Wherein in times past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. 1.
The life of the unregenerate is a walk in transgression. Whatever they occupy themselves in, it is all sin.
2. The corrupt example of such encourages others to sin. Even as damps put out a light, so this fog of sin suffocates and smothers the lightsome blaze of saving graces in the godly, though it cannot altogether quench them.
3. The unregenerate are under the power of the devil. He works effectually in their hearts, and turns them in whatever direction he pleases.(1) How woeful is our estate, under Satan's thrall, until by Christ we are delivered. Men think the devil not half so fearful as he is, and so they smart by him before they discern their danger. Be wise in time, and prevent so great mischief of a subtle, malicious, and implacable enemy.(2) No power, but the power of God, can set us free.
THEIR VARIETY. They operate —
1. Through fashion and custom. "The course of this world."
2. By continual suggestion of evil. "The power of the air."
3. Through impulse. "The spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience." The nature being corrupted, its instincts are perverted and its tendencies evil.
II. THE ADVANTAGE THEY POSSESS.
1. Illusion. They falsify the vision of the soul, distort the perspective of experience, and clothe themselves with the garb of utility, reasonableness, etc. In this way they present their suggestions as —(1) Supreme wisdom. The collective authority of the past, and the universal opinion of the present.(2) Free and spontaneous impulses. Deluded by them the sinner says, "I am free. I am my own master."
2. Proximity.(1) Locally — the whisper of Satan.(2) Temporally — "first thoughts."
3. Intangibleness. Like the pressure of the atmosphere, so universally distributed as scarcely to be felt. The first origins of evil may be apparently neutral, or even laudable.
III. THEIR OVERTHROW. "I am come," says Christ, "to destroy the works of the devil." How? By the introduction of light, to expose the works of darkness; of life, by which their spell is broken, and they are overcome.
Without any perceptible noise or effort, you breathe the air and live thereby; but more noiselessly, and without awaking the slightest suspicion of their presence, designing spirits enter your souls, kindle desire, and lead forth thought, "according to their will." The secret evil which is done by them every day is beyond all power of calculation. "The spider puts forth from herself a gossamer thread, which floats in the air and catches hold of something where she is not; but no sooner does she find the farther end of her thread fastened, than she goes forth upon it, strengthening it and making it her highway. She thus opens and establishes communication over a gulf, which, but for her airy bridge, she could not cross. Having suspended her bridge, she lets down pendants, and weaves between them an all but invisible gauze, in which her prey are to be taken before they suspect their danger." The crafty spider would be still more Satan-like, if she could prevail upon the flies to weave the web, in which she meant to take them. "The prince of the power of the air" is master enough of his art to do this. He persuades the souls of men, by a projection of their thoughts and desires, to weave themselves into connection with himself. And the more logical and conclusive their thought system can be made to appear, so much the stronger is the connecting web between them and his kingdom. By this web he holds them, and over it he travels to poison and destroy them. It would be beyond his power to hold, or to poison any single soul, unless he first obtained the cooperation of that soul. He is, therefore, unsparing in the use of flattery. He compliments the human intellect on its system of thought. He persuades strong-minded men that the Christian faith is a weakness, but that their scientific method, being based on actual facts, is unanswerable. Honeyed poison. "The depth of Satan." He leads men to make a joke of his very existence, and at the same time, gives direction to their thoughts and imaginations, that they may weave themselves into his power.
