of this virtue; who are ready to quarrel with others on the most trifling occasions; who are continually disquieting their families by peevishness and ill-humour; and by malignant reports, raising dissension among friends and neighbours? Can any claims to sound belief, or any supposed attainments of grace, supply the defect of so cardinal a virtue as charity and love?-Let such persons particularly bethink themselves, how little the spirit which they possess, fits them for the kingdom of heaven or rather how far it removes them from the just hope of ever entering into it. Hell is the proper region of enmity and strife. There dwell unpeaceable and fiery spirits, in the midst of mutual hatred, wrath, and tumult. But the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of peace. There 'charity never faileth.' There reigneth the God of love; and, in his presence, all the blessed inhabitants are of one heart and one soul. No string can ever be heard to jar in that celestial harmony: and therefore the contentious and violent are, both by their own nature and by God's decree, for ever excluded from the heavenly society. As the best preparation for those blessed mansions, let us ever keep in view that direction given by an Apostle, 'Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.' [Heb. xii. 14.] To the cultivation of amity and peace in all our social intercourse, let us join holiness, that is, piety and active virtue; and thus we shall pass our days comfortably and honourably on earth; and, at the conclusion of our days, be admitted to dwell among saints and angels, and to see the Lord."





MATT. viii. 28-34.--And when he was come to the other side, into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. And behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come to torment us


before the time? And there was a good way off from them a herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him saying, 'If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, 'Go! And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine and behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters. And they that kept them, fled, and went their ways into the city, and told everything, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils. And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they besought him, that he would depart out of their coasts.

[Text taken from the Gospel for the Day.]

THE events comprised in this portion of Scripture have been recorded by three of the Evangelists: but with this apparent discrepancy; that while St. Matthew mentions two dæmoniacs, St. Mark and St. Luke speak of one; probably, because he was the fiercer of the two, or that he only returned to express his gratitude: they do not, however, positively affirm, that there was no more than one; so that no real difference can be imputed to the sacred historians.

In meditating upon the history itself, our attention is arrested, in the first place, by the view of that influence which evil spirits were then enabled to exercise, not only over the minds, but also over the bodies of mankind. Some theologians are of opinion that these dæmoniacs were merely madmen, whose malady was, by the superstitious Jews, assigned to the agency of malignant fiends. But if we attempt to soften down the apparent difficulties of Scripture by subjecting them to the test of human reason, and by reducing them to the operation of ordinary causes, the word of God would be grievously defaced by such frittering explanations; and revelation itself would be virtually proved to be unnecessary. If the reality of dæmoniacs be denied for no better reason than that the present times contain no similar instances, we should be equally justified in denying the existence of angels, all supernatural appearance of the divine presence, and the whole economy of the Jewish theocracy. To consider all actions, attributed to evil spirits, as so many figurative and oriental expressions, is a mode of interpretation which cannot be supported by the plain and obvious tenour of scriptural language. Thus, with regard to the present miracle, with what propriety can it be said, that a disease met our Saviour; that a disease conversed and expostulated with him; that a disease expressed its

alarm of future punishment; that a disease ran violently down a steep place, and perished in the deep?

The Evangelists observe a very marked distinction between the ejection of dæmons, and the healing of general diseases. If dæmoniac possession had been but ordinary lunacy, it is very improbable that the Evangelists, conscious that they were writing for the edification of the whole Christian Church, would have sanctioned these national prejudices, by detailing them in the language of popular error.

Without supposing that Satan had then some greater visible power than now, we cannot remove many difficulties, which occur in profane history, relative to the ancient oracles.

That dæmoniacs should be more frequent about the period of our Saviour's coming, tended much to the honour of Christ, Our Saviour was manifested to destroy the works of the Devil: it is not, therefore, improbable, that apostate spirits should be permitted to exercise some unusual license; since the triumph of Christ, in rebuking and expelling them, would shine forth with the more signal lustre. Men could thus the more gratefully appreciate the magnitude of the proffered salvation, while seeing themselves rescued from the persecution of enemies, terrible both for power and malignity. By the minute specification of their outrages, our Saviour has condemned the doubts both of the ancient and modern Sadducee: he has almost subjected the question to ocular demonstration; for, to dispute the power of evil spirits, while we behold their injurious effects on men and animals, is as absurd as to deny the existence of the wind, while we see trees and houses blown down by its violence. Christ thus appeals to the fears of his disciples: the Christian believer will the more resolutely persevere in his career of duty, that he may hereafter be exempted from the tyranny of such malevolent beings: for if such was their mer ciless power upon earth, that their victims were subjected to a hideous variety of sufferings; what will be the condition of a reprobate soul, when unreservedly consigned to their empire, by the judicial sentence of God! In the meantime, let us humbly adore that gracious providence, which can restrain these malignant spirits from their former works of desolation; and let us make it the subject of comfortable reflection, that the reins of dæmoniac fury are firmly grasped by an almighty

arbiter, without whose express permission not even the meanest animal is exposed to injury. This is a mercy which we do not duly estimate: we content ourselves with barring our doors against ruffians of our own species; and little heed that interposing arm, by which the heavenly Shepherd protects his fold from the ravenous wolves of perdition.

