PART I. ON THE INWARD LIFE IN ITS CONNECTION WITH FAITH AND LOVE.
On the nature and relations of Emotional Experience.
SOME of the remarks and positions in the two last chapters seem to prepare the way for a few general observations, which are of considerable practical importance, on what may be termed the emotional form of religious experience.
The doctrine, which we propose to advance on this somewhat difficult subject, may be regarded as implying the admission of two things: FIRST, that the mind, in some important and true sense, is departmental; that it exists in the three departments of the Intellect, the Sensibilities, and the Will; and that the emotional or emotive states constitute a distinct and important subordinate division in these departments: And SECOND, that the operations of the Holy Spirit on the human mind are various; that they may embrace the whole of these departments, reaching and controlling the whole mind; or that, under certain circumstances, they may stop either at the intellectual department or at the emotive division of the sensitive department, producing certain important results, but leaving others without being realized.
We proceed then to remark, in the first place, that it is the office of the Holy Spirit to operate, on the appropriate occasions of such operation, upon the human intellect; and especially by guiding it in the perception of the truth. The mode of the Spirit's operation upon the intellectual part, as it is upon other parts of the mind, is in many respects mysterious; but the ordinary result of his influences is the communication of truth. That is to say, the soul, when it is thus operated upon, knows spiritually what it did not know before. And it may properly be added, that the knowledge, which is thus communicated, will vary both in kind and degree, in accordance with the nature of the subject or facts to be illustrated, and with the special circumstances, whatever they may be, which render a divine communication necessary. But it is not ordinarily to be expected, that the operation, of which we are now speaking, will stop with the intellect. By an original law of our mental nature, the perception of truth, which is the result of an intellectual act, is ordinarily followed by an effect upon that portion of the mind, which is usually designated as the emotional or emotive susceptibility; a part of the mind, which, as it is subsequent in the time of its action, is sometimes figuratively described, "as being back of the intellect." The effect upon the emotive susceptibility, resulting from an operation on the intellect, will be different at different times and under different circumstances; varying in nature and. degree, according to the nature and degree of the truth which is presented, and also, in part, in accordance with its own previous situation at the time of its being affected. The truth, for instance, that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, will be attended with very pleasant emotions in one who feels himself to be a sinner, and to stand in need of a Savior; but will not be likely to be attended with any such effect in one, with whom this is not the case. We can suppose, therefore, notwithstanding the general law which has just now been specified, an operation of the Holy Spirit upon the intellect, which is attended with no beneficial, with no sanctifying and saving effect upon the heart. Indeed, there are some cases, where the truth, which is impressed by a divine operation upon the intellect, is met and rejected in the sensibilities with feelings of opposition and contempt. But experience of this nature, which meets with no acceptance beyond the intellect, although it may have its origin intellectually in the operation of the Spirit of God, is not regarded as religious experience; and therefore it is not necessary to dwell longer upon it here.
(II.) — But let us look at the subject a little further. It is well known, that there are instances quite different from those, which have just been referred to. We will suppose, therefore, the case of a person, who is the subject of a divine operation. Under the influence of this inward operation, he experiences, to a considerable extent, new views of his own situation, of his need of a Savior, and of the restoration of his soul to God in spiritual union. The operation, which has been experienced so far, is purely intellectual. Of the necessity and value of such intellectual influences, there can be no doubt; but I believe it is generally conceded, that, in themselves alone, they do not, and cannot constitute religion. But in addition to this, we will suppose, that an effect, and perhaps a very decided effect, has been experienced in the emotive part, which in its action is subsequent to that of the intellect. The person has very pleasant emotions. The perception of new truth, as we should naturally expect, gives him happiness; and the perception of its relation to his salvation gives him still more happiness. He is very happy. He begins to speak a new language. His mouth is filled with praise. And others praise the Lord on his account.
But has such a person religion, as his friends are very desirous to believe, and are very apt to declare? He has an experience undoubtedly. We are willing to admit, that he has a valuable experience; an experience, which is naturally preparatory to religion, and is closely connected with it; and looks very much like it. But if the experience stops here, in such a manner as to constitute a merely emotional experience, and without reaching and affecting a still more inward and important part of the mind, as seems sometimes to be the case, we cannot with good reasons regard it as a truly religious experience; meaning by the terms an experience which meets the expectations and the demands of God, and which is saving. It is valuable; it is encouraging; it is closely connected with religion; but it is not the thing itself. We may perhaps designate it as a preparative or incident to religion, without being religion; and although we may thank the Lord for what it is, especially in its hopeful relations, it is still true, that the essential and indispensable element of the inward life is not there.