The connection of the "world" with the Evil One as its "prince" is not uncommon in Holy Scripture (see John 12:31
; John 14:30
; John 16:11
); and the power of this passage is exactly that which Satan claims as "committed" to him in Luke 4:32
. But the phrase "the power of the air" is unique and difficult. We note(1) that this phrase signifies not "a power over the air," but "a power dwelling in the region of the air." Now, the word "power," both in the singular and the plural, is used in this Epistle, almost technically, of superhuman power. Here, therefore, the Evil One is described as "the prince," or ruler, of such superhuman power — considered here collectively as a single power, prevailing over the world, and working in the children of disobedience — in the same sense in which he is called the "prince of the devils," the individual spirits of wickedness (Matthew 9:34
; Matthew 12:24
). Next(2), Why is this spoken of as ruling "in the air"? There may possibly be allusion (as has been supposed) to the speculation of Jewish or Gentile philosophy; but it seems far more probable that the "air" is here meant simply to describe a sphere, and therefore a power, below the heaven and yet above the earth. The "air" is always opposed to the bright "ether," or to the spiritual "heaven"; the word and its derivatives carry with them the ideas of cloudiness, mist, and even darkness. Hence it is naturally used to suggest the conception of the evil power, as allowed invisibly to encompass and move about this world, yet overruled by the power of the true heaven, which it vainly strives to overcloud and hide from earth. In Ephesians 6:12
the powers of evil are described with less precision of imagery, as dwelling "in heavenly places," the opposition being there only between what is human and superhuman; yet even there the "darkness" of this world is referred to, corresponding to the conception of cloudiness and dimness always attaching to "the air."
When Henry the Fourth of France asked the Duke of Alva's opinion respecting some of the astronomical mysteries of heaven, he said, "Sire, I have so much to do on earth that I have no leisure to think of heaven." Such a conviction would be ruin to us: we must think of heaven, if we would be prepared for heaven; we must think of heaven, if we would rightly do our work on earth.
In my childhood I sometimes saw rabbits that had damaged a cornfield, caught in snares. My first experience of the process melted me, and the scene is not effaced from my memory yet. The creature was caught by the foot. It was a captive, but living; oh, the agonized look it cast on us when we approached it. As a child I could not conceive of any more touching, thrilling appeal than the soft rolling eye of that dumb captive. After I began to go my rounds as a watchman on my allotted field, I fell upon a youth who but lately was bounding hopefully along, bidding fair for the better land, caught by the foot in a snare I went up to him, surprised to find him halting so; but ah! the look, the glare from his eyes; soon told that the immortal was fast in the devil's toils. He lived, but he was held. The chains have sunk into his flesh. O wretched man, who shall deliver him? Only one word can we utter in the presence of such a case — "Nothing is impossible with God." Having uttered it, we pass on with a sigh.
I. The course of this world is a walking forward in trespasses and sins (Psalm 14:1, etc.; Romans 3:1, etc.). Evidenced in — The man of pleasure. The covetous. The ambitious.
II. Before regeneration, God's people walk in the same way, and under the same spirit, as others. Two thieves. Saul (1 Corinthians 1:6-11).
III. There is a government observed by infernal spirits under Satan as prince (Ephesians 6:12; Matthew 12:24-26; Matthew 25:41; Mark 5:9).
IV. While men go on in sins, it is under the influence of the devil, etc. Eve. Judas. Ananias.
V. Conformity to the world fatal, and a certain evidence of spiritual death. Inferences:
1. How awfully has sin corrupted angels and men!
2. The generality of mankind are going to destruction.
3. Scripture and experience harmonize in the account of fallen man.
"I have come along so pleasantly with the stream," said a chip, just stopped by a tuft of grass, to a minnow which was making its way against it. "I much wonder you do not choose the easier method, and swim down with, instead of going against, the stream." "Nay," replied the little fish, "I would much rather to stem the stream, proving I have a will of mine own, than to be borne away whither it wills, which would prove me only and wholly under its power. And so, to be plain with you, your being carried along as you describe convinces me you are not your own master; and as to pleasure, if you can find it in a wandering downward course, it is more surely found in approaching toward the source of the stream, which is my present happy object and effort"; — at which moment, the minnow, by a lively motion of its body, caused a little ripple in the water, which clearing the chip from its obstruction, it was again floated along, whilst the minnow with joyful feelings pursued its course, as before against the stream.
