Alexander Campbell Reply to M. Winans (1841)





VOL. V. B E T H A N Y,   V A.   DECEMBER, 1841. NO. XII.

D E M O N O L O G Y.

JAMESTOWN, Ohio, October 31, 1841.      

      Dear brother Campbell--YOUR essay on "Demonology" has perplexed me more than any thing ever written by you. This transmigration of spirits, or souls, is a doctrine that I have not investigated sufficiently to become a believer in it. You say the inhabitation of Mary Magdalene was rather her misfortune than her crime. Viewing it in this light, you must, of course, admit, or rather contend, that the bodies of the living may be inhabited by the spirits of the dead without the volition of the living; and if so, a kind of fatality attaches itself to the idea. If those spirits pollute the living, an abstract operation must of necessity be wrought for their relief, else their fate is sealed.

      It seems to me that necromancy, witchcraft, &c. &c. were not permitted to enter any, without an act of volition on their part; else I cannot see the propriety of enacting laws against these things. Law without volition appears to me to be useless, to say the least of it; and if by an act of volition those spirits are let in, then Mary Magdalene was a criminal because she broke the law enacted against suffering such spirits taking possession of her.

      But it seems that the expulsion of demons was classed among the miracles in the days of the Lord and his Apostles; therefore I conclude that from that time the spirits of the dead (if they be demons) have been prohibited from inhabiting the living, else miracles are still necessary in order to their expulsion.

      If demons are expelled by the gospel, then it would be hard to distinguish between sins and demons.

      If evil spirits, or the spirits of evil men who have died, become demons, and enter into living men, then I should suppose that the spirits of good men may in like manner enter into living men; and if the bad spirits make bad men, then the good spirits will make good men. And who knows but what the doctrine of personal election can be sustained, on this ground? If those spirits enter without the volition of the party, surely the doctrine is true. And how can the Holy Spirit be distinguished from the spirits of good men who have died, seeing that the same effect is produced by their inhabitation?

      But here another difficulty presents itself. If the spirits of bad dead men can communicate information to the living, why may not the spirits of good dead men also make revelations by which living men may be saved? The revelations of bad spirits leads to condemnation, and why not the revelations of good spirits lead to justification?

      But I have scattered difficulties enough for one sheet. Suffice it to say, that I am sceptical in relation to revelations being made by dead men or their spirits.----Affectionately yours,

M. WINANS.      

JAMESTOWN, Ohio, November 3, 1841      

      Dear brother Campbell--YOUR essay on "Demonology" has set me to examining and thinking on the subject. In in last I let you know that my mind had been much perplexed--the difficulty grew out of your definition of Demons. I dared not directly call in question your definition; and if admitted when I put the definition (spirits of dead [580] men) in the room of (demons or devils,) I was perplexed; for those spirits of dead men were frequently heard by living men to cry out with a loud voice, and say many things which were understood by the living: besides, those possessed were always known to be so possessed by the people of that age; and physical power seems to have been imparted by those spirits to those whom they inhabited--as in the case of the Gadarene, who excelled Sampson, for he could not be bound with chains; and also the case of the Asiatic, who subdued seven men, stripping and wounding them. Whether those spirits were visible or invisible I have not been able clearly to make out. The circumstances would seem to justify the notion that they were visible, as well as audible, in some cases. In the case of the Gadarene they were counted, and found to be "about two thousand."

      I infer from your essay that witches, wizzards, and necromancers of at I grades were inspired by the spirits of dead men; and, as a matter of course, those books used by the heathen world were the revelations of the spirits of dead men, of which there were burnt in Ephesus at one time in value fifty thousand pieces of silver.

      Brother Campbell, did Jannes and Jambres work real miracles, as well as Moses, only inferior in their kind? And did Simon the sorcerer work real miracles in Samaria, before Philip went there? Or were the people deceived by Jannes and Jambres and by Simon?

      I had almost concluded that all the curious arts of the ancients were mere deceptions, by which the people were imposed on, and led to worship nonentities--things having no power. Were not idols of all kinds called Demons by the ancients? And were not the worshippers of idols called the worshippers of demons? If so, is an idol any thing?--has it a real existence, or real powers?

      Should there not be a distinction drawn between wizzards, witches, &c. &c. and those possessed of demons? Enough for this time.

            Yours as ever,
M. WINANS.      


      Brother Winans--YOU are one of that class of men whose instant assent to the essay on Demonology I little expected; but of whose final and ultimate acquiescence I as little doubted. You believe some things only because you cannot believe their contraries, and assent to others only because you cannot dissent from them. Therefore I anticipate the final and happy removal of all your doubts. But should you never concur with me in this matter, it will not in the least mar that good opinion I have formed of your understanding, nor that affection I cherish for you on the ground of your moral excellence.

      In this material and sceptical age--this age of general laws and general providences--this reign of Nature and secondary causes, in which flesh overcomes spirit, and the animal man controls the spiritual--in which that which is seen prevails over that which is unseen, and the temporal over the eternal, I have long since discovered that [581] the neologistical speculations of Genevan metaphysicians are much more popular and fascinating than the old-fashioned doctrine of angels, spirits, demons, and a spiritual system.

      Difficulties there are in forming any conception of spiritual existences, either of their mode of existing or of operating. But that they do exist and operate, is as certain and as evident as that we ourselves live.

