The Nature, Character, and Empire of Satan

Taken and adapted from, The Works of the Rev. Alexander Carson, L.L.D.” Vol. 1.
Written by Alexander Carson

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THE CHARACTER AND EMPIRE OF SATAN

The existence of an evil Being, having influence on the affairs of this world, is a truth that rests on the word of God. The errors of superstition on the one hand, and the skepticism of philosophy on the other, have depraved the accounts given of him in the Scriptures, and have both, served his purpose in calling off the attention of men from his true character. While the one exhibits him merely with horn and hoof, the terror of the nightly traveler; and the other either denies his existence, or represents him as a very harmless sort of being, fit for the machinery of the comic drama; he is better enabled to deceive the world. Christians themselves may not sufficiently attend to what is written of him, and, therefore, be the more exposed to his influence. It shall, therefore, be the object of this Essay, to collect from the Scriptures the scattered hints of the character and empire of Satan, for the information and warning of all who fear God.

SPIRITUALITY—SATAN IS A SPIRIT

This evil Being is represented to us in the Scriptures as a spirit. He is one of the fallen angels, and angels are spirits.—Hebrews 1: 14. He is the Spirit that now works in the children of disobedience—Eph.2:2. This defends his character from the degrading representations of poetry; and the actions ascribed to him in the book of God, from the ridicule of wit and philosophy. Milton’s devil is certainly much superior to the vulgar one of Tasso; but he is infinitely inferior to that of the Scriptures.

Though he is called a spirit, too much of his power, strength, and majesty result from size and other attributes of body. He is terrible as a giant, rather than as a spirit. Floating on a lake of brimstone, in length many a league, he has the same sort of sublimity with Mahomet’s Borak whose head reached to the seventh heaven. When about to engage Ithuriel, he swells up to an enormous size touching the very stars, and unaccountably finds a spear equal to his arm, but I would rather see the martial tread of Cuthullin or the terrible mien of the son of Starno. The exhibition of Satan staggering from the stroke of Abdiel, and smarting from his airy wounds is more ridiculous than sublime. How much more terrible does Satan appear in the Scriptures, as the destroyer of mankind, by seducing them to his service, and continuing to reign over them as willing subjects? In “Paradise Lost,” Satan’s flight from hell is accomplished with time and immense toil: how much more sublime is the Scripture view of him, that represents him passing almost instantaneously, as a spirit, to all the different parts of the earth?

MALIGNITY OF SATAN

One of the most remarkable features in the character of this Being is his malignity. From his enmity to man, he received his name Satan. He was the author of the ruin of the human race. He is the murderer of the whole family of Adam. To this day he holds the empire of death; every one as he dies may be said to fall by his hand, because he falls by the eating of the forbidden fruit. Therefore, it is written, that Jesus became a man, that by death he might destroy him who has the power (empire) of death, that is the devil. The cruelty that is in the heart of man was induced by becoming the children of Satan, through compliance with his temptation

Ye are of your father the devil, says Jesus to the Pharisees, and the lusts of your father you will do: he was a murderer from the beginning. Yet the malignity of Satan is immensely beyond anything ever found in man. The most cruel tyrants of whom we read seem to have been influenced and excited by fear, envy, revenge, jealousy, and not to have been actuated solely by their delight in the misery of others. Some things in the history of Satan seem ascribable to nothing but pure malignity. What misery has been in the world since the fall! What murders, and wars, and cruelty! What poverty, and sickness, and suffering! The devil is the author of all by seducing our first parents from their allegiance to God. But this is nothing compared with that everlasting misery which is denounced as the punishment of all evil doers. What a malignant mind must be in the Being that planned the everlasting ruin of the whole race of Adam. Dives, even in hell, was anxious that his relatives should not come to that place of torment. It is usually said, indeed, that his motives were not affection, but dread of aggravated punishment to himself, as by his means they were strengthened in their infidelity. This, however, is not said in the Scriptures, and the narrative evidently ascribes his solicitude to affection for his brethren. I see nothing in the Scriptures to oblige me to suppose that the wicked become more depraved in hell than they were on earth. Man is now a child of the devil, yet I do not think that any of the human race, had they intercourse with the happy inhabitants of another planet, would wish to bring them into misery.

