Can We Have Communication With The Dead?
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A True Human Instinct
It is perfectly natural to want to talk with our loved ones who have died. It adds to our grief that we cannot.
It's a true human instinct to miss them, and long intensely for them, and to feel lonely in their absence. All this may be kept out of sight, pretty much, under a strong good self-control. But anything else is not natural.
Death is always a shock, even when expected. It makes a bad break in one's life. I know a young man who wrote to his mother every day, even if only a few lines, when his work took him quite away from her. And when she slipped from his grasp it took the longest time and some strange feelings to break that daily writing habit.
He had prayed daily for her. And it seemed so queer not to. It seemed like not being true to her, as though it were disloyal not to be naming her in the daily prayer.. Then he learned to put praise in the place of the old-time prayer, that, she was safe past troublous things, up in the Master's own presence. But what a wrench that change of habit did make !
I have a dear friend whose husband suddenly snapped the life-cord, and was gone. They had lived an ideal life together for long years. She always leaned upon his counsel and fellowship in family matters. And it seemed as if she could not get used to doing without him. A bit of her very self had gone.
Grief, tense, deep, overwhelming, is the natural thing. Its emotional sweep and suction is tremendous, quite beyond words. It takes a fine strong self-control to hold steady and keep the true poise. Many don't. They fail. They are swamped. The vision blurs. The judgment wavers. Action comes under the sway of blurred vision, and twisted judgment.
Emotion should never be allowed to take the reins and drive. When it is so, whatever the emotion be, grief or joy, love or hate, there's a runaway, a break-down and smash-up ahead. The will must always hold the lines hard and steady. It should be influenced, fully by natural emotion, by knowledge, and by disciplined judgment. But the will must keep control.
Death, never lazy, has been running riot of late, with a ghoulish uncanny glee. The world's worst war has counted the dead into millions, Actual violence has been joined by strain, disease, and sheer want, in claiming occupants for the grave. The natural strain which death always puts on the living has been intensified terrifically.
An Aftermath of the War
And so it was quite the thing to be expected that there would be an intense revival of interest in the old questions about the. dead, and. especially about whether we can communicate with the dead. And it has come, with a rush.
The movement has swept these two English-speaking peoples like the wild-fire of the prairies that spreads and rages unchecked. Under various names, spiritualism, spiritism, psychic phenomena, occultism and so on, it is the old fire burning more intensely than ever, even in pulpits, as well as out of them.
There has suddenly sprung up unparalleled additions to the literature of the subject. In our own country decidedly more than a hundred new books have appeared since the Spring of 'Eighteen, with new titles being added every week. There are said to be nineteen periodicals devoted to spiritism as a cult, able to pay their own way. One book, from a British pen, is listed in the public libraries as among the five or six most in demand. One London society is said - to have a collection of three thousand volumes dealing directly with various phases of spiritism.
And the mechanical means provided to facilitate so-called communication with the dead have been in common demand and use to such an extent as to be used to point witticisms in the daily papers.
The more recent name for this contrivance is very suggestive, a "ouija" board. The name is a mongrel combination of two languages, "oui," French ; "ja," German ; that is, "yes yes." It will assent to anything you suggest, whatever your language, and give the comfortable feeling that you are right in your hopes and yearnings.
Two prominent men in England have become leaders in the movement. One of these has made quite a remarkable visit to the United States. An able scientist in the physicist realm, with a noble presence, fine use of cultured language, and skilful publicity, he has had great crowds wherever he has gone.
It is interesting that in a recent review of the opinion of more than a hundred leading American scientists, educators and specialists in psychology, the concensus was decidedly against his stand and teaching, judged wholly from the scientific, scholarly standpoint. It has been suggested that if he had employed the same puerile methods in the physicist realm he would never have emerged from the shades of obscurity.
Yet one can be sympathetic with him to a certain degree, personally, while utterly opposed to his teaching. For as great an emotional nature as his, unsteadied by moorings, could easily be swept aside by the great personal grief that came to him through the war.
The other of these two is a gifted writer of detective stories, chiefly, which have been read wherever English is read. It is not surprising that these two Englishmen have had such a wide hearing among the unthinking.
