Edwards and Demons Part IV
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.