Lawful & Unlawful Remedies Against Witchcraft

William Perkins
The Damned Art of Witchcraft
Works IX, pp. 389-399.

Question. Whether a man may prevent the danger of witchcraft, and if he may, then what remedies may he lawfully and effectually use against it?

Answer. To this question we answer affirmatively that a man may. And for the manifestation of this point, the remedies of witchcraft are to be considered. In the handling whereof, I will proceed in this order: first, to set down the true, lawful, and effectual remedies allowed and prescribed in the Word; and, second, to set down the unlawful and superstitious means prescribed and practiced in the Romish church.

Lawful Remedies Against Witchcraft.

Lawful remedies of witchcraft are of two sorts: preservative and restorative.

1. Preservative.

The preservatives are those which keep a man from the hurt of witchcraft. And these are of two sorts: either such as keep safe the persons of men, or such as preserve the places of men’s abode.

Salvation Through Jesus Christ Alone.

For the persons of men, there is one sovereign preservative, and that is to be within the covenant of grace, made and confirmed in the gospel by the blood of Christ, and that not outwardly in profession only, as all those are which are within the compass of the church, but truly and indeed as all the elect are. And a man is then in the covenant when God, of His grace in the use of the means, gives him a true knowledge of the nature of it and of conditions required in the same on both parts, and withal gives him a true and lively faith to apprehend and apply to himself the promise of God in Christ, touching remission of sins and life everlasting; yea, further, to show forth his faith by the fruits of true repentance and new obedience. When a man in this manner comes to be brought within the covenant, and is in Christ, he then receives assurance of God’s favor, and to him belong the promises depending thereupon, to wit, not only of the comfortable presence of God’s Spirit, but of the presence and special protection of His holy angels, to pitch their tents about him, to keep him safe in soul and body from the power and malicious practices of Satan and his members.

The ground of this assurance is laid down in the Word: “He shall give his angels charge over thee” (Ps. 91:11). And the speech of Balaam confirms the same, who, when he was hired by Balak to curse God’s people, and had oftentimes assayed to do it but could not, at last broke out into this confession: “There is no witchcraft against Jacob, nor sorcery against Israel” (for so the words are to be read, according to the true meaning and circumstances of the text).10 As if he should have said, “I was of your opinion (O Balak) that Israel might be cursed, but after trial made, I found by good experience that I could do that people of God no hurt by my enchantments.”

Howbeit we must here remember that the promise of protection made unto God’s children is not absolute, but admits an exception, as all other promises of temporal blessing do. And that in this manner: “You shall be partaker of this or that blessing, and this or that curse shall be removed, if it is expedient for you. But if for special causes to try your faith and to exercise your patience, I make denial, you must rest yourself contented in My good will and pleasure.”

Can A Christian Be Bewitched?

By warrant of this doctrine, a question commonly moved may be resolved: Whether the servant and child of God may be bewitched or not?

Out of that which has been said, I answer, he may. And that is plain by the Word. For by God’s permission the holy body of Christ Himself was by Satan transported from place to place (Matthew 4). Righteous Job was miserably afflicted in his body by the power of the devil, and his children, who no doubt were God’s servants, and brought up in His fear, as their father was, were slain by the same power. Yea, Christ Himself testifies that “a daughter of Abraham (that is, of the faith of Abraham) had been troubled eighteen years with a spirit of infirmity” (Luke 13:16). The devil caused this by bowing her body together, so as she could not lift herself up (v. 11). And, therefore, whereas some men are of this mind that their faith is so strong that all the witches in the world, and all the devils in hell, cannot hurt them, they are much deceived. Their faith is but a fond presumption and no true faith. For no man in the earth can absolutely assure himself of safety and protection from the devil. And if any could, it would be the child of God. But Solomon says that “all outward things may come alike both to the good and to the bad” (Eccl. 9:2).

Howbeit in this case there is great difference between the servant of God and an unrepentant sinner. Though the godly man is not exempt from witchcraft, yet he is a thousand-fold freer from the power thereof than other men are. For there is only one case, and no more, wherein the devil has any way power to hurt him, and that is when it pleases God by that kind of cross to make trial of his faith and patience, and out of this case he is always free from the annoyance of the vilest witches in the world.

If then this is the only sovereign preservative to keep a man safe and sure from the power of witches and of the devil, to have part in the covenant of grace, to be made partaker of Christ by a true faith, testified by dying unto all sin and living unto God in newness of life, then we must not content ourselves with a formal profession, as many in the visible church do, who wanting the life of faith, do not live in Christ; but we must strive to go further and to adorn our profession by framing our lives according to the Word, that we may have our portion in this excellent privilege of preservation from the power and malice of the enemies of God and all ungodly persons.

