Page images
PDF
EPUB

Not satisfied with these hypotheses, two very learned and ingenious men “have sug- from the be. gested a quite different interpretation of the narrative from that which has usually been . .” given of it. They begin with observing, that “the incidents, which it describes, occurred M.". s. at a very decisive period in the life of Christ. He had just left the state of privacy, in . . . which his youth was spent; his approach as the Messiah promised to the patriarchs o had just been publicly announced to his countrymen by the messenger appointed to prepare the way before him : the Spirit of God had visibly descended on him in baptism; and a voice from heaven had declared, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. The time therefore was come for his appearing on a new scene,—as the Teacher and Redeemer of mankind. To fulfil all righteousness, and to prove him worthy of his office, it remained only that he should be tried by temptation, and that in imitation of the ancient prophets he should prepare himself by a course of rigid fasting for the sacred duties he was destined to perform. For this purpose he was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness, that in solitude and abstinence he might form deliberately the plan of his public life, contemplate in all its aspects the arduous work before him, and measure his power against the difficulties with which he was called to contend. It cannot surely appear to us improbable that this Messenger of heaven should be exposed to trials. The plan of redemption rendered it expedient that he should assume the character of the Son of Man; and as a man he was liable to the same temptations which encompass his followers; for it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, and in all points tempted like as we are, though without sin. But if there be no improbability in the supposition that Jesus should be subjected to trials, it surely cannot appear incredible that the agent, in conducting these attacks on his virtue and pious resignation, should have been the same malicious spirit which in the beginning deceived our first parents, and gave rise to all the wickedness and misery which we observe among their descen. dants, and from which it was the great object of Christ's incarnation to redeem the human race.”

“Now the method in which Satan is commonly represented in Scripture as seducing mankind, is by working on their imagination and their passions. He does not appear to them himself, but he places before them occasions of sin, influences the train of their thoughts, and employs against them all the deceivableness of unrighteousness, by

- suggesting to their minds such views as are most favourable to his purpose, by infla

ming their desires, and through this medium hurrying them forward to the commission of iniquity. The power which he exerts over them operates through the force of motives and persuasion, and in a manner similar to that by which one man corrupts the principles and undermines the virtue of another. And what reason have we to believe that he acted differently in the present instance 2 Why may we not suppose that he employed against the human nature of Christ the same artifices that he employs against ourselves 2 Is it incredible that he should suggest to Jesus, pinched with hunger, that he ought no longer to wait, confiding in Providence, for the usual appointed means of nourishment, but to exert his miraculous power for creating bread to himself? Is it incredible that he should suggest to Jesus, deliberating anxiously about the best method of executing his commission to the human race, some difficulties concerning the expediency of the gradual humiliating plan committed to him by his Father; and that he should inspire the thought of producing more immediate conviction on his countrymen, by descending from the pinnacle of the temple or from the clouds of heaven” ; or of

* The late professor Finlayson of Edinburgh, and * [“The Jews at this period entertained a strong before him Mr Hugh Farmer in his Essay on the expectation that their promised Messiah was about to Demoniacs of the New Testament. It is from the appear; and under the influence of that expectation seventh and eighth admirable sermons of the former they had formed conjectures concerning the manner of these authors that the substance of all that is here in which he should come. From a mistaken interinserted within brackets has been taken, pretation of some of the prophecies concerning him,

A. M. 1934, extending the benefits of his religion at once to the whole race, by appearing in his na

[ocr errors]

... . tive dignity as the King and Sovereign of the nations? That there is nothing either 30, oc., incredible or improbable in supposing that Satan might labour to insinuate such thoughts

[ocr errors]

into the mind of Jesus, is demonstrated by the fact that these are the very suggestions

which he has committed to all his emissaries since that time, as sources of argument against the wisdom of the plan pursued by Christ for instructing and saving mankind.”

