The Devil’s Advantage

by Glenn Conjurske

The devil has always a very great advantage over God in dealing with the souls of men. The devil may preach what men wish to hear, while God must preach what they ought to hear. The devil may pamper their pride, while God seeks to abase it. The devil may preach self-indulgence, while God preaches self-denial. The devil has used his advantage to the full, and has been pre-eminently successful in his bid for the souls of men. The way which leads to life is narrow, and few there be that find it. But “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.”

The advantage of the devil plainly appears in this. The way which leads to life is narrow because God has made it so. He has hedged it in with all of those prohibitions which are dictated by holiness. The way to destruction is wide because the devil has made it so. He has taken down the fences, removed all of the prohibitions which belong to holiness, and given to his adherents liberty to do as they please. The wide path is the path of self-indulgence. The narrow way is the way of self-denial. It is for this reason that “few there be that find it”—-not that men do not wish to find eternal life, but they do not choose to tread the path of holiness, which alone leads to eternal life. Men do not wish to go to destruction, but they wish to tread the path that leads to destruction, and therefore “many there be which go in thereat.” The devil freely offers that broad way of self-indulgence, while Christ preaches, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself.” This gives to the devil the advantage which he possesses, and the success which he enjoys.

If any man wishes to understand the ways of the devil, let him study the temptation of Eve. The devil succeeded in his first temptation of man, and he has never altered his method from that day to this. He offered to give to Eve what God had denied her. He used the one thing which God had forbidden her, to move her to doubt the goodness of God, and by giving her that thing himself, he secured her belief in his own superior goodness. Her unbelief was not a mere intellectual mistake, but a moral defection. All unbelief toward God is essentially belief in the devil. Hence the heinous wickedness of unbelief. But this by the way. The point to be made here is that Eve, in accepting from the devil’s hands that which God had withheld from her, actually gave the allegiance of her heart to the devil, and this is how the devil gains the allegiance of the whole world. He offers the very things which God forbids. He preaches that men may indulge their eyes and their hands in the gratification of every lust, while Christ preaches that they must cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye. The devil allows men to do their own will—-and promises them heaven too—-while God forbids it. The devil forbids nothing. Meanwhile he invites the free indulgence in everything which God has forbidden, and thus gains the allegiance of the hearts of men.

For the same reason the world has a very great tactical advantage over the church. The church of God must preach the word of God. It must therefore be negative. It must preach “Thou shalt not”—-–yes, and “Thou shalt” also. The church must require men to deny themselves, while the world encourages them to indulge themselves. The church must require men to “abstain from fornication,” while the world winks at it or encourages it. The church must require women to clothe themselves modestly, while the devil permits them to wear anything or nothing. The church must preach that men forsake all that they have, and take up the cross, while the world preaches that they may forsake the cross and acquire all that they can. The world offers one constant round of pleasure, while the church must preach, “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.” (I Tim. 5:6).

All of this gives the world a very great advantage over the church of God, in competing for the souls of men, and for this reason the world is ten thousand times more successful in its bid for the souls of men than ever the church of God has been. While the meetings of the churches are few and small, the football and baseball stadiums are thronged with multitudes—-while vast multitudes more follow those games by means of radio or television. What can the church of God offer to compete with a Miss America Pageant? What can the church of God offer to compete with Bingo games and Casino gambling? The world freely offers “the pleasures of sin” and “the treasures of Egypt,” while the church can offer only “the reproach of Christ.” What competition is this?

The advantage which the world has over the church is so obvious that men cannot fail to perceive it, and those who care for the souls of men cannot fail to deeply feel it. Many therefore in the church, envying the world’s success, and judging success more important than faithfulness, have set out to compete with the world at its own game. In order to succeed in their bid for souls, they have lowered the standards, and in fact brought the world into the church. This course has been taken especially by those who fancy themselves called of God to minister to young people. Spiritual activities have been largely abandoned in favor of recreation, games, sports, and pleasures—-always, of course, with some spiritual activity or gospel sermonette tacked on. That solemn word of God, “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground,” has been totally forgotten, and all that is most sacred corrupted into some cheap form of pleasure. Even the knowledge of the word of God must be corrupted into a game, so that “sword drills” and “Bible quizzing” have widely replaced sober Bible study. Soul-winning endeavors must be conducted on the plan of a game or contest. The music of the church has been largely replaced with that of the world, under the name of “Contemporary Christian Music.” But nothing has been accomplished by this—-beyond the thorough corruption of Christianity—-for the plain fact is, the church cannot beat the world at its own game. In spite of all of this lowering of standards, in spite of bringing half of the world’s pleasures into the church, the churches remain small and weak and few in comparison to the institutions of the world. The church must maintain some degree of conscience and restraint, and therefore cannot compete successfully with the world on its own ground.

