Home      Back to Lent 3




The Unclean Spirit Returning.
by Isaac Williams
from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days throughout the Year, Vol. I. Advent to Whitsuntide 
Rivingtons, London, 1875 [New Edition.]

Second part of Sermon XXIV. for the Third Sunday in Lent.

 Ephesians v. 1-14.    St. Luke xi. 14-28.


Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than

himself; and they enter in and dwell there; and the last state of

that man is worse than the first." — St. Luke. xi. 26.

(for the first part, on the Epistle.


And now let us come to the subject of the Gospel for to-day.  The account is as follows: Jesus was casting out a devil, and it was dumb.  And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake and the people wondered.  They were “amazed,” says St. Matthew, and ready to acknowledge the promised “Son of David;” it was but natural for an unbiassed mind to do so.  But with others the door of the heart was shut against conviction by envy or some other evil passion.  But some of them—the Scribes, says St. Mark, who had come down from Jerusalem,—said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub, the chief of the devils.  And others tempting Him, sought of Him a sign from Heaven.  To the former, who thus suggested to the people that He must be in league with the devils, our Lord meekly showed that it evidently could be nothing else but the mighty power and presence of God.  But He, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falleth.  This is a common proverb, and of course it must be the case.  If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand?  because ye say, that I cast out devils through Beelzebub.  And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out?  therefore shall they be your judges.  But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the Kingdom of God is come upon you.  It is allowed, even among yourselves, that to cast out evil spirits can only be by the wonderful power of God and in His Name: and it is impossible for you to resist the plain inference that the Kingdom of God is come.  When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace; but when a stronger than he shall come upon him and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.  A strong man, with his soldiers, may keep quiet possession of a palace in which he has lodged himself; but if he is cast out of that possession, and is forced to quit his hold, surely it is obvious that it must be by means of one stronger than himself.  If Satan is overcome and dislodged from the soul or body of any man, it can be by no other than by the Spirit or Finger of God Himself.  And now, therefore, this being clear, no other alternative remains to you, but that you must take part either with Me or with Satan.  He that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth.


Then occurs in St. Luke's Gospel that short warning of the relapsed penitent, which I have considered as the peculiar lesson of this day; it is one of such fearful interest, that, perhaps, nothing can be found to equal it in the whole of the Scriptures, so does it, in a few simple words, lift up the veil from the unseen world around us, showing us what our condition is, and telling us why we are so liable to a relapse, to fall again into a sin once admitted, and why, if this happens, it is so difficult to recover.  Our Lord had first called attention to this point, that if Satan be driven out; this can only be by the power of God; therefore, to attribute it to anything else is without excuse.  But now, what awful consequences follow from this, for if God alone can drive out an evil spirit, it is nothing but the protection of God which will keep him out, and if that protection is withdrawn, he will assuredly return.  We know what watchfulness is necessary in every one that has repented of past sin, and how liable he is to fall into it again without constant care; our Lord has, in a very fearful manner, explained to us how this is.  He says, When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, i.e. the evil spirit wanders about, as one in search of that rest which the wicked seek in vain.  In the meanwhile, the penitent, whom he seems to have left for a time, is perhaps refreshed and comforted by religion; the terrors from which he has escaped with much suffering, urge him to earnest prayer and communion with God.  But at length he again becomes careless, and the love of that sin still lies hidden at the bottom of his heart, and that heart is more and more unguarded.  This his great enemy knows, and again returns to tempt him; looking upon him as already his own, his own house, on account of his former possession.  Then saith the evil spirit, after seeking for rest, and finding none, I will return unto my house, whence I came out.  Oh, the fearful words, “my house!”  And how does he find it? is it guarded on all sides and watched, with every avenue closed against so deadly an enemy?  Not at all so.  The door is open to invite him in.  It is “empty,” as St. Matthew says; the man is idle in the things of religion; no earnest prayers, no alms, or fasting.  Nay, more, he findeth the house swept and garnished for the evil spirit; it not only invites him in, it is all prepared for his return, and furnished for such company.  So that the unclean spirit is not content to enter in alone.  Then goeth he and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in, and dwell there; continue to abide in the man for ever.  There is now no repentance, no amendment, no change, no remorse.  He was once held by one chain, now by seven.  Instead of the seven graces of God's good Spirit, there are the seven deadly sins.  And the last state of that man is worse than the first.  The one sin of youth, if it returns and gains the mastery in after-life, eats out the very heart of religion, and a man, after such relapse, becomes indifferent to God's grace altogether; covetousness, envy, pride, and other sins lodge in his heart, make themselves a very part of it.


Thus our Lord informs us of circumstances in our probation which none but Himself could have told; the effect we know full well of an evil habit returning, but we did not know the spiritual causes of it.  And this, which our Lord here describes as the one unclean spirit returning with seven others, is, in another manner, expressed in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance:” [Heb. vi. 4, 6] and alluded to by St. Peter: “It were better for them not to have known the way of truth, than, after they had known it, to turn away.”


To revert once more to the subject of the Epistle for the day.  I observed that we should read it, on this occasion, by the light of the Gospel, wherein our Lord warns us, in so impressive a manner, of the effect of the evil spirit, once cast out, again returning.  St. Paul, in the passage referred to, may be supposed to explain all those matters in our conduct, wherein our danger will lie of such a relapse.  “I will return into my house whence I came out,” says the evil spirit; on which words an ancient writer of our country, the Venerable Bede, says, “this verse is to be feared, not to be explained.”  And he thinks that a great aggravation of evil in this return of the unclean spirit with seven others more wicked, is apt to be, that it is accompanied with some false appearance of religion, a self-deceiving hypocrisy, by which the conscience is lulled into a false security.  It may be observed that darkness is the word so much applied to it; this darkness implies an ignorance of our own true condition,—this is the great object of the prince of darkness.  This deceivableness and darkness of a state of sin is the subject on which the Epistle especially dwells.


Now, our Lord distinctly says that the unclean spirit enters, on such a relapse, with “seven,” that is, with many others, and takes up in the man his sure and permanent abode.


It is not to be supposed that the man to whom this happens is at all aware of it; he goes on as usual about his business or his pleasure; eats, and drinks, and sleeps, and converses, as other men, nay, with more freedom and ease of speech.  When, therefore, does he come to know it?  I ask in simple earnestness, as of a truth of which Christ assures us.  When does he come to know it?  When does the evil spirit within him allow him to know it, and bring the fact fully to his knowledge, viz.  that he is his?  Not probably on his death-bed.  But when the veil of flesh is removed!


May God of His great mercy keep us, and may we never know so terrible a reality; and, with the Collect for this day, let us beseech Him to “look upon” our “hearty desires, and stretch forth the right hand of His Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies.”  One word more.  If we are at all impressed with what has been said, there is great danger still in our seeing the force, the beauty, the suitableness of all this, and being affected with the heavenly wisdom of Him that thus speaks as from the otherworld, and therein being satisfied.  The Gospel, therefore, is lengthened out into one more lesson of caution.  And it came to pass, as He spake these things, a certain woman of the company lift up her voice, [1] and said unto Him, Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked.  But He said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it.  To admire, to be impressed, to be sensibly moved by our Blessed Saviour's whole demeanour and words, His love for us, and anxiety that we should be saved, this is not enough; we must keep His Word; then shall we be blessed indeed, and so dear to Him, that that wicked one shall never pluck us out of His hand.


[1] On the cause of this interruption, see “The Ministy, 2nd Year,” pp.  169, 170.