Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James

Part 5 out of 11

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

follow Jesus: somehow I lost my load."--Another: "I finally
ceased to resist, and gave myself up, though it was a hard
struggle. Gradually the feeling came over me that I had done my
part, and God was willing 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 filled with 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 so schematic can claim truth at
all--of the reasons why self-surrender at the last moment should
be so indispensable. 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 present wrongness
is a far more distinct piece of our consciousness than is the
imagination of any positive ideal we can aim at. In a majority
of cases, indeed, the "sin" almost exclusively engrosses the
attention, so that conversion is "a process of struggling away
from sin rather than of striving towards righteousness."[113] A
man's conscious wit and will, so far as they strain towards the
ideal, are aiming at something only dimly and inaccurately
imagined. Yet all the while the forces of 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 way work towards rearrangement;
and the rearrangement towards which all these deeper forces tend
is pretty 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 we seek 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 the personal 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 in posse which directs the
operation. Instead of being clumsily and vaguely aimed at from
without, it is 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 has been welling up in his own being, and let it finish in
its own way the work it has begun. . . . The act of yielding, in
this point of view, is giving one's self over to the new life,
making it the centre of a new personality, and living, from
within, the truth of it which had before been viewed

[114] Starbuck, p. 115.

"Man's extremity is God's opportunity" is the theological way of
putting this fact of the need of self-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 been subconsciously incubated so long as
to be just ready to open into flower, "hands off" is the only
word for us, it must burst forth unaided!

We have used the vague and abstract language of psychology. But
since, in any terms, the crisis described is the throwing of our
conscious selves upon the mercy of powers which, whatever they
may 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, so
far as the religious life is spiritual and no affair of outer
works and ritual and sacraments. One may say that the whole
development of Christianity in inwardness has consisted in little
more than the greater and greater emphasis attached to this
crisis of self-surrender. From Catholicism to Lutheranism, and
then to Calvinism; from that to Wesleyanism; and from this,
outside of technical Christianity 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, we can trace the stages of
progress towards the idea of an immediate spiritual help,
experienced by the individual in his forlornness and standing in
no essential need of doctrinal apparatus or propitiatory

Psychology and religion are thus in perfect harmony up to this
point, since both admit that there are 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, as due to "incubation," or
"cerebration," implies that they do not transcend the
individual's personality; and herein she diverges from Christian
theology, which insists that they are direct supernatural
operations of the Deity. I propose to you that we do not yet
consider this divergence final, but leave the question for a
while in abeyance--continued inquiry may enable us to get rid of
some of the apparent discord.

Revert, then, for a moment more to the psychology of

When you find a man living on the ragged edge of his
consciousness, pent in to his sin and want and incompleteness,
and consequently inconsolable, and then simply tell him that all
is well with him, that he must stop his worry, break with his
discontent, and give up his anxiety, you seem to him to come with
pure absurdities. The only positive consciousness he has tells
him that all is NOT 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 make ourselves more faithful to a belief of which
we have the rudiments, but we cannot create a belief out of whole
cloth when our perception actively assures us of its opposite.
The better mind proposed to us comes in that case in the form of
a pure negation of the only mind we have, and we cannot actively
will a pure negation.

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

Carlyle's Teufelsdrockh passes from the everlasting No to the
everlasting Yes through a "Centre of 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 my contrivances and projects to effect or
procure deliverance and salvation for myself were utterly in
vain; I was brought quite to a stand, as finding myself totally
lost. I saw that it was forever impossible for me to do anything
towards helping or delivering myself, that I had made all the
pleas 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 divine mercy, that they laid not
the least obligation upon God to bestow his grace upon me; and
that there was 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 I never once truly intended
it, but only my own happiness. I saw that as I had never done
anything for God, I had no claim on anything from him but
perdition, on account of my hypocrisy and mockery. When I saw
evidently that I had regard to nothing but self-interest, then my
duties appeared 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 evening following (July 12, 1739), when
I was walking again in the same solitary place. Here, in a
mournful melancholy state I was attempting to pray; but found no
heart to engage in that or any other duty; my former concern,
exercise, and religious affections were now gone. I thought that
the Spirit of God had quite left me; but still was NOT
DISTRESSED; yet disconsolate, as if there was nothing 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 thick grove,
unspeakable glory seemed to open to the apprehension of my soul.
I do not mean any external brightness, nor any imagination of a
body of light, but it was a new inward apprehension or view that
I had of God, such as I never had before, nor anything which had
the least resemblance to it. I had no particular apprehension of
any one person in the Trinity, either the Father, the Son, or the
Holy Ghost; but it appeared to be Divine glory. My soul rejoiced
with joy unspeakable, to see such a God, such a glorious Divine
Being; and I was inwardly pleased and satisfied that he should be
God over all for ever and ever. My soul was so captivated and
delighted with the excellency of God that I was even swallowed up
in him, at least to that degree that I had no thought about my
own salvation, and scarce reflected that there was such a
creature as myself. I continued in this state of inward joy,
peace, and astonishing, till near dark without any sensible
abatement; and then began to think and examine what I had seen;
and felt sweetly composed in my mind all the evening following.
I felt myself in a new world, and everything about me appeared
with a different aspect from what it was wont to do. At this
time, the way of salvation opened to me with such infinite
wisdom, suitableness, and excellency, that I wondered I should
ever think of any other way of salvation; was amazed that I had
not dropped my own contrivances, and complied with this lovely,
blessed, and excellent way before. If I could have been saved by
my own duties or any other way that I had formerly contrived, my
whole soul would now have refused it. I wondered that all the
world did not see and comply with this way of salvation, entirely
by the righteousness 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 hitherto habitual. In a large proportion,
perhaps the majority, of reports, the writers speak as if the
exhaustion of the lower and the entrance of the higher emotion
were simultaneous,[117] yet often again they speak as if the
higher actively drove the lower out. This is undoubtedly true in
a great many instances, as we shall presently see. But often
there seems little doubt that both conditions--subconscious
ripening of the one affection and exhaustion of the other--must
simultaneously have conspired, in order to produce the result.