The church, then, if she will be wise, will leave the devil’s advantage to the devil. The only thing which she gains by grasping for that advantage is the thorough corruption of herself. Let it be well understood that the devil possesses that advantage solely because he is corrupt. The advantage which the devil had in his bid for the soul of Eve lay precisely in the fact that he was corrupt. He had no right to offer her what God had forbidden, yet offer it he did. Moreover, he could lie without scruple, and where God had spoken the stern “Thou shalt surely die,” he could preach the pleasant “Ye shall not surely die.” It was solely his corruption which gave him his advantage, and if the church seeks that same advantage, she must become corrupt in the process. She may not become as corrupt as the devil, but she will certainly lose some degree of her purity and her faithfulness.

And the fact is, the church has no need thus to lower herself. God has the advantage over the devil in another sphere, and it is a real and very decided advantage. Of that I shall speak shortly, but I must first note that in the sphere of the devil’s advantage, as the world has the advantage over the church, so in mixed marriages, the ungodly parent has always the same advantage over the godly one. The ungodly parent may freely indulge the children in those things which the godly parent must forbid. And if the godly parent is lukewarm and languid besides, as is often the case in mixed marriages, there is but little hope for the salvation of the children.

The same advantage appears where one parent is spiritual, and the other unspiritual. The children will easily perceive the unspiritual parent as being “more fun.” While the spiritual parent labors to wean the hearts of the children from the things of earth, and set them on the inheritance incorruptible and undefiled which is reserved in heaven, the unspiritual parent leads them into the present enjoyment of everything which is pleasing, though unspiritual and unprofitable.

How is the spiritual parent to compete with this? Not, surely, by offering the children more and better pleasures. No, but by diligently inculcating the principles of faith, which forsakes the pleasures and treasures of this world, taking in their place the reproach of Christ, and having respect always to the future reward. The spiritual parent may also gain the respect of the children by superior character, and this will tell when the children choose to hearken to the claims of reason.

How can the church compete with the world? How can self-denial compete with self-indulgence? Let it be understood that the devil’s advantage lies entirely in the realm of the emotions. God has all the advantage in the realms of reason and conscience. The devil’s temptations appeal to the lusts and desires of men. God appeals to the reason and the conscience. The devil says, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me,” while the Lord says, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Here it plainly appears that in the realm of the desires, the devil has all the advantage, while in the realm of reason, all the advantage is God’s.

But this much being understood, it yet appears that the preponderance of advantage lies heavily on the devil’s side. How so? Let it be understood that the devil’s advantage lies entirely in the realm of the soul. When we enter the realm of the spirit, God has all the advantage. The soul is the seat of emotions and desires, and of pleasures and enjoyments. These the devil offers without stint. The spirit is the seat of the conscience and the reason, and these, when allowed free and fair play, are always on the side of God.

But who allows free and fair play to the reason and the conscience? The human race is a race of fools, which acts every day and every hour against its “better judgement.” It allows its heart to over-rule its head. It follows its desires, regardless of the admonitions of the reason, or the chidings of the conscience. Its desires and emotions it cannot control, and it chooses to be controlled by its desires and emotions, for here is pleasure. It is the weakness of man to love pleasure, and in his fallen state that love of pleasure has become his lord and master, and he its slave. The Bible calls him a natural man. This is a poor translation, and I suppose necessarily poor, for this is one of those extremely rare places where the English language is poor. The Greek word, which is elsewhere translated “sensual,” is øõ÷éêüò, or “soul-ish.” The natural man is the man who has yielded himself to the lusts and pleasures and enjoyments which are craved by his soul,* and that in defiance or neglect of his spirit. The reason and the conscience are every day sacrificed in order to please the soul—-or in other words, to please the self, for man is a soul.

Such are the men for whom God and the devil engage in conflict. Such are the men whom the devil tempts, and is it not plain that his advantage is a great one? If men would heed the chidings of their own conscience, if they would once yield to the monitions of their own reason, the devil would have no advantage at all, but this they do not choose to do. It is more pleasing to yield to our lusts, than to yield to our reason or our conscience. The race is in fact a race of fools. They exactly resemble a three-year-old child, who will always choose present pleasure over future advantage. Offer a three-year-old a candy bar today, or ten dollars next week, and he will take the candy bar today. Offer him a candy bar today, or a hundred dollars a day for the rest of his life, after he reaches the age of twenty-one, and still he will take the candy bar today. Offer a man the pleasures of this world now, or pleasures at God’s right hand in eternity to come, and he will take the pleasures of this world now. He has little inclination to deny himself in the present in order to secure the future, and indeed little ability to do so. He would rather risk hell than give up his pleasures, and in this he proves himself to be a reckless, heedless, and inexcusable fool.