Preservation Against Haunted Houses.

Preservatives of the second sort are such as concern the places of men’s abode. For Satan contents not himself to have manifested his malice in afflicting men’s persons, but he also enlarges the same to the molestation of the places where they dwell, by infecting the air and such like. The only effectual means to remedy this evil is the sanctification of the places of our habitation. Look, as we are wont to sanctify our meat and drink by God’s Word and by prayer, and thereby procure His blessing upon His own ordinance for our refreshing, so in like manner we may sanctify the places of our abode, and thereby both procure the blessing which we want and also avoid many curses and dangers which otherwise would fall upon us.

If any shall think the consecration of houses and places in this sort to be a mere device of man’s brain, let them remember that in the Old Testament, besides the dedication of the temple, allowed by all, there was a law prescribed to the Jews for the special dedication of every man’s house: “If any hath built a new house,” says Moses, “and hath not dedicated it, let him return again, etc.” (Deut. 20:5). As who should say, he has omitted a necessary duty. Now this dedication was nothing else but the sanctification of them by word and prayer, wherein they made acknowledgement that they became theirs by the free gift and blessing of God, and further desired a free and lawful use of the same to His glory and their mutual good. A duty which has been performed by the servants of God in ancient times.

The first thing that Abraham did when he came from Ur of the Chaldeans to the land of Canaan, which God gave him to possess, was the building of an altar for the worship of God, his sacrificing thereon, and calling upon the name of the Lord (Gen. 12:8). Before him, Noah did the same at his first coming out of the ark after the flood (Gen. 8:20). After him, Jacob did the same in Bethel. And they were all moved hereunto because they knew their comfortable abode in those places came not by their own endeavor, but from the blessing of God. When the good king, Hezekiah, kept the Passover in Jerusalem, his principal care was that the priests and all the people might first be sanctified. And, therefore, he prayed unto God to be merciful to them who were not sanctified (2 Chron. 30:18). And as he behaved himself in his kingdom, so should every master of a family behave himself in his house where he dwells, laboring to sanctify the same, that it may be comfortable to him and his, lest for neglect thereof he pulls upon himself, and those who belong unto him, the heavy hand of God in plagues and punishments.

2. Restorative.

The second kind of remedies are restorative, which serve to deliver men from witchcraft by curing the hurts of witches in the bodies of men or other creatures. In the handling whereof, first, we will consider how whole countries, and then how every private man, may be cured and delivered.

The Publishing and Embracing of the Gospel in a Nation.

Whole countries and kingdoms are freed and cured especially by one means: the publishing and embracing of the gospel. When our Savior Christ had sent the seventy disciples to preach in Jewry, at their return He gave this testimony of the effect of their ministry: “He saw Satan fall down from heaven like lightning” (Luke 10:18). His meaning was this: as lightning is suddenly and violently sent out of the cloud, and (as it were) cast down to the earth by the crack of the thunder, even so Satan, the prince of the world who rules in the hearts of the disobedient, was cast down, and his kingdom ruinated by the power of the gospel preached. In the times of ignorance, the devil triumphed freely without controlment, but the mist and darkness of his delusions cannot possibly abide the bright beams of God’s glorious will revealed by preaching. The Lord of ancient times commanded His people not to do according to those nations, among whom they dwelt in Canaan, by practicing witchcraft or following after sorcery (Deut. 18:9). And that they might be able to obey this commandment, Moses prescribes unto them this restorative: “the reverent and obedient hearing of the Lord’s prophets” (v. 18). In our church, if we would be healed of our wounds, and banish Satan from among us, who greatly annoys a great number of our people by his delusions and damnable practices of sorcery, the only way to bring it to pass is the maintaining of a learned ministry, the advancing of prophets, by whose labors the gospel may flourish. For the faithful dispensation thereof is the Lord’s own arm and scepter, whereby He beats down the kingdom of darkness, and confounds the works and enterprises of the devil.

Salvation From Demonic Oppression.

The second sort of restoratives serve for the cure of particular persons. For howsoever the gift and power of casting out devils, and the curing witchcraft, are ordinarily ceased since the apostles’ times, it being a gift peculiar to the primitive church, and given to it only during the infancy of the gospel, yet there may be means used (and that effectual) for the easing of any person who is bewitched by Satan’s instruments. Those, therefore, who are in these days tormented in this kind must do three things.

