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首页 » 英文宗教小说 » The Varieties of Religious Experience 宗教经验种种 » Lecture IX CONVERSION
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To be converted, to be regenerated, to receive grace, to experience religion, to gain an assurance,are so many phrases which denote the process, gradual or sudden, by which a self hitherto divided,and consciously wrong inferior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right superior andhappy, in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious realities. This at least is what conversionsignifies in general terms, whether or not we believe that a direct divine operation is needed tobring such a moral change about.

Before entering upon a minuter study of the process, let me enliven our understanding of thedefinition by a concrete example. I choose the quaint case of an unlettered man, Stephen H.

Bradley, whose experience is related in a scarce American pamphlet.[98]

[98] A sketch of the life of Stephen H. Bradley, from the age of five to twenty four years,including his remarkable experience of the power of the Holy Spirit on the second evening ofNovember, 1829. Madison, Connecticut, 1830.

I select this case because it shows how in these inner alterations one may find one unsuspecteddepth below another, as if the possibilities of character lay disposed in a series of layers or shells,of whose existence we have no premonitory knowledge.

Bradley thought that he had been already fully converted at the age of fourteen.

"I thought I saw the Saviour, by faith, in human shape, for about one second in the room, witharms extended, appearing to say to me, Come. The next day I rejoiced with trembling; soon after,my happiness was so great that I said that I wanted to die; this world had no place in my affections,as I knew of, and every day appeared as solemn to me as the Sabbath. I had an ardent desire that allmankind might feel as I did; I wanted to have them all love God supremely. Previous to this time Iwas very selfish and self-righteous; but now I desired the welfare of all mankind, and could with afeeling heart forgive my worst enemies, and I felt as if I should be willing to bear the scoffs andsneers of any person, and suffer anything for His sake, if I could be the means in the hands of God,of the conversion of one soul."Nine years later, in 1829, Mr. Bradley heard of a revival of religion that had begun in hisneighborhood. "Many of the young converts," he says, "would come to me when in meeting andask me if I had religion, and my reply generally was, I hope I have. This did not appear to satisfythem; they said they KNEW THEY had it. I requested them to pray for me, thinking with myself,that if I had not got religion now, after so long a time professing to be a Christian, that it was time Ihad, and hoped their prayers would be answered in my behalf.

"One Sabbath, I went to hear the Methodist at the Academy. He spoke of the ushering in of theday of general judgment; and he set it forth in such a solemn and terrible manner as I never heardbefore. The scene of that day appeared to be taking place, and so awakened were all the powers ofmy mind that, like Felix, I trembled involuntarily on the bench where I was sitting, though I feltnothing at heart. The next day evening I went to hear him again. He took his text from Revelation:

'And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God.' And he represented the terrors of that dayin such a manner that it appeared as if it would melt the heart of stone. When he finished hisdiscourse, an old gentleman turned to me and said 'This is what I call preaching.' I thought thesame, but my feelings were still unmoved by what he said, and I did not enjoy religion, but Ibelieve he did.

"I will now relate my experience of the power of the Holy Spirit which took place on the samenight. Had any person told me previous to this that I could have experienced the power of the HolySpirit in the manner which I did, I could not have believed it, and should have thought the persondeluded that told me so. I went directly home after the meeting, and when I got home I wonderedwhat made me feel so stupid. I retired to rest soon after I got home, and felt indifferent to thethings of religion until I began to be exercised by the Holy Spirit, which began in about fiveminutes after, in the following manner:-"At first, I began to feel my heart beat very quick all on a sudden, which made me at first thinkthat perhaps something is going to ail me, though I was not alarmed, for I felt no pain. My heartincreased in its beating, which soon convinced me that it was the Holy Spirit from the effect it hadon me. I began to feel exceedingly happy and humble, and such a sense of unworthiness as I neverfelt before. I could not very well help speaking out, which I did, and said, Lord, I do not deservethis happiness, or words to that effect, while there was a stream (resembling air in feeling) cameinto my mouth and heart in sensible than that of drinking anything, which continued, as nearasI could judg(a) e, five(more) minutes or more, (manner) which appeared to be the cause of such apalpitation of my heart. It took complete possession of my soul, and I am certain that I desired the Lord, while in the midst of it, not to give me any more happiness, for it seemed as if I could notcontain what I had got. My heart seemed as if it would burst, but it did not stop until I felt as if Iwas unutterably full of the love and grace of God. In the mean time while thus exercised, a thoughtarose in my mind, what can it mean? and all at once, as if to answer it, my memory becameexceedingly clear, and it appeared to me just as if the New Testament was placed open before me,eighth chapter of Romans, and as light as if some candle lighted was held for me to read the 26thand 27th verses of that chapter, and I read these words: 'The Spirit helpeth our infirmities withgroanings which cannot be uttered.' And all the time that my heart was a-beating, it made me groanlike a person in distress, which was not very easy to stop, though I was in no pain at all, and mybrother being in bed in another room came and opened the door, and asked me if I had got thetoothache. I told him no, and that he might get to sleep. I tried to stop. I felt unwilling to go tosleep myself, I was so happy, fearing I should lose it-- thinking within myself'My willing soul would stay In such a frame as this.'

