A Sermon Delivered on Sunday Morning, January 10, 1864, by C. H. Spurgeon, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately, and said, “Why could we not cast him out?” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief: for truly I say to you, If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move to that place’; and it shall move: and nothing shall be impossible to you.’ However this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:19-21)
1. The narrative, of which our text forms a part, describes a scene which took place immediately after the transfiguration of our Lord. Not to divorce it therefore from its connection, let us glance at what happened before this event, so that nothing may be lost by negligence, or so that perhaps we may gain something by meditation.
2. How great is the difference between Moses and Christ! When Moses had been forty days upon the mountain top, he underwent a kind of transfiguration, so that his face shone with exceeding brightness when he came down among the people, and he was obliged to put a veil over his face; for they could not bear to look upon his glory. Not so our Saviour! He had been really transfigured with a greater glory than Moses could ever know, and yet, as he came down from the mount, whatever radiance shone upon his face, it is not written that the people could not look upon him, but rather they were amazed, and running to him, they greeted him. The glory of the law repelled; for the majesty of holiness and justice drive the awed spirits away from God. But the greater glory of Jesus attracts; though he is holy, and just, and righteous too, yet blended with these there is so much of truth and grace, that sinners run to Jesus, amazed at his goodness, attracted by the charming fascination of his love, and they greet him, become his disciples, and take him to be their Lord and Master. Some of you may just now be blinded by the dazzling brightness of the law of God. You feel its claims on your conscience, but you cannot keep it in your life. It is too high; you cannot attain to it. Not that you find fault with the law; on the contrary, it commands your profoundest esteem. Still you are in no wise drawn by it to God; you are rather hardened in your heart, and you may be verging towards the inference of desperation: “Since it is impossible for me to earn salvation by the works of the law, I will continue in my sins.” Ah, poor heart! Turn your eye away from Moses, with all his repelling splendour, and look to Jesus, there, crucified for sinful men. Behold his flowing wounds, and thorn crowned head! He is the Son of God, and by this he is greater than Moses. He bears the wrath of God, and by this he shows more of God’s justice than Moses’ broken tablets could ever do. Look to him, and as you feel the attraction of his love, flee to his arms and you shall be saved.
3. How different is the spirit of Moses and Jesus! When Moses comes down from the mountain, it is to purge the camp. He seems to grasp the fiery sword; he breaks the golden calf; he strikes the idolaters; but when Jesus comes down from the mountain, he finds a strife in the camp, as Moses did; he finds his own apostles worsted and beaten, just as Aaron had been defeated by the clamours of the people; but he has not a word of cursing; there is a gentle rebuke — “Oh faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I endure you?” His actions are actions of mercy — no breaking in pieces, but healing; no cursing, but blessing: love sits smiling on his brow, as he touches the poor wretch who is almost dead with diabolical possession, and restores him to life and health. Go then, to Jesus; leave the law and your own self-righteousness, for these can do nothing except curse you. Flee to Jesus, for whoever you may be, there are pardons on his lips; there are blessings in his hands; there is love in his heart; and he will not disdain to receive even you.
4. How much of condescension there is in the manner of Christ! Our Lord, we have told you, had been very glorious on the mountain’s top, with Moses and Elijah, yet, when he comes down into the midst of the crowd, he does not disdain the cry of the poor man, nor refuse to touch him who was possessed with a demon. Observe my Master’s condescension, for he commands respect, and yet his manner softens into pity, and presently it melts into a gracious sympathy, as if this was the only channel through which his peerless power could flow. Then remember, he is the same today, as he was then.
Now, though he reigns exalted high,
His love is still as great: —
He is as willing now to receive sinners as when it was said of him, “This man receives sinners and eats with them”; just as ready to receive you, poor sinners, as when he was called “The friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Come to him. Bow at his feet. His love still invites you. Believe that the transfigured and glorified Jesus is still a loving Saviour, willing to pardon and forgive.