“ The only thing that can occur as an objection to this interpretation, arises from the picturesque and dramatic form of the narration. Satan seems introduced in person, and to carry on with Jesus a bodily and interesting series of transactions; whereas, according to the account now given, no visible intercourse took place. But to any man who has attended carefully to the style of Scripture, this objection will carry no force; for nothing is more common than to see there the invisible actions and intercourse of spiritual beings, exhibited under the visible form that is familiar to our imagination. What is done in the secret recesses of the mind is brought forth to the senses, and cloathed in material colours. Even the Almighty God, whose counsels have been from everlasting, whom no man hath seen nor can see, is frequently described as deliberating about the measures he shall adopt, and conversing visibly with his creatures. And Satan himself, in ‘language very similar to what occurs here, is said to have presented himself among the sons of God, and to have disputed personally with his Maker about the integrity of Job. In all such cases, the language is to be regarded as an accommodation to the mode of conception of those for whose use the narratives were immediately written, and is to be interpreted agreeably to the peculiar nature and operations of

the beings whom it respects.”

That this solution of the difficulties attending the Gospel history of our Lord's temptation is ingenious, cannot be called in question, and therefore it is here inserted at considerable length. That it is infinitely preferable to the hypothesis which resolves all the transactions into visionary illusions will be readily granted; but it differs much less in reality from the usual and literal interpretation of the narrative than its ingenious authors seem to have thought it does. The difference indeed consists entirely in the greater or less probability of Satan's having appeared, on so singular an occasion, in a bodily form; for, on both these hypotheses, he assailed our Lord by his usual artifices of deceit—by the presentation of bad motives, and the suggestion of fallacious arguments; and on both hypotheses the ideas presented by the last temptation appear to have been instantly expelled from the mind of our Lord.]

There are few things wherein mankind seem to be more agreed, than in the acknowledgment and acceptance of miracles, as an authentic and indisputable testimony that the persons entrusted with such power were employed by God; because the constant apprehensions which both reason and revelation have given us of God, are, that he will not employ his power (as no true miracles can be done without the concurrence of his power) to deceive his creatures; and therefore the reasoning of Nicodemus, when he came to visit our Saviour, was right, (a) “We know that thou art a teacher come from God, because no man can do these miracles that thou dost, except God be with him.” Since miracles then are the avowed effects of a Divine power, we must certainly be mistaken in our judgment of them, when, with regard to their author, we esteem one

they had concluded that he would descend suddenly
in visible majesty from the clouds of heaven, and
make his first public appearance in the temple of Je-
rusalem. When Jesus therefore was about to enter
on the public discharge of his office, Satan artfully
suggested to him the advantage of gratifying in this
respect the prejudices of the people, and of giving the

evidence which they expected. With this view, the
tempter proposed that he should drop from the sum-
mit of the temple as from the clouds, and, under the
authority of this seal of heaven, call on the astonished
multitude instantly to acknowledge his commission.”
Finlayson’s Sermons, p. 160.]
(d) John iii. 2.

[ocr errors]
[graphic]

greater than another. In effects, indeed, that are produced by human power, we are apt to say that some of them are greater than others, i.e. that they require more and greater degrees of power for the production of them; but this distinction vanishes in our consideration of the Supreme Being, to whose Omnipotence the greatest effect we can imagine gives no limitation, but is equal with the smallest under the compass of his acting”. To us, perhaps, it may seem a greater cure to dispossess a demon than to drive away a fever; but in the hand of the Son of God, while he dwelt among us, they

*ere operations equally easy; and yet a misconception in this matter has certainly led

into an opinion, that the several demoniacs mentioned in the Gospels, were only ny persons afflicted with some strange and uncommon diseases. that these demons or evil spirits which our Saviour, his apostles, and the primihristians, expelled out of the bodies of men, could not be natural diseases, is plain rom the Scriptures and ecclesiastical writers, who make a constant and manifest :tion between the curing of diseases and casting out of devils; for when the evantells us that (a) “they brought unto Christ all sick people that were taken with divers diseases, and those which were possessed with devils, and those that were lunatic and had the palsy, and he healed them;” when (b) “he gave to the apostles power against evil spirits to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sicknesses and diseases;” and accordingly (c) “they healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils;” when Irenaeus (d) informs us, that the Christians in his days “did truly cast out devils, and heal the sick by imposition of hands;” and (e) Origen, that “they cast out devils, and healed many diseases;”—can any one of tolerable understanding think, that the diseases healed, and the devils cast out, were one and the same thing 2 That there were evil spirits of this kind, the Holy Scriptures have taken such abundant care to acquaint us with their origin and fall, their names and numbers, their government and orders, their malicious designs and employments, &c. that no one can doubt of their existence who believes these Holy Oracles to be true. That both among the Jews and Gentiles, before our Saviour's advent, men were possessed with these evil spirits, is evident from the testimony of (f) Josephus, who tells us of a very powerful form of exorcism which descended from Solomon, who learned it of God; and from the testimony of (g) Plutarch, who acquaints us, that the exorcists of most nations advised those that were possessed to repeat the Ephesian letters. And that these evil spirits, in our Saviour's time, were distinct substances, and not the diseases of mankind, is evident from the circumstances of their ejection, from their expostulating with him, “What have we to do with thee? Art thou come to destroy us? Art thou come to torment us before the time?” And from his commanding them sometimes to be silent, and sometimes “to come out of the man, and enter into him no more,” &c. The truth is, these apostate spirits had gotten so far possession of the world, that they began to rival God in his worship; and therefore one end of his Son's incarnation is said to be this, (h) “that he might destroy the works of the devil, and (i) overcome the strong one, and divide his spoils.” And this, by the way, may suggest a reason why, at or about the time of our Saviour's advent, and perhaps more especially in the places which he frequented, God might permit the devil to exert himself in an unusual manner, in order to be the more signally triumphed over by the Saviour of the world, and those that were delegated by him, to convert mankind to his religion. Nay, had I leisure to proceed to ecclesiastical writers, I might easily show how victorious

