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CHRIST'S MIRACLES.—THE DEMONIACS.
St. MATTHEW viii. 31.
So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us
to go away into the herd of swine.
The second lesson for this morning's service contained these words, in the account of the cure wrought by our Lord on the two men possessed with devils, on the shore of the lake of Gennesaret. Few parts of the New Testament have been the subject of greater difference of opinion than those which relate to the cases of men possessed with devils ; and in addition to the general difficulties of this question, there are others peculiar to the particular story to which the text belongs. Now the difficult parts of the New Testament require to be touched upon occasionally, or at least once for all,
in order to remove that perplexity which might otherwise beset men's minds in reading them. When I speak of removing perplexity, I by no means use the expression as equivalent to removing the difficulties of this and other similar passages; for a part of the Scripture may be exceedingly difficult, and yet may occasion us no perplexity at all. I mean by perplexity, that state of mind in which we do not know clearly how much can be understood of a part of Scripture, and how much cannot; a state in which we do not know what to do with a passage, what lesson we ought to learn from it, and how far we must be contented to pass it over as a thing sealed beyond our opening. This is a painful state, and an unedifying one; whereas the being conscious of a difficulty which we cannot explain, is not, or ought not to be, either the one or the other. Before a confessed and palpable unconquerable difficulty, the mind, if in a healthy state, reposes as quietly as when in possession of a discovered truth, as quietly and contentedly as we are accustomed to bear that law of our nature, which denies us the power of seeing through all space, or of being exempt from sickness and decay. And thus the clear consciousness of the necessity of ignorance in any given matter has a tranquillizing effect upon us, and allows us to turn ourselves wholly, and with no fond looking back of hope or regret, to those matters which we are equally conscious may be rendered intelligible to our minds, and therefore in some way or other improving to them.
Our perplexity, then, may be removed as to the parts of Scripture which relate to men possessed with devils, although we may be quite unable to remove the difficulties of the subject. The difficulty consists in this, that of spiritual beings, as we call them, we can have no distinct conceptions. What a spirit is, and how it acts, are questions to which we can give no answers.
And therefore when we hear of a man possessed with a spirit, all that we can understand or judge of in the matter is limited to the effects of such possession, whether for good or for evil. When we hear of one possessed by the Spirit of God, we can in no way understand the manner of the Spirit's working, far less perceive it with our bodily senses, but we can see and understand its fruits, and from them judge of the power that wrought them. And so with one possessed by a spirit of evil, nothing is visible, nothing is intelligible to us in the process of its working, save only the evil fruits produced by it ; evil whether as relates to the body or the mind; for in both, as God is confessedly the author of all good, though working in some measure by secondary and intelligible causes, so it is no less conceivable that evil spirits may be the authors of all evil, though their working, too, may be through the instrumentality of such physical and moral causes
as we can recognise, understand, and, with God's help, obviate.
This being so, there appears to me in those narratives of the New Testament which speak of the casting out of devils, to be no more than a lifting up the veil, which is commonly drawn between first and secondary causes, and giving us a momentary glimpse of that opposition between the very authors of good and evil, which we ordinarily can only witness in their respective instruments. For had we stood by our Lord's side when he was casting out the devils by the lake of Gennesaret, what is it that we should actually have seen ? On the one hand, a man, in all visible respects such as ourselves, speaking, walking, breathing, like other men, turning with looks full of
power and goodness towards those who were rushing to meet him. In them, on the other hand, what should we have seen but two persons, equally, in all visible respects, merely men ?-persons exhibiting all the outward symptoms of violent madness in their conduct, in their gestures, in their words. Had we heard them say to Jesus, “ If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine,” what do we suppose there would have been in the tone or import of the words more than those of common madness; and should we not have imagined that the madman spoke under the influence of his disorder, and identified himself with a spirit whom he believed to
be within him? Or again, a few minutes afterwards, what should we have seen more than two madmen wonderfully recovered from their disorder, conscious now of themselves, and of their true condition, while at some distance from them a herd of swine seemed suddenly seized with an unaccountable fury, and were all rushing down the cliff into the lake, and there perishing ? Should we not, while wondering at the strangeness of the occurrence, have accounted for it, supposing us to have possessed our present notions, by ascribing it to some extraordinary influence of the season, or to some plant which the swine had accidentally eaten ? Should we, in short, have seen any thing more of spiritual agency in the matter than we can see now in those cases of madness which occur commonly indeed, but still unaccountably, in dogs and other domestic animals ?
This is a faithful account of all that we should have seen, had we ourselves been eye witnesses to the miracle. Yet in that good man, endowed with such mighty power, there dwelt, we know, amidst all the perfection of the human nature, the fulness of the Godhead also ; and in those madmen, with all the symptoms of what we call common and natural madness, the Scripture has revealed to us that there dwelt an author of that madness, of whom, without such revelation, we could have known nothing. That this was so--that a more than natural or human power of good and of evil was working in