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Hell On Earth

MATTHEW, viii. 29.

"And behold the evil spirits cried out, saying, What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God? Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?"

This account of the man possessed with devils, and of his language to our Lord, of our Lord's casting the devils out of the poor sufferer, and His allowing them to enter into a herd of swine, is one that is well worth serious thought; and I think a few words on it will follow fitly after my last Sunday's sermon on Ahab and his temptations by evil spirits. In that sermon I shewed you what temper of mind it was which laid a man open to the cunning of evil spirits; I wish now to shew you something of what those evil spirits are. It is very little that we can know about them. We were intended to know very little, just as much as would enable us to guard against them, and no more. The accounts of them in the Scriptures are for our use, not to satisfy our curiosity. But we may find out a great deal about them from this very chapter, from this very story, which is repeated almost word for word in three different Gospels, as if to make us more certain of so curious and important a matter, by having three distinct and independent writers to witness for its truth. I advise all those who have Bibles to look for this story in the 8th chapter of St. Matthew, and follow me as I explain it. [1]

Now, first, we may learn from this account, that evil spirits are real persons. There is a notion got abroad that it is only a figure of speech to talk of evil spirits, that all the Bible means by them are certain bad habits, or bad qualities, or diseases. There are many who will say when they read this story, 'This poor man was only a madman. It was the fashion of the old Jews when a man was mad to say that he was possessed by evil spirits. All they meant was that the man's own spirit was in an evil diseased state, or that his brain and mind were out of order.'

When I hear such language--and it is very common--I cannot help thinking how pleased the devil must be to hear people talk in such a way. How can people help him better than by saying that there is no devil? A thief would be very glad to hear you say, 'There are no such things as thieves; it is all an old superstition, so I may leave my house open at night without danger;' and I believe, my friends, from the very bottom of my heart, that this new-fangled disbelief in evil spirits is put into men's hearts by the evil spirits themselves. As it was once said, 'The devil has tried every plan to catch men's souls, and now, as the last and most cunning trick of all, he is shamming dead.' These may seem homely words, but the homeliest words are very often the deepest. I advise you all to think seriously on them.

But it is impossible surely to read this story without seeing that the Bible considers evil spirits as distinct persons, just as much as each one of us is a person, and that our Lord spoke to them and treated them as persons. "What have WE to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God? Art Thou come hither to torment US before the time?" And again, "If Thou cast US out, suffer us to go into the herd of swine." What can shew more plainly that there were some persons in that poor man, besides himself, his own spirit, his own person? and that HE knew it, and Jesus knew it too? and that He spoke to these spirits, these persons, who possessed that man, and not to the man himself? No doubt there was a terrible confusion in the poor madman's mind about these evil spirits, who were tormenting him, making him miserable, foul, and savage, in mind and body--a terrible confusion! We find, when Jesus asked him his name, he answers "LEGION," that is an army, a multitude, "for we are many," he says. Again, one gospel tells us that he says, "What have I to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God?" While in another Gospel we are told that he said, "What have WE to do with Thee?" He seems not to have been able to distinguish between his own spirit, and these spirits who possessed him. They put the furious and despairing thoughts into his heart; they spoke through his mouth; they made a slave and a puppet of him. But though he could not distinguish between his own soul and the devils who were in it, Christ could and Christ did.

The man says to Him, or rather the devils make the man say to Him, "If Thou cast us out, suffer us to go into the herd of swine, and drive us not out into the deep." What did Christ answer him? Christ did not answer him as our so-called wise men in these days would, 'My good man, this is all a delusion and a fancy of your own, about your having evil spirits in you--more persons than one in you-- for you are wrong in saying WE of yourself. You ought to say "I," as every one else does; and as for spirits going out of you, or going into a herd of swine, or anything else, that is all a superstition and a fancy. There is nothing to come out of you, there is nothing in you except yourself. All the evil in you is your own, the disease of your own brain, and the violent passions of your own heart. Your brain must be cured by medicine, and your violent passions tamed down by care and kindness, and then you will get rid of this foolish notion that you have evil spirits in you, and calling yourself a multitude, as if you had other persons in you besides yourself.'

Any one who spoke in this manner nowadays would be thought very reasonable and very kind. Why did not our Lord speak so to this man, for there was no outward difference between this man's conduct and that of many violent mad people whom we see continually in England? We read, that this man possessed with devils would wear no clothes; that he had extraordinary strength; that he would not keep company with other men, but abode day and night in the tombs, exceeding fierce, crying and cutting himself with stones, trying in blind rage, which he could not explain to himself, to hurt himself and all who came near him. And, above all, he had this notion, that evil spirits had got possession of him. Now every one of these habits and fancies you may see in many raging maniacs at this day.

