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up to some mighty voluntary effort to comply with the exhorta. tion? Can they do directly, by mere volition, what they are exhorted to do? We answer decidedly, No. If the question of human ability be, whether a man can, by a direct act of the will, instantaneously reverse the whole current of his feelings, and set them to flowing in the right direction, and in the right channels, we give our voice for the doctrine of human inability, both natural and moral.
But let us not be understood as advocating the ultra doctrine of human inability. Though a man, exposed to a chilling atmosphere, cannot feel warm by standing still, and merely willing to be warm, yet he can approach a fire, and expose himself to its action, and thus change the state of his sensations. A mere volition cannot engender the taste of sweet, nor any other savor; and yet every one, if he chooses, may enjoy those savors, by bringing the organs of taste in contact with the appropriate substances; provided the substances are within his reach. No one can maintain the healthy action of his bodily functions, by merely willing to do so, while he refuses to take his daily food; and yet every one can take that food, when it is within his reach. No more can man's moral sensibilities enjoy a healthy excitement, without exposing the mind to the action of the appropriate stimulants; and yet every one has power, by an act of choice, to bring the mind in contact with religious truth and objects of moral approbation. Neither can the soul enjoy moral health, without receiving the nutriment which has been provided for its sustenance. And how abundant is the provision! God has spread out a “feast of fat things,” which is at all times accessible to every hungry soul; and whoever will may come and take of the water of life freely. Thus it will be seen, that the first step in human guilt is the wrong choice which the mind makes of its objects of attention. The heathen were regarded as guilty by the apostle, “ because, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God.” They chose to give their attention to the deformed offspring of their own vain imaginations, instead of attending to the character and claims of God. The Psalmist recognizes the principle that attention is needful, in order to come to right views of God and right affections towards him. “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even he shall understand the loving kindness of the Lord.” It follows, moreover, from the above remarks, that the turning point of man's salvation, so far as it
depends on human agency, is the right choice which the mind makes of its future objects of attention, including the future course of moral action. This act of choice is the strong purpose of the soul, for all coming time, to know and act up to the claims of duty and its own high destiny. At this point the sinner first enters upon the path of duty, and his whole intellectual and moral nature begins to move in a new direction, and towards new objects. But let it be remarked, that this purpose of the mind is not a struggle of the will to call up emotion, but an intelligent decision upon a plan for future life. Hence, all that exhortation, which tends to push the mind up to a voluntary effort to feel, fails of the great object at which religious teaching should aim. The sinner must be brought intelligently to a decision of the great question, that his decision may be final. He must count the cost. In order that the purpose of a new life should be formed, the desirableness of the ends at which it aims must be felt, and the tendency of the new course of action to reach those ends must also be seen. Thus the very existence of the voluntary purpose implies an antecedent action of the intellect and the feelings, without which it could never have existed. Again, a purpose formed is of no avail unless executed; and a constant view of the objects in pursuit is necessary to insure its execution. Thus we see that the will is not the only faculty of the mind, which is to be addressed in leading sinners to repentance.
But let us return to the point from which we digressed. A sinner, ignorant of his own heart, ignorant of the character of God, is exhorted, in the manner which we have mentioned above, to repent, to give his heart to God, to submit to Christ. He understands these expressions to refer to a sudden, voluntary change in the state of his affections, and summons all the power of the will, and puts every faculty of soul and body upon the stretch, in the mighty effort which he makes to repent. He repeats the effort again and again, without success. He truly attempts to “take a leap in the dark,” but is arrested and thrown back by an impenetrable wall that meets him on every side. For how can one believe on him of whom he has not heard ? Or how can he believe on him, of whom he has not learned, though he may have heard ? Again, as the Christian is exhorted to feel more, to agonize in prayer, he nerves himself up to that effort, he throws his whole nervous and muscular systems into a state of the most violent tension, in his mighty struggle to
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make his breast heave with emotion,—to strain out his vast desires to God in prayer. Yet the only effect is to make his emotions more turbulent, his desires more wild and unstable, by the chafing influence of the will upon the nerves.
But what must be the effects of such perverted and overstrained action of the will, on the nervous habits of those who indulge in it ? Certainly they could not be very salutary. We might expect that such individuals would be subject to bodily agitations, trances and swoons, even in the retirement of their closets, much more in public assemblies.
