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the first link in the chain of causation, without taking into consideration the intermediate connection. The same is true when a peculiar state of the body acts upon the mind. It is also important to remark that the effects depend very much upon the constitution of the individual, being the most intense in those of a highly nervous temperament.
Those, who have treated of the action of the mind upon the functions of the body, have generally done so under the heads of imagination and sympathy. To these we propose to add another, overstrained or perverted action of the will. Hope or fear, or any other strong emotion may concur with either or all of the above causes, in disturbing the nervous functions. By the overstrained action of the will, we mean a high-wrought and prolonged voluntary effort to produce or perpetuate a given state of the body or mind. By the perverted action of the will, we mean the same kind of effort to force the will out of its proper sphere, or to exercise over the functions of the body or operations of the mind a control which does not fall within the province of the legitimate power of the will.
As an illustration of the overstrained action of the will, we may mention the intense and prolonged effort, sometimes made by a patient under a painful surgical operation, to preserve a fixed and motionless posture of the body, and to refrain from exhibiting any signs of distress. Such an effort is frequently followed by a dangerous collapse of the vital powers, leading to a fatal termination of an operation by no means dangerous; so that the most skilful surgeons encourage their patients, while enduring a painful operation, to indulge freely any disposition they may have to give vent to cries and groans. The perverted action of the will is illustrated by the efforts, that persons sometimes make to subject themselves to the supposed influence of animal magnetism. For instances of this kind, see Biblical Repository, April, 1839, Vol. I. pp. 372, 379, etc. The writer of this article is acquainted with an individual of a nervous temperament, who brought on an attack of convulsions, by a prolonged voluntary effort to accelerate the functions of respiration, which seemed to him too slow and languid for the exigencies of health. A similar case, which fell under the observation of the writer, was attended with considerable disturbance of the nervous system.
In the light of the facts, and principles, which we have pas·sed in review, let us turn our attention to religious excitement, and the physical phenomena that sometimes attend it. Let us notice how these “ bodily exercises" may originate in the peculiar temperament, or character of religious teachers.
Let us suppose, in the first place, that the preacher possesses all the qualifications that can be expected in a chosen minister of Christ,—a sober and rational piety, a deep experimental knowledge of the mysteries of religion, a thorough insight into human character, and the motives from which human actions spring, an extent of learning which enables him to draw materials for his work from every field of nature and from every walk of science and art; and let us suppose that all these qualifications are enlivened and sanctified by a strong and ardent desire for the salvation of souls. With such an individual before our minds, it would not be difficult to anticipate the character of his preaching and the nature of the effects produced by it. He would come before his audience, imbued with a thorough knowledge of his subject, and with a clear comprehension of its relations and bearings, and a deep sense of the wants of those he is to address; confident, not in his own strength, but in him who has said : “My grace is sufficient for thee." The preacher would become excited; but not by the reflex action of his own will, chafing and irritating his nervous system. His excitement would be deep and solemn, springing from the inspiration of his subject, and from circumstances around him. His hearers would become excited; but not by a wild sympathy with a frantic raver. Their excitement would be characterized by a deep solemnity, arising from a presentation of lofty and thrilling views of truth, and would be very unlikely to be attended by jerks and spasms, trances and swoons. .
Let us now contemplate a preacher of a different character, – one possessing but few of the qualifications which we have supposed to belong to the minister of Christ, who is thoroughly furnished for his work. His whole power over his hearers consists in exciting the feelings, without enlightening and convincing the intellect; and his ability to excite the feelings consists in becoming excited himself, and thus communicating the contagion by sympathy. Such a minister is not likely to be very laborious in preparing for his public ministrations. He overlooks the fact that there can be no healthy excitement of the emotions, without a clear intellectual conception of those objects and truths which naturally produce them. Hence his main object, when he comes before his audience, is to work himself up into a frenzy of excitement. But, inspired by no lofty sentiments, having before his mind no glowing views of truth to enliven his emotions, he attempts to do it by mere dint of volition. In other words, he makes a huge, voluntary effort to feel. His muscular system is thus thrown into a state of violent tension; his voice becomes strained and unnatural ; his gestures forced and violent; his eye and countenance wild and discomposed. Such a speaker could not fail to make a strong impression upon any nervous individual, who might be sitting within the glance of his eye and sound of bis voice. But soon the torrent of excitement, becoming swelled by the sympathy of numbers, would be irresistible, bearing down every thing in its course, producing “ bodily exercises” of various kinds and degrees, according to the nervous susceptibilities of different individuals.