And while I lay reflecting, after my heart stopped beating, feeling as if my soul was full of theHoly Spirit, I thought that perhaps there might be angels hovering round my bed. I felt just as if Iwanted to converse with them, and finally I spoke, saying 'O ye affectionate angels! how is it thatye can take so much interest in our welfare, and we take so little interest in our own.' After this,with difficulty I got to sleep; and when I awoke in the morning my first thoughts were: What hasbecome of my happiness? and, feeling a degree of it in my heart, I asked for more, which wasgiven to me as quick as thought. I then got up to dress myself, and found to my surprise that Icould but just stand. It appeared to me as if it was a little heaven upon earth. My soul felt ascompletely raised above the fears of death as of going to sleep; and like a bird in a cage, I had adesire, if it was the will of God, to get released from my body and to dwell with Christ, thoughwilling to live to do good to others, and to warn sinners to repent. I went downstairs feeling assolemn as if I had lost all my friends, and thinking with myself, that I would not let my parentsknow it until I had first looked into the Testament. I went directly to the shelf and looked into it, atthe eighth of Romans, and every verse seemed to almost speak and to confirm it to be truly theWord of God, and as if my feelings corresponded with the meaning of the word. I then told myparents of it, and told them that I thought that they must see that when I spoke, that it was not myown voice, for it appeared so to me. My speech seemed entirely under the control of the Spiritwithin me; I do not mean that the words which I spoke were not my own, for they were. I thoughtthat I was influenced similar to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost (with the exception of havingpower to give it to others, and doing what they did). After breakfast I went round to converse withmy neighbors on religion, which I could not have been hired to have done before this, and at theirrequest I prayed with them, though I had never prayed in public before.

"I now feel as if I had discharged my duty by telling the truth, and hope by the blessing of God, itmay do some good to all who shall read it. He has fulfilled his promise in sending the Holy Spiritdown into our hearts, or mine at least, and I now defy all the Deists and Atheists in the world toshake my faith in Christ."So much for Mr. Bradley and his conversion, of the effect of which upon his later life we gain noinformation. Now for a minuter survey of the constituent elements of the conversion process.

If you open the chapter on Association, of any treatise on Psychology, you will read that a man'sideas, aims, and objects form diverse internal groups and systems, relatively independent of oneanother. Each 'aim' which he follows awakens a certain specific kind of interested excitement, andgathers a certain group of ideas together in subordination to it as its associates; and if the aims andexcitements are distinct in kind, their groups of ideas may have little in common. When one groupis present and engrosses the interest, all the ideas connected with other groups may be excludedfrom the mental field. The President of the United States when, with paddle, gun, and fishing-rod,he goes camping in the wilderness for a vacation, changes his system of ideas from top to bottom.

The presidential anxieties have lapsed into the background entirely; the official habits are replacedby the habits of a son of nature, and those who knew the man only as the strenuous magistratewould not "know him for the same person" if they saw him as the camper.

If now he should never go back, and never again suffer political interests to gain dominion overhim, he would be for practical intents and purposes a permanently transformed being. Our ordinaryalterations of character, as we pass from one of our aims to another, are not commonly calledtransformations, because each of them is so rapidly succeeded by another in the reverse direction;but whenever one aim grows so stable as to expel definitively its previous rivals from theindividual's life, we tend to speak of the phenomenon, and perhaps to wonder at it, as a"transformation."These alternations are the completest of the ways in which a self may be divided. A lesscomplete way is the simultaneous coexistence of two or more different groups of aims, of whichone practically holds the right of way and instigates activity, whilst the others are only piouswishes, and never practically come to anything. Saint Augustine's aspirations to a purer life, in ourlast lecture, were for a while an example. Another would be the President in his full pride of office,wondering whether it were not all vanity, and whether the life of a wood-chopper were not thewholesomer destiny. Such fleeting aspirations are mere velleitates, whimsies. They exist on theremoter outskirts of the mind, and the real self of the man, the centre of his energies, is occupiedwith an entirely different system. As life goes on, there is a constant change of our interests, and aconsequent change of place in our systems of ideas, from more central to more peripheral, andfrom more peripheral to more central parts of consciousness. I remember, for instance, that oneevening when I was a youth, my father read aloud from a Boston newspaper that part of LordGifford's will which founded these four lectureships. At that time I did not think of being a teacherof philosophy, and what I listened to was as remote from my own life as if it related to the planetMars. Yet here I am, with the Gifford system part and parcel of my very self, and all my energies,for the time being, devoted to successfully identifying myself with it. My soul stands now plantedin what once was for it a practically unreal object, and speaks from it as from its proper habitat andcentre.

When I say "Soul," you need not take me in the ontological sense unless you prefer to; foralthough ontological language is instinctive in such matters, yet Buddhists or Humians canperfectly well describe the facts in the phenomenal terms which are their favorites. For them thesoul is only a succession of fields of consciousness: yet there is found in each field a part, or sub-field, which figures as focal and contains the excitement, and from which, as from a centre, the aimseems to be taken. Talking of this part, we involuntarily apply words of perspective to distinguish it from the rest, words like "here," "this," "now," "mine," or "me"; and we ascribe to the other partsthe positions "there," "then," "that," "his" or "thine," "it," "not me." But a "here" can change to a"there," and a "there" become a "here," and what was "mine" and what was "not mine" changetheir places.

What brings such changes about is the way in which emotional excitement alters. Things hot andvital to us to-day are cold to-morrow. It is as if seen from the hot parts of the field that the otherparts appear to us, and from these hot parts personal desire and volition make their sallies. Theyare in short the centres of our dynamic energy, whereas the cold parts leave us indifferent andpassive in proportion to their coldness.

Whether such language be rigorously exact is for the present of no importance. It is exactenough, if you recognize from your own experience the facts which I seek to designate by it.

