Having seen that the devil can in general work wonders, yet not true miracles, we continue to the types of wonders he can do, and the practical uses of understanding this doctrine.
The Damned Art of Witchcraft
Works IX, pp. 316-321.
Now more particularly, the devil’s wonders are of two sorts: illusions or real actions.
1. Satan’s Illusions.
An illusion is a work of Satan whereby he deludes or deceives man. And it is twofold: either of the outward senses or of the mind.
Illusions of the Outward Senses.
An illusion of the outward senses is a work of the devil whereby he makes a man to think that he hears, sees, feels, or touches such things as indeed he does not. The devil can easily do this in diverse ways, even by the strength of nature; for example, by corrupting the instruments of senses (as the humor of the eye, etc.), or by altering and changing the air which is the means whereby we see, and such like.
Experience teaches us that the devil is a skillful practitioner in this kind, though the means whereby he works such feats are unknown to us. In this manner Paul affirms that the Galatians were deluded, when he says, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” (Gal. 3:1). Here he uses a word borrowed from the practice of witches and sorcerers who cast a mist (as it were) before the eyes, to dazzle them, and make things to appear unto them which indeed they do not see. And the ground of Paul’s comparison is that which he takes for a granted truth, that there are such delusions whereby men’s senses are and may be corrupted by satanical operation.
The Devil Appeared as a Counterfeit Samuel.
Thus, again, the devil by the witch of Endor deceived Saul in the appearance of Samuel (1 Samuel 28), making him believe that it had been Samuel indeed, whereas it was but a mere counterfeit of him, as shall appear hereafter. Again, the devil, knowing the constitutions of men, and the particular diseases whereunto they are inclined, takes the advantage of some, and seconds the nature of the disease by the concurrence of his own delusion, thereby corrupting the imagination and working in the mind a strong persuasion that they are become that which in truth they are not. This is apparent in that disease which is termed lycanthropia,6 where some, having their brains possessed and distempered with melancholy, have verily thought themselves to be wolves, and so behaved themselves. And the histories of men in former ages have recorded strange testimonies of some who have been thus turned into wolves, lions, dogs, birds, and other creatures, which could not be really in substance, but only in appearance, and fantasy corrupted, and so these records are true. For God in His just judgment may suffer some men so to be bewitched by the devil that to their conceit they may seem to be like these brute beasts, though indeed they remain true men still. For it is a work surmounting the devil’s power to change the substance of any one creature into the substance of another.
Rome’s Satanic Illusions.
By this kind of delusion, the Church of Rome in the times of blindness and ignorance has taken great advantage and much increased her riches and honor. For there are three points of the religion of that church (to wit, purgatory, invocation of saints, and honoring of relics) whereby she has notably enriched herself. All these had their first foundation from these and such like satanical impostures. For the only way they have brought the common sort to yield unto them, both for belief and practice, has been by deluding their outward senses with false apparitions of ghosts and souls of men, walking and ranging abroad after their departure, and such like. Whereby simple persons, ignorant of their fetches and delusions, have been much affrighted, and caused through extremity of fear and dread to purchase their own peace and security by many and great expenses. And indeed, these were the strongest arguments that ever they had, and which most prevailed with the common people, as is manifest in stories of all nations and ages, where such deceits have taken place, though oftentimes by the just judgment of God they were taken in their craft and their feats revealed.
Illusions of the Mind.
The second kind of illusion is of the mind, whereby the devil deceives the mind, and makes a man think that of himself which is not true. Thus, experience teaches that he has deluded men, both in former and later times, who have avouched and professed themselves to be kings or the sons of kings. Yea, some have held themselves to be Christ, some to be Elias, some to be John the Baptist, and some to be extraordinary prophets. And the like conceits have entered into the minds of sundry witches by the suggestion and persuasion of the devil. When they have wholly resigned their souls and bodies to him, they have been moved to believe things impossible touching themselves, as that they have indeed been changed into other creatures, as cats, birds, mice, etc. The inquisitions of Spain and other countries, wherein these and such like things are recorded touching witches really metamorphosed into such creatures, cannot be true, considering that it is not in the power of the devil thus to change substances into other substances. And those conversions recorded by them were only Satan’s illusions, wherewith the minds of witches were possessed, and nothing else. Though they were extraordinary (as the rest of this kind are), yet they went not beyond the power of nature.
2. Satan’s Real Wonders.
The second sort of the devil’s wonders are real works, that is, such as are indeed that which they seem and appear to be. These, howsoever to men who know not the natures of things, nor the secret and hidden causes thereof, they may seem very strange and admirable, yet they are no true miracles, because they are not above and beyond the power of nature.
If it is here alleged that the devil’s works are not real and true actions because the Holy Spirit calls them “lying wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9), I answer that they are called “lying wonders,” not in respect of the works themselves, for they were works truly done and effected, but in regard of the devil’s end and purpose in working them, which is to lie unto men, and by them to deceive. The truth of which point will appear in the view of some particular examples.
Example 1. Job.
