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Essay on Superstition.
him that his sins were forgiven; and indeed it has pleased God of his infinite mercy, to effect (by means of affliction) a most happy change in his life and conversation: his views are well defined; and his motives and conduct are irreproachable, while his only hope for safety is in Christ.
X. Y. Z. now became a most diligent student of the Bible, and considers that he every where finds proofs in support of his manner of accounting for these impressions. He often hears the voices of deceased relatives and friends, and recognises them by the sound. He constantly hears his own thoughts repeated by voices in the air. Upon the whole, these voices have exerted a beneficial influence upon him, and have generally told him to do what is right, and to avoid what is wrong, But this has not always been the case: and there seem to him to be two kinds of voices, and that these are opposed to each other; the one teaching him to do what is right, the other assailing him by contradictions, and by the most horrid imprecations; so that he conceives himself to be the subject of contention between good and evil spirits, for the mastery over him; and in confirmation of this view, he appeals to the change wrought in him, as evidence of the supreme power of Christ. These voices sometimes proceed from the air, sometimes from one part of the room, sometimes from another, and sometimes from his own body. The air he inhales appears to convey a sound, and to impress audibly, but to this there are no rational words attached. When he is inclined to do wrong, the good voice seems to warn him, and to become troublesome; and on the other hand, there is an expression of conscious satisfaction from well-doing. On one occasion, the voice exhorted him to persevere in the Christian course; the opposing voice advised him to hang himself: sometimes a sustained dialogue will be kept up for a con
siderable time, and the thoughts
Moreover, X. Y. Z. often sees
Finally, this patient, of whom only a very feeble outline has been sketched, has noticed that he hears voices more when his health is disordered, and that they are more troublesome during an electrical state of the atmosphere; facts which he has noticed notwithstandI must make a ing his own belief of the theological nature of his case. few remarks on this interesting case; and shall notice,
First, its physical origin; Secondly, its happy influence upon the character; and,
Thirdly, distinguish between this state, and any instance of recorded analogous conversion.
1. The physical origin of this state is shewn by a consideration of its circumstances.
In its commencement, there had been no antecedent religious imthe contrary, pression; but, on continued and distracting anxiety arising from mental causes of a 3Z2
sinful complexion. This solicitude had pressed upon his bosom, and had produced irritation of the nervous system to such an extent as to undermine the general health. Then, and not till then, he was awakened from sleep (not impressed while awake); during which state, there naturally occurs a certain degree of congestion in the vessels of the brain, increased of necessity in the present instance by the preceding irritation of that organ, with the sound of voices, and a sustained conversation relating to himself, and to the situation in which he was placed. These proceeded apparently from the next house; and he proved at once, so far as proof could be obtained, that they were sensorial illusions. In this state of the brain, however, when it has escaped the controul of the presiding spirit, the mind is not capable of fixing even upon demonstration, and therefore returns to its own morbid trains.
The same state of cerebral irritation continuing, he himself became the object of these threatening voices; he was afraid of returning home; his head felt as if on fire; and in this state of brainular excitation he wandered into the country, and into the fields, without any other object than to escape from this imaginary destruction. He returned to town after a day or two; and the same morbid action continuing, another illusion (first also occurring during the night) occupied his attention, accompanied by the same eager, impulsive characteristic desire to secure his friend's escape from the threatened calamity. At this period of his history, he was placed under medical supervision; and by great quiet, cupping, and medicine, this attack subsided in a few days. Up to this time no particular turn had been given to his views, and there is no room for supposing supernatural agency.
The same causes of cerebral irritation still existing, and the health having again become more disordered,
his malady assumed a new feature. The same kind of irresistible impulse still attended his actions; but his views and feelings now began to put on a religious character,-yet with the same marked disturbance of the brain and its functions: witness the occurrences at and on the heath.
