« AnteriorContinuar »
observe the conduct above described, until he had faithfully and immoveably established his gospel among men: or, as Isaiah hath it, xlii. 4, “till he have set judgment in the earth.”
Parable of the Unclean Spirit.
MATT. XII. 43-45.
“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return unto my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there : and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.”
In this parable the Saviour referred to the opinion entertained by the Jews, and which they had derived from their association with the heathen nations, that persons were sometimes possessed by demons, or evil spirits; that is to say, that these spirits influenced them so far as to control their actions, and make them subject to extreme pains. There is the clearest evidence that the heathen attributed disorders, especially such as affected the mind, to the influence of evil spirits, who had in reality no existence or power, but were, like the rest of the heathen deities, imaginary beings. It ought to be distinctly understood, that the demons by which men are said, in the New Testament, to be possessed, were a very different order of beings from the Devil, or Satan, commonly so ealled.
It is never said by the sacred writers, that
men were possessed by the devil: whether the doctrine of real possessions be true or false, it is not the devil by whom men were possessed, but another order of beings called demons. Dr. Campbell has labored with great effect to illustrate this fact.1 Demons are always spoken of in reference to possessions ; but the devil is never so spoken of. It devolves on us, in this place, to show the reason why Jesus spoke of persons as being possessed by deinons.
From the carliest ages the heathen supposed invisible spirits to have agency in the affairs of this world. They peopled the skies with the departed spirits of their heroes, to whom they assigned divers ranks, dispositions, and occupations; some they adored with gratitude, and before others they trembled with fear. This was all the work of imagination-it had no reality. They unquestionably believed it real; and when they experienced any extraordinary emotions, they were wont to attribute them to the agency of their fabled deinons. This absurd notion was embraced by the Jews, as we learn from their historians; and Josephus, who lived nearly in the same age with the apostles, tells us, that demons are the spirits of wicked men, which return to the earth, and possess and torment the living.? This was the prevailing opinion in the time of Christ. Persons afflicted with insanity and epilepsy were more particularly judged to be possessed of deinons; and the careful reader will perceive, by examining the supposed cases of possessions recorded in the New Testament, that the symptoms put forth by the subjects of them, are precisely the symptoms shown by persons reallv afflicted with those diseases. The Saviour, in speaking of persons thus afflicted, used the common language ; not, as we suppose, to give countenance to the silly notion of the real existence of demons, but in tenderness perhaps to the persons afflicted, and in accommodation to their views of themselves, as well as to the prevailing opinion on the subject. It has been objected to this, that Jesus would thereby have confirmed people in the false supposition, and deceived them by giving countenance to what was unreal. Those should reflect, who think the demoniacs were possessed by the devil, almost omnipotent, in whom they believe, that this opinion is as wide from that which prevailed in the days of Christ, as the opinion we have expressed. The case is made no different, therefore, by adopting the present hypothesis in regard to possession by the devil. Although the Jews really believed the demoniacs were possessed, they did not believe they were possessed bydiabolos,--the devil, but by the spirits of the human dead; and so the demoniacs seem to have thought of themselves, as they sometimes took up their residence among the tombs. In the scriptures, the common language on the subject is kept up, and we are left to explain it by what we know of the religious opinions of the Jews and heathen. When Jesus cured people of insanity or epilepsy, | he was said to cast out a demon, or demons, if the possessed thought himself to have more than one; and when Jesus transferred the madness, on one
1 Prelim. Dis. vi. 1.
2 Speaking of a certain plant, he says, “it is only valuable on account of one virtue it hath, that is it be only brought to tho sick persons, it quickly drives away those called demons, which are no other than the spirits of the wicked, that enter into men that are alive, and kill thein, unless they can obtain some help against them.” Bell Jud. lib. vii. c. vi. sec. 3.
occasion, to a herd of swine, as the leprosy of Naaman was transfered to Gehazi, the demons were said to enter them, and their end was what might have been expected.
The parable under consideration is founded on the prevailing opinion of demons. The unclean spirit was said to leave a man, to walk through dry places, seeking rest and finding none. cluded to return to the man whom he had left, and he found him in a better condition than when he left him; or, as it is expressed, he returned to the house whence he came out, and found it empty, swept and garnished. He went and took with him seven spirits worse than himsclf, and they enter in and dwell there, and the last state of the man was of course, worse than the first. Jesus made the application of the parable by saying, "even so shall it be atso unto this wicked generation.
It was commonly supposed, that if the insanity left a man for a time, but returned, it came with seven fold violence, which is all that is meant by “seven other spirits.” We say at the present day, , when a fever is expelled, that if the person is not careful, the disease will return, and the relapse is seven times more difficult to cure than the first attack. The same rule holds good, in regard to moral things. Peter says, "for if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.” The occasion of Jesus using the parable before us was this,-he had just cured a man of blindness and dumbness, or, in the common language, had cast out a demon that was both blind and dumb; and this circumstance suggested to him the figure by which he represented what, it might reasonably be supposed, would be the last state of the Jews. They were earnestly looking for the coming of the latter days, in which they hoped to enjoy all the glory foretold by their prophets. This latter state of the nation was a matter of universal and joyful expectation among them; but alas! by rejecting the true Messiah, and putting him to death, they brought upon themselves in the end of the age, a great tribulation, such as had not been from the beginning of the world to that time, and was never afterward to be exceeded. The 6 last state” of that generation, instead of being, as they expected, better than any former condition they had ever enjoyed, would be worse-no calamities they ever suffered would compare with those about to fall upon them.
This parable may be very easily and naturally applied to many persons now on the earth. In the process of what they call conversion, they get rid of one devil, but they often take in seven. We do .not feel disposed to deny it is sometimes the case in proselyting men, that they are led to forsake some sins; but it is a fact that they fall into others of a more enormous character; as some writer has quaintly said, “they throw off the sins of a man, and take on those of a devil.” There are people who have been made worse by being proselyted to orthodoxy, and although they have boasted of casting the devil out, their last state is worse than the first. So it is with this wicked generation.