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THE BELIEVER PRAYING FOR AN INCREASE OF HIS FAITH.
MARK IX. 24.
And straitway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears,
Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
The beginning of this chapter relates Christ's transfiguration on the mountain in the presence of three of his disciples. While he was there, a man sought him to obtain a cure for his only son, who was afflicted with a grievous distemper, and possessed with an evil spirit. Disappointed in not finding Jesus himself, the man applied to the nine disciples there present, who attempted to heal the lad, but without success. When Jesus came down into the plain, he saw his disciples surrounded by a multitude, and engaged in a dispute with the scribes; and he demanded of the latter what was the subject of their debate. “Then one of the multitude said to him, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, who hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him, so that he foameth and gnasheth with his teeth and pineth away; and I spake to thy disciples, that they should cast him out, and they could not.” It hence appears, that the scribes had been disputing with the disciples about the cure of this youth, which had been attempted in vain. They probably insulted the disciples on their failure, and alleged that here was a spirit too stubborn for them, or their master to conquer. The disciples, on the contrary, doubtless affirmed, that, though they had failed, yet their Lord would not fail to cast him out. As Christ had often given plain demonstrations of his Divine power, the cavils of the scribes led him to reprove them and expostulate with them in the following words, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you ?" Have you not seen my power over evil spirits in times past? How long must I work miracles in your presence, before you will be convinced? How long must I endure your perverseness and incredulity ? To give fresh demonstration of his power, Christ now commanded the youth to be brought to him. At this instant the lad was afflicted with most violent convulsions. Jesus enquired of the father, how long his son had been in this unhappy condition ; and was informed, that this disorder had attended him from his childhood. “But," says the father, “if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us and help us.” The continuance of his son's disorder; the dreadful symptoms attending it, and the unsuccessful attempt of the disciples made him much afraid, that no help could be found. He therefore expressed his hope in terms which imparted a mixture of diffidence. “If thou canst do it.” In allusion to his diffident manner of speaking, Christ says, “ If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” It is as if he had said, “I exert my miraculous' power in behalf of them who apply to me in faith. If thou believest that I am able to do this, thou shalt see it done." The father, hearing these comfortable words, exclaimed with tears in his eyes, “ Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Jesus then cast out the foul spirit, and delivered the lad sound to his father. The disciples, seeing what their master had done, asked, why they had not been able to do the same. , He told them, this was owing to the weakness of their faith, which they must endeavor to strengthen by fasting and prayer.
Having taken a general view of this story, we will now attend to the particular observations contained in it.
I. We may take notice of the great power which evil spirits had over men, before the introduction of the gospel.
This youth is said to have a dumb, a foul and unclean spirit, which by other evangelists, in their relation of this story, is expressly called the devil. Many other cases of a like kind occur in reading the gospel history. It hence appears, that the devil, in those days, had great power to afflict and torment men's bodies.
It has been a question, why possessions and diabolical operations were so frequent among the Jews in Christ's day, when so little is heard of them among other nations, and among the Jews at other times. But the truth is, profane history sometimes mentions such supposed cases among other nations; and therefore we have no reason to imagine they were confined to Judea. And sacred history mentions such a case in Arabia. It ascribes the bodily afflictions of Job to the agency of an evil spirit. Nor were possessions wholly unknown among the Jews in the times preceding our Saviour; for king Saul was afflicted with an evil spirit. Though such possessions are seldom mentioned in the Jewish history, yet we cannot hence conclude, that few or none existed; for even those which appeared in our Saviour's time, would doubtless have been unnoticed, had not the miraculous cures performed by him, introduced them into the sacred history.
It is not improbable, however, that possessions might now be more frequent, than they had formerly been. The Jews, at this period, were much addicted to magical arts; and hence satàn, by the just permission of God, might gain an unusual power over them. The devil might now come forth with great wrath, knowing that he had but a short time. God might give him a more than ordinary latitude as an occasion for the greater display of Christ's superior power.
The design of the gospel is to destroy the works of the devil. Where this prevails, the power of evil spirits is restrained. The prince of darkness flies before the beams of the sun of righteous
The place where ignorance, error, and infidelity abound, is the place where satan's seat is. The god of this world blinds the minds of them who believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel should shine into them.
Where the gospel comes, his power is diminished; but not wholly destroyed. If he does not torment men's bodies with diseases, yet he seduces their souls into sin. He tempts good men. He works in the children of disobedience. But the power which he maintains is supported by men's lusts. If he enters into them, it is because they give place to him. The gospel furnishes us with an armour by which we may withstand the wiles of the adversary; and it encourages us with this promise, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you."
II. We will take notice of the great concern and distress of the man here mentioned, on account of the dreadful disorder which attended his son.
He presents to Jesus his child, deprived of speech and convulsed with agonies, and says, “ I beseech thee, look upon my son, for he is mine only child. Have compassion on us and help us.” He felt for his son-his only child. He shared in his son's affliction. Help us. To help the child was to help the father.
There were two circumstances in his son's case, which were very affecting. He was possessed of an evil spirit ; and he was dumb.
1. He was under the power of an evil spirit, which grievously tormented his body.
Every parent is sensibly touched with the diseases of his children. If their diseases are attended with severe torments, he is affected more deeply.
If he should view their torments as proceeding from the agency of evil spirits, this would be a very aggravating circumstance. Such was the case of this youth ; and who can wonder at the father's solicitude ?
But how much greater concern ought a parent to feel, when he sees his children led captive by satan into the path of vice and destruction; and with how much greater earnestness should he pray for their recovery? You are distressed, when you see your children dangerously sick, and under symptoins of bodily death. Can you look upon them without concern, when they are running headlong in the way to eternal death? Their bodily pains are affecting to you. Are you unaffected at the thought of those endless torments which they are bringing on their souls? If the evil
spirit has no power to inflict diseases on their bodies, yet he undoubtedly has some influence to infuse into their souls the poison of sin, which is the most fatal of all diseases. If they live regardless of God and religion—if they commit iniquity with greediness—if they indulge the lusts of the flesh-if they are vain, proud, obstinate and self-willed, they are under the power of a foul spirit, in a more awful sense than was this youth who was brought to Christ for a cure. And you have much more reason to be solicitous for the removal of this moral distemper, than the father had to seek a cure of his son's bodily disorders. Christ often healed men's bodies. But this was not his main business in the world. He came principally to heal their souls. If this parent applied to him as a physician, do you go and apply to him as a Saviour-implore his grace to rescue your children from the power, and to deliver them from the guilt of their sins.
2. This evil spirit is called a dumb spirit.
The lad's disorders had so injured his organs, that he could not, or so affected his mind, that he would not speak. This was an aggravating circumstance. There is no parent, but who would be much afflicted in the dumbness of a child. But surely to a serious and wise parent it is a greater affliction to see a child pervert and abuse his speaking faculty. If your son should lose the use of his speech, you would spare no cost and pains to have it restored: but are you as solicitous to have him use his speech well while he has it? A youth who is dumb is a sorrowful sight. But a more affecting spectacle is the young man who prostitutes his speech to profaneness, obscenity, slander and falsehood. A parent has more reason to be concerned for the recovery of such a son to the right use of speech, than for the recovery of one to the faculty of speech after he had lost it.
If a child is removed by death, the parent often feels great distress about his condition in a future world. He thinks he could easily submit to his own loss, if he knew his child were in glory. But why are you not concerned, while your child is in health, to train him up in virtue, and assist him in his preparation for glory? This provident care may do him and you some real good. But