[117] Describing the whole phenomenon as a change of equilibrium,
we might say that the movement of new psychic energies towards
the personal centre and the recession of old ones towards the
margin (or the rising of some objects above, and the sinking of
others below the conscious threshold) were only two ways of
describing an indivisible event. Doubtless this is often
absolutely 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, ate nothing all day, locked
himself in his room in the evening in complete despair, crying
aloud, "How long, O Lord, how long?" "After repeating this and
similar language," he says, "several times, I seemed 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 do with 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.

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

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

[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 the Subject's capacity for
feeling, or even in the absence of any acute previous feeling,
the higher condition, having reached the due degree of energy,
bursts through all barriers and sweeps in like a sudden flood.
These are the most striking and memorable cases, the cases of
instantaneous conversion to which the conception of divine grace
has been most peculiarly attached. I have given one of them at
length--the case of Mr. Bradley. But I had better reserve the
other cases and my comments on the rest of the subject for the
following lecture.

Lecture X


In this lecture we have to finish the subject of Conversion,
considering at first those striking instantaneous instances of
which Saint Paul's is the most eminent, and in which, often amid
tremendous emotional excitement or perturbation of the senses, a
complete division is established in the twinkling of an eye
between the old life and the new. Conversion of this type is an
important phase of religious experience, owing to the part which
it has played in Protestant theology, and it behooves us to study
it conscientiously on that account.

I think I had better cite two or three of these cases before
proceeding to a more generalized account. One must know concrete
instances first; for, as Professor Agassiz used to say, one can
see no farther into a generalization than just so far as one's
previous acquaintance with particulars enables one to take it in.

I will go back, then, to the case of our friend Henry Alline, and
quote his report of the 26th of March, 1775, on which his poor
divided mind became unified for good.

"As I was about sunset wandering in the fields lamenting my
miserable lost and undone condition, and almost ready to sink
under my burden, I thought I was in such a miserable case as
never any man was before. I returned to the house, and when I
got to the door, just as I was stepping off the threshold, the
following impressions came into my mind like a powerful but small
still voice. You have been seeking, praying, reforming,
laboring, reading, hearing, and meditating, and what have you
done by it towards your salvation? Are you any nearer to
conversion now than when you first began? Are you any more
prepared for heaven, or fitter to appear before the impartial bar
of God, than when you first began to seek?

"It brought such conviction on me that I was obliged to say that
I did not think I was one step nearer than at first, but as much
condemned, as much exposed, and as miserable as before. I cried
out within myself, O Lord God, I am lost, and if thou, O Lord,
dost not find out some new way, I know nothing of, I shall never
be saved, for the ways and methods I have prescribed to myself
have all failed me, and I am willing they should fail. O Lord,
have mercy! O Lord, have mercy!

"These discoveries continued until I went into the house and sat
down. After I sat down, being all in confusion, like a drowning
man that was just giving up to sink, and almost in an agony, I
turned very suddenly round in my chair, and seeing part of an old
Bible lying in one of the chairs, I caught hold of it in great
haste; and opening it without any premeditation, cast my eyes on
the 38th Psalm, which was the first time I ever saw the word of
God: it took hold of me with such power that it seemed to go
through my whole soul, so that it seemed as if God was praying
in, with, and for me. About this time my father called the
family to attend prayers; I attended, but paid no regard to what
he said in his prayer, but continued praying in those words of
the Psalm. Oh, help me, help me! cried I, thou Redeemer of
souls, and save me, or I am gone forever; thou canst this night,
if thou pleasest, with one drop of thy blood atone for my sins,
and appease the wrath of an angry God. At that instant of time
when I gave all up to him to do with me as he pleased, and was
willing that God should rule over me at his pleasure, redeeming
love broke into my soul with repeated scriptures, with such power
that my whole soul seemed to be melted down with love, the burden
of guilt and condemnation was gone, darkness was expelled, my
heart humbled and filled with gratitude, and my whole soul, that
was a few minutes ago groaning under mountains of death, and
crying to an unknown God for help, was now filled with immortal
love, soaring on the wings of faith,<215> freed from the chains
of death and darkness, and crying out, My Lord and my God; thou
art my rock and my fortress, my shield and my high tower, my
life, my joy, my present and my everlasting portion. Looking up,
I thought I saw that same light [he had on more than one previous
occasion seen subjectively a bright blaze of light], though it
appeared different; and as soon as I saw it, the design was
opened to me, according to his promise, and I was obliged to cry
out: Enough, enough, O blessed God! The work of conversion, the
change, and the manifestations of it are no more disputable than
that light which I see, or anything that ever I saw.

