Thinking it through

Ignorant of his devices – recognising Satan’s schemes

Ignorant of his devices – recognising Satan’s schemes
Stephen Rees
Stephen Rees Stephen Rees is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Stockport. He travels widely as a preacher and conference speaker.
29 September, 2022 15 min read

Have you ever been attacked by demons? Here is an account of the way that one family was attacked by demons. It was written by a 17th century Puritan preacher named Cotton Mather who lived in the American colony of Massachusetts. I’m going to quote it at length, but I’ve still left out many interesting details.

In the year 1679 the house of William Morse, at Newberry, was infested with daemons after a most horrid manner... Bricks, and sticks, and stones, were often by some invisible hand thrown at the house... a cat was thrown at the woman of the house, and a long staff danc’d up and down in the chimney; and afterwards the same long staff was hang’d by a line, and swung to and fro; and when two persons laid it on the fire to burn it, it was as much as they were able to do with their joint strength to hold it there. An iron crook was violently by an invisible hand hurl’d about; and a chair flew about the room until at last it litt upon the table, where the meat stood ready to be eaten, and had spoil’d all, if the people had not with much ado saved a little. A chest was by an invisible hand carry’d from one place to another, and the doors barricado’d, and the keys of the family taken, some of them from the bunch where they were ty’d, and the rest flying about with a loud noise of their knocking against one another. For one while the folks of the house could not sup quietly, but ashes would be thrown into their suppers, and on their heads, and their cloaths; and the shoes of the man being left below, one of them was fill’d with ashes and coals, and thrown up after him. When they were a-bed, a stone weighing about three pounds was divers times thrown upon them. A box and a board was likewise thrown upon them; and a bag of hops being taken out of a chest, they were by the invisible hand beaten therewith, till some of the hops were scatter’d on the floor, where the bag was then laid and left...
...When they were winnowing their barley, dirt was thrown at them; and assaying to fill their half bushel with corn, the foul corn would be thrown in with the clean, so irresistibly, that they were forc’d thereby to give over what they were about.
While the man was writing, his inkhorn was by the invisible hand snatch’d from him; and being able no where to find it, he saw it at length drop out of the air down by the fire. A shoe was laid upon his shoulder; but when he would have catch’d it, it was rapt from him; it was then clapt upon his head, and there he held it so fast, that the unseen fury pull’d him with it backward on the floor. He had his cap torn off his head, and in the night he was pull’d by the hair, and pinch’d, and scratch’d; and the invisible hand prick’d him with some of his awls, and with needles, and bodkins; and blows that fetched blood were sometimes given him. Frozen clods of cow dung were often thrown at the man; and his wife going to milk the cows, they could by no means preserve the vessels of milk from the like annoyances, which made it fit only for the hogs...
...The man and his wife, taking the boy to bed with them, a chamber pot with its contents was thrown upon them; they were severely pinch’d and pull’d out of the bed; and many other fruits of devilish spite were they dogg’d withal, until it pleas’d God mercifully to shorten the chain of the devil. (Great Works of Christ in America, Banner of Truth edition, vol. II pp. 446ff.)

Well, now that you’ve read that, let me ask you again. Have you ever been attacked by demons? Have they ever thrown lumps of cow dung at you? Or pulled your hair in the night? Or thrown bricks at your house?

No. And if that’s what it means to be attacked by demons, neither have I. In fact, I don’t think demons attack anybody in the way that Cotton Mather describes. I’d be inclined to say that the episode he describes is either an elaborate hoax concocted by a member of the household, or that it’s down to hysterical imagination, or that it’s simply a pack of lies.

Yes, demons are real. They are evil spirits, under the command of God’s great enemy Satan, full of hatred and cruelty. But the Bible never suggests that they operate in the way that Mather describes. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that they cannot operate physically in our world in any direct way. They can’t pick up chairs, prick people with needles, or mix up the foods in your cupboard. They are spirits and have no power to interfere in our world physically.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour
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