Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  A Warning to the Ministers

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Warning to the Ministers

By Robert Calef (1648–1719)

[A merchant of Boston, Mass. Died at Roxbury, Mass. More Wonders of the Invisible World. 1700.]

CHRISTIANITY had been but a short time in the world, when there was raised against it, not only open professed enemies, but secret and inbred underminers, who sought thereby to effect that which open force had been so often baffled in. And notwithstanding that primitive purity and sincerity, which in some good measure was still retained, yet the cunning deceivers and apostate hereticks found opportunity to beguile the unwary, and this in fundamentals.

Among others which then sprung up, with but too much advantage, in the third century, the Maniche did spread his pestiferous sentiments, and taught the existence of two beings, or causes of all things, viz. a good and a bad: but these were soon silenced by the more orthodox doctors, and anathematized by general councils. And at this day the American Indians, another sort of Maniche, entertaining (thus far) the same belief, hold it their prudence and interest to please that evil being, as well by perpetrating other murders, as by their bloody sacrifices, that so he may not harm them. The iron teeth of time have now almost devoured the name of the former; and as to the latter, it is to be hoped that as Christianity prevails among them, they will abhor such abominable belief.

And as those primitive times were not privileged against the spreading of dangerous heresy, so neither can any now pretend to any such immunity, though professing the enjoyment of a primitive purity.

Might a judgment be made from the books of the modern learned divines, or from the practice of courts, or from the faith of many who call themselves Christians, it might be modestly, though sadly, concluded, that the doctrine of the Maniche, at least great part of it, is so far from being forgotten, that ’tis almost everywhere professed. We in these ends of the earth need not seek far for instances in each respect to demonstrate this. The books here printed and recommended, not only by the respective authors, but by many of their brethren, do set forth that the devil inflicts plagues, wars, diseases, tempests, and can render the most solid things invisible, and can do things above and against the course of nature, and all natural causes.

Are these the expressions of orthodox believers? or are they not rather expressions becoming a Maniche, or a heathen, as agreeing far better with these than with the sacred oracles, our only rule? the whole current whereof is so diametrically opposite thereto, that it were almost endless to mention all the divine cautions against such abominable belief; he that runs may read, Psal. lxii. 11, and cxxxvi. 4. Lam. iii. 37. Amos iii. 6. Jer. iv. 22. Psal. lxxviii. 26, and clxviii. 6, 8. Job xxxviii. 22 to 34

These places, with a multitude more, do abundantly testify, that the asserters of such power to be in the evil being, do speak in a dialect different from the Scriptures (laying a firm foundation for the Indians’ adorations, which agrees well with what A. Ross sets forth, in his Mistag. Poetic, p. 116, that their ancients did worship the furies and their god Averinci, that they might forbear to hurt them).

And have not the courts in some parts of the world, by their practice, testified their concurrence with such belief; prosecuting to death many people upon that notion, of their improving such power of the evil one, to the raising of storms; afflicting and killing of others, though at great distance from them; doing things in their own persons above human strength; destroying cattle, flying in the air, turning themselves into cats or dogs, etc., which by the way must needs imply something of goodness to be in that evil being, who, though he has such power, would not exert it, were it not for this people, or else that they can some way add to this mighty power.

And are the people a whit behind in their beliefs? Is there any thing above mentioned, their strong faith looks upon to be too hard for this evil being to effect?

Here it will be answered, God permits it. Which answer is so far an owning the doctrine, that the devil has in his nature a power to do all these things, and can exert this power, except when he is restrained; which is in effect to say that God has made nature to fight against itself; that he has made a creature who has it in the power of his nature to overthrow nature, and to act above and against it. Which he that can believe may as well believe the greatest contradiction. That being which can do this in the smallest thing, can do it in the greatest. If Moses, with a bare permission, might stretch forth his rod, yet he was not able to bring plagues upon the Egyptians, or to divide the waters, without a commission from the Most High; so neither can that evil being perform any of this without a commission from the same power. The Scripture recites more miracles wrought by men than by angels good and bad. Though this doctrine be so dishonourable to the only Almighty Being, as to ascribe such attributes to the evil one, as are the incommunicable prerogative of him, who is the alone Sovereign Being, yet here is not all; but, as he that steers by a false compass, the further he sails the more he is out of his way; so, though there is in some things a variation from, there is in others a further progression in, or building upon, the said doctrine of the Maniche.

Men in this age are not content barely to believe such an exorbitant power to be in the nature of this evil being; but have imagined that he prevails with many to sign a book, or make a contract with him, whereby they are enabled to perform all the things above mentioned. Another account is given hereof, viz., That by virtue of such a covenant they attain power to commission him. And though the two parties are not agreed which to put it upon, whether the devil empowers the witch, or the witch commissions him; yet both parties are agreed in this, that one way or other the mischief is effected, and so the criminal becomes culpable of death. In the search after such a sort of criminals, how many countries have fallen into such convulsions, that neither the devastations made by a conquering enemy, nor the plague itself, have been so formidable. That not only good persons have thus been blemished in their reputations, but much innocent blood hath been shed, is testified even by those very books: Cases of Conscience, p. 33. Remarkable Provid. p. 179. Memor. Provid. p. 28.