The malignity of Satan is seen in the sufferings of Job. How anxious was he to obtain leave to afflict him! How full of hatred to man must he be to inflict so terrible a stroke on that happy family! What tyrant of the human race would not have pitied the anguish of that just man? Yet Satan is not to be moved, no measure nor duration of misery will satiate the malice of that malignant being. Without any abatement of bitter malice, he beholds his victim writhing under the most excruciating torments in his body, whilst his mind is oppressed with the sudden and unsuspected death of all his children.

But his malignity is still more apparent in his cruelty to his own subjects. Hatred to God may increase his malice to the people of God, but he is cruel where there are no such additional excitements. This is seen in the diseases inflicted by the evil spirits under his government, when they obtained permission to take possession of men. How shocking is it to read the accounts given in the gospels of those possessed by these agents of Satan! Their greatest gratification appears to be human misery. Almost in all cases where they took possession of their isolated victim they brought disease. Read the piteous narrative of the possessed recorded, Mark 9: 17—22. What a horrid specimen of diabolical malignity! The demoniac in the country of the Gadarenes was “always night and day in the mountains and in the tombs, crying and cutting himself with stones.”—Mark 5: 5.

There is nothing can put the malignity of infernal spirits in a more glaring point of view than the request of the legion that they might be permitted to enter into the herd of swine Mark 5: 12. Whether their object was to inflict misery on the animals, or to injure their owners, or both, we see that the chief delight of the spirits of darkness is in doing mischief.

It will afterwards appear that Satan has influence in the various modes of the religion of his servants of the human race; and it is evident how much human misery has been increased by false religion. Cruelty is the distinguishing feature of the gods and the worship of all idolaters. The ancient Nemesis and the modern Juggernaut are princes under the same sovereign—the ruler of the darkness of this world. What insatiable malignity then must that being possess, whose chief delight is in cries, and groans, and blood!

POWER OF SATAN

The power of Satan is such as will excite the wonder of all who attend to the display of it in the Scriptures, and ought to excite the caution of all who fear God. If the Christian need not dread Satan, it is not because he is himself a match for that high spirit, but because the Lord is the strength of his people. There is a superstitious fear of the visible appearance of Satan, but of the true greatness and power of that spirit, men in general have no adequate conception. Were he permitted to exercise his natural powers according to his pleasure, the sons of men could not a moment withstand him. He could derange the whole material creation. Let us examine a few examples of his wonderful power. One astonishing instance is exhibited to us in the afflictions of Job.—Job 1: 13—19. His intellectual ability is seen in this plan, which is admirably calculated to effect his purpose. But we shall at present view nothing but his power in effecting this plan. God gave the house of Job into the hands of Satan; but Satan destroys it by his own power, through the instrumentality of his servants, and the agency of natural causes. He displays a sort of providence in this grand work. “The men were ploughing, and the asses feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away, yea they have slain the servants,” etc. Here we see the power of Satan over the mind of man, both in suggesting and executing evil. This was not the first time that Job’s property was before these depredators. Why did this not come into their minds before? Or, if ever they had thought of it before, why did they not execute it? The Sabeans acted purely, solely from avarice, and not to serve the devil. But why did they come the way at that particular time? Satan must have regulated their journey, whatever was its direct object, bringing them to the place, presenting the objects, and exciting their covetousness. We know not how he acts upon the mind of man, but no man who believes God’s word can doubt of such agency; and no man of real good sense will question its possibility, for our knowledge of spirit is next to nothing. Why did the Sabeans kill the servants? Did they always act so cruelly? Why was one servant preserved? The devil intended him as a messenger of the evil news, but the Sabeans had no such intention. Satan, therefore, not only excited these invaders to plunder and murder, but also by his interposition in some way, he saved one, to convey the doleful message to the victim of his malice—  While he was yet speaking,” etc.—Job 1: 16.

Many a time the fire of God had before this flashed over the flocks of his servants, but now it strikes and destroys. Satan, then, when permitted, is able to cause thunderstorms, and bring destruction on man and beast. The philosopher after all his researches can obtain but a glimmering into the causes that operate in producing this phenomenon of nature; but Satan, when permitted, can unload the artillery of heaven, and give unerring direction to the bolts of God. They struck men and beasts, but one servant is preserved by the astonishing interposition of the evil spirit, that he might carry the afflicting tidings to the servant of God. What an idea does this give of the power of Satan, compared with the colossal monster of Milton? How much more terrible is Satan, hurling the thunderbolts, or the fire of God, than tumbling the angels at the head of his connections?

