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No. VII.-JULY, 1849.
THE SCRIPTURAL DOCTRINE OF DEMONIACAL POSSESSION.
By WILLIAM ELFE TAYLER.
THE influence exercised over mankind by evil spirits is undoubtedly one of the most deeply interesting and practically important questions that can occupy the mind of the believer in divine revelation. Reasoning à priori, we should certainly have supposed that the blessed Jehovah would never have given those malignant beings any opportunity of introducing and perpetuating sin and its long train of evils in this lower world. Possessed, as we know Him to be, of infinite knowledge, wisdom, and power, it is natural to infer that the Creator would have taken effectual means to cut off all communication between such powerful adversaries and the human race. Here, however, we have one of the most striking instances of the truth of the divine declaration:'My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.' From the inspired record we find that to this world, at least, the devil and his angels' have, from its first creation, enjoyed constant and unlimited access; and so successfully have they used their infernal powers, that they have converted what was once a paradise of God into what too often appears a pandemonium of wickedness and woe.
One of the most terrible forms in which Satanic agency has been witnessed in this lower world is, unquestionably, that of Demoniacal
VOL. IV.NO. VII.
Demoniacal possession. The writings of the New Testament ex-pressly declare that evil spirits possess the fearful power of entering the bodies of human beings-and of using the control over their corporeal organism thus obtained, for the infliction of various and protracted tortures. Innumerable instances of men and women and children being thus possessed, by one or by many unclean spirits, and of their being delivered, through the power of our Lord, and of his name, are contained in the Gospels and the Acts. Nor is revelation alone in the declaration of these marvellous facts. The writings of ancient philosophers and historians —as well as those of the Fathers of the early Christian Churchcontain the most decisive and abundant evidence of the fact, that malignant spirits of celestial origin exercised the same diabolical influence over human beings in their days.
If we investigate the nature of demoniacal possession, we shall be led to view it as consisting in the fact of one or more demons having effected such a union with the human soul—or at least, having acquired such a control over the human organism-as placed all the physical powers of the individual at his or their disposal. Apart from possession, there is no question that evil spirits are capable, in a variety of ways, of inflicting temporal, as well as spiritual evil upon mankind. Satan possesses the power of smiting men with terrible diseases and depriving them of worldly possessions (Job ii.). By means of his innumerable angels too he tempts men to sin-by influencing the outward senses-suggesting thoughts to the heart-or casting stumbling-blocks in the way (Acts v. 3). But in all these instances the spirits of wickedness' act upon us from without. In the case of demoniacal possession, on the contrary, the demon occupies the whole man. Actual and irresistible power is exercised over the internal organism of the individual. All the members of the body, as well as the organs of perception and utterance, are under the absolute control of the foul spirit. The possessed person is incapable of performing any action, however trifling, against the will of the demon; nor can he restrain himself from any act to which he is urged by this foreign power.
An attempt has been made by Dr. Strauss, in his Life of Jesus, to overturn the whole doctrine of demoniacal possession by representing the theory as involving, in the very nature of the case, an actual impossibility. Apart from the difficulties,' says he,
'which the notion of the existence of a devil and demons entails -whatever theory may be held as to the relation between the self-consciousness and the bodily organs-it remains absolutely inconceivable how the union between the two could be so dissolved that a foreign self-consciousness could gain an entrance, thrust
out that which belonged to the organism and usurp its place.' a The error of this leader of the mythic school consists in supposing that in demoniacal possession there was necessarily involved a dissolution of the union subsisting between the self-consciousness and the bodily organs of the individual. We do not at all suppose that such was the actual case. It is perfectly true that a foreign self-consciousness gained an entrance into the demoniac, and acquired entire control over his organism. But it accomplished this simply by its superior power-not by displacing the former consciousness. It is as if a powerful man were to seize the helm of a ship guided by the weak arm of a youth, and steer the vessel whither he chose, in spite of the feeble opposition which the latter might exert. The objection therefore falls to the ground, being founded altogether on a mistaken view of the real nature of possession. For there is clearly nothing inconceivable in the idea of a superior spirit obtaining such an influence over another inferior one as to control all its actions.
It is well known that the Gospel history represents human beings as possessed, occasionally, not merely by one, but by many demons. The case of Mary Magdalene will at once occur to the reader, out of whom it is said 'seven devils went.' The Gadarene demoniac also is represented as being tormented by a whole legion of devils (Luke viii. 30). Dr. Strauss positively pronounces this inconceivable. For as, says he, 'possession means thing else than that the demon constitutes himself the object of the consciousness, and as consciousness can in reality have but one focus, one central point; it is under every condition inconceivable that several demons should at the same time take possession of one man.'b
This objection, like the last, arises from that erroneous notion of what constitutes possession, to which we have already referred. It is not true that in the demoniac the evil spirit constitutes himself the subject of the consciousness. Were this the case, all the torment and suffering inflicted on the wretched victim would be experienced by the demon himself. As already stated, to constitute possession it is only required that the demon should so unite himself to the soul of the individual, or obtain such an influence over his internal organism, as to be able to control all the active and passive powers of the body. Hence there is no more difficulty in conceiving that a hundred or even a thousand evil spirits had obtained such an influence over an individual, than that only one had. It is as easy to suppose that a number of unclean spirits possessed a man, as to imagine that several powerful persons had b Leben Jesu, ii. ix. § 93.
a Leben Jesu, ii. ix. § 92.
seized a youth and compelled him to act in obedience to their will.