1. Self-Examination.

First, they must enter into a serious examination of themselves, and consider the cause for which it pleases God to suffer Satan to exercise them with that kind of cross. And here, upon diligent enquiry, they shall find that their own sins are the true and proper causes of these evils. When Saul was disobedient to the commandment of God, the Lord sent upon him an evil spirit to vex him (1 Samuel 15). Hymenaeus and Alexander, for their pestilent errors, were both cast out of the church, and given up also to Satan, that they might learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20). In the same manner was the incestuous person dealt withal (1 Cor. 5:5).

2. Faith in Christ Alone.

Second, after this examination, the same parties must show forth their faith whereby they depend on the free favor and mercy of God for their deliverance. How may this be done? By hearty prayer unto God, joined with fasting that the same may be more earnest. In this prayer the main desire of the heart must be absolutely for the pardon of their sins, and then for deliverance from the hurts and torments of diabolical persons, yet not absolutely (as for the other) but with this condition: so far forth as it stands with God’s glory and their own good. For these are the bounds and limits of all temporal good things. The Lord makes no absolute promise of them, but with these conditions and qualifications.

3. Patience & Comfort in Christ.

Third, the bewitched parties must patiently bear the present annoyance, comforting themselves with this, that it is the Lord’s own hand, by whose special providence it comes to pass, and who turns all things to the good of His chosen. Again, they are to remember that He, being a most wise God and loving Father in Christ, will not suffer them to be tried above what they are able to bear, but in His good time He will grant a joyful issue. Now when the bewitched shall thus submit themselves unto God in the cross, be it that He (upon some causes) defers their deliverance, yet they shall not finally be deceived of their hope. For either in this life at the appointed time, or in the end of this life by death, they shall be eternally delivered and put in present possession of everlasting ease and happiness.

Thus much of the true remedies against witchcraft.

Unlawful Remedies Against Witchcraft.

In the next place we are a little to examine the false and superstitious remedies prescribed and used by them of the popish church.

The most learned papists of this age do teach and avouch that there is in God’s church an ordinary gift and power whereby some men may cast out devils and help annoyances that come by witches. The Protestant is of a contrary judgment and holds according to truth that there is now no such ordinary gift left to the church of God since the days of the apostles. The reasons of this opinion may be these:

Reasons the Gift of Casting Out Devils Has Ceased.

First, the casting out of devils and curing such annoyances are extraordinary and miraculous works. For Christ accounts the handling of serpents without hurt, speaking with new tongues, curing of diseases by imposition of hands (all which are things of less moment) to be miracles (Mark 16:18–19). But all these lesser works (yea, the ordinary power of working them) is ceased, for it was only given to the apostles in the primitive church as a means to confirm the doctrine of the gospel to unbelievers who never heard of Christ before. So, Paul says “strange tongues (that is, the gift of speaking strange languages without ordinary teaching) are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not” (1 Cor. 14:22). And for the same end were all extraordinary gifts then given. Seeing, therefore, the doctrine of the gospel has been already established, and the truth thereof sufficiently confirmed by miracles in the primitive church, the same gift must needs cease unto us. For if it should still continue, it would call into question the effect of the apostolic preaching, and imply thus much, that the gospel was not well established nor sufficiently confirmed by their extraordinary ministry and miracles accompanying the same. 

Again, if the gift of working miracles should remain, then the promise of God for His special and extraordinary assistance therein should yet continue. For the gift and promise go together; so long as the promise is in force, so long is the gift also. But the promise made by Christ, “in my name shall they cast out devils, and speak with new tongues” (Mark 16), was in force only in the persons and ministry of the apostles, and those who had an extraordinary and immediate calling from God, and it ceased when they and their calling ceased. Therefore, if ministers should now lay their hands on the sick, they would not recover them. If they should anoint them with oil, it would do them no good, because they have no promise.

Roman Catholic Objections to Cessationism.

Howbeit the papists stand stiffly in defending the continuance of these gifts.

Obj. 1. From the Old Covenant.

First, they say that the church of the New Testament is nothing inferior to that of the Old. The Jewish church, before the coming of Christ, was the church of the Old Testament, and had the power and gift of casting out devils. So says our Savior Himself: “If I through Beelzebub cast out devils, then by whom do your children cast them out?” (Matt. 12:27). In these words He ascribes this gift unto the Jews; therefore, it should seem the same remains still in the church.

