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This passage of Scripture is apparently a parable. It may be a literal representation of facts. But there is nothing in the phraseology, which requires us to understand it in this sense. Whether considered as a simple, or symbolical, representation, it conveys to us, in substance, the same truths. Our sole concern lies with the things, which the Saviour designed to communicate, whether the facts or the persons were real or parabolical, is to us of no importance.
There is scarcely a more extraordinary paragraph in the Scriptures than this. Interpreters have extensively, and as I believe justly, considered it as a representation of the state of a sinner, in some degree affected with a sense of his guilt, forming resolutions of amendment, and making some attempts towards Evangelical reformation ; but finally relinquishing them all, and returning again, like the dog to his comit, and like the sow, that was washsd, to her rallowing in the mire. Our Saviour subjoins, “So shall it be, also, unto this wicked generation."
Plainly, therefore, this parable is a description of the moral state of the Jeurs, to a considerable extent, at the time when it was spoken. In every age, and every country, where the Scriptures are known, there are persons, whose moral condition is the same with that of these Jeurs; persons of a hard heart, and a guilty life ; who ret feel at times, and in some degree, their guilt and their danger. These persons usually form some designs, and even some resolutions, to repent. In many instances, howerer, they return to their former, sinful life with new, more guilty, and more hopeless dispositions. Of all such persons this parable is no less a just description, than of those Jers, whom they so strongly resemble. To these (for it is believed, that some of them mar be found in this asembly) it is now solemnly addressed.
It is hardly necessary to ser, that the representation is forcible and affecting, bevond erample; and demands not merely the solema and profound, but the alarmed and eagar attention of all men; esperially of these, who either are, or are in danger of being in the situation, here described. I think of no method, in which I may untold. or impress the things contained in it, more
clearly and more effectually, than by following the order of the parable itself, and marking, as I pass, such particulars, as are of peculiar importance to the general design. This course I shall therefore pursue. I shall consider then,
1. The miserable condition of an impenitent sinner, before he is awakened to a serious conviction of his guilt.
“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man"-From this clause we learn, that, to the eye of God, the soul of such a man is the habitation of a foul and wicked spirit, who there fixes his abode. Nay he appropriates this abode to himself as his own property. Then he saith “ I will return to my house from whence I came out ;" "my house ;" language, plainly adopted because he regards it as his settled proper residence; the dwelling, where he steadily lives, and is literally at home.
Think, I beseech you, of the import of these extraordinary words. What would be the condition of the poor wretch, of whom a fiend from the bottomless pit should take entire possession; so as to render the soul of the man his property, his house, the place where he always dwelt, and where he had an undisputed control. Think what an inhabitant is here pourtrayed. Of what an inmate has such a soul become the tenement? What employments must such a being pursue in its secret chambers ? How plainly must it be his prime business to seduce, to corrupt, and to destroy; to rouse its evil passions and evil appetites, and to goad it into opposition to truth and righteousness. Against man it must be his delight to inspire it with injustice, fraud, and revenge ; against God to arm it with impiety, unbelief, ingratitude and rebellion; and against itself to direct its hostility in all the snaky paths of pollution. These must be the peculiar and incessant employments of such an impure and malignant being. Of these employments what is the end. It is no other than to withdraw it from truth, duty, religion, hope and heaven; and to hurry it onward to perdition.
What in this case must be the character of the soul itself? The whole influence of such a spirit must arise from the fact that the soul, which he inhabits, voluntarily yields to his suggestions. He Vol. II.
resides there, only because he is a welcome guest. He works there, only because the man loves to have it so. He prevails, be. cause the man chooses to submit. He rules, because the man is pleased to be under his dominion. He corrupts and destroys, because the man loves to be corrupted and destroyed. “Whoso sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul; all they, that hate me, love death."
But such, in substance, is the real state of the man in question. There may, indeed, be no such spirit, no impure, foreign being, residing, controlling, and triumphing. Still the affections, the purposes and the character, are such, as to be justly described by this strong symbolical language. The soul is such, as if inhabited and corrupted by this destroyer. How dangerous, how miserable, a condition is that of a stupid, hardened sinner, sold to sin, and devoted by himself to destruction ?
