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divination,” “ deceit,” “ falsehood;" and those who employ it as “deceivers," “lying prophets,” “ that see vanity, and that divine lies." With what indignant severity does Jeremiah speak of them: “They prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart;" and Ezekiel, “Will ye pollute me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread .... by your lying to my people that hear your lies.” It is invariably treated as a work of mendacity and imposture; and nothing but the credulity of ignorance, or superstition, or both, can ever presume to give it any credit. And, moreover, a disposition to resort to it is uniformly denounced as indicating a false and wicked heart. It is recorded to the reproach of Manasseh in the days of his impiety, that he “observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcrafts, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards; he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger. And it is always either expressed or implied that those who practice such things are of a debased and impious character.
And a still stronger evidence of its evil tendency and effects is, that everything of the kind was absolutely forbidden by the divine law. “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do such things are an abomination unto the Lord.” “A man or a woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones; their blood shall be upon them." These stern denunciations of the Mosaic law were directed against every species and degree of magic arts, not because they usurped any supernatural power, but because of the mischievous tendency of all such pretensions, to delude and corrupt the people, withdrawing their minds from God only wise ; fostering a love of the marvelous and vain; unsettling the religious convictions of such as were weak in the faith; and substituting instead an idle and debasing superstition.
Such being the notorious character of divination in all its forms,-never spoken of with respect or tolerance in the word of God, -never as worthy of the least confidence—but always denounced and forbidden as a vile and pernicious impositionwhat do we care whether we know particularly how its arts were practised, or not? If the whole thing is a sham in fact, a lying imposition, and seriously mischievous in its effects upon the minds of the weak and credulous, what more do we wish to learn of it? What further investigation or respect does it deserve? That the divination practised in these days under the pame of spiritualism and the like, and the various acts of divination condemned and forbidden in the word of God, are all of the same general nature and tendency, we have no doubt. That in either case, then or now, there is anything supernatural about it, or that it has any special connection with invisible powers or spirits, good or bad, we see no reason whatever to believe. As both then and now mankind have an insatiable disposition to be prying into the unseen and the future, from a curiosity and desire to ascertain the course of fortune, or to acquire a knowledge of what is hidden and undiscoverable; so both then and now a variety of arts and expedients have been contrived to gratify and flatter this disposition; either from a love of the marvelous, the love of imposture, the love of money, the love of scepticism, or the love of being esteemed mysteriously wise and penetrating. That there are now, and always have been, some phenomena attending these arts which are not easy to be accounted for, except by the initiated, and perhaps not even by themselves in all cases, because of their ignorance of certain physical laws and agencies, is very probable; but that there is, or ever has been, any connection between the phenomena exhibited and what they are supposed to presage, except in the imagination of the diviner, or of those who are duped by him, there appears to be no reason to believe. The whole thing, both as it was denounced by the law of Moses, and as it is practised in these days, is nothing, in our view, but a piece of skillful trickery, carried on in part, perhaps, by taking advantage of some occult laws and agencies of nature which are not generally understood; but still, in the main, a sheer artifice. And as under the Jewish regimen, so now, the whole thing ought to be condemned and despised; and on just the same grounds, that it has a tendency to unsettle the religious faith, and to beguile and corrupt the minds of the weak and superstitious. The influence of deceivers and impostors is always hurtful. The apostle must first put Elymas to silence and confusion before he could hope to bring Sergius Paulus to embrace the faith of the gospel.
With these preparatory thoughts in mind, let us approach the sacred narrative of Saul's consulting with the sorceress at Endor; and it will appear, we think, that there was nothing supernatural in what there occurred; nothing that forms an exception to the general facts and principles already adduced. It was just what it purports to be, a specimen of “lying divination;" an example of the manner in which a shrewd woman, and base as shrewd, apt and skilled in the practice of deception, and pretending to be in communication with a familiar spirit, could contrive to impose upon the senses and the imagination of an unhappy and half-demented man. He himself was evidently made to believe that the veritable Samuel, or his ghost, was actually brought up from the dead, through the agency of this woman, to tell him what he should do, and what should befall him. But must we believe any such thing because he did? Must we adopt his superstition as our own? Readers of the Bible have generally felt that there was something very strange and supernatural in the occurrences here related, and have resorted to various methods of accounting for them.
We will first advert to some of the opinions that have been entertained on the subject, and briefly examine their merits.