In almost all the instances of demoniacs recorded in the Gospels and Acts—the mere fact of their being possessed with demonsis stated. In two or three cases, on the contrary, the full particulars are given; and if from these we are to judge of the others, 'to be vexed with a devil' is indeed the most terrible temporal infliction under which humanity has ever groaned. In the case of the Gadarene-or Gadarenes, according to Matthew-the possessing demons manifested their power in a form resembling raving madness. The demoniac was kept bound with chains and fetters; but such was the strength of the legion of devils which had entered him, that these bonds were snapped asunder like tow-and the wretched victim of infernal malice was hurried far away from the haunts of men, to dwell, like a beast, in the mountains and tombs, his clothes torn from his back, and engaged in cutting his own flesh with sharp stones.
Another mode adopted by these 'spirits of wickedness,' in which to wreak their malice upon their helpless and unoffending victims, resembled epilepsy. In the case of the demoniac whom the disciples were unable to cure (Mark ix. 14), all at once the unhappy youth was seized by the demon-his limbs convulsed by irresistible power in the most fearful manner, and his whole frame so racked with torture, that, wallowing on the ground, he foamed at the mouth, and gnashed with his teeth, under its influence. At another time the unclean spirit' would embrace the opportunity of casting him into the fire, or into the water, in order to destroy him. To complete the list of evils, he was cut off from all means of communication with the outer world; for it is expressly stated by Luke that he was deaf and dumb.'
These cases of demoniacal possession-and we have no reason to suppose that they differ substantially from the other cases more briefly noticed-do really display such infernal malice, such genuine delight in inflicting torment and suffering upon mankind, as to present the character of these fallen angels in a more revolting light than anything else in their history. There is something so loathsome and disgusting in the idea of spiritual intelligences possessing helpless and unoffending mortals for the sole purpose of deriving gratification and pleasure from torturing their bodies and their minds in every possible way that we are disposed to attribute to this the circumstance that demons who possessed human beings are almost always termed impure spirits, análaρтa пvεúμaтa, by our Lord. epithet by which the fallen angels are described wicked, Tovngós. In nearly every case, however,
unclean' or The general elsewhere is referring to
possession, the indwelling demon is termed unclean spirit, unclean demon. May not the reason of this change of expression be to intimate either that the devils who delight in this employment are more loathsome, more spiritually foul than the rest; or that in this infernal agency they display a more vile and disgusting feature of character than in other acts of iniquity?
A mistake, common to all the commentators-whether Rationalists or Orthodox-which we have consulted on this subject, is that of regarding demoniacs as the subjects of actual disease. A more close examination, however, of the narratives contained in the Gospels will lead to the conclusion, that in no instance does disease, in the strict and proper sense of the term, form any part or effect of possession. All the symptoms of demoniacal disease with which we meet in the New Testament-if we omit defects of the senses-may be reduced to two, madness and epilepsy; and it requires little sagacity to see that these phenomena are precisely such as would result from demoniacal possession, as described in the Gospels—and, therefore, cannot with justice be attributed to the operation of disease. The agency of the evil spirit, according to the particular mode in which he chose to act upon the possessed person, would present in one case all the symptoms of epilepsy, in another those of insanity. If, for example, the demon suddenly seized his victim, deprived him of all power over his limbs, prostrated him upon the ground, and convulsed his whole frame with inward torture, we should here behold all the symptoms of a violent epileptic fit. If, on the other hand, the unclean spirit, by means of that absolute control over the body of the demoniac which he possessed, instigated him to extravagant, unnatural, or violent conduct, we should discern in this case all the common indications of insanity. But surely no one would be justified in speaking of disease as existing in either case, since that term always implies the operation of some physical cause on the human organization to which all the phenomena are owing. As well might we employ the term vitality, in order to denote the convulsive action of the limbs of a corpse whilst exposed to the influence of galvanism. With reference to defects of the perceptive faculties and organs of speech so frequently occurring in demoniacal subjects, we should be inclined to regard these as the result of immediate control exercised by the demon over the particular nerves or muscles, rather than any organic derangement. And the Scripture narratives of the expulsion of what are termed 'deaf and dumb spirits' confirm this opinion, for we read that when the devil was gone out the dumb spake,' which seems to intimate that all which occasioned dumbness was the influence exerted over the organs of speech by the evil spirit.