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The spirit which led men to substitute other mediators for Christ is cast out, but he comes back in the shape of a spirit which denies that there is any true and real propitiation in the Death of Christ.
And he brings back with him, rather he may bring back with him, seven other spirits more wicked than himself.
He comes back with the spirit of mammon and covetousness, as exhibited in mercantile gambling, in adulteration even of the food of man such as no previous age has ever witnessed.
He comes back with the spirit of factiousness and schism. He comes with the spirit of outrageous fanaticism, which makes heaven to be won by one short violent spasm of the soul, and then the soul is safe for ever.
He comes back with the spirit of uncleanness, adultery, and fornication, so that the unchastity of our villages and the prostitution of our towns has never been so hideous as at present.
He comes back with the spirit of irreligion in the masses; for though we see in a town like this much church and chapel going, we are to remember that those who totally throw off all semblance of respect for religion are in our large towns to be counted by hundreds of thousands; and in the metropolis they who, so far as neglect of ordinances can make them so, are absolute heathen, amount to more than a
million of immortal souls. Why am I recounting these terrible things? Simply to impress. upon you that, however little we may think so, our own generation may be like that to which the Incarnate Word of God said, "Then taketh he to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there, so the last state shall be worse than the first -"even so shall it be to this evil generation."
So that we should boast the less, and humble ourselves the more, and pray God more fervently to "take not His Holy Spirit from us."
And now, my brethren, to apply this to ourselves as individuals-as we must; for the parable describes the woeful state of an individual man, though Christ applies it to a generation of men. It teaches us, then, that there may be reformation, and yet no true abiding godliness.
The evil spirit may be to all appearance exorcised. The man who has spent a profligate youth may become settled in life: he has children looking up to him, or dependents, or has a position to maintain, and so he must live soberly and respectably.
The spirit of profane swearing, of Sabbathbreaking, of outward profligacy, of manifest contempt for religion, is cast out, but the spirit of mammon, of selfishness, of worldliness, of formality, perhaps of hypocrisy, enters into him, and at last, when the man is called to his
account, he is further from God than at the first. We have not time to dwell upon this. It is better perhaps not. It is better to suggest a matter that may lead to searching of heart in each particular case. Only remember what I have said, and your common sense and knowledge of Scripture must convince you of its truth, that the very pith and kernel of this parable is, that a generation with a very fair religious outside in such matters as respect for the letter of God's word, shunning outward idolatry, attendance at public worship, and the strictest observance of the Sabbath-that such a generation is yet compared by the heart-searching Judge to a man in whom dwelt eight evil spirits, instead of but one as at the first.
And now, my brethren, how is this awful conclusion to be warded off? You see the house was swept, that is, the filth that met the eye was removed, and it was garnished—garnished by ornaments which betokened nothing, only hid bareness and nakedness; so that the sweeping and the garnishing made it the more fit and ready for the evil tenant and his seven companions. Well, then, ought we not to sweep our hearts from filth? Yes. Ought we not to garnish our lives by profession and outward religion? Certainly. There cannot be inward religion without outward, though there may be outward without inward.
Well, then, what security against the return,
the relapse, the sevenfold death? Now here the words of the Saviour as reported in St. Matthew must be remembered, for St. Matthew gives one little word which St. Luke omits. The evil spirit when he came back from his wanderings found the house "empty," swept, and garnished. The one thing that can keep the human soul from the indwelling of the evil spirit is the indwelling of another spirit; and what is this spirit? Is it the spirit of purity, of benevolence, of righteousness? It is more than this. Is it the spirit of religion? It is more than this. For just as the Saviour describes the evil spirits as personal beings who take possession of the man's soul and dwell there, so He describes the only Spirit which can fill the heart and keep these evil beings out of it as a Person-a Person in the Trinity-God the Holy Ghost. What a tremendous alternative is here! Our souls cannot be empty, our souls cannot be tenantless. They must have dwelling in them some evil spirit of unbelief, falsehood, uncleanness, murder, adultery, dishonesty, covetousness, selfishness, or they must have dwelling in them a Person of the Trinity -the Spirit not of religion merely, or of truth merely, or of goodness and righteousness merely, but the Spirit of God-the Spirit whom the Lord promised that He would send after He ascended -the Spirit which proceeds from His Father and from Himself.
This, then, is our one work. To have and to hold, and to retain, and to increase in, the Spirit of God.
For if we will allow Him, He will fill the habitation of our souls.
And let us not think that it is presumption to ask to be filled with Him. St. Paul speaks it as a command which we ought to obey, "Be filled with the Spirit." Let us then see to it that we in very deed pray for the Spirit of God, with all our hearts as well as with our lips, for our Saviour teaches us in this parable that it is a matter of life and death. Seven times each Sunday at least do we ask for Him with our lips. When in absolution we pray God to give us "true repentance and His Holy Spirit." When we pray God to "make clean our hearts within us, and not to take His Holy Spirit from us." When we pray God to "endue us with the grace of His Holy Spirit to amend our lives." When in the well-known " grace we pray for the "communion of the Holy Ghost." When we pray Him to "cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit." When we pray for all bishops and curates and congregations, that God would send down upon them the healthful Spirit of His grace; and when we pray that God's Church may be "so guided and governed by His Good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth."