvation through understanding the difference between authentic and counterfeit religious affections. I wrote my paper exploring the role of Satanic delusion in convincing men that they are saved when they are not. Writing this paper opened my eyes to see how pernicious, malicious, and vile Satan truly is. The first half of the paper investigates Edwards’ major themes throughout Religious Affections, and the second half is focused on Satan’s work in our lives and the lives of unbelievers. I’ll be posting this in several pieces over the next week.
Affections are tricky things. Since the Enlightenment, the domain of the word has continued to shrink, beaten back before the onslaught of scientific rationalism, utilitarianism and a natural humanism skeptical of metaphysics. A shell of what it used to be, “affections” remains within the English language as little more than a placard for romantic feeling. This is not the understanding Jonathan Edwards brought to the word “affections,” and we must come to terms with his further reaching use of it if we are to comprehend his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections.
This weightier understanding is made clear from the very beginning of the treatise, as Edwards declares his thesis to be that “[T]rue religion, in great part, consists in holy affections” (236). Seeing that a great deal hangs in the balance with how the word is defined, Edwards writes, “Here it may be inquired, what the affections of the mind are?–I answer, The affections are no other, than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul. . . .The will and the affections of the soul are not two faculties; the affections are not essentially distinct from the will, nor do they differ from the mere actings of the will and inclination, but only in the liveliness and sensibility of exercise” (237).
While the connection between the will and the affections is primarily reserved for discussion in The Freedom of the Will, it is essential to grasp that “affections” are to be understood as all of the motivating factors that lead to action. Indeed, actions are proof of the reality and strength of the affections. Every action is the result of a cause, and the cause that motivates action is the sum of all the warring loves within the soul. A man will do what he loves and nothing else. Paschal agrees in his Pensees:
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
If it be the sight of the excellency of Christ and the greatness of God that captivates the heart, a man will endure immense suffering because his love for Christ outweighs his love of avoiding pain. If his chief desire is self-preservation, a man will avoid doing any action or believing any principle that he perceives will bring upon him a great deal of risk to his person. What causes our highest delights will be that which we sacrifice all else to preserve.
To support his thesis that love to God is the essence of all true religion, Edwards cites a number of texts and inferences. The Shema and greatest commandment do not consist of knowledge or duty, but rather that “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh alone. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:4-5). The eventual exile was not predicated by a failure to adhere to the ritualistic sacrificial code (Amos 5:21-23), but rather by hardness of heart (Ezek 3:7), a theme repeated by Jesus in his continual rebuke of the Pharisees (Mark 3:5). While the Israelites’ cultic practices may have seemed to be authentic worship upon a superficial first glance, the deadness of their hearts unstirred by love to Yahweh rendered such actions moot. Though actions may be done by counterfeit, the motivation of the action determines if they are counterfeit or not, as love to God is the motivation behind all acts which are outworkings of genuine religious affections.