And (to add) what less can be expected, when men, having taken up such a belief, of a covenanting, afflicting and killing witch, and, comparing it with the Scripture, finding no footsteps therein of such a sort of witch, have thereupon desperately concluded that, though the Scripture is full in it, that a witch should not live, yet that it has not at all described the crime, nor means whereby the culpable might be detected?

And hence they are fallen so far as to reckon it necessary to make use of those diabolical and bloody ways, always heretofore practiced, for their discovery; as finding that the rules, given to detect other crimes, are wholly useless for the discovery of such.

This is that which has produced that deluge of blood mentioned, and must certainly do so again, the same belief remaining.

And who can wonder, if Christians that are so easily prevailed with to lay aside their swords as useless, and so have lost their strength, are (with Samson) led blindfold into an idol temple, to make sport for enemies and infidels, and to do abominable actions, not only not Christian, but against even the light of nature and reason? And now, reverend fathers, you who are appointed as guides to the people, and whose lips should preserve knowledge; who are set as shepherds, and as watchmen; this matter appertains to you. I did write to you formerly under this head, and acquainted you with my sentiments, requesting that if I erred, you would be pleased to shew it me by Scripture; but from your silence I gather that you approve thereof. For I may reasonably presume that you would have seen it your duty to have informed me better, if you had been sensible of any error. But if in this matter you have acquitted yourselves becoming the titles you are dignified with, you have cause of rejoicing in the midst of calamities that afflict a sinning world.

Particularly, if you have taught the people to fear God, and trust in him, and not to fear a witch or a devil; that the devil has no power to afflict any with diseases, or loss of cattle, etc., without a commission from the Most High; that he is so filled with malice, that whatever commission he may have against any, he will not fail to execute it; that no mortal ever was, or can be, able to commission him, or to lengthen his chain in the least, and that he who can commission him is God; and that the scriptures of truth not only assign the punishment of a witch but give sufficient rules to detect them by; and that, according to Mr. Gaul’s fourth head, a witch is one that hates and opposes the word, work and worship of God, and seeks by a sign to seduce therefrom—that they who are guilty according to that head, are guilty of witchcraft, and by the law given by Moses were to be put to death:—If you have taught the people the necessity of charity, and the evil of entertaining so much as a jealousy against their neighbours for such crimes, upon the devil’s suggestions to a person pretending to a spectral or diabolical sight; who utter their oracles from malice, frenzy, or a Satanical delusion—that to be inquisitive of such, whose spectres they see, or who it is that afflicts, in order to put the accused person’s life in question, is a wickedness beyond what Saul was guilty of in going to the witch—that to consult with the dead, by the help of such as pretend to this spectral sight, and so to get information against the life of any person, is the worst sort of necromancy—that the pretending to drive away spectres, i.e., devils, with the hand, or by striking these to wound a person at a distance, cannot be without witchcraft, as pretending to a sign in order to deceive in matters of so high a nature—that ’tis ridiculous to think, by making laws against feeding, employing or rewarding of evil spirits, thereby to get rid of them….

Finally, if you have taught the people what to believe and practice, as to the probation of the accused, by their saying or not saying the Lord’s prayer, and as to praying that the afflicted may be able to accuse, and have not shunned in these matters to declare the whole mind of God; you have then well acquitted yourselves (in time of general defection) as faithful watchmen. But if, instead of this, you have, some by word and writing propagated, others recommended, such writings, and abetted the false notions, which are so prevalent in this apostate age, it is high time to consider it. If when authority found themselves almost nonplussed in such prosecutions, and sent to you for your advice what they ought to do, and you have then thanked them for what they had already done (and thereby encouraged them to proceed in those very by-paths already fallen into) it so much the [more] nearly concerns you. Ezek. xxiii. 2 to 8.

To conclude: This whole people are invited and commanded to humble their souls before God, as for other causes, so for the errors that may have been fallen into in these prosecutions on either hand, and to pray that God would teach us what we know not, and help us wherein we have done amiss, that we may do so no more.

This more immediately concerns yourselves; for ’tis not supposed to be intended that God would shew us these things by inspiration; but that such who are called to it should shew the mind of God in these things on both hands, i.e., whether there has been any error in excess or deficiency, or neither in the one nor the other. And if you do not thus far serve the publick, you need not complain of great sufferings and unrighteous discouragements, if people do not applaud your conduct, as you might otherways have expected. But if you altogether hold your peace at such a time as this is, your silence, at least seemingly, will speak this language; that you are not concerned, though men ascribe the power and providence of the Almighty to the worst of his creatures—that if other ages or countries improve the doctrines and examples given them, either to the taking away of the life or reputations of innocents, you are well satisfied. Which, that there may be no shadow of a reason to believe but that your conduct herein may remove all such jealousies, and that God would be with you in declaring his whole mind to the people, is the earnest desire and prayer of, reverend sirs, yours to my utmost,

R. C.