* The raising of a house or ship into the air is a (a) Matth. iv. 24. (b) Ibid. Chap. x. 1. visible miracle. “ The raising of a feather, when (c) Mark i. 34. (d) Lib. ii. c. 16. the wind wants ever so little of a force requisite for (e) Contr. Cels. lib. i. (f) Antiq, lib, viii. c.2,

that purpose, is as real a miracle, though not so sen- % Sympos. lib. i. q. 5.
sible with regard to us.”] Hume’s Essay on Miracles, (h) 1 John iii. 8.
Note K. (i) Luke xi. 21, 22.

WoL. III. H

Frona the beginning of the Gospels to Matth. ix. 8. Mark ii. 23. Luke vi. 1.

[graphic]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

the name of Christ was over these principalities and powers of darkness, even after his departure out of this world; for “that our Lord was sent for the destruction of these evil spirits, you may now learn, says Justin Martyr, (a) from what is done before your eyes, for many Christians throughout all the world, and in every city of your empire, have healed many that were possessed of the devil, and still do they eject them by the invocation of the name of Jesus, whom none of your inchanters, conjurors, or sorcerers, were able to expel. And give me a man, (says Tertullian (b) in that noble challenge of his to the heathen powers) give me a man here before your tribunals, that is visibly possessed by the devil, and if, when he is commanded by any Christian to declare what he is, he do not immediately confess himself to be a devil, not daring to lie to a Christian, then let the blood of that Christian be shed before you in that very place. [To the tale told by Josephus, indeed, of the powerful form of exorcism which was handed down to that age from Solomon, little credit appears to be due ; and it must be confessed that both the Jews and earliest Christians were too ready to attribute to the agency of the devil, events and phenomena for which they could not account by their knowledge of the laws of nature. But though they were liable to deception, the SoN of God was not; and yet he admits the reality of demoniacal possessions, and distinguished between them and other occult diseases. This he surely would not have done, had those possessions not been real; for the prejudice, if it was nothing more, was very far from being, as it is said to have been, a harmless prejudice. On the Gospel history of possessions by the devil, hath been raised the whole trade of exorcisms, accompanied with all the mummery of frantic and fanatic agitations, with the most scandalous frauds and the most sottish superstitions. As our Lord knew all things, the whole of this enormous superstition with all its consequences must by him have been clearly and distinctly foreseen; and is it conceivable, that, with such a view before him, a Divine Teacher of truth and righteousness would have given the smallest countenance to so fatal an error—nay, that he would not, in the clearest and most precise terms, have pointed out its absurdity, as well as the mischief with which it was teeming? In the whole compass of moral science, there is not a conclusion more firmly established than that he who wilfully commits a premeditated fraud, or even concurs in it, is answerable for all the evil which necessarily or naturally flows from that fraud; whilst the author of important truth, on the other hand, is perfectly blameless of whatever follies, or errors, or crimes, the perversity of men may afterwards build on his foundation. What then are we to think of the conduct of our Lord, if those disorders, which were supposed to be occasioned by demoniacal possessions, were nothing more than natural diseases—such as lunacy, convulsions, or that disease well known among the ancients by the name of lycanthropy 2 He had many opportunities of pointing out the national mistake, if it was a mistake, not only to his own immediate followers, but to the persons who came to be healed, and even to the multitudes at large, who, from curiosity or whatever other motive, attended on his ministry. When the Pharisees accused him of casting out devils by Beelzebub, how natural would it have been to say that there was no such thing as possession by devils; that he had done nothing more than cure miraculously a natural disease; and that their whole doctrine of demonianism was a system of delusion ? Instead of this he reasons with them on the reality of demoniacal possession; and shews them that the prince of devils could not be supposed capable of acting so absurdly as to wage war with his own servants, and exert his power against his own interests. Nay, he does more than all this to support the opinions generally received on this sub