"In the midst of all my joys, in less than half an hour after my
soul was set at liberty, the Lord discovered to me my labor in
the ministry and call to preach the gospel. I cried out, Amen,
Lord, I'll go; send me, send me. I spent the greatest part of
the night in ecstasies of joy, praising and adoring the Ancient
of Days for his free and unbounded grace. After I had been so
long in this transport and heavenly frame that my nature seemed
to require sleep, I thought to close my eyes for a few moments;
then the devil stepped in, and told me that if I went to sleep, I
should lose it all, and when I should awake in the morning I
would find it to be nothing but a fancy and delusion. I
immediately cried out, O Lord God, if I am deceived, undeceive

"I then closed my eyes for a few minutes, and seemed to be
refreshed with sleep; and when I awoke, the first inquiry was,
Where is my God? And in an instant of time, my soul seemed awake
in and with God, and surrounded by the arms of everlasting love.
About sunrise I arose with joy to relate to my parents what God
had done for my soul, and declared to them the miracle of God's
unbounded grace. I took a Bible to show them the words that were
impressed by God on my soul the evening before; but when I came
to open the Bible, it appeared all new to me.

"I so longed to be useful in the cause of Christ, in preaching
the gospel, that it seemed as if I could not rest any longer, but
go I must and tell the wonders of redeeming love. I lost all
taste for carnal pleasures, and carnal company, and was enabled
to forsake them."[120]

[120] Life and Journals, Boston, 1806, pp. 31-40, abridged.

Young Mr. Alline, after the briefest of delays, and with no
book-learning but his Bible, and no teaching save that of his own
experience, became a Christian minister, and thenceforward his
life was fit to rank, for its austerity and single-mindedness,
with that of the most devoted saints. But happy as he became in
his strenuous way, he never got his taste for even the most
innocent carnal pleasures back. We must class him, like Bunyan
and Tolstoy, amongst those upon whose soul the iron of melancholy
left a permanent imprint. His redemption was into another
universe than this mere natural world, and life remained for him
a sad and patient trial. Years later we can find him making such
an entry as this in his diary: "On Wednesday the 12th I preached
at a wedding, and had the happiness thereby to be the means of
excluding carnal mirth."

The next case I will give is that of a correspondent of Professor
Leuba, printed in the latter's article, already cited, in vol.
vi. of the American Journal of Psychology. This subject was an
Oxford graduate, the son of a clergyman, and the story resembles
in many points the classic case of Colonel Gardiner, which
everybody may be supposed to know. Here it is, somewhat

"Between the period of leaving Oxford and my conversion I never
darkened the door of my father's church, although I lived with
him for eight years, making what money I wanted by journalism,
and spending it in high carousal with any one who would sit with
me and drink it away. So I lived, sometimes drunk for a week
together, and then a terrible repentance, and would not touch a
drop for a whole month.

"In all this period, that is, up to thirty-three years of age, I
never had a desire to reform on religious grounds. But all my
pangs were due to some terrible remorse I used to feel after a
heavy carousal, the remorse taking the shape of regret after my
folly in wasting my life in such a way--a man of superior talents
and education. This terrible remorse turned me gray in one
night, and whenever it came upon me I was perceptibly grayer the
next morning. What I suffered in this way is beyond the
expression of words. It was hell-fire in all its most dreadful
tortures. Often did I vow that if I got over 'this time' I would
reform. Alas, in about three days I fully recovered, and was as
happy as ever. So it went on for years, but, with a physique
like a rhinoceros, I always recovered, and as long as I let drink
alone, no man was as capable of enjoying life as I was.

