John A. MacMillan

B. Childress
Feb 05 2012

The Old Testament introduces us to a multiplicity of gods.  We find mankind from the earliest times adoring its deities
and yielding itself in varieties of methods to worship.  The philosophies underlying these forms of worship were
sometimes noble and lofty in theory, but in practice the trend was to become unspeakably vile.  Among the more
cultured nations of antiquity, such as the Greeks and the Romans, the Eleusinian and the Bacchanalian mysteries were
such that the apostle to the Gentiles says of them, "Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto
lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness," and again, "For it is a shame even to speak of those things
which are done of them in secret" in the bosom of their societies (Ephesians 4:19; 5:12).  And, in the latter part of the
first chapter of his epistle to the Romans, he exemplifies his statement by outlining the descent from the knowledge of
the true God to the indescribable abominations which characterize most of the heathen religions.

He speaks of three great steps downward:

1.  We have the worship of idols, in which they "changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to
corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things" (Romans 1:23).  "Wherefore God also
them up
" (1:24) to become like the idols they sought after, for that is ever the result and the curse of idolatry.

2.  God
gave them up (1:26) to descend below the level of the animals in the abominable crimes of sodomy and
prostitution, bringing on themselves "that recompense of their error which was meet" (1:27) - the corruption of their
moral natures combined with the evil diseases which follow immorality and cause the deterioration of their physical

3.  God
gave them up (1:28 RV) "to a reprobate mind," a morally hopeless state, where the whole mind and nature
become corrupted and depraved.  Such is the downward path of heathenism wherever it exists, its devotees being
devoid of moral truth and spiritual life.  At times a desire for higher things may be traced, but there is not inward or
inherent power to obey the upward impulse.

It is only, however, when we hear the same apostle declaring, "The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to
demons, and not to God" (I Corinthians 10:20) that we realize the true source of the corruption.  Behind every heathen
idol lurks an evil spirit, and the foulness connected with idolatry springs from this root.  The heathen themselves know
this to be the truth.  They will confess readily that they worship not the image of wood or stone or metal, but the spirit
which indwells it.  Few indeed are the idols to which benevolent impulses are ascribed; the majority are feared and
hated by those who worship.  Often the gods are given hideous appearances that they may inspire greater dread in the
fearful worshiper as to their nature.  Such is the Chinese god of war, and the Hindu goddess Kali, the deity of
destruction and death, with her protruding fangs and her necklace of skulls.

The worship of evil spirits, called generally animism, is frequently separated from visible and material representations of
the objects of devotion.  Demons may take as their abode huge old trees, rocks, caves, streams, etc., and cause the
people to worship them there.  What missionary has not come across altars reared at the foot of some ancient banyan
tree, upon which sheaves of incense, renewed as one traveler after another seeks to propitiate the demon of the
stream that he may be allowed to cross unmolested.  Great is the fear of these water demons.  We recall the case of an
English sailor who fell into the West River at the city of Wuchow.  No foreigner was near, and as the unfortunate man
swam from sampan to sampan, trying to get help, he was pushed back into the water by superstitious natives until at
last his strength was exhausted, and he sank to his death in the swift current of the river.

To the heathen the presence of evil spirits is a terrible reality.  The fear of the supernatural rests like a pall over the day
and night.  Someone has compared the native to a restive horse, ready to shy immediately at whatever unusual occurs
about him.  He lives in continual dread, overcome by the belief that multitudes of demons are ever at hand to do him
harm.  In the most real sense his existence is under "the shadow of death."  One African chief asked a missionary,
"Bwana (white man), what do you think I look for each morning when I wake?  It is, 'Who will try to kill me today?'  I am
always on the watch for someone who might do me harm."  The devil is a murderer (John 8:44), and those under his
dominion live ever in the dread of the unknown.

