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CHRIST AMONG THE GERGESENES ; OR LEGION, AND THE
GADARENE HERD. I do not anywhere find so furious a demoniac as amongst the Gergesenes : Satan is most tyrannous where he is obeyed most. Christ no sooner sailed over the lake, than he was met with two possessed Gadarenes: the extreme rage of the one hath drowned the mention of the other. Yet in the midst of all that cruelty of the evil spirit, there was sometimes a remission, if not an intermission of vexation. If ofttimes Satan caught him, then sometimes in the same violence he caught him not. It was no thank to that malignant one, who as he was indefatigable in his executions, so unmeasurable in his malice ; but to the merciful overruling of God, who, in a gracious respect to the weakness of his poor creatures, limits the spiteful attempts of that immortal enemy, and takes off this mastiff
, while we may take breath. He, who in his justice gives way to some onsets of Satan, in his mercy restrains them: so regarding our deservings, that withal he regards our strength. If way should be given to that malicious spirit, we could not subsist : no violent thing can endure; and, if Satan might have his will, we should no moment be free. He can be no more weary of doing evil to us, than God is of doing good. Are we therefore preserved from the malignity of these powers of darkness ? “ Blessed be our strong helper, that hath not given us over to be a prey unto their teeth;" or, if some scope have been given to that envious one to afflict us, hath it been with favourable limitations, it is thine only mercy, O God, that hath chained and muzzled up this ban-dog, so as that he may scratch us with his paws, but cannot pierce us with his fangs. Far, far is this from our deserts, who had too well merited a just abdication from thy favour and protection, and an interminable seizure by Satan, both in soul and body.
Neither do I here see more matter of thanks to our God, for our immunity from the external injuries of Satan, than occasion of serious inquiry into his power over us for the spiritual. I see some that think themselves safe from this ghostly tyranny, because they sometimes find themselves in good moods, free from the suggestions of gross sins, much more from the commission. Vain men, that feed themselves with so false and frivolous comforts! will they not see Satan, through the just permission of God, the same to the soul in mental possessions, that he is to the body in corporal? The worst demoniac hath his lightsome respites, not ever tortured, not ever furious ; betwixt whiles he might look soberly, talk sensibly, move regularly. It is a woful comfort that we sin not always. There is no master so barbarous as to require of his slave a perpetual unintermitted toil; yet, though he sometimes eat, sleep, rest, he is a vassal still. If that wicked one have drawn us to a customary perpetration of evil, and have wrought us to a frequent iteration of the same sin, this is gage enough for our servitude, matter enough for his tyranny and insultation. He that would be our tormentor always, cares only to be sometimes our tempter.
The possessed is bound, as with the invisible fetters of Satan, so with the material chains of the inhabitants. What can bodily force prevail against a spirit ? yet they endeavour this restraint of the man, whether out of charity or justice ; charity, that he might not hurt himself; justice, that he might not hurt others. None do so much befriend the demoniac as those that bind him. Neither may the spiritually possessed be otherwise handled : for, though this act of the enemy be plausible, and to appearance pleasant, yet there is more danger in this dear and smiling tyranny. Two sorts of chains are fit for outrageous sinners : good laws, impartial executions; that they may not hurt; that they may not be hurt, to eternal death.
These iron chains are no sooner fast than broken. There was more than a human power in this disruption. It is not hard to conceive the utmost of nature in this kind of actions. Samson doth not break the cords and ropes like a thread of tow, but God by Samson. The man doth not break these chains, but the spirit. How strong is the arm of these evil angels ! how far transcending the ordinary course of nature ! They are not called powers for nothing. What flesh and blood could but tremble at the palpable inequality of this match! if herein the merciful protection of our God did not the rather magnify itself, that so much strength, met with so much malice, hath not prevailed against us. In spite of both, we are in safe hands. He that so easily brake the iron fetters, can never break the adamantine chain of our faith. In vain do the chafing billows of hell beat upon that Rock whereon we are built; and though these brittle chains of earthly metal be easily broken by him, yet the sure tempered chain of God's eternal decree he can never break. That Almighty Arbiter of heaven and earth and hell hath chained him up in the bottomless pit, and hath so restrained his malice, that, but for our good, we cannot be tempted; we cannot be foiled, but for a glorious victory.