5. Once again, what choice instruction there is in the history! After Jesus had been absent for some time, he came back. You may ask for what purpose he had retired? Evidently he went up into the mountain to pray. It was while he was praying (and I make no doubt, fasting likewise) that the appearance of his countenance changed. By his own personal devotion, and by the Father’s special revelation, he had thus come back, as it were, with great refreshment, to carry on his ministry. Hence we become witnesses of a remarkable power which he immediately revealed, and of no less remarkable counsel which he pertinently spoke to his disciples when they felt their own weakness. Thus we have before us, in our text, a peculiar case — a patient, who utterly baffled the skill of all his disciples, healed at once by the great Master; and we have a reason given why the apostles themselves were not able to deliver him.
6. Let us look for a little while at this very sad case; not so unusual either, I think, but that we may find the same all around us. Then let us notice the scene around the case — the father, the disciples, and the scribes. Afterwards we shall joyfully observe the Saviour’s coming into the midst and deciding all the difficulty; and, lastly, we shall attend to the reason he gives in private to his disciples, why they, before his coming, were utterly powerless to achieve the work.
A Very Peculiar Case
7. I. First, we have before us a VERY PECULIAR CASE.
8. It appears that the disciples had cast out demons of almost all kinds. Wherever they had gone previously, this was their uniform testimony, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us”; but now they are baffled. They seem to have encountered a demon of the worst kind. There are grades in devilry as there are in human sin. All men are evil, but all men are not equally evil. All demons are full of sin, but they are not all sinful to the same degree. Do we not read in Scripture, “Then he goes and finds seven other spirits more wicked than himself?” It may be there is a gradation in the wickedness of demons, and perhaps, also, in their power to fulfil their wicked impulses. We can scarcely think that all the demons are Satans. There seems to be one chief arch-spirit, one great Diabolos, who is an accuser of the brethren — one mighty Lucifer, who fell down from heaven and has become the prince of the powers of darkness. In all his hosts it is probable that there is not his equal. He stands first and chief of these fallen morning stars; the rest of the spirits may stand in different grades of wickedness, a hierarchy of hell. This poor wretch seems to have been possessed by one of the worst, most potent, and violent, and virulent of these evil spirits. I believe, brethren, that here we have a picture of a certain class of individuals who are not only desperately sinful, but subject to extraordinary impulses which carry them to infernal lengths and depths of infamy; they are incapable of restraint, a terror to their kind, and a misery to themselves. All men are sinful, as I have said before; but the power of depravity in some men is much stronger than in others; at least, if it is not intrinsically stronger, yet it certainly has characteristics in some which we have never perceived in common among men. Let us try and pick out the case according to the narrative. How frequently, dear friends, too frequently, alas! have we seen young people who have answered to the description given here. They have had a precocity of wickedness. When Jesus asked the father, “How long has he been in this way?” the answer was, “Since he was a child.” I remember having once known such a child, over whom, paroxysms of passion came, in which his face would turn black. When he was able to run around, and was sent to a public school, a flint stone, a club, a brickbat, anything which might come next to hand, he would throw, without a moment’s thought, at anyone who vexed him. His knife would he drawn from his pocket and open in an instant. The young assassin has often been prevented from stabbing others by a careful hand and watchful eye which guarded him. We have noticed this, I say, in some of the very young. They begin to lie early, and to steal soon, and the young lip even tries to swear, while the anxious mother cannot understand where the child could have learned it. You have protected such a child from all contamination, and seemed to shut him in and surround him with holy influences; and yet, in these desperate instances, as soon as ever the child could know the right from the wrong, he has deliberately chosen the wrong with a violence of self-will and recklessness of consequence altogether unusual. We have seen a few such cases. Oh, may God grant it may never be your lot or mine, to be the parents of such children. Yet such there have been, and such men there are who have grown up now, and the youthful passions of their childhood have become developed; and you may find them with the low forehead and the dark scowling eye, if you will, in our prison houses. Or if you see them in the streets, you may hopefully wish that they may he in prison before long, for they are unsafe abroad. From childhood they seem to have been possessed with this chief of demons, and to have been carried captive by him at his will.
