PRACTICALLY all are agreed that sin is of the devil. We thoroughly believe this. But when we are asked to believe that God created a sinless being who, without any external or internal cause, becomes the father of all that is false, our reason revolts, and revelation refuses any foundation for faith. God says "the Slanderer is sinning from the beginning" (1 John 3:8).
Until we investigated the matter for ourselves we naturally fell into line with the thought that Satan was not a sinner at first, but became so later in his career. On examining the basis for this teaching we could not help noticing the dubious character and the scarcity of scriptural evidence to sustain it. All the plain passages are opposed to it. We must suppose, in each case, that God, when speaking of someone else, really intended us to understand that He meant Satan, though, for some inscrutable reason, He leaves it to imagination rather than faith.
However, it is not vital when he became a sinner, but how. A sinless creature would need some outside influence to cause him to go astray or he is not sinless. All the plain intimations of Scripture point to his sinning "from the beginning."
Compare his case with Adam's. Such perfection as Adam had did not allow him to sin, even when God was absent from the garden. It needed an outside influence to lead him astray.
Since sin thrives at a distance from God, it seems plausible to assign the origin of sin to a withdrawal of the divine presence. Yet this is not confirmed in the story of Adam's sin. Elohim seems to have been absent much of the time, yet there was no tendency to sin until the tempter appeared. Besides, the creation of a being that would automatically sin should He withdraw, followed by His withdrawal, is much like a man who sets off a charge of dynamite with a fuse. If he wrecks a building, his absence from the spot at the time of the explosion is no evidence that he did not blow it to pieces.
Sin leads to distance from God. Adam was driven out from the garden. Cain was sent forth from the place where the symbols of the divine presence still lingered. That is what sin is for. It is intended to produce enmity. But the creature does not leave the divine presence until after sin has come between them. Even if sin were the result of the divine withdrawal, that act is as definite and decided a factor in making the first sinner as a direct creation would be, and in no way absolves Him from the responsibility.
Since sin is essentially a mistake, it is possible for the devout spirit to trace the origin of sin back through Adam to the Slanderer and see how God can be the first and only Cause of all without the least taint upon His holy Name. In fact, both reason and revelation compel us to look back of Satan for the cause. Revelation says "All is of God." Reason says that if God did not contemplate creating a Satan, if the Slanderer is beyond the pale of His plans, then He has made the greatest of all mistakes.
In defining a sin as a mistake let it not be inferred that we are making light of it. Quite the contrary. This divine definition alone is broad enough in its scope to include in its range all sorts and conditions of sin. It alone includes the Pharisee as well as the outcast, the moral as well as the immoral, the amiable as well as the vicious. The degree and character of sin is defined by other terms, such as transgression, lawlessness, and offense.
In accounting for evil and sin in the world, the popular method shifts all upon the devil. No one, we believe, will contend that the devil is self existent. He was created by God. If he introduced evil and sin into the universe contrary to the purpose and plan of God, then God made a mistake in creating him. This is sin. Everyone who seeks to shield God from the effects of His own creation by transferring the blame to one of His creatures is effectually accomplishing the very thing which he is seeking to avoid. We need not fear to face the issue. God is well able to defend His own honor. If the original plan of the universe included no such enemy as Satan has turned out to be, if sin was a surprise for which no provision was originally made, then, indeed, God has sinned, or failed, in the fullest force of that word.
If, on the other hand, we take God at His word, that all is out of Him, and He is the Creator of the Slanderer, and that it was His purpose that this creature should not only sin but involve others in its toils, and that sin will be repudiated when its object has been accomplished--then, and then only can we rest in the assurance that God has not failed, or sinned.
That God had sin in view before it entered its destructive career is evident from the fact that He provided a sacrifice for it in advance. Why should He speak of the Lamb slain from the disruption of the world (Rev.13:8, A. V., "foundation") unless, even before that time, He not only recognized, but actually purposed its existence?
The Jews had the shallow, superficial idea which always seems to prevail, that evil is only the result of sin. The book of Job was in their hands but not in their hearts. When our Lord saw a man blind from birth the disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" He answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but it is that the works of God may be manifested by it" (John 9:23).
The character of God does not demand that we cover the source of sin with a cloak, or run it back into a blind alley, or shift it to the shoulders of His creatures. Such evasions draw down suspicion and give no solid satisfaction. Once we see that His desire to reveal His affections demanded a foil, that sin is an essential part of His plan, then the creation of a creature to carry out that part of His purpose was no mistake, hence no sin. If the creature, thus created had failed in its function, that would have been a failure. The sin of the Slanderer is in itself a proof of the sinlessness of God.
