We have here an instance of Christ’s dispossessing the strong man armed, and disposing of him as he pleased, to make it appear that he was stronger than he. This he did when he was come to the other side, whither he went through a storm; his business there was to rescue this poor creature out of the hands of Satan, and when he had done that, he returned. Thus he came from heaven to earth, and returned, in a storm, to redeem a remnant of mankind out of the hands of the devil, though but a little remnant, and did not think his pains ill bestowed.
In Matthew, they were said to be two possessed with devils; here it is said to be a man possessed with an unclean spirit. If there were two, there was one, and Mark doth not say that there was but one; so that this difference cannot give us any just offence; it is probable that one of them was much more remarkable than the other, and said what was said. Now observe here,
I. The miserable condition that this poor creature was in; he was under the power of an unclean spirit, the devil got possession of him, and the effect of it was not, as in many, a silent melancholy, but a raging frenzy; he was raving mad; his condition seems to have been worse than any of the possessed, that were Christ’s patients.
1. He had his dwelling among the tombs, among the graves of dead people. Their tombs were out of the cities, in desolate places (Job 3:14); which gave the devil great advantage: for woe to him that is alone. Perhaps the devil drove him to the tombs, to make people fancy that the souls of the dead were turned into daemons, and did what mischief was done, so to excuse themselves from it. The touch of a grave was polluting, Num. 19:16. The unclean spirit drives people into that company that is defiling, and so keeps possession of them. Christ, by rescuing souls out of Satan’s power, saves the living from among the dead.
2. He was very strong and ungovernable; No man could bind him, as it is requisite both for their own good, and for the safety of others, that those who are distracted should be. Not only cords would not hold him, but chains and fetters of iron would not, Mark 5:3, 4. Very deplorable is the case of such as need to be thus bound, and of all miserable people in this world they are most to be pitied; but his case was worst of all, in whom the devil was so strong, that he could not be bound. This sets forth the sad condition of those souls in which the devil has dominion; those children of disobedience, in whom that unclean spirit works. Some notoriously wilful sinners are like this madman; all are herein like the horse and the mule, that they need to be held in with bit and bridle; but some are like the wild ass, that will not be so held. The commands and curses of the law are as chains and fetters, to restrain sinners from their wicked courses; but they break those bands in sunder, and it is an evidence of the power of the devil in them.
3. He was a terror and torment to himself and to all about him, Mark 5:5. The devil is a cruel master to those that are led captive by him, a perfect tyrant; this wretched creature was night and day in the mountains and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones, either bemoaning his own deplorable case, or in a rage and indignation against heaven. Men in frenzies often wound and destroy themselves; what is a man, when reason is dethroned and Satan enthroned? The worshippers of Baal in their fury cut themselves, like this madman in his. The voice of God is, Do thyself no harm; the voice of Satan is, Do thyself all the harm thou canst; yet God’s word is despised, and Satan’s regarded. Perhaps his cutting himself with stones was only cutting his feet with the sharp stones he ran barefoot upon.
II. His application to Christ (Mark 5:6); When he saw Jesus afar off, coming ashore, he ran, and worshipped him. He usually ran upon others with rage, but he ran to Christ with reverence. That was done by an invisible hand of Christ, which could not be done with chains and fetters; his fury was all on a sudden curbed. Even the devil, in this poor creature, was forced to tremble before Christ, and bow to him: or, rather, the poor man came, and worshipped Christ, in a sense of the need he had of his help, the power of Satan in and over him being, for this instant, suspended.
III. The word of command Christ gave to the unclean spirit, to quit his possession (Mark 5:8); Come out of him, thou unclean spirit. He made the man desirous to be relieved, when he enabled him to run, and worship him, and then put forth his power for his relief. If Christ work in us heartily to pray for a deliverance from Satan, he will work for us that deliverance. Here is an instance of the power and authority with which Christ commanded the unclean spirits, and they obeyed him, Mark 1:27. He said, Come out of the man. The design of Christ’s gospel is to expel unclean spirits out of the souls of people; “Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit, that the Holy Spirit may enter, may take possession of the heart, and have dominion in it.”
