"And straightway there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, What have we to do with Thee, Thou Jesus of Nazareth? art Thou come to destroy us? I know Thee Who Thou art, the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And the unclean spirit, tearing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What is this? a new teaching! with authority He commandeth even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him. And the report of Him went out straightway everywhere into all the region of Galilee round about." MARK 1:23-28 (R.V.)
WE have seen that belief in the stability of natural law does not forbid us to believe in miracles.
Special objections are urged, however, against the belief in demoniacal possession. The very existence of demons is declared to be inconsistent with the omnipotence of God, or else with His goodness.
And it may be granted that abstract reasoning in an ideal world, thought moving in a vacuum, would scarcely evolve a state of things so far removed from the ideal. This, however, is an argument against the existence, not of demons, but of evil in any shape. It is the familiar insoluble problem of all religions, How can evil exist in the universe of God? And it is balance by the insoluble problem of all irreligious systems: In a universe without God, how can either good or evil exist, as distinguished from the advantageous and the unprofitable? Whence comes the unquestionable difference between a lie and a bad bargain?
But the argument against evil spirits professes to be something more than a disguised reproduction of this abstract problem. What more is it? What is gained by denying the fiends, as long as we cannot deny the fiends incarnate - the men who take pleasure in unrighteousness, in the seduction and ruin of their fellows, in the infliction of torture and outrage, in the ravage and desolation of nations? Such freedom has been granted to the human will, for even these ghastly issues have not been judged so deadly as coercion and moral fatalism. What presumption can possibly remain against the existence of other beings than men, who have fallen yet farther? If, indeed, it be certainly so much farther. For we know that men have lived, not outcasts from society, but boastful sons of Abraham, who willed to perform the lusts (Greek word) of their father the devil. Now since we are not told that the wickedness of demons is infinite,* but only that it is abysmal, and since we know that abysses of wickedness do actually exist, what sort of vindication of Deity is this which will believe that such gulfs are yawning only in the bosom of man?
*[The opposite is asserted by the fact that one demon may ally himself with seven others worse.]
It alarms and shocks us to think that evil spirits have power over the human mind, and still more that such power should extend, as in cases of possession, even to the body. Evil men, however, manifestly wield such power. "They got rid of the wicked one," said Goethe, "but they could not get rid of the wicked ones." Social and intellectual charm, high rank, the mysterious attraction of a strong individuality, all are employed at times to mislead and debase the shuddering, reluctant, mesmerized wills of weaker men and women. And then the mind acts upon the body, as perhaps it always does. Drunkenness and debauchery shake the nerves. Paralysis and lunacy tread hard on the footsteps of excess. Experience knows no reason for denying that when wickedness conquers the soul it will also deal hardly with the body.
But we must not stop here. For the Gospels do not countenance the popular notion that special wickedness was the cause of the fearful wretchedness of the possessed. Young children suffered. Jesus often cautioned a sufferer to sin no more lest worse results should follow than those He had removed; but He is never known to have addressed this warning to demoniacs. They suffered from the tyranny of Satan, rather than from his seduction; and the analogies which make credible so frightful an outrage upon human nature, are the wrongs done by despots and mobs, by invading armies and persecuting religionists. Yet people who cannot believe that a demon could throw a child upon the fire, are not incredulous of Attila, Napoleon, and the Inquisition.
Thus it appears that such a narrative need startle no believer in God, and in moral good and evil, who considers the unquestionable facts of life. And how often will the observant Christian be startled at the wild insurrection and surging up of evil thought and dark suggestions, which he cannot believe to be his own, which will not be gainsaid nor repulsed. How easily do such experiences fall in with the plain words of Scripture, by which the veil is drawn aside, and the mystery of the spiritual world laid bare. Then we learn that man is not only fallen but assaulted, not only feeble but enslaved, not only a wandering sheep but under the "power of Satan," at his will.
We turn to the narrative before us. They are still wondering at our Lord's authoritative manner, when "straightway," for opportunities were countless until unbelief arose, a man with an unclean spirit attracts attention. We can only conjecture the special meaning of this description. A recent commentator assumes that "like the rest, he had his dwelling among the tombs: an overpowering influence had driven him away from the haunts of men." (Canon Luckock, in loco). To others this feature in the wretchedness of the Gadarene may perhaps seem rather to be exceptional, the last touch in the appalling picture of his misery. It may be that nothing more outrageous than morbid gloom or sullen mutterings had hitherto made it necessary to exclude this sufferer from the synagogue. Or the language may suggest that he rushed abruptly in, driven by the frantic hostility of the fiend, or impelled by some mysterious and lingering hope, as the demoniac of Gadara ran to Christ.
What we know is that the sacred Presence provoked a crisis. There is an unbelief which never canbe silent, never wearies railing at the faith, and there is a corruption which resents goodness and hates it as a personal wrong. So the demons who possessed men were never able to confront Jesus calmly. They resent His interference; they cry out; they disclaim having anything to do with Him; they seem indignant that He should come to destroy them who have destroyed so many. There is something weird and unearthly in the complaint. But men also are wont to forget their wrong doing when they come to suffer, and it is recorded that even Nero had abundance of compassion for himself. Weird also and terrible is it, that this unclean spirit should choose for his confession that pure and exquisite epithet, the Holy One of God. The phrase only recurs in the words of St. Peter, "We have believed and know that Thou art the Holy One of God" (John 6:69, R.V.). Was it not a mournful association of ideas which then led Jesus to reply, "Have I not chosen you the Twelve, and one of you is a devil?*"
(*The connection would be almost certain if the word "devil" were alike in both. But in all these narratives it is "demon," there being in Scripture but one devil.)
But although the phrase is beautiful, and possibly "wild with all regret," there is no relenting, no better desire than to be "let alone." And so Jesus, so gentle with sinful men, yet sometime to be their judge also, is stern and cold. "Hold thy peace - be muzzled," He answers, as to a wild beast, "and come out of him." Whereupon the evil spirit exhibits at once his ferocity and his defeat. Tearing and screaming, he came out, but we read in St. Luke that he did the man no harm.
And the spectators drew the proper inference. A new power implied a new revelation. Something far-reaching and profound might be expected from him who commanded even the unclean spirits with authority, and was obeyed.
It is the custom of unbelievers to speak as if the air of Palestine were then surcharged with belief in the supernatural. Miracles were everywhere. Thus they would explain away the significance of the popular belief that our Lord wrought signs and wonders. But in so doing they set themselves a worse problem than they evade. If miracles were so very common, it would be as easy to believe that Jesus wrought them as that He worked at His father's bench. But also it would be as inconclusive. And how then are we to explain the astonishment which all the evangelists so constantly record? On any conceivable theory, these writers shared the beliefs of that age. And so did the readers who accepted their assurance that all were amazed, and that His report "went out straightway everywhere into all the region of Galilee." These are emphatic words, and both the author and his readers must have considered a miracle to be more surprising than modern critics believe they did.
Yet we do not read that any one was converted by this miracle. All were amazed, but wonder is not self-surrender. They were content to let their excitement die out, as every violent emotion must, without any change of life, any permanent devotion to the new Teacher and His doctrine.