Alfred Place Baptist Church

The Exorcist

We occasionally have a little blessing in the church; in one recent prayer meeting 16 prayed, eight men and then eight women. Then again eleven men prayed. I will sometimes control it all and ask by name one person after another to pray; on those occasions there are no gaps. One actual sermon on the second coming of Christ I felt was unusually blessed, but the next Sunday there were less in the congregation, and I stammered through a message. They said, “Thank you. It was good, but last week . . . you had us sitting on the edge of our seats,” but that is what I want every week, and new faces too. However much I despise it I cannot help a glow arising – which must have self-congratulation in it – whenever God helps me to give a better message. What phantoms we are. It is as if all one’s life one is striving to attain something so simple – living to give glory to the Lord alone – and never attaining it. “The Lamb is all the glory in Immanuel’s land,” and I am glad about that. No glow there except the light that fills heaven coming from him.

 

It’s been the 40th anniversary of Churchill’s death and the radio has been featuring discussions and dramas of his life, replaying his great speeches and analysing his oratorical skills. Churchill was an aristocrat but he didn’t sound like one. His accent wasn’t extreme and he had a lovely fruity voice. He wasn’t clever in Harrow school but he started to love the English language there. When he wrote out his speeches he always spelled the Island of Britain with a capital ‘I’. Here was something small, very contained, separate from the rest of the world; different; an Island race. He used the imagery of heroes, knights of old, crusaders, men going off to fight a war. He read the great speeches of Cromwell, Gladstone etc. seeking to learn from them, and he found that such speakers used short syllables and homely language ending with striking statements – “we will fight them on the beaches” – which gave his audiences ‘emotional catharsis.’ Churchill used repetition, emphasis and, surprisingly, lists. His words inspired and swayed people. No politician of the last fifty years has been like him in his soaring use of language.

 

Out of the blue a woman called me asking me if I were a priest. I answered as every Christian, man and woman, must reply, that I was. She told me that her house was being haunted and that she needed someone to get rid of it. So on Monday I went there. I told some of the men in church about it, and one offered to come with me, suggesting it would be better for me not to go alone. We went together three or four miles from Aberystwyth to a 20 year-old house near the sea where a single mother around forty shyly let us in. She told us that a ghost had been bothering her since early December, what his name was and that he had lived in that village 200 years ago and had fallen into the sea and drowned on that spot. She had ‘seen’ him in a shadowy way, a hood on his head, a necklace of silver coins hanging down onto his chest. He spoke through her and laughed and cried through her. “I can feel him now” she said, and shed tears that flowed down her cheeks. He was making a nuisance of himself in the past weeks, threatening to kill her and she had not been about to sleep until 5 am on Saturday. Her daughter knew about him but wasn’t bothered. Her friends felt his presence, the previous occupants not having stayed in the house longer than two years. Her cat was always staring at him in one corner of the ceiling – “he can see him”, but neither my friend nor I felt anything at all, just a normal little house 20 years old in an estate of identical houses. She didn’t have a job; she did not read much; the TV was on all the time. There is nowhere to walk in the little village except the wonderful beach

 

The woman had been to the graveyard but had not found any grave with this man’s name on it. She told us that it now was time for him to go, and he himself wanted to go. I asked her whether she was on any medication, and had she been to any seances. No to both those questions. I asked her if she read any books about this kind of thing. She has been getting a monthly magazine on the subject until last year but she did not think that that was significant, but I was not certain. “I believe in ghosts,” she said. The heart of the ghostly activity was a spot in front of her washing machine in the modern kitchen across that little room from the rabbit hutch and the cat’s litter tray. I explained the gospel to her, that men at death went to be judged by God. That this man (if he had existed) would have stood before God when he died, and if he were trusting in Jesus Christ he would have gone to heaven never to leave it again. But the spirit of this man did not sound like a true Christian threatening to kill her. So he was an evil man and he would be in the place of woe, so maybe an evil spirit was impersonating him and troubling her like this. I could not dismiss her experiences, fears and tears as wholly psychological, though that would be my inclination. My friend later searched the web for this name; he even went to the Mormon archives. The only one of that name he could find was almost 400 years ago across the other side of England in Cambridge .

 

I told her that the devil always overdid his malice and the result of this was that she had sent for two men of God who both told her about the one who loved her and would also be her Saviour, who came into the world to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus would never leave her if she received him. What was important was to remember a parable of Christ about a man who drove an evil spirit out of his life and tidied up his life, but in a few months the demon returned to a cleaned up and attractive life with seven of his friends. The man’s last state was worse than his first. You must not leave a vacuum I told her; Jesus Christ must come in. My friend had made that day a strong card on which he had printed two of his photos of sheep from the fields not far away in last winter’s snow, with Psalm 23 beneath them, and the Lord’s prayer. “Look at this when you are low,” he told her. I asked if she had a Bible but she didn’t. So we went into her kitchen by the washing machine, and there I read some verses from Ephesians 6 and prayed for her that this influence would trouble her no more and that God would become her Saviour. My brother also prayed. We said we would call back to see her sometime soon.

 

I think she was disappointed. She asked me whether I had done this sort of thing before! I think she wanted candles, chalk marks on the floor, pieces of garlic, hands laid on her, cries of defiance to the spirit and commands to go back to the place he had come from. A bit of jiggery pokery. But the Saviour just says a word, and all we left her with was a word. I actually did have a student called Gordon who came to see me in a very distressed state thinking that he was being haunted by the spirit of his father, and a few sessions and prayers with him as well as his attendance at church transformed him. He was converted and later married a girl from the congregation. So I wasn’t an utter rookie in speaking to her, and as I gave the gospel to her I was given deep assurance that it was true, and her body language encouraged me to believe that my words were impacting her life. So now we will pray for her and visit her again in the next weeks. She doesn’t read, and no member of the church lives near her who could bring her on a Sunday, and she lives five miles a
way. So we are just waiting on the Lord for him to make his will known to us. I wonder if there were some simple videos that she could listen to during the day? I have had an offer of a number.

 

The above visit took place a year ago and was the first of many, but the woman shows no sign of any interest in the gospel and there is no one who can bring here on the long journey to church. She does not possess a car. I have not given up.

 

GEOFF THOMAS