The first intimation of the great clash between the Adversary and the Christ, God's Champion, is found in the forefront of revelation. Sin had hardly entered man's domain ere its exit was provided for. While the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head, it would bruise His heel. The bruising of Messiah's heel is the first glimpse we get of the cross. It assures us that, inside the black curtain at Calvary, behind the hatred of men, was this sinister serpent that swayed their hearts as it did the mother of all living in the beginning.
Two of the evangelists give us an account of our Lord's trial by the Slanderer. After forty days of fasting, hunger itself would have furnished sufficient incentive for Him to provide Himself with bread. But the insinuation that His lack was a proof that He was not the Son of God fails to lead Him from the path of utter dependence on His Father. The same argument is often met with today. If God is our Father, why should we endure any evil? Why should His Son hunger? Because it is His beneficent will that we taste of evil, so that we may be able to enjoy the good.
To the reflective mind, the shadow cast on God's character by the creation of the Slanderer does not compare with the eclipse occasioned by His use of this instrument and His co-operation in carrying out his opposition. The adversary could not touch Job, because God had kept him off. But at Satan's suggestion He deliberately breaks down Job's defenses, and sends Satan to do his worst to that righteous man.
And greater still is our wonder when we see His Holy One driven by the spirit into the wilderness to be tried by the Slanderer. The wilderness, the wild beasts, the forty days fast are all directly from the hand of God. They are all intended to break down His defenses in preparation for the assaults of the adversary.
When we consider Whence He came and Who He was, should we not shudder at such treatment? It was not merely that He had done no sin to deserve suffering, but that His real deserts were the very opposite of what He received. Not long since, heaven had opened to publicly proclaim Him His Father's delight. This is really a far deeper and more difficult side of God's connection with wrong than the introduction of sin at the first.
The next trial also finds its counterpart in the present discussion. Some would have us reason, If God uses evil to produce a greater good, why should not we also do the same? Some say that those who believe that God creates evil must also believe that we should do evil that good may come, the very thing which Paul condemns. Let us note, however, that Paul was accused of teaching this. There was that in his doctrine which might be misconstrued to mean this. We are in exactly the same position. We do not teach it, but there is that in our teaching which may be mistaken for it.
It would have been evil for our Lord to cast Himself from a wing of the temple. Apart from a miracle, or the intervention of messengers (to which He was entitled) He would have been severely bruised, if not killed. God does such things. He kills. He tries his creatures. Shall His creatures put Him on trial? That is the answer to those who see no difference between God's use of evil and man's. Man needs trial and testing. Hence evil is used by God. But it is only unbelief and disloyalty to do anything which calls His power or beneficence into question. We should not do evil, for we are not able to bring good out of it as God can.
The next trial was far more subtle. By right the kingdoms of the world and their glory belonged to Christ. He was entitled to this honor. Satan was offering Him what He deserved, and by so doing, insinuated that God was wrongfully withholding the reward which was so justly His. What an opportunity to reform the world and cure its ills! But He chose evil from the hand of God rather than good from the hands of the Slanderer.
This kind of trial is so common and so unsuspected that few of the Lord's servants have not yielded in measure to its influence. The desire to help their fellow men, to use the most promising course to promulgate His truth, to be of real use in His work, are a sufficient soporific to the consciences of those who are dismayed and discouraged at the prospect of a hard humiliating path in companionship with a God, Who, in the case of Christ, seemed to reward good with evil.
The subject we are considering is a pertinent example. How many will read these pages convinced that we have sounded the depths of truth, yet will shrink from the path its proclamation promises? Evil will intrude into the lives of all of us, unwanted and unwelcome. No path allures us which is shadowed by its presence. If a position of power and influence opens up we do not hasten to inquire who we have to thank for it, but rather rejoice in the prospect of accomplishing great things for God and man.
How often have we been saddened by the words, "If we should speak of these things the door of opportunity would be slammed in our faces." Our Lord was offered the greatest opportunity and the highest honor that has ever come to mortal man. The alternative was to be a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, with the awful climax of the cross. Yet He took no time for consideration. He spurned the offer as an insult, and took up His despised and disappointing path.