But if we object to that mode of religious teaching, which is fraught with such results, we may be called upon to point out a more excellent way. We trust that a review of the religious experience of many devout Christians, will at once suggest the truth on this point. We doubt not that the following is the history of the experience of many Christians; we know it is of some. Through guilty neglect of the means of grace and knowledge, they have grown up ignorant of their own hearts and of the divine character; and, in the mean time, they have become confirmed in habits of sin. Yet the unsatisfied longings of their souls, and an instinctive dread of future retribution have rendered them uneasy; and they have fancied that the bliss for which they sigh can only be found in the Christian religion. Hence, when they have been again and again exhorted to give up the world, and embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, they have as often made a desperate voluntary effort to repent, and embrace the truth as it is in Jesus, and have as often failed. All this time the Bible is neglected, and with it all of those means which require any effort of the intellect, or which tend to lay open the moral corruption of the heart to the light of God's holy law. At length the individual concludes to take another way of seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness. He enters upon the irksome task (as he has hitherto regarded it) of prayerfully studying the word of God, and listens as for his life to the preaching of the gospel. The mysteries of iniquity in his own heart are revealed to him. He recognizes the justice of God's requirements, and his own guilt, and just condemnation. He is now brought into a position to feel the burden of his sins and his need of a Saviour,—the only state of mind, in which he can understand the character of Christ, as “ the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” and consequently the only state of mind in which he can embrace Christ
in that character. It should then be the object of the preacher to lead sinners to that state of mind, and then to portray to them the character of Christ, as the Redeemer, the atoning sacrifice, the Saviour whom they need, and invite them to accept him as such.
We repeat it, repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ do not result from any spasmodic efforts of the will, however intense, and however often repeated, but from the blessing of God upon a clear and candid intellectual and moral view of the facts in the case, and a rational course of action based upon that view. Let the sinner then be induced, by appeals to reason and conscience, to exert his powers within some sphere of voluntary action. Let him go to the word of God, and solemnly examine his own character and conduct in the light of that word ; let him contemplate his relations to God and the duties that grow out of these relations ; let him study the divine character as exhibited in his word, his works and his providence; and let him obey the suggestions of conscience, and the divine Spirit, which would most assuredly attend a candid and solemn inquiry for the path of duty, and surely the blessing of God will rest upon his efforts, and crown them with the forgiveness of his sins and a good hope in Christ. “For every one that seeketh, findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”
We shall close this article by reviewing some instances of religious excitement, which have been attended with disorder of the bodily functions. We shall notice only a few cases, which will serve as specimens of the whole class; and leave the reader to make his own application of the principles, which we have developed, to any other facts which may be within his knowledge.
Most who are acquainted with the religious history of our country, know something of the great revival of Kentucky, which was at its height about the year 1801. It is well known that this revival was characterized by very extraordinary bodily affections, consisting of an entire prostration of the physical frame, or of the most violent spasmodic action of the muscles, such as involuntary leaping, jerking and convulsions.* It is not difficult to explain these phenomena in a general way, by referring them to the intense religious excitement, which is known
* New-York Evangelist, Dec. 14, 1839.
to have prevailed at that time. Nor does it affect the correctness of this explanation, whether the excitement resulted from the influence of the Holy Spirit and the healthy operation of truth upon the mind, or was the offspring of a heated imagination and disordered sympathy. Intense and prolonged excitement will produce such effects, however it may originate. But the accounts of this revival, which we have read, do not enable us to decide definitely, whether the perverted or over-strained action of the will had any thing to do with originating the physical phenomena; yet some incidental remarks lead us to believe, that this must be taken into consideration in accounting for the effects.
It is a circumstance worthy of remark in this revival, that scoffers and blasphemers were seized with the spasmodic affections, as well as the penitent and believing; while, as the eccentric Lorenzo Dow remarks,* “ those naturalists, who wished and tried to get the affection in order to philosophize upon it,” were not affected by it. Thus those who entered into the magic circle of excitement, whether in opposing or favoring the movement, were the subjects of the nervous spasms, while the calm and tranquil were unaffected.
The Rev. Dr. Baxter, late President of the Union Theological Seminary, Virginia, who visited the scene of excitement, remarks: “Persons who fall are generally such as have manifested symptoms of the deepest impressions, for some time previous to the event.” It can hardly be doubted that the persons spoken of, while under the influence of deep religious impressions, in the midst of such moving scenes, would be led to make intense and repeated efforts of the will, to throw off the burden that oppressed them, and to force their way through the impenetrable wall that seemed to obstruct their entrance into the regions of light and joy. We have seen that such efforts must prove unavailing for the attainment of the desired end, and must tend powerfully to subvert the healthy action of the nervous system. So also with reference to scoffers and opposers, the constant tension in which they kept the nervous and muscular systems, by efforts to brace up against the influence which they hated and feared, would strongly co-operate with their excited emotions to hasten the crisis which they dreaded.
* Essay upon the Influence of the Imagination on the Nerve ous System, by Rev. Grant Powers.