Recovering Souls from Satan’s Power
Satan makes great efforts to keep sinners in his kingdom. His evil hope is that they will continue to dishonour God for the rest of their lives and spend eternity still under his power. Thus Paul refers to the evil work of ‘the god of this world’: he ‘hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them’ (2 Cor. 4:4). He blinds even those who listen to sound preaching so that they will not focus on their need as sinners; he distracts them from seeking salvation and from seeing the wonder of the glorious gospel that Paul, and many others since then, have delighted to proclaim.
‘Let no man wonder’, says John Flavel, ‘at the enmity and opposition of Satan to the preaching of the gospel, for by the gospel it is that souls are recovered out of his power. It is the express work of ministers “to turn [men] from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God”.’ Flavel quotes an unnamed writer: ‘Satan is a great and jealous prince; he will never endure to have liberty proclaimed by the ministers of Christ within his dominions’; he will always do his utmost to prevent the success of the gospel. Yet Flavel points to the ‘multitudes of prisoners [who] have broken loose from Satan at one proclamation of Christ’. The reference to Acts 2:41 makes it plain that Flavel is thinking of the 3000 who were set free from Satan’s kingdom on the Day of Pentecost.1
Yet there is no fundamental difference between one of Satan’s prisoners escaping from his kingdom and 3000 doing so at one time. Each of them must be made willing to accept the liberty that is proclaimed to them; each of them must be delivered from the blinding effect of Satan’s activity. God must act, by the Holy Spirit, on each individual soul. Paul adds: ‘God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6). It is not the light that shone around him and his party on the way to Damascus that Paul is thinking of here; it is rather the Holy Spirit enlightening his understanding so that he was able to discern Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. If that was to take place, Satan, who had so long blinded Paul’s mind with self-righteousness, must be swept aside. And that must be a divine work, as it manifestly was.
From his own blinded perspective, Paul was, as ‘touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless’ (Phil. 3:6). Matthew Poole points out that this refers to his external observance of the law; ‘he was, in the eye of man,’ someone living a blameless life;
yet when he had his eyes opened, he found there was no such matter of confidence for him before God. This external performance he found, when enlightened, was far short of internal and perfect obedience; and therefore he saw it necessary to change the ground and foundation of his confidence, all that he before rested on, unto Christ alone.2
But if Satan had been allowed to go on as before, Paul would have continued as blind as ever to the reality of his spiritual condition: that he had no righteousness before God, that he had a corrupt heart, that he was fallen in Adam and therefore under condemnation. So, besides the work of the Holy Spirit in enlightening Paul’s mind as to these matters, God acted to prevent Satan dealing successfully with Paul any longer. Satan’s activity was restrained and Paul escaped from his clutches.
The moment Paul felt his need as a sinner, Jesus revealed himself to him as the One appointed by God to be a Saviour for fallen, guilty creatures. Here was the One who was revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures as the Messiah ““ God’s righteous Servant who was to justify many, for he was to bear their iniquities (Isa. 53:11). If Satan had been permitted, he would have blinded Paul’s eyes to prevent him seeing Jesus as a Saviour. But in God’s mercy, Satan was held back from so dealing with Paul, and the future apostle entered into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
We do not know much about Zacchaeus’ spiritual attitudes before he climbed into a tree to see Jesus. Presumably it was curiosity that motivated this tax collector to want to see ‘who he was’, and we can safely assume that Satan would have been determined to do all in his power to blind the eyes of Zacchaeus’ soul to spiritual realities. Previously, we might assume that a secure income from his employment, an income somewhat enhanced by ‘false accusation’, would have focused his hopes on the good things of this life while Satan blinded his eyes to his worldliness and various particular sins, and to the danger of a lost eternity.
But great though Satan’s power is, it is finite; it is no match for the infinite power of the divine Saviour. Christ assured Zacchaeus: ‘This day is salvation come to this house . . . For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19:9,10), but we are given no details of Zacchaeus’ experience. Yet we may easily infer that the Holy Spirit worked powerfully in his soul, making him a new creature in Christ Jesus and enabling him to trust in the Saviour and follow him. We may also readily deduce that divine restraint was exerted on Satan’s activity; otherwise Satan would have continued to blind Zacchaeus to his need and to the divine glory of the One he had climbed into the tree to see; and he would have hardened Zacchaeus’ heart, leaving him focused on the things of this world and unwilling to follow Christ. But the time had arrived for Zacchaeus to be saved, and nothing could interfere with God’s purpose, not even the devil’s malicious power. All his efforts against Zacchaeus that day were doomed to failure.
In more modern times, Thomas Jones, not yet 16 years old, was conscious of Satan’s blinding influences:
A kind of hopelessness began to overcome and ruin my soul; I decided it was quite impossible for me to love godliness or to leave my sins . . . I thought also of heaven, that all its activities were completely contrary to my taste and nature; therefore there was nothing left for me but to endeavour to take my share of the pleasures and sins of this world, and to forget the punishment until the time came when I had to endure it. This was the cold, miserable remedy that Satan and my wretched heart offered me.
Satan went further: he tempted young Thomas to believe that there was no God or devil, no heaven or hell, no higher power to which he was responsible and no judgement before which he would appear.
But Thomas also records:
I would be suddenly overwhelmed by sadness for my sins and by self-loathing, together with such hopeful thoughts of salvation that my heart would melt, my eyes would flow with tears, and my lips would pour forth supplications and thanksgivings. I would have been happy to have spent all my life in such a frame, and with such thoughts.3
God was stronger than the devil.
Today Satan is, almost universally, blinding the minds of sinners, including many who hear the gospel. Yet his power is limited; God is still able to rescue multitudes from his kingdom in one day, even by one sermon. Successful though Satan is in our time in blinding people’s eyes to the reality of God’s existence, to the fearful guilt of their sins, to the reality of a lost eternity, and to the wonderful provision that God has made for guilty sinners in his Son – it would not take much of that divine power to change the whole situation in a moment. Prayer is called for in at least two respects: (1.) Individuals should plead that God would deliver them from Satan and from his power to blind their souls; (2.) God’s children should cry to him to restrain Satan from blinding sinners throughout the world and bring them to consider their spiritual needs and look to Christ as the only Saviour from sin.
- John Flavel, Works, vol 2 (Banner of Truth reprint, 1968), pp 277-8.
- Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, vol 3 (Banner of Truth reprint, 1963), p 696.
- J M Jones & W Morgan, The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, vol 2 (Banner of Truth, 2008), pp 581-2. Known as Thomas Jones of Denbigh, he became a noted preacher.
Kenneth D. Macleod is pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church in Leverburgh on the Isle of Harris. He is the editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the July 2010 issue of which the above editorial has been taken with permission.
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