Yet in neither case do the special training and achievement which have made these men so well and favorably known, give special qualification for sifting evidence, or of being competent judges, on this present subject. Rather it would take a specialized mental discipline to break away from their accustomed work, and acquire competence of judgment in examining a. matter so utterly removed from their special studies.
But let us get to our question about communication with the dead. And it is most striking to note that this is one of the very oldest of questions. Its beginnings run far back into the mistiest past. This present wild-fire is not only not a new thing, but one of the oldest and grayest, its edges all frayed by the wear of time.
Communication with the dead, in some phase of it, is the main underpinning of nearly all the religions of the world, both civilized and savage. The two outstanding exceptions are Judaism and Christianity. Ancestor-worship, or the cult of the dead is the staple of most religions from early Egyptian through Greek, Roman, Phoenician, up to present day Chinese and Japanese.
It is associated most in our thought today with China. With them the spirit of the dead father or other kinsman is supposed to enter the ancestral tablet and to commune with his living kin. He is supposed to do more, he favors and helps and protects his living kinsfolk. For a slavish fear really underlies their ancestor-worship, though perhaps unconsciously.
In its higher forms this ancestor-worship is an abnormal, morbid extension of proper veneration for one's parents and elders. It becomes an improper exaggeration of a perfectly proper thing. It easily degenerates into its lower form of communication with spirits, that is, into necromancy, witchcraft, and the like. Veneration degenerates into slavish fear and dread.
But now, let us face fairly the question: can we have communication with the dead? There are those who assert positively that we can. Their common teaching is that the spirits of the dead do come back to us, that they try to get into communication, and that the difficulty involved is because they and we are in two quite different spheres. And so, they say, there is naturally some difficulty, like in the use of two different languages until we have become learned in their use.
These people fall into three groups. At the lowest level are those who believe in ghosts. These are usually the ignorant and superstitious. Though it is surprising how common this sort of thing is among all classes. The ghosts are supposed to be spirits of human beings who have died, and who return to their former abodes. One strange feature of this belief is the terrible sense of fear that goes with it. It is as though loved ones had changed their character through death, and now would do harm.
I recall a sensible remark made by a simple man in a backward country district. A sense of terror had seized a certain group because the ghost of a recently deceased kinsman was thought to have come back. "Well," he said, "if he's in hell he can't come back ; and if he's in heaven, he doesn't want to come back." But such sensible talk is not as common as one could wish.
Then there are the professionals who make a livelihood by their art. These are commonly known today as mediums. That is the word in use now. They are supposed to supply the medium of communication between the two worlds. This is a very large class, to be found in all our cities on both sides of the water.
Sometimes they are called clairvoyants, which simply means those who can see clearly. The word is from the French, as is the other word commonly used, "seance," meaning simply a sitting or a session, used for the time spent in getting the alleged communication.
The third group is supposed to be on a higher level. These are the so-called scientific investigators. They profess to put the whole thing upon a scientific or scholarly basis. The common phrase here is psychical research. With this is associated the study of the character of hypnotism, mesmerism, magnetism, and the like.
And without any doubt there is here a wide legitimate sphere for research. Though one notes the constant tendency by some to drop to the lower levels. It is rather surprising what a degree of credulity can be shown in this re-search by some who are insistent on rigid evidence in other fields.
The British Society for Psychical Research has had on its rolls the names of many distinguished publicists and men prominent in various walks, though its activities seem controlled by a certain distinctive group with marked leanings toward the results they are eager to find. These are the three groups.
Communication with the Dead An Uncharted Realm of Mental Science
It should be noted carefully here that there is a legitimate psychical research which belongs to the realm of mental science or psychology. There are certain functions of the mind that seem never to have been fully understood, nor adequately explained and defined.
Mental science, or psychology, as convention-ally treated in all text books and schools, has ignored these functions. That's one extreme. The psychical specialists who attempt to treat the subject in a scholarly way do not as a rule, make clear analysis and distinctions. That's the other extreme. Without question there is here a field of research in mental science not yet adequately explored and charted.