We read in the history of Job that Satan brought down fire from heaven, which burned up Job’s sheep and servants, and he caused a mighty wind to blow down the house upon his children, as they were feasting, to destroy them (Job 1:16–19). Again, he smote the body of Job with botches and boils. All these were true and real works, very strange and admirable, and yet they were not miracles because they exceeded not the compass of nature. First, when he cast down the fire from heaven, he did not create the fire from nothing (for that is a work proper to God alone), but applied creature to creature, and thereof produced such a matter as was fit to make fire of. If it is demanded, how is he able to do this? We must remember that his knowledge in natural causes is great and, therefore, he was not ignorant of the material cause of fire, which being thoroughly known and found out, Satan brought fire unto it, and so putting fire to the matter of fire, he brought it down by his power and agility from heaven upon the cattle and servants of Job.
Second, the wind which blew down the house, where his sons and daughters were eating and drinking, was not created by the devil, but he, knowing well the matter whereof winds are generated naturally, added matter to matter, and thence came the wind. Whereunto he joins himself, being a spirit of a swift and speedy nature, and so makes it, for his own purpose, the more violent and forcible. Third, he smote Job’s body with sore boils from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot. Now this may seem strange that he should have such power over man’s body as to cause such diseases to breed in it. Therefore, we are further to understand that his knowledge extends itself to the whole frame and disposition of man’s body, whereby it comes to pass that the causes of all diseases are well known unto him, and he is not ignorant how the humors in the body may be putrefied, and what corrupt humors will breed such and such diseases, and by what means the air itself may be infected. Hereupon preparing his matter and applying cause to cause, he practiced upon the body of Job, and filled him with grievous sores.
Example 2. Assumption of Physical Matter in the Form of a Body.
Another example of Satan’s real works is this: By reason of his great power and skill, he is able to appear in the form and shape of a man, and resemble any person or creature, and that not by deluding the senses, but by assuming to himself a true body. His power is not so large as to create a body or bring again a soul into a body, yet by his dexterity and skill in natural causes he can work wonderfully. For he is able, having gathered together fit matter, to join member to member, and to make a true body, either after the likeness of a man or some other creature. And, having done so, he is able to enter into it, to move and stir it up and down, and therein visibly and sensibly to appear unto man. Though it is a strange work, and besides the ordinary course of nature, yet it is not simply above the power thereof.
Example 3. The Serpent and Speech.
The devil is able to utter a voice in plain words and speech, answerable to man’s understanding in any language. Not that he can take unto himself, being a spirit, an immediate power to speak or frame a voice from nothing without means, but, knowing the natural and proper causes and means by which men do speak, he frames by them in himself the voice of a man, and plainly utters the same in a known language. In this manner he abused the tongue and mouth of the serpent, when in plain words he tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Now it is to be remembered here that when the devil speaks in a creature, it must be such a creature as has the instruments of speech, or such whereby speech may be framed and uttered, not otherwise. For it was never heard that he spoke in a stock or a stone, or any created entity, that had not the means and power of uttering a voice, at least in some form. It is a work peculiar to the Creator to give power of utterance where it is not by creation. Again, when he frames a voice in a creature, he does it not by giving immediate power to speak, for that he cannot do, and the creature abused by him remains in that regard as it was before. But being naturally fitted and disposed to utter a voice, though not perfectly to speak as a man, he furthers and helps nature in it, and adds to the faculty thereof a present use of words, by ordering and ruling the instruments to his intended purposes. And to conclude this point, look at what strange works and wonders may be truly effected by the power of nature (though they are not ordinarily brought to pass in the course of nature). The devil can do those, and so far forth as the power of nature will permit, he is able to work true wonders, though for a false and evil end.
Q. Can Satan Transmutate Substances?
Here a question is moved by some: whether the devil can change one creature into another, as a man or woman into a beast? For some, notwithstanding the doctrine already taught, are of the opinion that he can turn the bodies of witches into other creatures, as hares, cats, and such like. Answer. The transmutation of the substance of one creature into another, as of a man into a beast of whatever kind, is a work simply above the power of nature, and therefore cannot be done by the devil or any creature. For it is the proper work of God alone (as I have said) to create, change, or abolish nature.
It is objected that such changes have been made, for Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26). Answer. It is true, but that was done by the mighty power of God. Neither can it be proved that any creature, angel, or other, was ever able to do the like.
But it is further said that king Nebuchadnezzar was turned into a beast, and he did eat grass with the beasts of the field (Dan. 4:32). Answer. There is no such matter. His substance was not changed so as his body became the body of a beast indeed, but his conditions only were altered by the judgment of God upon his mind, whereby he was so far forth bereaved of human sense and understanding. Again, for his behavior and kind of life, he became altogether brutish for the time, and excepting only his outward form and shape, no part of humanity could appear in him. But that he still retained his human body is evident by his own words, when he says, “And mine understanding was restored to me” (v. 36). This argues plainly that the hand of God was upon him in some kind of madness and fury, and therefore that there was not a change of his body and substance, but a strange and fearful alteration in his mind and outward behavior. And though such a transmutation should be granted, yet it makes nothing for the purpose, considering it was the work of God only, and not of the devil.
Practical Uses of this Doctrine.