Ver. 17.—Here, again, we perceive Satan, as the god of this world, influencing the minds of his subjects to effect his purposes through the gratification of their own propensities and lusts. Who suggests this thought to the Chaldeans? Why was it at this particular time? Why did they slay the servants? Why did they spare one? Satan brings all these different parties to work assigned them, as exactly as a general draws up, and brings into action, the different corps of his army. How many bands of Sabeans and Chaldeans are everywhere around the dwellings of God’s people! Were Satan permitted to employ his nocturnal depredators according to his pleasure, the restraints of law would be a feeble protection to the just. It is a constant miracle, that in the depraved and miserable state of thousands, with every facility to plunder and murder, with little probability of detection, God’s people are permitted by Satan to sleep in safety. But their father makes a hedge about them.

Ver. 18, 19.—How feeble are the mightiest of earthly monarchs compared with the prince of darkness? When permitted he can give direction to the free will of the bands of roving plunderers, and raise and direct the winds of heaven. The genius of man is proud of discovering a little of the cause and phenomenon of the winds, but Satan, when permitted, can cause them upon a grand scale. An overwhelming wind from the wilderness buried the children of Job in the house of their feasting. But in the midst of this ruin how is one spared! This mighty spirit threw his shield over one for a messenger. How soon, if permitted, would he make the earth a desolation? The united efforts of the human race could not withstand him for a moment. Nay, he could employ the children of men to destroy one another. What an absolute command must he possess over his agents! The whole artillery must be brought to bear upon this unhappy man in succession, at a particular moment. Nothing must take place sooner nor later than it did. The messengers must arrive one after another to bear down the fortitude of the man of patience. The Sabeans and Chaldeans, though acting freely, were brought to the ground at nearly the same time, excited by the desire of their respective objects, and set to work with the exactness of the motions of an army. What a consummate general is this emperor of darkness! In one of the temptations of our Lord we perceive the great power of Satan over the laws of nature or works of creation.—Matthew. 4: 8.—Luke 4: 5. Without entering into any discussion with respect to the precise way in which this was effected, nothing can be more certain than that the thing asserted was literally accomplished. Whether it was by an aerial representation, or by a particular modification of the laws of vision, the fact is equally astonishing. From no mountain could be shown by natural means, all the kingdoms of the world, nor the whole of any kingdom. The narrative is inconsistent with the supposition that merely a great view is meant, for he showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them in a moment of time. Every circumstance fixes that the expression is literal. The great cities of the world must have been presented to his eyes, with all their glory. As for this purpose he took him to the top of a very high mountain, it does not appear likely that it was done by aerial representation. Nothing can suit the whole of the narrative better than to suppose that by a particular modification of the laws of vision he caused our Lord to perceive objects everywhere round the globe in a moment of time.

INTELLIGENCE AND SUBTLETY OF SATAN

From what we have already seen of the exercise of the power of Satan, it appears that he is a complete master of science. He is the prince of philosophers. He seems perfectly acquainted with all the secrets of nature. He who can produce thunder, and lightning, and storms, cannot be unacquainted with their causes. The laws of vision must be perfectly understood by him who showed all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.

But nothing shows in a more striking manner the wonderful abilities of Satan than the skill that is manifested by him in managing his empire over men, and directing his temptations. It is solely by excitement and persuasion, through their own sinful passions, that he seduces, and governs and retains his subjects of the human race. To use force would be to defeat his own ends, for actions to be criminal must be freely done by the agent. What consummate address must he possess, who “deceives the whole world”? What must be his knowledge of human nature, when he suits his temptations to the dispositions, situation, and circumstances of the millions on whom he exercises his skill? By the desire of knowledge he deceived our first parents, by the hopes of plunder he led on the Sabeans and Chaldeans against the property of Job. By the love of money he excited Judas to the perpetration of a crime the most ungenerous and inexcusable that ever was committed. We shall afterwards have an opportunity of perceiving more fully his address in temptation, or in tempting and governing mankind.

From one of the temptations of our Lord—Mat. 4: 6 —it appears that he is well acquainted with the Scriptures, and that he can quote them readily. He appears also to have understood that the Old Testament prophecies referred to the Messiah.

The knowledge, sagacity, and penetration, of infernal spirits appear from the heathen oracles and spirits of divination.