9. This lad seems also to have been afflicted with what is here called lunacy, which was, indeed, only a form of epilepsy. He was constantly subjected, it seems, to epileptic fits; for I think we can hardly understand lunacy to mean anything short of occasional madness. Attacks of such outrageous violence would come upon him, so that there would be no enduring him. He would then dash himself into the fire, or if water was near, he would attempt suicide by plunging into it. We have met with people of this kind, perfectly outrageous and beyond all command, when fits of evil came upon them. I will give cases which I have observed.
10. I know a man now, he may be here this morning: if he is, he will recognise his own portrait. At times he is as reasonable as anyone I could wish to associate with. He enjoys listening to the Word of God. He is, in some respects, an amiable, excellent, and respectable man. But occasionally fits of drunkenness come upon him, in which he is perfectly powerless under the influence of the demon; and while it lasts, it matters not, even when he knows he is wrong, a thousand angels could not drag him from it. He is thrown into the water of suicide, and he will continue in it. You may urge him and reason with him, and you may think — oh, how often have some thought who love him! — he will never do that again; he is too sensible a man; he has been too well taught; the Word of God has had such an effect upon him, that he will never do it again; yet he does; he repeats the old paroxysms, and has done so for twenty or thirty years; and, if he lives, unless sovereign grace prevents it, he will die a drunkard, as sure as he is a living man, and go from his drink to damnation.
11. Here is another case, which I likewise draw from life. The man is kind, tender, and generous — generous to a fault. He has a home — he had one, I ought to say — he had a home, and he was the light of it. No one ever suspected him — that is, in his better times — of any grievous faults; but sometimes — and this has been concealed by many an indulgent friend — sometimes an attack of lustfulness comes upon him, and at such times it does not matter what the temptation may be, nor how foul the vice may be, the man runs into it. If you should meet him in the street, and talk with him, and argue with him, it would be all time and labour thrown away; indeed, I have known him to break up his home, and cross the sea to go to another land, so that he might indulge his vile passions without rebuke, or the restraint of associating with former friends. He will come back again, broken hearted, wondering that he ever could be such a fool; but he will go again. It is in him. The demon is in him, and, unless God casts it out, he will do the same again, deliberately choosing his own damnation. Though he knows it, yet he is so possessed of the love of sin, that when the fit comes upon him, this diabolical epilepsy, he falls into sin with his whole might and main.
12. I might go on describing cases of the kind, but you will not need that I should picture any more; it could only be to vary the different forms of sin. However, let me try one more. A lad had as good a father as a child could ever have. He became an apprentice. It became whispered in a few weeks that little moneys were missing. The father was very grieved, so indeed was the employer, and the matter was quietly hushed up. A little while later, the same thing occurred. The indentures were cancelled, and nothing more was said of it; but the father was severely perplexed. He looked for some other employment for the boy where he might, perhaps, recover his character. After a time it was precisely the same again. Bad companions had gotten hold of him, or rather, he had become a ringleader among other bad companions. Well, something else must be tried. It was tried. He has had twenty jobs, and they have all been terminated for the very same reason. And now, what do you think is his treatment of his parents? Instead of being grateful for the repeated kindness and longsuffering shown to him, he will break out sometimes into such dreadful passions, that even the lives of his parents are scarcely safe; and when he has been in his old haunts a little more than usual, he is really so terrible a being, that his mother who loves him and who weeps over him, would almost as soon see a fiend from hell as see him; for when he comes home, everything goes wrong; confusion is in the house, and terror in every heart; he acts precisely as if he were a madman. They have said, “Send him to Australia, or send him to America” — where they do send many of that kind — but if he goes there he will turn up, sooner or later, at the foot of the gallows; he is desperately set on evil, and nothing deters him. He tears and foams at the mouth with passion; his whole heart goes forth outrageously after anything like vice, and there appears to be not one redeeming trait in his character; or, if there is, it only seems to be subjected to the power of his lusts. He devises means to be more mighty to do mischief in the world.