When His proclamation of the kingdom came to the crisis when its rejection was no longer a question, He was cheered by the sympathy of His disciples, especially Peter, who boldly declared his belief that He was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. He then began to show them the awful tragedy which palled His path. Peter, all sympathy, would have none of that. And, can we not understand his thought? What had the Lord done to deserve such a death? God ought to give Him the kingdom, not the cross! But our Lord, recognizing the opposition to God's plans, and slander of His sympathies, does not hesitate to class Peter with the great Adversary himself. As in the trial in the wilderness, He flings from Him all thought of disloyalty to God's love, and uses the very words to His impetuous disciple that had driven away the Slanderer for a season. "Get behind Me, Satan!" (Mark 8:33; Luke 4:8).
The secret of Israel's rejection of their Messiah lay in His charge, "You are of your father, the Slanderer!" Unwittingly they were led on by the master mind that was foiled in its attempt to corrupt Christ before He commenced His ministry. Now that Satan has turned the nation against Him he plans his supreme sin--the murder of Messiah. He was a man-killer from the beginning. A man may be a murderer at heart long before be actually commits the deed. So Satan's act was the result of his character. It was always his aim to kill his Rival to the throne (Rom. 8:40-44).
It was no accident which gave the name "Judas" to the betrayer of our Lord. That was also the name of the nation in His day, for they were largely of the tribe of Judah. Let us remember that both he and they were urged on by an unseen spirit force which they could not resist. Judas did not fulfill his fiendish design until Satan entered into him. The men who crucified our Lord were urged on by blind impulse. The intelligent, crafty plotting was done by the same one who led Eve into man's primal sin.
Satan is the sifter of the saints. Some seem to think that he cannot touch them and that one who falls into Satan's snare is lost. Such was not the case with Peter. To teach him a sober estimate of himself, the Lord deliberately allows Satan to sift the chaff out of him. So that we find the principal actors in the greatest of all tragedies, the cross of Christ, under the control of an unseen, sinister spirit, whose dark design they are compelled to execute.
Whoever wishes to have God's mind concerning sin, let him leave the lesser examples and study the sin of sins, the slaying of the Son of God. It reconciles all the contradictions that confuse us. Peter charged it to the Jews (Acts 2:36). It was the work of Satan (Gen.3:15). It was the pleasure of the Lord (Isa. 53:10). In a real sense it was of men, though they were the dupes of Satan. In a still more fundamental sense it was the supreme sin of Satan. Yet, in its absolute sense, it was God's act, planned before the perpetrators were even existent. Hence it was of God even though it was not of God.
The blessed truth which we wish to bring to light is this, that, when we consider the supreme sin of Satan, it will be found in perfect accord with the facts we have already gathered concerning sin's entrance. At Calvary Satan made his greatest mistake. Yet this sin, in God's hands, is the corrective of all sin. Satan, the supreme sinner, in his supreme act of sin, plays the part of the priest in slaying the Sacrifice that settles for all sin.
Consciously Satan was seeking to assassinate the Son. Consciously the men of Israel were planning to murder the Messiah. Their judgment must be based on this. But actually and absolutely they were carrying out the purpose of God. Behold the marvelous wisdom of God! Only One was consciously doing His will. He prayed "Not My will, but Thine, be done!" Yet all the rest were carrying out His determinate counsel by their very opposition!
The cross is the great corrective that will eventually lead to the repudiation of sin. But it is far more than that. Being the deepest unfolding of divine love in the midst of the highest exhibition of human and Satanic hate, it not only does away with sin, but takes the fullest advantage of its operation for the revelation of God's love. All of Satan's subtlety and hate were focused at Calvary. Without it there would have been no cross, no shame, no ignominy. And without these we would still be serving an unknown divinity, and propitiating an angry God.
I have no excuse for Satan, no sympathy with his fearful offense, yet, at the same time, I am constrained to thank God from the very depths of my being for that most awful of all offenses, Satan's supremest sin. If we look about us and see the dark stream of sin which is carrying men on to destruction, we become confused and our philosophy fails to account for its place in God's purpose. But when we focus our gaze upon that great archetype of all sins, the cross of Christ, the dark clouds are riven asunder and a divine light falls upon the scene that settles our questions and satisfies our hearts and glorifies our God. We see how a single act may have many aspects, and that its moral character depends entirely on the relation it sustains to those engaged in it and to God's underlying purpose. At one and the same time it may be utterly antagonistic to God and yet fulfill the purpose of God. Those who commit it may be, in a secondary sense, decidedly not "of God" and yet the act itself be, in its deepest sense, absolutely and blessedly "of God."