But let us turn to the Book at once. For we know only what it tells. The rest is surmise. The only authoritative statements about Satan seem to be these here. Turn first to the New Testament.
The Old Testament is the book of illustrations; the New of explanations, of teaching. In the Old, teaching is largely by kindergarten methods. The best methods, for the world was in its child stage. In the New the teaching is by precept. There is precept teaching in the Old; very much. There is picture teaching in the New; the gospels full of it. But picture teaching, acted teaching, is the characteristic of the Old, and precept teaching of the New. There is a wonderfully vivid picture in the Old Testament, of this thing we are discussing. But first let us get the teaching counterpart in the new, and then look at the picture.
Turn to Ephesians. Ephesians is a prayer epistle. That is a very significant fact to mark. Of Paul's thirteen letters Ephesians is peculiarly the prayer letter. Paul is clearly in a prayer mood. He is on his knees here. He has much to say to these people whom he has won to Christ, but it comes in the parenthesis of his prayer. The connecting phrase running through is—"for this cause I pray.... I bow my knees." Halfway through this rare old man's mind runs out to the condition of these churches, and he puts in the always needed practical injunctions about their daily lives. Then the prayer mood reasserts itself, and the epistle finds its climax in a remarkable paragraph on prayer. From praying the man goes urging them to pray.
We must keep the book open here as we talk: chapter six, verses ten to twenty inclusive. The main drive of all their living and warfare seems very clear to this scarred veteran:—"that ye may be able to withstand the wiles of the devil." This man seems to have had no difficulty in believing in a personal devil. Probably he had had too many close encounters for that. To Paul Satan is a cunning strategist requiring every bit of available resource to combat.
This paragraph states two things:—who the real foe is, against whom the fight is directed; and, then with climactic intensity it pitches on the main thing that routs him. Who is the real foe? Listen:—"For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood"—not against men; never that; something far, subtler—"but against the principalities"—a word for a compact organization of individuals,—"against powers"—not only organized but highly endowed intellectually, "against the world-rulers of this darkness,"—they are of princely kin; not common folk—"against the hosts of wicked spirits in the heavenlies"—spirit beings, in vast numbers, having their headquarters somewhere above the earth. That is the foe. Large numbers of highly endowed spirit beings, compactly organized, who are the sovereigns of the present realm or age of moral darkness, having their headquarters of activity somewhere above the earth, and below the throne of God, but concerned with human beings upon the earth. In chapter two of the epistle the head or ruler of this organization is referred to, "the prince of the powers of the air" (Eph_2:2). That is the real foe.
Then in one of his strong piled up climactic sentences Paul tells how the fight is to be won. This sentence runs unbroken through verses fourteen to twenty inclusive. There are six preliminary clauses in it leading up to its main statement. These clauses name the pieces of armour used by a Roman soldier in the action of battle. The loins girt, the breastplate on, the feet shod, the shield, the helmet the sword, and so on. A Roman soldier reading this or, hearing Paul preach it, would expect him to finish the sentence by saying "with all your fighting strength fighting."
That would be the proper conclusion rhetorically of this sentence. But when Paul reaches the climax with his usual intensity he drops the rhetorical figure, and puts in the thing with which in our case the fighting is done—"with all prayer praying." In place of the expected word fighting is the word praying. The thing with which the fighting is done is put in place of the word itself. Our fighting is praying. Praying is fighting, spirit-fighting. That is to say, this old evangelist-missionary-bishop says, we are in the thick of a fight. There is a war on. How shall we best fight? First get into good shape to pray, and then with all your praying strength and skill pray. That word praying is the climax of this long sentence, and of this whole epistle. This is the sort of action that turns the enemy's flank, and reveals his heels. He simply cannot stand before persistent knee-work.
Now mark the keenness of Paul's description of the man who does most effective work in praying. There are six qualifications under the figure of the six pieces of armour. A clear understanding of truth, a clean obedient life, earnest service, a strongly simple trust in God, clear assurance of one's own salvation and relation to God, and a good grip of the truth for others—these things prepare a man for the real conflict of prayer. Such a man—praying—drives back these hosts of the traitor prince. Such a man praying is invincible in his Chief, Jesus. The equipment is simple, and in its beginnings comes quickly to the willing, earnest heart.
Look a bit at how the strong climax of this long sentence runs. It is fairly bristling with points. Soldier-points all of them; like bayonet points. Just such as a general engaged in a siege-fight would give to his men. "With all prayer and supplication"—there is intensity; "praying"—that is the main drive; "at all seasons"—ceaselessness, night and day; hot and cold; wet and dry; "in the Spirit"—as guided by the Chief; "and watching thereunto"—sleepless vigilance; watching is ever a fighting word; watch the enemy; watch your own forces; "with all perseverance"—persistence; cheery, jaw-locked, dogged persistence, bulldog tenacity; "and supplication"—intensity again; "for all the saints"—the sweep of the action, keep in touch with the whole army; "and on my behalf"—the human leader, rally around the immediate leader. This is the foe to be fought. And this the sort of fighting that defeats this foe.