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Chapter 1

The Setting of the Contest

THERE sits today on the throne of sin one who has grown old in evil, cunning in subtlety, and cruel in deceit. He has waged war in heaven and on earth. He filled heaven with discord and earth with death, and both with sorrow. He challenged every purpose of God, and coveted the throne of the Eternal, planning to rule the universe or plunge it into chaos and ruin.

That conflict, older than man, explains the presence of every conflict that disturbs our race today, every pestilence that afflicts humanity, every sorrow and pain and death that tortures the children of earth. Lucifer, the one-time covering cherub of heaven, is the Satan of our smitten world, the demon leader of the hosts of darkness that oppose, in this world, every purpose of God and the Saviour of men.

The throne of sin is no figure of speech, and the occupant of that throne is no figment of the imagination. Jesus Christ called him "the prince of this world." John 14: 30. The apostle Paul describes him as "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." Eph. 2: 2. John the revelator designated him as "the great dragon," "that old serpent, called the devil, and Satan." Rev. 12:9.

When the leader of revolt against the Creator was expelled from heaven, he left with many followers,-- angels who had yielded to his cunning sophistry and joined in his rebellion; and this world is now their abode. Of that tremendous event, which rid heaven of the fallen hosts and filled earth with legions bent on the ruin of God's handiwork, the inspired writer says:

"There was war in heaven: Michael [that is, Christ] and His angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. . . . Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." Rev. 12: 7-12.

The apostle Jude speaks of this fallen host as "the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation," whom God "hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day." Jude 6.

Both the predictions of Holy Writ and the great world events of today declare in unmistakable language that the conflict between "the prince of this world" and the Ruler of the universe is nearing its culmination. In the conspiracy of sin against righteousness, of Satan against Christ, of the cohorts of darkness against the hosts of the King eternal, the occupant of the throne of sin has enlisted multitudes of the human race. Just now these human adjuncts of the dark Conspiracy against the purposes of the Most High are making their attack chiefly from three directions. When their assault has reached its culmination, God Himself will sound the death knell of sin and the overthrow of its king and kingdom.

The forces of good and evil have met in stern struggle through all the ages of the history of humanity. In every such contest Satan has assaulted the principles of the kingdom eternal, but he has always found some faithful ones whose loyalty he could not contaminate and whose faith he could not overthrow. There was Enoch, so faithful that God would not permit him to taste of death. There was Noah, who escaped across the waters of the flood with eight souls only from among the millions who peopled the earth at that time. There was Elijah, faithful when he supposed every other soul in Israel had apostatized. There were Daniel and his fellows, braving the wrath of the kings of the whole earth that they might not be unfaithful to the King of kings. And then came the Contest between Divinity incarnate and the demons and their human dupes when the child Jesus made His appearance among men.

From the day when Satan plotted the death of the infant Jesus until the Man Christ Jesus hung upon the cross between earth and heaven, there was no let-up in the cruel malignity of the archconspirator. The last stage of the conflict began at our Saviour's birth, and the forces that will clash in its consummation are now preparing for action, marshaling for the last acts in the long and bitter campaign. There is more involved in this struggle than in any other that has ever taken place upon this planet. When this war is finished, all war will be finished forever throughout the universe of God. The question will then have been decided for all eternity as to the rulership of this world. It means the end of sin and all its by-products of sorrow, disappointment, dissatisfaction, broken hopes and blighted lives, misery, desolation, and death.

When Jesus Christ, as God's agent for the eradication of sin from this world, met the fallen Lucifer in the dreary wilderness of temptation in Palestine, the representatives of righteousness and iniquity were face to face, and the destiny of the whole human race hung in the balance. Had Jesus Christ yielded to one of Satan's temptations there, or anywhere else, the eternal doom of the human family would have been sealed. Jesus Christ Himself would have perished, and God's only possible remedy for sin would have failed. The destiny of the universe hung upon the loyalty of Him who had given up heaven and His own life to bring peace and righteousness to this sin-smitten world. What the loyalty of Christ meant to the world then, and means to us now, the mind of man is utterly incapable of estimating.

