THE devil is too wise, too large in mental grasp, too lordly in ambition, to confine his aims to the individual. He seeks to direct the policy and sway the scepter of nations. In his largest freedom, and in his delirium of passion and success, "he goes out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth." He is an adept in deception, an expert in all guileful arts. An archangel in execution, he often succeeds in seducing the nations most loyal to Christ, leading them into plans and principles which pervert and render baneful all Christly principles. The Church itself, the bride of Christ, when seduced from her purity, degenerates into a worldly ecclesiasticism.
The "gates of hell shall not prevail" against the Church. This promise of our Lord stands against every Satanic device and assault: But this immutable word as to the glorious outcome does not protect the Church from the devil's stratagems which may, and often do, pervert the aims of the Church and postpone the day of its final triumph.
The devil is a hydra-headed monster, but he is hydra-headed in plans and wisdom as well as in monstrosities. His master and supreme effort is to get control of the Church, not to destroy its organization, but to abate and pervert its Divine ends. This he does in the most insidious way, seemingly innocent, no startling change, nothing to shock nor to alarm. Sometimes the revolutionizing and destructive change is introduced under the disguise of a greater zeal for Christ's glory. Introduced by some one high in church honour, often it occurs that the advocate of these measures is totally ignorant of the fact that the tendency is subversive.
We are being seriously affected by the material progress of the age. We have heard so much of it, and gazed on it so long, that spiritual estimates are tame to us. Spiritual views have no form nor comeliness to us. Everything must take on the rich colourings, luxuriant growth and magnificent appearance of the material, or else it is beggarly. This is the most perilous condition the Church has to meet, when the meek and lowly fruits of piety are to be discounted by the showy and worldly graces with which material success crowds the Church. We must not yield to the flood. We must not for a moment, not the hundredth part of an inch, give place to the world. Piety must be stressed in every way and at every point. The Church must be made to see and feel this delusion and snare, this transference of her strength from God to the world, this rejection of the Holy Spirit by the endowment of "might and power," and this yielding to Satan. The Church more and more is inclined not only to disregard, but to despise, the elements of spiritual strength and set them aside, for the more impressive worldly ones.
A church can often make the fairest and best showing of material strength when death in its deadliest form is feeding on its vitals. There can scarcely be a more damaging delusion than to judge of the conditions of the Church by its material exhibits or churchly activity. Spiritual barrenness and rottenness in the Church are generally hidden by a fair exterior and an obtrusive parade of leaves and an exotic growth. A spiritual church converts souls from sin soundly, clearly and fully, and puts them on the stretch for perfect holiness, and those who are straining to get it, to keep it, and to add to it.
This spirituality is not a by-play, not to be kept in a corner of the Church, not its dress for holiday or parade days, but it is its chief and only business. If God's Church is not doing this work of converting sinners to holiness and perfecting saints in holiness, wherever and whenever this work is not blazing and conspicuous, wherever and whenever this work becomes secondary, or other interests are held to be its equivalent, then the Church has become worldly. Wherever and whenever the material interests are emphasized till they come into prominence, then the world comes to the throne and sways the scepter of Satan. There is no readier and surer way to make the Church worldly than to put its material prosperity to the front, and no surer, readier way to put Satan in charge. It is an easy matter for the assessments to become of first moment by emphasizing them till a sentiment is created that these are paramount. When collecting money, building churches, and statistical columns are to stand as evidences of real church prosperity, then the world has a strong lodgment, and Satan has gained his end.
The very heart of this disgraceful apostasy, this dethroning Christ and enthroning the devil, is to remove the Holy Spirit from His leadership in the Church and put in unspiritual men as leaders to plan for and direct the Church. The strong hands of men of great ability and men with the powers of leadership have often displaced God's leadership. The ambition for leadership and the enthronement of man-leadership, is the doom and seal of apostasy. There is no leadership in God's Church but the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The man who has the most of God's Spirit is God's chosen leader, ambitious and zealous for the Spirit's sovereignty, ambitious to be the least the slave of all.
