"Satan hindered us." 1 Thessalonians 2:18
The believer often feels that he needs not external hindrances to try him, as he has enough within him. But most of us find, that though our greatest hindrances are to be found in our own hearts—very great ones are to be found in the world, or are laid before us by Satan. If anyone would have baffled, conquered, and overcome Satan entirely, one would have thought Paul could; for he was "not ignorant of his devices;" but Satan hindered him.
Who is Satan? A fallen spirit. Once an angel of light; once in high authority in heaven; but now fallen and depraved. He has lost his purity—but not his power. He is a most powerful foe. We have no adequate idea of what Satan can do on the bodies and souls of men, when he is permitted. He can use the elements, suggest thoughts, present pictures, hold out inducements, and craftily allure into the commission of crime. He is most active. He goes about. He is always in motion. He knows nothing of rest. He studies human nature. He watches opportunities. He lays his nets and traps in the dark. Whoever sleeps, he is always awake.
He is deeply experienced. He has been employed in ruining souls, hindering God's work, and distressing the Lord's people for some six thousand years. He knows what is likely to work, and when we are likely to be overcome. He has cast down and wounded many strong men. He always turns his experience to account. He is full of determination. Though constantly failing, he does not appear to be discouraged. He will worry the sheep, if he cannot devour them. He will distress, if he cannot destroy. His very nature is enmity. Enmity to God, to his beloved Son, to his people, to his work, and to holiness, wherever it appears. The deep and active enmity of his nature will never allow him to rest, and therefore, he is always plotting and planning against the cause of God, and the saints of God. He bitterly hates whatever honors Jesus, or is calculated to benefit and save the immortal souls of man.
He appears to have myriads of fallen spirits like himself under his control. These he directs and employs to carry out his purposes and his plans. He has an agent in every sinner's heart. An agent that is ever active and set upon mischief, therefore he is said to work "in the children of disobedience." He directs his spiritual and depraved legions, and they make use of human instrumentalities.
Man is often Satan's weapon against his fellow-man. By man he speaks. By man he writes. By man he acts. He can influence in ways of which we have little conception, and does so at times when we have no suspicion. He used Job's wife to tempt him, and Peter to try and mislead his Lord. Sometimes he uses bad men, especially when he employs violence, and sometimes he uses good men, particularly when he intends to work by influence, example, or solicitation. He tempts to sin on earth, and then accuses us of sin in heaven. He is "the accuser of the brethren, who accuses them before God day and night."
Courageous as a lion, subtle as a serpent, and terrible as a great dragon—he goes about seeking whom he may devour. What a terrible foe! What necessity there must be for caution, watchfulness, and prayer! Is it any wonder that we sometimes wander, stumble, or fall? Rather, is it not astonishing that we are what we are, or that we shall ever rise to be what we hope for? This must be ascribed to Jesus, who has bruised the serpent's head, and watched over us night and day.
WHAT did Satan do? "He hindered us." So wrote the Apostle to the Thessalonians. He would have visited them before, more than once—but Satan hindered him. What, hinder an Apostle in his work! How amazing! But why? Because he hates the truth, and would hinder its spreading. Truth is a portrait of God, and as he hates the original, he hates the likeness also. Truth renders God known, and is the instrument by which souls are converted and sanctified to God; therefore Satan hates it, and tries to hinder it. Sometimes he leads men to mix up error with it, and, at other times, he stirs up those in authority to suppress it. Truth, pure truth, shall never spread, if Satan can prevent it. He tempts some to withhold the means, others to hold their tongues, and all to be indifferent about its circulation.
He hates our comfort and happiness, and would deprive us of it. Unhappy himself, he cannot bear to see us happy. Consequently, he endeavors to keep from us, whatever would promote our solid, spiritual, and enduring happiness. O, the means he tries to keep us from the gospel, or the gospel from us!
He hates our holiness, and will, if possible, prevent its cultivation. A mass of moral corruption himself, having every feature of God's likeness blotted out; he cannot bear to see us cleansed from filth, and restored to God's beauteous image. If he can tempt us to sin, he has a feast, and we have a fast.
He especially hates Jesus, and will to the uttermost oppose his cause. Therefore, just in proportion as we love him, and endeavor to further his cause, must we expect to be hated, opposed, and hindered by Satan. If our motives are impure, if we are careless about truth, if our end is self-aggrandizement, we may meet with little opposition; but so sure as love to Jesus and zeal for God influences us, so sure as the spread of the truth and the conversion of sinners to God is the end we aim at—so sure will Satan do his utmost to discourage, deter, and hinder us. He is the enemy of all righteousmess, the bitter and determined enemy of Jesus, and all who sympathize with him, and endeavor to advance his kingdom and glory.
HOW does he hinder us?
