My present interest in the fascinating and yet sombre subject of demonology is due to the fact that I’m preparing to preach on Luke 8:26-39 – the Gerasene demoniac. That passage (together with the parallel accounts in Matthew and Mark) present the most dramatic case of demonisation in the whole of Scripture, and therefore requires that particular attention to the subject of demons and their activities.
One of the seminal works on demonology is that by John L. Nevius, entitled Demon Possession and Allied Themes (1894).
Nevius was for forty years a missionary to the Chinese. He went to China with
a strong conviction that a belief in demons, and communications with spiritual beings, belongs exclusively to a barbarous and superstitious age, and at present can consist only with mental weakness and want of culture.
What he found in China, however, was not only a widespread belief in evil spirits, but a number of experiences that could only be explained by reference to demonic powers. These led him to contact a number of fellow-missionaries with a questionnaire, inviting them to record their observations. These he examined in the light of various possible explanations, and in the light of Scripture.
Nevius concluded that the cases that he and others had witnessed in China bore many marked resemblances to those recorded in the Bible. In particular,
1. Persons afflicted are of both sexes, and of all ages.
2. Attacks are characteristically occasional, and commence with some physical disturbance of bodily convlusion.
3. Often, the demon declares that he will continue to torment his victim unless he submits to his will.
4. The victims often harm themselves.
5. Some demons are cast out easily, others with great difficulty.
6. The spirits vary somewhat, with different degrees of wickedness, violence, and daring.
7. There is often shameless tearing of clothes, and indecency of language and behaviour.
8. They often evince a knowledge of God and of the Saviour’s authority and power.
9. The subject often both seeks and shuns Christ.
10. The subject may be possessed by more than one demon.
11. The spirits seem to crave for a body to possess.
12. When a spirit is cast out it may seek to return again.
13. The subject may take on, for the time being, a new personality.
14. Attempts to cast out demons in the name of Christ are successful.
15. Demons are sometimes cast out by others than Christians.
16. Demons are sometimes cast out by church members who have afterwards proved to be apostate (see Mt 7:22f).
17. When demons are cast out the attention of the public is arrested, and testimony is given to the power of Christ.
18. The demon sometimes gives testimony to the character of the missionary (see Acts 16:17).
19. Cases of demonisation are recognised without doubt as such by people who those who witness them.
20. The spirits are represented as roaming about at will, and yet under limitations and control.
21. The spirits oppose the kingdom of God and may be connected with heathen shrines and places of worship.
22. A spirit may be a means of material gain to the subject. See Acts 16.
23. Testimony to the reality of the spirits is given by intelligent, unbiased eyewitnesses.
24. Cases of demonisation are rare in large cities, but common in rural areas.