There seem plainly to be mental traits or gifts or functions that properly belong to our natural stock of mental powers, but which seem to have been lost, or partially lost, through the hurt of sin. Some still have them in varying degree. But commonly we are so ignorant of just what they are that they seem uncanny to the common man.
These traits or functions are said to belong to the sub-conscious mind. That is they are working while we are unconscious of them. They are also said to belong to the subliminal mind. That is, the mind below the threshold of what we are conscious of. The thought is the same with both terms.
For instance one will have a premonition about a loved one who is at a distance, quite apart from any information that has come through the ordinary channels. He may have a similar premonition about some coming event. Without any doubt the Holy Spirit guides those in touch with him regarding such things. But distinctly in addition to this guidance, there is undoubtedly a mental trait that takes account of such things. But this is much more marked in some, and in others quite missing.
I have an intimate friend who has this sort of mental quality to rather a marked degree. For instance it comes to him that a certain one will call and will act in a certain detailed way. And so it turns out.
He has had the experience of driving along a country road and of seeing places and people and incidental happenings as though in his mind's eye, and only so. Then after driving maybe two or three miles he would come across exactly what his spirit vision had discerned.
He is an earnest Christian man, somewhat familiar with the dangers we are speaking of here. And he follows the settled principle of not seeking to tamper with a realm unfamiliar, but instead prayerfully to hold all his powers subject to the Holy Spirit's constant guidance.
One remarkable thing he constantly experiences is the strong impulse to pray for certain ones, indeed an intense drawing aside for such prayer, as though the one brought to mind were in peculiar need or danger or temptation. And repeatedly the knowledge has come afterwards of the sore need or danger or special temptation, and the deliverance.
If one find himself possessed of some such gift in some marked degree, he should pray quietly over it. Dedicate it, with all your powers, to the Master. Never seek to use it save as you use any better-understood power, by the Holy Spirit's gracious guidance, in practical ways. Be cautious, just because of the element of not clearly understanding the gift.
Something akin to this sort of thing, though quite distinct, is the experience of some saintly people, as they near death's door. As they draw near the veil between this and the spirit world, seems to grow thinner. As the physical powers weaken, the spirit vision seems able to see what could not be seen before.
As Stephen stood in the midst of the raging murderous mob bent on his blood, the eyes of his spirit were opened. He saw what was clearly beyond the range of physical eyesight. And what did he see? Jesus ! glorified, standing at the Father's right hand.1
I recall as though yesterday the light that came into the face of a dear saint as she was slipping out over into the King's presence. She looked quietly intently up, as though she could see some one or some thing which we could not see.
A delighted look lightened her eyes and face. Then she looked around at those surrounding her bed, as though she would say "Can't you see, too?" Then she sank into the sleep that carried her spirit into the presence of Him she loved so devotedly.
The word telepathy has been coined for something akin to this, though distinctly different. That is the communication of one person with another in close sympathy without the ordinary recognized means of communication. One mind seems to communicate with another without words, looks, gestures, or the like. Some are much more sensitive to this sort of thing than others.
Without any doubt our common ignorance of these little-understood mental traits or powers, has been skilfully made use of by professional experts who themselves are peculiarly sensitive in these directions, and have carefully cultivated that sensitiveness. There is apt to be with these professional spiritists a subtle blend of what is quite legitimate with that which is distinctly illegitimate, and is cunning trickery. And the uninformed man, perhaps under the stress of some great grief, is quite swept off his feet.
The Responses That Do Come
Now these are the people, these three groups, who answer yes to our question. They say there is a response to this attempt to communicate. And let it be said here quite plainly and positively that there are responses. There can be no question of that.
But please note keenly, the character of these responses. Without exception they are vague, indefinite, insufficient, frequently childish. They are double meaninged; that is they can be turned this way, or this other opposite way. They sometimes are dovetailed with exquisite shrewdness into suggestions given or drawn out.
If indeed these responses were communications from our loved dead it would be rather disheartening. For judging from these, it would seem clear that those we loved have undergone a decided decadence in their mental powers. The commonsense with which they used to talk seems painfully missing.