"I was converted in my own bedroom in my father's rectory house
at precisely three o'clock in the afternoon of a hot July day
(July 13, 1886). I was in perfect health, having been off from
the drink for nearly a month. I was in no way troubled about my
soul. In fact, God was not in my thoughts that day. A young
lady friend sent me a copy of Professor Drummond's Natural Law in
the Spiritual World, asking me my opinion of it as a literary
work only. Being proud of my critical talents and wishing to
enhance myself in my new friend's esteem, I took the book to my
bedroom for quiet, intending to give it a thorough study, and
then write her what I thought of it. It was here that God met me
face to face, and I shall never forget the meeting. 'He that
hath the Son hath life eternal, he that hath not the Son hath not
life.' I had read this scores of times before, but this made all
the difference. I was now in God's presence and my attention was
absolutely 'soldered' on to this verse, and I was not allowed to
proceed with the book till I had fairly considered what these
words really involved. Only then was I allowed to proceed,
feeling all the while that there was another being in my bedroom,
though not seen by me. The stillness was very marvelous, and I
felt supremely happy. It was most unquestionably shown me, in
one second of time, that I had never touched the Eternal: and
that if I died then, I must inevitably be lost. I was undone. I
knew it as well as I now know I am saved. The Spirit of God
showed it me in ineffable love; there was no terror in it; I felt
God's love so powerfully upon me that only a mighty sorrow crept
over me that I had lost all through my own folly; and what was I
to do? What could I do? I did not repent even; God never asked
me to repent. All I felt was 'I am undone,' and God cannot help
it, although he loves me. No fault on the part of the Almighty.
All the time I was supremely happy: I felt like a little child
before his father. I had done wrong, but my Father did not scold
me, but loved me most wondrously. Still my doom was sealed. I
was lost to a certainty, and being naturally of a brave
disposition I did not quail under it, but deep sorrow
for the past, mixed with regret for what I had lost, took hold
upon me, and my soul thrilled within me to think it was all over.
Then there crept in upon me so gently, so lovingly, so
unmistakably, a way of escape, and what was it after all? The
old, old story over again, told in the simplest way: 'There is
no name under heaven whereby ye can be saved except that of the
Lord Jesus Christ.' No words were spoken to me; my soul seemed to
see my Saviour in the spirit, and from that hour to this, nearly
nine years now, there has never been in my life one doubt that
the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father both worked upon me that
afternoon in July, both differently, and both in the most perfect
love conceivable, and I rejoiced there and then in a conversion
so astounding that the whole village heard of it in less than
twenty-four hours.

"But a time of trouble was yet to come. The day after my
conversion I went into the hay-field to lend a hand with the
harvest, and not having made any promise to God to abstain or
drink in moderation only, I took too much and came home drunk.
My poor sister was heart-broken; and I felt ashamed of myself and
got to my bedroom at once, where she followed me weeping
copiously. She said I had been converted and fallen away
instantly. But although I was quite full of drink (not muddled,
however), I knew that God's work begun in me was not going to be
wasted. About midday I made on my knees the first prayer before
God for twenty years. I did not ask to be forgiven; I felt that
was no good, for I would be sure to fall again. Well, what did I
do? I committed myself to him in the profoundest belief that my
individuality was going to be destroyed, that he would take all
from me, and I was willing. In such a <219> surrender lies the
secret of a holy life. From that hour drink has had no terrors
for me: I never touch it, never want it. The same thing
occurred with my pipe: after being a regular smoker from my
twelfth year the desire for it went at once, and has never
returned. So with every known sin, the deliverance in each case
being permanent and complete. I have had no temptation since
conversion, God seemingly having shut out Satan from that course
with me. He gets a free hand in other ways, but never on sins of
the flesh. Since I gave up to God all ownership in my own life,
he has guided me in a thousand ways, and has opened my path in a
way almost incredible to those who do not enjoy the blessing of a
truly surrendered life."

So much for our graduate of Oxford, in whom you notice the
complete abolition of an ancient appetite as one of the
conversion's fruits.

The most curious record of sudden conversion with which I am
acquainted is that of M. Alphonse Ratisbonne, a free-thinking
French Jew, to Catholicism, at Rome in 1842. In a letter to a
clerical friend, written a few months later, the convert gives a
palpitating account of the circumstances.[121] The predisposing
conditions appear to have been slight. He had an elder brother
who had been converted and was a Catholic priest. He was himself
irreligious, and nourished an antipathy to the apostate brother
and generally to his "cloth." Finding himself at Rome in his
twenty-ninth year, he fell in with a French gentleman who tried
to make a proselyte of him, but who succeeded no farther after
two or three conversations than to get him to hang (half
jocosely) a religious medal round his neck, and to accept and
read a copy of a short prayer to the Virgin. M. Ratisbonne
represents his own part in the conversations as having been of a
light and chaffing order; but he notes the fact that for some
days he was unable to banish the words of the prayer from his
mind, and that the night before the crisis he had a sort of
nightmare, in the imagery of which a black cross with no Christ
upon it figured. Nevertheless, until noon of the next day he was
free in mind and spent the time in trivial conversations. I now
give his own words.

[121] My quotations are made from an Italian translation of this
letter in the Biografia del sig. M. A. Ratisbonne, Ferrara, 1843,
which I have to thank Monsignore D. O'Connell of Rome for
bringing to my notice. I abridge the original.

"If at this time any one had accosted me, saying: 'Alphonse, in
a quarter of an hour you shall be adoring Jesus Christ as your
God and Saviour; you shall lie prostrate with your face upon the
ground in a humble church; you shall be smiting your breast at
the foot of a priest; you shall pass the carnival in a college of
Jesuits to prepare yourself to receive baptism, ready to give
your life for the Catholic faith; you shall renounce the world
and its pomps and pleasures; renounce your fortune, your hopes,
and if need be, your betrothed; the affections of your family,
the esteem of your friends, and your attachment to the Jewish
people; you shall have no other aspiration than to follow Christ
and bear his cross till death;'--if, I say, a prophet had come to
me with such a prediction, I should have judged that only one
person could be more mad than he--whosoever, namely, might
believe in the possibility of such senseless folly becoming true.