13. What dreadful cases these are! Why am I talking about them? Dear friends, I have taken them because it has been laying upon my heart to encourage and comfort you who are constrained to carry a daily cross in having such relatives and such children as these. It is one of the heaviest afflictions which can come upon you.
14. In the case before us, the child was both deaf and dumb — not, I suppose, through any physical cause, but through the epilepsy, and the Satanic possession. So we have often seen children — shall I look them in the face this morning, as I stand here? — they are not children now — who are positively deaf to all spiritual sounds. They have been pleaded with, but it is in vain. They know the truth, they know the whole truth, but they do not know its power. They are never absent from family prayer, nor in any prayer are they ever forgotten by their parents. They come to this place; they attend our classes; they go to revival services. Now and then there is something like a little emotion, but it does not come to much; they are precisely similar to the deaf adder which cannot be charmed, charm we ever so wisely. Others of the family have been converted. Nearly all the household has now been brought to Christ. Lydia has had her heart opened; God has been pleased to call young Timothy; but this one remains, and after much anxiety, much effort, much labour, no good has been achieved. The adamant seems as soft as their heart, and the ear of the deaf as much alive to rebuke as is their conscience. This, again, is a very sad case.
15. I meet sometimes, too, with cases of another kind — people who are beset with very high doctrine, who have gotten the devil in them, puffing up their fleshly minds with a vain conceit of sound understanding, and degrading their carnal profession with a loathsome impurity of heart and life. You will talk with them; they will tell you they wish to be saved — would give their right arm to be saved; but it is not in their power. You invite them to believe in Jesus. They have no sense, they tell you, of the need of a Saviour; they are not in a fit state to believe. When God’s time comes, the thing will occur. They love high doctrine; they will hear nothing else except it; but then their Sunday, if there is a temptation which comes across their path, will be spent anywhere except in the worship of God; and during the week they give way to all sorts of sins. Whatever temptation comes, they go after it. The comfort they get from their religion, which they wrap around them like a cloak, is this — that no ministers speak the truth except one or two; that the truth is fatalism; that all they have to do is to be carried along like dead, inanimate logs down the stream, and that they are not at all responsible; or if they are responsible, it is merely to maintain with unflinching hardihood their own crude sentiments. I have seen some of these people — good people in their way too — of whom I have thought that the conversion of drunkards was more hopeful than theirs; for that damnable fatalism, which by some is put instead of the predestination of the Scriptures, has locked them up — put them in an iron cage: and so they are beyond the reach of help, going on still in their sin, rejecting the gospel of Christ, while claiming to be connoisseurs of its choicest mysteries.
16. Now, brothers and sisters, why are such cases as these permitted? Why does the Lord allow the devil thus to fill the soul with sin?
17. I think it is, first, to show that there is a reality in sin. If we were all moral and outwardly respectable, we should begin to think sin was only a fancy. These daring sinners show us the reality of it.
18. It is to reveal the reality of divine grace; for when these are saved, then it is that we wonder, and we are compelled to say, “There is something in this. If such a hard, iron nature still melts before the power of divine love, there must be a majesty in it.”
19. It is to humble us too, to throw us on our back, and let us see how utterly powerless human agency is. When you cannot get in the thin end of the wedge, much less the whole wedge; when the ploughshare breaks on the edge of a hard rock; when the edge of the sword turns against the armour, then it is to draw yourself out of self to God. You see it is a deadly evil, where only omnipotence can help. Your soul says, “Lord, put out your arm! Now do it, and the glory shall be yours.” This is probably the chief reason: it is in order that God may get great glory for himself. He lets the devil have it all his own way. “There,” he says, “pick your own ground, fight in your own territory, manoeuvre in your own way, and, with a word, I will crush your power.” He gives Satan great advantage, lets him entrench himself firmly in the soul from youth up, so that the victory may be splendid to the greatest degree.