Now, the intense, vital question is where do these undoubted responses come from? The spiritists or mediums say they come from the spirits of our dead talking with us. Certain psychologists, who specialize on the psychical side of things, say they come from within ourselves, from the workings of our subconscious minds.
After long careful, prayerful study I have reached the deliberate conclusion that there are five possible sources from which they may come, and only these five. These experts say they do come from our loved dead.
They may come from a subtle interplay of the inner working of two human minds, the mind of the enquirer and that of the professional. That would make it wholly mental. They may come through the cunning deception of the expert working on an overwrought emotional condition of the enquirer, or, dealing with undisciplined, untaught, credulous enquirers or observers.
They may come, are you listening quietly, for this is tremendous, yet I am saying it very deliterately, they may come from demons. Or, they may come through a subtle mixture of two or more of these, inextricably interwoven. I am quite clear that all these five things must be taken into account, and that they cover all the ground.
Our English friend, who lectured so widely in the United States, in response to the criticism that these responses are so unsatisfactory and childish, is reported to have replied in effect that the fact of a response established that there is communication with the one desired. It seems quite incredible that a man of his intelligence could have made such a reply. It is so utterly childish in its ignorance of the various possible sources of such phenomena.
Now, let me go one step further. I have come to a clear settled personal conviction about where these responses come from. This conviction has come slowly. It has come, not through ignoring any evidence, but weighing everything most carefully.
I have carefully read ghost stories and allied literature. I have talked, both here and in Great Britain and Continental Europe, with sensible people, who have had unusual experiences. I have tried to examine the Psychical Research Society, and similar, literature. And though I have never gone to a spiritistic seance, as a matter of principle and of deep conviction, yet I have talked with those who have.
And I have come to three deliberate conclusions. First, human spirits do not return to talk with us. There is never communication with them. Second, haunted houses, apparitions, and the like, can always be explained fully, either by the presence of demons, or by the working of our subtler mental processes, that is, by subjective impressions, hallucinations, and the like.
And third, the responses that come through spiritistic experts, are never messages from the dead. Some of them are from demons. And their purpose in this we shall see in a few moments. Some are the unconscious interplay of the subtler mental processes of the two in touch, the enquirer and the expert. And some are simply deliberate skilful deception by the spiritistic expert.
It is of intense interest to note the conditions - which these experts say are essential to getting what they call good results, namely, there must be a non-critical spirit. That really means with them a non-scrutinizing spirit. There should in-stead be a passive, acquiescent, sympathetic spirit. The more fully one can yield up all self-control over his faculties, and yield wholly to the influences of the expert, the better the results gotten, they say.
The Authoritative Answer
But we haven't really got our answer yet. The authoritative answer is yet to come. And it is authoritative. It leaves nothing to be said. When we get that the case is settled. It is the answer of this old Book of God. It becomes of intense interest to note that this Book recognizes this question, discusses it fully, and answers it flatly and fully and positively.
Let us look at this authoritative answer.
The Bible is an index to the moral customs and conditions of the nations surrounding the old Jewish nation. And that means practically of all the nations of that old world. For the Jewish domain lay at the center. All the nations touched that domain directly or indirectly.
Every national culture influenced its life, as in the after centuries every civilization marched its armies over that territory. The prohibitions contained in the Ten Commandments, with the numerous detailed prohibitions grouped with them, became a perfect bit of mirror reflecting common moral conditions among these surrounding nations.
From the earliest times there was in all these nations a class of experts in the cult of the dead, the foretelling of the future, the settling of doubtful questions, interpretation of dreams, and in general the magical and mysterious. Practically this was the priestly class. For this sort of thing was connected with, and made up a large part of, their religion." Such a class of professionals flourished at various times among the Jews though expressly prohibited.'
The various names by which these magical experts were known are significant. They let in a flood of light as to these forbidden practices. There's an index given in Moses' farewell talks in the Plains of Moab.
"There shall not be found with thee any one that maketh his son or daughter to pass through the fire, one that useth divination, one that practices augury, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a wizard, or a necromancer."
