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Systematic Theology - Volume I
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§ 4. Evil Angels.

The Scriptures inform us that certain of the angels kept not their first estate. They are spoken of as the angels that sinned. They are called evil, or unclean spirits; principalities; powers; rulers of this world; and spiritual wickednesses (i.e., wicked spirits) in high places. The most common designation given to them is δαιμονες, or more commonly δαιμόνια, which our translators unfortunately render devils. The Scriptures make a distinction between διάβολος and δαίμων, which is not observed in the English version. In the spiritual world there is only one διάβολος (devil), but there are many δαιμόνια (demons). These evil spirits are represented as belonging to the same order of beings as the good angels. All the names and titles, expressive of their nature and powers, given to the one are also given to the others. Their original condition was holy. When they fell or what was the nature of their sin is not revealed. The general opinion is that it was pride, founded on 1 Tim. iii. 6. A bishop, the Apostle says, must not be “a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil;” which is commonly understood to mean the condemnation which the devil incurred for the same sin. Some have conjectured that Satan was moved to rebel against God and to seduce our race from its allegiance, by the desire to rule over our globe and the race of man. Of this, however, there is no intimation in Scripture. His first appearance in the sacred history is in the character of an apostate angel. That there is one fallen angel exalted in rank and power above all his associates is clearly taught in the Bible. He is called Satan (the adversary), διάβολος, the traducer, ὁ πονηρός, he evil one; the prince of the power of the air; the prince of darkness; the God of this world; Beelzebub; Belial the tempter; the old serpent, and the dragon. These, and simlar titles set him forth as the great enemy of God and man, the opposer of all that is good and the promoter of all that is evil. He is so constantly represented as a personal being, that the rationalistic notion that he is only a personification of evil, is irreconcilable with the authority of Scripture and inconsistent with the faith of the Church. The opinion that the doctrine of Satan was introduced among the Hebrews after the Exile, and from a heathen source, is no less contrary to the plain teachings of the Bible. He is represented as the tempter of our first parents, and is distinctly mentioned in the book of Job written long before the Babylonish captivity. Besides this representation of Satan in general terms as the enemy of God, he is specially set forth in Scripture, as the head of the kingdom of darkness, which embraces all evil beings. Man by his apostasy fell under the dominion of Satan, and his salvation consists in his being translated from Satan’s kingdom into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. That the daimonia who are represented as subject to Satan, are not the spirits of wicked men who have departed this life, as some have maintained, is clear. (1.) Because they are distinguished from the elect angels. (2.) From its being said that they kept not their first state (Jude 6). (3.) From the language of 2 Pet. ii 4. where it is said God spared not the angels that sinned. (4.) From the application to them of the titles “principalities” and “powers,” which are appropriate only to beings belonging to the order of angels.

Power and Agency of Evil Spirits.

As to the power and agency of these evil spirits, they are represented as being exceedingly numerous, as everywhere efficient, as having access to our world, and as operating in nature and in the minds of men. The same limitations, of course, belong to their agency as belong to that of the holy angels. (1.) They are dependent on God, and can act only under his control and by his permission. (2.) Their operations must be according to the laws of nature, and, (3.) They cannot interfere with the freedom and responsibility of men. Augustine says of Satan: “Consentientes tenet, non invitos cogit.” Nevertheless, his power is very great. Men are said to be led captive by him, evil spirits are said to work in the hearts of the disobedient. Christians are warned against their devices, and called upon to resist them, not in their own strength, but in the strength of the Lord and armed with the whole panoply of God.