And what do we gain if we seek to win men to Christ by appealing to their love of pleasure—-by turning the solemn things of God into games and contests, or by bringing the world’s recreations and the world’s music into the church? All such schemes present to men from the very outset a fundamentally false view of Christianity—-a Christianity founded in self-indulgence instead of self-denial. By such schemes we leave men in fact just where they were, for we altogether fail to deal with the moral delinquency which sets them upon a course of self-pleasing at the expense of reason and conscience. The devil offers them pleasure, and the church offers the same. God commands self-denial, and the church gives him the lie. I have observed for many years that the gospel which is commonly preached today presents no moral issue to men, but only an intellectual issue. Those who are converted by that gospel are unchanged morally. Their conversion is an intellectual one. In short, they are deceived, and so much the deeper is the deception when the preaching of the gospel is based upon an appeal to the very essence of their moral delinquency, namely, their love of pleasure, and their self-pleasing self-indulgence.

The real gospel of God presents a moral issue to men. It requires them to repent—-to mend their ways, to leave the broad way for the narrow one, to deny themselves, in the place of their former self-indulgence.

I know it will be said that such a gospel undermines the doctrine of salvation by faith. Not so at all. I am bold to affirm—-and I affirm it advisedly—-that this is the only gospel preaching which establishes the doctrine of salvation by faith. Most of those who talk so much of faith, faith, faith, have no notion in the world as to what saving faith is. Their faith is an intellectual assent to certain facts concerning God and Christ, which has no moral virtue in it. This is the faith of devils. The faith by which we know God, walk with God, and are saved, is the faith which purifies the heart. (Acts 15:9). It is that faith which apprehends God to be better than the devil, and reckons the ways of God to be in actual fact better than the ways of the devil—-both intrinsically better, and more profitable to ourselves. It therefore renounces the devil and his ways, and embraces the Lord and his ways. Unbelief, which the devil first inspired in Eve in the garden, reckons just the reverse—-reckons that it is better to adhere to the devil than to God. There is extreme moral delinquency in such reckoning. Its whole course declares that it believes the ways of the devil better than the ways of God. It relishes the devil’s ways and his works. Part of that moral delinquency lies in the profane and Esau-like choice of present gratification over future good. While unbelief therefore chooses the devil and his ways, faith renounces them, and cleaves to the Lord and holiness. The faith of the gospel is that which renounces the present pleasure for the future advantage. It is that which renounces the pleasures of sin and the treasures of Egypt, and takes in their place the reproach of Christ, precisely because it has respect to the future, and its “recompense of the reward.”

The preachers of the gospel, then, have no business to compete with the devil for the advantage which he has in his bid for souls. If they could effectually compete with him (and they cannot), still it were wrong to do so. It rather confirms men in the root and essence of their sin, than saves them from it. The devil possesses his advantage solely because he is corrupt, and it is the corruption of the race which greatly augments that advantage. God’s advantage lies in another sphere, and it is the church’s place to take God’s side in the matter. When the devil tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit, and God saw her about to yield, he did not step in and say, “Only remain loyal to me, and I will give you the forbidden fruit.” No such thing. He would not compete with the devil on his ground. He left the standard just where it was, and the church of God has no right whatsoever to do otherwise. It is the business of the church to enforce the claims of the conscience and the reason, and to insist upon self-denial, as the first condition of discipleship to Christ.

Not that God has nothing to offer of pleasure. He has indeed, and more than the devil could offer, but most of it is not present pleasure, but rather, “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.” For the present he offers peace and joy, and indeed “an hundredfold now in this time,” but always “with persecutions” (Mark 10:30), with the reproach of Christ, with the offense of the cross, with the hatred of the world, and on condition of repentance and self-denial. The hundredfold which he promises is a recompense for that which has been forsaken. He promises nothing to those who do not forsake all that they have, and hate father and mother, brother and sister, and their own life also.

It is no business of a preacher of the gospel to imitate the devil in his ways, but to throw all of his weight behind the ways of God, the claims of Christ, the demands of conscience, and the mandates of reason. Not that he can ignore the needs of the heart. Not that he ought to. The gospel promises rest, peace that passes understanding, joy unspeakable and full of glory, eternal life, and an eternal weight of glory. But it also promises present suffering, present poverty, present persecution, and present reproach. It goes so far as to say, “If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable”—-so far was the Christianity of Paul’s day from that of the present.