By raising persecution against the truth, and for the gospel's sake. This was the means he employed, especially in the apostolic age. He stirred up the rabble, he excited the priests, and he influenced the magistrates; and all united with one firm determination to crush the Savior's cause. Some were put to cruel deaths. Some were imprisoned. Some were banished. Some were flogged. Every means that cruelty and craft could devise was employed to "hinder the gospel of Christ," and to hinder holy and apostolic men in their work.
By fomenting divisions. Jews were set against Gentiles. One part of the church was excited against another part. Judaising teachers turned the minds of the brethren from those who had begotten them through the gospel. Contentions were awakened about foods and drinks, days and years. Paul was alienated from Barnabas, and Barnabas separated from Paul. Demas turned aside to the world, and John Mark left the ministry. Confusion and every evil work was introduced into the church, which made the Apostle sigh, and exclaim "Satan hindered us!"
By producing and deepening prejudice. A little thing will often produce prejudice, and once produced Satan will fan it, foster it, and every way encourage it. Where prejudice reigns, love expires; union ceases! and a whole troop of evils are introduced.
By beguiling unstable souls. One great object of the Apostolic ministry was to establish and settle souls in the truth—but this they often found very difficult, for Satan beguiled many. By something novel, or something legal; by austerity or libertinism, he beguiled and led away many; so that those who ought to have been living for Jesus, were living to themselves; and those who ought to have been spreading the truth for the benefit of others, were laboring to add something to the finished, complete, and glorious work of Christ. The introduction of error bewildered many minds, and cooled the zeal of many hearts. The faith of some was weakened, and the spirits of others were discouraged; thus the work was hindered. This is just what Satan is doing now. His keen eye is fixed upon every man, and every little band who, with honest hearts and simple minds, endeavor to extend God's cause. He will hate such with a bitter hatred. He will plot against such with hellish craft.
He will try to hinder us with untiring zeal. He will stir up opposition without, and will influence some within, to endeavor to weaken their hands, and discourage their hearts. There will be sure to be a conflict, a severe conflict. If he can rock professors to sleep, if he can fascinate Christians with worldly grandeur, or get a people to be taken up with external rituals, he will not trouble them much; he knows they will not injure him, or make inroads on his kingdom. But let them wake up to their responsibilities, let zeal for Jesus and his truth fire their breasts, let them go forth and do God's work, and aim to save souls from death, from a pure motive—and Satan will try to hinder them.
Bear in mind then, that Satan is a real person. Not an influence, or a principle, or a fable—but a person—one who has a powerful understanding, a capacious memory, a strong will, and a determined heart. Being spiritual in his nature, he is of course invisible; but because invisible, none the less real. If he hindered Paul, is it any wonder if he hinders us? If he prevailed against him, shall we be surprised if he prevails against us? He is always at work to hinder the gospel of Christ. He never wearies of his work, nor does he appear to weary in it. He is permitted to do much mischief.
When the seed is sown on the way side, "then comes the devil, and caches away the seed out of the heart, lest they should believe and be saved." If we sow good seed in the Lord's field, this enemy follows, and sows tares. We had need therefore be always on our guard. "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation." Peter neglected to watch—and Satan prevailed against him. Hezekiah neglected to watch—and he prevailed against him. David neglected to watch—and he prevailed against him. Lot and Noah neglected to watch—and he prevailed against them.
In every age, under every variety of circumstances, he has by his wit and vigilance prevailed against some. He uses all sorts of instruments, in the Church and out of it, good and bad, to accomplish his ends. If he can only do mischief, hinder God's cause, make the saint unhappy, and harden the sinner in his sins—he is pleased. What awful enmity must dwell in his heart! What a fountain of wickedness is found in his nature! How far, how wide his influence extends! How long and how extensively has his reign been permitted!
Let us then cleave to the Lord with full purpose of heart. Let us daily cry to the strong One for strength. Let us watch against this enemy of our souls, and endeavor to avoid even the appearance of evil. Let us look forward and anticipate the day when "the God of peace shall bruise Satan under our feet." Let us not be discouraged though he seems for a time to prevail against us, for if this enemy should for a season overcome, we shall overcome at the last. He is doomed and destined to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. The time is fixed when he shall be bound, and soon, very soon, we shall be forever out of his reach. He may hinder us occasionally now—but when we arrive at our Father's house he will be permitted to hinder us no more.
Jesus was once "manifested to destroy the works of the devil;" and when he comes again, his power to injure will terminate, and we shall be forever free from his influence. O, to be enabled to resist him, steadfast in the faith! To overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of our testimony. As Jesus resisted and conquered in the wilderness, so may we resist and conquer him; and then go to sit down with our Lord on this throne even as he having overcome, sat down with his Father on his throne. Now is the time for conflict. The present world is the battle-field. We must either conquer—or be conquered. Lord give us courage, confidence, and determined daring, that we may resist even unto blood, if called to do so, for the honor of your name and cause.