Great evils, however, have arisen from exaggerated views of the agency of evil spirits. To them have been referred, not only all natural calamities, as storms, conflagrations, pestilences, etc., but what was far more lamentable, they have been regarded as entering into covenant with men. It was thought that any person could enter into a contract with Satan and be invested for a season with supernatural power upon condition that the person thus endowed yielded his soul to perdition. On this foundation rested the numerous prosecutions for witchcraft and sorcery which disgraced the annals of all Christian nations during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The most enlightened men of Europe yielded themselves to this delusion, under which thousands of men and women, and even children, were put to the most cruel deaths. It is not necessary to go to the opposite extreme and deny all agency of evil spirits in nature or over the bodies and minds of men, in order to free ourselves from such evils. It is enough to adhere to the plain teaching of the Bible. These spirits can only act, as before stated, in accordance with the laws of nature and the free agency of man; and their influence and operations can no more be detected and judicially proved than the influence and operations of holy angels for good. Both classes are efficient; we are to be thankful to God for the unseen and unknowable ministry of the angels of light, and be on our guard and seek divine protection from the machinations of the spirits of evil. But of neither are we directly conscious, and to the agency of neither can we with certainty refer any specific effect, if its occurrence admits of any other explanation.

Demoniacal Possessions.

The most marked exhibition of the power of evil spirits over the bodies and minds of men, is afforded by the demoniacs so often mentioned in the evangelical history. These demoniacal possessions were of two kinds. First, those in which the soul alone was the subject of the diabolic influence, as in the case of the “damsel possessed with a spirit of divination,” mentioned in Acts xvi. 16. Perhaps in some instances false prophets and magicians were examples of the same kind of possession. Secondly, those in which the bodies alone, or as was more frequently the case, both the body and mind were the subjects of this spiritual influence. By possession is meant the inhabitation of an evil spirit in such relation to the body and soul as to exert a controlling influence, producing violent agitations and great suffering, both mental and corporeal. That the demoniacs mentioned in the New Testament were not mere lunatics or the subjects of epilepsy or other analogous diseases, but cases of real possession, is plain, First, because this was the prevailing belief of the Jews at that time; and secondly, because Christ and his Apostles evidently adopted and sanctioned that belief. They not only called those thus affected demoniacs, but addressed the spirits as persons, commanded them, disposed of them, and in every way spoke and acted as they would have done had the popular belief been well founded. It is certain that all who heard Christ thus speak would and did conclude that he regarded the demoniacs as really possessed by evil spirits. This conclusion he nowhere contradicts; but on the contrary, in his most private conferences with the disciples abundantly confirmed. He promised to give them power to cast out demons; and referred to his possession of this power, and his ability to delegate its exercise to his disciples as one of the most convincing proofs of his Messiahship and divinity. He came to destroy the works of the devil; and that He did thus triumph over him and his angels, proved that He was what He claimed to be, the promised almighty king and conqueror, who was to found that kingdom of God of which there is to be no end. To explain all this on the principle of accommodation would destroy the authority of Scripture. On the same principle the doctrine of atonement, inspiration, divine influence, and every other distinctive doctrine of the Bible, may be, and has been explained away. We must take the Scriptures in their plain historical sense — in that sense in which they were designed to be understood by those to whom they were addressed, or we do thereby reject them as a rule of faith.

There is no special improbability in the doctrine of demoniacal possessions. Evil spirits do exist. They have access to the minds and bodies of men. Why should we refuse to believe, on the authority of Christ, that they were allowed to have special power over some men? The world, since the apostasy, belongs to the kingdom of Satan; and to redeem it from his dominion was the special object of the mission of the Son of God. It is not surprising, therefore, that the time of his advent, was Satan’s hour; the time when, to a greater degree than before or after, he manifested his power, thus making the fact of his overthrow the more conspicuous and glorious.

The objections to the common doctrine on this subject are, —

1. That calling certain persons demoniacs no more proves that they were possessed by evil spirits, than calling others lunatics, proves that they were under the influence of the moon. This is true; and if the argument rested only on the use of the word demoniac, it would be altogether insufficient to establish the doctrine. But this is only a collateral and subordinate argument, without force in itself, but deriving force from other sources. If the sacred writers, besides designating the deranged as lunatics, had spoken of the moon as the source of their derangement, and had referred to its different phases as increasing or lessening the force of their mental disorder, there would be some analogy between the cases. It is readily admitted that the use of a word is often very different from its primary signification, and therefore that its meaning can not always be determined by its etymology. But when its signification is the same with its usage; when those called demoniacs are said to be possessed with evil spirits; when those spirits are addressed as persons, and commnanded to depart; and when this power over them is appealed to as proof of Christ’s power over Satan, the prince of these fallen angels; then it is unreasonable to deny that the word is to be understood in its literal and proper sense.

