“And John answered Him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and he follows not us: And we forbad him, because he follows not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not.” (Mark 9:38-39)
Some may not consider this event to be relevant to us, assuming that the task of casting out devils no longer exists. That we may take full advantage from this occasion in Scripture, I intend to, first, show in what sense men still cast out devils; second, identify who he is that “follows not us;” third, explain our Lord’s direction, “Forbid him not;” and draw a conclusion from it.
What it Means to Cast Out Devils
First, I will show in what sense men still cast out devils. We should remember that as God dwells and works in the children of light, so the devil dwells and works in the children of darkness. As the Holy Spirit possesses the souls of good men, so the evil spirit possesses the souls of the wicked. Therefore, the Apostle calls him “the God of this world;” from the uncontrolled power he has over worldly men. For this reason, our blessed Lord calls him “the prince of this world,” because his dominion over it is so complete.
For the devil is not to be considered only “a roaring lion, going about seeking whom he may devour;” nor only a subtle enemy, who comes secretly upon poor souls and leads them captive, but also he who rules worldly men and all their dark schemes and actions by possessing their hearts, and setting up his throne there. And he is not idle in his dwelling place. He is continually “working in” these “children of disobedience.” He works in them with power, with mighty energy, transforming them into his own likeness, disfiguring what remains of the image of God and preparing them for every evil word and work.
It is, therefore, an unquestionable truth, that the god and prince of this world still possesses all who do not know God. It is only the manner of this possession which now differs from that of long ago. At that time he openly tormented their bodies as well as their souls; now he torments their souls only (except in some rare cases), acting as covertly as possible. The reason for this difference is clear. His purpose used to be to drive mankind into superstition; therefore, he worked as openly as he could. But now his purpose is to drive us into unbelief; therefore, he works as privately as he can, for the more secret he is, the more he succeeds.
Yet, if we can believe historians, there are countries, even now, where he works just as openly as before. But why in savage, uncivilized countries only? Why not in Italy, France, or England? The reason is clear: he knows his men; and he knows what he must do with each. To the heathen he appears unmasked, in order to hold them in superstition and idolatry. But with you he is pursuing a different strategy. He wants to make you idolize yourselves; to make you wiser in your own eyes than God himself. In order to do this, he must not appear in his own shape. That would frustrate his plan. Instead, he uses all his skill to make you deny his existence until he has you securely in hell.
He reigns in different ways, but just as completely in one land as in another. He has the unbelievers in his teeth, as surely as the heathens. But the unbelievers are asleep in the mouth of the lion, who is too wise to wake them. So he merely plays with them for the time being; and, when he pleases, swallows them up! It is not to his benefit to frighten them, for then they might run to the God of heaven. The prince of darkness, therefore, does not show himself while he rules over his willing subjects. The conqueror holds his captives more securely because they think they are free. Neither the Deist nor the nominal Christian suspects he exists; so they and the devil are perfectly at peace with each other.
During this time he works actively in them. He blinds the eyes of their understanding, so that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ cannot shine on them. He chains their souls with their own evil desires. He binds them to the earth with the love of the world, of money, of pleasure, and of praise. And by pride, envy, anger, hate, and vengefulness, he brings their souls closer to hell; encountering no resistance, because they do not know that he is working in them.
If you consider this, you will see in what sense men still cast out devils. Every minister of Christ casts them out, as the Lord works through him. By the power of God accompanying his message, he brings sinners to repentance: an entire inward as well as outward change, from all evil to all good. This is casting devils out of the souls where they have lived. This is how the Son of God “destroys the works of the devil.” The understanding of the sinner is now enlightened, and his heart is drawn toward God. His desires are refined, and his affections purified. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, he grows in grace until he is not only holy in heart, but in behavior as well.
The Identity of the Person Who “Follows Not Us”
But should we forbid one who “casts out devils,” if “he follows not us?” This was the opinion and practice of the Apostle until he asked his Master. “We forbad him,” he said, “because he follows not us,” which he considered a sufficient reason. What we may understand by this expression, “He follows not us,” is the next point to be considered. One circumstance in which this might occur arises simply because we do not labor in the same organization. When our Lord is pleased to send many laborers into His harvest, they cannot all act in connection with each other. Furthermore, they cannot all be personally acquainted, or even know of one another. There will be many in different regions of the harvest that will be absolute strangers to each other, as if they had lived in different ages. So then, we could easily say, “He follows not us,” regarding any of these whom we do not know.
A second use of this expression may be to mean that a person is not of our party. It has long been a cause of concern to all who pray for the peace of Jerusalem, that so many parties still exist among those who are called Christians. This has been especially obvious among our own countrymen, who have been continually dividing from each other over points of no importance, and often over things unrelated to religion. The pettiest of circumstances have given rise to different parties, which have continued for many generations; and each of these would be ready to say of one who was on the other side, “He follows not us.”
