Summary: The Christian must forget tradition and art, and build his concept of Satan on the only reliable source of information, and that is the Bible.
William Congreve said, “If I were a painter I would draw the devil like an
idiot, a driveller with a bib and bells.” All I can say to that is that I am glad he
is not a painter, for he would only serve the devil’s cause by painting him as a
driveling idiot. I agree with Thomas Lodge who said, “Devil’s are not so black
as they are painted.” The Bible pictures Satan as extremely capable, and
never as a mere dunce only good for laughs. Satan would be delighted if we
thought of him as an idiot, for this would give him another advantage in his
perpetual plot to deceive. Degrade the devil and you deceive yourself. This
does not mean we are to exalt the devil, but we are to recognize the facts about
his capabilities and subtlety.
We can no more follow the devil is dead nonsense then we can the God is
dead nonsense. It is true that he is a defeated foe, and those in Christ can
resist him and make him flea in retreat, but it is also true that if we are
dreaming that the devil is a dimwitted demon devoid of dynamic deceptive
ability, we are asleep to reality. We can only defeat him and escape his subtle
deception by being fully aware of his abilities. This will drive us to
dependence upon Christ whose guidance and wisdom can outwit the subtle
Satan would like us to have our guard down, and have the attitude toward
him as expressed by the 17th century poet Dryden toward a certain Shadwell.
The rest to some faint meaning make pretense,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.
Some beams of wit on other souls may fall,
Strike through and make a lucid interval;
But Shadwell’s genuine night admits no ray,
His rising fog prevails against the day.
This is the way Congreve wanted to paint Satan, but it is a great mistake,
for as long as men think of Satan as stupid, ugly and repulsive they will never
recognize him. It is this negative attitude that has cause many to doubt his
very existence, for they never confront him in that image. If you picture Satan
as the subtle serpent that he is, however, then you can see his trail winding all
through history. If you recognize his ability to become an angel of light, and
recognize, as the temptation of Christ reveals, and as Shakespeare said, “The
devil can quote Scripture for his purpose,” then you can see his subtle
slithering even among the very elect. In other words, the first step in
recognizing the reality of Satan is to become aware of his amazing abilities.
Heine tells us in poetry of his surprise at discovering the real nature of Satan:
I call’d the devil, and he came, and with wonder his form did I closely scan;
He is not ugly, and is not lame, but really a handsome and charming man.
A man in the prime of life is the devil, obliging, a man of the world, and civil,
A diplomatist too, well skilled in debate, he talks quite glibly of church and
The Christian must forget tradition and art, and build his concept of Satan
on the only reliable source of information, and that is the Bible. It is obvious
that Shakespeare knew the biblical view, for he wrote, “The prince of darkness
is a gentleman.” A Dutch proverb also catches the biblical image-“Never was
hood so holy but the devil could get his head in it.” I am convinced that the
reason God has preserved the account of the fall of Adam and Eve is that so all
who follow His Word might be fully aware of the cunning enemy that seeks
their downfall. The most practical value we can get from the study of the fall
is awareness of the methods of Satanic deception. We want to see how he
succeeds so that by not being ignorant of his devices we can counter his attack
with the wisdom of Christ, and so stand where others have fallen. The first
thing we see is-
THE SUBTLETY OF HIS APPROACH.
One of the ideas in the definition of subtlety is the ability to make fine
distinctions. We see it here in Satan’s choice of approaching the woman
rather than the man. It is just good sense to strike at the weakest point. By
this I do not mean that Eve was the weaker sex, for that is irrelevant, for
strength has nothing to do with this temptation. Eve was the weakest point
simply because she had been in existence only a matter of hours. She had far
less knowledge and experience than Adam. Even the command from God not