He hears the voices of deceased friends, and recognises them by their sound, shewing at once the influence of a recollected impression, and also proving the existence of a physical state of brainular excitation. Again: he hears his own thoughts repeated by voices in the air, shewing once more the presence of sensorial illusion. These voices sometimes proceed from different parts of a room; sometimes from the air; and at others from his own body: thus attaching physical attributes to the supposed spiritual agency, and again proclaiming sensorial illusion. A modification of this same state, unattended by articulate sounds, and arising from the atmosphere as it is inhaled, still further elucidates the morbid susceptibility to sensation of the nervous system. When he becomes irritable and disposed to quarrel with this troublesome voice, that is, whenever the brain is additionally excited, the voices become more troublesome. Again: he occasionally sees an appearance as of a great number of eyes in the sky, supposing these to be ministering spirits; thus retaining a physical form, but not requiring their spiritual agency. Farther: up to a very recent period, he was warned to visit a gentleman, and to inform him by the desire of his father's spirit, that the millennial reign of Christ upon earth had commenced; thus shewing a continuance of the original morbid trains, and of the same impulsive character; only that they are now modified by a mind deeply imbued with religious principles.
Lastly: he always hears the voices more when his health is more particularly disordered; or during the
existence of a highly electrical state of the atmosphere.
Only let these circumstances be duly considered, and surely none will doubt the physical origin of these voices: but should they do so, let them attend,
Secondly, to the happy influence of this state upon the heart, and upon the character. By what means was this effected?
These circumstances of fearful impression induced him to pause, and to consider, to look back on his past life, and forward to futurity, and the broken law of God; and to listen to the "still small voice" of heavenly wisdom. Thus it pleased God, through the influence of his sorrows, to awaken him to a sense of his lost and ruined state, and to enable him, by his Holy Spirit, to lay hold of the hope set before him in the Gospel of a crucified Saviour. But the physical disordered manifestation still continuing, his impression of forgiveness arose, not so much from the believing sense of an interest in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, as from having heard it proclaimed from heaven that his sins were forgiven. He had become the subject of the converting grace of God: he really believed in Christ; felt that he was healed of the plague of sin; and this feeling was repeated in common with almost all his thoughts by a voice from heaven. From this time a real change of heart and life had taken place; and he now read his Bible diligently, and became, it is trusted, a new man in Christ Jesus, renewed by the Spirit of his grace.
Upon the whole, these voices have been beneficial to him; but this has not always been the case. Here, again, He who has begun a good work, will carry it on until the day of the Lord Jesus; but the influence of remaining corruption, acting also upon a state of cerebral irritation, has tempted him to forget God, and to commit sin: and the Christian's struggle between the influence of better principles im
planted, and of evil principles not yet subdued, has been going on: only that his morbid physical state has induced him to ascribe this to peculiar spiritual agency, rather than to the ordinary operations of the Spirit of God, in the heart of a sinner awakened, convinced, pardoned, but still imperfect.
The approbation or reproof of an enlightened conscience will sufficiently explain the uneasy feelings produced by listening to the temptation to do wrong; and the strength obtained for time to come by the successful wish and effort to do right, and to imitate the Saviour.
Thirdly; it remains to shew the distinctive characters of this state, and a recorded instance of miraculous conversion, lest some fearful Christian might suppose that that change upon St. Paul might be referred also to physical causes, and thus might be produced an apprehension lest the records of Scripture should be impugned. But the conversion of St. Paul was miraculous. He was a chosen vessel unto God, to bear his name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the people of Israel: therefore the persecutor was arrested in his maddening course by a voice from Heaven, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" And the effect was worthy such an immediate interference of the allpowerful Creator; for he, trembling and astonished, stood a monument of the power of Divine grace, converted from the error of his way, and exclaiming, in the language of penitent and believing supplication, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" And the result of this miracle was, that "straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God."
