John A. MacMillan

B. Childress
Feb 12 2012

Biblical Teaching on Demon Possession

To the mind of the Christian believer, no other evidence as to the reality of demon-possession is needed than what is
recorded in the pages of the Word of God, and especially of the New Testament.  There it is clearly stated that
demon-possessed persons were frequently encountered by our Lord, and that He "cast out the spirits with his word"
(Matthew 8:16),  thus manifesting His complete authority over them.  Men, women and children are depicted as being
possessed; no class seemed to be exempt from the attacks of these evil beings.  There were charlatans here and there,
calling themselves exorcists, who claimed to be able to deliver people from the affliction (Acts 19:13), but their methods
were poor and ineffective.  
Only the Lord Himself, and His disciples to whom He committed authority, could
cast out the demons effectively
.  There is a possible exception, in the case of one man whom the disciples reported
as doing so in the name of Christ and whom they would have forbidden because of jealousy for their own dignity.  The
manner in which he obtained his authority is not revealed, but that it was real the objections of the disciples confirm.

A number of instances narrated in the gospels are connected with physical sickness.  The lad at the foot of the Mount of
Transfiguration is said to have been epileptic (Matthew 17:15), a disease frequently confounded with possession.  It is
also called a dumb spirit (Mark 9:17), while foaming at the mouth and grinding of the teeth are mentioned as other
symptoms (9:18, 20).  It is further stated that the spirit at times cast the boy into fire and water to destroy him.  Luke
adds no pertinent particulars but those mentioned are not uncommon in modern cases.

Our Lord, in delivering this boy, addressed the demon as "Thou dumb and deaf spirit.  I command thee, come out of
him, and enter no more into him" (9:25, ASV).  This characteristic of dumbness is referred to several times (Matthew
9:32; 12:22; Luke 11:14).  Other cases of deafness or blindness are mentioned where the influence of demons does
not directly appear.  But that these troubles are often the result of working of evil spirits in our day is undeniable.  
Various types of sickness may also be said to be due to this cause; in fact, the apostle Peter in one place speaks as if
the great enemy were behind all physical ills.  He said, "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and
with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him" (Acts
10:38).  In the Gospels, demon possession and disease are spoken of as separate troubles.  Matthew tells us of one
evening when "they brought to him many that were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with his word,
and healed all that were sick" (8:16).  Peter, however, groups together every form of ailment as the
oppression of the
.  It would be well for those who seek divine healing to bear in mind the strong possibility that, behind the sickness
with which they are troubled, there may lie the hidden working of the enemy.  If we believed this, would we not always
seek first the grace and power of the Lord, even when resorting to physicians?

By the majority of those who have given thought and study to this matter, the demons are believed to be a class of
beings who are disembodied and who are uncomfortable because of their unclothed state.  For this reason they seek
entrance into bodies of human beings; or, if that be impossible, they do not hesitate to enter the bodies of lower
animals.  Still controlled by the physical desires which held them in the time when they were embodied, they can gratify
these cravings only through the organs of their victims.  This will explain the actions of many which are otherwise
inexplicable at times.  For example, a habitually sober person will become temporarily a drunkard under the control of a
possessing spirit; a naturally temperate person may manifest gluttonous tendencies; a moral person may run to sexual
excesses, etc.

This condition may be scripturally illustrated by the case of Dives, the "rich man" (Luke 16:24).  Faring sumptuously
every day during his lifetime, he had died and his soul had been taken to Hades, the abode of departed spirits.  To
"Father Abraham" he asserted that his tongue was parched to the point of torment, and he requested that Lazarus
might be sent with water to cool it.  But it will be remembered that his tongue was in the grave with his body; only his soul
was suffering; yet every sensation of appetite pressed on him with intensity which he was unable to gratify.  The demon,
like Dives, has no physical organs and must become a parasite in the body of a living person, man or woman, in order
to gratify his cravings.

Thus, in the case of the Gadarene demoniac, the expelled demons requested of our Lord permission to enter into the
nearby herd of swine.  Their hold upon the bodies of these animals was brief, however, as they probably vacated their
swinish homes as the water was reached.  A similar and well authenticated story is told of the late Ethan Allen, a minister
whose ability in casting out demons was unquestioned.  Having difficulty in delivering a woman from possession, he said
to the demon, "You can go into my pig, if you will come out of this person."  When he reached home, his wife at once
told him, "Ethan, I don't know what has come over our pig."  "Well, I know," replied Mr. Allen.  "I told that demon he might
go into my pig, but I didn't say he could stay there."  And going to the pen where the pig was dashing itself frantically
against the sides, he commanded the spirit to come out and was instantly obeyed.