Answer. That place of Scripture is diversely expounded. Some, by “children” there mentioned, understand the apostles who were Jews by birth, and had received from Christ this gift and power to cast out devils. If this is so, it makes not for them, because they had it extraordinarily. But I rather think that by “children” are meant the exorcising Jews before Christ’s time, who did cast out devils among them, pretending an ability to do this work in the name of God, whereas in truth they were all flat sorcerers, and did it by virtue of a league and compact made with the devil. This practice has been of long continuance and is at this day common and usual among the popish sort. And that there were such exorcists among the Jews is evident. For such were those vagabonds which came to Ephesus and took upon them to cast out devils by the names of Jesus and Paul (Acts 19:13). But the man, in whom the evil spirit was (so soon as they had adjured the spirit), ran upon them and mightily prevailed against them (v. 16). Now if they had done this great work by the power of God (as they pretended), the Holy Spirit would not have called them exorcists and vagabonds. Neither could the evil spirit possibly have overcome them, as he did.11

Historical Examples.

Again, in the histories of the Jews many practices of such as exercised this power among them are recorded. Raphael, the angel, tells Tobias that a perfume made of the heart and liver of a fish will help a man vexed with an evil spirit (Tobit 6:7). This counsel is flat magic, for there is no such virtue in the liver of a fish. And in other histories, we read that one Eleazar, a Jew, by the smell of a certain root, put to the nose of a man possessed with a devil, caused the devil to come out of his nostrils and forsake him. This thing was done in a public place before Vespasian and others. This also was effected by mere conjuration. For what virtue can there be in any root or herb in the world, available to command and enforce Satan to depart from a man possessed? And yet such feats were played by sundry magicians among the Jews. Whereupon I conclude that the meaning of our Savior, in the place alleged, is in effect thus much, “If I by the power of Beelzebub, etc.,” that is, you have among you sundry magicians and exorcists who pretend and exercise the gift of casting out devils, and you think they do it by the power of God, why then do you not carry the same opinion of me also?

Obj. 2. Christ’s promise in Mark 16:17.

Their second reason is grounded on the promise of Christ: “These tokens shall follow them that believe, in my name they shall cast out devils” (Mark 16:17). They gather from this that there shall always be some in the church who shall have the power to cast forth devils, if they believe.

Answer. That promise was made by Christ unto His church, to be fulfilled immediately after His ascension. It did not extend to all times and persons, so long as the world endures, but only to the times of the primitive church and to such as then lived. For to them only the doctrine of the gospel was to be confirmed by signs and miracles. And this lasted about two hundred years after Christ’s ascension. During this time, not only the apostles and ministers, but even private men and soldiers, wrought many miracles.

Obj. 3. There have always been Exorcists.

The third reason is taken from experience, which (as they say) in all ages from the apostles’ times to this day shows that there have been always some in the church who have had this gift of casting out devils and curing the hurts of witchcraft.

Answer. This gift continued not much above the space of two hundred years after Christ, from which time many heresies began to spread themselves. And then shortly after popery, that mystery of iniquity beginning to spring up, and to dilate itself in the churches of Europe, the true gift of working miracles then ceased, and instead thereof came in delusions and lying wonders by the effectual working of Satan, as it was foretold by the apostle (2 Thess. 2:9). Of which sort were (and are) all those miracles of the Romish church whereby simple people have been notoriously deluded. These indeed have continued from that time to this day. But this gift of the Holy Spirit, whereof the question is made, ceased long before.

Unlawful Remedies Proposed by the Church of Rome.

To proceed yet further, we are here to consider the particular remedies which they of the popish church have prescribed against the hurts that have come by witchcraft. And they are principally five.

1. The name of Jesus.

The first is the name of Jesus. We must grant that any Christian may lawfully call upon the name of Jesus in prayer, for the help and deliverance of those who are possessed and bewitched, but yet with the caveat and condition before specified, if it is the will of God, and if their recovery may make for His glory, the benefit of the church, and the good of the diseased parties.

But the papist, by the use of this name, intends a further matter, to wit, that the very name uttered in so many letters and syllables is powerful to cast out devils and to help those who are bewitched. For when it is uttered, then (they say) the authority of Christ is present, that the work may be done. This is a flat untruth and a practice full of danger. For let this be well considered, whatsoever any man does in this case, he must do it by virtue of his calling, and have also his warrant for the doing thereof out of the Word. If he lacks this, and yet undertakes such a work, he may justly fear the like event that befell the vagabond Jews who were exorcists (Acts 19:13). Now the church of Christ has no warrant in the Word to use this name of Christ for any such purpose. Neither has any ordinary Christian a special calling from God so to do. Therefore, he may not do it.