20. We have thus before us now, for our sorrowful contemplation, the case of one whose disease mocks the physician, laughs at all human endeavours, and defies the watchful care of mild and gentle treatment to mitigate its force, or ameliorate its fearful symptoms.
The Scene Around
21. II. Now we turn with a passing glance, to LOOK AT THE SCENE AROUND. The company is made up of five kinds of people.
22. There are the scribes — cynics, I think, to a man — “We told you so! We told you so!” they say. “Your Master pretended to give you power to cast out demons. There is no such thing! You cannot cast out demons. Those whom you healed were not truly possessed. Very little was ever wrong with them. Their diseases were in their head, and they believed in you through enthusiasm. The dupes of credulity, your incantations bewitched them, and so they got better. But you cannot cast out a demon — you cannot cast that demon out.” “Now then,” one says of the scribes to Andrew, “Cast it out. Come, Philip, try and see what you can do!” And inasmuch as after all trying, the demon would not go out — “Ah! just so!” they say, “they are impostors. There is nothing to it.” Just recall it, friends, to your own memories, have not you seen men of that kind? “Ah yes,” they say, “the gospel converts one kind of people, such as always go to places of worship, the more intelligent and respectable of the community, but, you see, it is no good in these tough cases. These hardened ones — it cannot touch them. They are beyond its power.” “Aha!” they say, “where is the boasted might of this great physician? He can heal your finger aches; he does not know how to make these foul diseases fly.”
23. Then here is the poor father, all dejected. “I brought him to you — I knew you did cast out demons, and I thought you could cast my son’s demon out, and he would be healed. I am disappointed in all of you. Yet I do think your Master can do it, but I am not sure that even he can. If such excellent apostles, as you are, have tried so hard, and have failed, I do not think there can be any chance for me. I am full of unbelief. Oh, I wish I had never brought my child here at all, to make a public spectacle of him, that he might be a witness to your failures.” That is the poor father. Perhaps that poor father is here this morning, and he is saying, “Ah, I do believe, but still I am full of unbelief. I have brought my daughter; I have brought my child under the sound of the Word; I have prayed, and wrestled with God in prayer, and my child is not saved.” “I brought my husband,” says one good woman, “but he is just as full of Satan as he ever was. I must give it up in despair.”
24. And then, there are the disciples, and they look pitiful indeed. “Well,” they say, “we do not know how to account for it. We cannot tell you how it is. We have said the same in this case that we were accustomed to say in others.” “Why,” one says of them, “when I went around and just said, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of him,’ the unclean spirit always did come out in every other case. I cannot comprehend this. I must give it up.” “We all must give it up,” say the apostles. For some unknown cause, this seems to be quite out of the catalogue of cases which we are commissioned to cure. And so we sometimes hear dejected ministers, after preaching long at such hard shells as these — they say, “Well, we cannot understand it. ‘The gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes.’ Oh, it must be that these are foreordained to damnation; we must give it up.” That is how unbelieving ministers talk — or at least for many ministers in their times of misgiving and chagrin.
25. But then there is the general crowd. They are neither this way nor that. They say they will see what happens. “Come, clear the ring out. If Jesus Christ is not an impostor — if he is God — certainly he can heal this poor man.” Now, here is the test and the ordeal, “If that man is not healed, we,” the crowd says, “will not believe; but, if he is, then we will believe that Jesus Christ is sent by God.” Oh dear friends, how often we have thought of those very hard cases in this way. There are hundreds of undecided people looking on and saying, “Ah, if So-and-So were converted, then I should say there was something in it. If truly he could have a new heart and a right spirit, then I, too, would turn to God with full purpose of heart.”
