Friday, September 30, 2011
Wesley and a case of demonic possession
Saturday, October 1, 1763: I returned to London, and found our house in ruins, great part of it being taken down, in order to a thorough repair. But as much remained as I wanted—six foot square suffices me by day or by night.
I now received a very strange account from a man of sense, as well as integrity:
I asked M. S. many questions before she would give me any answer. At length, after much persuasion, she said: ‘On old Michaelmas Day was three years I was sitting by myself at my father’s, with a Bible before me, and one whom I took to be my uncle came into the room and sat down by me. He talked to me some time till, not liking his discourse, I looked more carefully at him. He was dressed like my uncle; but I observed one of his feet was just like that of an ox. Then I was much frighted, and he began torturing me sadly, and told me he would torture me ten times more if I would not swear to kill my father, which at last I did. He said he would come again, on that day four years, between half hour past two and three o’clock.
‘I have several times since strove to write this down; but when I did, the use of my hand was taken from me. I strove to speak it; but whenever I did my speech was taken from me. And I am afraid I shall be tormented a deal more for what I have spoken now.’
Presently she fell into such a fit as was dreadful to look upon. One would have thought she would be torn in pieces. Several persons could scarce hold her; till after a time she sunk down as dead.
From that Michaelmas Day she was continually tormented with the thought of killing her father; as likewise of killing herself, which she often attempted, but was as often hindered. Once she attempted to cut her own throat; once to throw herself into Rosamond’s Pond; several times to strangle herself, which once or twice was with much difficulty prevented.
Her brother, fearing lest she should at last succeed in her attempt, and finding her fits come more frequently, got a straight waistcoat made for her, such as they use at Bedlam. It was made of strong ticking, with two straps on the shoulders, to fasten her down to the bed—one across her breast, another across her middle, and another across her knees. One likewise was buckled on each leg, and fastened to the side of the bed. The arms of the waistcoat drew over her fingers, and fastened like a purse. In a few minutes after she was thus secured, her brother, coming to the bed, found she was gone. After some time he found she was up the chimney, so high that he could scarce touch her feet. When Mary Loftis called her she came down, having her hands as fast as ever.
The night after, I fastened her arms to her body with new straps over and above the rest. She looked at me and laughed; then gave her hands a slight turn, and all the fastenings were off.
In the morning Mr. Sparks came. On our telling him this he said, ‘But I will take upon me to fasten her so that she shall not get loose.’ Accordingly he sent for some girth-web, with which he fastened her arms to her sides, first above her elbows round her body, then below her elbows; then he put it round each wrist and braced them down to each side of the bedstead: after this she was quiet a night and a day. Then all this was off like the rest.
After this we did not tie her down any more, only watched over her night and day. I asked the physician that attended her whether it was a natural disorder. He said, ‘Partly natural, partly diabolical.’ We then judged there was no remedy but prayer, which was made for her, or with her, continually; though while any were praying with her she was tormented more than ever.
The Friday before Michaelmas Day last, Mr. W. came to see her. He asked, Do you know me? She said, ‘No, you all appear to me like blackamoors.’ But do not you know my voice? ‘No, I know no one’s voice, except Molly Loftis.’ Do you pray God to help you? ‘No, I can’t pray. God will never help me. I belong to the devil; and he will have me. He will take me, body and soul, on Monday.’ Would you have me pray for you? ‘No indeed. For when people pray, he torments me worse than ever.’ In her fits she was first convulsed all over, seeming in an agony of pain, and screaming terribly. Then she began cursing, swearing, and blaspheming in the most horrid manner. Then she burst into vehement fits of laughter; then sunk down as dead. All this time she was quite senseless; then she fetched a deep sigh, and recovered her sense and understanding—but was so weak that she could not speak to be heard, unless you put your ear almost close to her mouth.
When Mr. W. began praying she began screaming, so that a mob quickly gathered about the house. However, he prayed on, till the convulsions and screaming ceased, and she came to her senses much sooner than usual. What most surprised us was that she continued in her senses, and soon after began to pray herself.
On Sunday evening Mr. W. came again, asked her many questions, pressed her to call upon God for power to believe, and then prayed with her. She then began to pray again, and continued in her senses longer than she had done for a month before; but still insisted, the devil would come the next day between two and three, and take her away.
She begged me to sit up with her that night, which I willingly did. About four in the morning she burst out into a flood of tears, crying, ‘What shall I do, what shall I do? I cannot stand this day. This day I shall be lost.’ I went to prayer with her, and exhorted her to pray for faith, and her agony ceased.
About half hour after ten, ten of us came together, as we had agreed the day before. I said, ‘Is there any among you who does not believe that God is able and willing to deliver this soul?’ They answered with one voice, ‘We believe he both can and will deliver her this day.’ I then fastened her down to the bed on both sides, and set two on each side to hold her if need were. We began laying her before the Lord, and claiming his promise on her behalf. Immediately Satan raged vehemently. He caused her to roar in an uncommon manner, then to shriek, so that it went through our heads, then to bark like a dog. Then her face was distorted to an amazing degree, her mouth being drawn from ear to ear, and her eyes turned opposite ways, and starting as if they would start out of her head. Presently her throat was so convulsed that she appeared to be quite strangled. Then the convulsions were in her bowels, and her body swelled, as if ready to burst. At other times she was stiff from head to foot, as an iron bar, being at the same time wholly deprived of her senses, and motion, not even breathing at all. Soon after her body was so writhed, one would have thought all her bones must be dislocated.
We continued in prayer, one after another, till about twelve o’clock. One then said, ‘I must go: I can stay no longer.’ Another and another said the same, till we were upon the point of breaking up. I said, ‘What is this? Will you all give place to the devil? Are you still ignorant of Satan’s devices? Shall we leave this poor soul in his hands?’ Presently the cloud vanished away. We all saw the snare, and resolved to wrestle with God till we had the petition we asked of him. We began singing an hymn, and quickly found his Spirit was in the midst of us. But the more earnestly we prayed, the more violently the enemy raged. It was with great difficulty that four of us could hold her down; frequently we thought she would have been torn out of our arms. By her looks and motions we judged she saw him in a visible shape. She laid fast hold on Molly Loftis and me with inexpressible eagerness; and soon burst into a flood of tears, crying, ‘Lord, save, or I perish. I will believe. Lord, give me power to believe, help my unbelief.’ Afterwards she lay quiet for about fifteen minutes. I then asked, ‘Do you now believe Christ will save you? And have you a desire to pray to him?’ She answered, ‘I have a little desire, but I want power to believe.’ We bid her keep asking for the power, and looking unto Jesus. I then gave out an hymn, and she earnestly sung with us those words:
O Sun of Righteousness, arise
With healing in thy wing!
To my diseased, my fainting soul,
Life and salvation bring.
I now looked at my watch and told her: ‘It is half hour past two. This is the time when the devil said he would come for you.’ But, blessed be God, instead of a tormentor he sent a comforter. Jesus appeared to her soul, and rebuked the enemy, though still some fear remained. But at three it was all gone, and she mightily rejoiced in the God of her salvation. It was a glorious sight. Her fierce countenance was changed, and she looked innocent as a child. And we all partook of the blessing. For Jesus filled our souls with a love which no tongue can express. We then offered up our joint praises to God for his unspeakable mercies, and left her full of faith and love and joy in God her Saviour.