The Witness of Evil Spirits to Christ
Acts 16:17
The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God…

This poor slave-girl was subject to some kind of convulsive or epileptic fits. Brain-disease, and the various forms of hysteria, were very imperfectly understood in the olden times. "Nothing was less understood in antiquity than these obscure phases of mental excitation, and the strange flashes of sense, and even sometimes of genius, out of the gloom of a perturbed intellect, were regarded as inspired and prophetic utterances." General opinion associated such forms of disease with possession of some spirit, good or bad; and it is curious to note that the great physician Hippocrates attributed epileptic diseases to possession by Apollo, Cybele, Poseidon, etc. "At this period, and long before, people of this class - usually women - were regarded as prophetesses, inspired by the Pythian Apollo." "As a fortune-teller and diviner, this poor girl was held in high esteem by the credulous vulgar of the town." "The fact that St. Luke, who in his Gospel describes like phenomena as coming from doemonia, evil spirits, unclean spirits, should here use this exceptional description, seems to imply that either this was the way in which the people of Philippi spoke of the maiden, or else that he recognized in her -phenomena identical with those of the priestesses of Delphi, the wild distortions, the shrill cries, the madness of an evil inspiration. After the manner of sibyls, sorceresses, and clairvoyants of other times, the girl was looked on as having power to divine and predict, and her wild cries were caught up and received as oracles." Remembering the well-established doctrine that the Bible is not given as a revelation of science, medical or other, we are able to recognize in this narrative simply the general opinion of the age concerning spirit-possessions, and we need not affirm that either our Lord, or the apostles, in dealing with such cases, seal for us the truth of this explanation of them. In view of the common sentiment, it was not well that such persons should be allowed to witness to the Christian teachers. Their witness may have been true enough, but it was certainly liable to be misunderstood. no wholly satisfactory explanation has yet been given of the devil-possessions recorded in the New Testament, but this much we may fully admit - there was a remarkable accession of spiritual-evil force in the early Christian age.

I. OUR LORD'S TREATMENT OF THESE PHENOMENA. For the apostles followed the example of their Lord. One striking instance may be referred to (Matthew 8:28-34). Our Lord

(1) delivered the victims from the evil power; making this an illustration of his moral and spiritual mission; and

(2) he resisted the association of his work with the witness of disease, mania, hysteria, or evil possession. It was necessary that every association of the conjurer should be dissociated from Christianity. Its appeal is to the sober reasonings of the mind and the normal and natural demands of the heart. The gospel is for men in their senses; and it properly refused then, and refuses still, all testimony from ecstasy, spiritualism, jugglery, oracle, or any unnatural forms of excitation. A truth may be sadly disgraced and misrepresented and prejudiced by its champions, though it does not therefore cease to be the truth. The witness of evil spirits too certainly bears for men an evil tone, so Christ refused to permit it.

II. THE APOSTLES' TREATMENT OF THESE PHENOMENA. Something may be due to St. Paul's personal annoyance at the constant repetition of these clamorous cries, which hindered his work, and very possibly disturbed him when talking in the proseucha. He may also have felt great pity for the poor suffering girl; but no doubt his chief reason for putting forth the miraculous power entrusted to him was the misapprehension of his character and his work which her witness was likely to produce. Men might be led by her to think that he was possessed by some of the gods, or was a messenger of some of the idols, and so his work would be hindered, as it had been at Lystra. We must remember that the apostles' message was directly antagonistic to paganism and idolatry, and they were right in jealously guarding it from so perilous an association with it. Impress, in conclusion, that Christianity makes its appeal to the intelligence, conscience, and affections; and, then and now, it needs, and it will bear with, no adventitious or questionable aids. - E.T.

Parallel Verses
KJV: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.

WEB: Following Paul and us, she cried out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us a way of salvation!"

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