This section is from the book "Faith - Healing. Christian Science And Kindred Phenomena", by James Monroe Buckley. Also available from Amazon: Faith-Healing, Christian Science and Kindred Phenomena.
Sir Matthew Hale, in his "Trial of Witches," 1661, basing the conclusion upon the Scriptures, affirms that there is a real supernatural operation of the devil at the request of a witch. John Wesley, who was born only twelve years after the scenes in Salem, wrote in May, 1768: "They well know [meaning infidels, materialists, and deists] — whether Christians know it or not — that the giving up of witchcraft is in effect giving up the Bible." In a letter to his brother, written some years afterward, he declares that he believes all Cotton Mather's stories. His opinions upon these subjects were those of the age, but did not convince his brother Charles, who frequently expostulated with him for his credulity. With the same spirit and in the same way he affirmed it a giving up of the Bible to question various ideas now rejected by the most devout Christians, and did on some points himself repudiate in later periods of his life what in similar language he had condemned others for disbelieving.
An examination of the references to witchcraft shows that onlv the existence and criminality of the attempt to practise it are to be concluded from the words of the Scriptures, The conclusion is not well founded that if there was no reality in witchcraft the prophets and apostles must necessarily have known it; for the Scriptures show that the prophets were limited in knowledge upon a variety of points, many of them closely allied to the religious truths which they taught. They drew illustrations from supposed facts of science, medicine, and natural history, which served their purpose for the time; and in such particulars wrote exactly as authors of to-day, who find their illustrations in the state of knowledge in the age in which they live. Moses declares that " the man or the woman who hath a familiar spirit, or is a wizard, shall be put to death"; and "thou shalt not suffer a witch [Rev. Ver. a sorceress] to live." It is clear that the same law would be needed and the same language would be employed if the pretense of having a familiar spirit, or the attempt to practise witchcraft, were in question. In Deuteronomy xviii., Moses attempts to enumerate all possible forms of occult practices, when he warns the Israelites against the practices of the nations whose land the Lord had given them, condemning " divination," one that prac-tiseth augury, or an "enchanter," or a "sorcerer," or a "charmer," or a "consulter with a familiar spirit," or a " wizard," or a " necromancer".
In the forty-seventh chapter of Isaiah, the Israelites are taunted with the multitude of their enchantments and sorceries, and they are told to call upon "the astrologers, and the star-gazers, and monthly prognosticators " to save them if they can. The astrologers in this passage are " the dividers of the heavens"; the star-gazers, "the reviewers of the heavens"; the monthly prognosticators, "those who give predictions from mouth to month." The word translated " a consulter with familiar spirits " is from a term whose literal meaning is equivalent to that of our ordinary word ventriloquist, drawn from the fact that such persons chirp, mutter, speak as one from the ground, or from the abdomen. The only place where the word " witchcraft" occurs in the Authorized Version of the New Testament is Galatians v. 20, where among the works of the flesh are named " idolatry and witchcraft." Witchcraft is there translated from signifying " enchanters with drugs".
The laws of Moses and the maledictions of the prophets show an attempt to prohibit, punish, and extirpate the whole host of occult practices of Egypt, Babylon, and Media, Persia, Phoenicia, and every other nation with which the Israelites came in contact. The theocratic nature of the government of God as set forth by Moses could not allow any rival; the attempt was rebellion and treason, the punishment death.
Against the conclusion which we draw that the attempt, and the attempt only, was to be considered in the trial of a case, it is said, " How, then, could an Israelitish judge decide the case of a person arraigned under this law? Would not the whole issue of the case depend upon the proof that the accused really had an attendant spirit? And is not the law an express declaration, not merely of the possibility, but also of the actual occurrence of such connections?" Not at all. Unless the Israelitish judges had the power of supernatural perception, the only thing that they could take cognizance of would be the attempt.
Those who reject this conclusion, if they would be consistent, must believe all the forms of imposture comprehended in the common law of Israel to be supernatural; they must believe in astrology, augury, and charms; and that the heathen gods were actual supernatural devils. St. Paul says, "We know that no idol is anything in the world"; and though, when warning the people to flee from idolatry, he says that " the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to devils and not to God," it is a strained and long-drawn inference that he means to say that beyond the heathen gods there are real demons which they worship. If that were so the prophet Jeremiah was himself deceived, and deceived the people, when he said, " Be not afraid of them [the heathen gods], for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good".