And they would bear men in hand that the said name, of all the names of Christ and above all other things, is of most special virtue, though it is used even by a man that wants faith, because the apostle says, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, both of things in heaven, in earth, and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10), and by things “under the earth” are meant the devils. But we must know that their allegation is weak, and that they greatly abuse the place. For there the name Jesus is not only a title of Christ, but withal signifies the power, majesty, and authority of Christ, sitting at the right hand of the Father, to which all creatures in heaven, earth, and hell are made subject. And by that power indeed (if they had it at command) they might be able to cure the hurts of witchcraft.

2. Relics of Saints.

The second special remedy is the use of saints’ relics, as their books, bones, apparel, staves, or such like. Being but touched by the vexed parties, they are excellent means to recover them.

Answer. The use of these things, to the purposes aforesaid, is a mere superstitious practice. For, first, they have not the true relics of the saints, as would plainly appear if a true inventory were taken of all such as they say are to be found in their monasteries and churches. Second, though they had them, yet they have no warrant (or calling) to use them to this end. For in all the Word of God there is neither commandment to warrant the use, nor promise to assure any man of a blessing upon use of them. Albeit they would seem to have some warrant, and therefore they allege that which is written of a dead man who, being for haste thrown into the sepulcher of Elisha, so soon as he touched the bones of Elisha, revived and stood upon his feet (2 Kings 13:21).

To this also they add the examples of cures done by Peter’s shadow (Acts 5:15), and of sundry diseases healed by Paul’s handkerchiefs (Acts 19:12). Answer. These things indeed are true, but they serve nothing to their purpose. For, first, the quickening of the dead soldier came not from any virtue in the corpse of Elisha. But it was a miracle, which it pleased God then to work by means of a corpse, so that the Jews at that time might be confirmed in the truth of that doctrine which Elisha had taught them from God, and which before his death they had neglected (as I have shown before). And it was a thing only then done, and never since. It cannot, therefore, be a ground for the ordinary use of relics. Again, touching the other examples, I answer that both Peter and Paul had the gift of working miracles, and having the gift, they might use such means for the present to cure diseases. But the papists are not able to show that God has given them the like gift, whereby they might be warranted for the use of the like means. Neither can they assuredly hope for success, although they should undertake to use them.

3. The Sign of the Cross.

The third remedy is the sign of the cross made upon the body of the tormented party. Behold to what a height of impiety they are grown, ascribing that to the creature which is proper to the Creator! For the power of working miracles is proper only to the Godhead. The prophets and apostles in their times did not work them of themselves, but were only God’s passive instruments in this manner: when the Lord intended by them to work any miracle, they received from Him at the same time an extraordinary and special instinct whereby they were moved to attempt the work. They, therefore, yielded themselves to the present motion of God’s Spirit to be His instruments only in the dispensation of the work. But the sole Author and Producer of the miracle was God Himself. And in this case the very manhood of our Savior Christ, considered apart from His Godhead, had no power of itself, but was only the instrument of His Godhead, whenever it pleased Him in that kind to manifest the same. Wherefore, to ascribe this virtue to the cross, being a creature or the work of a creature, is to communicate the incommunicable power of the Creator to it, which is plain blasphemy.

4. Holy Water, and other items.

The fourth remedy is the using of hallowed things, as hallowed grains, salt, water, bread, images, especially the image of agnus dei [i.e. Lamb of God].

Answer. Hallowed creatures are in truth unhallowed superstitions. For every creature is sanctified by the Word and prayer (1 Tim. 4:4); by the Word, when God in His Word commands us to use it for some end; and, by prayer, when we give thanks for giving the creature and withal desire His blessing in the use thereof. Now let any papist show me one letter or syllable in all the Book of God commanding the use of a creature for any such end.

They affirm indeed that Elisha wrought miracles by hallowed salt, for by it he cured the bitter waters (2 Kings 2:21). But the prophet used not hallowed, but common salt, and that not ordinarily, but only then as a means whereby to work a miracle. It was, therefore, powerful in his hands because, for the doing thereof, he had power and warrant from God extraordinarily. And it cannot be so in any other who has not the same gift.

5. Exorcism.

The fifth and last remedy is exorcism, which is an adjuring and commanding the devil in the name of God to depart from the possessed party and to cease to molest him anymore. This means was used by our Savior Christ Himself, and after Him by His apostles and other believers in the time of the primitive church when the gift of working miracles was in force. But in these days (as I said before) that gift is ceased, and also the promise of power annexed to the use of adjuration, and therefore the means thereof must needs cease. And for an ordinary man now to command the devil in such sort is mere presumption and a practice of sorcery.


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