« PreviousContinue »
quoted, “but a comparatively small stock of animal life ; his spirits were low." He passed the greater part of his time alone. He is said to have “commonly spent thirteen hours every day in his study.” His usual relaxation, that was called specifically by this name, was a ride " to some lonely grove, where he would dismount and walk a while.” In further proof of this prevailing cast of his mind, we refer to his “Account of his own Conversion.” It is fraught with descriptions of his solitary musings, visions, despondencies, and raptures. We shall quote a few passages in illustration of this.
“I spent,” says he," most of my time in thinking of divine things year after year; often walking alone in the woods and solitary places, for meditation, soliloquy, and prayer, and converse with God; and it was always my manner at such times to sing forth my contemplations.
Again; “Once as I rode out into the woods for my health, in 1737, having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view, that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God, as Mediator between God and man, and his wonderful, great, full, pure, and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. This grace, that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception,
which continued as near as I can judge, about an hour, which kept me, the greater part of the time, in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated ; to lie in the dust and to be full of Christ alone.
.. I have, several other times, had views very much of the same nature, and which have had the same effects.”
On another occasion, he tells us, “ An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him. I found no books so delightful to me, as those that treated of these subjects. These words, Canticles ii. 1, used to be abundantly with me, 'I am the Rose of Sharon,
and the Lily of the valleys.' These words seemed to me sweetly to represent the loveliness and beauty of Jesus Christ. The whole book of Canticles used to be pleasant to me, and I used to be much in reading it, about that time ; and found, from time to time, an inward sweetness, that would carry me away, in my contemplations. This I know not how to express otherwise, than by a calm, sweet abstraction of soul from all concerns of this world; and sometimes a kind of vision, or fixed ideas and imaginations, of being alone in the mountains, or some solitary wilderness, far from all mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and wrapt and swallowed up in God. The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden 'kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my
heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.
We hope we shall offend no serious mind by considering this as an excited day-dream; or by denominating a mind which could thus find in Solomon's Song the occasion and nurture of such raptures, a highly dreamy and imaginative one.
We make one other extract, not merely in illustration of the same fact, but on account of what has always seemed to us its affecting beauty of expression.
Holiness, as I then wrote down some of my contemplations on it, appeared to me to be of a sweet, pleasant, charming, serene, calm nature, which brought an inexpressible purity, brightness, peacefulness, and ravishment to the soul. In other words, that it made the soul like a field or garden of God, with all manner of pleasant flowers; all pleasant, delightful, and undisturbed; enjoying a sweet calm, and the gently vivifying beams of the sun. The soul of a true Christian, as I then wrote my meditations, appeared like such a little white flower, as we see in the spring of the year; low and humble on the ground, opening its bosom to receive the pleasant beams of the sun's glory; rejoicing as it were in a calm rapture; diffusing around a sweet fragrancy; standing peacefully and lovingly in the midst of other flowers round about; all in like manner opening their bosoms, to drink in the light of the sun. There was no part of creature holiness, that I had so great a sense of its loveliness, as humility, brokenness of heart, and poverty of spirit; and there was nothing I so earnestly longed for. My heart panted after this, to lie before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all, that I might become as a little child.”
In justice to our subject, we are constrained to go one step further in analyzing the alleged supernatural conversion of President Edwards, and observe that in every thing relating to his own religious experience the balance of his mind appears to have been destroyed. The traits already referred to seem to us plainly to indicate this, and that, to which we now allude, is, as we think, to be taken in further confirmation of the fact. We refer to the estimate he made of his own moral and religious condition. It is matter of notoriety what his character as a Christian really was. Differing as we do from him in religious opinions, it taxes not our own charity in the least, to bear our testimony to the truth, that if there ever was an earnest, single-minded, devoted follower of his Lord and Master here on the earth, it was President Edwards. What then shall we think of his power of moral and religious discrimination ? — what, may we ask, shall we think of the sanity of his mind on this particular subject, when we find him deliberately writing and leaving on record such statements as the following ?
“ It has often appeared to me, that if God should mark irriquity against me, I should appear the very worst of mankind ; of all that have been since the beginning of the world to this time; and that I should have by far the lowest place in hell.”
