There remains yet a word to be said about hindrances. It is a most important word; indeed the climactic word. What has been said is simply clearing the way for what is yet to be said. A very strange phase of prayer must be considered here. Strange only because not familiar. Yet though strange it contains the whole heart of the question. Here lies the fight of the fight. One marvels that so little is said of it. For if there were clear understanding here, and then faithful practicing, there would be mightier defeats and victories: defeats for the foe; victories for our rightful prince, Jesus.
The intense fact is this: Satan has the power to hold the answer back—for awhile; to delay the result—for a time. He has not the power to hold it back finally, if some one understands and prays with quiet, steady persistence. The real pitch of prayer therefore is Satanward.
Our generation has pretty much left this individual Satan out. It is partly excusable perhaps. The conceptions of Satan and his hosts and surroundings made classical by such as Dante and Milton and Doré have done much to befog the air. Almost universally they have been taken literally whether so meant or not. One familiar with Satan's characteristics can easily imagine his cunning finger in that. He is willing even to be caricatured, or to be left out of reckoning, if so he may tighten his grip.
These suggestions of horns and hoofs, of forked tail and all the rest of it seek to give material form to this being. They are grotesque to an extreme, and therefore caricatures. A caricature so disproportions and exaggerates as to make hideous or ridiculous. In our day when every foundation of knowledge is being examined there has been a natural but unthinking turning away from the very being of Satan through these representations of him. Yet where there is a caricature there must be a true. To revolt from the true, hidden by a caricature, in revolting from the caricature is easy, but is certainly bad. It is always bad to have the truth hid from our eyes.
It is refreshing and fascinating to turn from these classical caricatures to the scriptural conception of Satan. In this Book he is a being of great beauty of person, of great dignity of position even yet, endowed with most remarkable intellectual powers, a prince, at the head of a most remarkable, compact organization which he has wielded with phenomenal skill and success in furthering his ambitious purposes.
And he is not chained yet. I remember a conversation with a young clergyman one Monday morning in the reading-room of a Young Men's Christian Association. It was in a certain mining town in the southwest, which is as full of evil resorts as such places usually are. The day before, Sunday, had been one of special services, and we had both been busy and were a bit weary. We were slowing down and chatting leisurely. I remarked to my friend, "What a glad day it will be when the millennium comes!" He quickly replied, "I think this is the millennium." "But," I said, "I thought Satan was to be chained during that time. Doesn't it say something of that sort in the Book?" "Yes," he replied, "it does. But I think he is chained now." And I could not resist the answer that came blurting its way out, "Well, if he is chained, he must have a fairly long chain: it seems to permit much freedom of action." From all that can be gathered regarding this mighty prince he is not chained yet. We would do well to learn more about him. The old military maxim, "Study the enemy," should be followed more closely here.
It is striking that the oldest of the Bible books, and the latest, Job and Revelation, the first word and the last, give such definite information concerning him. These coupled with the gospel records supply most of the information available though not all. Those three and a half years of Jesus' public work is the period of greatest Satanic and demoniac activity of which any record has been made. Jesus' own allusions to him are frequent and in unmistakable language. There are four particular passages to which I want to turn your attention now. Let it not be supposed, however, that this phase of prayer rests upon a few isolated passages. Such a serious truth does not hinge upon selected proof texts. It is woven into the very texture of this Book throughout.
There are two facts that run through the Bible from one end to the other. They are like two threads ever crossing in the warp and woof of a finely woven fabric. Anywhere you run your shears into the web of this Book you will find these two threads. They run crosswise and are woven inextricably in. One is a black thread, inky black, pot-black. The other is a bright thread, like a bit of glory light streaming across. These two threads everywhere. The one is this—the black thread—there is an enemy. Turn where you will from Genesis to Revelation—always an enemy. He is keen. He is subtle. He is malicious. He is cruel. He is obstinate. He is a master. The second thread is this: the leaders for God have always been men of prayer above everything else. They are men of power in other ways, preachers, men of action, with power to sway others but above all else men of prayer. They give prayer first place. There is one striking exception to this, namely, King Saul. And most significantly a study of this exception throws a brilliant lime light upon the career of Satan. King Sauls seems to furnish the one great human illustration in scripture of heaven's renegade fallen prince. These special paragraphs to be quoted are like the pattern in the cloth where the colours of the yarn come into more definite shape. The gospels form the central pattern of the whole where the colours pile up into sharpest contrast.