A third way the expression may be used is to mean a person who differs from us in our religious opinions. How quickly differences of opinion arose in the church of Christ; and not in false but in real Christians: even in the Apostles themselves! It is not surprising, then, that infinite varieties of opinion are now found in the Christian Church. A likely result of this is that whenever we see someone “casting out devils,” he will be one that does not share our opinion. It is hard to imagine that he will be like-minded in all things, even religion. He may think differently even on several subjects of importance; such as the nature and use of the moral law, the eternal decrees of God, the sufficiency and efficacy of His grace, and the perseverance of His children.
Fourth, he may differ from us, not only in opinion, but also in some specific practice. He may not approve of the manner in which our congregation of worships God; and may consider a manner originating with Calvin or Luther to be more beneficial. He may have many objections to the liturgy which we approve; and many doubts concerning the form of church government we consider to be both apostolic and scriptural. Perhaps he may depart even farther from us than this. He may, from a principle of conscience, refrain from the bread-breaking which we believe to be ordained by Christ. Or, though he may agree that it is ordained by God, there may remain a difference between us as to how or to whom it should be served. The unavoidable result of any of these differences will be that he who differs from us must separate himself from us, at least in the observation of these points. In this sense, then, “he follows not us.”
But, in a far stronger sense, the person who “follows not us,” is not only of a different church, but of a church that we consider to be in many respects anti-scriptural and anti-Christian; a church that we believe to be completely false and erroneous in her doctrines, as well as dangerously wrong in her practice; guilty of superstition as well as idolatry; a church that has added to the holy faith which was delivered to the saints long ago; that has abandoned one whole commandment of God, and voided several others by her traditions; and, while pretending to have the highest respect for the ancient church and the strictest conformity to it, has brought in countless innovations, without basis either in history or Scripture. Now, most certainly, “he follows not us,” who stands at so far away from us.
Still, there may be an even wider difference than this. He who differs from us in judgment or practice may also stand apart from us in affection. Differences which begin in points of opinion seldom end there. They usually spread into the affections and separate close friends. No animosities are as deep and irreconcilable as those that spring from disagreement in religion. For this reason a man’s bitterest enemies are the members of his own household. And so a father rises against his own children, and the children against their father; perhaps persecuting each other even to the death, thinking all the while they are serving God. Therefore, we may expect those who differ from us, either in religious opinions or practice, to develop a sharpness, or even a bitterness toward us as their prejudice grows, until they have as bad an opinion of our persons as they do of our principles. An almost inevitable result of this will be that they will speak of us as they think of us. They will undermine our work, since it does not appear to them to be the work of God. He that thinks, speaks, and acts in this manner, in the highest sense, “follows not us.”
I do not imagine that the person of whom the Apostle speaks in the text went so far as this. We have no reason to suppose that there was any substantial difference between him and the apostles; much less that he had any prejudice either against them or their Master. We may conclude this from our Lord’s words, which follow the verses quoted: “There is no man which shall do a miracle in My name, that can lightly speak evil of Me.” My purpose, however, was to state the case as extremely as possible, in order that we may be warned of the temptation at its worst, and not yield to it, nor fight against God.
What It Means to “Forbid Him Not”
Suppose, then, that a man has no interaction with us, suppose he is not of our party, suppose he separates from our Church, and widely differs from us in opinion, practice, and affection. And yet, if we see even this man “casting out devils,” Jesus says, “Forbid him not.” I must explain this important direction of our Lord.
If we see this man casting out devils, it would be best for us to believe what we see with our eyes, and not deny the testimony of our own senses. We are extremely reluctant to believe that any man casts out devils who “follows not us” in all or most of the senses described above. We may easily learn, even from what happens in our own hearts, how unwilling men are to recognize anything good in others who do not agree with them in all things.
But what is a sufficient, reasonable proof that a man does (in the above sense) cast out devils? The answer is easy. Is there a shameless sinner who has left his sins and lives a Christian life because of hearing this man preach? If this is undeniable, then you have proof (proof that you cannot resist without committing willful sin) that this man casts out devils.
Then “forbid him not.” Beware of your attempts to hinder him, either by your authority, or arguments, or persuasions. Do not in any way fight to prevent him from using all the power God has given him. If you have authority over him, do not use that authority to stop the work of God. Do not furnish him with reasons why he should no longer speak in the name of Jesus. Satan will supply him with these without your help. If he should yield to the devil and to you, many souls might die in their sins, but God would require their blood at your hands.
But if you claim not to know if he is sent by God, those whom he has brought from Satan to God might understandably be amazed. “If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.” If you doubt the fact, question the parents of the changed man: ask his brothers, friends, and acquaintances. But if you cannot doubt that a miracle has been worked, then how in good conscience can you command him whom God has sent, “not to speak any more in His name?”
