DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - A friend and reader of the SIGNS, from Catskill, has, by letter, requested my views on Matt. 12:43-45, I therefore send such as I have to you for publication in the SIGNS, if you see fit.
The passage is that declaration of Christ to the Jews, that “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man,” &c. There are, no doubt, many young believers, and some old ones too, who, with the friend making this request, have thought the remarks contained in this passage was a description of their own cases. The time was when they had thought their vile affections and corruptions were subdued, and Satan did not worry them; but when for humbling them, or for the trial of their faith, the Lord leaves them to feel the power of their corruptions, and the assaults of the adversary, they have been led to think their case could not be worse, if they had seven devils in them, for they feel the force of their corruptions to be seven fold, and hence they are ready to conclude that they are not what they had hoped they were – subjects of God – but that their latter state is worse than the first. But such may rest assured that this text has no reference to their case, no relation to the trials and experience of the children of God; that the whole was designed to show the peculiar state of that generation of the Jews, as the context with the concluding remark in the text shows. Our Lord, in his remarks, refers, as an illustration of the state of that generation, to what appears to have been a generally conceived idea among that people, concerning the operations of evil spirits upon individuals, and from the positive declaration which he made concerning it, I must conclude that this opinion concerning unclean spirits and their influence over individuals, was a correct one. I admit there are difficulties in the way of our comprehending how distinct existing spirits should have and exercise such influence and power over men. We have been accustomed to ascribe similar influences and effects, when witnessed among us, to disease, to depravity, or some derangement of the faculties or the mind. Human science would reject, as fictitious, such statements, though found in the Scriptures, as are incomprehensible to us. But however much the power of Satan or devils, in this respect, over men, may have been abridged since the resurrection of Christ – when I consider that the statements found in the Scriptures were written by inspiration of God, and written, not as fiction, but as a revelation of truth – I at present feel constrained to believe, from those recorded statements, that there did exist as distinct intelligent beings, such unclean spirits, or devils, as are spoken of, and that they were permitted of God to take possession of individuals, and exercise such power over them as is described. Witness the case of the man among the tombs, Mark 5:1-13; see also, Mark 3:11-12 & 1:23-26; also, Acts 19:12-17. How far the devils may have similar power given them over individuals under the Gospel, or whether any, I pretend not to say; but from the accounts given, I am inclined to believe the devil has power given him to exercise through human beings – witchcraft in our country the same as in the case of the witch of Endor – though the spirits raised at this day, do not, and cannot, speak the truth through their mediums, as did the spirit of Samuel through the witch of Endor.
Having premised this much concerning unclean spirits, let us notice the words of Christ: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man.” This is not a case of the devils being cast out by the finger of God, and forbid any more to enter the man; but of his voluntarily going out of his own accord. Very different this, from a work of grace upon the heart. “He walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.” The expressions used in the following verse, such as, “he taketh to himself seven other spirits,” show that it is the unclean spirit here spoken of, as acting individually or personally, and not the man. “Seeking rest and findeth none.” That is, he roamed at large, without being permitted of God to enter in and possess any other person; for he was as much dependent on God’s absolute sovereignty to enter any one, as was the legion, to enter the swine.
“Then he saith, I will return unto my house, from whence I came out.” That is, I will return unto the man I had before possessed. “And when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept and garnished.” Being empty, shows that the grace or spirit of God had not been communicated to this man, neither had any other evil spirit possessed him. And being freed from the influence of this unclean spirit, the man had reformed his life, from those unclean or corrupt courses to which he had been led, and of course had garnished himself with decent and moral, if not benevolent conduct.
“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.” That is, being now possessed by seven more spirits, and these more wicked than the first, his conduct was worse, as also was his condition.
“Even so shall it be, also, to this wicked generation.” That is, like unto the man thus represented, the Jews had been addicted, previous to their captivity, to idolatry, and to a disregard of the law; but after their return from Babylon, and the building of the sacred temple, every vestige of their former idolatry was swept away, they were obedient to the law in its letter; and were garnished with a zealous regard to the worship of the true God. But the generation then on the stage, when our Lord was on earth, adhered more to the traditions of the fathers than to the law of God, and were, therefore, in truth, idolaters; though they shunned the form, they were hypocritical in their worship, were self-righteous, and with it were proud, bigoted, oppressive, persecuting, blasphemous, &c., so that they were filling up the measure of the iniquities of their fathers sevenfold, and about, thereby, to draw upon themselves, in the rejection of Christ, a judgment sevenfold worse than the Babylonish captivity, so that their last state was worse than the first, like the possessed man. I will remark, in addition, that there is much in our day resembling the state of that generation and of that possessed man. Many persons speak favorably of revival efforts who do not profess to approve of their systems of religion; they say these conversions tend to moralize the people. But according to Christ’s view concerning that generation of the Jews, the state of these persons is likely to become sevenfold worse. These men made converts, or excitement converts, may leave off drunkenness if they have been addicted to it, and profanity, gaming and the like. But, on the other hand, it makes them hypocrites in leading them to profess a religion which they do not possess, their religion being legal. This religion being a selfish one, it makes them more selfish in their intercourse with men, however liberal they may be in giving to religious purposes, it leads them to have self-righteous opinions of themselves; and self-righteousness always embitters the heart of its possessor against the truth and those who hold it, and enlists them in opposition thereto; so that they become revilers of the truth and of true believers, and are prepared instruments for persecuting the saints, in any form and to any extent, in which persecution may be permitted of God. More might be said on this point, and yet not appear over-drawn to any candid observer of the popular religion of our day. This is so from the nature of things; for where the heart is not changed, and the love of God not imputed, the enmity of the heart toward God and the depravity of nature, remain in their full force, and in the conversion from a man of the world to a religious professor, the individual will act under the influence of his enmity, selfishness, &c., more freely in his religious course than formerly he did in his worldly course, because conscience has more or less restraint upon men of the world to keep them within bounds, but now this man thinks he is doing God service in reviling and seeking to put down the truth, and will satisfy himself in opposing those he gets under his power, and in overreaching and taking the advantage of his neighbor in his dealings, because the more he can gain in this way, the more he can give to religious purposes. Now, my friend, from your enquiry, I presume this is not your case.
Fairfax County, Va., June 23, 1856.