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Of the unclean spirits returning.
LUKE xi. 24-26. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh
through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he
saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it [emptya,] swept, and
garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more
wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
[Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation b.] In the 22nd verse of the twelfth chapter of St. Matthew, and the fourteenth verse of this eleventh of St. Luke, we are told, that there was brought to our Lord one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb; and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw, to the great wonder and amazement of the people; who thereupon concluded him to be the son of David, the great Messias that was then expected. But the envious, spiteful Pharisees, who were resolved not to be convinced of that great truth themselves, and as much as in them lay to keep the people from being so, put this hellish gloss upon that great miracle, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devilsc. As if there was a confederacy, between that great deceiver and Christ, to seduce the Jews by lying wonders from their obedience to that law which God gave them by Moses; and impose a new false religion upon them, under pretence of his being the Messias, when indeed he was no other than a vile impostor. But this, how plausible soever it might seem at first sight, was indeed so very weak, that none but a bigoted Pharisee, whose reason was blinded by implacable hatred and malice, would ever have urged it; and our Lord soon made them ashamed of it, if any thing could shame them, as we may read in the 17th verse of this chapter, and the 25th and following verses of the twelfth of Matthew. And in the 31st of that chapter he lays home to their consciences what an unpardonable sin they had been guilty of, in blaspheming against the Holy Ghost, and ascribing that to the power of the Devil, made use of to withdraw the people from the true religion to their ruin, which was done by the assistance of the good Spirit of God, on purpose that they might be inclined by it to embrace their chief happiness, and believe in him whom the Father of mercies had sent to be the Saviour of the world. This was the sin against the Holy Ghost, never to be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to comed; that is, to all eternity. And it argued such resolved, wilful blindness against all conviction, such inflexible stubbornness and obstinacy against all the gracious methods that God took for the salvation of mankind, and was so manifest a joining with the Devil in doing what they could to frustrate and disappoint that great good work which the compassionate God sent his divine Son into the world to accomplish, that nothing could be more provoking, and more deserve God's irreconcilable displeasure. There was so much of the temper of hell in it, such devilish enmity both to God and man; envying God the glory, and man the happiness of the redemption designed the world by Christ; that it was but just, for ever to exclude such wretches from it, and give them up to a diabolical hardness of heart, as they had given themselves up before to a near resemblance of that cursed spirit in other hellish dispositions of soul.
a Matt. xii. 44.
b Matt. xii. 45.
c Luke xi. 15.
What sort of people are guilty of this unpardonable sin now, is sometimes made a question; and we need not look far for them in this atheistical, infidel age.
How many there are among us that ridicule our Saviour and his miracles, style him an impostor, and his wondrous works no other than juggles and delusions, every one knows too well. And if to think, and openly to talk at this rate; to persist in such vile opinions, and publicly to maintain and justify them, and make it their great endeavour to gain proselytes to them; if this be not the very sin against the Holy Ghost, I am sure it is next door to it: and the hardened obstinacy of those that have been guilty of it, against all the reason and argument that can be used to bring them off, and to which they can make no material objection that has not been baffled and confounded over and over; this looks as if they were given up for it to a reprobate sense, and under an irrevocable condemnation. I pray God those that are this way inclined may seriously consider this, before they proceed too far, and outwit themselves of their salvation beyond recovery! But to proceed :
After our Lord had silenced the objection of his casting out devils through the assistance of the prince of the devils, certain of the scribes and Pharisees attacked him, Matt. xii. 38, being extremely nettled that their first charge was so much to their own shame, and were urgent with him to shew them a sign from heaven, Luke xi. 16, that they might be satisfied it was God had sent him, and enabled him to do what he did, and not the infernal powers.
Now by a sign from heaven I suppose they meant some strange, preternatural appearance of the heavenly bodies, at his command, (as when the sun and moon at the command of Joshua stood still, Josh. X. 12, 13, 2 Kings xx. 11. and went ten degrees backward at the prayer of Isaiah, ch. xxxviii. 8,) or else some sudden thunder, and God's speaking articulately from above, to assure them that he came from him, and the like; instances of which having been in the time of Moses and the prophets, they expected the same, or something of like nature, from him then.
But this unreasonable curiosity of theirs, after he had already wrought enough unquestionable miracles to satisfy any unprejudiced person, he did not think fit at that time to gratify; though afterwards we find God spake to him at his request audibly from heaven in a voice like thunder , (as he had done before at his baptism,) saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'; and the sun was strangely darkened at the time of his death, when the moon was in the full, which is contrary to the usual course of nature, and was never known to be so before nor since: but he then refused to comply with their desire, knowing their intention was only to nonplus him if they could ; not that they had a mind to be cone John xii. 28, &c.
f Matt. ïïi. 17.
Luke xxiii. 44, 45. i Matt. xxvii. 62, &c. xxviii. 11. &c.
vinced themselves, which a thousand signs would not have done, they were so obstinately set against him. And therefore, instead of an evident sign from heaven, he in a mystical manner told them of a sign they should hereafter have from the earth, (and which when rightly understood would be the most convincing sign of all, ver. 29, 30, namely, that as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so the Son of man should be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, by which he foretold (though they apprehended him not) his resurrection after three days' burial : though even that, we see by the event, was not able to convince the priests and scribes and Pharisees i.
Having said this, with some other things relating to the happiness the people of that age had in enjoying the presence of the Messias, and how inexcusable they would be for rejecting him, and treating him as they did, and how dreadful the consequence would be at last; he endeavours to make them more apprehensive of it, by speaking the parable above recited, with allusion to his casting out the evil spirit, which had occasioned the whole intermediate discourse. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, &c. and the last state of that man is worse than the first: even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation. As if he had said,
“ Like as when the devil is cast out of a poor “ wretch that was possessed by him, he is enraged, “ and endeavours, if possible, to return, and take a “ new seizure of his miserable prey, which if he effects, he tyrannizes more than ever, and is not
h Matt. xii. 40.