He was casting out a devil, and it was dumb, and it came to pass that when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake. (Luke 11:14)
As the holy time of Lent begins with the remembrance of our Lord overcoming Satan, so during the course of it we are warned by the church, again and again, of our warfare with the same evil spirit. Last Sunday we heard of an unclean devil being cast out of the daughter of a Canaanitish woman; and by and by, as the week of Christ’s Passion comes on, we shall hear more and more of Satan entering into Judas, and continuing to do Christ all the mischief he could. And on the third Sunday again we are told of a very remarkable case, a very signal blow struck in the warfare betwixt our Savior and our enemy.
Jesus was casting out a devil, and it was dumb; the evil and malicious one delights in undoing God’s work in every way, and in spoiling God’s gracious gifts. Speech is one of the best of his outward gifts. It is one chief mark by which mankind are distinguished from the beasts that perish. No wonder then if Satan take pleasure in tying men’s tongues, and taking away the use of them; and no wonder if our merciful Redeemer, who came to undo Satan’s work in all things, was ever ready to restore speech to the unhappy creatures whom he found so afflicted.
But this was not all the meaning of the miracle. As every one of Christ’s mighty works, wrought on men’s bodies, was a token of good done to their souls, so we may be sure was this, of giving speech to the dumb. Neither is it hard to see what particular spiritual good it signifies. The devil, though he be not often allowed to take away our natural gift of speech, is yet evermore busy in making us dumb towards God.
First and chiefly, he will if he can make the hearts of Christians so stupid and dull as concerning Heavenly things, that they shall never readily move their tongues in prayer; they shall be most unwilling to learn the good lessons which the holy church would teach them, and if they have been taught they will make all haste to forget them. Alas, there are, I fear, but few of us who do not know too much of this sad kind of dumbness; few who have not too often felt a strange backwardness, even when there was a real call to say something of God and Christ and eternity. I know indeed that very often it is far better to keep silence on holy things; we feel, it may be, that we are not the persons to speak, or that our speaking would very likely do more harm than good. There is a natural shyness and modesty, tying the tongue, and hindering it from saying anything, even on those matters of which the heart is most full. All this is very well; it is fear and reverence, not carelessness and dullness of heart; it is to be improved and encouraged, not to be blamed. But when we have made the best of it, surely we must needs own that our silence is often of a very irreligious kind. We say no good words because we have no good thoughts to express. We neglect to join in good prayers because we are not trying to pray in heart. We give no good advice because we do not really care how people are going on. When good advice is given to us we make no answer, because we had rather not hear it. All such cases are but too plain tokens of the power which the evil spirit has still over us. There is need of Jesus to come near and cast him out. We must try and pray better than we do at present; we must make the most of all the good thoughts and notions, which he at any time may graciously put into our minds; and we must put ourselves in the way of being helped by the prayers of the church, and of all our good friends and acquaintance.
Oftentimes such a deadness as this towards God is joined with a kind of sullenness towards one another. Sullen, peevish silence, the kind of behavior which grown people so often complain of in children, is unhappily no rare thing among grown people themselves. We feel how provoking it is, when children or servants, or any whom we have to correct, know perfectly well that certain words ought to be spoken, the truth to be told, a fault to be confessed, pardon to be asked, kind things said instead of unkind ones, and they cannot find in their hearts to say those words. If they would but do so, they would set all right in a moment, but they will not do so, they will rather go on for half hours, and hours, and sometimes for days, feeding and cherishing bitter thoughts, which make both themselves and all around them unhappy. I wish it were only young children that do so; but who has not felt to his cost, that Christian men and women, long after Confirmation and Communion, too often allow themselves in the same dark and miserable tempers; and if we are provoked with children for doing so, how much more provoking, think you, must it be to Almighty God, the God of Love, and to all the blessed and loving spirits in Heaven, to behold us so practicing the lessons of the evil and sullen spirit? Perhaps something has happened to vex us, and we know in our hearts that one grave and gentle word would very likely set all to rights; but we have not the heart to speak that word; we rather go on for days, perhaps for weeks, brooding over the thing in silence, disquieting every one by our gloomy looks and ways. What is this, but a dumb spirit? the evil one unseen at our side, whispering that to be, or seem, good natured just then, would be a poor unmanly thing, and so for our pride’s sake he prevails on us to go on in that wretched mind, instead of going at once to Jesus, who we know would cast him out with a word, and enable the dumb to speak, and make all peaceful and contented again.