1. The most common impression of the matter seems to be, that Samuel was really made to appear to Saul, by the special interposition and power of God, with the design to rebuke and punish him for his impiety, by stirring up a remorseful remembrance of his rebellion, and discovering to him his last and greatest calamity. But here it should be distinctly remarked, that this supposition is altogether gratuitous. The sacred narrator, from first to last, does not give the slightest intimation that God interposed in the affair otherwise than by his general permissive providence. And if we were expected to understand that the Lord did, in this instance, turn aside from his ordinary course of proceeding, and do that which is entirely unlike any. thing else recorded of him in the Bible, should we not have been so clearly informed on the point as to leave no room for questioning? Is a parallel case to be found in the whole sacred record, where God wrought a miracle, and it is not ascribed to him? But more than this, are we to believe that the Lord would thus contravene his own authoritative word, which most strongly denounces, and positively forbids all dealing with familiar spirits? Would he treat that vile woman at Endor, and her still viler craft, with so much consideration and respect, as to give her the power, or make her the medium, through which to send his servant Samuel from the other world, to hold an interview with the discarded Saul, when as we are expressly told, he had previously refused to answer him, “either by dreams, or by vision, or by prophets ?" Would he thus set aside his own chosen and appointed methods of communicating with men, and adopt this, on which he was wont to pour his holy contempt, and which he had solemnly forbidden ?
Would he put so much distinction upon that sorceress, who, by his law, deserved to be stoned with stones till she died, or do so much to sanction her heathenish practices, and to encourage a belief in their reliableness, when, on all other occasions, he sought to discountenance and suppress everything of the kind by pronouncing it a lying vanity and abomination, and by affixing to it the penalty of death? Is the Lord ever, apparently even, so inconsistent, and so divided against himself? We cannot believe it; our reverence for the Most High forbids the idea. Had the Lord wished to send Samuel from the invisible world to reprove Saul and forewarn him of his doom, he could surely have done it without employing so exceptionable an agency as this.
2. Another supposition is, that Samuel was really called up and made to appear at the woman's summons, by the power of the devil. But here again it should be observed, that nothing of the kind is intimated in the narrative. Satan is not introduced into the story at all, either directly or remotely, except it be in the moral character of the king and the sorceress. And besides, this supposition involves either the doctrine that Satan is possessed of independent, arbitrary power to raise the spirits of the dead at his pleasure; or that God, in this instance, delegated to him such power. But according to the Scriptures, neither Satan nor any other creature, is possessed of absolute, independent power. His agency is limited by the divine permission. He cannot transcend the power on which he is dependent for existence; he cannot go beyond the restrictions that God imposes upon him. As in the case of Job, Satan is represented as powerless till God gave him a limited commission; and when Satan desired to "sift” the Apostle "as wheat," we are left to infer that he would so have sifted him had not God held his malice under restraint. If, therefore, Samuel was called up by the power of the devil, it must be because God allowed and commissioned him to do it. But to suppose this involves the same objections that have already been suggested. It makes God a consenting party to a transaction, which, in all its aspects, was directly contrary to his own law, and apparently subversive of his own design in denouncing and prohibiting all magic arts. It amounts to much the same thing as saying that God performed the act himself. Qui facit per alium, facit per se. But is it not at variance with all our ideas of God's character, and of the conditions and privileges of departed saints, that the Lord should in this manner subject the soul of his servant Samuel to the power of the devil, to be summoned back to earth at the call of a sorceress whom the law condemned as worthy of death, to appear and answer to the inquiries of such a man as Saul! The whole idea seems entirely inconsistent with Scripture, and is revolting to our moral sense. We cannot accept it. Our impression of the honor that God confers upon his departed saints quite rejects such a theory.
3. Another explanation is, that Satan himself appeared in the disguise of Samuel, by putting on his form, assuming his garb, and speaking in his name. This is Matthew Henry's idea. But this is attributing to the devil nothing less than miraculous power, whereas we have no evidence that he possesses any such power, unless it be given him of God, which, in a case like this, as we have intimated, would involve a Divine inconsistency. It assumes that Satan can put on the appearance, and counterfeit the living presence of any one as he pleases,-an admission that would endanger the strongest evidences of Christianity; for how could we then know that Satan did not personate the Saviour as risen from the dead, and ascending up on high? How could we be assured that he did not counterfeit Lazarus as coming forth from the grave? What confidence could we have when we meet and converse with one whom we suppose to be a good and honest man, that he is not, after all, the devil in disguise ? And besides, is it congruous with the devil's character to reprove a man for his impiety and wickedness, as the apparition at Endor reproved Saul? We are indeed told metaphorically, by way of setting forth the cunning and deceitfulness of Satan, that he is “ transformed into an angel of light;" but where is it affirmed that he can transform himself into either a living or dead man as he pleases? This doctrine, therefore, cannot be admitted without deranging all the laws of evidence, and leaving us in doubt whether to believe the testimony of any professed witnesses, or even of our own senses. We cannot accept it.
4. Others have maintained that the whole account is the narrative of “a miracle, a Divine representation or impression, partly upon the senses of Saul, and partly upon those of the woman, and intended for the rebuke and punishment of Saul.” Worse and worse! This is bringing God into direct fellowship with the heathenish and forbidden practices of divination, and claiming that he coöperated with that guilty sorceress at Endor in deceiving the senses of Saul, and the senses of the woman herself! It imputes to him the working of a miracle with the design to make a representation or impression that Samuel was present, when in reality there was no Samuel there! Are we then to believe that God is a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should deceive, and that, too, by a special mira