“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 into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
The 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.” – Matthew xii, 43 –45.
One of the most potent forces of Scripture Testimony is found in its application nor only to the present circumstances to which it refers, but also its continued force in all subsequent, and similar conditions. It thus becomes not a dead letter. But a living witness, at once old and new. – Matthew xiii, 52.
When the Savior uttered the words at the head of this article He prophesied the downfall and extinction of that Jewish dispensation. He but reiterated what had been declared by Joshua some 1500 years before, “And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord: for He is an holy God: He is a zealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.” – Joshua xxiv, 19.
That legal dispensation was never given but to be taken away. – Hebrew x, 9. It was to serve its appointed course; to live its allotted days, that through its fall should spring into the newness of life eternal, the dispensation of Gospel grace, under the shadow of whose ever sheltering wings, the children of the day should find rest.
Upon another occasion the Savior referring to the long, dreary rebellion of the Jews against the holy commandments said unto them: “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell. * * * That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel, unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.” – Matthew xxiii, 32, 33, 35.
The Jews as a nation were unable to realize the spirit of the law “for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” – Galatians iii, 21. They lacked that which was revealed in Jesus when He said, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart.” – Psalm xl, 8. True, the Mosaic Law was of such a character that obedience could be rendered to its outward forms, but the true born Israelite could alone see through those forms its glorious and eternal substance.
No stream can rise higher than its fountain, hence national Israel could not reach to the spiritual development. Their entire legal travel from the days of their wandering in the wilderness, throughout their life in the Land of Promise, evidenced that they were a “stiff necked people,” unable to reach to the ideal life of obedience under that dispensation.
Hence when for the time they were enabled to walk in obedience; “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man ,” it was only to the faithful “remnant according to the election of grace,” that rest and pleasure was found; to the great mass of Israelites as evidenced by their murmuring and complaining, it was walking “through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none.”
And when after a temporary lull in their stiff necked rebellion, through the observance of the holy law they returned again to their native idolatry, it often seemed with a seven –fold lust.
The Savior on the occasion of uttering the language of the text, reminded them of their long life of disobedience and rebellion, their wickedness and idolatry increasing with age. “The men of Nineveh,” He told them, should “rise up in judgment with this generation and condemn it; because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” The wickedness of primitive days in that dispensation had seemed to increase seven –fold; and their last “last state was” infinitely “worse than their first;” that as previously quoted upon them should “come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth,” &c. And as the closing clause of the text declares: “Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.” But leaving the primitive application of the Scripture we desire to come to its application in present day occurrences. We are told that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” – 1 Corinthians iii, 19. Upon the cross Christ was given “gall for My meat; and vinegar to drink.” – Psalm lxix, 21. Certainly then from earthly sources no real, lasting righteousness is to be expected. The first of the two quotations shows the ignorance, and the last quotation the hatred of the carnal mind to every right way, even to the great sovereignty of Almighty God.
The human heart is inflated with conceit. Daniel speaks of worldly kings, symbols of worldly power, who exalt and magnify themselves, “against the God of gods;” and seek “to change times and laws.” – Daniel vii, 25; xi, 36. These are fair representatives of the foolish ignorance and bitter hatred against Truth by the powers of this world – “the powers of darkness.”
Paul in 2 Thessalonians ii, 3,4, gives us one of the unmistakable signs of the end of time. “Let no man deceive you,” he says – implying that many will try – “by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” In the same chapter, the apostle tells us; “The mystery of iniquity doth already work.” The manner of its working he says is “with all power and signs and lying wonders. And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish.” “By good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” – Romans xvi, 18. “And through covetousness shall they with feign words make merchandise of you.” – 2 Peter ii, 3. “Who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.” –Titus i, 11. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” – 2 Timothy iii, 5. These quotations reveal a sample of the manner of antichristian work.
We come now to the application of our text as previously stated to present –day conditions. A wave of religious and semi –religious frenzy is and has been for some time sweeping over our land. The number of religious order are multiplying rapidly . An idea is prevalent that the human family can be reformed by law upon the principle of making the fruit good, and the tree will become good. National, State, County, and Municipal authorities are busily engaged grinding out regulations for human government by the thousands; each vying with the rest in an endeavor to discover some new plan, new right, new focus for social welfare. Dangerous and radical departures from the beaten and well tried track of constitutional government with its checks and balances and restraints,are being urged by self –styled reformers, and often adopted, which frequently are but a little shade removed from mob rule. The noisier few propose to speak for the quieter multitudes. It is contrary to the very spirit of a free and progressive people to be so overburdened with laws, which registers a person at birth, closely watches every movement through life, and requires a coroner’s certificate before burial.
The thousands of unnecessary laws, illogical regulations, and misconceived ordinances throw around the citizen a network almost incomprehensible to the normal and rational mind, and with which the most skillful lawyers can hardly keep pace. A commonwealth of freemen is not a penal settlement, overburdened and hedged in on every side with drastic law. Citizenship in such a commonwealth should insure complete personal liberty, restrained only as it endangers the public weal – the liberty and rights of each and of all. Without personal liberty, there is no real liberty; and the best governed people are the least governed people.
There are some things that cannot be done by human law. You cannot legislate sin out of a man’s heart. You cannot change his corrupt nature. You cannot make the tree good by working on its fruit; you cannot improve a bad matter by unwise and misguided legislation. Man was not made for the law, but the law for man. Hence law must recognize its own limits, and man’s own frailty. It cannot be stretched beyond its natural measure; if so it signally fails, and is brought into contempt, along with the foolish perpetrators of overextended rules and regulations.