These are grouped together as one class, equally abominable to God, with nine varying names according to methods used, or the pretensions made. Then the whole class is grouped up under two names, augury and diviners. One of these names deals distinctively with consulting the dead, that is, necromancer, one who consults the dead, and divines or foretells by that means.
The name used for another one of these lets in a flood of clear light on the whole class, that is, "a consulter with a familiar spirit. Familiar spirit is the old English word for devil or demon. The word underneath here is one of those used for a devil or demon.
That is to say, the pretended purpose of all these was communication with the dead. The real purpose underneath was communication with demons or evil spirits. In other words, all this was devilcraft. So the Holy Spirit reveals plainly here. Other names are sometimes used for the same general craft, astrologers, stargazers, monthly prognosticators, sooth-sayers.
It is of interest to note that the designation, "black art," and "black magic," which are commonly used for devilcraft grow out of the word necromancer. By an accidental slip of a single letter, "c" was changed to "g," and so the word read, negromancer, that is negro, a black man, negromancer, one who divined by black, or dark, or forbidden means. That term "black art" has come to be quite commonly used for all devil-craft. It is synonymous with sorcery and witch-craft.
Now the thing that stands out with unmistakeable emphasis is this : all this sort of thing was forbidden by God. It was forbidden in the strongest language. It was characterized as the very worst sort of wickedness. And it was to be met with the extremest penalty. Note some of the passages. One in particular stands out as a sort of index to all. It is spoken to Israel at a time when the nation was far down the spiritual decline that at least disrupted it.
"And when they shall say unto you, seek unto them that have familiar spirits (demons) and unto the wizards that chirp, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God,' Should they seek unto the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and testimony (of God's word) ! If they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning (that is, no dawning, no hope) for them."
Pretty plain talk that. How peculiarly it fits in with common life today ! These devil crafts-men were aggressively at work. But it was a time of sore stress in the nation. There was sore need of guidance. What would they do? How wholesomely simple the answer. Go to God's Book. It has plain teaching. It will tell you, and more, if you don't, things will go bad, only bad, with you, sooner or later.
Listen to these three passages spoken, be it keenly marked, by God Himself, and simply re-cited by Moses with the great Ten Commandments : "Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live."1 "Ye shall not use enchantments, nor practice augury." "Turn ye not unto them that have familiar spirits (demons), nor unto the wizards; seek them not out, to be defiled by them. I am Jehovah your God."
"The soul that turneth unto them that have familiar spirits (demons), and unto the wizards, to play the harlot after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people."
"A man or a woman that hath a familiar spirit (demon) or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death; they shall be stoned with stones."
Could stronger language be used? These practices were defiling, befouling, morally dirty. They were classed with the worst sort of sexual impurity. They were the worst sort of enmity to God. They were to be visited with the extreme penalty, death, and death in one of its most painful drastic forms, stoning.
Another of these stinging characterizations comes from the lips of Samuel. He is talking with King Saul. And if any body in this old Book could use plain tense stinging talk it was Samuel. Listen to him, and watch Saul's face whitening under the writhing rebuke.
"Rebellion (that is, simply failure to obey Gad) is as witchcraft (devil craft), and stubbornness (being set in your own way even against God's way) is extreme iniquity and devil-worship!' In other words, these evil, occult, magical, practices were the extreme form of badness. They were devilish. That's the superlative degree.
It is striking to note that these things become the common touchstone of the worst wickedness. National reformations hit directly at them. Bad kings, revived them. It was because of such practices, and others kin to them, that the Canaanitish nations had been cast out, and that long after, Israel went to pieces.' They are repeatedly referred to in the denunciation of the prophets.
With these sharp-cut words from the Old Testament in mind it becomes of intense interest to turn to the other end of the Book. Paul in his old age, with spirit vision made sensitive by the Holy Spirit's touch, discerns that in the end of the Church period,
"Some (in the Church) shall fall away from the (true) faith, giving heed to seducing (that is misleading, "vagabond") demons, and to things taught by demons through pretended good men who really speak lies, and whose con-sciences are seared as with a hot iron."1."'
The Evil Purpose Underneath
Here then is the plain teaching of God's Word. Nothing could be plainer nor more explicit. Attempted communication with the dead is allied directly with the worst black art. It is grouped with devilcraft. It is really dealing with demons.