And yet that folly is at present my only wisdom, my sole

"Coming out of the cafe I met the carriage of Monsieur B. [the
proselyting friend]. He stopped and invited me in for a drive,
but first asked me to wait for a few minutes whilst he attended
to some duty at the church of San Andrea delle Fratte. Instead
of waiting in the carriage, I entered the church myself to look
at it. The church of San Andrea was poor, small, and empty; I
believe that I found myself there almost alone. No work of art
attracted my attention; and I passed my eyes mechanically over
its interior without being arrested by any particular thought. I
can only remember an entirely black dog which went trotting and
turning before me as I mused. In an instant the dog had
disappeared, the whole church had vanished, I no longer saw
anything, . . . or more truly I saw, O my God, one thing alone.
"Heavens, how can I speak of it? Oh no! human words cannot
attain to expressing the inexpressible. Any description, however
sublime it might be, could be but a profanation of the
unspeakable truth.

"I was there prostrate on the ground, bathed in my tears, with my
heart beside itself, when M. B. called me back to life. I could
not reply to the questions which followed from him one upon the
other. But finally I took the medal which I had on my breast,
and with all the effusion of my soul I kissed the image of the
Virgin, radiant with grace, which it bore. Oh, indeed, it was
She! It was indeed She! [What he had seen had been a vision of
the Virgin.]

"I did not know where I was: I did not know whether I was
Alphonse or another. I only felt myself changed and believed
myself another me; I looked for myself in myself and did not find
myself. In the bottom of my soul I felt an explosion of the most
ardent joy; I could not speak; I had no wish to reveal what had
happened. But I felt something solemn and sacred within me which
made me ask for a priest. I was led to one; and there alone,
after he had given me the positive order, I spoke as best I
could, kneeling, and with my heart still trembling. I could give
no account to myself of the truth of which I had acquired a
knowledge and a faith. All that I can say is that in an instant
the bandage had fallen from my eyes, and not one bandage only,
but the whole manifold of bandages in which I had been brought
up. One after another they rapidly disappeared, even as the mud
and ice disappear under the rays of the burning sun.

"I came out as from a sepulchre, from an abyss of darkness; and I
was living, perfectly living. But I wept, for at the bottom of
that gulf I saw the extreme of misery from which I had been saved
by an infinite mercy; and I shuddered at the sight of my
iniquities, stupefied, melted, overwhelmed with wonder and with
gratitude. You may ask me how I came to this new insight, for
truly I had never opened a book of religion nor even read a
single page of the Bible, and the dogma of original sin is either
entirely denied or forgotten by the Hebrews of to-day, so that I
had thought so little about it that I doubt whether I ever knew
its name. But how came I, then, to this perception of it? I can
<222> answer nothing save this, that on entering that church I
was in darkness altogether, and on coming out of it I saw the
fullness of the light. I can explain the change no better than
by the simile of a profound sleep or the analogy of one born
blind who should suddenly open his eyes to the day. He sees, but
cannot define the light which bathes him and by means of which he
sees the objects which excite his wonder. If we cannot explain
physical light, how can we explain the light which is the truth
itself? And I think I remain within the limits of veracity when
I say that without having any knowledge of the letter of
religious doctrine, I now intuitively perceived its sense and
spirit. Better than if I saw them, I FELT those hidden things; I
felt them by the inexplicable effects they produced in me. It
all happened in my interior mind, and those impressions, more
rapid than thought shook my soul, revolved and turned it, as it
were, in another direction, towards other aims, by other paths.
I express myself badly. But do you wish, Lord, that I should
inclose in poor and barren words sentiments which the heart alone
can understand?"

I might multiply cases almost indefinitely, but these will
suffice to show you how real, definite, and memorable an event a
sudden conversion may be to him who has the experience.
Throughout the height of it he undoubtedly seems to himself a
passive spectator or undergoer of an astounding process performed
upon him from above. There is too much evidence of this for any
doubt of it to be possible. Theology, combining this fact with
the doctrines of election and grace, has concluded that the
spirit of God is with us at these dramatic moments in a
peculiarly miraculous way, unlike what happens at any other
juncture of our lives. At that moment, it believes, an
absolutely new nature is breathed into us, and we become
partakers of the very substance of the Deity.

That the conversion should be instantaneous seems called for on
this view, and the Moravian Protestants appear to have been the
first to see this logical consequence. The Methodists soon
followed suit, practically if not dogmatically, and a short time
ere his death, John Wesley wrote:--

"In London alone I found 652 members of our Society who were
exceeding clear in their experience, and whose testimony I could
see no reason to doubt. And every one of these (without a single
exception) has declared that his deliverance from sin was
instantaneous; that the change was wrought in a moment. Had half
of these, or one third, or one in twenty, declared it was
GRADUALLY wrought in THEM, I should have believed this, with
regard to THEM, and thought that SOME were gradually sanctified
and some instantaneously. But as I have not found, in so long a
space of time, a single person speaking thus, I cannot but
believe that sanctification is commonly, if not always, an
instantaneous work."[122]

[122] Tyerman's Life of Wesley, i. 463.