2. It is a remarkable circumstance, that, of all our Saviour's miracles, this is the only one which tended to the detriment of any individual: whence we are at liberty to infer, that guilt must have existed among the Gadarenes; or the merciful Jesus, he that went about doing good,-could not have interrupted the usual current of his love. Whatever are the dispensations of God, on this or any other exigence, although we cannot discover the precise reason of them, yet they are not the less founded on the principles of the purest equity: he, therefore, is the wisest sufferer, who, in the hour of his trial, confides in the attributes of the divine nature, and is disposed' rather to kiss the rod, than to upbraid the fancied rigour of the visitation. If the proprietors of the swine were Jews, they were justly punished for their sordid feeling, which had induced them to violate an express law of their religion, if not for their own gratification, at least for a matter of traffic among their Gentile neighbours:-nay, had not the omnipotence of Christ restrained these evil spirits, not only the swine, but the guilty owners might have fallen victims to their rage: so that they had great reason to be thankful, when the loss fell not upon their immediate persons, but upon that property which had been cherished for avaricious and forbidden purposes. If the proprietors were Gentiles, the miracle was well adapted to wean these heathens from the idolatrous worship of dæmons, over whom our Lord now exercised a full and absolute authority. If the miracle wrought upon the dæmoniacs, in the very presence of the Gadarenes, had failed to awaken a spirit of conviction, then were they punished with less severity than their infidelity deserved. At all events, Christ is the Sovereign proprietor of all things: it is therefore lawful for him to do what he will, with his own; and, at any time, to resume what he lent for temporary use. If then we, like the Gadarenes, are interrupted in the enjoyment of worldly possessions, let us, with a greater degree of spiritual wisdom, reason with our consciences thus: "God may have subjected

me to this partial loss of riches, either out of justice, because I acquired them iniquitously; or out of mercy, that, alarmed for the impending loss of my soul, I may henceforth be more careful to amass the treasures of his grace: whatever may be the secret cause of my privations, it is the Lord who gave; and it is the Lord who taketh away; blessed be his holy name." 3. But whatever supposed difficulties may occur in literally interpreting the circumstances of this miracle; the figurative sense, as connected with its moral application, is abundantly clear. The Gadarene, before he had experienced the healing power of Christ, is a very expressive emblem of the human soul, while under the servitude of sin. If the name of the evil spirit be Legion, so is the sinner under the tyranny of many evil passions at once. We are apt to palliate our vices, by the plea that we are not wholly abandoned to iniquity: we fail (it is true) in some one point of duty, urged, forsooth, into the transgression, by some one infirmity of nature. Fatal delusion! There is no iniquity, thus insulated and detached, as our self-love too treacherously suggests: its name is Legion, for it is many. The smallest circle on the surface of water gradually spreads, until it reaches the distant bank. He that violates the law in one point, is guilty of all. The drunkard may urge, that his ebriety is injurious to himself alone; but are none corrupted by his bad example? are his children exempted from the ruinous effects of his expensive vice? can he himself abstain from the licentious excesses, which drunkenness brings in its train ?-If the dæmoniac broke his fetters in pieces; with equal violence, all restraints are snapped asunder by him, whose mind is bent to commit all iniquity with greediness. In vain, does friendship admonish: in vain, do the dearest interests implore: in vain, do human laws interpose their sanction: no man can tame the Christian Gadarene; he mocks at the dictates of reason, at the impulse of gratitude, at the suggestions of shame, and at the terrors of the Gospel.If the Gadarene had his dwelling among the tombs, can the sinner be more justly reckoned among the living? His haunts resemble the grave: and so unable or so unwilling is he to perform the functions of spiritual existence, that he is dead, while he liveth. He is buried in the sepulchres of pollution: he is immersed in the recesses of iniquity: his companions are they whose feet go down to death, and whose steps take hold

« ElőzőTovább »