It is a distinctly forbidden realm, marked sharply off. The prohibition could not be more explicit and express. The prohibition is put in strongest language. Such practices are characterized as defiling, befouling, abominable. They were to be visited with the extreme penalty.
But, there's even more than this to be most carefully noted. That is the utter incompetence of such attempts to give what we desire. There simply is not, and cannot be, any such communication with our loved ones who have gone. So that pretensions of this sort area deliberate deception.
The fact that there are such pretensions, made so positively and aggressively, at once becomes significant. There is clearly a purpose back of this. It is a purpose of evil. Indeed it is a purpose of the Evil One himself. He is clearly the one behind all this sort of thing.
And his purpose is as plain as it is brazen and startling. He wants to get control of men. He can get control only through their consent; extracted under deception when not openly given. Demoniacs are extreme instances of such control. They are human beings possessed and con-trolled to such an extent as to have lost self-control completely.
They really are too much under demon control to be serviceable to the devil. It's a case where the demons are not kept in hand by their chief. They get out of his control. Demoniacs in the Gospel are instances of this sort of thing. They can be found in heathen lands today, though their families are commonly ashamed to have the fact known.
In the western world the uncontrollable cases of demon possession are mostly in the insane asylum. But these likewise are too far gone to be serviceable to the Evil One. He prefers simply enough control of a man so he can have use of him in the usual avenues of life, mingling among his fellows.
The danger of tampering with this sort of thing is terribly real. I remember a small book that came into my hands years ago in London. It was devoted to the discussion of the serious dangers attending practices of this sort. It was not written at all from a Christian stand-point; indeed just the opposite.
That makes its warnings more pointed. The writer was not concerned apparently with the question of right or wrong, but only with the danger to one's mental powers and self-control. In speaking of those who attempt communication with the spirit world, he said, quoting freely, "They open a door that by and by they cannot shut, when they earnestly want to shut it." And he went on to instance cases he knew of the deplorable disastrous results that had followed, including his own experiences. Even our well-known English author and lecturer, already referred to, warns his readers against the dangers attending spiritistic experiments. This is very significant.
I recall a man I came in touch with in North-ern Germany some years ago. He was an honest, earnest, simple-hearted peasant. He had been eager for certain experiences that others of his acquaintance had. He was plainly demon-possessed, and yet against his will. The evidence was unmistakeable to me. Happily through prayer and instruction he was set free.
But I was struck at the time with the unusually clear statement he made to me of how his trouble came. He said, "I was ignorant of the danger ; I opened the door ; the evil spirit came in ; and I couldn't free myself of his presence." These illustrate the terrible dangers of tampering with such things.
The Witch of Endor
But now before leaving this part of our talk where the Scripture is being quoted, I want to refer to two passages more. These come at the first flush as a distinct surprise. There are two instances in the Bible of communication with
those who have died. They stand out sharply as the only two. They were plainly planned by God himself. And they stand out in such detailed contrast as must be painful in the extreme to those believing in the devil's sort of communications.
The first of these is the case of Samuel and the witch of Endor.' Look at it briefly. King Saul, who sought the witch's help, was out of touch with God. That is an outstanding feature of the story. Twice he had openly disobeyed God's explicit command. And he was the national leader. That made a bad thing so much worse. Whatever he did, the crowds would do.'
Now in an emergency (it's always an emergency that tempts one so sorely), he sought an illegitimate means of guidance. He himself had forbidden witchcraft under penalty of death. Now, disguised, he makes a secret night journey up north to Endor to consult a witch there. He succeeds in overcoming her cautious regard for her own safety in doing a prohibited thing, and asks her to bring Samuel up for consultation. Samuel had been dead some little time.
Now the striking thing to note is, that Samuel did come and talk with Saul. But it is quite clear that the witch had nothing to do with Samuel's coming. Instead she was utterly taken back, astonished and startled beyond measure by what happened. The whole thing was taken quite out of her hands.
To her intense fright a spirit actually came up before her eyes. There is instant identification of who it is. It is Samuel, No one was better known to the common people, for years the nation's great leader. Her recognition of him is immediate and unquestioning.