All this while the more usual sects of Protestantism have set no
such store by instantaneous conversion. For them as for the
Catholic Church, Christ's blood, the sacraments, and the
individual's ordinary religious duties are practically supposed
to suffice to his salvation, even though no acute crisis of
self-despair and surrender followed by relief should be
experienced. For Methodism, on the contrary, unless there have
been a crisis of this sort, salvation is only offered, not
effectively received, and Christ's sacrifice in so far forth is
incomplete. Methodism surely here follows, if not the healthier-
minded, yet on the whole the profounder spiritual instinct. The
individual models which it has set up as typical and worthy of
imitation are not only the more interesting dramatically, but
psychologically they have been the more complete.

In the fully evolved Revivalism of Great Britain and America we
have, so to speak, the codified and stereotyped procedure to
which this way of thinking has led. In spite of the
unquestionable fact that saints of the once-born type exist, that
there may be a gradual growth in holiness without a cataclysm; in
spite of the obvious leakage (as one may say) of much mere
natural goodness into the scheme of salvation; revivalism has
always assumed that only its own type of religious experience can
be perfect; you must first be nailed on the cross of natural
despair and agony, and then in the twinkling of an eye be
miraculously released.

It is natural that those who personally have traversed such an
experience should carry away a feeling of its being a miracle
rather than a natural process. Voices are often heard, lights
seen, or visions witnessed; automatic motor phenomena occur; and
it always seems, after the surrender of the personal will, as if
an extraneous higher power had flooded in and taken possession.
Moreover the sense of renovation, safety, cleanness, rightness,
can be so marvelous and jubilant as well to warrant one's belief
in a radically new substantial nature.

"Conversion," writes the New England Puritan, Joseph Alleine, "is
not the putting in a patch of holiness; but with the true convert
holiness is woven into all his powers, principles, and practice.
The sincere Christian is quite a new fabric, from the foundation
to the top-stone. He is a new man, a new creature."

And Jonathan Edwards says in the same strain: "Those gracious
influences which are the effects of the Spirit of God are
altogether supernatural--are quite different from anything that
unregenerate men experience. They are what no improvement, or
composition of natural qualifications or principles will ever
produce; because they not only differ from what is natural, and
from everything that natural men experience in degree and
circumstances, but also in kind, and are of a nature far more
excellent. From hence it follows that in gracious affections
there are [also] new perceptions and sensations entirely
different in their nature and kind from anything experienced by
the [same] saints before they were sanctified. . . . The
conceptions which the saints have of the loveliness of God, and
that kind of delight which they experience in it, are quite
peculiar, and entirely different from anything which a natural
man can possess, or of which he can form any proper notion."

And that such a glorious transformation as this ought of
necessity to be preceded by despair is shown by Edwards in
another passage.

"Surely it cannot be unreasonable," he says, "that before God
delivers us from a state of sin and liability to everlasting woe,
he should give us some considerable sense of the evil from which
he delivers us, in order that we may know and feel the importance
of salvation, and be enabled to appreciate the value of what God
is pleased to do for us. As those who are saved are successively
in two extremely different states--first in a state of
condemnation and then in a state of justification and
blessedness--and as God, in the salvation of men, deals with them
as rational and intelligent creatures, it appears agreeable to
this wisdom, that those who are saved should be made sensible of
their Being, in those two different states. In the first place,
that they should be made sensible of their state of condemnation;
and afterwards, of their state of deliverance and happiness."

Such quotations express sufficiently well for our purpose the
doctrinal interpretation of these changes. Whatever part
suggestion and imitation may have played in producing them in men
and women in excited assemblies, they have at any rate been in
countless individual instances an original and unborrowed
experience. Were we writing the story of the mind from the
purely natural-history point of view, with no religious interest
whatever, we should still have to write down man's liability to
sudden and complete conversion as one of his most curious

What, now, must we ourselves think of this question? Is an
instantaneous conversion a miracle in which God is present as he
is present in no change of heart less strikingly abrupt? Are
there two classes of human beings, even among the apparently
regenerate, of which the one class really partakes of Christ's
nature while the other merely seems to do so? Or, on the
contrary, may the whole phenomenon of regeneration, even in these
startling instantaneous examples, possibly be a strictly natural
process, divine in its fruits, of course, but in one case more
and in another less so, and neither more nor less divine in its
mere causation and mechanism than any other process, high or low,
of man's interior life?

Before proceeding to answer this question, I must ask you to
listen to some more psychological remarks. At our last lecture,
I explained the shifting of men's centres of personal energy
within them and the lighting up of new crises of emotion. I
explained the phenomena as partly due to explicitly conscious
processes of thought and will, but as due largely also to the
subconscious incubation and maturing of motives deposited by the
experiences of life. When ripe, the results hatch out, or burst
into flower. I have now to speak of the subconscious region, in
which such processes of flowering may occur, in a somewhat less
vague way. I only regret that my limits of time here force me to
be so short.