But did our Lord treat this man as we treat such maniacs in these days? He took the man at his word, and more; the man could not distinguish clearly between himself and the evil spirits, but our Lord did. When the devils besought Him, saying, "If thou cast us out, suffer us to go into the herd of swine," our Lord answers "Go;" and "when they were cast 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."

It was as if our Lord had meant to say to the bystanders,--ay and to us, and to all people in all times and in all countries, 'This poor possessed maniac's notion was a true one. There were other persons in him besides himself, tormenting him, body and soul: and, behold, I can drive these out of him and send them into something else, and leave the man uninjured, HIMSELF, and only himself, again in an instant, without any need of long education to cure him of his bad habits.' It will be but reasonable, then, for us to take this story of the man possessed by devils, as written for our example, as an instance of what MIGHT, and perhaps WOULD, happen to any one of us, were it not for God's mercy.

St. Peter tells us to be sober and watchful, because "the devil goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour;" and when we look at the world around, we may surely see that that stands as true now as it did in St. Peter's time. Why, again, did St. James tells us to resist the devil if the devil be not near us to resist? Why did St. Paul take for granted, as he did, that Christian men were, of course, not ignorant of Satan's devices, if it be quite a proof of enlightenment and superior knowledge to be ignorant of his devices,--if any dread, any thought even, about evil spirits, be beneath the attention of reasonable men? My friends, I say fairly, once for all, that that common notion, that there are no men now possessed by evil spirits, and that all those stories of the devil's power over men are only old, worn-out superstitions has come from this, that men do not like to retain God in their knowledge, and therefore, as a necessary consequence, do not like to retain the devil in their knowledge; because they would be very glad to believe in nothing but what they can see, and taste, and handle; and, therefore, the thought of unseen evil spirits, or good spirits either, is a painful thing to them. First, they do not really believe in angels--ministering spirits sent out to minister to the heirs of salvation; then they begin not to believe in evil spirits. The Bible plainly describes their vast numbers; but these people are wiser than the Bible, and only talk of ONE--of THE devil, as if there were not, as the text tells us, legions and armies of devils. Then they get rid of that one devil in their real desire to believe in as few spirits as possible. I am afraid many of them have gone on to the next step, and got rid of the one God out of their thoughts and their belief. I said I am afraid, I ought to have said I KNOW, that they have done so, and that thousands in this day who began by saying evil spirits only mean certain diseases and bad habits in men, have ended by saying, "God only means certain good habits in man. God is no more a person than the evil spirits are persons."

I warn you of all this, my friends, because if you go to live in large towns, as many of you will, you will hear talk enough of this sort before your hairs are grey, put cleverly and eloquently enough; for, as a wise man said, "The devil does not send fools on his errands." I pray God, that if you ever do hear doctrines of that kind, some of my words may rise in your mind and help to shew to you the evil path down which they lead.

We may believe, then, from the plain words of Scriptures, that there are vast numbers of evil spirits continually tempting men, each of them to some particular sin; to worldliness, for instance, for we read of the spirit of the evil world; to filthiness, for we read of unclean spirits; to falsehood, for we read of lying spirits and a spirit of lies; to pride, for we read of a spirit of pride;--in short, to all sins which a man CAN commit, to all evil passions to which a man can give way. We have a right to believe, from the plain words of Scripture, that these spirits are continually wandering up and down tempting men to sin. That wonderful story of Job's temptation, which you may all read for yourselves in the first chapter of the book of Job, is, I think, proof enough for any one.

But next, and I wish you to pay special attention to this point: We have no right to believe,--we have every right NOT to believe, that these evil spirits can make us sin in the smallest matter against our own wills. The devil cannot put a single sin into us; he can only flatter the sinfulness which is already in us. For, see; this pride, lust, covetousness, falsehood, and so on, to which the Bible tells us they tempt us, have roots already in our nature. Our fallen nature of itself is inclined to pride, to worldliness, and so on. These devils tempt us by putting in our way the occasion to sin, by suggesting to us tempting thoughts and arguments which lead to sin; so the serpent tempted Eve, not by making her ambitious and self-willed, but by using arguments to her which stirred up the ambition and self-will in her: "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil," the devil said to her.