IV. The dread which the devil had of Christ. The man ran, and worshipped Christ; but it was the devil in the man, that cried with a loud voice (making use of the poor man’s tongue), What have I to do with thee? Mark 5:7. Just as that other unclean spirit, Mark 1:24. 1. He calls God the most high God, above all other gods. By the name Elion—the Most High, God was known among the Phoenicians, and the other nations that bordered upon Israel; and by that name the devil calls him. 2. He owns Jesus to be the Son of God. Note, It is no strange thing to hear the best words drop from the worst mouths. There is such a way of saying this as none can attain to but by the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 12:3); yet it may be said, after a sort, by the unclean spirit. There is no judging of men by their loose sayings; but by their fruits ye shall know them. Piety from the teeth outward is an easy thing. The most fair-spoken hypocrite cannot say better than to call Jesus the Son of God, and yet that the devil did. 3. He disowns any design against Christ; “What have I to do with thee? I have no need of thee, I pretend to none; I desire to have nothing to do with thee; I cannot stand before thee, and would not fall.” 4. He deprecates his wrath; I adjure thee, that is, “I earnestly beseech thee, by all that is sacred, I beg of thee for God’s sake, by whose permission I have got possession of this man, that, though thou drive me out hence, yet that thou torment me not, that thou do not restrain me from doing mischief somewhere else; though I know I am sentenced, yet let me not be sent to the chains of darkness, or hindered from going to and fro, to devour.”
V. The account Christ took from this unclean spirit of his name. This we had not in Matthew. Christ asked him, What is thy name? Not but that Christ could call all the fallen stars, as well as the morning stars, by their names; but he demands this, that the standers by might be affected with the vast numbers and power of those malignant infernal spirits, as they had reason to be, when the answer was, My name is Legion, for we are many; a legion of soldiers among the Romans consisted, some say, of six thousand men, others of twelve thousand and five hundred; but the number of a legion with them, like that of a regiment with us, was not always the same. Now this intimates that the devils, the infernal powers, are, 1. Military powers; a legion is a number of soldiers in arms. The devils war against God and his glory, Christ and his gospel, men and their holiness and happiness. They are such as we are to resist and wrestle against, Eph. 6:12. 2. That they are numerous; he owns, or rather he boasts—We are many; as if he hoped to be too many for Christ himself to deal with. What multitudes of apostate spirits were there, and all enemies to God and man; when here were a legion posted to keep garrison in one poor wretched creature against Christ! Many there are that rise up against us. 3. That they are unanimous; they are many devils, and yet but one legion engaged in the same wicked cause; and therefore that cavil of the Pharisees, which supposed Satan to cast out Satan, and to be divided against himself, was altogether groundless. It was not one of this legion that betrayed the rest, for they all said, as one man, What have I to do with thee? 4. That they are very powerful; Who can stand before a legion? We are not a match for our spiritual enemies, in our own strength; but in the Lord, and in the power of his might, we shall be able to stand against them, though there are legions of them. 5. That there is order among them, as there is in a legion; there are principalities, and powers, and rulers of the darkness of this world, which supposes that there are those of a lower rank; the devil and his angels; the dragon and his; the prince of the devils and his subjects: which makes those enemies the more formidable.
VI. The request of this legion, that Christ would suffer them to go into a herd of swine that was feeding nigh unto the mountains (Mark 5:11), those mountains which the demoniacs haunted, Mark 5:5. Their request was, 1. That he would not send them away out of the country (Mark 5:10); not only that he would not commit them, or confine them, to their infernal prison, and so torment them before the time; but that he would not banish them that country, as justly he might, because in this poor man they had been such a terror to it, and done so much mischief. They seem to have had a particular affection for that country; or, rather, a particular spite to it; and to have liberty to walk to and fro through the rest of the earth, will not serve (Job 1:7), unless the range of those mountains be allowed them for their pasture, Job 39:8. But why would they abide in that country? Grotius saith, Because in that country there were many apostate Jews, who had thrown themselves out of the covenant of God, and had thereby given Satan power over them. And some suggest, that, having by experience got the knowledge of the dispositions and manners of the people of that country, they could the more effectually do them mischief by their temptations. 2. That he would suffer them to enter into the swine, by destroying which they hoped to do more mischief to the souls of all the people in the country, than they could by entering into the body of any particular person, which therefore they did not ask leave to do, for they knew Christ would not grant it.
