Satan Denying the Word of God
Francis Bourdillon, 1881
"But the serpent said to the woman: You will not surely die!" Genesis 3:4
This is a sad chapter — perhaps the saddest in the whole Bible. For it tells us of the fall of man — of sin entering into the world, and death by sin. It is a tale of loss and sorrow and ruin. And it ends with our first parents being driven out from that happy paradise in which they had lived until then, never to return there again — but thenceforth to labor for their daily bread until the time should come when they should return to the dust from which they were taken.
How did this sad change arise? All from denying, disbelieving, and disobeying the Word of God. God had said, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat — for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die!" The evil one, coming to Eve in the form of the serpent, gave the lie to this word of God: "You will not surely die." The woman listened to the tempter's voice — the word of God was no longer regarded, and she and the man ate of the forbidden tree.
Which word proved true — the word of God, or the word of Satan? Let the state of the world for these six thousand years answer the question. No sooner was the deed done, than its consequences were felt. Then came a guilty conscience, a strangeness toward God, hard labor, sickness and death! From that moment, death lay before Adam and Eve; in due time they died — and ever since, the whole race of man has been subject to death.
The word of God came true. It always must come true. The same evil work which Satan did in the case of our first parents — he is engaged in to this very day — it is still one of his chief aims to lead men to disbelieve the word of God.
With regard to the Bible as a whole, Satan's object is to throw discredit on it. In the case of Adam and Eve, the word of God was the spoken word — that is, what God had said to them. In our case the word of God is the written word, the scriptures — written at different times and by different men, but all inspired by God.
In various ways, suited to different minds and to different states of thought and of knowledge — the evil one tries to do away with the authority of the Bible. To Eve he said boldly, "You shall not surely die," in direct opposition to what God had declared; and sometimes he still dares to give the lie to scripture and tempts men to think it altogether false. But often his plan is more crafty. He seeks to lead the mind into a state of doubt and confusion. The Bible is a good book — that he does not venture to deny, lest he should show his object too plainly. But he suggests to the mind difficulties and objections of various kinds.
Inspiration, for instance — what is it, and how far does it go, and how can we be sure of it? Though the Bible may be true as a whole — yet are there no parts which are not true? And even if true, are we not to look upon much as allegorical and figurative, and not simply true? Who can tell what is to be taken literally — and what figuratively? How can this doctrine, be reconciled with that doctrine? Is not such and such a statement against all our notions? Can we believe that God would do this or that?
Some of these doubts and questions may seem, at first sight, to have little, if anything, wrong in them. But closer examination will show whence they come, when they are suggested in a skeptical spirit. Anything that tends to lead away from a simple belief in the word of God — must be evil. It is a device of Satan to ensnare souls; as dangerous a device as that which he used with Eve, when he said, "You will not surely die!" It is perhaps even more dangerous, because more subtle.
Satan pursues the same object with regard to particular truths of the Bible. His aim is to make men disbelieve what God has said. For instance, the word of God declares that God sees all and hears all and is everywhere present. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good." "Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord — You know it altogether."
The tempter seeks to make men disbelieve this. "And they say: How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?" At least he strives to lead men to forget it, for there are many who dare not deny the truths of scripture, and yet live in constant forgetfulness of them. And when God is forgotten — His all-seeing eye, His all-hearing ear, His presence everywhere — then the sinner goes on in his own way, and Satan's object is gained.
Again, the Bible declares endless misery to be the portion of impenitent sinners. It speaks of "the second death" and of "eternal death" and of "damnation" and of the worm that never dies and the fire that is never quenched. And nothing can be plainer than those awful words of our Lord, "These will go away into eternal punishment — but the righteous into eternal life!" (Matthew 25:46).
But many will not receive this truth. The sinner tries to disbelieve it; and some even who have some reverence for the word of God, do not simply bow to what it says on this point. Eternal misery, they say, means something less than eternal. How vain is this! Eternal happiness and eternal misery — rest on the same word. If the punishment of the lost could be proved to be less than everlasting — then that very argument must shorten also the happiness of the saved. If "forever" means less than forever in the one case — then it must do so in the other too.
Satan cares not what it is that is set up in opposition to the word of God, so long as it is in opposition; the natural pride of the heart, the vanity of learning, or the mind's instinctive shrinking from a fearful and eternal doom. If Satan can lead men to believe what they presumptuously think God ought to have said, rather than what God has said — then his end is gained; and this way of thinking seems to be often the root of a doubt about eternal punishment.
There are many doubters, who little suspect from whom their doubts come. Yet a denial of the eternity of punishment bears a most striking likeness to the words of the evil one to Eve, "You will not surely die." For in the face of the words of our Lord, "These will go away into eternal punishment," men are led to comfort themselves with this lying comfort, "You will not surely die" — it is not eternal — it is but for a time. These are a few of the ways in which Satan still carries on his work of denying the word of God.
The Devil is constantly engaged in this work. "When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies." On the other hand, "Whoever is of God hears the words of God" (John 8:44, 47). Our Lord places the two in direct opposition. Satan contradicts the word of God — and the child of God hears, believes, and obeys it.
Yet the child of God must watch and pray against an enemy so crafty and so powerful. "I am afraid," writes Paul to the Corinthians, "that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning — your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). Satan strives to make men disbelieve the promises as well as the threatenings of God — and seeks not only to lull the sinner to sleep in unbelief and forgetfulness, but also to cloud the gospel in the hearts of believers and to turn away the inquiring soul from a simple faith in Christ — into a trust in religious forms and ceremonies and self-righteous religious duties. In all points, he shows himself as the denier and opposer of the word of God.
But the Bible is true — it is all true. Its promises and its threatenings, its history and its doctrines — all rest on the same footing; it is the word of God. We may not receive one part — and reject another. If we do not receive its warnings — then neither may we take comfort from its promises. If we refuse to believe it when it speaks of "the fear of the Lord" — then we have no right to apply to ourselves its declarations of mercy. The Bible is one. It comes from one God; it is written by one inspiration; it speaks one unchangeable truth. Once doubt that it is true, absolutely and certainly true — then it can be no longer what it is to all who receive it — a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.
Thanks be to God, the Bible does not leave us where this chapter places us. The word of God which tells us of death — speaks also of life. The Book of Genesis tells us how man fell — the gospel shows us restoration and life. Satan lied when he said, "You will not surely die." But wonderful to say, the gospel now declares the very same thing, and declares it truly. For the Restorer has come, the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ — and by Him the curse is removed; guilt is taken away; and man is reconciled to God. "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die — so in Christ all will be made alive." All who are in Christ by faith, do even now live spiritually; and though they must pass through physical death (unless the Lord should first come) — yet Jesus has robbed death of its terrors and made it the gate of everlasting life to His people! There is no second death, no death of the soul, for them — they are safe in Him. As surely as every child of Adam is subject to death — so surely will every one who is born again and has thus become a child of God inherit eternal life.
But only the true believer has a part in this salvation. There must be a living faith, a real repentance, a thorough work of the Spirit. There must be a belief with the heart in the Lord Jesus Christ; and none will really believe in Him, but those who also believe what the word of God declares about sin and ruin and death.
The gospel says, "You will not surely die!" But to whom? To those only who feel that they are dead — and look to Christ alone for life. The disease must be felt — before the cure can be had; and it is only when a man knows himself a lost and ruined sinner — that he will look to Jesus as his almighty Savior!