Now there may be great oscillation in the emotional interest, and the hot places may shift beforeone almost as rapidly as the sparks that run through burnt-up paper. Then we have the waveringand divided self we heard so much of in the previous lecture. Or the focus of excitement and heat,the point of view from which the aim is taken, may come to lie permanently within a certainsystem; and then, if the change be a religious one, we call it a CONVERSION, especially if it beby crisis, or sudden.

Let us hereafter, in speaking of the hot place in a man's consciousness, the group of ideas towhich he devotes himself, and from which he works, call it THE HABITUAL CENTRE OF HISPERSONAL ENERGY. It makes a great difference to a man whether one set of his ideas, oranother, be the centre of his energy; and it makes a great difference, as regards any set of ideaswhich he may possess, whether they become central or remain peripheral in him. To say that a manis "converted" means, in these terms, that religious ideas, previously peripheral in hisconsciousness, now take a central place, and that religious aims form the habitual centre of hisenergy.

Now if you ask of psychology just HOW the excitement shifts in a man's mental system, andWHY aims that were peripheral become at a certain moment central, psychology has to reply thatalthough she can give a general description of what happens, she is unable in a given case toaccount accurately for all the single forces at work. Neither an outside observer nor the Subjectwho undergoes the process can explain fully how particular experiences are able to change one'scentre of energy so decisively, or why they so often have to bide their hour to do so. We have athought, or we perform an act, repeatedly, but on a certain day the real meaning of the thoughtpeals through us for the first time, or the act has suddenly turned into a moral impossibility. All weknow is that there are dead feelings, dead ideas, and cold beliefs, and there are hot and live ones;and when one grows hot and alive within us, everything has to re-crystallize about it. We may saythat the heat and liveliness mean only the "motor efficacy," long deferred but now operative, of theidea; but such talk itself is only circumlocution, for whence the sudden motor efficacy? And ourexplanations then get so vague and general that one realizes all the more the intense individualityof the whole phenomenon.

In the end we fall back on the hackneyed symbolism of a mechanical equilibrium. A mind is asystem of ideas, each with the excitement it arouses, and with tendencies impulsive and inhibitive, which mutually check or reinforce one another. The collection of ideas alters by subtraction or byaddition in the course of experience, and the tendencies alter as the organism gets more aged. Amental system may be undermined or weakened by this interstitial alteration just as a building is,and yet for a time keep upright by dead habit. But a new perception, a sudden emotional shock, oran occasion which lays bare the organic alteration, will make the whole fabric fall together; andthen the centre of gravity sinks into an attitude more stable, for the new ideas that reach the centrein the rearrangement seem now to be locked there, and the new structure remains permanent.

Formed associations of ideas and habits are usually factors of retardation in such changes ofequilibrium. New information, however acquired, plays an accelerating part in the changes; andthe slow mutation of our instincts and propensities, under the "unimaginable touch of time" has anenormous influence. Moreover, all these influences may work subconsciously or halfunconsciously.[99] And when you get a Subject in whom the subconscious life--of which I mustspeak more fully soon--is largely developed, and in whom motives habitually ripen in silence, youget a case of which you can never give a full account, and in which, both to the Subject and theonlookers, there may appear an element of marvel. Emotional occasions, especially violent ones,are extremely potent in precipitating mental rearrangements. The sudden and explosive ways inwhich love, jealousy, guilt, fear, remorse, or anger can seize upon one are known to everybody.

[100] Hope, happiness, security, resolve, emotions characteristic of conversion, can be equallyexplosive. And emotions that come in this explosive way seldom leave things as they found them.

[99] Jouffroy is an example: "Down this slope it was that my intelligence had glided, and littleby little it had got far from its first faith. But this melancholy revolution had not taken place in thebroad daylight of my consciousness; too many scruples, too many guides and sacred affections hadmade it dreadful to me, so that I was far from avowing to myself the progress it had made. It hadgone on in silence, by an involuntary elaboration of which I was not the accomplice; and althoughI had in reality long ceased to be a Christian, yet, in the innocence of my intention, I should haveshuddered to suspect it, and thought it calumny had I been accused of such a falling away." Thenfollows Jouffroy's account of his counter-conversion, quoted above on p. 173.

[100] One hardly needs examples; but for love, see p. 176, note, for fear, p. 161 ; for remorse,see Othello after the murder; for anger see Lear after Cordelia's first speech to him; for resolve, seep. 175 (J. Foster case). Here is a pathological case in which GUILT was the feeling that suddenlyexploded: "One night I was seized on entering bed with a rigor, such as Swedenborg describes ascoming over him with a sense of holiness, but over me with a sense of GUILT. During that wholenight I lay under the influence of the rigor, and from its inception I felt that I was under the curseof God. I have never done one act of duty in my life--sins against God and man beginning as far asmy memory goes back--a wildcat in human shape."In his recent work on the Psychology of Religion, Professor Starbuck of California has shown bya statistical inquiry how closely parallel in its manifestations the ordinary "conversion" whichoccurs in young people brought up in evangelical circles is to that growth into a larger spiritual lifewhich is a normal phase of adolescence in every class of human beings. The age is the same,falling usually between fourteen and seventeen. The symptoms are the same,--sense ofincompleteness and imperfection; brooding, depression, morbid introspection, and sense of sin; anxiety about the hereafter; distress over doubts, and the like. And the result is the same--a happyrelief and objectivity, as the confidence in self gets greater through the adjustment of the facultiesto the wider outlook. In spontaneous religious awakening, apart from revivalistic examples, and inthe ordinary storm and stress and moulting-time of adolescence, we also may meet with mysticalexperiences, astonishing the subjects by their suddenness, just as in revivalistic conversion. Theanalogy, in fact, is complete; and Starbuck's conclusion as to these ordinary youthful conversionswould seem to be the only sound one: Conversion is in its essence a normal adolescentphenomenon, incidental to the passage from the child's small universe to the wider intellectual andspiritual life of maturity.