Alas! it is no otherwise with the spiritually possessed. The chains of restraint are commonly broken by the fury of wickedness. What are the respects of civility, fear of God, fear of men, wholesome laws, careful executions, to the desperately licentious, but as cobwebs to a hornet! Let these wild demoniacs know, that God hath provided chains for them that will hold, even “everlasting chains under darkness.” These are such as must hold the devils themselves, their masters, unto the judgment of the great day; how much more those impotent vassals! O that men would suffer themselves to be bound to their good behaviour, by the sweet and easy recognizances of their duty to their God, and the care of their own souls, that so they might rather be bound up in the bundle of life!
It was not for 'rest that these chains were torn off, but for more motion. This prisoner runs away from his friends, he cannot run away from his jailor. He is now carried into the wilderness, not by mere external force, but by internal impulsion ; carried by the same power that unbound him, for the opportunity of his tyranny, for the horror of the place, for the affamishment of his body, for the avoidance of all means of resistance. Solitary deserts are the delights of Satan. It is an unwise zeal that moves us to do that to ourselves in an opinion of merit and holiness, which the devil wishes to do to us for a punishment, and conveniency of temptation. The evil spirit is for solitariness; God is for society: “He dwells in the assembly of his saints, yea, there he hath a delight to dwell.” Why should not we account it our happiness, that we may have leave to dwell where the Author of all happiness loves to dwell ?
There cannot be any misery incident unto us, whereof our gracious Redeemer is not both conscious and sensible. Without any entreaty therefore of the miserable demoniac, or suit of any friend, the God of spirits takes pity of his distress ; and, from no motion but his own, commands the evil spirit to come out of the man.
Oh admirable precedent of mercy! preventing our requests, exceeding our thoughts, forcing favours upon our impotence, doing that for us which we should, and yet cannot desire! If men, upon our instant solicitations, would give us their best aid, it were a just praise of their bounty: but it well became thee, O God of mercy, to go without force, to give without suit: and do we think thy goodness is impaired by thy glory? If thou wert thus commiserative upon earth, art thou less in heaven ? how dost thou now take notice of all our complaints, of all our infirmities! how doth thine infinite pity take order to redress them! what evil can befal us which thou knowest not, feelest not, relievest not ? how safe are we that have such a Guardian, such a Mediator in heaven!
Not long before had our Saviour commanded the winds and waters, and they could not but obey him. Now he speaks in the same language to the evil spirit: he entreats not, he persuades not, he commands. Command argues superiority. He only is infinitely stronger than the strong one in possession: else, where powers are matched, though with some inequality, they tug for the victory, and, without a resistance, yield nothing. There are no fewer sorts of dealing with Satan than with men. Some have dealt with him by suit, as the old Satanian heretics, and the present Indian savages, sacrificing to him that he hurt not: others by covenant, conditioning their service upon his assistance, as witches and magicians; others by insinuation of implicit compact, as charmers and figure-casters; others by adjuration, as the sons of Sceva and modern cxorcists, unwarrantably charging him by a higher name than their own. None ever
offered to deal with Satan by a direct and primary command, but the God of spirits. The great archangel, when the strife was about the body of Moses, commanded not, but imprecated rather; “ The Lord rebuke thee, Satan." It is only the God that made this spirit an angel of light that can command him, now that he hath made himself the prince of darkness. If any created power dare to usurp a word of command, he laughs at their presumption, and knows them his vassals, whom he dissembles to fear as his lords. It is thou only, O Saviour, at whose beck those stubborn principalities of hell yield and tremble. No wicked man can be so much a slave to Satan, as Satan is to thee. The interposition of thy grace may defeat that dominion of Satan: thy rule is absolute, and capable of no let.