Alexander Campbell Reply to M. Winans (1842)





VOL. VI. B E T H A N Y,   V A. MARCH, 1842. NO. III.

D E M O N O L O G Y.

JAMESTOWN, O., 16th February, 1842.      

Dear brother Campbell,

      ONCE more on the subject of "Demonology," and I will cease for a while. I have your opinion expressed that Jannes, and Jambres, and Simon the sorcerer did work real miracles. Before I can fully accord with you, it will be necessary that I should have testimony that the Devil himself has power to work miracles. If he possess the power, I am at a loss to know how the Jews could distinguish the sent of God from the sent of the Devil. "We know you are a teacher come from God, because no man can do the miracles which you do except God be with him." Now if the Devil has power to arrest a law of nature, or to originate any thing save a lie, he has more power than I thought he had. If he can delegate miraculous powers to men, it would be difficult for men to decide who were of God, miracles being the test, which has been the true test in ages past. The powers of Satan are said to consist of "signs and wonders of falsehood," or of "lying signs and wonders." False signs and wonders cannot be real ones: they are mere deceptions. If it should be ascertained that the Devil himself cannot work a real miracle, then it will follow of course that he cannot delegate a power which he does not possess. Therefore, Jannes, nor Jambres, nor Simon ever worked a real miracle, else they were not of the Devil, but of God; which cannot be admitted, because it would resist God himself in so far as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses.

      You see my difficulty, and know how to remove it. Just prove that the Devil can work real miracles, and that will suffice.

            Affectionately yours,
M. WINANS. [124]      

      P. S. There seems to have been different kinds of demons in the days of our Lord, some of which his disciples failed to cast out, Matth. xvii. 21. "This kind, however, is not dispossessed unless by prayer and fasting." If all were the spirits of dead men, how did they differ in kind?

M. W.      



      My dear Sir--WOULD not the power of counterfeiting miracles, such as the power which, on your hypothesis, Jannes, Jambres, and Simon Magus possessed, as much militate against the character of that species of evidence, as though it were a real power exerted, so far as the pretence went? It would render something more than the mere display of supernatural power necessary to faith, whether we suppose the power assumed genuine or feigned. And that this is the true state of the case, you have only to consider the full import of a single passage in Deuteronomy, 13th chapter, at the beginning.

      The predicting of an event, beyond the certain precincts of all human prescience, is as supernatural as any other species of miraculous power. Moses supposes such a case, and admits its occurrence; and then on the admission of its exact accomplishment, affirms that the prophet is not to be believed unless he speak in accordance with certain received principles. Indeed, he goes into the merits of the question, and declares that the Lord in permitting such things designs "to prove men"--to evince whether they do or do not love God. The whole passage reads as follows:--"If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee."

      The Lord does not say that it was only a pretence, but supposes a real case, and argues from it as such; and on the admission of its truth pronounces sentence upon the prophet, and on those who believe in [125] him. It helps not the matter of evidence, then, to suppose it always a lying wonder or a true wonder. Examination, comparison, and inference are equally necessary, whether it be a pretended or real miracle. Nothing, then, is lost to the utility of miracles on my hypothesis, that is gained on yours. But had there been no satanic supernatural power at all permitted under any condition whatever to exist, then indeed it would have been enough to say that such powers were false; more pretence, and if only examined could at once be detected.

      Now, as you are pledged to believe and teach that the book means what it says, when it says that the magicians cast down their rods and they became serpents, not like serpents, but serpents, and that the superiority of Aaron's rod appeared in this, that when it became a serpent, not in appearance, but in fact, it devoured their rods. Now if you assume that this is contrary to your philosophy, and undertake to say that there was no miracle in the case, no serpent, but only in appearance; what will you say to him who tells you when you quote Acts ii. 38. &c. in its fair contextual import, that it does not mean so, because it contradicts his theology or his reason? The magicians turned the waters of Egypt into blood, and brought up frogs as certainly as did the rod of Moses. But they could not convert dust into lice, and they had to acknowledge it, and affirmed that such power was the finger of God. From that moment they fell before Moses and acknowledged themselves vanquished. Now can any man show how they could have imposed on the senses of the Egyptians in the case of the frogs and blood, and not in the case of the lice, &c.? Thus Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses and Aaron, but were finally subdued.

      Do you not, brother Winans, assume too much when you assume that all miraculous power is equal? Or do I misconceive you? If not expressed, this appears to me to be essential to your artificial difficulty, which I suppose you have rather imagined than felt. But is it a rational hypothesis that all supernatural or miraculous power is equal? It occurs to me that as physical and intellectual agents possess unequal physical and mental power, so neither angels nor demons possess equal angelic or demoniacal power. How far angels, demons, or spirits in general have power over Nature's operations, is not ascertained by any information in or out of the Bible. It is, however, evident that demons and angels have supernatural power. A legion of demons have entered one man, and infuriated him. They have also possessed a thousand swine and driven them to madness. Satan had power over wind and tide in the days of Job; and the angel that opened iron gates by a volition, and struck the handcuffs and fetters off Peter by a look, possessed to mortals a miraculous or superhuman power. [126]

      There are miracles both great and small, and the very postscript to your letter indicates that among demons some take a stronger hold on the human soul than others, Some are dispossessed by a word--others require prayer and fasting.

      To rebuke a fever, to cleanse a leper, to dispossess a demon, and to raise a dead man to life again, are all miraculous powers; but the last is greater than the first, and the third than the second. Hence in the scriptural style we have "great miracles," "special miracles," and even in the text you quote from Nicodemus all this is implied in his saying, "No man can do these miracles which thou doest unless God be with him." He does not say, 'No man can do miracles,' but "No man can do these miracles," &c.

      Comprehend the suspension or controlling of the laws of nature as we may, one thing is evident, that miraculous powers are ascribed to various demoniacal and other agents in the sacred scriptures; and I see no more incompatibility with the fact of its existence in various degrees, than with the relative indications of various gifts bestowed on Apostles and Prophets and other persons gifted with demonstrations of the Spirit in ancient times. But one point of superlative importance in appreciating the weight of the Christian evidences, is that miracles alone are not the test, but the doctrine and the miracle together. To this we may add that the full weight of the apostolic miracles consists, first, in the doctrine; and secondly, in the manner of life accompanying the miracles of those who first introduced it. Without the two first, miracles would not prove whether it came from above or beneath.

            Sincerely and benevolently yours,
A. C.      

[The Millennial Harbinger (March 1842): 124-127.]


      Alexander Campbell's "Reply to M. Winans" was first published in The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, Vol. 6, No. 3, March 1842. 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, 1842), pp. 124-127.

      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. 125:    heaken [ hearken
 p. 126:    rod of Moses [ rod of Moses.

      Addenda and corrigenda are earnestly solicited.

Ernie Stefanik
Derry, PA

Created 17 January 1999.
Updated 7 July 2003.

Alexander Campbell Reply to M. Winans (1842)

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