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All true religion has its foundation in faith. Visions, trances, revelations, and the like, are not necessarily religion. Historical illustrations of the subject. Origin of the experiences and states of mind which have been referred to. Reasons for not regarding them as true religious experience. Remarks on emotional experience. Extract from Romaine.

IT will be in accordance with what has already been said, and perhaps merely a statement of the same thing in other words, when we remark here, that no other form or modification of the inward life, can, with any truth or any safety, be substituted for the life of faith. The proposition thus stated in this general manner, viz. that no other modification of the inward life can properly or safely be substituted for the life of faith, will probably be assented to by nearly all persons, although they may not agree in its particular applications. If the life of faith is the true life, if in its results it develops and explains every thing that is true, good, and lovely in the characters and actions of holy men, it would seem to be a matter of course, that every thing else, which claims to be religion independently of faith as its basis, must be regarded as setting up claims or pretensions, that are false or unfounded.

2.—We proceed to remark, therefore, in accordance with this general statement, that those things, whether experienced in a greater or less degree, which are of the nature of visions, trances, revelations of the heavenly world or of the world of woe, revelations of future things, and the like, do not, and cannot, in themselves considered, constitute religion. About the year 1688, a religious sect appeared in Dauphiny and Vivarais in France, and afterwards, about the year 1700, the same sect made its appearance in England, whose religious experience, in addition to, or perhaps we should rather say, in distinction from the common traits of religious experience, was characterized by trances, as they were called, in which they alleged that they saw the heavens open, and saw the angels of heaven, and saw paradise, and hell, and other things equally wonderful. Nor was this all. Their experience, in the case of a considerable number of persons, was distinguished also by prophetic views or foresights of future things. The state of trance, which can easily be explained, to a considerable degree at least, on purely natural principles, and also other states which were characterized by great physical agitation, were frequently followed by prophetic paroxysms, which when they came to the utterance, resulted either in strong and terrible denunciations, or in predictions of future events. Some interesting specimens of these prophecies are found in the Work, entitled the Prophecies of Sir John Lacy, a worthy man of some education and of irreproachable character, who was subject, in a remarkable degree, to all these forms of experience. A similar sect sprang up in certain parts of Germany about the year 1730, called the Church or Congregation of the Inspired. It is related of Count Zinzendorf, the founder of the Church of the United Brethren or the Moravian Church, as it is more usually called, that he made a visit to the Church of the Inspired in the principality of Isenberg, and obviously for the purpose of ascertaining the nature of their doctrines and exercises. The Count, speaking of what he himself witnessed in one of their leading men, whose character and exercises he had an opportunity of studying, both at Isenberg and elsewhere, says, that “he fell into one of his inspired fits in Budingen, which I thought dreadful. The manner was this. He suddenly became violently convulsed, and at the same time he moved his head backwards and forwards with incredible rapidity. In this state he spoke certain words in a prophetic style, which were termed inspirations. They were written down, and sent to the people to whom they referred.” [Life of Count Zinzendorf, London Ed. 1838, p. 130.] The Count, after having examined the doctrine in connection with the commentary of its practical exhibitions and results, says, “I had no occasion to hesitate any longer, in entirely rejecting the inspiration.”

3.—The statements of ecclesiastical history furnish evidence, conclusive as it is melancholy, that, in almost every age since the time of the Apostles, there have been individuals, who have professed to be the subjects of revelations; persons, to whom God, according to their own ideas of things, has made special communications, and who, accordingly, have assumed, in a greater or less degree, the prophetic character. The age, in which we live, distinguished as it is, by philosophic advancement and by enlightened views on the subject of religion, has been, as it seems to us, distinguished also by the multiplication of instances of this kind. On every side, and in almost all Christian denominations, persons have made their appearance, who have regarded themselves as the subjects of special divine communications. Not the mere subjects of things religiously experienced in the heart; that is not what we mean; but of things supernaturally communicated to the intellect; not the mere subjects of holiness in exercise, but of revelations exteriorly imparted. We do not mean to imply, that these persons were not Christians; we have no doubt that in some cases they were; but we do mean to imply and to say, that their Christianity, their religion, existed, and must have existed independently of their gift or supposed gift of revelations.

4.—It is a matter of notoriety, that the persons, to whom we now refer, have been in the habit not only of uttering predictions of future events; but have also undertaken to pronounce authoritatively upon some things in present existence, which are ordinarily withdrawn from notice; such as the present state of the inward moral and religious character of individuals, and their acceptance with God or their rejection. In many instances the results of their confident anticipations and predictions have shown, that the remarkable visitations and revelations, which they professed to have, and which it is possible that they very sincerely professed to have, were not from God. But if it had been otherwise, in other words if their statements and predictions had been fulfilled, it would not alter the general truth of our proposition. God if he chooses may select those, who are his enemies, to be the depository of his revelations; but their designation to this office, although it is perhaps out of the ordinary course of his proceedings, does not necessarily make them his friends. Saul was at one time numbered among the prophets. And Balaam, the son of Beor, “fell into a trance, having his eyes open;” and the declarations, which he then heard, he seems to have been authorized to utter as the predictions of the Most High.