26. There was a fifth party there, and that was the demon himself. Oh, how triumphant he was! “Ah!” he seemed to say, “try your exorcism; go on with your words; preach at him; pray at me; weep over me; do what you wish, you cannot get me out.” There he seems to stand entrenched within the stronghold of the poor tortured heart. “Do your best, do your worst, I am not afraid of you. I have gotten this man, and I will keep him, I have so fixed myself in him that no power shall ever he able to heal him.” So we seem to hear that vile shriek of hell over some men, “Yes,” he says, “I will trust him to go into Spurgeon’s Tabernacle. I know that thousands there have felt the power of the Holy Spirit in making new men of them, this is a case I can trust. There is nothing that will ever touch him. The great hammer has knocked the chains off of many, but it cannot touch his chains; they are harder than iron, I have no fear for him”; and perhaps he is gloating over his thoughts now with the torments of the man in another world. Ah, you foul fiend! if our Master should come here this morning, you would sing another tune. If he should say, “Come out of him, you foul spirit,” you will go back howling to your vile den; for his voice can do what our voice never could have done. And may we not easily witness such a scene enacted in this congregation? You have the scoffers, you have the anxious parent, the ministry confessedly powerless in the matter; the crowd looking on, and the devil rejoicing that such cases are quite beyond human strength. What more can you want to vivify the picture before your imagination?
The Master Comes.
27. III. But look! THE MASTER COMES.
28. Ah! the Master comes! Immediately the scene changes. The lieutenants and the captains who began the battle did not understand the art of war; they were precipitant and hasty. The right wing was broken; the left began to reel; the centre almost fails. The trumpets of the adversary begin to sound a victory. Here they come — their dread artillery in front. What will become of the army now? Hold! hold! What is it that I see? A cloud of dust. Who comes galloping there? It is the commander-in-chief. “What are you doing?” he says, “What are you doing?” In a moment he sees this is not the way to fight. He comprehends the difficulties of the case in an instant. “Forward there! Forward there! Backward there!” The scales are turned. The mere presence of the commander-in-chief has changed the whole face of the field; and now, you adversaries, you may turn your backs and flee. It was so in Jesus’ case, exactly. His lieutenants and captains — the apostles — had lost the day. He comes into the field and comprehends the state of the case. “Bring him here to me,” he says, and the poor wretch, foaming and tormented, is brought to him, and he says, “Come out of him, you unclean spirit.” The thing is done; the victory achieved; the undecided receive Christ as a prophet; the scoffers’ mouths are shut; the trembling father rejoices, and the poor demoniac is cured.
29. And yet when Jesus Christ came to cure this poor man, he was in as bad a state as he ever could be. Indeed, the very presence of the Saviour seemed to make it worse. As soon as the demon perceived that Christ was come, he began to rend and tear his poor victim. As quaint old Fuller says — like a bad tenant whose lease has expired, he hates the landlord, and so he does all the damage he can, because he has been given his eviction notice. Often just before men are converted, they are worse than ever; there is an unusual display of their desperate wickedness, for then the devil has great wrath, now that his time is short.
30. The struggles of this child are appalling. The demon seemed as if he would kill him before he could be healed; and after convulsions of the most frightful kind, the poor youth laid upon the ground, pale and still as a corpse, insomuch that many said, “He is dead.” It is just the same with many conversions of these desperate sinners. Their convictions are so terrible; frequently the work of the devil within them in keeping them from Christ is so furious that you would give up all hope. You say, “That man will be driven mad; those acute feelings, the intense agony of his spirit will rob him of all mental power, and then in abject prostration, he will die in his sin.” Ah! dear friends, this again is only a piece of Satan’s infamy. He knew, and knew very well that Christ could set that poor young man free, and therefore he sets upon him with all his might, to torment him while he may. Have I any such desperate case among my hearers this morning — one who has been as a son of wickedness among the children of men? Is the devil tormenting you today? Do you feel tempted to commit suicide? Are you urged to some mad freak of yet greater sin in order to drown your griefs and strangle your conscience? Oh poor soul, do no such thing, for my Master will soon stoop over you, and take you by the hand, and lift you up, and your comfort shall begin, because the unclean spirit is cast out. “Ah! he means to destroy me,” says the soul under conviction. No, soul, God does not destroy those whom he convicts of sin. Men do not plough fields which they have no intention of sowing. If God ploughs you with conviction he will sow you with gospel comfort, and you shall bring forth a harvest for his glory. As a woman at her work first plies the needle with its sharp prick, and then draws the thread after it, so in your case the sharpness of sorrow for sin will be speedily followed by the silver thread of joy and peace in believing.
