Extremes meet here surely. The mountain peak is in sharpest contrast with the valley. The demon seems to be of the superlative degree. His treatment of the possessed boy is malicious to an extreme. His purpose is "to destroy" him. Yet there is a limit to his power, for what he would do he has not yet been able to do. He shows extreme tenacity. He fought bitterly against being disembodied again. (Can it be that embodiment eases in some way the torture of existence for these prodigal spirits!) And so far he fought well, and with success. The disciples had tried to cast him out. They were expected to. They expected to. They had before. They failed! -- dismally -- amid the sneering and jeering of the crowd and the increasing distress of the poor father.
Then Jesus came. Was some of the transfiguring glory still lingering in that great face? It would seem so. The crowd was "amazed" when they saw Him, and "saluted" Him. His presence changed all. The demon angrily left, doing his worst to wreck the house he had to vacate. The boy is restored; and the crowd astonished at the power of God.
Then these disciples did a very keen thing. They made some bad blunders but this is not one of them. They sought a private talk with Jesus. No shrewder thing was ever done. When you fail, quit your service and get away for a private interview with Jesus. With eyes big, and voices dejected, the question wrung itself out of their sinking hearts, "Why could not we cast it out?" Matthew and Mark together supply the full answer. Probably first came this: -- "because of your little faith." They had quailed in their hearts before the power of this malicious demon. And the demon knew it. They were more impressed with the power of the demon than with the power of God. And the demon saw it. They had not prayed victoriously against the demon. The Master says, "faith only as big as a mustard seed (you cannot measure the strength of the mustard seed by its size) will say to this mountain -- 'Remove.'" Mark keenly: -- the direction of the faith is towards the obstacle. Its force is against the enemy. It was the demon who was most directly influenced by Jesus' faith.
Then comes the second part of the reply: -- "This kind can come out by nothing but by prayer." Some less-stubborn demons may be cast out by the faith that comes of our regular prayer-touch with God. This extreme sort takes special prayer. This kind of a demon goes out by prayer. It can be put out by nothing less. The real victory must be in the secret place. The exercise of faith in the open battle is then a mere pressing of the victory already won. These men had the language of Jesus on their lips, but they had not gotten the victory first off somewhere alone. This demon is determined not to go. He fights stubbornly and strongly. He succeeds. Then this Man of Prayer came. The quiet word of command is spoken. The demon must go. These disciples were strikingly like some of us. They had not realized where the real victory is won. They had used the word of command to the demon, doubtless coupling Jesus' name with it. But there was not the secret touch with God that gives victory. Their eyes showed their fear of the demon.
Prayer, real prayer, intelligent prayer, it is this that routs Satan's demons, for it routs their chief. David killed the lion and bear in the secret forests before he faced the giant in the open. These disciples were facing the giant in the open without the discipline in secret. "This kind can be compelled to come out by nothing but by prayer," means this: -- "this kind comes out, and must come out, before the man who prays." This thing which Jesus calls prayer casts out demons. Would that we knew better by experience what He meant by prayer. It exerts a positive influence upon the hosts of evil spirits. They fear it. They fear the man who becomes skilled in its use.
There are yet many other passages in this Bible fully as explicit as these, and which give on the very surface just such plain teaching as these. The very language of scripture throughout is full of this truth. But these four great instances are quite sufficient to make the present point clear and plain. This great renegade prince is an actual active factor in the lives of men. He believes in the potency of prayer. He fears it. He can hinder its results for a while. He does his best to hinder it, and to hinder as long as possible.
Prayer overcomes him. It defeats his plans and himself. He cannot successfully stand before it. He trembles when some man of simple faith in God prays. Prayer is insistence upon God's will being done. It needs for its practice a man in sympathetic touch with God. Its basis is Jesus' victory. It overcomes the opposing will of the great traitor-leader.