There are two ways of directing the Church, God's way and the devil's way. God's way and man's way of running the Church are entirely at poles. Man's wise plans, happy expedients and easy solutions, are Satan's devices. The cross is retired, the world comes in' self-denial is eliminated, all seems bright, cheerful and prosperous, but Satan's hand is on the ark, men's schemes prevail, the Church fails under these taking, pet devices of men, and the bankruptcy so complete that the court of heaven will not even appoint a receiver for the collapsed and beggarly corporation.
All God's plans have the' mark of the cross on them, and all His plans have death to self in them. All God's plans have crucifixion to the world in them. But men's plans ignore the offense of the cross or despise it. Men's plans have no profound, stern or self-immolating denial in them. Their gain is of the world. How much of these destructive elements, esteemed by men, does the devil bring into the Church, until all the high, unworldly and holy aims, and heavenly objects of the Church are retired and forgotten?
The Church is distinctly, pre-eminently and absolutely a spiritual institution, that is, an institution created, vitalized, possessed and directed by the Spirit of God. Her machinery, rites, forms, services and officers have no comeliness, no pertinency, no power, save as they are depositions and channels of the Holy Spirit. It is His indwelling and inspiration which make its divine being and secure its divine end. If the devil can by any methods shut the Holy Spirit out from the Church, he has effectually barred the Church from being God's Church on earth. He accomplishes this by retiring from the Church the agencies or agents which the Holy Spirit uses, and displaces them by the natural, which are rarely if ever the media of His energy. Christ announced the universal and invariable law when He said, "That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit." The Church may have a holy preacher, a man of great prayerfulness, of great grace, filled with the Spirit. But if Satan can by any method retire him, and put a man of no prayerfulness, plausible, eloquent and popular, the Church may seem to have gained, but it has gained by the substitution of natural for spiritual forces, a gain which has all unconsciously revolutionized the Church. Officer a church with holy men, not highly cultured, but well-versed in the deep things of God, and strong in devotion to Christ and His cause, not wealthy, nor of high social position. Now change these officers and put in men who are every way decent in morality, but not given or noted for prayer and piety, men of high social position and fine financiers, and the Church scarcely marks the change, save marked improvement in finances. But an invisible and mighty change has taken place in the Church, which is radical. It has changed from a spiritual Church to a worldly one. The change from noonday to midnight is not more extreme than that.
At this point Satan is doing his deadliest and most damning work, the more deadly and damning because unnoticed, unseen, it produces no shock and it excites no alarm.
It is not by positive, conspicuous evil that Satan perverts the Church, but by quiet displacement and by unnoticed substitution. The higher is being retired, the spiritual gives place to the social, and the divine is eliminated, because it is made secondary.
The perversion and subversion of the Church is secured by Satan when the spiritual forces are retired or made subordinate to the natural, and social entertainment, and not edification becomes the end. This process involves not only the aims and ends of entertainment, but it is intended to soften and modify the distinctly spiritual aim, and to widen from what is deemed the rigid exclusiveness of spiritual narrowness. But in the end it eliminates all that is distinctly spiritual, and that which is in any sense deeply religious will not survive the death of the spiritual. Edification as the end of God's Church is wholly lost sight of, and entertainment, that which is pleasing and pleasant, comes to the front. The social forces not only retire the spiritual forces, but effectually destroy them.
A modem church with its kitchen and parlour, with its club and gymnasium, and with its ministries to the flesh and to the world, is both suggestive and alarming. How suggestive in the contrast it presents between the agencies which the primitive Church originated and fostered, as the conserver of its principles and the expression of its life, and those which the modern and progressive Church presents as its allies or substitutes. The original institutions were wholly spiritual, calculated to strengthen and cultivate all the elements which combine to make a deep and clear experience of God. They were training schools for the spiritual life, subservient to its culture as the chief end. They never lingered in the regions of the moral, the esthetic and the mental. They fostered no taste nor inclination which was not spiritual, and did not minister to the soul's advance in divine things.