31. And oh, notice it! The vision just now, up there on the mountain of glory, resolved itself into “Jesus only.” His peerless radiance eclipsed every other. So, too, it is “Jesus only,” down here in the valley. His matchless grace can encounter no rival. Keep this for ever in your mind’s eye — it is the Master who did it all. His appearance on the scene removed all difficulties. In such extreme cases, there will be, and there must be, a most eminent display of God’s power; and that power may be unassociated with means. Under any circumstances, it will be the Lord alone doing it, to the praise and glory of his grace.
Why Could We Not Cast Him Out?
32. IV. Now, we come to the last, and perhaps the most important part of the sermon. The riddle is perplexing. “WHY COULD WE NOT CAST HIM OUT?” Let the Master tell us the reasons why these cases thwart our power.
33. The Saviour said it was lack of faith — lack of faith. No man may expect to be the means of the conversion of a sinner without having faith which leads him to believe that the sinner will be converted. Such things may occur, but it is not the rule. If I can preach in faith that my hearers will be saved, they will be saved. If I have no faith, God may honour his Word, but it will be in no great degree; certainly he will not honour me. Abandoned sinners, if converted by means, are usually brought under the power of divine grace through ministers of great faith. Have you observed — there were people who heard all the small fry in the time of Whitfield; they had listened to this preacher and to that. Under whom were they converted? Under Mr. Whitfield, because Mr. Whitfield was a man of masterly faith. He believed that the lost could he reclaimed — that the worst diseases could be healed — that the most heinous, abandoned, profligate, blasphemous sinners could be saved. He preached to them as if he expected the deaf would be charmed by the gospel melody, and the dead would be quickened at the commanding call of the great Redeemer’s name. At Surrey Chapel, over there, in Rowland Hill’s day, some of the grossest blackguards and biggest scamps who ever infested London, were saved. Why? Because Rowland Hill preached the gospel to big sinners, and believed the fact of big sinners being converted. The respectable people of his day said, “Oh, yes! it is only the ragtag, and bobtail who go to hear Mr. Hill.” “Just so,” said Mr. Hill, “and welcome ragtag and welcome bobtail; they are the very people that I want.” “What is the good of such people as they are, going to hear the gospel? Why does Mr. Hill try to preach to prostitutes and thieves?” they said. “They are just the very people,” said Mr. Hill. “I believe that these people can be saved.” It was lack of faith in the others; for if a man has faith as a grain of mustard seed, let it be ever so little, yet, if it is true, it is mighty in proportion to its power. Mr. Hill had the power of faith, and he was the means of the conversion of very great sinners. A few years ago it was utterly hopeless to try and reclaim fallen daughters of sin, but a few men had faith that it could be done, and it has been done; and I will now boldly to say that if there is a great sinner here, such as I tried to describe just now, some gross case of infernal possession, if that person is not saved, it is for the lack of faith in our case. If we have brought that person before God, and have been anxious about his salvation, and God has not heard that prayer, it is because we could not believe it possible that such a case could be saved. If God gives you the power to believe that any soul will be saved, it will be saved; there is no doubt about that.
