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ESSAY ON SUPERSTITION.

(Continued from p. 466.)

HE present seems to be a proper opportunity for noticing the observations of a valuable, though mistaken, writer in "The Record." This individual fears that sceptical notions may be fostered by referring dreams, apparitions, and the like, to a state of morbid irritation of the brain, the material organ of the mind. "Men of this character," he remarks, "turn away their eyes from the operation of God's hand in nature and providence; and there fore it is to be expected, that they should close them fast against any instance, even remotely tending to establish his existence, and his controul over the affairs of mankind." Again, adds the writer, "the position is, that spiritual beings exist; generally invisible to mortal eye. The refutation, that their existence is disproved, from the impressions of their appearance only being received during the prevalence of a diseased state of the nervous system. This assertion, however, the accuracy of it being assumed, proves nothing. To see, or hear, or taste, or smell, or touch, the corresponding organs must be in a state of health. If they are disordered, the sensations are lost. They are frequently lost for a time, and again they resume their powers. But there may be other disorders or alterations in one or more of the CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 333.

senses, not of common occurrence, which do not, as in the usual cases of disease, strike out existing objects from the cognisance of the mind; but which present to its view existing objects, which, in the healthy or usual state of the organs, are not perceived."

Now I notice first, that the physiological principle upon which this argumentation proceeds, is not founded in truth, or supported by facts. It is indeed true, that there are organs adapted to receive the impressions of external nature, and to convey them to the brain; where, if that central organ of sensation be attentive to the impression, a distinct and adequate idea is formed of the object of sight, or touch, or hearing, or taste, or smell. But it is not true, that if these organs are disordered the sensations are lost. It is not just, or scientific, to forget here, the important agency of the intellectual brain, in order to the completeness of an impression: nor is it correct to endow the organs of sense with a primary and full power; whereas their office is subordinate: they act as mere sentinels; and the power of receiving, or combining, considering, and weighing the results, rests entirely with the brain, and upon its attention to the notices it receives. Thus, therefore, mere impression is at all times unsatisfactory, till it has been referred to, and judged of, and estimated by the presiding mind; 3 Y

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which determines its truth and value, according to its possessing or to its wanting certain attributes. But the sensations are not lost when these organs are disordered, at least, they are not so always, or even often. In fact, the loss of sensation must depend upon a temporary or permanently paralytic state of the sentient extremities of the nerves; a state of disease which is much more commonly referable to a condition of irritation of the brain, than of the local organ of sense. And even supposing the disorder to be confined to the proper organ of sense, it will by no means follow that the sensation is lost; for the organ is subjected to many varieties of irritation; and it will much more frequently happen, that its function shall be unduly excited, or that it shall be perverted, even to such an extent as to give rise to unreal impressions by its excessive activity, than that the sensation should be lost. More over, this hyper-activity and perversion do very generally result from primary irritation of the brain, to which these impressions are communicated; and the result is, that sensorial illusions are not infrequent under such circumstances. Now it has been stated, that apparitions are intellectual illusions, proceeding from an irritated intellectual organ: consequently, the analogy of sensorial disease is strongly in favour of the position assumed in the present essay. That these sensations may be lost and restored, perverted and adjusted, excited and depressed, and this in frequent alternation, is borne out by every-day facts: and nothing is more common than the fluctuations between melancholy and excitation. The history of A. B. will illustrate this position. For many years his life has been passed in these succeeding changes, not in rapid and sudden transition, but insensibly gliding into the one or the other form, exactly in proportion as the brain has been in a state of slight,

moderate, or high excitement; or in the opposite condition of failing energy, oppressive languor, or absolute collapse: so that, perhaps, there can scarcely be said to have been one day in which the organ of mind has been free from morbid action; and, therefore, not one day in which its manifestations have been perfectly correct. Now the state of these manifestations may always be predicated from the more or less morbid brainular action, varying from the highest degree of bustling activity, and excessive interest, to the most perfect indisposition for action, and want of interest in every object. In the former case, there is the most unconquerable vigilance; in the latter, an equal tendency to sleep, which is rather courted than resisted, in order to escape from the oppressive tedium of existence. In the former there exists a high susceptibility to impression; in the latter, scarcely any possibility of receiving it. In both cases will be found perversion of sensorial influence. This patient will appear towards the close of our essay, as having seen apparitions; thus once more leading us back to the cerebral origin of these supposed spiritual creations.