FALSEHOOD OF SATAN

Satan is remarkable as having seduced our first parents by lying Genesis 3: 1-7. He is a liar, and the father of it—John 8:44. As inventors and discoverers in the arts and sciences are usually styled the fathers of the arts and sciences invented or discovered by them, so the devil, as the first liar, is styled the father of lies. As by lying he ruined the human race in their first parents, so he still continues to deceive them. — 2 Cor. 11: 3. Eve was seduced to believe that God’s threatening would not be executed; and the bulk of the world still believe that God will not be as severe as his word. By plausible reasons, accordant to the corrupt mind, he still persuades his subjects, to make God a liar. By his subtlety and artifice he deceives the whole world. Lies are the support of his kingdom, and the badge of his children.—John 8: 44. By lying Satan murdered mankind. By believing that lie, and making God a liar, they became the children of Satan, murderers and liars.

ACTIVITY

In reflecting on the history of Satan, nothing surprises us more than his unceasing activity, and the boundless multiplicity of his engagements in every part of the earth. He is a tempter to every one of the human race; and it appears that he watches the peculiar situation and circumstances of every individual as well as of societies, so as to be ready to take advantage of them.—1 Cor. 7: 5; 2 Cor. 2:11. From Job 1:7; 2: 2, we see that he is constantly employed over the earth, in promoting the interests of his kingdom. Peter represents him as a roaring lion, who goes about seeking whom he may devour. What wonderful activity must he possess to manage such a complication of affairs, among so many millions! What an exalted idea does this give us of spirit! As Satan is not omnipresent, he must pass to every part of the globe with a rapidity that far exceeds human conception. The incredulity of those who would reject, or explain away this part of the character of Satan, is founded merely in their limited notions of possibility. Milton’s devil may show his agility by posting round the globe, or making the circuit of the globe in the course of a night; but the devil of the Scriptures is a spirit, and, like thought, is instantaneously present in the place of his destination.

THE DOMINION OF SATAN.

This powerful spirit is the head of the whole apostasy of angels and men. The angels who fell are called the angels of the devil—Jude 1: 6; Rev. 12: 7.

Beelzebub is the prince of the demons Luke 11: 15.

He is the prince of the power of the air. I can conceive of nothing that this expression can mean, but that the fallen angels under the government of Satan, have their residence throughout the boundless regions of the atmosphere. The infernal spirits compose a society, and live under government, having Satan for their chief ruler. It appears from Eph. 6: 12, that they are separated into distinct governments, though they have the same supreme sovereign. They are called principalities and powers, which seem to import that there are many distinct societies among them, having separate governments. Many curious speculations might be suggested with respect to the principles that retain these spirits in obedience to their sovereign; but as these can receive no elucidation from the Scriptures, it is worse than unprofitable to indulge them. One thing is certain, they are all combined in one common cause against the human race. They are the rulers (despots) of the darkness of this world.—Eph. 2:2. They are the agents of Satan in his government of men, and they rule through the ignorance of the world. In the history of the demoniacs, we see that they delight in giving torment to the human race. Their efforts are peculiarly directed, under their prince, to ruin Christians, and destroy Christianity Eph. 6: 12; Rev. 12: 7.

Satan is not only the prince of the angels that fell with him; but by seducing our first parents to join in his apostasy, he has extended his empire over the human race. All men are represented as naturally his children and subjects. They continue so till they are delivered from his power, through faith in the blood of Christ.—Acts xxvi. 18. By dying under the curse of the law as a substitute for his people, and atoning for their sins by the blood of his cross, Jesus Christ has destroyed him who has the power of death.

The apostle John declares that the whole world, except believers, lieth in the wicked one.—1 John 5: 19. He says again (4: 4), “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” Believers overcome the temptations of false teachers, and the plausibility of false doctrine, not by the strength of their own understanding, but because the Spirit of God, who abides in them, is more powerful than the devil who influences and assists the corrupters of the truth. Satan is here asserted to dwell in, and influence all, wicked men.

Such is the influence of this great enemy of God and man over the human race, that Jesus Christ calls him the prince of this world.—John 12: 31; 14:30; 16: 11. These passages plainly import, that he is permitted to exercise his authority over this world, and that he governs all men, but” Christians, as any other king governs his subjects. The only difference is, he governs spiritually, and uses no force to give effect to his authority. He rules through the hearts and lusts of his subjects.

The apostle Paul calls him the God of this world 2 Corinthians 4: 4. This imports, not only that he rules over men, but that their submission to his authority is considered by God as worship given to his great enemy. By complying with his temptations, and performing his works, they make him a god. All the endless variety of evil works that are in the world, are, therefore, so many ways of worshipping Satan. How little does the world think that while they are engaged in their pleasures and sinful amusements, they are solemnizing the rites of the worship of the devil?