And thus, we see what kind of wonders the devil can bring to pass. The meditation of which point may teach us two things.
1. The Working of Wonders in Itself is No Consolation.
First, that the working of wonders is not a thing that will commend man unto God, for the devil himself, a wicked spirit, can work them. And many shall allege this in the day of judgment that they have by the name of God cast out devils and done many great works, to whom notwithstanding the Lord will say, “I never knew you, depart from me ye workers of iniquity” (Matt. 7:22–23). It behooves us to get unto ourselves the precious gifts of faith, repentance, and the fear of God, yea, to go before others in a godly life and upright conversation, rather than to excel in the effecting of strange works. When the seventy disciples came to our Savior Christ with joy, and told Him that “even the devils were subdued unto them through his name,” He counsels them not to rejoice in this, that wicked spirits were subdued unto them, but rather because their names were written in heaven (Luke 10:17, 20).
Indeed, to be able to work a wonder is an excellent gift of God and may minister matter for rejoicing when it proceeds from God. But, seeing the devil received this power by the gift of creation, our special joy must not be therein, but rather in this, that we are the adopted sons of God, in which privilege the devil has no part with us. And, therefore, the apostle, making a comparison of the gifts of the Spirit (as of speaking divers tongues, prophesying, and working miracles) with love, in the end wishes men to labor for the best gifts which are faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13), because by these we are made partakers of Christ, on whom we ought to set our hearts, and in whom we are commanded always to rejoice (Phil. 4:4).
2. Scripture Alone is the Rule, Not Things Confirmed By Wonders.
Second, we learn from hence not to believe or receive a doctrine now or at any time because it is confirmed by wonders. For the devil himself is able to confirm his errors and idolatrous services by strange and extraordinary signs, by which he usually labors to avouch and verify the grossest points of falsehood in matter of religion. On the contrary, we must not reject or condemn a doctrine because it is not thus confirmed. This was a main fault in the Jews, who would not receive the word preached by Christ, unless He showed them a sign from heaven. Indeed, in the primitive church it pleased God to confirm that doctrine which the apostles taught, by great signs and miracles, but now that gift is ceased, and the church has no warrant to expect any further evidence of the religion it professes and enjoys by arguments of that kind; yea, rather, it has cause to suspect a doctrine taught for the wonders’ sake whereby men labor to avouch it.
3. God Permits Evil Wonders and Witchcraft.
God, for just causes, permits the arts of magic and witchcraft, and the practices thereof. Now this He does in His providence, either for the trial of His children or for the punishment of the wicked.
1. In the Church to Prove Our Faith.
First, God permits these wicked arts in the church to prove whether His children will steadfastly believe in Him and seek unto His Word or cleave unto the devil by seeking to his wicked instruments. Moses plainly forewarned the church of God of this in his time: “If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and give thee a sign or wonder, and the sign and wonder which he hath told thee, come to pass, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and serve them,’ thou shalt not hearken to the words of that prophet” (Deut. 13:1–3).
2. For the Punishment of Unbelievers.
Second, God suffers them for the punishment of unbelievers and wicked men. For oftentimes God punishes one sin by another, as the antecedent sins by the consequent. Paul plainly shows this (speaking of the days of antichrist): that “because men received not the love of the truth, therefore God would send upon them strong illusions, that they should believe lies” (2 Thess. 2:10–11). And we may resolve ourselves that for this very cause God suffers the practices of witchcraft to be so rife in our days, to punish the ingratitude of men who have the truth revealed unto them, and yet will not believe and obey the same, but tread it under their feet, “that all they might be condemned which believed not the truth, but took pleasure in unrighteousness” (v. 12).
4. God Holds Satan’s Leash.
In the practices of sorcery and witchcraft, the devil can do only as much as God permits him, and no more. Doubtless, his malice reaches further, and consequently his will and desire. But God has restrained his power in the execution of his malicious purposes, whereupon he cannot go a whit further than God gives him leave and liberty to go. The magicians of Egypt did some wonders in show like unto the miracles wrought by Moses and Aaron, and that for a time, by changing a rod into a serpent and water into blood, and by bringing frogs through the sleight and power of the devil (Exodus 7–8). But when it pleased God to determine their practices, and give them no further liberty, they could not do that which in likelihood was the meanest of all the rest, the turning of the dust of the land into lice. And they themselves gave the true reason thereof, saying, “That this was the finger of God” (Exod. 8:19). When the devil went out and became a false spirit in the mouth of all Ahab’s prophets, to entice him to go to fall at Ramoth Gilead, he went not of his own will, but by the authority of God, who commanded him to go to entice Ahab, and suffered him to prevail (1 Kings 22:22). And the act was not the act of Satan, but of God, whose instrument he was. And, therefore, the Holy Spirit says by Micaiah: “The Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the Lord hath appointed evil against thee” (v. 23). Hence also it was that the devils, being cast out of the man who had an unclean spirit, asked leave of Christ to enter into the herd of swine, and could not enter till He had permitted them (Mark 5:12–13). And we read oftentimes in the Gospels that our Savior cast out many devils by His word only, thereby showing that He was absolute Lord over them and that without His permission they could do nothing.
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