In the days of the apostles, the city of Ephesus was famed for the worship of the goddess Diana and the practice of magic. …
In this city, the very stronghold of superstition and sorcery, the apostle Paul labored for several years. Here the power of God was mightily displayed through his servant. The sick were healed, and evil spirits were cast out.
The miracles wrought by Paul in the name of Jesus, created great excitement in Ephesus. Among those who practiced magic arts were certain Jewish exorcists, who claimed to possess the same power exercised by Paul. Believing that the name of Jesus acted as a charm, they determined to cast out evil spirits by the same means which the apostle had employed.
An attempt was made by seven brothers, the sons of Sceva, a chief priest of the Jews. Finding a man who was possessed with an evil spirit, they addressed him, “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth” (Acts 19:13). But the evil spirit answered with scorn, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” (Acts 19:15) and the man who was possessed attacked them with such violence that they fled out of the house, naked and wounded.
The discomfiture and humiliation of those who had profaned the name of Jesus soon became known throughout Ephesus, by Jews and Gentiles. It furnished unmistakable proof of the sacredness of that name, and the peril which they incurred who should invoke it, while they had no faith in Christ’s divine mission.
Many dared not breathe aloud the name, on which they had hitherto heaped reproach and blasphemy. A large number were convinced that Christ was all that Paul claimed him to be, and they determined to receive the gospel. These openly renounced the practice of sorcery, and acknowledged their secret arts to be deceptive and Satanic. They brought together the manuals of enchantment, the costly books containing the mystic symbols of Diana, and the secrets of their art, and burned them in the presence of all the people. The sacrifice thus made was estimated at fifty thousand pieces of silver, equal to about ten thousand dollars.
The conversion of these Ephesians was attended with the results that always follow genuine conversion. When convinced that their magical books were false and pernicious, they were unwilling to sell them and thus place temptation in the way of others. They promptly burned the records of divination, at a great personal sacrifice. The power of truth triumphed over men’s prejudices, favorite pursuits, and love of money.
Those magical books contained rules and forms of communication with evil spirits. They were, in fact, the regulations of the worship of Satan; directions for soliciting his help, and obtaining information from him. The system of magic or sorcery then extant was in reality the same as that which is now known as modern Spiritualism. Many were deceived in Paul’s day by this Satanic delusion, and many are deceived today by the same power. “Magical books” were not confined to the apostolic age, or to nations that are called heathen. The sorcerers of our time are taking advantage of the freedom of the press to spread abroad their baleful literature. Could all the productions of modern Spiritualism be treated as were the magical books of the Ephesians, one of Satan’s most successful avenues to destroy the souls of men would be cut off.
Witchcraft and sorcery are practiced in this Christian age and Christian nation, even more boldly than by the old-time magicians. Satan is finding access to thousands of minds by presenting himself under the guise of departed friends. The Scriptures of truth declare that “the dead know not anything” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). Their thoughts, their love, their hatred, have perished. The dead do not hold communion with the living. But Satan—true to his early cunning, when in the form of a serpent he deceived the mother of our race—employs this device to gain control of the minds of men.
Paul warns his Corinthian brethren of the deceptive power of their great adversary. He declares, “I fear that by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (II Corinthians 11:3).
He writes to his son Timothy, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils” (I Timothy 4:1).
In his second epistle to the Thessalonians, he warns them that the second advent of our Lord will be preceded by the working of Satan, “with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause, God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie” (II Thessalonians 2:9–11).
Because the children of men reject the plainest teachings of his word, and trample upon his law, God leaves them to choose that which they desire. They spurn the truth, and he permits them to believe a lie. They refuse to yield to the convictions of the Holy Spirit, and Satan, transforming himself into an angel of light, leads them captive at his will. If men were but conversant with the word of God, and obedient to its teachings, they could not be thus deceived; but they neglect the great detector of fraud, and the mind becomes confused and corrupted by the deceptive arts of men, and the secret power of the father of lies.
Men of intelligence are infatuated with Satanic sorcery as verily today as in the days of Paul. Thousands accept the opinion of the minister or obey the injunctions of the pope or priest, and neglect God’s word and despise his truth. God would have his people learn their duty for themselves. The Bible declares his will to men, and it is as much our privilege and our duty to learn that will as it is that of ministers and popes and priests to learn it. What they can read from God’s word, we can all read.
When the Ephesian converts burned their books on magic, they showed that they hated what they had once loved, and loved what they had once hated. The light of truth, shinning into their minds, had convinced them of the unlawfulness of their arts, and had stirred their souls with abhorrence of their unholy deeds. Such a change is the best evidence of true conversion.
A person may not be able to tell the exact time or place, or to trace all the chain of circumstances in the process of conversion; yet this does not prove him to be unconverted. Said Christ to Nicodemus, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Though the work of grace is silent and almost imperceptible, it may be fully as effective as when its operations are more apparent. But if the heart has been renewed by the Holy Spirit, the life will bear witness to the fact. “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). Light and darkness are not more distinct than are the state of the converted and the unconverted. A change will be seen in the character, the habits, the pursuits. The contrast will be clear and decided between what they have been and what they are.
The Signs of the Times, May 18, 1882.