At once a startled cry comes from her lips. The common translation in the King James' version and in the Revisions is, "she cried with a loud voice." A more full accurate translation would be "she was greatly startled and gave out suddenly a piercing shriek of distress."
Her shrewd native cunning made her quick to sense instantly that this disguised man consulting her was the King himself. Samuel, who had put Saul on the throne, actually coming up in person in this unprecedented way, naturally suggested to her keen wits that this other was Saul. For the break between Samuel and Saul had been open talk.
This is the first thing to note. The witch had nothing to do with Samuel's coming. This was a new experience to her, and a distinctly unwelcome experience. Something was happening wholly out of her realm of incantation.
A second thing to notice is the contrast of the sharpest kind between this communication from Samuel and all so-called communications from the dead. The latter are characteristically vague, cryptic, or cunningly double meaninged and distinctly below the known intelligence of the one supposed to be speaking. And further they seek to leave an agreeable impression.
But, here, Samuel speaks in his accustomed way. He gave definite detailed information, of a very unwelcome sort about the triple tragic happenings of the morrow. Saul would be deeated by the Philistines. He would lose the kingdom, and he would meet death, and his sons with him. And with this was a stinging rebuke that must have had a decidedly unpleasant familiarity to Saul as it cut its edge into the quick.
And now, mark keenly the influence of this incident on these impressionable Hebrew Orientals. The thing was commonly known. It could not be hid. The grapevine telegraph took it to every corner of Israel. It was the talk of the nation. And, more, it plainly gave a sharp set-back to witchery and all like practices.
There is no mention or allusion to such things for at least half a century, though they had been prevalent up to this time. An awe or fear comes over the people. They are afraid to attempt this sort of thing. God had rebuked it. This is the only thing of the sort in the whole Old Testament.
The other exceptional instance is the appearance of Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration.1 This is referred to only because it plainly is an instance of communication with the dead. But it is recognized at once that it belongs to a wholly different realm from that being discussed, and as much above it as the heavens are above the earth.
Moses had died sixteen centuries before. Now he plainly appears. He appears in company with Elijah, the fiery denouncer of all witchery and devilcraft. His identity is undoubted. Recognition of him is immediate. He talks with our Lord Jesus. He talks too, on a subject peculiarly obnoxious to the devil and to the whole tribe of the black art under whatever guise, namely, the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.
These are the two exceptions in this Book. And plainly they do but put into a sharper prominence the terrible characterizations and prohibitions of this Book on the whole brood of practices of devilcraft and its allied arts. Plainly in these two instances God deemed it wise for some practical purpose to have these occurrences take place and be recorded. And in both cases He took the initiative.
Meeting Our Human Need
The question of praying for the dead is an intensely interesting one. It is on the other side of this subject; not seeking help from the dead, but seeking to be helpful to them. The custom of praying for the dead has been in the Church, to varying extent, since the second century. It is common in certain sections of the Church of England today, and in certain communions that recognize that Church's leadership.
There is only one passage of Scripture quoted in its support, namely II Timothy I :i8. But this is quoted on the supposition that one, Onesiphorus, was dead, which is quite possible but not at all certain. The utter silence of Scripture on the subject, apart from this doubtful passage, would seem distinctly significant.
We are not told to pray for the dead. If our loved ones are in our Lord's presence prayer seems needless. If they are not, are they past the influence of prayer? The last chapter touches on this. Meanwhile praise can well take the place of prayer as the names of our dear ones come to our lips at prayer time.
Now there remains just one word more to add. And it is a word of deepest significance. Grief is still epidemic. Hearts are still sore and bleeding. The hearthstone is still lonely. Every meal time brings up heartbreaking memories. Loneliness still eats its acid way in.
We're hungrier than ever for fellowship. We're so needing plain straight guidance in our every day affairs. We do want to know about our loved ones. Is there no close-up, warm, help for us these days when grief drips its ceaseless rain all the day and far into the night?
Well, there's an answer to these human heart cries. And it is immediate and plain and full, and has a real human heart throb in it. There's a Friend who will share your lonely corner with you, and fill it and you with warmth and fellow-ship and glad song.
