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Lastly, the Name of Christ is used to remind all who have ears to hear, of His awful warnings concerning those who are too soon contented with their own imperfect repentance. When the unclean Spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest.” The evil one being driven out of our souls and bodies, either by Baptism or by true and sufficient Repentance, will not rest until he have obtained a lodging in one miserable person or another : and if he possibly can, he will return to the same again. Beware of him: for if he find the house empty, he will not return alone, but with “
seven other spirits more wicked than himself.” They will “enter in and dwell there: there will be little or no chance of their being ever any more cast out:" "and the last state of that man will be worse than the first;" by how much he has abused greater grace, and become more like a fallen angel.
“ I beseech you therefore, Brethren, and exhort you by the LORD Jesus;" by His cross and passion; by His continual fatherly presence; by His gracious and perfect example; by His severe threatenings against the unprofitable; and by His coming again to be our Judge :-I beseech you, “ that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.”
THE RELAPSED SINNER.
ST. MATT. xii. 45.
“ The last state of that man is worse than the first."
THESE fearful words are our Saviour's conclusion of a parable, which He had just been addressing to the unbelieving Jews. They had said, in their spite and malice, that the
miracles our LORD was performing in their sight, were not His own, but the work of an evil spirit. “He casteth out devils,” they said, by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils."
Our Saviour, having first shown them how senseless, as well as how impious this was, went on to warn them of their own extreme danger, in a parable taken from the circumstances of the case.
It is likely, that if we had lived in that time and country, and had seen with our eyes persons whom we know to be possessed, as many were then, with evil spirits, we should be so much the better able to understand the particulars of this parable. Thus much, however, we do understand, that God's Providence, for wise purposes, permitted the devil to torment men, their minds and bodies, with a kind of madness; which being known to be the evil spirit's work, gave occasion to many wonderful proofs of our Lord's divine power and authority, not only over ordinary diseases, but also over the powers of dark
And it should seem from this parable of our Lord's, that when a person had been once possessed in this way, and cured, he was yet liable to a return of the mischief, unless he were very careful of himself. So indeed one might suppose, from the restless and malicious temper of the devil and his angels; and so, we are told, it was with them.
Suppose one of them gone out of a man, and wandering, as it were, through dry and desolate places ; he would still go on, longing and wishing to be somewhere, where he might practise his power of mischief,—to find some one whom he might torment as before. Suppose it occurred to such an evil spirit, to return unto his house from whence he came out: i.e. to go back, and try, if he could, to possess and torment the same person again. Our SAVIOUR intimates, that if he found the house empty, swept and garnished; i. e. if he found the mind and body of the unhappy patient in a fit state of preparation for him, the relapse would be seven times worse than the original illness; he would take to him " seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they would enter in and dwell there, and the last state of that man would be worse than the first.” A frightful picture indeed! and one of which the full horror would be understood by those who heard Him speak, much better than we can understand it, because they had seen such cases ; indeed they had just that hour been present, while He cured a very malignant one ; and they knew, most likely, among other things, how apt the evil spirit was to return, and how dreadful and hopeless the affliction then became. So much the more must they have been alarmed, as many as had any serious thought, when they heard Him, in conclusion, apply this dreadful parable to themselves ;. “So shall it be also to this evil generation ;" i.e. "you Jews, who have rejected My Gospel, will find before long that it is with you, as if an evil spirit had been cast out, and had returned with seven worse spirits, and gotten entire hold of a man. Your last state will be worse than
first. To understand this, we may consider what was the state and temper of the Jewish people, at the time of our Lord's appearance among them. Having gone on for some hundred years without any kind of idolatry, they reckoned themselves especial favourites of Almighty God; considered themselves chosen, above all the nations of the earth, to be His people, in such a
sense, that they need not fear His ever rejecting them. On this, as on other occasions, our Saviour took pains to correct this great and deadly mistake of theirs. It is as if He had said to them, • Your nation was once of old, like this man before he was cured, in the power of an evil and unclean spirit. You were, as your own Scriptures tell you, wholly given to the worst idolatry, and to those deadly sins, which idolatry brings with it. For this, you were carried away captive to Babylon, and other miseries came upon you, which, by God's grace, succeeded at last in driving out the unclean spirit ; you have now lived in your own land more than four hundred years, free from what, in former days, was your great sin, the worshipping of idols. But do not therefore lift yourselves up, nor imagine yourselves safe in God's favour. The evil spirit, once cast out, may return, may find a place prepared for him, may enter in and dwell there; and your last state may be worse than your first. Nay, it is sure to be thus with you, if you go on as you have now begun. For although you bave not worshipped false gods, you have not set up images to kneel to, yet you have rejected the true God by rejecting His Son, and ascribing His miracles to the devil. Beware how you go on to reject His Holy Spirit too. Your last chance will be then gone; He will give you over to a reprobate mind; the evil spirits will work their own way with you, and bring you to destruction both of body and soul.”
Such, in substance, was our LORD's warning to the scorners and unbelievers of His time. And in a few years they found it as true, as all unbelievers, before long, will find the terrors they now scoff at. Having crucified Christ and blasphemed the Holy Ghost, as if many devils had entered into them, they plunged into such sins, and underwent such a grievous punishment, as have made the very name of Jew (according to the prophecy) " an astonishment, and a proverb, and a by-word to all nations under Heaven.”
But our LORD did not utter the warning for those impenitent Jews alone. It holds just as good of all who have been, in any sense, by His Mercy, delivered from their old sins, from those perverse and evil habits which possessed them like unclean spirits. It is true of every one of them, that as long as they are in this world, they are in danger, more or less, of relapsing into their bad ways, and that if they do so relapse, their last state will be worse than their first.
As Christians, baptized into Christ's Church, taught to pray to the FATHER in His Name, favoured with the promise of His Holy Spirit, we all are like persons delivered from an evil spirit, i. e. we are put in such a condition, we have such help placed within our reach, that we may shake off the chains of darkness, we may love and serve our REDEEMER, if we will. But our enemy is not finally put down, nor are we quite beyond his reach. There is not a Christian soul in the world, but has great reason to fear continually, lest the devil return and undo that good work which was begun at Baptism, and which the Church is daily labouring to complete, by instruction, warning, prayers, and sacraments. He is always restless and uneasy, like a person turned out of his home, and wandering in dry and desert regions, till he can lay hold again of those souls, which the Grace of God and the care of the Church, bringing them to early baptism, has taken away from him and put in the arms of our Saviour. For this purpose he loses no time, but, from the very moment they are able to think, carefully throws temptations in their way; persuades them that prayer, the service of God, obedience to parents, and respect for their betters, are dull, unpleasant, wearisome things, for which there will be time enough by and by; for the present, they need only care to enjoy themselves.
These lessons of the evil spirit we are but too willing to practise; they fall in with our corrupt nature, and suit us so perfectly well, that it is surprising how thoroughly we contrive to learn them often before we are out of our childhood : and as long as men refuse the means of grace, every hour of their trial on earth, which was meant to prepare them for eternal life, will only make them more and more the children of hell and of lost spirits.
Thus it happens, that Christian countries are full of persons of all ages and stations, leading the lives and practising the tempers of heathens : persons of whom we may reasonably say, that it had been better for them had they never been baptized, better had they never seen a church, nor ever heard the names of God and of Christ. Their present state (let us hope, by God's Grace, that