So Satan, the prince of the evil spirits, tempted our Lord. And as the prince of the devils tempted Christ, so do HIS servants tempt US, Christ's servants. Our tempers, our longings, our fancies, are not evil spirits; they are, as old divines well describe them, like greedy and foolish fish, who rise at the baits which evil spirits hold out to us. If we resist those baits--if we put ourselves under God's protection--if we claim strength from Him who conquered the devil and all His temptations, then we shall be able to turn our wills away from those tempting baits, and to resign our wills into our Father's hand, and He will take care of them, and strengthen them with His will; and we shall find out that if we resist the devil, he will flee from us. But if we yield to temptations whenever they come in our way, we shall find ourselves less and less able to resist them, for we shall learn to hate the evil spirits less and less; I mean we shall shrink less from the evil thoughts they hold out to us. We shall give place to the devil, as the Scripture tells us we shall; for instance, by indulging in habitual passionate tempers, or rooted spite and malice, letting the sun go down upon our wrath: and so a man may become more and more the slave of his own nature, of his own lusts and passions, and therefore of the devils, who are continually pampering and maddening those lusts and passions, till a man may end in COMPLETE POSSESSION; not in common madness, which may be mere disease, but as a savage and a raging maniac, such as, thank God, are rare in Christian countries, though they were common among our own forefathers before they were converted to Christianity,--men like the demoniac of whom the text speaks, tormented by devils, given up to blind rage and malice against himself and all around, to lust and blasphemy, to confusion of mind and misery of body, God's image gone, and the image of the devil, the destroyer and the corrupter, arisen in its place. Few men can arrive at this pitch of wretchedness in a civilised country. It would not answer the evil spirit's purpose to let them do so. It suits HIS spirits best in such a land as this to walk about dressed up as angels of light. Few men in England would be fools enough to indulge the gross and fierce part of their nature till they became mere savages, like the demoniac whom Christ cured; so it is to respectable vices that the devil mostly tempts us,--to covetousness, to party spirit, to a hard heart and a narrow mind; to cruelty, that shall clothe itself under the name of law; to filthiness, which excuses itself by saying, "It is a man's nature, he cannot help it;" to idleness, which excuses itself on the score of wealth; to meanness and unfairness in trade, and in political and religious disputes--these are the devils which haunt us Englishmen-- sleek, prim, respectable fiends enough; and, truly, THEIR name is Legion! And the man who gives himself up to them, though he may not become a raving savage, is just as truly possessed by devils, to his own misery and ruin, that he may sow the wind and reap the whirlwind; that though men may speak well of him, and posterity praise his saying, and speak good of the covetous whom God abhorreth, yet he may go for ever unto his own, to the evil spirits to whom his own wicked will gave him up for a prey. I beseech you, my friends, consider my words; they are not mine, but the Bible's. Think of them with fear;--and yet with confidence, for we are baptised into the name of Him who conquered all devils; you may claim a share in that Spirit which is opposite to all evil spirits,-- whose presence makes the agony and misery of evil spirits, and drives them out as water drives out fire. If He is on your side, why should you be afraid of any spirit? Greater is He that is in you than he that is against you; and He, Christ Himself, is with every man, every child, who struggles, however blindly and weakly, against temptation. When temptation comes, when evil looks pleasant, and arguments rise up in your mind, that seem to make it look right and reasonable, as well as pleasant, THEN, out of the very depths of your hearts, cry after Him who died for you. Say to yourselves, 'How can I do this thing, and offend against Him who bought me with His blood?' Say to Him, 'I am weak, I am confused; I do not see right from wrong; I cannot find my way; I cannot answer the devil; I cannot conquer these cunning thoughts; I know in the bottom of my heart that they are wrong, mere temptations, and yet they look so reasonable. Blessed Saviour, THOU must shew me where they are wrong. Thou didst answer the devil Thyself out of God's Word, put into MY mind some answer out of God's Word to these temptations; or, at least, give me spirit to toss them off--strength of will to thrust the whole temptation out of my head, and say, I will parley no longer with the devil; I will put the whole matter out of my head for a time. I don't know whether it is right or wrong for me to do this particular thing, but there are twenty other things which I DO know are right. I'll go and do THEM, and let this wait awhile.'

Believe me, my friends, you CAN do this--you can resist these evil spirits which tempt us all; else why did our Lord bid us pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil?" Why? Because our Father in heaven, if we ask Him, will NOT lead us INTO temptation, but THROUGH it safe. Tempted we MUST be, else we should not be men; but here is our comfort and our strength--that we have a King in heaven, who has fought out and conquered all temptations, and a Father in heaven, who has promised that He will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able, but will, with the temptation, make a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it.

Again, I say, draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.


[1] "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 do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God? Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time? And there was a good way off from them an 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."


Charles Kingsley