"Theology," says Dr. Starbuck, "takes the adolescent tendencies and builds upon them; it seesthat the essential thing in adolescent growth is bringing the person out of childhood into the newlife of maturity and personal insight. It accordingly brings those means to bear which will intensifythe normal tendencies. It shortens up the period of duration of storm and stress." The conversionphenomena of "conviction of sin" last, by this investigator's statistics, about one fifth as long as theperiods of adolescent storm and stress phenomena of which he also got statistics, but they are verymuch more intense. Bodily accompaniments, loss of sleep and appetite, for example, are muchmore frequent in them. "The essential distinction appears to be that conversion intensifies butshortens the period by bringing the person to a definite crisis."[101]

[101] E. D. Starbuck: The Psychology of Religion, pp. 224, 262.

The conversions which Dr. Starbuck here has in mind are of course mainly those of verycommonplace persons, kept true to a pre-appointed type by instruction, appeal, and example. Theparticular form which they affect is the result of suggestion and imitation.[102] If they wentthrough their growth-crisis in other faiths and other countries, although the essence of the changewould be the same (since it is one in the main so inevitable), its accidents would be different. InCatholic lands, for example, and in our own Episcopalian sects, no such anxiety and conviction ofsin is usual as in sects that encourage revivals. The sacraments being more relied on in these morestrictly ecclesiastical bodies, the individual's personal acceptance of salvation needs less to beaccentuated and led up to.

[102] No one understands this better than Jonathan Edwards understood it already. Conversionnarratives of the more commonplace sort must always be taken with the allowances which hesuggests:

"A rule received and established by common consent has a very great, though to many personsan insensible influence in forming their notions of the process of their own experience. I knowvery well how they proceed as to this matter, for I have had frequent opportunities of observingtheir conduct. Very often their experience at first appears like a confused chaos, but then thoseparts are selected which bear the nearest resemblance to such particular steps as are insisted on;and these are dwelt upon in their thoughts, and spoken of from time to time, till they grow moreand more conspicuous in their view, and other parts which are neglected grow more and moreobscure. Thus what they have experienced is insensibly strained, so as to bring it to an exactconformity to the scheme already established in their minds. And it becomes natural also for ministers, who have to deal with those who insist upon distinctness and clearness of method, to doso too." Treatise on Religious Affections.

But every imitative phenomenon must once have had its original, and I propose that for thefuture we keep as close as may be to the more first-hand and original forms of experience. Theseare more likely to be found in sporadic adult cases.

Professor Leuba, in a valuable article on the psychology of conversion,[103] subordinates thetheological aspect of the religious life almost entirely to its moral aspect. The religious sense hedefines as "the feeling of unwholeness, of moral imperfection, of sin, to use the technical word,accompanied by the yearning after the peace of unity." "The word 'religion,'" he says, "is gettingmore and more to signify the conglomerate of desires and emotions springing from the sense of sinand its release"; and he gives a large number of examples, in which the sin ranges fromdrunkenness to spiritual pride, to show that the sense of it may beset one and crave relief asurgently as does the anguish of the sickened flesh or any form of physical misery.

[103] Studies in the Psychology of Religious Phenomena, American Journal of Psychology, vii.

309 (1896).

Undoubtedly this conception covers an immense number of cases. A good one to use as anexample is that of Mr. S. H. Hadley, who after his conversion became an active and useful rescuerof drunkards in New York. His experience runs as follows:-"One Tuesday evening I sat in a saloon in Harlem, a homeless, friendless, dying drunkard. I hadpawned or sold everything that would bring a drink. I could not sleep unless I was dead drunk. Ihad not eaten for days, and for four nights preceding I had suffered with delirium tremens, or thehorrors, from midnight till morning. I had often said, 'I will never be a tramp. I will never becornered, for when that time comes, if ever it comes, I will find a home in the bottom of the river.'

But the Lord so ordered it that when that time did come I was not able to walk one quarter of theway to the river. As I sat there thinking, I seemed to feel some great and mighty presence. I did notknow then what it was. I did learn afterwards that it was Jesus, the sinner's friend. I walked up tothe bar and pounded it with my fist till I made the glasses rattle. Those who stood by drinkinglooked on with scornful curiosity. I said I would never take another drink, if I died on the street,and really I felt as though that would happen before morning. Something said, 'If you want to keepthis promise, go and have yourself locked up.' I went to the nearest station-house and had myselflocked up.

"I was placed in a narrow cell, and it seemed as though all the demons that could find room camein that place with me. This was not all the company I had, either. No, praise the Lord: that dearSpirit that came to me in the saloon was present, and said, Pray. I did pray, and though I did notfeel any great help, I kept on praying. As soon as I was able to leave my cell I was taken to thepolice court and remanded back to the cell. I was finally released, and found my way to mybrother's house, where every care was given me. While lying in bed the admonishing Spirit neverleft me, and when I arose the following Sabbath morning I felt that day would decide my fate, andtoward evening it came into my head to go to Jerry M'Auley's Mission. I went. The house was packed, and with great difficulty I made my way to the space near the platform. There I saw theapostle to the drunkard and the outcast--that man of God, Jerry M'Auley. He rose, and amid deepsilence told his experience. There was a sincerity about this man that carried conviction with it,and I found myself saying, 'I wonder if God can save me?' I listened to the testimony of twenty-five or thirty persons, every one of whom had been saved from rum, and I made up my mind that Iwould be saved or die right there. When the invitation was given, I knelt down with a crowd ofdrunkards. Jerry made the first prayer. Then Mrs. M'Auley prayed fervently for us. Oh, what aconflict was going on for my poor soul! A blessed whisper said, 'Come'; the devil said, 'Be careful.'