It is not improbable, that there are many persons present, who will hardly be induced to believe this representation. Let me request every one of them to remember, that these things are all said by the Saviour of men, the final Judge of the quick and the dead ; that it is declared of him by the voice of inspiration, that he knows what is in man ; that he declares of himself, that he searches the hearts, and the reins; and that on this knowledge will be founded his final sentence concerning every child of Adam at the great day. Let it also be remembered, that he can no more deceive, than be deceived ; and that these are his words. Must not every sinner in this house, who has sufficient sobriety to make an application of them to his own case, and to learn his real situation, tremble at these awful declarations of Christ, and shudder to think what he himself is.
2. Convictions of sin constitute in the eye of God an important change in the state of man.
“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man”.
The change, of which I have spoken, is so great, as to be justly represented by this imagery.. Before, the unclean spirit dwelt in the soul without disturbance. Now, he finds himself so strenuously resisted, that, in despair of future success, he quits a habita
tion which has become so uncomfortable, because it promises so little opportunity of doing mischief. Of course he hastens to some other place, where the same dreadful employment may be more hopefully pursued." The fiend,” in the language of the great English Poet, “ The fiend murmuring flies; and with him fly the shades of night:" of that deep and dreadful night, which he himself shed over the world within. In a sense, the man has once more become his own; and is partially delivered from the deplorable thraldom under which he had so long laboured.
Certainly this is a great and desirable change. The subtlety, malice, and domination, of a fiend, of passions and appetites strongly resembling the character of a fiend, have in some good measure been overcome. The captive is in a good degree at liberty to understand, and pursue, his own salvation. Many of his incumbrances are shaken off; many of his discouragements removed. The victory, indeed, is not of course final. Yet it is a viotory of vast importance; and is often followed if perseveringly pursued, perhaps always, by consequences interesting beyond conception. How fervently, then, ought every person in this situation to labour, that he may secure all which he has gained, and take advantage of his present, commanding ground to acquire all which remains. How diligently ought every such person to watch against every danger, the approach of every temptation, the assaults of every enemy, and especially the dreadful possession from which he has just escaped ? How ardently ought he to strive against the returns of stupidity, backsliding, and corruption ? How fervently to pray, that God would enable him to persevere, advance, overcome every obstacle, and finally win the prize of immortal life. If such persons forsake themselves; Gop will forsake them. If they forget their souls; they ought to expect that they will be forgotten by their Maker. If they despise their own eternal well-being; they cannot hope to escape from the ruin, which is before them.
3. We are here taught, that beings absolutely sinful find neither rest, nor enjoyment, but in doing evil.
" He walketh through dry i. e. desert places, seeking rest and findeth none."
While the unclean spirit resided in his former dwelling, he was in a sense settled in ease and quiet; because he was corrupting and destroying the man. The business of corrupting and destroying was all, in which he found any ease. The moment his hopes of success in this diabolical business began to fail, he quitted his mansion; and wandered into a desert. Here he roamed alone, restless and wretched ; and peculiarly wretched because
he could no longer successfully pursue the work of destruction. Mw Wickedness is a spirit absolutely solitary. All its social char .
acter, all its sympathy, is nothing, but the disposition which unites banditti in the fell purpose of plundering, pollution, and murder. With others it joins, solely because it cannot accomplish its foul ends alone. Even with these it has no union of heart, no fellow feeling, no real sociality. It attracts nothing, and nobody. Every thing it repels. Hell, with all its millions, is a perfect solitude to each of its inhabitants. They unite only to destroy each other, or to accomplish elsewhere the same work of ruin. Not one of them can find a single friend in all the vast multitude around him. Nay, this immense multitude serves only to make him feel, that he is more entirely alone; more perfectly friendless; more absolutely destitute of confidence, affection, and hope. Such is the true nature of sin, or selfishness, in every man breast: and, although its tendencies are strongly resisted by natural affection in the present world, it bursts, in innumera. ble instances, this bond; and discovers its fiend-like character in the terrible crimes to which it goads our miserable race, ambition, avarice, and voluptuousness, rage, even here, without control; and diffuse around them misery, not a little resembling that of the damned. What an endless multitude have they sacrificed with the sword. What a multitude of victims have they brought to the cross and to the stake. What is this, but the temper and the conduct of hell ?
Even when this spirit appears in a milder form, and assumes no violence, nor any apparent malice; still, both its character, and its employments, are substantially the same. To corrupt is to destroy. The process is indeed slower; but it is equally sure.