Page images

The Rev. John Wesley, in his “ Journal," and in his “ Short Account of those People, called Methodists,” mentions phenomena similar to those of the Kentucky revival, as occurring under his own ministration and that of his immediate associates. We shall quote only one instance from his Journal of June 15, 1739. We select this instance, not because it is more striking than a multitude of others, which might be chosen, but because the circumstances are detailed which enable us to form a fair judgment of the case. Mr. Wesley arrives at Wapping in the evening,“ weary in body and faint in spirit.” Before rising to preach, he finds that his ideas have failed him on the text upon which he had designed to speak. He opens the Bible for a text, and his eyes fall upon Hebrews 10: 19, and he discourses from that passage. He remarks: “ While I was earnestly inviting all sinners to enter into the holiest by this new and living way, many of those who heard began to call upon God with strong cries and tears. Some sunk down, and there remained no strength in them; others exceedingly trembled and quaked ; some were torn with a kind of convulsive motion in every part of their bodies, and that so violently, that four or five persons could not hold one of them.” It seems that in this case, one raving opposer fell into the spasms with the rest.

We shall not deny, in this case, that the mental excitement, which caused the prostration of strength and the convulsions, might have resulted from the operation of truth and the Spirit of God upon the mind. But we wish to suggest the inquiry, whether this earnest invitation, “to enter into the holiest by the new and living way,” would not naturally have stimulated some to put forth those abnormal voluntary efforts, which we have characterized as an over-strained and perverted action of the will, and which, as we have clearly shown, tend directly to produce the phenomena above described ? Until this question is fairly answered, no one can, with any justice, ascribe the effects to the especial influence of the Holy Spirit.

President Edwards, in his account of the revivals which occurred in New-England between the years 1734 and 1744, speaks of " extraordinary views of divine things, and religious affections, being frequently attended with very great effects on the body, nature often sinking under the weight of divine discoveries, the strength of the body taken away, so as to deprive of all ability to stand or speak; sometimes the hands clenched, and the flesh cold, but senses still remaining; animal nature

[ocr errors]

often in a great emotion and agitation, and the soul very osten, of late, so overcome with great admiration, and a kind of omnipotent joy, as to cause the person (wholly unavoidably) to leap with all the might, with joy and mighty exultation of soul.”

President Edwards, in remarking upon “ these effects on the body," says, they did not begin now at this wonderful season, that they should be owing to the influence of the example of the times, but about seven years ago; and began in a much higher degree and greater frequency, near three years ago, when there was no such enthusiastical season, as many account this; but it was a very dead time through the land; they arose from no distemper caught from Mr. Whitefield or Mr. Tennant, because they began before either of them came into the country; they began, as I said, near three years ago, in a great increase, upon an extraordinary self-dedication, and renunciation of the world, and resignation of all to God;... and began in a yet higher degree and greater frequency, about a year and a half ago, upon another new resignation of all to God; ... and began in a much higher degree still, the last winter, upon another resignation and acceptance of God, as the only portion and happiness of the soul.”

We wish to direct particular attention to the words, which we have italicized above; for they are highly important in analyzing the phenomena in question. Let us turn our attention to the “dead time through the land," mentioned in the quotation above; and let us inquire also by what probable instrumentality the" self-dedication," renunciation of the world," and “resignation of all to God," which succeeded, were brought about. It would not be very unnatural to suppose, that soine of the faithful ministers of Christ, witnessing the low state of religion in the land, and becoming deeply sensible of the importance of rousing the church from its lethargy, “ should give all their energies" to such an effort. We should expect to hear, under such circumstances, fervent exhortations to Christians to dedicate themselves anew to Christ, to renounce the world and all its vanities, and to resign all to God, and to do it immediately. Now if President Edwards had represented himself and others as actually having addressed such exhortations to the churches, no one would be able to detect any want of verisimilitude in his statements. They would perfectly accord with what any one may observe in the religious movements of the present

day. Indeed, he does admit, in speaking of addresses to the understanding, that “it is very probable, that these things have been of late too much neglected by many ministers ;” and we think he more than hints at the existence of injudicious exhorting. Besides, the view, which President Edwards takes of the relation of the will to the affections, would be likely to lead to errors in practice. He says, in the work quoted above, page 122: “ All acts of the affections of the soul are, in some sense, acts of the will, and all acts of the will are acts of the affections.” Now if affections are voluntary acts, it is as proper to exhort men to feel, as to act, for it is the same thing.