I halted but a moment, and then, with a breaking heart, I said, 'Dear Jesus, can you help me?' Neverwith mortal tongue can I describe that moment. Although up to that moment my soul had beenfilled with indescribable gloom, I felt the glorious brightness of the noonday sun shine into myheart. I felt I was a free man. Oh, the precious feeling of safety, of freedom, of resting on Jesus! Ifelt that Christ with all his brightness and power had come into my life; that, indeed, old things hadpassed away and all things had become new.

"From that moment till now I have never wanted a drink of whiskey, and I have never seenmoney enough to make me take one. I promised God that night that if he would take away theappetite for strong drink, I would work for him all my life. He has done his part, and I have beentrying to do mine."[104]

[104] I have abridged Mr. Hadley's account. For other conversions of drunkards, see hispamphlet, Rescue Mission Work, published at the Old Jerry M'Auley Water Street Mission, NewYork City. A striking collection of cases also appears in the appendix to Professor Leuba's article.

<200> Dr. Leuba rightly remarks that there is little doctrinal theology in such an experience,which starts with the absolute need of a higher helper, and ends with the sense that he has helpedus. He gives other of drunkards' conversions which purely ethical, containing, as recorded,notheologicalbe(cases) liefswhatever.JohnB.Gough'scase,(are) for instance, is practically, saysDr. Leuba, the conversion of an atheist--neither God nor Jesus being mentioned.[105] But in spiteof the importance of this type of regeneration, with little or no intellectual readjustment, this writersurely makes it too exclusive. It corresponds to the subjectively centered form of morbidmelancholy, of which Bunyan and Alline were examples. But we saw in our seventh lecture thatthere are objective forms of melancholy also, in which the lack of rational meaning of the universe,and of life anyhow, is the burden that weighs upon one--you remember Tolstoy's case.[106] Sothere are distinct elements in conversion, and their relations to individual lives deserve to bediscriminated.[107]

[105] A restaurant waiter served provisionally as Gough's 'Saviour.' General Booth, the founderof the Salvation Army, considers that the first vital step in saving outcasts consists in making themfeel that some decent human being cares enough for them to take an interest in the questionwhether they are to rise or sink.

[106] The crisis of apathetic melancholy--no use in life--into which J. S. Mill records that he fell,from which he emerged by the reading of Marmontel's Memoirs (Heaven save the mark!) andWordsworth's poetry, is another intellectual and general metaphysical case. See Mill'sAutobiography, New York, 1873, pp. 141, 148.

[107] Starbuck, in addition to "escape from sin," discriminates "spiritual illumination" as adistinct type of conversion experience. Psychology of Religion, p. 85.

Some persons, for instance, never are, and possibly never under any circumstances could be,converted. Religious ideas cannot become the centre of their spiritual energy. They may beexcellent persons, servants of God in practical ways, but they are not children of his kingdom.

They are either incapable of imagining the invisible; or else, in the language of devotion, they arelife-long subjects of "barrenness" and "dryness." Such inaptitude for religious faith may in somecases be intellectual in its origin. Their religious faculties may be checked in their natural tendencyto expand, by beliefs about the world that are inhibitive, the pessimistic and materialistic beliefs,for example, within which so many good souls, who in former times would have freely indulgedtheir religious propensities, find themselves nowadays, as it were, frozen; or the agnostic vetoesupon faith as something weak and shameful, under which so many of us today lie cowering, afraidto use our instincts. In many persons such inhibitions are never overcome. To the end of their daysthey refuse to believe, their personal energy never gets to its religious centre, and the latter remainsinactive in perpetuity.

In other persons the trouble is profounder. There are men anaesthetic on the religious side,deficient in that category of sensibility. Just as a bloodless organism can never, in spite of all itsgoodwill, attain to the reckless "animal spirits" enjoyed by those of sanguine temperament; so thenature which is spiritually barren may admire and envy faith in others, but can never compass theenthusiasm and peace which those who are temperamentally qualified for faith enjoy. All this may,however, turn out eventually to have been a matter of temporary inhibition. Even late in life somethaw, some release may take place, some bolt be shot back in the barrenest breast, and the man'shard heart may soften and break into religious feeling. Such cases more than any others suggest theidea that sudden conversion is by miracle. So long as they exist, we must not imagine ourselves todeal with irretrievably fixed classes. Now there are two forms of mental occurrence in humanbeings, which lead to a striking difference in the conversion process, a difference to whichProfessor Starbuck has called attention. You know how it is when you try to recollect a forgottenname. Usually you help the recall by working for it, by mentally running over the places, persons,and things with which the word was connected. But sometimes this effort fails: you feel then as ifthe harder you tried the less hope there would be, as though the name were JAMMED, andpressure in its direction only kept it all the more from rising. And then the opposite expedient oftensucceeds. Give up the effort entirely; think of something altogether different, and in half an hourthe lost name comes sauntering into your mind, as Emerson says, as carelessly as if it had neverbeen invited. Some hidden process was started in you by the effort, which went on after the effortceased, and made the result come as if it came spontaneously. A certain music teacher, says Dr.

Starbuck, says to her pupils after the thing to be done has been clearly pointed out, andunsuccessfully attempted: "Stop trying and it will do itself!"[108]

[108] Psychology of Religion, p. 117.