How often does it happen in the history of these wilful sinners of the flesh, that, after a while, all things seem to smile upon them and prosper them according to their hearts' desires. Are they mad for gold? — gold seems to roll in upon them. Are they mad for pleasure? — their seductive arts are successful, and victims come readily to their lure. Are they mad for drink? — those around them, kindred, friends, cease to strive with them, and give it up as hopeless. Shame, too, abandons them; they may wallow in beer or gin, nobody cares. It is very wonderful to see how often, if a man is bent on an end which is not God's end, God gives it him, and it becomes his curse. God does not curse us. He leaves us to ourselves, to follow our own bent and inclination, that is curse enough;. and from that curse what arm can salve us? We will
have it, and we shall have it. We leap through all the barriers which He has raised around us to limit us;, yea, though they be rings of blazing fire, we will
go through them, and indulge our passions; and, in a moment, He sweeps them all out of our path; perhaps even roses spring to beguile, where flames so lately burnt to warn.
I preach and think that it is more bitter to sin against Christ, than to suffer the torments of hell.
()If hell were on one side and sin on the other, I would rather leap into hell than willingly sin against my God.
In the first place we have to consider THE VERY SINGULAR TITLE GIVEN TO SATAN, "the prince of the power of the air"; and, in the second place, THE AGENCY ASCRIBED TO HIM, as "the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." Now, we know it to have been a prevalent opinion among the Jews that fallen angels had their residence in the air, filling the medium that obtains between the earth and the firmament. We can hardly say whence this opinion was derived, nor by what sufficient reason it can be supported. But it would seem from the text that St. Paul favoured the opinion, and it might have been almost said that he had given to it the sanction of his authority. It is, however, of but little importance that we determine where fallen spirits have their habitation; and perhaps, the title, "The prince of the power of the air," is not so much intended to define the residence of Satan, as to give information as to the nature of his dominion. We mean it is probable that the expression does not mark that the devil dwells in the air — though that also may be true — but rather what he has at his disposal, the power of the air, so that he can employ this element in his operations on mankind. And we know of no reason whatsoever why the power of the devil should be regarded as confined to what we are wont to call spiritual agency, so as never to be employed in the production of physical evil — why the souls, and not the bodies, of men should be considered as the objects of his attack. Indeed, forasmuch as the soul is the nobler part of man — the more precious and dignified — it would be strange if this alone were exposed to his attacks, and the body were altogether exempt. Indeed, if it could even be supposed that, engaged in attempting the destruction of our immortal part, the devil would care nothing for our mortal — knowing it already doomed to death, and therefore, not worthy of his malice — yet, when we remember how the mind may be acted on through the body, and how difficult, and almost impossible, it is to turn the thoughts on solemn and deep inquiries when there is great suffering of the flesh, you would conclude it probable that the body, as well as the soul, would be assaulted and harassed by Satan and his angels. And this is no philosophical supposition, but rather one which may be abundantly supported by the pages of the Bible. It is certain, from the representation of Scripture, that Satan has much to do with inflicting diseases upon the body. The woman that had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together — what said Christ to her, when the ruler of the synagogue was indignant at her being made straight on the Sabbath day? "Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this band on the Sabbath day?" The disease, you observe, is expressly referred to Satan, throughout its long continuance, "whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years." We know not, again, what the thorn in the flesh was which St. Paul suffered, but the expression makes it probable that it was some acute bodily pain or distemper; and the apostle distinctly refers to it as "a messenger from Satan sent to buffet him." You will all remember the case of Job. In the Book of Psalms, moreover, when David is describing how God brought a terrible plague on the disobedient Israelites, what does he say? He declares that "He sent evil angels amongst them." We seem quite justified, I think, in inferring, from these intimations, that Satan is greatly concerned with bringing on men corporeal maladies; and if this be once allowed, we may enter into the meaning of the title, "The prince of the power of the air." We are accustomed then, as it would seem, with thorough accuracy, to refer to certain states of the air as producing certain diseases of the body. Without being precisely able to trace the connection, or investigate the cause, we consider that the atmosphere is frequently impregnated with the seeds of sickness, so that we may be said to inhale death whilst inhaling what is essential to life. Is he not, then, to be defined as a prince, because of the many legions which obey his commands; and the prince of the power of the air, because he can assault the persons