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holy writ, that at the time when our Saviour promulged his religion, there was a calamity incident to the human race, of which at present we know nothing, and that is, the possession of their bodies by evil spirits, or devils (as they are usually called in Scripture,) which occasioned great torments to the unhappy sufferers, and often deprived them both of their sight and hearing, as in the present instance. Such possessions having long since ceased, they have appeared to several learned men so incredible, that they have been led to deny that they ever existed, and to maintain that they were only diseases of a violent and terrifying nature, attended with convulsive or epileptic fits; that this sort of disease was ascribed by the Jews to the operation of evil spirits; and that our Saviour, in compliance with their prejudices, treated them as cases of real possession, and pretended to cast out devils, when in fact he only cured the disorder with which the patient was afflicted.
This opinion is supported by great names; but however great and respectable they may be, it appears to me utterly
indefensible. Every expression that our Lord makes use of with respect to these demoniacs plainly supposes them to be really possessed; and it is not easy to assign any admissible reason why he should treat them as such if they were not so, and why he should not correct instead of countenancing so gross an error; as such a conduct could answer no one good purpose, and seems hard to reconcile with his own uniform fairness and sincerity of mind. To have done it to magnify his own power in casting out the evil spirits, would have been, to all appearance, a very needless expedient; because the immediate removal of a natural disease (if it was one) would have been an equal proof of his divine power. But besides this, there is everywhere a plain distinction made between common diseases and demoniacal possessions; which shows that they
they were totally different things. In the fourth chapter of this Gospel, where the very first mention is made of these possessions, it is said that our Lord's fame went throughout all Syria, and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils; and he healed them. Here you see those that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those possessed with devils, are mentioned as distinct and separate persons; a plain proof that the demoniacal possessions were not natural diseases: and the very same distinction is made in several other passages of holy writ. There can be no doubt therefore that the demoniacs were persons really possessed with evil spirits; and although it may seem strange to us, yet we find from Josephus, and other historians, that it was in those times no uncommon case. In fact, it appears that about the time of our Lord's ministry, that tremendous spirit, spirit, Satan, or, as he is sometimes called in Scripture, the Prince of this world, had obtained an extraordinary degree of power over the human race, inflicting upon them the cruellest pains and torments, depriving them of their senses, rendering them wretched in themselves, and terrible to all around them. To subdue this formidable and wicked being, and to destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, was one great object of our Saviour's divine mission; and it seems to have been indispensably necessary for accomplishing the redemption of mankind, that the kingdom of Satan should in the first place be destroyed, and that the sons of men should be rescued from that horrible and disgraceful state of slavery in which he had long held them enthralled. One of the first steps, therefore; that our Lord took before he entered on his ministry, was to establish his superiority over this great enemy of mankind ; which he did in that memorable scene of the temptation in the wilderness: wilderness: and among the earliest of his miracles recorded, is that of casting out devils from those who were possessed by them. And perhaps one reason why these possessions were permitted, might be to afford our Lord an opportunity of giving the Jews a visible and ocular demonstration of his decided superiority and sovereignty over the prince of the devils and all his agents, and of his power to subdue this great adversary of the human species. He appears indeed to have been in a state of constant hostility and warfare with this wicked spirit; and in this very passage, Satan is described by our Saviour under the image of a strong man, whom it was necessary to bind before you could spoil his house, and exterminate him and his coadjutors, as Jesus was then doing. Yet so little were the Jews sensible of this enmity between Christ and Beelzebub, that on the contrary they charged them with being friends and confederates. They said, “This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.”