These words were written by John Adams to his cousin Zabdiel, during the swelling days of Revolution. In the letter he unequivocally argued: “The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a greater Measure, than they have it now, They may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies.”
Zabdiel who was a lawyer, also received this conclusion in his short letter from John Adams: “You cannot therefore be more pleasantly, or usefully employed than in the Way of your Profession, pulling down the Strong Holds of Satan. This is not Cant, but the real sentiment of my Heart” (See The Adams Papers Digital Addition or Bennett, Our Sacred Honor, 371).
There are thousands of references to Providence, Almighty God, and Supreme Being, to name a few, among the writings and speeches of our founding fathers and mothers. Personally, I haven’t come across many poignant references to Satan as this one from John Adams. It is a uniquely cautionary letter.
What did John Adams believe and know about this adversary?
He seems to have understood the scriptural based reality of evil sponsored in a being from an unseen world. Marion G. Romney confronted the reality in modern times: “A corollary to the pernicious falsehood that God is dead is the equally pernicious doctrine that there is no devil. Satan himself is the father of both of these lies. To believe them is to surrender to him. Such surrender has always led, is leading now, and will continue to lead men to destruction . . . . The reality of the existence of both God and the devil is conclusively established by the scriptures and by human experience…. Satan is irrevocably committed to countering and overcoming the influence of the Spirit of Christ upon men. He is the representative, promoter, and advocate of [an] opposition in all things” (General Conference Report, April 1971)
I don’t care to bring Satan attention, but I think many can agree people are struggling in the distinction between good and evil; light and darkness; truth and error; God and Satan. The ancient prophet Ezekiel testified of his day: “They have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 22:26). And that is exactly how Satan wants it. When we minimize his reality we accentuate his power. This makes it more difficult to discern the holy from the profane. Herein John Adams words resonate. Religion, morality, and virtue—pillars to liberty—are constantly in conflict, and in some situations crumbling under Satan’s strongholds. Adams suggested the adversary had strongholds.
The apostle John saw in vision the decree that came upon Satan before the peopling of the earth: “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” (Revelations 12:7–17).
Joseph Smith related the following statements concerning the Adversary: (1) “Wicked spirits have their bounds, limits, and laws by which they are governed.” So we have the advantage in knowing God is more powerful; (2) “All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not. The devil has no power over us only as we permit him. The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power.” Which emphasizes the Back to being spiritually responsible individuals and the importance to keep the commandments; and (3) “The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes” (Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, “Devil” ).
Before we go too far blaming the Adversary for everything, we ought to consider the wisdom of James E. Faust: “We have heard comedians and others justify or explain their misdeeds by saying, ‘The devil made me do it.’ I do not really think the devil can make us do anything. Certainly he can tempt and he can deceive, but he has no authority over us which we do not give him….We need not become paralyzed with fear of Satan’s power. He can have no power over us unless we permit it. He is really a coward, and if we stand firm, he will retreat.” We must take responsibility for our choices. It is when individuals don’t take responsibility we see evidence of his strongholds fortifying and more openly threaten liberty, religion, morality, and virtue.
The power to pull down the strongholds of Satan is in each and every one of us. The power of our pull will largely be determined how wisely we use are God-given agency.