The connection between Satan and ungodly men is so intimate, that they are called his children, or he is called their father.—John 8: 44. As by believing God’s testimony about his Son, we are born again, and become the children of God, so by believing the devil’s testimony, with respect to the forbidden fruit, the human race, in their first parents, became the children of their destroyer. By believing his lie against the God of truth, they lost their divine image, and their relation to God as a father, and became assimilated to the father of lies—they became enemies to God, and lovers of iniquity—so that the devil reigns over them as willing subjects. Though they were made his subjects at first by fraud, and continue so to their temporal and eternal misery, yet they need not be kept in their allegiance by force, like the subjects of other tyrants, but obey out of their inclination to evil. He reigns in them as his children. Our Lord says, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the works of your father ye will do.” They willingly and eagerly perform the works of their father.

This lamentable fact is exhibited at large, in striking language, in Eph. 2: 2. Believers, as well as others, are naturally the children of wrath; and before they come to the knowledge of the truth, they walk according to the prince of the power of the air. This spirit is said now to work in those who reject the gospel.

In tempting our Lord, the devil expressly asserts his property in the whole world. When he had showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and all the glory of them, he said, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me;” or, as Luke expresses it, “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them; for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou, therefore, wilt worship me, all shall be thine.—Luke 4: 6, 7. It is true that this is only the language of Satan, and he makes no scruple of a lie. It is sometimes said that he promised what he could not give. But, as it appears to me, there is no reason to question the veracity of Satan in this instance. Our Lord never questions the truth of his assertion; but repels his attack by a passage of Scripture respecting the sinfulness of complying with his proposal. There is no reason to think that Satan would not make good his promise to the full extent. If he reigns over the world, what difficulty could he find, if permitted by God, in putting any fit instrument at the head of all the kingdoms of the world. Though the empire of Alexander and of Caesar, etc., were of divine appointment, there is no reason to question that Satan gave them his authority. A thing may, in one sense, be from God, and, in another, from Satan 2 Cor. 12: 7. Indeed, if Satan could not give what he promised, there was no force in the temptation. If a man promises me a kingdom for committing treason, when I know him not to be able to fulfil his promise, his promise has no allurement. There is no temptation at all. If, therefore, this is a temptation of Jesus, the devil must have been able to make good his promise. We know also (if further confirmation is necessary) that this very spirit gave his authority to the beast.—Rev. 13:2. The man of sin obtained his wonderful authority through the influence of Satan. The dragon gave him his seat and great authority.

The temptation that Jesus resisted, took effect with his pretended followers, and the worship of the beast was repaid with the seat of the god of this world. The man of sin is one of the principal vicegerents of Satan on the earth, though he professes to be the vicegerent of Christ.

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: Alexander Carson (Born in County Tyrone, Ireland in 1776 and died in Belfast, Ireland on 24 August 1844) was an author, pastor-teacher and theologian.
“Doctor Carson has long been well-known, not only in this country, but in Great Britain and America, as a first-rate scholar—a sound philosopher—an irresistible reasoner—and a profound theologian. His works shall be his monument; a monument of transcendent genius, of imperishable greatness, evincing to posterity, that, with the strictest propriety, he has been designated one of the first biblical critics of the nineteenth century.”—Scotsman. 
“As a profound and accurate thinker, an able metaphysician, a clear reasoner, a deep theologian, Doctor Carson can stand the ground against any rivalship.”—Scottish Guardian. 
“On matters of Church order, it is well-known we differ from him; but, as a scholar, we honour him—as a Christian brother, we embrace him. In the knowledge of the philosophy of language, he is far in advance of the present age; and with respect to metaphysical acuteness, and powers of reasoning, he has been called ‘the Jonathan Edwards of the nineteenth century.’ His character as a philosophic theologian, and a profound original independent thinker, stands in the very highest rank; and he is only justly designated when called one of the most philosophic reasoners of the present age.”—Orthodox Presbyterian. 
“The Rev. Alexander Carson, one of the first biblical critics of the age. The great and almost singular excellencies of this most extraordinary man, are his clear philosophical conceptions, and his fearless philosophical spirit; even the German exegetical writers are only scholars. The true critic is made up of the scholar and philosopher combined.”.—Christian Freeman.