The fetishes that are common to many tribes and individuals are not gods but rather charms to protect them from the
evils they fear.  These fetishes are also, without doubt, indwelt by demon power.  Some of them have the function of
assisting the native in hunting or in trade or in securing a wife.  A striking example is the "life fetish," compounded by the
medicine man or witch doctor from the hair and fingernails of the individuals, combined with other substances.  When
made up, it is taken by the compounder and hidden away, perhaps in the dark jungle or at the bottom of a deep river.  
Thus the life of the owner is guaranteed, for it is hid in the fetish, and nobody knows its whereabouts.  But how much
safer is the refuge of the Christian believer, whose life "is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3), safe for time and for

When we turn to the Bible, we find it acknowledging the supernatural character of demonism in a number of passages.  
The Mosaic Law pronounced death against wizards and witches, not because their art was a mere pretense or
imposture, but because it was a voluntary and real intercourse with evil spirits.  The language of Scripture is too plain
on this matter to be misunderstood.  "There shall not be found among you any one...that useth divination, or an
observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a
necromancer.  For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD" (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).  "Regard not
them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God" (Leviticus
19:31).  "The soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will
even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people" (Leviticus 20:6).

The case of King Saul is set forth as a solemn warning to all who would traffic in any manner with the supernatural (I
Samuel 28:3-25).  We need not go into the sad story of the declension of the first king of Israel; he broke the
commandments quoted above, with fatal results.  It is recorded finally of him, "So Saul died for his transgression which
he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of
one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it; And inquired not of the LORD: therefore he slew him, and turned the
kingdom unto David the son of Jesse" (I Chronicles 10:13-14).  And Isaiah repeats the warning centuries afterward to
the nation: "When they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and
that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God?  for the living to the dead?  To the law and to the testimony: if
they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:19-20).  These direct statements
and prohibitions of Scripture indicate that such practices and such practitioners were known to exist among the nations
surrounding Israel, and that the chosen people were in danger of becoming contaminated by them.

The spiritism of our day does not differ materially from that of ancient times.  The priest of heathendom are often expert
mediums, skilled in intercourse with the spirits whom they serve.  Their paraphernalia differs only in variety from that of
the medium of civilized lands, and practically identical results are obtained from its use.  Similar deceptions are seen in
heathen "fortunetelling" to those which occur in Western spiritism.  But it must never be forgotten that there is a body of
genuine manifestations which have been borne witness to by reliable authorities in both West and East.

Since the advent of Christianity, the testimony of the early Church fathers proves conclusively that demonism continued
to exist in the countries of the Roman Empire.  Possession, apparently so common in the time of our Lord and His
apostles, continued afterward, as is evidenced by the presence in the early Church of a special class of laborers called
"exorcists," whose duty it was to heal, instruct and prepare for admission to membership candidates for baptism who
had been afflicted by "demons" or "evil spirits."

There is an interesting question as to the cause of the surprise and astonishment of the Jews at beholding our Lord
cast out demons.  It is held by some that this was inconsistent with their familiarity with the practice of exorcism and with
the words of Christ Himself: "By whom do your children cast them out?" (Matthew 12:27).  If, however, we examine
carefully the Gospel narrative, the explanation of this seeming inconsistency will become apparent.  For instance, we
read in another place (Mark 1:27-28), "And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves,
saying, What thing is this?  what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and
they do obey him.  And the report of him went out straightway everywhere into all the region of Galilee round about"
(ASV).  Similar language is recorded in other Gospels.

We read also in Matthew 9:33, "The multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel."  There can be little
doubt that the wonder of the people was excited, not so much by the fact of the Master casting out demons, as by the
manner of His doing so.  It was "by authority," by "a word," or in the language of our Savior Himself, "with the finger of
God" (Matthew 12:28).  What amazed  the Jews was the great contrast between the dread and apprehension with which
their exorcists addressed the demons, together with their frequent failures, and the calm dignity and authority with which
our Lord always spoke to them, an authority which was in every case at once acknowledged and obeyed.

There is another important passage of Scripture relating to this subject.  The Revised Version renders the last petition
of the Lord's Prayer, before the final ascription of praise, "deliver us from the evil one" (Matthew 6:13, Luke 11:4
margin).  The same desire appears in Christ's final prayer for His disciples: "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out
of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15).  This rendering seems, from a careful
study of the original, to give the correct meaning of our Lord's words.  It reveals moreover the Savior's recognition of
our present position and its danger.  It makes most real the existence of those enemies whose attacks on us we are
warned to resist (Ephesians 6:11).  The "evil one" - through his hosts of malignant but intelligent agents - carries on a
warfare in which there is "no discharge," but one in which we as reasonable beings are responsible to cast ourselves in
earnest petition upon the care and the power of the Father in heaven for His keeping.  Apart from such petition can we
depend on being kept?


THE AUTHORITY OF THE BELIEVER, by John A. MacMillan, Copyright 2007, WingSpread Publishers.