And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in your name, and he follows not us: and we forbade him…
It is argued that as the apostles were not allowed to forbid this stranger, neither may the Church forbid strange preachers; that all have a right to preach, whether they follow the Church or no, so that they do but preach in the name of Jesus. Such is the objection, and I propose now to consider it.
1. First, then, this man was not preaching; he was casting out devils. This is a great difference — he was doing a miracle. "There is no man which shall do a miracle in My name," etc. Man cannot overcome the devil, Christ only overcomes him. If a man casts out a devil, he has power from Christ; and if he has power from Christ, he must have a commission from Christ; and who shall forbid one, to whom God gives commission to do miracles, from doing them? That would be fighting against God. But, on the other hand, many a man may preach without being sent from God and having power from Him; for Christ expressly warns us against false prophets.
2. But it may be said, "The effects of preaching are a miracle." A good preacher converts persons; he casts out devils from the hearts of those whom he changes from sin to holiness. This he could not do without power from God. But what seems good, is often not good.
3. But, again, even if sinners are converted upon such a one's preaching, this would net show that he did the work, or, at least, that he had more than a share in it. The miracle might after all belong to the Church, not to him. They are but the occasion of the miracle, not the instrument of it. Persons who take up with strange preachers often grant that they gained their first impressions in the Church. To proceed.
(1) It should be observed, then, that if our Saviour says on this occasion, "He that is not against us is on our part"; yet elsewhere He says, "He that is not with Me is against Me." The truth is, while a system is making way against an existing state of things, help of any kind advances it; but when it is established, the same kind of professed help tells against it. It was at a time when there was no church; we have no warrant for saying that because men might work in Christ's name, without following the apostles, before He had built up His Church, and had made them the foundations of it, therefore such persons may do so lawfully since. He did not set up His Church till after the resurrection. Accordingly, when the Christians at Corinth went into parties, and set up forms of doctrine of their own, St. Paul forbade them. "What!" he said, "came the Word of God out from you?" (1 Corinthians 14:36). That Church made you what you are, as far as you are Christian, and has a right to bid you follow her. And for what we know, the very man in the text was one of St. John's disciples; who might lawfully remain as he was without joining the apostles till the apostles received the gift of the Holy Ghost, then he was bound to join them.(2) And here, too, we have light thrown upon an expression in the text, "In My name." Merely to use the name of Jesus is not enough; we must look for that name where He has lodged it. He has not lodged it in the world at large, but in a secure dwelling place, and we have that name engraven on us only when we are in that dwelling place (Exodus 23:20, 21). Thus the stranger in the text might use the name of Jesus without following the apostles, because they bad not yet had the name of Christ named upon them. Nothing can be inferred from the text in favour of those who set up against the Church, or who interfere with it. On the whole, then, I would say this; when strangers to the Church preach great Christian truths, and do not oppose the Church, then, though we may not follow them, though we may not join them, yet we are not allowed to forbid them; but in proportion as they preach what is in itself untrue, and do actively oppose God's great Ordinance, so far they are not like the man whom our Lord told His apostles not to forbid. But in all cases, whether they preach true doctrine or not, or whether they oppose us or not, so much we learn, viz., that we must overcome them, not so much by refuting them, as by preaching the truth. Let us be far more set upon alluring souls into the right way than on forbidding them the wrong. Let us be like racers in a course, who do not impede, but try to outstrip each other by love.
(J. H. Newman, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.