VII. The permission Christ gave them to enter into the swine, and the immediate destruction of the swine thereby; He gave them leave (Mark 5:13), he did not forbid or restrain them, he let them do as they had a mind. Thus he would let the Gadarenes see what powerful spiteful enemies devils are, that they might thereby be induced to make him their Friend, who alone was able to control and conquer them, and had made it appear that he was so. Immediately the unclean spirits entered into the swine, which by the law were unclean creatures, and naturally love to wallow in the mire, the fittest place for them. Those that, like the swine, delight in the mire of sensual lusts, are fit habitations for Satan, and are, like Babylon, the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird (Rev. 18:2), as pure souls are habitations of the Holy Spirit. The consequence of the devils entering into the swine, was, that they all ran mad presently, and ran headlong into the adjoining sea, where they were all drowned, to the number of two thousand. The man they possessed did only cut himself, for God had said, He is in your hands, only save his life. But thereby it appeared, that, if he had not been so restrained, the poor man would have drowned himself. See how much we are indebted to the providence of God, and the ministration of good angels, for our preservation from malignant spirits.
VIII. The report of all this dispersed through the country immediately. They that fed the swine, hastened to the owners, to give an account of their charge, Mark 5:14. This drew the people together, to see what was done: and, 1. When they saw how wonderfully the poor man was cured, they hence conceived a veneration for Christ, Mark 5:15. They saw him that was possessed with the devil, and knew him well enough, by the same token that they had many a time been frightened at the sight of him; and were now as much surprised to see him sitting clothed and in his right mind; when Satan was cast out, he came to himself, and was his own man presently. Note, Those who are grave and sober, and live by rule and with consideration, thereby make it appear that by the power of Christ the devil’s power is broken in their souls. The sight of this made them afraid; it astonished them, and forced them to own the power of Christ, and that he is worthy to be feared. But, 2. When they found that their swine were lost, they thence conceived a dislike of Christ, and wished to have rather his room than his company; they prayed him to depart out of their coasts, for they think not any good he can do them sufficient to make them amends for the loss of so many swine, fat swine, it may be, and ready for the market. Now the devils had what they would have; for by no handle do these evil spirits more effectually manage sinful souls than by that of the love of the world. They were afraid of some further punishment, if Christ should tarry among them, whereas, if they would but part with their sins, he had life and happiness for them; but, being loth to quit either their sins or their swine, they chose rather to abandon their Saviour. Thus they do, who, rather than let go a base lust, will throw away their interest in Christ, and their expectations from him. They should rather have argued, “If he has such a power as this over devils and all creatures, it is good having him our Friend; if the devils have leave to tarry in our country (Mark 5:10), let us entreat him to tarry in it too, who alone can control them.” But, instead of this, they wished him further off. Such strange misconstructions do carnal hearts make of the just judgments of God; instead of being by them driven to him as they ought, they set him at so much the greater distance; though he hath said, Provoke me not, and I will do you no hurt, Jer. 25:6.
IX. An account of the conduct of the poor man after his deliverance. 1. He desired that he might go along with Christ (Mark 5:18), perhaps for fear lest the evil spirit should again seize him; or, rather, that he might receive instruction from him, being unwilling to stay among those heathenish people that desired him to depart. Those that are freed from the evil spirit, cannot but covet acquaintance and fellowship with Christ. 2. Christ would not suffer him to go with him, lest it should savour of ostentation, and to let him know that he could both protect and instruct him at a distance. And besides, he had other work for him to do; he must go home to his friends, and tell them what great things the Lord had done for him, the Lord Jesus had done; that Christ might be honoured, and his neighbours and friends might be edified, and invited to believe in Christ. He must take particular notice rather of Christ’s pity than of his power, for that is it which especially he glories in; he must tell them what compassion the Lord had had on him in his misery. 3. The man, in a transport of joy, proclaimed, all the country over, what great things Jesus had done for him, Mark 5:20. This is a debt we owe both to Christ and to our brethren, that he may be glorified and they edified. And see what was the effect of it; All men did marvel, but few went any further. Many that cannot but wonder at the works of Christ, yet do not, as they ought, wonder after him.