But He did not fail us nor disappoint the onlooking hosts of heaven. He met sin personified in the person of that one who had been in heaven, one of the two covering cherubs standing by the throne of the universe. All that evil was and could be and could do was centered in that smooth-speaking being who posed as an angel of light while the poison of death was hid in his every seductive word.

"Get thee behind Me, Satan," was Christ's open repudiation of every subtle suggestion of the father of sin. It was a decisive challenge to all the hosts of the ruler of the darkness of this world. The contest was on. That Michael who thrust Lucifer and his fallen angels out of heaven was meeting now in mortal combat the leader of the evicted hosts of sin. It was Lucifer's settled purpose to force the very Son of God into unforgivable sin or blot out His life and wreck the universe. When he saw the Son of God at last spiked to the cross of Calvary, he saw the completion of his age-old object; but he was only bruising the heel of that promised Seed of the woman that was finally to bruise his head. (See Gen. 3:15.) Satan seemed to have forgotten that while the Christ died for the sins of the world,-- the Just for the unjust,-- to save man from the second death, the slain One's own personal righteousness made it impossible that His death should be eternal. The grave holds Him for a little moment of time, and then the bars of death's prison house are broken, and the Redeemer comes forth to receive the approbation of the Father and to sit down beside Him on the throne of righteousness, the throne of the universe--that throne which Satan had coveted through unnumbered years.

But the baffled Lucifer would not admit defeat. He was determined to slay the infant Jesus, and now he was equally determined to slay the infant church. Through Rome pagan and then through Rome papal he had one cruel and relentless purpose,-- to "wear out the saints of the Most High," and blot out the church of the living God from the face of the earth. And he very nearly succeeded. Force to secure uniformity in religion was the policy pursued, and a church-ruled state was the relentless instrumentality employed to that end. How many millions paid with their lives for the practice of their faith, will never be known until the books of God are laid open before the eyes of the redeemed.

It is not the writer's design to dwell upon the heartbreaking cruelties of the "holy office," or the sufferings endured by the martyrs who "loved not their lives unto the death." The record of that work has long been written, and is easy of access to those who wish to read. The centuries of the Dark Ages have been literally strewn with the shattered bodies and ruined hopes of men and women who knew the worth of a pure faith and considered no price too high to pay for it. But that work is in the past, though the principles that made it possible are held even today by the organization that practised them through those dark and bitter times. The church responsible for that cruel work still expects that "the secular power shall swear to exterminate all heretics condemned by the church; and if they do not, they shall be anathema."--" Church History," Schaff, Vol. II, sec. 27.

"A heretic," says Pope Marcellus, "merits the pains of fire. By the gospel, the canons, civil law, and custom, heretics must be burned."-- Pope Marcellus' Decrees, Corpus Juris Canonici, part 2, chap. 18.

That attitude has never been repudiated, and whenever and wherever that organization has the power to oppress the consciences of men as in days gone by, it will do so. But it has not yet been able to blot out the true disciples of the Lord. The blood of the martyrs has always insured the perpetuation of that virile and loyal race. While that oppressive policy has never been abandoned, save where circumstances made it impossible, and while we shall see it revivified in the actual climax of the great struggle, another plan has been adopted by the enemy of souls, for this generation, that is today sweeping millions into a snare, the most deceptive and fatal that Satan has ever employed against mankind.

So long as Satan sits upon the throne of sin, so long as he continues as "the prince of this world" and the ruler of the dark forces that fell with him, the earth will continue to be the home of sorrow, discord, deceit, pestilence, famine, war, and death; and his age-long campaign of persecution against the true followers of the Christ will continue unabated while he spreads his net of subtle deception over the whole world. The several chapters of this book will show what that deception is, and how it is operating today among the nations of men.

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