5.—We might enter into the question of the origin of these rather remarkable states of mind, and institute the inquiry, whether we are to regard them, in the present age of the world, as having their origin in the inspirations of God, or in the suggestions of Satan, or in the movements of a strongly disordered physical system operating upon, or in connection with, a highly excited state of the intellect and the feelings. But without entering into this inquiry, which, interesting and important as it undoubtedly is, would occupy too much time, what we have to remark here is, that the decisive circumstance, unfavorable to this form of Christian experience, if by courtesy we may call it such, is this: that,
in itself considered, it is wholly intellectual. Visions, trances, revelations, and all other things, which are exteriorly imparted without being inwardly and operatively experienced, communicating new and perhaps remarkable views without changing the dispositions of the heart, are just what they are and just what their names indicate; but they are not religion. They may be regarded, if any one chooses so to regard them, as constituting an intellectual experience, or still more definitely as constituting an “apparitional” experience but we repeat, that, in themselves considered, they do not and cannot constitute religion. If a man has a trance, a vision, and especially if he has a revelation, and can sustain it by such miracles as sustained the divine messages of Christ and the Apostles, we readily admit, that he is entitled to a hearing. But, in the first place, we know of no such cases. And in the second place, if we did, it would furnish no decisive grounds of inference in favor of the piety of such persons. It leaves the case just where it found it. And simply for the reason already indicated, viz. that these things are “apparitional” and intellectual, are addressed to the senses and the external perceptions, and do not penetrate the region of the heart. Isaiah, and Ezekiel, and Daniel, and Peter, and John, and Paul, experienced God’s favor and were his beloved and adopted children, not exclusively or chiefly because they had visions and proclaimed God’s revealed messages and wrought God’s miracles; (missions and attributes, which, so far as we can perceive, might have been assigned to other less holy persons or even to unholy persons,) but because, they had given themselves to God in consecration and in faith, because their hearts were sanctified and their wills were subdued.

6.—There is another class of persons, whose experience is something more than intellectual; but which, just so far as it exists
independently of faith as its basis, cannot safely or justly be regarded, as a true religious experience. We refer to those, whose religious life is characterized chiefly or exclusively by strong emotions. These cases are in some respects more difficult to be rightly estimated than those which have just been mentioned. It is well known, that many persons find it difficult to form an idea of religion separate from feeling; and they are very apt to consider great feeling and great religion as very much the same thing. In many minds religion and feeling are almost identical. But it will be noticed in the proposition, which we have laid down, that we do not condemn feeling, that we do not exclude feeling as a part of religious experience, but only that we condemn and exclude from religious experience all that feeling, which exists independently of faith as its basis. I have somewhere seen the remark, and it seems to me that there is a foundation for it, although it is obviously liable to be misunderstood, that we are not saved by feeling, but by faith. A proposition, which implies, that the primary element, the foundation of salvation, so far as the human mind is concerned, is faith, without excluding feeling in its appropriate place, viz. as sometimes antecedent and preparatory, and more frequently as a subsequent and accessory state of mind. As a general rule, the order of sequence is, faith first, and feeling afterwards. Religious faith will not only give religious feeling on its appropriate occasions; but it will give the right form or modification of feeling; in other words, precisely that modification of feeling, which the occasion requires.

7.—We should be sorry to have it understood, as implied in these remarks, that we object absolutely and in all respects to what may be denominated emotional religion, or rather to emotions as involved in and considered as a part of religion. Emotions, excited states of feeling, even of mere natural or animal feeling, may precede faith, and may be valuable in preparing the way for it; or they may be subsequent to it, and may oftentimes result from it. The emotions in their various kinds, both joyous and sorrowful, arise on many occasions very different from each other; and oftentimes have nothing to do with religion; and at their best estate may be regarded merely as the attendants and accessories of religion. The true view, therefore, is, that emotional states, or mere temporary feelings of joy and sorrow in distinction from the permanent state of love, may or may not involve the fact of religion. The man, who has them, may possess religion, or he may be destitute of it. In forming a judgment, therefore, of a man’s religious character from his joys or his sorrows, however excited and raised they may be, (for it is to joys and sorrows that we have special reference when we speak of emotional states,) it is necessary to be very careful. But no man need be solicitous in respect to the reality and truth of his religion, whether his joys or his sorrows be more or less, who, having entirely renounced himself, has that faith in God, which works by love and purifies the heart.

8.—We would make an additional remark here. It is this. Religious emotions, whenever they make their appearance, should be so kept under control, as never to disturb the calmness of the perceptive and rational action of the mind. And the reason of the remark is this. True religion always has relation to the will of God. It implies conformity to the will of God; and conformity implies a knowledge of such will. But it is very obvious, that, considered as rational and accountable beings, we cannot be supposed to know, and that we cannot by any possibility know the divine will by means of mere instinct, by means of mere impulse, or of some strong and unregulated feeling. By such means merely it would be impossible for us to learn even the letters and the simple narratives of a child’s spelling book; much less the moral and religious facts and relations, upon which hang the results of an eternal existence. The will of God can be known by the human soul only in connection with the exercise of the judgment; in other words, by means of those perceptive and rational powers, which are a part of our nature. Powers, which cannot act clearly, efficiently, and satisfactorily, in connection with a violent and agitated state of the emotions. Hence, when God dwells in the soul by the proper possession and regulation of its powers, it will be peaceful.

9.—The emotional part of religion, in distinction from that part of it, which consists in entire consecration and unwavering faith, often occasions a degree of perplexity even to very devout minds. Brainerd, the celebrated missionary among the North American Indians, was out of health at a certain time; so much so as to be very weak, and “unable to do his work.” Remarking in his Diary upon his feelings at this time, he says, “As I was able to do little or nothing, so I enjoyed not much spirituality, or lively religious affection.” [Life of Brainerd, Ch. IX.] What shall we say of such an instance as this. It seems to me we should say, and we cannot very safely say either more or less, that he was afflicted, but not cast off; in sorrow, but not forgotten. In other words, that being wearied and sick in body, and overwhelmed in mind with the responsibilities of his situation, he had less of joyful emotions than at other times, emotions which vary very much with our physical and mental trials, but not that he really had less spirituality, less religion, or that he was less the subject of God’s love.