(III.) — There are mental susceptibilities, which, on account of their being subsequent in the time of their action, may be described as laying back of the emotive part of the mind, as truly as the emotions can be said. to lay back of the intellectual part. In making this remark, we have especial reference to the desires in their various modifications, particularly those modifications which are denominated the affections, and to the will. Any religion, or rather pretense of religion, which is not powerful enough to penetrate into this region of the mind, and to bring the affections and will into subjection to God, is in vain. It is an important fact, and as melancholy as it is true, that a person may be spiritually enlightened and have new views on the subject of religion, and that he may also have very raised and joyful emotions, and yet may be a slave to his natural desires. He has not experienced what every one must experience, who would enter into communion with the Divine Mind, viz. the death of nature. He loves the things of the world more than the things of God. Many, very many, are the instances, which can verify this remark. As the result of their intellectual illumination, the persons, to whom these statements will apply, are undoubtedly in advance of what they were previously, and are able to talk fluently on the subject of religion. And in consequence of some premature application of the Savior's merits to their own case, they can speak of pleasures and of hopes, which they never before experienced. But only urge upon them the necessity of self-crucifixion; only touch the idols which they cherish in their inner heart; and they discover at once the dominion which the world has over them still. God has not become the life of the soul. At a proposition, so necessary to the life of God and so repugnant to the life of nature, the spirit of untamed and almost unmitigated evil, which reposed so closely and secretly in their bosoms, will start into existence with features of opposition and malignity, altogether at variance with the peace and purity of a holy heart.
(1.) — In connection with this subject, one or two remarks may properly be made. And one is, that we may probably discover in these principles the reason, why it is, that, in times of especial religious attention, so many persons, who appeared to be much engaged in religion for a season, subsequently lose their interest, and become, both in practice and feeling, assimilated to the world. Such persons are undoubtedly the subjects of an inward experience; and this experience, in common parlance, is frequently called a religious experience; but it is obviously defective in the essential particular of not having a root. " But he, that received the word into stony places, the same is he, that heareth the word, and anon with joy, receiveth it. Yet hath he not root in himself."
Notwithstanding their increased ability and readiness to converse on the subject of religion, and the exhibitions which they make of emotion, sometimes of high emotion, they do not understand what it is to place themselves a living sacrifice upon the divine altar. They do not appreciate, and still less do they realize in their own hearts and lives, the "all of God and nothing of the creature."
(2.) — Another remark is this. We would not have it inferred from what has been said, that we regard what we denominate emotional experience, as being without value. It is true, that such experience is valueless, when it stops in itself, and becomes nothing more than mere emotional experience. But, though valueless in itself, it is not valueless in its relations; and especially it is not so, when it is followed by those results, to which we naturally expect it to lead. And hence we may properly say, in estimating the experiences, which the mind is likely to pass through in seasons of religious attention, that it is a matter of some encouragement, when light is communicated to the intellect, though in a small degree. It is matter of encouragement also, and still more so, when we see these intellectual impressions followed by a consentient and gratified movement in the emotions. But the danger is in encouraging those, who are the subjects of them, in believing, that they are religious, when they are merely the subjects of that, which, in a favorable aspect of it, can be regarded only as preparatory to religion. This danger, which is imminent and in many cases has proved destructive, ought to be carefully guarded against; especially by those, who, as ministers of the Gospel and as professed religious teachers, are supposed to have a better acquaintance than others with the facts and principles of religious experience.
(3.) — In concluding the remarks of this chapter, we take the liberty to urge upon all, who wish to live the true inward life, the importance of not resting satisfied with mere intellectual light, however valuable it may be; of not resting satisfied with joyful or any other emotions, which stop and terminate in themselves; and of acting invariably upon the principle, that nothing ought to satisfy themselves, and that nothing can satisfy God, but the subjection of every natural desire, and the substitution of desires, affections, and purposes, which terminate in God and God alone. Move onward, therefore, with a firmness which no obstacles shall shake, to the entire revolution and renewal of the inward nature; the increased illumination of the conscience, that great light of the mind; the sanctification of the desires, which embrace the whole propensive and "affectional" nature; and the subjection of the will, which is naturally so proud and rebellious, to the will of God. Fear not that God will desert you. Aided by the intellectual light which he has seen fit to give, and by those favorable emotions he has already excited, form the fixed, unalterable purpose, "the high resolve," in reliance upon divine grace, to be wholly his. No doubt, in many cases, the struggle will be severe. The unsanctified desires especially, including the various appetites, propensities, and affections, which form so important a part of our nature, are selfish and tenacious; and, considered as opposed to any and all human strength, are undoubtedly invincible. But God has said, "My grace is sufficient for thee." His word shall never fail; and least of all, in such a struggle, in which his own heart of infinite love is enlisted. Desire after desire will fall; idol after idol will be demolished; the Christian graces will successively gain the ascendancy; till the Holy Ghost shall take up his permanent residence in his own purified temple, and victory will sit crowned in the centre of the heart.
Jehovah, sovereign of my heart!
My joy by night and day!
From Thee, oh may I never part,
From Thee ne'er go astray.
Whene'er allurements round me stand,
And tempt me from my choice;
Oh, let me find thy gracious hand,
Oh, let me hear thy voice!