The Powers Of Darkness -- By: Edward M. Merrins
BSac 63:250 (April 1906) p. 300
The Powers Of Darkness
For many centuries it was the universal belief of the Christian church that in the course of its earthly pilgrimage the human soul had not only to contend with the pomps and vanities of this wicked world and all the sinful lusts of the flesh, but was also exposed to the more subtle assaults of Satan, and an appalling array of hostile spirits, designated by St. Paul as the principalities, the powers, the world-rulers of this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. During this long period the dread of infernal spirits weighed heavily on the minds of men, and multitudes were supposed to be in their thrall. In fact, demoniacal possession was thought to be so very common, it was the custom of the church to exorcise all infants and adults before baptizing them. The Reformation brought little or no change in this respect. Knox, Luther, and Calvin did not wholly reject the Catholic teaching concerning possession, sorcery, and witchcraft. The Church of England in its earliest prayer-book retained the forms of exorcism, and as late as the sixteenth century a canon of the church forbade any minister’s attempting to expel devils unless specially licensed to do so by his bishop. Of late there has been a great change in Christian thought. In the Roman Catholic Church exorcism still precedes baptism, but otherwise the ceremony, except in secluded corners of the world, is rarely performed.
Among the Protestants, the opinion that the human person-
BSac 63:250 (April 1906) p. 301
ality can be held in thrall in this manner is still held by very many, but it has little influence on the ethical or spiritual life; speaking generally, the belief “has been relegated to the dim, twilight land that surrounds every living faith; the land not of death, but of the shadow of death; the land of the unrealized and the inoperative.” A recent and widely commended compendium of Protestant theology makes no reference whatever to Satan or other evil spirits. Seldom do the clergy nowadays venture to awaken repentance, after the manner of Jonathan Edwards, by preaching fiery sermons depicting the terrors and sufferings of souls in hell, for not many could do so sincerely and without mental reservation, and they know that such discourses have not the same power as formerly to move the hearts and consciences of educated people in their congregations. Yet it seems impossible to consign the subject to the limbo of exploded superstitions. There are mental and physical disorders still to be met with, especially in heathen lands, so closely resembling the manifestations of demon possession as recorded in the New Testament, as to compel attention, and make men wonder whether, after all, there are not mysterious ...
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