He's real, this Friend. He has the human touch. He knows all about things down here, He knows what it is to lose a dear friend through unexpected . death. There isn't one experience down here that He doesn't know by the feel, except experiences that come through wrong choice.
And so He can tell you what to do in emergencies and tight corners and everywhere else. And He will do it. And more than that He is in as close touch with your loved one who's gone as with you. He is your connecting link.
What do I mean? Whom am I talking about. Listen, while I try to get past the sometimes hardened shell of familiar words to the tense throbbing realities inside them. He's the Holy Spirit. He understands by the feel, all that Jesus went through.
But there is more. He is the Spirit of the glorified enthroned Jesus. He knows all our true human feelings and He knows all the divine power. For He is truly God, as well as human. His coming to live in you is so real a thing that it couldn't be more real. He spoke in this Book of God. He speaks in it. He will talk through its pages to you to-day. He will talk directly to your inmost spirit. He will surround you with the atmosphere of His own presence.
Getting in Touch
But, you say, just how can He become real to me like you say. Listen, the answer is so simple, yet it is radical. It is this : surrender yourself to the Lord Jesus as Master as well as Saviour. Make that surrender a habitual thing.
In a sane wholesome way make this the touch-stone of your daily life to please Him. Put His Word in the central place, the first place, before all other reading. Get a bit of quiet time alone with it, daily. Drink it in. Devour its contents. Breathe in its spirit. Absorb it. Brood over it.
Learn to spend the day with God. He is with you, and in you, in the person of His Holy Spirit. Thank Him for His presence. Do it daily. Sing Him a song of,, praise. Do it habitually. Talk to Him when you don't need to ask for something. Practice His presence. He is there by your side as you are reading this. Learn to spend the day with Him. All this sort of thing will discipline your judgment.
You will become keen to know the meaning of "watch and pray"., Watch is for the subtle crafty enemy, masquerading much these days in his "angel of light" costume, with unctuous voice, and reverent mien. You learn to pray with one eye open. The two must be balanced in your practice, with wholesome sanity, trained vision, and disciplined judgment.
But somebody says that this doesn't help you a bit, for you are not in, touch with God. Your mind is tormented with doubts about God, and His Word, and all this. Well, here's a bit for you if you're honest. That may be a big if. But honesty is the first essential.
Listen. My honestly skeptical friend can get a response direct from God to his own soul, if he really wants it. There's a pierced Hand on the knob at your door right now. There's someone waiting, waiting now on your door step, waiting to come in. And He will give you a response that will satisfy your deepest longings.
A mother with troubled face, spoke to John Bartholomew Gough at the close of one, of his famous temperance lectures. She had a darling boy, a man, but her boy. He called himself a skeptic. And the mother's heart was like to break. Would Mr. Gough talk with her boy. That was her request.
They met. The young man poured out his doubts. He seemed really sincere. Mr. Gough listened in his friendly way. Finally he said, "Why don't you pray? Prayer is a natural thing." But whom should he pray to? He didn't think there was a God. Mr. Gough said, "Why not pray to Love. You believe in love. You believe in your dear mother's love for you. That's a pure holy passion." That touched a sensitive spot. The young man said he would.
In his bedroom that night he knelt with closed eyes, and cried out passionately, "Oh, Love 1" Instantly, though so softly, the words seemed spoken in his inner being, "God is Love." And at once, he followed the impulse that came, and cried out, "Oh, God." Again so softly, the words he knew by heart, seemed spoken within, "God so loved the world that He gave His Only Be-gotten."
And again, yielding to the quick impulse in his spirit, his lips cried out, "Oh, Christ." And at once something came. An exquisite sense of peace stole into his spirit, as he was kneeling. The fog of doubts, where were they? A thousand questions remained unanswered, but there was that singular quiet sense of peace within. He was in touch with Him, who made peace by the blood of the Cross.
Any body who will, can get in touch. For He, the Man who was done to death for us, is now within reach. The honest heart reaching can get in touch. And that touch with Him, answers all questions and needs.