There is thus a conscious and voluntary way and an involuntary and unconscious way in whichmental results may get accomplished; and we find both ways exemplified in the history of conversion, giving us two types, which Starbuck calls the volitional type and the type by self-surrender respectively.

In the volitional type the regenerative change is usually gradual, and consists in the building up,piece by piece, of a new set of moral and spiritual habits. But there are always critical points hereat which the movement forward seems much more rapid. This psychological fact is abundantlyillustrated by Dr. Starbuck. Our education in any practical accomplishment proceeds apparently byjerks and starts just as the growth of our physical bodies does.

"An athlete . . . sometimes awakens suddenly to an understanding of the fine points of the gameand to a real enjoyment of it, just as the convert awakens to an appreciation of religion. If he keepson engaging in the sport, there may come a day when all at once the game plays itself throughhim--when he loses himself in some great contest. In the same way, a musician may suddenlyreach a point at which pleasure in the technique of the art entirely falls away, and in some momentof inspiration he becomes the instrument through which music flows. The writer has chanced tohear two different married persons, both of whose wedded lives had been beautiful from thebeginning, relate that not until a year or more after marriage did they awake to the full blessednessof married life. So it is with the religious experience of these persons we are studying."[109]

[109] Psychology of Religion, p. 385. Compare, also, pp. 137-144 and 262.

We shall erelong hear still more remarkable illustrations of subconsciously maturing processeseventuating in results of which we suddenly grow conscious. Sir William Hamilton and ProfessorLaycock of Edinburgh were among the first to call attention to this class of effects; but Dr.

Carpenter first, unless I am mistaken, introduced the term "unconscious cerebration," which hassince then been a popular phrase of explanation. The facts are now known to us far moreextensively than he could know them, and the adjective "unconscious," being for many of themalmost certainly a misnomer, is better replaced by the vaguer term "subconscious" or "subliminal."Of the volitional type of conversion it would be easy to give examples,[110] but they are as arule less interesting than those of the self-surrender type, in which the subconscious effects aremore abundant and often startling. I will therefore hurry to the latter, the more so because thedifference between the two types is after all not radical. Even in the most voluntarily built-up sortof regeneration there are passages of partial self-surrender interposed; and in the great majority ofall cases, when the will had done its uttermost towards bringing one close to the completeunification aspired after, it seems that the very last step must be left to other forces and performedwithout the help of its activity. In other words, self-surrender becomes then indispensable. "Thepersonal will," says Dr. Starbuck, "must be given up. In many cases relief persistently refuses tocome until the person ceases to resist, or to make an effort in the direction he desires to go."[110] For instance, C. G. Finney italicizes the volitional element: "Just at this point the wholequestion of Gospel salvation opened to my mind in a manner most marvelous to me at the time. Ithink I then saw, as clearly as I ever have in my life, the reality and fullness of the atonement ofChrist. Gospel salvation seemed to me to be an offer of something to be accepted, and all that wasnecessary on my part to get my own consent to give up my sins and accept Christ. After thisdistinct revelation had stood for some little time before my mind, the question seemed to be put, 'will you accept it now, to-day?' I replied, 'Yes; I will accept it to-day, or I will die in the attempt!'"He then went into the woods, where he describes his struggles. He could not pray, his heart washardened in its pride. "I then reproached myself for having promised to give my heart to Godbefore I left the woods. When I came to try, I found I could not. . . . My inward soul hung back,and there was no going out of my heart to God. The thought was pressing me, of the rashness ofmy promise that I would give my heart to God that day, or die in the attempt. It seemed to me as ifthat was binding on my soul; and yet I was going to break my vow. A great sinking anddiscouragement came over me, and I felt almost too weak to stand upon my knees. Just at thismoment I again thought I heard some one approach me, and I opened my eyes to see whether itwere so. But right there the revelation of my pride of heart, as the great difficulty that stood in theway, was distinctly shown to me. An overwhelming sense of my wickedness in being ashamed tohave a human being see me on my knees before God took such powerful possession of me, that Icried at the top of my voice, and exclaimed that I would not leave that place if all the men on earthand all the devils in hell surrounded me. 'What!' I said, 'such a degraded sinner as I am, on myknees confessing my sins to the great and holy God; and ashamed to have any human being, and asinner like myself, find me on my knees endeavoring to make my peace with my offended God!'

The sin appeared awful, infinite. It broke me down before the Lord." Memoirs, pp. 14-16,abridged.

"I had said I would not give up; but when my will was broken, it was all over," writes one ofStarbuck's correspondents.--Another says: "I simply said: 'Lord, I have done all I can; I leave thewhole matter with Thee,' and immediately there came to me a great peace."--Another: "All at onceit occurred to me that I might be saved, too, if I would stop trying to do it all myself, and followJesus: somehow I lost my load."--Another: "I finally ceased to resist, and gave myself up, though itwas a hard struggle. Gradually the feeling came over me that I had done my part, and God waswilling to do his."[111]--"Lord Thy will be done; damn or save!" cries John Nelson,[112]

exhausted with the anxious struggle to escape damnation; and at that moment his soul was filledwith peace.

[111] Starbuck: Op. cit., pp. 91, 114.

[112] Extracts from the Journal of Mr. John Nelson, London, no date, p. 24.