Understand, I think it a very great mistake to preach exclusively, or even primarily, to the spirit, while the needs of the soul are ignored. I believe it a great mistake, in other words, to address the reason and the conscience, while the needs of the heart are ignored. God has an advantage in the realm of the soul also, but that advantage never appears while the claims of reason and conscience are ignored. God can say, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28). This is an appeal to the soul—-an appeal to man’s need for enjoyment and satisfaction. But understand, God offers this upon condition. The next verse says, “Take my yoke upon you, … and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” That rest is conditioned upon submission to Christ’s yoke, which is submission to his authority, and that submission implies repentance and self-denial.

And I wish to point out here that the very terms in which the gospel is preached in Scripture, and the very persons to whom it is preached, often assume the devil’s advantage of which I speak. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden.” Those who are not so have no interest in the rest which Christ offers, and with them, therefore, the devil has all the advantage. So likewise, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” (Luke 4:18). Again, in Matthew 11:5, “the poor have the gospel preached to them,” and in James 2:5, “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world?” God takes up, as George Whitefield used to say, the devil’s castaways. When sin has done its work in men, and left them miserable, they are then ready to hearken to God. Before that the devil has all the advantage with them. The devil has all the advantage with the prodigal while his pockets are full of money. When his pockets are empty, and his stomach also, he “comes to himself,” and listens to the claims of reason and of conscience. When he has done that, he may then have the fatted calf, the music and dancing, the ring on his finger, the shoes on his feet, and the best robe on his back.

All of the satisfaction which God offers to the soul is conditioned upon submission to the claims of the spirit. All of the pleasures and treasures which he offers are conditioned upon submission to the claims of reason and conscience. And most of the pleasures and treasures which he has to offer are not given as a present possession, but only promised as a future hope. The devil, on the contrary, offers numerous pleasures which God forbids, offers them as a present possession, and offers them without condition. Not that no condition exists. The devil’s pleasures are in fact very costly. The true condition is allegiance to himself, and rejection by God, but the devil is a liar, and it is no trouble to him to say, “Ye shall not surely die.” He offers his pleasures without condition. All of this gives him a very great advantage over God.

The devil has many other advantages also, of which we cannot particularly speak. The world is his own domain, and the chief instrument by which he carries on his campaigns for the souls of men. By means of enforced (or expected) conformity to social customs, false ideologies to blind the mind, and false religions to salve the conscience, the world is used by the devil to strengthen his advantage at every point. Yet his principal advantage remains in the desires of the soul of man. He had nothing but this when he tempted Eve, and yet he was successful, though Eve had none of those rampant, uncontrolled, and uncontrollable desires which belong to fallen man. Her soul was doubtless under the regulation of her spirit. We are born with that link broken, and the soul in the ascendency, for we are øõ÷éêüò, or “soul-ish.” Whatever advantage the devil had with Eve—-attacking her no doubt at her weakest point—-he has a thousand fold with us.

It must be understood that God’s messengers have always been at a great disadvantage in this world. His people are a little flock. He sends his servants forth as sheep among wolves. He sends them to preach an unpopular and hated message. He sends them forth in reproach, and sends them to the poor and the weak and the foolish and the base and the despised. Apparently God has no concern to compete with the devil on his ground, or to divest him of his advantages. It is Neo-evangelicalism which cannot bear the reproach and the weakness which God himself has borne for centuries, and which belongs to true Christianity. Neo-evangelicalism must therefore fight the devil on his own ground, and seek always the place of strength and advantage. This is a corruption of Christianity.

Yet God’s advantage over the devil is real and commanding in the realm of the spirit, and where the light is allowed to shine. But “men love darkness rather than light,” and this “because their deeds are evil.” The light makes them uncomfortable—-begets in them feelings of shame and remorse—-demands of them amendment of their ways—-threatens to rob them of their pleasures. They would rather yield their souls to their pleasures than submit them to the proper regulation of their spirits. Therefore the devil’s advantage remains, in all its strength.

What then is a preacher of the gospel to do? Indulge the sinful disposition of men, and preach a gospel which consists of present pleasures, or preach it as an appendix to such pleasures? This is but to capitulate to the devil. The preacher’s business is to preach the very light which men hate. It is his business to make men uncomfortable, to make them ashamed, and indeed, to rob them of their pleasures. He must, in other words, leave the devil’s advantage to the devil. The more we vie with the devil for the advantage which he possesses over God, the more we corrupt the gospel and the church. What the church needs at the present day is preachers who have real faith in the real gospel of God, and who stand immovably upon that gospel, and bend all their energies to make men hear and consider it, and to move them to feel its force. Will they not find that old gospel to be “the power of God unto salvation”?

Glenn  Conjurske