We need not say how little exercise of the intellect, or of healthy emotion, there would be in all this excitement. We read of a German fanatic who drew together vast crowds, and produced immense excitement wherever he went, though he preached in Latin, a language which not one in a thousand of his hearers understood. His strained and unnatural voice, his frantic countenance and wild gesticulation, without one intelligible idea, kindled and spread the flame of excitement wherever he appeared.*
We have seen that to assume the expression of any passion or emotion, and to attempt to prolong that expression, without bringing up before the imagination some exciting object of the emotion, is to throw the mind into a whirl of delirious excitement. We have also seen that the over-strained and perverted action of the will may produce very marked effects upon the functions of the body. It is easy to see, in the light of these two principles, that our preacher's voluntary effort to feel intensely could have had no very desirable effect upon the functions of his body or operations of his mind.
But it may be said, that we have not yet accounted for those agitations of body, those trances and swoons, that have sometimes occurred in the secret retirement of the closet, and in the midst of the solemn stillness of the Quaker meeting. This leads us, in the second place, to bring out a little more prominently, than we have yet done in this article, a false principle and mistaken practice which prevail extensively in religious devo
* See Dictionnaire des Sciences Médicales, Article, Voix.
tions, both public and private, and is the fruitful source of many physical phenomena, which are not well explained in those works which treat of the influence of the imagination and sympathy over the functions of the body. The false principle, to which we allude, is the belief that the religious affections may be called into exercise by a direct effort of the will to rouse them to action. The mistaken practice is the perverted and over-strained action of the will, in which individuals endeavor to engender directly, by a voluntary effort, that affection or emotion which, in any case, may seem desirable.
That this is a false principle and mistaken practice will be at once allowed by all, who admit the justness of our remarks upon the connection of the will with the emotive states of the mind. We need only appeal to common sense to show, that to exercise right affections towards God, without a clear conception of his attributes and character, is an absurdity, an impossibility. Even if one supposes he loves and adores God, while he has no consistent view of his character and attributes, God is not the object of his affection, but a creature of his own imagination. Thesame absurdity is involved in an attempt to exercise right feelings towards our fellow-men, without a consistent view of their character and relations to us, and our common relation to God and a future destiny. Equally vain is it to think of feeling rightly towards ourselves, without knowing our own hearts and our relations to time and eternity. The will, it is true, can form a purpose to study the attributes of God; it may execute that purpose ; and, by the blessing of God, a consistent view of his character thus obtained, may lead to right affections towards him. But to endeavor to love and adore God, without any consistent idea of him, would be more vain, than for a man, destitute of a spark of imagination, to endeavor, in the darkest midnight, to thrill with emotions of beauty and sublimity in view of some splendid landscape.
The first step, then, towards exercising right affections towards God, is to become acquainted with his character, as he has revealed it in his word, his works and his providence. Hence, one object in the plan of redemption, seems to have been, to draw forth the affections of God's rational offspring towards him, by presenting his character in a more interesting light, than any in which it had yet appeared before the world.
In order to understand more clearly the operation of the false principle to which we have alluded, let us examine the subject
SECOND SERIES, Vol. VI. NO. II.
in the affections aracter in a before the wo False
a little more in detail. Let us suppose, first, that an individual has embraced the hypothesis that those bodies, usually called opaque, are only relatively so; that all material substances transmit some light, and that a sufficiently intense and prolonged effort of the will would enable us to discern objects through them. Now let us suppose that this dreamer attempts to carry his theory into practice. He seats himself opposite to a thick wall, strains to the utmost all his power of volition to look through it, and continues this effort for hours, and even days. Under these circumstances, his nervous system could not fail to lose its equilibrium, and fall into some variety of abnormal action; or its high-wrought tension would be followed by a collapse more or less marked. If, moreover, our experimenter believes that eternal consequences depend upon the success of his effort, the nervous system will be subjected to an additional disturbing influence. Again, let an individual be given to understand that he is under the influence of some mysterious agent, as animal magnetism,* and that certain effects will result from this agency, provided all the power of his will is exerted to procure the result. He endeavors to perform his part as instructed, and if he be “susceptible of the magnetic influence," he at length experiences the expected result in the form of spasms, a swoon, or magnetic sleep. Let us takeanother case. A person believes he can obtain a sensible communication with the Deity, by a sufficiently intense concentration of all the powers of the soul to that one point. He makes the effort, and at length falls into a trance, basks in the light of celestial glory, and enjoys social intercourse with God and the pure spirits of heaven.t In both these last instances, the perverted action of the will is aided in its influence on the nervous system, by the agency of a bewildered imagination. Let us now look into a religious meeting, where the preaching is one fervent and almost constant strain of exhortation, calling upon sinners to “ repent and believe,” to “ submit to Christ,” to “ give their hearts to God," etc., exhorting Christians to. “feel more,” to “ agonize in prayer.” Now we ask, what must be the effect of such preaching? Could it fail to lead the hearers to believe, that what is required of them may be accomplished instantaneously, by a mere act of the will, and to stimulate them to nerve themselves
* See Biblical Repository, April, 1839, Vol. I. pp. 379, etc. + Ibid. pp. 372, etc.