Dr. Starbuck gives an interesting, and it seems to me a true, account--so far as conceptions soschematic can claim truth at all--of the reasons why self-surrender at the last moment should be soindispensable. To begin with, there are two things in the mind of the candidate for conversion:

first, the present incompleteness or wrongness, the "sin" which he is eager to escape from; and,second, the positive ideal which he longs to compass. Now with most of us the sense of our presentwrongness is a far more distinct piece of our consciousness than is the imagination of any positiveideal we can aim at. In a majority of cases, indeed, the "sin" almost exclusively engrosses theattention, so that conversion is "a process of struggling away from sin rather than of strivingtowards righteousness."[113] A man's conscious wit and will, so far as they strain towards theideal, are aiming at something only dimly and inaccurately imagined. Yet all the while the forcesof mere organic ripening within him are going on towards their own prefigured result, and his conscious strainings are letting loose subconscious allies behind the scenes, which in their waywork towards rearrangement; and the rearrangement towards which all these deeper forces tend ispretty surely definite, and definitely different from what he consciously conceives and determines.

It may consequently be actually interfered with (JAMMED, as it were, like the lost word when weseek too energetically to recall it), by his voluntary efforts slanting from the true direction.

[113] Starbuck, p. 64.

Starbuck seems to put his finger on the root of the matter when he says that to exercise thepersonal will is still to live in the region where the imperfect self is the thing most emphasized.

Where, on the contrary, the subconscious forces take the lead, it is more probably the better self inposse which directs the operation. Instead of being clumsily and vaguely aimed at from without, itis then itself the organizing centre. What then must the person do? "He must relax," says Dr.

Starbuck--"that is, he must fall back on the larger Power that makes for righteousness, which hasbeen welling up in his own being, and let it finish in its own way the work it has begun. . . . The actof yielding, in this point of view, is giving one's self over to the new life, making it the centre of anew personality, and living, from within, the truth of it which had before been viewedobjectively."[114]

[114] Starbuck, p. 115.

"Man's extremity is God's opportunity" is the theological way of putting this fact of the need ofself-surrender; whilst the physiological way of stating it would be, "Let one do all in one's power,and one's nervous system will do the rest." Both statements acknowledge the same fact.[115]

[115] Starbuck, p. 113.

To state it in terms of our own symbolism: When the new centre of personal energy has beensubconsciously incubated so long as to be just ready to open into flower, "hands off" is the onlyword for us, it must burst forth unaided!

We have used the vague and abstract language of psychology. But since, in any terms, the crisisdescribed is the throwing of our conscious selves upon the mercy of powers which, whatever theymay be, are more ideal than we are actually, and make for our redemption, you see why self-surrender has been and always must be regarded as the vital turning-point of the religious life, sofar as the religious life is spiritual and no affair of outer works and ritual and sacraments. One maysay that the whole development of Christianity in inwardness has consisted in little more than thegreater and greater emphasis attached to this crisis of self-surrender. From Catholicism toLutheranism, and then to Calvinism; from that to Wesleyanism; and from this, outside of technicalChristianity altogether, to pure "liberalism" or transcendental idealism, whether or not of the mind-cure type, taking in the mediaeval mystics, the quietists, the pietists, and quakers by the way, wecan trace the stages of progress towards the idea of an immediate spiritual help, experienced by theindividual in his forlornness and standing in no essential need of doctrinal apparatus or propitiatorymachinery.

Psychology and religion are thus in perfect harmony up to this point, since both admit that thereare forces seemingly outside of the conscious individual that bring redemption to his life.

Nevertheless psychology, defining these forces as "subconscious," and speaking of their effects, asdue to "incubation," or "cerebration," implies that they do not transcend the individual'spersonality; and herein she diverges from Christian theology, which insists that they are directsupernatural operations of the Deity. I propose to you that we do not yet consider this divergencefinal, but leave the question for a while in abeyance--continued inquiry may enable us to get rid ofsome of the apparent discord.

Revert, then, for a moment more to the psychology of self-surrender.

When you find a man living on the ragged edge of his consciousness, pent in to his sin and wantand incompleteness, and consequently inconsolable, and then simply tell him that all is well withhim, that he must stop his worry, break with his discontent, and give up his anxiety, you seem tohim to come with pure absurdities. The only positive consciousness he has tells him that all isNOT well, and the better way you offer sounds simply as if you proposed to him to assert cold-blooded falsehoods. "The will to believe" cannot be stretched as far as that. We can makeourselves more faithful to a belief of which we have the rudiments, but we cannot create a beliefout of whole cloth when our perception actively assures us of its opposite. The better mindproposed to us comes in that case in the form of a pure negation of the only mind we have, and wecannot actively will a pure negation.

There are only two ways in which it is possible to get rid of anger, worry, fear, despair, or otherundesirable affections. One is that an opposite affection should overpoweringly break over us, andthe other is by getting so exhausted with the struggle that we have to stop--so we drop down, giveup, and DON'T CARE any longer. Our emotional brain-centres strike work, and we lapse into atemporary apathy. Now there is documentary proof that this state of temporary exhaustion notinfrequently forms part of the conversion crisis. So long as the egoistic worry of the sick soulguards the door, the expansive confidence of the soul of faith gains no presence. But let the formerfaint away, even but for a moment, and the latter can profit by the opportunity, and, having onceacquired possession, may retain it.

Carlyle's Teufelsdrockh passes from the everlasting No to the everlasting Yes through a "Centreof Indifference."Let me give you a good illustration of this feature in the conversion process. That genuine saint,David Brainerd, describes his own crisis in the following words:-"One morning, while I was walking in a solitary place as usual, I at once saw that all mycontrivances and projects to effect or procure deliverance and salvation for myself were utterly invain; I was brought quite to a stand, as finding myself totally lost. I saw that it was foreverimpossible for me to do anything towards helping or delivering myself, that I had made all thepleas I ever could have made to all eternity; and that all my pleas were vain, for I saw that self-interest had led me to pray, and that I had never once prayed from any respect to the glory of God.