How essentially different in all its circumstances and effects are the two events! In the first place, though the conversion of a sinner is at all times a miracle of Divine grace, the age of miraculous conversion has passed by: it is no longer required: the ordinary ope
rations of the Spirit of God, by his word, by his ordinances, and by his providential arrangements, have superseded the extraordinary operations of the early ages of the history of the church of Christ; just as the ordinary ministers of the Gospel have taken the place of the extraordinary ministers of the Apostolic age. Such a deviation from the ordinary course of God's moral government is no longer required; and therefore an occasion for such interference has not been established. But the objects of the alleged similar cases were totally different: in the instance of St. Paul, there was an immediate, but rational, appeal to the conscience of the persecutor, and a conviction of sin, and a humble dependence upon Divine grace as its consequence. In the case now mentioned, there is no such rational conviction of sin, no resolution of an offended God reconciled to rebellious man in the person of Christ; no exhibition of the sacrifice of the Saviour; no invitation to look unto him and be saved; but a barren intimation that the millennial reign of Christ upon earth had commenced, instead of the application of the atoning blood of Christ to the heart; a communication that there the city of redemption would be built, instead of leading the sinner to the only city of refuge, and bringing him to seek for the pardon of his sins, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Not only, therefore, is this narrative deficient in those attributes which would constitute it a Divine agency, but it possesses evidences which take it for ever from such a supposition. In the first place, it wants the holy character of immutable truth; for however we may have the happiness of living in the latter days of the Christian church, yet, without entering upon the question of the precise nature of the millennial glory of Christ, it may be safely said, that it has not commenced. Moreover the localization of the "city of redemp
tion," the new Jerusalem, is another evidence of this want of truth; and a proof that the supposed revelation could not have been given by the God of Truth.
That it was entirely a physical state is shewn, in the first place, by this perversion of religious truth; by the preceding state of ill health; by the forms of happy spirits which were seen on this occasion, and which proved the brain to be in that state of peculiar excitation in which apparitions are seen; and by the subsequent delusive occurrences on the heath.
Once more, that this could not claim a Divine origin; and consequently, that it has no claim for comparison with the miraculous conversion of St. Paul, is shewn by the effects which followed, as well as by those which were wanting.
The effects which followed were indiscriminate charity, and the interview with his father's spirit. Now charity is a very proper evidence of love to God, but then it must be as a fruit of faith: and it will select its objects, so as to relieve misery and promote the glory of God; not add to that desecration of his sacred name and holy laws, which must arise from indiscriminate almsgiving to a multitude collected by the strangeness of manner of the patient. Here is the impulsive action of physical irritation-not the humble seeking of the glory of Christ by the new convert: he was beginning with the evidence rather than with the principle.
But again; he was warned to meet the spirit of his father on the heath and here, probably from diminished cerebral irritation, arising from fatigue, and still more perhaps from the impression of cold air, he began to consider the lateness of the hour, &c.; and then was told, that it was enough, and that he might return home: that is, he considered this in his own mind, and then, by the physical delusion which has followed him ever since, his own thoughts were repeated to
But the effects which should have followed, and which were wanting, prove that it was not a special exertion of Divine power. It was not followed by the conversion of the sinner; for, however this change occurred afterwards under the ordinary teaching of the Divine Spirit, and in the use of the ordinary means of grace, it did not result at that time from this supposed extraordinary revelation: so that, if it were allowed to be miraculous, the miracle would have been produced without a corresponding result; the exertion of Divine power would have been in vain; a result so utterly inconsistent with reason and revelation, that we may safely deny the premises which lead
And lastly at another time, subsequent to this, he was told to read his Bible, to go to church, and to be more attentive to religious duties - all which he did for a short time only; for this influence soon passed away, and he remained indifferent, till really called by Him who is mighty to save, and made willing in the day of His power.
How earnestly, therefore, should the Christian strive against every physical and moral cause which might occasion this perversion; and what a source of consolation should it be to him under the impression of infirmities, against which he daily and continually struggles, that our Omniscient Judge and Saviour knows our frame, and is touched with the feeling of our infirmities; under every remaining always, changing scene, the same unchangeable God; "faithful to save," almighty to rule and command! "for we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted (tried) like as we are, yet without sin. Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy,
and find grace to help in every time
But we proceed to state, that the
First, upon the mind.-Some may
Besides, it is the nature of the organ upon which these impressions are made, that they do not weaken