The expression "field of consciousness" has but recently come
into vogue in the psychology books. Until quite lately the unit
of mental life which figured most was the single "idea," supposed
to be a definitely outlined thing. But at present psychologists
are tending, first, to admit that the actual unit is more
probably the total mental state, the entire wave of consciousness
or field of objects present to the thought at any time; and,
second, to see that it is impossible to outline this wave, this
field, with any definiteness.

As our mental fields succeed one another, each has its centre of
interest, around which the objects of which we are less and less
attentively conscious fade to a margin so faint that its limits
are unassignable. Some fields are narrow fields and some are
wide fields. Usually when we have a wide field we rejoice, for
we then see masses of truth together, and often get glimpses of
relations which we divine rather than see, for they shoot beyond
the field into still remoter regions of objectivity, regions
which we seem rather to be about to perceive than to perceive
actually. At other times, of drowsiness, illness, or fatigue,
our fields may narrow almost to a point, and we find ourselves
correspondingly oppressed and contracted.

Different individuals present constitutional differences in this
matter of width of field. Your great organizing geniuses are men
with habitually vast fields of mental vision, in which a whole
programme of future operations will appear dotted out at once,
the rays shooting far ahead into definite directions of advance.
In common people there is never this magnificent inclusive view
of a topic. They stumble along, feeling their way, as it were,
from point to point, and often stop entirely. In certain
diseased conditions consciousness is a mere spark, without memory
of the past or thought of the future, and with the present
narrowed down to some one simple emotion or sensation of the

The important fact which this "field" formula commemorates is the
indetermination of the margin. Inattentively realized as is the
matter which the margin contains, it is nevertheless there, and
helps both to guide our behavior and to determine the next
movement of our attention. It lies around us like a "magnetic
field," inside of which our centre of energy turns like a
compass-needle, as the present phase of consciousness alters into
its successor. Our whole past store of memories floats beyond
this margin, ready at a touch to come in; and the entire mass of
residual powers, impulses, and knowledges that constitute our
empirical self stretches continuously beyond it. So vaguely
drawn are the outlines between what is actual and what is only
potential at any moment of our conscious life, that it is always
hard to say of certain mental elements whether we are conscious
of them or not.

The ordinary psychology, admitting fully the difficulty of
tracing the marginal outline, has nevertheless taken for <228>
granted, first, that all the consciousness the person now has, be
the same focal or marginal, inattentive or attentive, is there in
the "field" of the moment, all dim and impossible to assign as
the latter's outline may be; and, second, that what is absolutely
extra-marginal is absolutely non-existent. and cannot be a fact
of consciousness at all.

And having reached this point, I must now ask you to recall what
I said in my last lecture about the subconscious life. I said,
as you may recollect, that those who first laid stress upon these
phenomena could not know the facts as we now know them. My first
duty now is to tell you what I meant by such a statement.

I cannot but think that the most important step forward that has
occurred in psychology since I have been a student of that
science is the discovery, first made in 1886, that, in certain
subjects at least, there is not only the consciousness of the
ordinary field, with its usual centre and margin, but an addition
thereto in the shape of a set of memories, thoughts, and feelings
which are extra-marginal and outside of the primary consciousness
altogether, but yet must be classed as conscious facts of some
sort, able to reveal their presence by unmistakable signs. I
call this the most important step forward because, unlike the
other advances which psychology has made, this discovery has
revealed to us an entirely unsuspected peculiarity in the
constitution of human nature. No other step forward which
psychology has made can proffer any such claim as this.

In particular this discovery of a consciousness existing beyond
the field, or subliminally as Mr. Myers terms it, casts light on
many phenomena of religious biography. That is why I have to
advert to it now, although it is naturally impossible for me in
this place to give you any account of the evidence on which the
admission of such a consciousness is based. You will find it set
forth in many recent books, Binet's Alterations of
Personality[123] being perhaps as good a one as any to recommend.

[123] Published in the International Scientific Series.

The human material on which the demonstration has been made has
so far been rather limited and, in part at least, eccentric,
consisting of unusually suggestible hypnotic subjects, and of
hysteric patients. Yet the elementary mechanisms of our life are
presumably so uniform that what is shown to be true in a marked
degree of some persons is probably true in some degree of all,
and may in a few be true in an extraordinarily high degree.

The most important consequence of having a strongly developed
ultra-marginal life of this sort is that one's ordinary fields of
consciousness are liable to incursions from it of which the
subject does not guess the source, and which, therefore, take for
him the form of unaccountable impulses to act, or inhibitions of
action, of obsessive ideas, or even of hallucinations of sight or
hearing. The impulses may take the direction of automatic speech
or writing, the meaning of which the subject himself may not
understand even while he utters it; and generalizing this
phenomenon, Mr. Myers has given the name of automatism, sensory
or motor, emotional or intellectual, to this whole sphere of
effects, due to "up-rushes" into the ordinary consciousness of
energies originating in the subliminal parts of the mind.