Underneath all this modern wave of so-called reform we find the spirit of antichrist busily at work. At no previous time in the history of our Republic has worldly religion been more busily engaged in an effort to use government authority for its own selfish end. They decry the “saloon in politics,” but urge the idea of the “church in politics,” when in reality there is infinitely more danger of the “church” (so –called,) than the “saloon in politics,” from the fact that the mass of the people readily detect the degraded character of “saloon politics;” but cannot so easily see the dangerous serpentine trail of the falsely named “Church in politics.”
Antichrist moves upon human forces in fits and jerks; spasmodic efforts at reform followed by reaction to the supposed reform. “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, findeth none.” As an illustration: under spectacular, and apparent reform a community may imbibe the fanaticism of Prohibition; an habitual drunkard joins the movement along with bootleggers, and fresh from the slums or the gutter, he comes to the front to teach men who have been moral, sober, temperate, law abiding citizens all their lives, the virtue of the Prohibition Movement. He is thrown to the surface upon the froth of the spasmodic (antichristian) wave agitating the community: which seeks always drastic laws to enforce its behests. Ignoring vital principles of freedom and God –given rights; blind to every obstacle that stands in its slimy path, this delirium tremens of reform hesitates at no stretch of power to accomplish its end; unchristianizing all opposition, allowing them no rights which these wild ignorant theorists care to respect, until the spasm has reached its utmost limit; and mad fury has spent its force, and the reaction takes place.
The assumption of virtue on the part of would be leaders, the effort of the stream to rise above its fountain; the attempt to force a community to become over –righteous, results in hypocritical profession. The blessed promise to Israel says, “And He will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: He will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and THY WINE, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which He sware unto thy fathers to give thee.” – Deuteronomy vii, 13. The virtue of real, vital righteousness is a very dry place for the natural mind to attempt to walk in, and force supposed reform.
The leaders, or the hypnotized community in such a mad fit, “walketh through dry places.” In assuming more righteousness than they possess, or the Scripture allows on that product, in striving to overturn the goodness of the Divine order of nature, deceiving their own hearts in vain assumption, following the mirage of false illusion can but end in disappointment and dismal failure. These “blind leaders of the blind” – (Matthew xxiii, 16; Luke vi, 39,) together with their dupes fall into the ditch together; and truly “the last state of that man is worse than the first,” not knowing that blessings that are forbidden are most often taken to the extreme.
The drunkard goes back to his bowl, to make up for lost time. “Then goeth he and taketh unto himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there.” Other blessings are picked up for reform, and other extremes are cultivated. If he has made a profession of religion is he not in an infinitely worse condition, for he has added hypocrisy to drunkenness, and greater defamed his profession. If he has patronized the underground method of getting his whiskey, he has added lying to his other crimes; and stands repudiated and condemned seven fold worse that at first.
As with the individual so with the community. These wild spasmodic fits of reform leave a neighborhood worse off than before. Humility and thanksgiving are now gone. Like the mushroom they have ephemeral growth, they live their little day. They spring up in the night to die at the approach of day. “For all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereofis as a flower of the field; the grass withereth, the flower fadeth; because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it.” – Isaiah xl, 6, 7.
Of course we do not question the propriety of well regulated law based upon true justice and honesty, the product of wise statecraft; and not the result of fanatical zeal of religious intolerance; of morbid excitement. But no law or human effort can raise man higher than the level to which the fall of Adam has left him. He is a sinner by nature, by birth, by practice; and sin reigns unto death. This natural world is a world of sin. The ground is cursed for man’s sake. – Genesis iii, 17. And all the efforts of self appointedreformers and zealots backed by the most drastic laws ever enacted; and enforced if need be by the armies and navies of earth cannot clarify the atmosphere, nor lift the human family higher than the God of nature has placed them. The Scriptures speaks of death in sin, and of death to sin. The conditions are very different.
It requires the power of Almighty God, the indwelling life of heaven to make onedead to sin. Reformation cannot achieve that. And it was of such Paul wrote, saying, “How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” – Romans vi, 2. This work cannot be accomplished by human law, human effort, or human reforms. The tree must first be made good, and then its fruit will be found good. – Matthew xii, 33.
The salvation and all the religious aspirations of each and of every individual is a matter between him and his God exclusively. Each soul stand at that eternal Bar. Religiously speaking, human beings are not responsible to any man or set of men. And no human being is held responsible nor accountable for the eternal salvation of another; such responsibility is always self assumed. Antichrist thirsts for power. There is but little if any difference between the mother of harlots and her “six hundred three –score and six,”(Revelation xiii, 18,) daughters. Whenever there is found a great religious effort to enact certain laws, it is well to carefully examine it. In an overwhelming majority of cases it will be found an effort to ride into power: to trample upon the human conscience; to interfere with the personal liberty, the “inalienable rights of men:” an effort to accomplish the impossible; to stretch law beyond its legitimate and proper jurisdiction.
Jesus spake of a people “who draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoreth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me.” – Matthew xv, 8. These are they who use His blessed and holy name to promote their own degraded theories, hatch in their carnal or natural mind. What, for instance, do Prohibitionists care for the teaching of Jesus, when their drastic laws would put Him in jail in any place where they rule, were He to do there what He did in Cana of Galilee. – John ii, 1 –11. “and manifested forth His glory.”This is a fair sample of the brazen mouth reformers who swarm and demonstrate all over our land like the frogs of ancient Egypt, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” – Philippians iii, 19.
But these things must run their appointed course; “only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.” – 2 Thessalonians ii, 7. “Little children it is the last time; and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” – 1 John ii, 18. “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” – 1 John v, 9. “Ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness.” – Jude 4. “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the Truth.” – 2 Thessalonians ii, 11 –13.
Elder William M. Smoot