34. Still, our Saviour added, “However this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” What did he mean by that? I believe he meant that in these very special cases the ordinary preaching of the Word will not avail, and ordinary prayer will not suffice. There must be an unusual faith, and to get this there must be an unusual degree of prayer; and to get that prayer up to the right point, there must be, in many cases, fasting as well. No doubt there is something special about the admonition to prayer, from the association in which it stands. One kind of Christians will use formal supplications; and the petitions they ask are founded upon a sense of propriety, without any glow of feeling. Another kind will wait for the Spirit to move them; and when certain impulses stimulate their minds, they rejoice in a sense of liberty. Yet I show to you a more excellent way. There are those who watch to prayer, wait before the Lord, seek his face, and exercise patience until they get an audience. Such disciples continue in their prayers until they have that experience of access for which they crave.
35. And what is fasting for? That seems to be the difficult point. It is evidently accessory to the peculiar continuance in prayer, practised oftentimes by our Lord, and advised by him to his disciples. Not a kind of religious observance, in itself meritorious, but a habit, when associated with the exercise of prayer, is unquestionably helpful. I am not sure whether we have not lost a very great blessing in the Christian Church by giving up fasting. It was said there was superstition in it; but, as an old divine says, we had better have a spoonful of superstition than a gallon full of gluttony. Martin Luther, whose body, like some others, was of a gross tendency, felt as some of us do, that in our flesh there dwells no good thing, in another sense than the apostle meant it; and he used to fast frequently. He says his flesh was accustomed to grumble dreadfully at abstinence, but he would fast, for he found that when he was fasting, it enlivened his praying. There is a treatise by an old Puritan, called, “The soul fattening institution of fasting,” and he gives us his own experience that during a fast he has felt more intense eagerness of soul in prayer than he had ever done at any other time. Some of you, dear friends, may get to the boiling point in prayer, without fasting. I do think that others cannot, and probably if we sometimes had set apart a whole day for prayer for a special object, we should at first feel ourselves dull, and lumpish, and heavy. Then let us resolve, “Well, I shall not go down to my dinner, I shall stay here.” I feel anxious for a praying frame of mind, and I will remain alone; and if when the time for the evening meal comes we should say, “I feel a little of the cravings of hunger, but I will satisfy them with some very small nutriment — a piece of bread, or something of the kind — and I will continue in prayer,” then I think that very likely towards evening our prayers would become more forcible and vehement than at any other part of the day. We do not exactly recommend this for those who are weak. There are some men with little or no encumbrance of flesh about them; but others of us of a heavy build, with sluggishness for a temptation, have to cry out because we are rather like stones on the ground than birds in the air. To such, I think, we can venture to recommend it from the words of Christ. At any rate, I can suppose a father here setting apart a day of prayer, going on, wrestling with God without any intermission; pleading with him until, as it was said of the famous martyr of Brussels, he would so pray that he forgot everything except his prayer; and when they came to call him to dinner, he made no answer, for he had so gotten out of all earthly things in his wrestling with the angel, that he could not think of anything besides. Such a man taking up the case of a gross sinner, I believe, would be the means of that sinner’s conversion; and the reason why some are never brought to Christ, is, speaking after the manner of men, because we have not gotten the qualified men to deal with them; for “this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” When we have prayed, and have reached the point of true faith, then the sinner is saved by the mighty power of God, and Christ is glorified. I think I have some in this house who are ready to say, “Well, if such is the case, I will try it. I will take the Master at his word.” Brother, brother, if half a dozen of us joined together, it might be better; indeed, “If two agree as touching any one thing,” it would be done. Let some of us put it to the test upon some big sinner, and see whether it does not come true. I think I may fairly ask you who are lovers of souls, who have eyes which do weep, and hearts which can feel, to try my Master’s prescription, and see if the most unmanageable demon which ever took possession of a human heart, is not driven out, as the result of prayer and fasting, in the exercise of your faith. May the Lord bless you in this thing and may he bring us all to trust in Jesus by a saving faith. To him be glory, for ever and ever. Amen.