      Regarding demons, the difficulty is the same, whether you imagine them to have been angels or the spirits of dead men; especially when you attempt to conceive of their manner of operating upon or through human bodies. And to make them metaphors, rhetorical figures, or any sort of allegoric representations of things, is at once to abandon every safe principle of interpretation, and to make of non-effect the volume of inspiration.

      I teach that the Bible means what it says--that when it speaks of a demon, it means just a demon, and no more nor less than a demon; and when it details the operations of a demon, I understand these operations to be as real as the operations of a man, or any other agent of which the Bible speaks.

      I do not think that a demon means an angel as respects nature or character, though it may sometimes he used to represent officially a messenger from God, as the winds or the waves may be. But angels are not demons, though it should seem that demons are sometimes messengers. Demons were not always courted when they possessed men; nor when courted, did they always appear to them that sought their aid. The facts, not the philosophy of them, is first to be considered. But the difficulty you suggest seems to grow out of an idea not necessary to the subject at all. Familiar spirits and spirits of divination are represented as spirits sought after; while demons in the work of possession were always unwelcome guests. Misdeeds and rebellion may have, in many instances, superinduced such a visitation; or, as in the case of a man born blind, they may have been permitted, in extraordinary eras, to domineer over men, that the power and glory of God might be demonstrated in their vanquishment and expulsion.

      Nor does it follow that because evil demons delighted in possessing and in tormenting the unhappy victims of their power, that good demons possess any desire of inhabiting human bodies; for, when absent from the body, they are at home with the Lord. But, as proved in my essay on Demonology, the scriptural acceptation of the term warrants not the application of it to the spirits of the saints as lingerers about the coasts of time, and reluctantly separating from the depositories of their old mortalities. [582]

      The remaining difficulty suggested in your laconic remarks--as to the comprehension of the modus operandi of spirits of any sort, human or angelic, upon our spirits--lays not only at against demonology, as I have viewed it, but against the gospel history itself; inasmuch as spiritual influence, direct and indirect, by various instrumentalities is the order of things under the new economy, and is every where supposed to be essential to the complete subjugation of our nature to the Lord, and the perfect fruition of the reign of grace, both now and hereafter. "If the spirit of him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you."

      There is no need of ghostly revelations, since we have one from the Holy Spirit, on any point touching our spiritual relations and eternal destiny; and, therefore, no oracle, suggestion, or communication from any ghost or demon, would, were it offered, be accepted by any one conversant with the precepts and promises of the gospel. I wonder not, then, that you are sceptical in all such revelations. We agree in this, as in a thousand other points; and, therefore, I contemplate the doctrine of demons as no way responsible, for such opinions, reasonings, and conclusions, as some might superficially deduce from your doubts and difficulties on the subject.

      In reply to some of your questions touching Jannes and Jambres, and Simon the Sorcerer, I give it as my opinion that they did work miracles; and these miracles only served as a foil to set off the superior powers of the Divine Spirit in his messengers.

      Idols were not called demons by the ancients; but some of the demons were worshipped in the statues and busts erected to their memory. That there is a difference between demons, wizzards, and necromancers, no one conversant with the scriptures of truth can doubt. But our principles of interpretation demand that the term demon be taken in its commonly received sense in the times of the Apostles, and in no special and private interpretation of our own. What that acceptation was I have shown, and I believe incontestably set forth. It appearing, then, that in our Saviour's time it was so understood, especially in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, we must admit the fact that the demons of the New Testament were the spirits of dead men; for so all the Apostles seemed to have used it. Paul characterizes Popery by its demon doctrines; and John in the Apocalypse says that Babylon in ruins shall be the habitation of demons--certainly neither angels nor human bodies, but the spirits of the slain inhabitants. But I have yet many things to say on this subject, hard indeed to be uttered, and harder to believed, because of the dullness [583] of hearing of this generation. Meanwhile I rejoice in your consolation--that the Lord's triumph over demons has greatly retrenched, if not wholly circumscribed their dominion over men. Indeed I have long reflected with pleasure on these words of an old seer--"There is no enchantment against Jacob, nor divination against Israel." Happy the people in such a case!

            Yours in haste and all affection for the hope's sake,
A. C.      

[The Millennial Harbinger (December 1841): 580-584.]


      Alexander Campbell's "Reply to M. Winans" was first published in The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, Vol. 5, No. 12, December 1841. The electronic version of the letters has been produced from the College Press reprint (1976) of The Millennial Harbinger, ed. Alexander Campbell (Bethany, VA: A. Campbell, 1841), pp. 580-584.

      Pagination in the electronic version has been represented by placing the page number in brackets following the last complete word on the printed page. I have let stand variations and inconsistencies in the author's (or editor's) use of italics, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling in the letters. Emendations for accidental corruptions and misspellings are as follows:

            Printed Text [ Electronic Text
 p. 581:    te have been imparted [ to have been imparted
            Simon the sorceror [ Simon the sorcerer
            all your doubts [ all your doubts.
 p. 582:    human bodies [ human bodies.
 p. 583:    promises of the gospel [ promises of the gospel.
            incontestibly [ incontestably

      Addenda and corrigenda are earnestly solicited.

Ernie Stefanik
Derry, PA

Created 17 January 1999.
Updated 7 July 2003.

Alexander Campbell Reply to M. Winans (1841)

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