Again: the existence of spiritual beings is not denied-very far from it;-neither is it a question as to their functions: the real point in discussion is not this; but, Whether certain apparitions, which have often been referred to spiritual agency, may not be accounted for more truly on another principle.

It is allowed on all hands, that spiritual beings are not cognizable by the corporeal .eye; their existence, therefore, cannot be demonstrated, and must be received as a matter of faith. Now on this view of the subject, we rest our belief: foundation of mere human testinot, surely, on the treacherous mony, but on the sure word of God, which reveals to us the attributes and offices of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Sanctifier of the

people of God; and also speaks of good and evil spirits, the former sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation, the latter busied in alienating the soul from God, and tempting it away, by the voice of its own lusts, from the paths of religion and holiness. But of the mode of their access to the mind, or of their agency upon it, nothing is revealed. Certain, however, it is, that so far as we know any thing of the functions of these spiritual existences, they differ in their essential character, and in every particular attribute from modern apparitions. And since the latter do not usually lead to any beneficial result, or indeed to any result at all, we believe them to differ in their nature from the commissioned or permitted messengers of God's holy will. Therefore, as some instances of these alleged supernatural appearances have been distinctly traced to certain phenomena of bodily agency, we hold it to be most logical, most consistent with sound reasoning, most agreeable to revelation, and most honourable to God, to ascribe other unknown, but analogous and extraordinary phenomena, to a similar cause; and for this plain reason, that it is unnecessary and unwise to call in the aid of supernatural power, when a peculiar morbid state of the body will abundantly explain, for the most part, this supposed spiritual agency. And we must not reject this explanation, because it may not solve all the difficulties of the subject. Is there scarcely any natural problem of which we can unravel all the intricacies of action and passion, and motive and influence? Further, if we cannot explain how the bud of the future year is perfected in the autumn of the present; how it is preserved, and in due time resumes its activity, expands its leaves, produces its flowers, and matures its fruits; is it surprising that we cannot develop all the laws of the finest and most complicated portion of the living

machinery-the brain? Let us not be infatuated, and led away by high-sounding prejudice; but let us dwell in adoring gratitude upon the goodness and power of that Supreme and Holy Being, who has thus wisely constructed, and thus essentially protected so delicate an organ from disease and injury, that its morbid associations, when they do occur, are looked upon with a vague and fearful interest, or an ignorant apprehension, which invests them with attributes they do not possess; and which induces many to call in the operation of spiritual influence, which they cannot explain at all, to account for a natural morbid state; which is in part explicable upon natural principles, but of which they cannot fathom all the peculiarities.

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But again the writer above alluded to goes on to remark, that there may be other disorders or alterations" in one or more of the senses, not of common occurrence, which do not, as in the usual cases of disease, strike out existing objects from the cognizance of the mind; but which presents to its view existing objects, which, in the healthy or usual state of the organs, are not perceived." Now this argument assumes a point as settled, which might well be questioned; namely, the existence of apparitions as spiritual objects. although we have allowed, and do verily believe in, the existence of spiritual beings, yet we have carefully distinguished between these and the common alleged apparitions. But leaving this objection, let us ascertain the exact meaning of the writer before us, which appears to be this: That as in the common or healthy state of the senses, or of the brain upon which these depend, man is unable to perceive spiritual objects; so there may be some disordered or altered condition of that organ, or some changed mode of their function, which shall give them the capacity of perceiving that which, in their

normal relations, was withheld from their notice by the physical structure which encompassed them. But if so, it should seem that a deviation from perfect action, that is, a morbid state, is supposed to be necessary for the perception of spiritual objects; and since the state of health is the most perfect state, it follows, that an imperfect, or altered, or diseased condition of the brain, is necessary to the perception of these spiritual beings: so that the point in dispute is granted to a certain extent, or at least, it is resolved into this form, Whether apparitions in general be the creation of a peculiar mode of cerebral irritation; or whether apparitions being real spiritual existences, this peculiar irritation is necessary to their perception.

Now if it be thus granted, that a morbid state must exist, it will surely be much more consonant with reason, and with our experience of the Divine government, that intellectual and sensorial illusions should be the production of irritated brain, rather than that disease should be produced in order to confer an additional power upon the brain, to enlarge its faculties, and to enable it to receive notices, which would in no other way be obtained. If the contrary position were assumed, who is to decide the kind and degree of this morbid state which may be necessary to confer the requisite additional power? and who is to distinguish between this morbid state and many forms of incipient insanity? That a morbid state exists, is allowed by all; that this state is produced in order to confer the power of supernatural vision, is assumed by the writer of the paper on which I am commenting; that it is in itself the cause of alleged supernatural appearances, is contended for by the present essayist: and the issue is by him securely left to the decision of every unprejudiced mind.