We read in Luke 13:11-17 of the relief given to a woman who was bowed down by a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years.  
Doubtless the trouble would be considered in these days a case of spinal curvature.  But the spiritual discernment of
our Lord at once detected the oppression of the devil in what seemed to her neighbors merely an unusual malady.  He
called her to come to the front of the assembly, where He sat teaching, and spoke to her words of comfort and authority,
"Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity" (13:12).  Then His gracious hands were laid upon her, perfectly restoring
her to a normal carriage.  To the objections of the ruler of the synagogue, the Master declared it to be a right and
proper thing that a daughter of Abraham should be thus freed from the power of the enemy on the Sabbath day.  
Evidently quite a stir was created in the synagogue, the neighbors congratulating the relieved sufferer and rejoicing with

The demon expelled by Paul (Acts 16:16-18) was a fortunetelling spirit, common in those days, as also in our own.  It is
spoken of as "a spirit of Python," identifying it with the Roman god, Apollo Pythius, skilled in the pretense of revealing
future events.  The "sons of Sceva" (Acts 19:14) were professional exorcists who met probably with some success at
times by their methods (see Matthew 12:27, "by whom do your sons cast them out?").  But when the demons were
stirred to unusual activity, as they were by the revival in Ephesus, the crude working of these men proved impotent.  
The answer of the demon (for it was really the spirit who spoke), "Jesus I recognize, and Paul I know" (RV margin)
reveals where the true authority lies, even in the risen Son of God.  Those who know His name and walk in the faith of
Him (Mark 16:17) have no difficulty concerning the personality and the power of the spirits of evil.

To enter upon an exhaustive study of the phenomena of demon possession would be too great a task in the space of
this book.  The subject is so broad in its ramifications that no volume yet issued has fully covered it.  Through the ages
past, the "mysteries" of pagan temples - Egyptian and Babylonian, Greek and Roman, Hindu and Chinese - have found
their inspiration in demoniacal sources and their power to control their disciples in demoniacal manifestations.  Today in
heathen countries demonism is mixed in some form with the majority of religions.  Taoism in China is definitely spiritistic;
Lamaism in Tibet is, if anything, more so; India has its "devil-dancers" who are undoubtedly possessed.  In the
Philippines possession is common among some of the pagan tribes of Mindanao, and in other parts.  One of the native
preachers wrote to the present writer, just after he had left on furlough, that the
anitos (medicine men) among the
Manobo tribe had said to him, "Come to us, and we will show you greater miracles than your Jesus can do."

To pursue such a study is fascinating.  Our purpose, however, is merely to indicate what is occurring in this land and to
show the origin of the distress of many children of God who have unwittingly fallen into the snare of the devil.  For it is a
sad truth that Christians have not infrequently been deceived by the enemy.  Accepting falsehoods  presented to them
in various forms, they have suffered agonies of fear and doubt which need never have befallen them if they had been
taught in the Word of God.  The inspiring Spirit has given in the Word clear instructions as to the danger and how to
avoid it as well as how to overcome the enemy in the event of his attacks.  Truth is the heavenly armor of defense and
also the heavenly weapon of offense at all times, but truth must be laid hold of and put into practice.

Upon pastors and evangelists rests the greatest measure of responsibility for the instruction of the flock of God.  It is, in
a special way, theirs to discern the signs of enemy-working and to deliver their people.  It is theirs also to teach and to
warn of the perils which threaten the spiritually minded.  It must be realized that the "heavenlies," into which the saints
are introduced by divine wisdom and grace, are in this present dispensation the habitat of "the power of the air."  The
believer who seeks the deepest experiences of the spiritual life may fall under deception unless he knows that Satan
himself is transformed into an "angel of light" at times and that the archenemy is at home in religious gatherings where
earnest leaders are "ignorant of his devices."

Full "abandonment to God," unless guarded by the knowledge of the methods by which the Spirit of God reveals
Himself, may open the life to the invasion of spirits of darkness.  This statement should be pondered carefully in desiring
gifts and manifestation.  The distribution of such is strictly the function of the Holy Spirit, who divides "to each man
severally [individually] as
He will" (I Corinthians 12:11, emphasis added).  The seeking believer should have his eyes
upon the throne, disregarding specific gifts (unless these are revealed as things which he should "covet" (I Corinthians
12:31; 14:1).  What the surrendered soul must pursue is the will of God as his chief and only aim, being watchful lest his
mind be set on things which might promote carnality and be the issue of self-will.  Many, many are the earnest souls who
have unconsciously given themselves over through an unrecognized envy to grasp after what they have seen in the
possession of others.

The Nature of Possession

Possession is the actual entering into the human body of one or more demons and the holding of the
individual under their control
.  The renewed spirit may struggle against their indwelling, as is revealed by the strong
convulsions spoken of frequently in the accounts in the Gospels.  But freedom seems to be impossible to gain save
through the intervention of a man of God armed with the authority of the Lord.  Even then the demon will usually dispute
the right of the servant of the Lord to interfere with him.  We have heard demons whine, "I will not go; this is my home,"
when they realized that their hold was challenged.  