Now we shall not undertake to condemn the kind of exhortation, which we have characterized above; but we must express our conviction, that unless carefully guarded, it could not fail to lead some into error. Feeling, as they naturally would, that this “self-dedication," " renunciation of the world,” “resignation of all to God,” consisted in a state of the affections, they would understand themselves called upon by their ministers to enter at once into that state, by putting forth some mighty voluntary effort. Such efforts would be nothing more nor less than an over-strained and perverted action of the will, tending to chafe the nervous system, and bringing it into an irritable state, well fitted to exhibit the phenomena described by President Edwards. And even where there is no tendency in religious teaching to lead the mind astray on this point, such is the perversity of human character, that man is ever prone to leave the plain path, which would conduct him to a knowledge of the truth, and io strain his voluntary powers to seize some gaudy phantom of his own imagination. Hence, in most revivals of religion, there is a tendency to disturbance of the nervous functions, arising from mistaken efforts of those under conviction of sin, to produce in the soul by mere dint of volition, a change which can alone be effected by the operation of truth and the Spirit of God.

Mr. Barclay,* in his apology for the Quakers, in speaking of the beneficial effects of their silent meetings, says: “Sometimes the

power of God will break forth into a whole meeting, and there will be such an inward travail, while each is seeking to overcome the evil in themselves, that by the strong working of

* Works of Dugald Stewart, chapter on Sympathetic Imitation.

these opposite powers, (the evil and the good,) like the going of two contrary tides, every individual will be strongly exercised as in a day of battle, and thereby trembling and a motion of the body will be upon most, if not all of them.”

It is difficult to attach any intelligible idea to the phrase, “ inward travail, while each is seeking to overcome the evil in themselves," unless Mr. Barclay has characterized by it that vague and indefinite straining of the will, to which we have often alluded in this article. And surely it is philosophical to expect the same effects upon the body, from this strong reaction of the will upon the nervous system, whether it consists in straining to produce in one's self the effects of animal magnetism, to penetrate the veil which hides from mortal sight the presence-chamber of the Most High, to engender holy emotions in the soul, or to evercome the evil within.

We may have overrated the extent of the habit of overtasking the will, and trying to force it out of its proper sphere of action, in religious exercises; but we are strongly convinced that the evil is much more extensive than is generally supposed. If then it be admitted, that this mode of chafing and irritating the nervous system prevails somewhat extensively in the religious world, it would be natural to ascribe to it some of those minor effects upon the body, which do not go to the extent of entire prostration and general convulsions. We apprehend that it would not be difficult to distinguish the man, who is in the habit of calling in the efforts of the will to give intensity to his desires and emotions, while engaged in the exercise of public prayer. We observe the convulsive clenching of the fist or clasping of the hands, the distortion and twitching of the features, the hurried and convulsive respiration, the over-strained voice, an occasional shudder pervading the whole frame, as if caused by a sudden thrill. The same phenomena, though in a less degree, may be observed in those who silently join in public prayer, and endeavor to second every petition that is offered by all the intensity of volition they can call into exercise. In this latter case the voluntary effort, by partially suppressing the respiration, produces a feeling of distress in the region of the præcordia, which is very naturally and very frequently relieved by a groan.

The habit of trying to stimulate the desires and emotions, by the direct action of the will, cannot fail to render the nervous system highly irritable, its functions fluctuating and unstable, and strongly to predispose the constitution to all kinds of anomalous nervous affections. But there are evils attendant upon this habit which are more serious than those which affect the physical constitution; we mean, the unbalancing of man's moral nature, by leading to distorted views of human inability. We have already alluded to the proneness of man to try to comply with the claims of duty, by voluntary efforts to engender feeling, when those claims require action. It is true that a course of obedient action always implies a corresponding state of the affections; and that state of the affections is frequently adduced in Scripture as a test of character. But then voluntary action is constantly appealed to as a test of the genuineness of the affection, and is the experimentum crucis by which hypocrisy is made to assume its own coloring. “ If ye love me, keep my commandments.“Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected.” The sinner, in thinking of returning to God, is constantly led by the tendencies of his depraved mind, and perhaps by erroneous instructions, to exert the power of the will, in trying to engender right affections in the soul. He repeats the effort again and again, and summons all the energies of body and mind to the mighty struggle. He at length learns, by bitter experience, the important truth, that the affections are not voluntary states of the mind, that the feelings and emotions do not rise and fall at the direct bidding of the will. But at the same time, he falls into an error fearfully dangerous in its consequences. From the failure of his efforts to feel right, he concludes he can do nothing to secure his own salvation. If fortunately, the individual is at last brought by the blessing of God to a knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, he soon forgets the plain path by which he has been led, while every circumstance connected with the sore struggle and bitter agonies, through which he passed, in trying by a direct effort of the will to change the state of his affections, is recollected with painful exactness, and dwelt upon with melancholy interest, as the sad proof of man's entire inability. His views are seized upon by the impenitent, and perverted to their own destruction. They conclude that their salvation depends upon an arbitrary fatality, and in no sense upon their own voluntary obedience; and they settle down to a hardened indifference to their own immortalinterests. Or perhaps the sinner, often straining his faculties to the utmost to rectify his feelings by some instantaneous effort of the will, concludes at last that his case is hopeless, that his

« PreviousContinue »