Again, it is an evil and dangerous silence, a dumbness which comes of the bad spirit, when persons have done wrong, and ought to confess it, and refuse to do so. You know, my brethren, what merciful promises are given in many places of Holy Scripture to those who come before God in penitent confession. “Whoso covereth his sins shall not prosper, but he that confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13) “I said, I will confess my sins unto the Lord, and so thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:6) “David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord; and Nathan said unto David, the Lord also bath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” (2 Samuel 12:13) And accordingly the church instructs us all to come daily to Christ’s footstool, owning our sins as humbly and as truly as we can. And so we all do in words, when we use the general confession, which begins, “Almighty and most Merciful Father;” or when we say the Fifty-First Psalm, or any other prayer of the like penitential meaning. But it is very plain that we may use those humble words without being humbled in heart. The rest of the congregation saying them with us, they put us to no particular shame. It is therefore a very great help to our contrition, and a very good sign of its truth, when God by his providence calls us to a more exact and particular confession, a confession to man also, and we dutifully obey the call. And this happens not seldom; among other ways it happens as often as people are suspected of somewhat wrong, and are called to account for it, and put by excuses, and frankly own themselves in the wrong. As long as they refuse to do so, they are plainly guilty of two great sins, stubbornness and falsehood; of course then they are in the power of an evil spirit; a devil has the mastery of them and makes them dumb; but when our Lord comes to them, and touches their hearts by his grace, and they happily attend to his call, and are ready to acknowledge their fault, not to him only, but to those also who call them to account here on Earth, this is like Jesus casting out the dumb and deaf spirit; their honest and humble confession is a sure token of a great blessing which God intends for them. My brethren, I wish we thought more of this; it is so very seldom that we take courage manfully to own the transgressions we have committed, without unduly hiding or softening things; we are so very ready and sharp with our excuses, so quick in perceiving how we may hide some portion at least of our guilt, so little scrupulous in laying the blame on others. What are our confessions towards God better than a mockery of him, if we prove so false and hypocritical and cowardly, when it is our duty to confess to man? We never think our servants or children truly penitent for any fault they have been guilty of, if we find their confessions in any sense untrue. How then dare we think of satisfying God by untrue confessions? O that we would open our hearts frankly to the gracious influence of that Savior, who alone can say with power, “Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more.” None of us can say how much good it might do him, how great a blessing it might win him from the Almighty, if he would simply force himself to be quite honest when he has a fault to acknowledge.
Other kinds of evil silence might be mentioned, as when persons out of cowardice or sloth, neglect to reprove or instruct those committed to their charge: or when, out of envy, they refuse to join in praise or approbation of any one. But let us now consider the happy change when the Lord of spirits comes with authority and power, and commands even the dumb spirit, and he departs. Presently the mouth which had been closed in cold, in devout silence, is opened, and the tongue loosed, and the man speaks and praises God. Before, he might go to church Sunday after Sunday, and never take any part in the devotions of Christ’s people; now he devoutly prays with them when they pray, joyfully sings with them when they sing, reverently repeats with them the articles of the Christian Faith. Before, when cheerful discourse was going on, good and merry hearts were overflowing with a grateful sense of God’s mercies, the man took no part in it; for why? He was full of dissatisfied, discontented thoughts; nothing pleased him, because he had not made up his mind to submit his own will to the Will of God. Now God’s grace has taught him better; he has learned to be pleased with what pleases his Maker; he no longer sits like Nabal, churlish and moody in the midst of comfort and refreshment; he is not too proud to acknowledge the overflowing bounty and goodness of his Savior. Whereas before he hardened himself against all acknowledgement of sin, now he humbly confesses it; confesses that when he went wrong, it really was his own fault, his own grievous fault, and takes reproof and hard usage as things which he must expect, because he has too richly deserved them. Before, being as it were tongue-tied by the bad spirit of sloth, he cared not what serious duties he left undone, in the way of warning, instructing, comforting his brethren; persons all around him were left to take their chance, because he felt as if he could not bring himself to utter in season one grave and charitable word. Now he is ever on the watch to do good, and to speak a word in season; using all the while deep reverence and Godly fear. In all these ways, and more, the presence of the great Healer, makes itself manifest; the tongue, the best member that man has, being delivered from the enemy, and put to the best use. The change perhaps is more striking, and more talked of, when one who had been used to bad words, to swearing, or filthy talking, or ill-natured slander, visibly and openly repents and turns from that sin. The change in that case may be more striking, but it is not surely at all more wonderful. A peevish sullen silence is often harder to be cured, than any custom of bad words; and when it is cured, is too apt to return, if people do not earnestly watch and pray against it.
Finally, inasmuch as these faults of the tongue, and their respective amendments, are more within other people’s knowledge than many other parts of a man’s character, it concerns us much to have the right thoughts concerning them, when we see others either the worse for them, or the better. And on this again our Lord, in this day’s gospel, gives us ample instruction. Observe how differently the people behaved who were present when he healed the dumb man possessed with a devil. First, it is said, the people wondered. They were astonished at what they saw, and there was an end. Let us be ware of such barren, useless astonishment, when we are standing by and seeing Christ’s works. At one time or another, we have often the comfort of seeing, how much better such and such persons are going on than they formerly did; and we are very apt to remark upon it; but never let such a thing pass, I beseech you, without our saying seriously to ourselves, we too have our faults, many and great; and the same grace which cured these, will cure ours also, if we ask for it in earnest.
Again, when our Lord cast out the dumb spirit, the multitude not only marveled at it, but they added as the truth was, “Is not this the Son of David?” That is, they became sensible of the immediate presence of an infinitely holy and Heavenly being, their Savior, and it filled them with deep awe, with adoring love. Let us make the same use of every amendment we notice in others. Let it be a sign and token to us that Christ is really in all our conversations and companies, waiting to do us good, to hallow our words, to make our tongues really the best members that we have. He is always walking and discoursing in a spiritual inward way with us as he was with the two disciples, though as yet our eyes, like theirs, are holden that we cannot know him. But we may know him, as really present, by faith, and knowing him, how can we help watching our words, as in his hearing, continually?
Again, some were so recklessly obstinate, as even to attribute Christ’s miracles to the help of a bad spirit; as if Satan should cast out Satan. This, to be sure, was the extreme of folly and spite; but be assured my brethren, that we go some way towards it, as often as we put cold, uncharitable interpretations on any seeming improvement in our neighbor’s conduct. You shall hear people sometimes say scornfully, “How good such a person is grown!” Take you care of such words, such tones, lest perchance you be mocking and trifling with God’s grace. Alas! how shall we answer for it in the last day, if our Lord’s healing our brother, in our sight, made us worse instead of better ?