They took it for granted that all who came to them, really desired to flee from the wrath to come, and were sincerely groaning after full redemption, and that their obligation to furnish to these the best aids were of the most sacred and exacting kind. It never occurred to them that the concert hall or sociable were channels through which God's grace would flow and could be laid under tribute for spiritual uses. These social and fleshly forces are regarded in many quarters as the perfection of spiritual things. These agencies are arrayed as the mature fruit of spiritual piety, flavoured and perfected by its culture and progress, and ordained henceforth as the handmaids of the prayer and testimony meeting. We object most seriously to the union. What have they in common? "How indeed can two walk together unless they be agreed?"
What elements of piety are conserved by the entertainment center or the social club? What phases of spiritual life do they promote? By what feature of the gymnasium is faith invigorated? Where do you find in it any elements which are distinctly pious, or are aids to piety? How does the sociable produce a more prayerful, a holier life? What secret springs has it to bring the soul nearer to God? Wherein does it form or strengthen the ties of a Christly fellowship? Is it not frivolous and worldly? Is it not sensuous and fleshly? Does it not cater to and suit the tastes of the carnal, the light and worldly? what unity of purpose and spirit is there between using the church as a place of entertainment or a place of witnessing for Christ? The one is intensely spiritual. The other has in it no jot or tittle of spiritual uses.
We might as well add to the list of heavenly helpers, the skating rink, calisthenics and the gymnasium. If the young people desire to join a gymnasium, enjoy a sociable or establish a bank, let them do so, but do not deceive them and degrade piety by calling these things holy institutions and feeders of spiritual life.
Disguise it as we may; reason about it as we will; apologize for it as we do; vainly philosophize of growth and change and culture, the truth is, we have lost that intense type of personal experience, that deep conviction of eternal things which are such evident features of all great spiritual movements. Many preachers and people have fallen so low in their experience that they do not relish these distinct and strongly spiritual agencies; and are devising schemes and institutions to gratify their non-spiritual tastes with schemes which are midway between Christ and the world; which, while not essentially wrong, do not possess one grain of spiritual power, and can never be the channels of heavenly communications.
It is said we cannot get the people to attend the distinctly spiritual means of grace. What is the trouble? Are the institutions worn out and no longer of value to the humble, pious soul? Who will dare affirm this? The tastes of the people are low and perverted. Shall we then change the agencies to suit the unsanctified appetites? No; let us tone up the appetite for spiritual things, and correct and elevate the tastes of our people. Let the revolution begin with the preacher. Let him wrestle with God until his ordination vow becomes vitalized, so that all can feel the pressure of his aim, the ardour of his zeal, his singleness of purpose, and the holiness and elevation of his life, and until the people catch the fire and purpose of his heart, and all press on to the regions of perfect love, panting for all the fulness of God. Under this united, mighty, divine impulse the social and the entertainment will be forgotten and become stale, and all saintly assemblies will be attractive and delightsome.
The Church cannot confederate with non-spiritual agencies. By this she breaks the tension of her faith and discards the Holy Spirit. She cannot be the purveyor to unsanctified desires. Neither is it her province to fall down to the beggarly task of entertaining the people. This is her saddest mistake, when her solemn assemblies are surrendered to the concert and lecture, her praise turned into worldly music, her classrooms into parlours, her sociables more popular than her prayer-meetings, the house of God made a house of feasting, and social cheer is sought after rather than a house of prayer. The unity of the Spirit and the holy brotherhood are displaced and destroyed to make room for social affinities and worldly attractions. Her high and royal duty, that by which she maintains her spotless fidelity to her Lord, is to stress holiness and afford all means for its advancement and perfection. This done, spiritual character and affinities will order all the rest.
Exerpted From: Satan His Personality, Power and Overthrow
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