“My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable, and swallowing up all thought and imagination, like an infinite deluge, or mountains over my head. I know ņot how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite. Very often, for these many years, these expressions are in my mind, and in my mouth. Infinite upon infinite ! Infinite upon infinite! When I look into my heart, and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deeper than hell." And after further amplifying the thought, he goes on to say, “ And yet it seems to me, that my conviction of sin is exceeding small and faint; it is enough to amaze me that I have no more sense of my sin.” We are to bear in mind too that these things were written after his “ conversion ” had taken place.
We do not deem it to be necessary to pursue this analysis of the structure and tendencies of the mind of President Édwards any further, in order to show that there was nothing extraordinary, still less miraculous, in what he considered his conversion. His extreme sensitiveness on the subject of religion, and his scrupulosity of conscience from his earliest years; his strong and vivid imagination; the circumstances and influences of the education to which he was subjected; the preoccupation of his mind, in consequence, with a system of faith, which prescribes a certain state of the feelings and affections as essential to salvation, and the power inherent in such a faith to produce in such a mind the results desired ; his extremely retired course of life; his habitual musings, rapt reveries, and lonely self-communion ; — all these circumstances, taken in connexion with his small stock of animal life," and prevailingly “low tone of spirits," will be quite sufficient, we apprehend, to account for his peculiar state of mind and feeling, without resorting to the violent supposition of a miracle. To us, this result in which he rested, as the effect of a special and divine agency, not only appears easy and natural, but, in the ordinary course of things, inevitable.
We take leave of this important part of the subject, by observing, that what has thus been shown in reference to the cases of Bunyan and Edwards, can, as we believe, in like manner, be shown in regard to any other instance of conversion by an alleged supernatural influence. We have selected these as being notorious; and we are confident, that, in any similar case, if we could make a tolerably accurate analysis of those peculiar states of mind, deemed to be miraculous, viewed in connexion with those influences by which they have been produced, we should find that there is nothing in them that has any claims to a supernatural or even to any very remarkable character.
VIII. Our next objection to the doctrine under remark, is, that it has no support in the instructions of Scripture. We do not mean by this, that no miraculous illumination is spoken of or promised in the New Testament. But we do maintain that when it is spoken of or promised, that it was confined to the Apostles, or to those to whom they imparted it, and not, in like manner, promised to Christians of all subsequent ages. We hold that this supernatural agency or influence was given to meet a certain emergence, a particular case, and that, when this object was fulfilled, the agency or influence ceased. And we hold further, what all qualified to judge on this subject will admit, that it is offending against all rational and acknowledged laws of scriptural criticism, to extend a promise which had only an immediate application, and a local and temporary fulfilment, to all times and to all ages. This, as we have had occasion more than once to say,
is point, which, strange as it may seem, has been almost wholly overlooked by the advocates of a supernatural influence of the Spirit, and it is to this circumstance, more perhaps than to any other, that the widespread and tenaciously rooted errors on this subject are to be ascribed. Edwards places bis scriptural proof of the supernatural character of spiritual illumination in modern times distinctly and avowedly on the ground, that such an illumination was given to persons whose history is written in the Old and New Testaments. And he is followed
* And he is followed in this by all the leading authorities, on this point, down to this day. It is obvious, that a full elucidation of the position here taken would require an accurate examination of all those texts in which a divine aid is spoken of or implied throughout the New Testament. This comports with neither the design nor the limits of this Essay. We must, therefore, content ourselves with a general reference to these passages of Scripture. But, we think, no unprejudiced inquirer can fail to perceive, that in all cases, where a supernatural influence is spoken of or implied, it is to be restricted, by the circumstances of the case, to persons and objects, which have no parallel in subsequent times. We shall, however, for the purpose of showing the necessary tendency of this inquiry, and of making our meaning more fully understood, here advert to some of the more important of these circumstances, and illustrate the whole bearing of these remarks by a single example.
1. Thus, for instance, the miraculous illumination of the Spirit which was imparted to the Apostles, and by their agency to their earliest converts, was to authenticate the divine original of Christianity. This has now been done, and a miraculous aid for this purpose is no longer needed.
2. In furtherance of this general end, it was necessary that the Apostles, for the satisfaction both of their own minds, and of those persons to whom they were sent, should not only receive supernatural illumination from God, but that they should also be assured of this fact. Otherwise their teachings would rest merely on their own, that is, human authority.
* See particularly pages 60, 61.