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E. W. Barnes on ‘evil spirits’

03 March 2017

March 2nd, 1917

WE HAD hoped that a sermon lately preached by the Master of the Temple had been misrepresented, as sermons are apt to be misrepresented by the compilers of short paragraphs for the Monday papers. But with the text of the sermon before us hope disappears. Our Lord’s language with regard to possession by evil spirits, Dr Barnes considers, must be regarded as symbolism, patient of a crudely literal interpretation, but not demanding it. All that is written of sorcery and witchcraft in the Old Testament may be classed as relics of primitive superstition, which have become embedded in the Canonical Scriptures. Within the last two centuries educated men have come to regard witchcraft and sorcery as worthless imposture. Consequently, when Lord Halifax speaks of the possibility that the “messages” of spiritualism may have their origin in the powers of evil, Dr Barnes considers it necessary to remind him that he is meeting superstition with superstition, resuscitating a dead superstition to discredit a living one. “We cannot again fetter Christianity to demonology. It has been a hard struggle to free our faith from fantastic credulity. Evil is real enough on this earth. We need not personify evil forces, attach them to definite persons, and assume them to give to those persons supernatural evil powers. Such beliefs have at present no sound basis. . . Magic is a curious blend of imposture and delusion.” It is evident that Dr Barnes has no firsthand knowledge of spiritualism, nor of certain other ways in which evil is working today, which he would not have to go far from Cambridge to find. And, as to possession, there are doctors in England and bishops who have worked in India and Africa who might convince him that in speaking of it as He did our Lord was not using “as always, the phraseology natural to His human origin”, and that His words were not “coloured by the mentality of those who narrate them”, guided though the narrators were by the Holy Spirit.


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