It is helpful if whoever preaches has permission from the church authority as well as an inward call from God, but I deny that it is absolutely necessary. In the eighth chapter of Acts we read, “There was a great persecution against the Church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles” (Acts 8:1). “Therefore they that were scattered abroad, went everywhere preaching the word” (8:4). Now, were all these ordained by the church to preach? No sensible man can think so. This proves that which was the practice of the apostolic age. Here you see a multitude of preachers that were sent only by God.
Do you fear God? Then “forbid not His servants,” either directly or indirectly. There are many ways of doing this. You indirectly forbid him when you either deny or despise the work which God has done through him. You indirectly forbid him when you discourage him in his work by drawing him into disputes concerning it, by raising objections against it, or by frightening him with results that may never happen. You forbid him when you show any unkindness toward him, either in speech or behavior; and when you speak of him to others either with unkindness or contempt. You are forbidding him all the while you are speaking evil of him, or putting no value on his work. “Forbid him not” in any of these ways; nor by forbidding others to hear him, by discouraging sinners from hearing that word that is able to save their souls!
If you want to observe the full meaning of our Lord’s direction, then remember His words: “He that is not for us is against us; and he that gathereth not with Me, scattereth.” He that does not gather men into the kingdom of God certainly scatters them from it. There can be no neutral side in this war. Everyone is either on God’s side or on Satan’s. Are you on God’s side? Then you will not only not forbid any man that casts out devils, but you will labor, to the full extent of your power, to move him forward in this work. You will acknowledge the work of God and confess the greatness of it. You will remove all difficulties and objections, as far it is possible, out of his way. You will strengthen his hands by speaking honorably of him before all men and affirming the things which you have seen and heard. You will encourage others to hear him whom God has sent. And you will not withhold any love which God gives you an opportunity to show him.
The Danger of Bigotry
If we willingly fail in this, if we either directly or indirectly forbid him, “because he follows not us,” then we are bigots. This is the inference I draw from what has been said. Bigotry is too strong an attachment to, or fondness for, our own party, opinion, church, and religion. Therefore, he is a bigot who is so fond of these, so strongly attached to them, that he forbids anyone who casts out devils simply because that one differs from himself in any or all of these particulars.
Beware of this, and examine yourself! Do I directly forbid him because he is not of my party? Because he does not share my opinions? Because he does not worship God according to that style of religion which I have received from my fathers?
Examine yourself again! Am I sorry that God should recognize and bless the ministry of a man that holds such erroneous opinions? Do I discourage him because he is not of my church, by arguing with him about it, by raising objections, and by troubling his mind with distant and uncertain consequences? Do I show anger, contempt, or unkindness of any sort, either in my words or actions? Do I mention his faults behind his back? His defects or infirmities? Do I keep sinners from hearing him speak? If you do any of these things, you are most certainly a bigot.
In order to examine ourselves thoroughly, let the case be stated in the strongest manner. What if I were to see a Papist, an Arian, or a Socinian, casting out devils? If I did, I could not forbid even him, without convicting myself of bigotry.
Stand clear of this! But go beyond simply not forbidding those who cast out devils. In every instance, whatever the instrument may be, acknowledge the finger of God. Rejoice in God’s work, and praise His name with thanksgiving. Speak well of whomever God is pleased to use; wherever you are, defend his character and his mission. Enlarge his sphere of action to the extent that you are able; show him all kindness in word and deed; and do not stop crying out to God on his behalf, so that he may save both himself and them that hear him.
I need to add one caution. Do not think that the bigotry of another is any excuse for your own. It is possible that one who casts out devils himself may forbid you so to do. In fact, this is the very case mentioned in the text. The apostles did not permit another to do what they did themselves. But it is not for you to return evil for evil. Another’s neglect of our Lord’s direction is no reason why you should neglect it too. If he forbids you, do not forbid him. Instead, labor, watch, and pray all the more, in order to confirm your love toward him. If he speaks evil of you, speak good (that is true) of him. Imitate that glorious saying of a great man [Zwingli] (O that he had always breathed the same spirit!), “Let Luther call me a hundred devils; I will still reverence him as a messenger of God.”
This sermon by John Wesley, edited for conciseness and readability, was originally published in A Timeless Faith: John Wesley for the 21st Century by Stephen Gibson.
Editor’s note: We can see from Wesley’s own practice that he did not intend to imply that erroneous doctrine should not be refuted, or that we should be silent when we see that a doctrine will inevitably be harmful. For examples of balancing statements, see Wesley’s comment about the followers of Zinzendorf in the third paragraph of the chapter entitled “On Sin in Believers,” and the closing comment of the chapter entitled “A Dialogue with a Predestinarian and His Friend.”