With this observation we may conclude our brief remarks upon witchcraft, as the word occurs in the Scripture; and it now only remains to mention the nature of the demonology, which, as gathered from the sacred volumes, every Christian believer is bound to receive as a thing declared and proved to be true.
And, in the first place, no man can read the Bible, or call himself a Christian, without believing that, during the course of time comprehended by the divine writers, the Deity, to confirm the faith of the Jews, and to overcome and confound the pride of the Heathen, wrought in the land many great miracles, using either good spirits, the instruments of his pleasure, or fallen angels, the permitted agents of such evil as it was his will should be inflicted upon, or suffered by, the children of men. This proposition comprehends, of course, the acknowledgment of the truth of miracles during this early period, by which the ordinary laws of nature were occasionally suspended, and recognises the existence in the spiritual world of the two grand divisions of angels and devils, severally exercising their powers according to the commission or permission of the Ruler of the universe.
Secondly, wise men have thought and argued, that the idols of the Heathen were actually fiends, or rather, that these enemies of mankind had power to assume the shape and appearance of those feeble deities, and to give a certain degree of countenance to the faith of the worshippers, by working seeming miracles, and returning, by their priests or their oracles, responses which " palter'd in a double sense " with the deluded persons who consulted them. Most of the Fathers of the Christian church have intimated such an opinion. This doctrine has the advantage of affording, to a certain extent, a confirmation of many miracles related in pagan or classical history, which are thus ascribed to the agency of evil spirits. It corresponds also with the texts of Scripture; which declare that the gods of the Heathen are all devils and evil spirits ; and the idols of Egypt are classed, as in Isaiah, chap. xix. verse 3, with charmers, those who have familiar spirits, and with wizards. But, whatever licence it may be supposed was permitted to the evil spirits of that period—and although, undoubtedly, men owned the sway of deities who were, in fact, but personifications of certain evil passions of humanity, as, for example, in their sacrifices to Venus, to Bacchus, to Mars, etc, and, therefore, might be said, in one sense, to worship evil spirits— we cannot, in reason, suppose that every one, or the thousandth part of the innumerable idols worshipped among the Heathen, was endowed with supernatural power; it is clear, that the greater number fell under the description applied to them in another passage of Scripture, in which the part of the tree burnt in the fire for domestic purposes is treated as of the same power and estimation as that carved into an image, and preferred for Gentile homage. This striking passage, in which the impotence of the senseless block, and the brutish ignorance of the worshipper, whose object of adoration is the work of his own hands, occurs in the 44th chapter of the prophecies of Isaiah, verse 10, et seq. The precise words of the text, as well as common sense, forbid us to believe that the images so constructed by common artisans, became the habitation or resting-place of demons, or possessed any manifestation of strength or power, whether through demoniacal influence or otherwise. The whole system of doubt, delusion, and trick, exhibited by the oracles, savours of the mean juggling of impostors, rather than the audacious intervention of demons. Whatever degree of power the false gods of Heathendom, or devils in their name, might be permitted occasionally to exert, was unquestionably, under the general restraint and limitation of Providence; and though, on the one hand, we cannot deny the possibility of such permission being granted, in cases unknown to us, it is certain, on the other, that the Scriptures mention no one specific instance of such influence, expressly recommended to our belief.
Thirdly, as the backsliders among the Jews repeatedly fell off to the worship of the idols of the neighbouring Heathens, so they also resorted to the use of charms and enchantments, founded on a superstitious perversion of their own Levitical ritual, in which they endeavoured by sortilege, by Teraphim, by observation of augury, or the flight of birds, which they called Nahas, by the means of TJrim and Thummim, to find as it were a byroad to the secrets of futurity. But for the same reason that withholds us from delivering any opinion upon the degree to which the devil and his angels might be allowed to countenance the impositions of the Heathen priesthood, it is impossible for us conclusively to pronounce what effect might be permitted by supreme Providence, to the ministry of such evil spirits as presided over, and, so far as they had liberty, directed, these sinful enquiries among the Jews themselves. We are indeed assured from the sacred writings, that the promise of the Deity to his chosen people, if they conducted themselves agreeably to the law which he had given, was, that the communication with the invisible world would be enlarged, so that, in the fulness of his time, he would pour out his spirit upon all flesh, when their sons and daughters should prophesy, their old men see visions, and their young men dream dreams. Such were the promises delivered to the Israelites by Joel, Ezekiel, and other holy seers, of which St. Peter, in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, hails the fulfilment in the mission of our Saviour. And on the other hand, it is no less evident that the Almighty, to punish the disobedience of the Jews, abandoned them to their own fallacious desires, and suffered them to be deceived by the lying oracles, to which, in flagrant violation of his commands, they had recourse. Of this the punishment arising from the Deity abandoning Ahab to his own devices, and suffering him to be deceived by a lying spirit, forms a striking instance.