We last spoke of Jesus’ message in so far as it proclaimed the kingdom of God and its coming. We saw that it runs through all the forms in which the prophecy of the day of judgment is expressed in the Old Testament, up to the idea of an inward coming of the kingdom then beginning. Finally we tried to show why the latter idea is to be regarded as the dominant one. Before examining it more closely, however, I should like to draw your attention to two particularly important expressions of it, lying between the extremes of the “day of judgment” and the “inner coming.”
In the first of them, the coming of the kingdom of God signifies that the kingdom of the devil is destroyed and the demons vanquished. Hitherto it is they who have been ruling; they have taken possession of men and even of whole, nations, and forced them to their will. Jesus not only declares that he is come to destroy the works of the devil, but he actually drives out the demons and releases men from their power.
Let me here digress a little from our subject. Nothing in the Gospels strikes us as stranger than the frequently recurring stories of demons, and the great importance which the evangelists attach to them. For many among us the very fact that these writings report such absurdities is sufficient reason for declining to accept them. Now in this connexion it is well to know that absolutely similar stories are to be found in numerous writings of that age, Greek, Roman, and Jewish. The notion of people being “possessed” was current everywhere; nay, even the science of the time looked upon a whole section of morbid phenomena in this light. But the consequence of these phenomena being explained as meaning that some evil and invisible power had taken possession of a man was that mental affections took forms which looked as if an alien being had really entered into the soul. There is nothing paradoxical in this. If modern science were to declare nervous disease to consist, in great part, of “possession,” and the newspapers were to spread this announcement amongst the public, the same thing would recur. We should soon have numerous cases in which nervous patients looked as if they were in the grip of an evil spirit and themselves believed that they were so. Theory and belief would work by suggestion and again create a class of “demoniacs” amongst the insane, just as they created them hundreds, nay thousands, of years ago. It is unhistorical and foolish to attribute any peculiar notion or “theory” about demons and the demoniac to the Gospels and the evangelists. They only shared the general notions of their time. The forms of mental disease in question are of rare occurrence nowadays, but nevertheless they are not yet quite extinct. Where they occur the best means of encountering them is to-day, as it was formerly, the influence of a strong-personality. It manages to threaten and subdue the “devil” and so heal the patient. In Palestine “demoniacs” must have been particularly numerous. Jesus saw in them the forces of evil and mischief, and by his marvellous power over the souls of those who trusted him he banished the disease. This brings us to the second point.