I saw that there was no necessary connection between my prayers and the bestowment of divinemercy, that they laid not the least obligation upon God to bestow his grace upon me; and that therewas no more virtue or goodness in them than there would be in my paddling with my hand in the water. I saw that I had been heaping up my devotions before God, fasting, praying, etc.,pretending, and indeed really thinking sometimes that I was aiming at the glory of God; whereas Inever once truly intended it, but only my own happiness. I saw that as I had never done anythingfor God, I had no claim on anything from him but perdition, on account of my hypocrisy andmockery. When I saw evidently that I had regard to nothing but self-interest, then my dutiesappeared a vile mockery and a continual course of lies, for the whole was nothing but self-worship,and an horrid abuse of God.

"I continued, as I remember, in this state of mind, from Friday morning till the Sabbath eveningfollowing (July 12, 1739), when I was walking again in the same solitary place. Here, in amournful melancholy state I was attempting to pray; but found no heart to engage in that or anyother duty; my former concern, exercise, and religious affections were now gone. I thought that theSpirit of God had quite left me; but still was NOT DISTRESSED; yet disconsolate, as if there wasnothing in heaven or earth could make me happy. Having been thus endeavoring to pray--though,as I thought, very stupid and senseless--for near half an hour; then, as I was walking in a thickgrove, unspeakable glory seemed to open to the apprehension of my soul. I do not mean anyexternal brightness, nor any imagination of a body of light, but it was a new inward apprehensionor view that I had of God, such as I never had before, nor anything which had the leastresemblance to it. I had no particular apprehension of any one person in the Trinity, either theFather, the Son, or the Holy Ghost; but it appeared to be Divine glory. My soul rejoiced with joyunspeakable, to see such a God, such a glorious Divine Being; and I was inwardly pleased andsatisfied that he should be God over all for ever and ever. My soul was so captivated and delightedwith the excellency of God that I was even swallowed up in him, at least to that degree that I hadno thought about my own salvation, and scarce reflected that there was such a creature as myself. Icontinued in this state of inward joy, peace, and astonishing, till near dark without any sensibleabatement; and then began to think and examine what I had seen; and felt sweetly composed in mymind all the evening following. I felt myself in a new world, and everything about me appearedwith a different aspect from what it was wont to do. At this time, the way of salvation opened tome with such infinite wisdom, suitableness, and excellency, that I wondered I should ever think ofany other way of salvation; was amazed that I had not dropped my own contrivances, andcomplied with this lovely, blessed, and excellent way before. If I could have been saved by myown duties or any other way that I had formerly contrived, my whole soul would now have refusedit. I wondered that all the world did not see and comply with this way of salvation, entirely by therighteousness of Christ."[116]

[116] Edward's and Dwight's Life of Brainerd, New Haven, 1822, pp. 45-47, abridged.

I have italicized the passage which records the exhaustion of the anxious emotion hithertohabitual. In a large proportion, perhaps the majority, of reports, the writers speak as if theexhaustion of the lower and the entrance of the higher emotion were simultaneous,[117] yet oftenagain they speak as if the higher actively drove the lower out. This is undoubtedly true in a greatmany instances, as we shall presently see. But often there seems little doubt that both conditions-subconsciousripening of the one affection and exhaustion of the other--must simultaneously haveconspired, in order to produce the result.

[117] Describing the whole phenomenon as a change of equilibrium, we might say that themovement of new psychic energies towards the personal centre and the recession of old onestowards the margin (or the rising of some objects above, and the sinking of others below theconscious threshold) were only two ways of describing an indivisible event. Doubtless this is oftenabsolutely true, and Starbuck is right when he says that "self-surrender" and "new determination,"though seeming at first sight to be such different experiences, are "really the same thing. Self-surrender sees the change in terms of the old self, determination sees it in terms of the new." Op.

cit., p. 160.

T. W. B., a convert of Nettleton's, being brought to an acute paroxysm of conviction of sin, atenothing all day, locked himself in his room in the evening in complete despair, crying aloud, "Howlong, O Lord, how long?" "After repeating this and similar language," he says, "several times, Iseemed to sink away into a state of insensibility. When I came to myself again I was on my knees,praying not for myself but for others. I felt submission to the will of God, willing that he should dowith me as should seem good in his sight. My concern seemed all lost in concern for others."[118]

[118] A. A. Bonar: Nettleton and his Labors, Edinburgh, 1854, p. 261.

Our great American revivalist Finney writes: "I said to myself: 'What is this? I must have grievedthe Holy Ghost entirely away.

I have lost all my conviction. I have not a particle of concern about my soul; and it must be thatthe Spirit has left me.' 'Why!' thought I, 'I never was so far from being concerned about my ownsalvation in my life.' . . . I tried to recall my convictions, to get back again the load of sin underwhich I had been laboring. I tried in vain to make myself anxious. I was so quiet and peaceful thatI tried to feel concerned about that, lest it should be the result of my having grieved the Spiritaway."[119]

[119] Charles G. Finney: Memoirs written by Himself, 1876, pp. 17, 18.

But beyond all question there are persons in whom, quite independently of any exhaustion in theSubject's capacity for feeling, or even in the absence of any acute previous feeling, the highercondition, having reached the due degree of energy, bursts through all barriers and sweeps in like asudden flood. These are the most striking and memorable cases, the cases of instantaneousconversion to which the conception of divine grace has been most peculiarly attached. I have givenone of them at length--the case of Mr. Bradley. But I had better reserve the other cases and mycomments on the rest of the subject for the following lecture.


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