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EXISTENCE OF THE DEVIL.
For the Monthly Repository.
Halifax, Dec. 17, 1808.
TO the numerous sources of temptation is frequently added one, which indeed is supposed to be the primary source of every other, viz. the agency of a supernatural and malignant being, the enemy of God and man, who is supposed to have access to the human mind, and sufficient influence over it, to lead men into sin. We shall do well to attend to the consequence of adopting such an opinion. I think it is unfounded and prejudicial, and if the discussion of the subject impress this conviction upon the mind, it will be relieved from one of those superstitious fears, which are as unfriendly to virtue as to human happiness.
If we admit the existence and agency of such a being as the devil is usually described to be, we admit the existence of a being, who is not only the enemy, but the rival, of the great Supreme. To him, as is the practice of those, who are the advocates of such an opinion, we must ascribe the introduction of evil, the support and continuance of it; and though we suppose, as these persons do, that this invisible enemy of God and goodness will final
ly be subdued, we shall be compelled to admit, that his power and knowledge are little less than infinite; that the former is often successfully exerted to destroy the harmony of creation, to corrupt and vitiate the hearts of men, and to introduce sin and misery into the world; that his acquaintance with the thoughts of men, by which he is able to adapt his evil suggestions to their peculiar circumstances, very nearly approacheth to that of the Being, "who searcheth all hearts;" and that he is inferior to God in the duration of his empire, rather than in the extent of it, and chiefly distinguished by the malignant nature of his designs. If we imagine ourselves subject to his power, we shall be apt to consider ourselves less culpable than we really are, when we deviate from the path of rectitude; for it will justly be considered as an alleviation of guilt, if not a sufficient apology for it, that the possibility of resistance was almost beyond our power, and we shall be discouraged from making the attempt if we suppose, that we are hourly exposed to the artifices of an insidious and potent adversary, who has been so far successful in the accomplishment of his designs, as to have introduced evil and misery into the world, contrary to the intentions and appointment of the great Creator and Lord of all. Must it not be admitted, that the conduct of those unenlightened heathens, who believe in the existence of such an evil being, is not altogether irrational, in paying him religious homage, to induce him to suspend those calamities of which he is supposed to be the author? For if he be independent of God, such
homage is justifiable; and if he be not, he must be his instrument; and if that be admitted, God is the author of evil, and that in a sense which is more derogatory to his perfections than to admit that he is so in a strict and philosophical sense, but that such evil is necessary and unavoidable; that it is only evil in the view of limited and imperfect beings, and as they are the voluntary, though subordinate, agents of producing it; and that, as it gradually diminishes, it will ultimately terminate in the establishment of the greatest possible sum of virtue and happiness.
It may be said, that the existence and agency of such a being is supported by the language of scripture; that if this notion appear to be founded on such authority, we are bound to adopt it; and that our ideas must be regulated by those views, which Jesus and his apostles have given of the character, dominion, and influence of this powerful and mischievous being. But admitting that these passages, which it may be useful to examine, and which I shall attempt in the sequel of this essay; admitting that these passages were more numerous, and that the Jews adopted the notion of the agency of such a being, the existence of such a powerful enemy of God and virtue is by no means a necessary consequence. The absurdities, which were adopted by the Jews, from the idolatrous and superstitious sys. tems of religion which prevailed among the nations by whom they were led captive, or which were introduced by their teachers from the pre
vailing philosophy of the heathen schools, are too glaring to be admitted by the enlightened inquirer of the present day, enjoying all the advantages of christianity, and the important discoveries of the wisest and best of men. It was not the intention of the christian dispensation, to correct all the errors into which mankind had fallen, nor perhaps any, which were not immediately connected with the great object for which its illustrious teacher was sent into the world; and, least of all, those which must necessarily give place to more enlarged and rational views of the divine perfections and government, such as christianity is calculated to inspire. We are not, therefore, to be surprised, that in the scriptures, the prevalent philosophy as to the motion of the heavenly bodies, the existence and agency of spirits, possession by dæmons, or the more powerful and universal influence of the chief of these, under the character of the devil, is occasionally alluded to, and mentioned by the writers of the christian scriptures, as if in some degree they admitted the truth of these opinions. With regard to some of them it might be the case; but others were too absurd to be retained, even by those who had been early initiated in them, after they had received the illuminations of christianity, and are only referred to as those, which were still adopted by many, and spoken of in language which was then common and popular, as often is the case, after the things signified by the terms are no longer intended by them. Of this kind, I pre
sume, was the prevalent notion of the agency of the devil.
It is commonly imagined by those, who have not paid particular attention to the subject, that the term diabolos, or the English word devil, occurs almost in every page of the New Testament. The fact is strictly this: it is used six times in the gospel of Matthew; not once by the evangelist Mark; it is to be found in six places in the gospel of Luke; it occurs only three times in the gospel of John; twice in the history of the Acts of the Apostles; twenty-eight times in all the epistles of Paul, which are thirteen in number; once in the epistle to the Hebrews; once in that of James; once in the first epistle of Peter; four times in the first epistle of John; once in Jude; and five times in the book of Revelations; in all thirty-eight times in the volume of the New Testament.
It will evidently appear, that, even in these passages, the word is not always used in the same sense, nor uniformly applied to the same being; but, without further preface, I shall detail these passages in the order in which they stand, and, at the close of the discussion, I shall arrange them under the respective classes, to which they are appropriated by the evident sense of the word in its connection. It will then more clearly appear, what were the sentiments of the New Testament writers upon this subject.
The first place in which the word diabolos occurs in the New Testament is Matt. iv, where