by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse
The connection between these verses and those which immediately precede them, is striking and instructive. In the preceding verses, our Lord Jesus Christ had been speaking of the power and importance of prayer. He not only gave his disciples the pattern prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer, but he also illustrated it with the parable of the midnight visitor who refuses to leave until his friend gets out of bed and loans him some bread. If you have already embarrassed your wife by knocking on your neighbor’s door in the middle of the night, you might as well stand there and pester him until he gets up and gives you the bread. Now, is God reluctant to give us what we ask for? Not at all, but the point of the parable is that we must be serious in asking—serious enough to keep banging on the door until God gives us what we ask. In these verses before us, he delivers a man from a devil that prevented him from speaking. The miracle is evidently intended to throw fresh light on the lesson. The same Savior who encourages us to pray, is the Savior who destroys Satan’s power over our bodies, and restores our tongues to their proper use.
I. The Variety of Ways in Which Satan Exhibits His Desire To Injure Us
We read of a mute devil. Sometimes in the Gospel we are told of an “unclean” devil. Sometimes we are told of a raging and violent devil. Here we are told of one under whose influence the unhappy person possessed by him became “mute.” Many are the devices of Satan. It is foolish to suppose that he always works in the same manner. The common mark of all his operations: he delights to inflict injury and do harm.
There is something very instructive in the case before us. Do we suppose, because bodily possession by Satan is not so glaringly obvious in our day as it once was, that the great enemy is less active in doing mischief than he used to be?—If we think so we have much to learn.—Do we suppose that there is no such thing as the influence of a “mute” devil in the present day? If we do, we had better think again.—What shall we say of those who never speak to God, who never use their tongues in prayer and praise, who never employ the tongue which is a man’s “glory,” in the praise of God who made it? What shall we say, in a word, of those who can speak to every one but God?—What can we say but that Satan has robbed them of the truest and best use of a tongue? What ought we to say but that they are possessed with a “dumb devil?” The prayerless man is dead while he lives. His body rebels against the God who made it. The “dumb devil” is not yet extinct.
Let us watch and pray that we may never be given over to the influence of a dumb spirit. Thanks be to God, that same Jesus still lives, who can make the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak! To him let us flee for help. In him let us abide. It is not enough to avoid open rebellion, and to keep clear of glaring sins. It is not enough to be moral, and proper, and respectable in our lives. All this is negative goodness, and nothing more. Is there anything positive about our religion? Do we yield our bodies as instruments of righteousness to God? (Rom. 6:13) Having eyes, do we see God’s kingdom? Having ears, do we hear Christ’s voice? Having a tongue, do we use it for God’s praise? The number of people who are deaf and dumb before God is far greater than many suppose.
II. The Amazing Power Of Prejudice Over The Hearts Of Unconverted Men
We read, that when our Lord cast out the dumb spirit, there were some who said, “He casts out devils through Beelzebub, the chief of the devils.” They could not deny the miracle. They then refused to allow that it was done by divine power. The work before their eyes was plain and indisputable. They then attempted to discredit the character of him who did it, and to besmirch his reputation by saying that he was in league with the devil.
The state of mind here described is a most terrible disease, and one uncommon. There is no lack of those who are determined to see no good in the Church, and to believe all sorts of evil about the Church. They seem resolved to believe that whatever a Christian does must be wrong, and whatever he says must be false!—If he does right at any time, it must be from corrupt motives! If he speaks truth, it must be with sinister views! If he does good works, it is from selfish interest! If he casts out devils, it is through the prince of demons!—Such prejudice may even be found in churches. They are the worst headaches of the ministers of Christ. No wonder that St. Paul said, “Pray that we may be delivered from unreasonable as well as wicked men.” (2 Thess. 3:2.)
Let us strive to be of fair, and honest in our judgment of people and things in religion. Let us be ready to give up old and cherished opinions the moment that any one can show us a “more excellent way.” The honest and good heart is a great treasure, (Luke 8:15.) while a prejudiced spirit is the jaundice of the soul. From such a spirit may we pray to be delivered!
III. The Great Evil Of Religious Divisions
This is a truth which our Lord impresses on us in the answer he gives to his prejudiced enemies. He shows the folly of their charge that he cast out devils by the power of Satan. He quotes the proverb that “a house divided against itself falls.” He infers the absurdity of the idea that Satan would cast out Satan, or the devil casting out his own agents. And in so doing, he teaches Christians a lesson which they have been mournfully slow to learn in every age of the church. That lesson is the sin and folly of divisions.
Religious divisions of some kind there must always be so long as people believe false doctrine. What communion can there be between light and darkness? How can two walk together except they be agreed? What unity can there be where there is not unity of the Spirit? Division and separation from those who adhere to false and unscriptural doctrine is a duty and not a sin.
But there are divisions of a very different kind, which are deeply to be deplored. Such, for example, are divisions between those who agree on main points—divisions about matters not needful to salvation—divisions about forms and ceremonies, and ecclesiastical arrangements upon which Scripture is silent. Divisions of this kind are to be avoided and discouraged by all faithful Christians. The existence of them is a melancholy proof of the fallen state of man, and the corruption of his understanding as well as his will. They bring scandal on religion, and weakness on the Church. “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.”
Years ago when we were living in Israel, our landlady, who was Jewish, wanted to know what kind of Christians we were since I didn’t wear a funny hat like so many of the various churches represented in Jerusalem. She was obviously confused and bewildered by all the divisions among Christians. Her confusion, and disappointment, reached its peak at Christmas, when we didn’t bother to have a Christmas tree in the apartment. She had assured her five-year-old son that he would finally get to see a Christmas tree. It was if they had won the national lottery to have Christians renting the apartment. We apologized and explained that we had no ornaments to decorate the tree, to which she replied that she would have bought the ornaments for her son’s sake. She thought we weren’t very Christian if we didn’t even have a Christmas tree.
What are the best remedies against needless divisions? A humble spirit, a readiness to make concessions, and an enlightened acquaintance with holy Scripture. We must learn to distinguish between things in religion which are essential, and things which are not essential—things which are necessary to salvation, and things which are not—things which are of first rate importance, and things which are of second rate importance. On the one class of things we must be stiff and unbending as the oak tree: “If any man preach any other Gospel than that which we have preached, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8.)—On the other we may be yielding and compliant as the willow, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). To draw such nice distinctions requires no small practical wisdom. But such wisdom is to be had for the asking. “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” (James 1:5). When Christians keep up needless divisions they show themselves more foolish than Satan himself.
The point of all this is stated by our Lord in vs. 23 when he says, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” The question Jesus puts to us individually, and as a church is, “Are we gathering with him, or are we scattering?” May God bless our efforts here for gathering people to the Lord Jesus Christ.