ject. On various occasions he talks with the devils themselves; asks their names; com

mands them to be silent; and on one occasion enjoins a legion of them to come out of two unfortunate men, permitting them, at the same time, to enter into a herd of swine,

(a) Apol. i. pag. 45. (b) Apol. c. 23.

which, in consequence, ran violently over a precipice, and perished in the waters. From the beSwine are not capable of those natural disorders of the imagination, which, it is said, ..." constituted all that was real in the supposed possessions; and therefore, when we find Mao is 3. great numbers of them stimulated to instantaneous madness, in consequence of the re-o: quest of the devils and the permission of Jesus, we must conclude, that the effect was o produced by some superior agent operating on their frames, and hurrying them to destruction. For this extraordinary event, what other reason, asks Bishop Warburton, can be given, or indeed what better can be conceived, than that it was to afford a certain mark of distinction between a real and an imaginary possession ? But were not the symptoms of the demoniacal possessions recorded in the Gospels the same with those which accompany some natural diseases? Undoubtedly they were; nor is it conceivable that they could have been different; for if an evil spirit were permitted to disturb the vital functions of the human frame, is it possible that he could do this without affecting the solids or fluids, or both, and thus occasioning some or other of the symptoms which accompany the various diseases to which mankind are liable? A circumstance, therefore, which must accompany demoniacal possessions if real, cannot surely be employed as an argument to prove that those recorded in the Gospel were imaginary 1 The evangelists indeed, as if they had been aware of this circumstance, and foreseen the inference which would be drawn from it, distinguish, in their narratives, what they call possessions, from the diseases with which we are now so desirous to confound them.—“ They brought to him, say they, all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those who were Possessed with Devils, and those which were LUNAT1cs, and those that had the PAlsy, and he healed them;”—words, which no man who wished to be understood, could have employed, had he not conceived demoniacal possession to be something very different from lunacy or epilepsy. But all these objections to the literal interpretation of this part of Holy Scripture proceed either from a desire to represent Christianity as nothing more than a republication of natural religion, or from a groundless apprehension of giving countenance to the lying wonders of the church of Rome, or to the equally extravagant delusions of the new birth of modern fanaticism. That Christianity is something very different from any system of religion which can be called natural, it is one great object of this work to shew ; and that no parallel can be fairly drawn between the ancient and modern possessions, must be evident to every man capable of cool reflection. The triumphs of our Lord over the powers of darkness were an essential part of the great scheme of redemption, “for the Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil,” as well physical as moral; whilst the exorcisms of popery and the frantic agitations of methodism are contrived to support superstition on the one hand, and fanaticism on the other. The office of the second Adam was to restore us to the inheritance which we had lost by the fall of the first. But as the immortality purchased for us by the Son of God, was not, like that which had been forfeited, to commence in this world, being reserved for the reward of the next, it was necessary that he should prove his victory over the grave by his own resurrection from the dead; and as it was foretold from the beginning, that the promised seed of the woman should bruise the head of him who first introduced death into the world, it was certainly expedient, perhaps absolutely necessary, to exhibit some sensible evidences of his triumph over the powers of death and darkness. From the history of the fall, the very genius of the Gospel, and the nature and constitution of the system of grace, the casting out of devils appears therefore to have been an essential operation in the erection of the kingdom of Christ. Though some of the Jewish prophets had performed many and great miracles, and even restored the dead to life, it was yet reserved for the Son of God—the Saviour of the world—to dispose of the infernal powers as he pleased by a word, and even to compel them to proclaim their own ruin:—“What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God; art

« PreviousContinue »