The difference between possession and obsession is not always easy to discern.  Demons will often seek to hide their
presence, revealing it only when forced to do so.  Usually the patient goes into a coma when the demon is in full control;
in fact, that is the easiest form in which they can be dealt with.  At such times the evil spirit will frequently speak in a
voice which is easily recognizable from that of the one whom he indwells.  Gruff masculine tones have been heard
proceeding from the lips of a delicate woman, the presence of such voices being often a proof of possession when
other signs are absent.

Some Demon Methods

As a rule, the possessed person is unable to speak the names of God or Christ.  In like manner, prayer is frequently
impossible.  In the repetition of Scripture, part of the verse may be spoken until the divine Name is approached, then it
is passed over, and also the pronouns which refer to the deity.  Demons have been known to fear the quoting of
Scripture and to cry, "No, no!" when it was used.  They have used expressions of hate and threatening toward
Christians who were active in seeking to cast them out.

Sometimes their resistance is most violent.  An Alliance pastor told the writer of a case in his congregation.  During the
service of worship, a woman showed certain signs of possession.  At once he left the pulpit and approached her, while
an elder came from the other side.  They laid hands on her, but immediately both were thrown to the floor in opposite
directions.  He warned against laying hands upon persons who were thus bound by the enemy.

Another pastor told of an elderly woman who was visiting at a certain church where communion was being
administered.  When the cup came to her, she said that something black came out of it and passed down her throat.  
This of course was a deception of the enemy, but from that time she insisted that she was possessed.  Prayer and
teaching from the Word would seem to relieve her for a time, but she would soon slip back into the same attitude, and
full deliverance never came.

A young woman from a family in which the mother was a lifelong spiritist told the writers that she and her sister had seen
a hand come down through the wooden ceiling of the kitchen and the ceiling break into flame, so that water had to be
thrown on the fire to extinguish it.  Dr. Nevius tells in his book,
Demon Possession and Allied Themes, of spirits thus
causing fires in China, but we have no personal knowledge of any similar case in this country.

In a singular instance, vouched for by the narrator, the possessed person was beaten by spirits until large
black-and-blue spots appeared on the body, these not being caused by external blows.

A young woman with whom the writer was praying suddenly went into a coma.  The enemy was rebuked, whereby she
came at once to consciousness, but suffered intense pains, first in the heart and then in the spine.  At each recurrence
of pain the enemy was rebuked, and she was shortly completely free, after which she confessed tampering with spiritism.

The Entrance of Demons

How entrance is gained by the enemy is often difficult.  Where there has been contact with spiritism, through the Ouija
board, the planchetta or through the attending of seances, the cause is of course manifest.  Sometimes the indulging in
lustful thoughts, caused not infrequently by suggestion to the mind by the enemy, gives an opening.  It is a truth not
always realized that any willful sin invites every other sin, and when some sin has been yielded to carelessly or
thoughtlessly the sinner may find himself a little later beset with temptation that he may have thought had no appeal to
him.  Thus, when conscience is disobeyed, and known sin willfully given access to the mind and heart, the protection of
truth is weakened or withdrawn and some spirit of evil may gain lodgment.  The wearing of "the breastplate of
righteousness" - not here the righteousness of the Lord, but the willing and doing of the Lord's will in that actions of the
life - is a must for the Christian believer, as is also each other part of the heavenly panoply (Ephesians 6:14).

There are lives so poorly guarded by the will - for the human will commonly can hold the fortress of the life unless
deception occurs - that demons expelled from one person may enter into another nearby.  This is, however, rare in
so-called Christian lands where the gospel is present in a measure of power.

What shall we say of the godly saints who in later life or - sometimes in early years of middle age - come under the
power of the enemy?  The question is a very difficult one, because it is impossible always to get complete facts.  Often
such have yielded to false suggestions as to their spiritual state.  A favorite device of the enemy is to press on the mind
the fear of having committed the unpardonable sin.  Teaching regarding this question is much needed everywhere.  
But, let this conviction gain acceptance in the mind, and in the consequent spiritual terror the defense of faith is let
down and the enemy presses in.  So complete is human self-determination in the wise counsel of the Creator that God's
people are responsible for standing against "the wiles of the devil."  Provision is made for victory that is complete if the
method of the heavenly Guide Book is followed.  But in the pressure of shrewdly directed forces against the soul,
confusion and dismay often overthrow the defenses.  Apprehensive of demonic advantage or conscious of demon
presence, the child of God thinks that grace has been withdrawn and he is delivered to the foe.


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