and property of men through the invisible but tremendous machinery of the atmosphere? We would remind you that whatsoever is visionary and unstable, whatsoever is mere delusion and cheat, this we are accustomed to connect with the air, and so to describe it as aerial, what we find to be unstable or deceitful. Indeed, this has been reduced to a proverb, so that, to accuse a man of building castles in the air, is to accuse him of wasting time in imagining what cannot be realized; and of allowing his fancy so to supersede his judgment, that he plans with no chance of executing, and reckons on what it is almost impossible that he can obtain. The dreams, the phantoms, the meteors, by which many are regulated, or which they pursue — these are all, if we speak metaphorically, full of the air. It is undoubtedly by and through putting a cheat on men that the devil, from the first, has effected their destruction. His endeavour has been, and too often successful, to prevail on them to substitute an imaginary good for the real, a creature for the Creator, and to make, and to mock, their own capacities for happiness, by seeking it in the finite and the perishable. And if there be any truth in this account of the process — so to speak — through which Satan carries on his attacks upon men, it is hardly possible not to allow the appropriateness of the title, "The prince of the power of the air." If it be by what we may call a series of optical deceptions that he acts on our race, distorting one thing, magnifying another, and throwing false colouring on a third, is he not proceeding so as to avail himself of those strange properties of the air, whence spring such a phenomenon as that of the Egyptian mirage — the weary traveller being cheated with the appearance of the blue waters, with a lake on whose margin the green trees are waving, but finding, as he approaches, that there is only the hot sand, and not a drop of moisture with which to cool his tongue. If, again, it be by crowding the field with forms of gorgeous thrones and splendid pageantry, which sweep before the mind, as they beckon it onward to disappointment — if it be thus that Satan retains, undisturbed, his dominion over thousands, what can he be so truly said to employ, as the power of the air — wielding those brilliant meteors, which have seemed to pass to and fro, as though ranging from cloud to cloud, causing those strange illusions which have startled the peasant, and made him think the deep glen into which he was entering tenanted by shadowy and mysterious beings. In short, if all the forms by which Satan enrolls and deceives mankind be unsubstantial — if the ambitious, the voluptuary, and the avaricious, be all and each pursuing a beckoning shadow — if the whole apparatus by which the world is lulled into slumber, or roused to self-destruction, be made up of the mere imagery of happiness, can any description be more apposite than that which represents the devil as lord of that element in which floats the mote, through which glides the spectre, and out of which can be formed nothing we can grasp, though it may be the vehicle of a thousand deceptions arranged into beautiful array? Yea, if the devil be empowered thus to employ the fleeting, and specious, and transient — is there not an extraordinary appropriateness in the title of the text — is he not most fitly characterized as "The prince of the power of the air." But it is time that we pass from considering the title which St. Paul gives to Satan, to examine the account subjoined of the agency of this spirit. Having called the devil "the prince of the power of the air," the apostle proceeds to speak of him as "the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." We do not at all doubt that these words are applicable to our own days, as well as to earlier, though, at the same time, it would appear that St. Paul designed to represent Satan as just then peculiarly energetic. You observe, he says, "the spirit that now worketh," as though he had not before worked, or not with the same vehemence, or precisely the same design. It was the tenet of certain fathers of the Church that, until the coming of Christ, Satan did not know his own eternal condemnation. We pretend not to say whether such a tenet is worthy of consideration; but we know that, at the time of the setting up of Christianity, Satan mustered all his forces, and laboured with unprecedented vehemence and hostility against the people of God. It was only requisite that Christianity should universally supersede heathenism, and there would depart from the earth that gross ignorance which had been the fit theatre for the despotism of fallen angels. Whence the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus? who had gone about doing good, healing all manner of sickness; and He, who had lightened every form of human misery, was buffeted and slain by the children of disobedience, urged on by "the prince of the power of the air," who had dazzled their eyes with visions of temporal dominion. Whence the sufferings of the apostles? We have already said that we are to take heed not to charge our faults upon the devil, and thus make his guidance an apology for our sinfulness. We are quite persuaded that it is not the devil who destroys a man; it must be the man who destroys himself. He is then an enemy to be dreaded and resisted — this "prince of the power of the air"; but we thank God for the assurance that we are hastening to the crisis when the malignant enemy shall be bound, and spoiled of his power to assault.
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