2. A second objection is that the phenomena exhibited by those called demoniacs are those of known bodily or mental diseases, and therefore that no other cause can rationally be assumed to account for them. It is not, however, true that all the phenomena in question can be thus accounted for. Some of the symptoms are those of lunacy and epilepsy, but others are of a different character. These demoniacs often exhibited supernatural power or knowledge. Besides this, the Scriptures teach that evil spirits have power to produce bodily disease. And therefore the presence of such disease is no proof that the agency of evil spirits was not active in its production and its consequences.

3. It is further objected that such cases do not now occur. This is by no means certain. The evil spirits do now work in the children of disobedience, and for what we know they may now work in some men as effectually as in the ancient demoniacs. But admitting the fact to be as assumed, it would prove nothing to the point. There may have been special reasons for allowing such displays of Satanic power when Christ was on earth, which no longer exist. That miracles are not wrought in the Church now, is no proof that they were not wrought during the apostolic age.

We are not to deny what are plainly recorded in the Scriptures as facts on this subject; we have no right to assert that Satan and his angels do not now in any cases produce similar effects; but we should abstain from asserting the fact of Satanic or demoniacal influence or possession in any case where the phenomena can be otherwise accounted for. The difference between believing whatever is possible, and believing only what is certain is strikingly illustrated in the case of Luther and Calvin. The former was disposed to refer all evil to the spirits of darkness; the latter referred nothing to their agency that could not be proved to be actually their work. Luther607607Werke. edit. Walch, vol. xiii. p. 2850. (?) says: “Die Heiden wissen nicht, woher das Unglück so plötzlich kommt; aber wir wissen es, dass es eitel Teufels Arbeit ist, der hat solche Helleparten, Bleikugeln und Büchsen, solche Spiesse und Schwerter, damit er unter uns schiesst, wirft und sticht, wenn Gott es ihm erlaubt. Darum zweifle nur Niemand dran, wo ein Feuer aufgehet, dass ein Dorf oder ein Haus abbrennet, da sitzt allewege ein Teufelein dabei, das bläset immer in das Feuer, dass es soll grosser werden.” “Ein Christ soll das wissen, dass er mitten unter den Teufeln sitze, und dass ihm der Teufel näher sei denn sein Rock oder Hemde, ja näher denn seine eigene Haut, dass er rings um uns her sei, und wir also stets mit ihm zu Haare liegen und uns mit ihm schlagen müssen.608608Edit. Walch, vol. x. p. 1234, edit. Erlangen, 1823, vol. xvii. p. 178. “The heathen know not whence evil so suddenly comes. But we know. It is the pure work of the devil; who has fire-brands, bullets, torches, spears, and swords, with which he shoots, casts, or pierces, when God permits. Therefore let no man doubt when a fire breaks out which consumes a village or a house, that a little devil is sitting there blowing the fire to make it greater.” Again, “Let a Christian know that he sits among devils: that the devil is nearer to him than his coat or his shirt, or even his skin; that he is all about us, and that we must always grapple with and fight him.” Calvin’s view of tbe subject is,609609Institutio, I. xii. 13.Quæ de diabolis Scriptura tradit, eo fere tendunt omnia, ut solliciti simus ad præcavendas corum insidias et molitiones: tum iis armis nos instruamus, quæ ad propulsandos potentissimos hostes satis firma sint ac valida.” And he asks,610610Ibid. 16.Quid nostra refert vel plura, vel in alium finem de diabolis scire?


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