That portion of the Sacred History to which the above-mentioned

writer refers, (" And Elisha prayed and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire, round about Elisha," 2 Kings vi. 17,) is, throughout, the account of a miraculous interference of the God of Providence for the preservation of his people Israel. But we know that the age of miracles has ceased, and we do not now expect them: any reasoning, therefore, which is founded upon such a presumption, is clearly untenable, and contrary to the usual course of God's moral government of the world.

Further, there appears at the present hour to be an irritable dread of scepticism, as connected with this question. Now I believe that a tendency to scepticism exists, but not in the way which has been supposed. The human heart inclines to practical infidelity; it longs to forget its accountability; and it desires to live without God in the world. In this awful state of alienation from God, it will prove a soothing and consolatory reflection, if it can be brought to believe that the existence of spiritual beings can only be perceived during the prevalence of a peculiar mental state, over which it has no kind of influence; because it will naturally say, that other manifestations of mind of a morbid character may be placed to the score of some other mental irritation, equally dependant upon supernatural agency, and equally involuntary; and thus moral responsibility is destroyed; and disbelief of revelation treads very closely upon the footsteps of this fatal delusion.

But if man's accountability be upheld, and the supremacy of his own will be maintained, and these supernatural appearances be accounted for as the result of brainular action, after it has been separated from the controul of the presiding mind, by a physiological action, such as sleep, or by a pa

thological condition, such as impending disease, he finds no way of escape for himself, and is brought back to the holy law of God which he has broken, and to the consequences which have flowed from its infraction.

Many excellent persons are afraid of the liberality of the day, and of the assumed expansion of intellectual manifestation with which it stands connected. It is with them almost a proof of heterodoxy, if sentiments like the above be avowed; and to impugn the long received opinions as to the reality of apparitions, is placed to the account of a restless desire to be over-wise, and to explain natural phenomena without the intervention of a superintending Providence. But this is unfair, and inconsequential: for, the more intimately we become acquainted with the rationale of the operations of God in the works of nature, the more must the heart be affected with the wisdom, and knowledge, and power, and goodness, and love, displayed in the endless and exquisite contrivances of his infinite mercy; and the more will it rest with confidence on the moral agency of this all-perfect Being, and be prepared to serve him with full purpose of heart, and to receive with meekness and obedience the revelation of his will. On the contrary, it requires the most inordinate stretch of imagination, to believe all the histories of apparitions with which our ears are assailed. Yet if the correctness of one tale be admitted, it will naturally be asked, why not believe all, since all rest upon the same basis, namely, human testimony. This basis, how ever, unless where the testimony is full, and above the possibility of mistake or error, is not a safe foundation for belief, since it is liable to be acted upon by so many prejudices, that its results are often erroneous, and demand the closest scrutiny. That is a species of spurious charity which affects a great degree of tenderness for the reports of in

dividuals so circumstanced, while it estimates as very little worth the explanations of reason and science; and the declared experience, not of those who have never seen apparitions, but of those who, having seen them as much as their more credulous neighbours, have not been deluded into a belief of their reality, but have been enabled to account for them upon physical principles. Surely the voice of reason and reflection, aided by the experience of the great majority of mankind, and supported by the known laws of physical temperament, as they affect the manifestations of mind, deserve an equal share of attention with the clamours of the illiterate, and the representations of the prejudiced few, in whom predominant fear has superseded the sober realities of life, and converted the effects of a morbid brainular condition, into an imaginary creation, which by its hold upon the feelings, and by its powerful appeal to the passions, has carried the mind out of itself, has cast away the anchor of sober reasoning, and has placed it in an ocean of conflicting elements, where it has ceased to be mistress of its own actions, and where it has yielded the helm of thought to the direction and government of the fancy. And when to this part of the argument is added the fact, that the existence and agency of a Supreme Superintending Power, is not called in question, but that His ways are justified, surely a very strong case is made out in favour of the hypothesis, that the supposed spiritual agency is for the most part ascribable to the action and operation of physical causes. And yet, such is now the case. The providence of God is universally diffused; and so far as we can trace its ways, we find its actions governed by some fixed principles, and operating through the medium of natural means: therefore we do not expect an interference with the ordinary course by which he governs nature, except upon

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