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THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT.
THE RETURN OF THE UNCLEAN SPIRIT.
ST. LUKE XI. 24, 25, 26.
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry
places seeking rest, and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out : and when he cometh he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there : and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
· It is a very dark picture of our human nature which is drawn for us in the words I have just read to you. But we can not doubt that it is a true picture-it is drawn by a Master-hand. For these are Christ's words, and He—if any ever did—knew what was in man.
But if the picture be a dark one-if the account here given of what goes on in the human heart, be sad and humiliating for us to contemplate, it is not without its use—it is good for us to know how weak and unstable we are, how open at all points to be tempted-how exposed to dangerswhat an enemy we have watching to do us harm, walking about our house, and spying out any crevice by which he may enter in.
It is good, brethren, that we should be more aware of this, and have it again and again declared to us, that we may be on our guard against the danger, and have our arms ready, and shut to the door of our house, and be prepared beforehand to resist, and to beat off all the crafts and assaults of the wicked one.
Such being the case, I will ask you to consider attentively the teaching of our Lord in the verses before us and which form part of the Gospel for this Third Sunday in Lent.
I pass over the prophetic interpretation of the words, and their application to the Jews' history. Interesting as this surely is, it would occupy us too long—and we shall, I trust, be better employed in marking how the passage bears upon our own condition, and is rich in matter for our own warning.
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out : and when he cometh he findeth it swept and garnished.
It is assumed in these words, and none of us will be inclined to question it, that there is an unclean spirit, and that the heart of man is by nature his favourite abodeWhen the unclean spirit is gone out of a man—He must then have been dwelling there ere he could be said to go out. And how truly, how powerfully that evil one dwells in man, let the history of the demoniacs in the Gospel shew—Yes, and we have other proofs of his power over us, and presence in us !
I could point out persons, brethren, and you could do the same, who are the slaves of an unclean spirit-persons in whom some bad habit has become so strong, that it rules in them like a very tyrant, and they obey it in the lusts thereof.
But it will be more to our purpose—more in the line of the text, not to dwell upon these who are actually at the present moment possessed-slaves to sin—but rather to notice another class of persons—those who for a while have got rid of their tyrant; who are emancipated, set free from the terrible thraldom of their oppressor.
And how do these men acquire their freedom ? how do they drive this unclean spirit out of his seat in their hearts ?
Perhaps it is in this way—some visitation of sickness -some sudden death, cutting off with little or no preparation one of their companions—or it may be some word of counsel from a godly friend—or some sermon from their minister has awakened them to a sense of their danger. They feel that all is not right with them. They feel that in their present state they are not fit to die, and appear before God in judgment—Their conscience tells them what is amiss, what must be done before they can be saved—that bad habit in which they have indulged so long must be broken off-their besetting sin must be subdued.
Not till this is done can they have any peace-And so the struggle is made; and by God's grace it is successful. By a strong effort as of man battling for his life-the enemy is dispossessed—his chains are broken from off our neck, and we are once more free men.
soon have a shall soon an else, glory"
And so far well. It is, I admit, a mighty deliverance, to have escaped so far—to have our house once more our own—to have got rid of the tyrant-to feel that we are no longer the abject slaves of a bad habit.
But, brethren, more must be done if we would keep our freedom. The seat left vacant in our heart must be filled—our freed affection must have a worthier object on which to fasten—Being made free from sin we must become servants to God, or else, glory as we may in our escape, we shall soon again be brought under the yokesoon have back the old tyrant, soon be again sold under sin.
For mark what follows—When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he (i. e., the unclean spirit) walketh through dry places, seeking rest and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out, and when he cometh he findeth it swept and garnished, and not only swept and garnished, but as we read in St. Matthew, empty.
What a vivid image of our danger! What a revelation of Satan's watchfulness, and our folly ! The unclean spirit whom we boast to have expelled, is not far off. He is walking about seeking rest. His eye is upon his old haunts-Let him but find the occasion and he will be back again—I will return to my house whence I came out. Mark the words—my house—as if he had a claim to lodge there—as if he knew that in our human heart, he would be welcome! Nor is he often disappointed,—When he cometh, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished!
Let it be a warning to us all, to be actively engaged in serving God. The idle hand is Satan's surest instrument in working evil. Let our's be always well em
ployed—not slothful in business—serving the Lord. Let us, I say, if once released from the unclean spirit's thraldom, stop the way of his return into our souls, by devoting ourselves, and all the faculties we have to the service of our rightful Lord—to Him Who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.
For note in the last place, what comes of leaving the house empty—note the doings of the unclean spirit when he gets back to his old abode in our heart—Then goeth he and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there ; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
Yes, if the devil once gets back, he gets back with sevenfold power. The hapless man with whom he effects a lodgment, after having been driven out, is more than ever his slave.
For have we not seen this ourselves ? Have we not seen the relapse of a man into this evil bondage, who had for a time enjoyed his freedom?
For instance, we have seen a man who had broken through the habit—alas, brethren, that too common habit—of drunkenness—after a while go back and give himself up to his old sin. We have seen another who had been awakened to a sense of religion, brought to honour God, and reverence His Sabbath, and to tremble at His word, yet fall away, and be as he was before his heart was touched-cease to care for holy things- leave off coming to Church-leave off prayer—be again estranged from God-live without Him-live in defiance of Him!