The simplest instance of an automatism is the phenomenon of
post-hypnotic suggestion, so-called. You give to a hypnotized
subject, adequately susceptible, an order to perform some
designated act--usual or eccentric, it makes no difference--
after he wakes from his hypnotic sleep. Punctually, when the
signal comes or the time elapses upon which you have told him
that the act must ensue, he performs it;--but in so doing he has
no recollection of your suggestion, and he always trumps up an
improvised pretext for his behavior if the act be of an eccentric
kind. It may even be suggested to a subject to have a vision or
to hear a voice at a certain interval after waking, and when the
time comes the vision is seen or the voice heard, with no inkling
on the subject's part of its source.

In the wonderful explorations by Binet, Janet, Breuer, Freud,
Mason, Prince, and others, of the subliminal consciousness of
patients with hysteria, we have revealed to us whole systems of
underground life, in the shape of memories of a painful sort
which lead a parasitic existence, buried outside of the primary
fields of consciousness, and making irruptions thereinto with
hallucinations, pains, convulsions, paralyses of feeling and of
motion, and the whole procession of symptoms of hysteric disease
of body and of mind. Alter or abolish by suggestion these
subconscious memories, and the patient immediately gets well.
His symptoms were automatisms, in Mr. Myers's sense of the word.
These clinical records sound like fairy-tales when one first
reads them, yet it is impossible to doubt their accuracy; and,
the path having been once opened by these first observers,
similar observations have been made elsewhere. They throw, as I
said, a wholly new light upon our natural constitution.

And it seems to me that they make a farther step inevitable.
Interpreting the unknown after the analogy of the known, it seems
to me that hereafter, wherever we meet with a phenomenon of
automatism, be it motor impulses, or obsessive idea, or
unaccountable caprice, or delusion, or hallucination, we are
bound first of all to make search whether it be not an explosion,
into the fields of ordinary consciousness, of ideas elaborated
outside of those fields in subliminal regions of the mind. We
should look, therefore, for its source in the Subject's
subconscious life. In the hypnotic cases, we ourselves create
the source by our suggestion, so we know it directly. In the
hysteric cases, the lost memories which are the source have to be
extracted from the patient's Subliminal by a number of ingenious
methods, for an account of which you must consult the books. In
other pathological cases, insane delusions, for example, or
psychopathic obsessions, the source is yet to seek, but by
analogy it also should be in subliminal regions which
improvements in our methods may yet conceivably put on tap. There
lies the mechanism logically to be assumed--but the assumption
involves a vast program of work to be done in the way of
verification, in which the religious experiences of man must play
their part.[124]

[124] The reader will here please notice that in my exclusive
reliance in the last lecture on the subconscious "incubation" of
motives deposited by a growing experience, I followed the method
of employing accepted principles of explanation as far as one
can. The subliminal region, whatever else it may be, is at any
rate a place now admitted by psychologists to exist for the
accumulation of vestiges of sensible experience (whether
inattentively or attentively registered), and for their
elaboration according to ordinary psychological or logical laws
into results that end by attaining such a "tension"that they may
at times enter consciousness with something like a burst. It
thus is "scientific" to interpret all otherwise unaccountable
invasive alterations of consciousness as results of the tension
of subliminal memories reaching the bursting-point. But candor
obliges me to confess that there are occasional bursts into
consciousness of results of which it is not easy to demonstrate
any prolonged subconscious incubation. Some of the cases I used
to illustrate the sense of presence of the unseen in Lecture III
were of this order (compare pages 59, 60, 61, 66); and we
shall see other experiences of the kind when we come to the
subject of mysticism. The case of Mr. Bradley, that of M.
Ratisbonne, possibly that of Colonel Gardiner, possibly that of
saint Paul, might not be so easily explained in this simple way.
The result, then, would have to be ascribed either to a merely
physiological nerve storm, a "discharging lesion" like that of
epilepsy; or, in case it were useful and rational, as in the two
latter cases named, to some more mystical or theological
hypothesis. I make this remark in order that the reader may
realize that the subject is really complex. But I shall keep
myself as far as possible at present to the more "scientific"
view; and only as the plot thickens in subsequent lectures shall
I consider the question of its absolute sufficiency as an
explanation of all the facts. That subconscious incubation
explains a great number of them, there can be no doubt.

And thus I return to our own specific subject of instantaneous
conversions. You remember the cases of Alline, Bradley,
Brainerd, and the graduate of Oxford converted at three in the
afternoon. Similar occurrences abound, some with and some
without luminous visions, all with a sense of astonished
happiness, and of being wrought on by a higher control. If,
abstracting altogether from the question of their value for the
future spiritual life of the individual, we take them on their
psychological side exclusively, so many peculiarities in them
remind us of what we find outside of conversion that we are
tempted to class them along with other automatisms, and to
suspect that what makes the difference between a sudden and a
gradual convert is not necessarily the presence of divine miracle
in the case of one and of something less divine in that of the
other, but rather a simple psychological peculiarity, the fact,
namely, that in the recipient of the more instantaneous grace we
have one of those Subjects who are in possession of a large
region in which mental work can go on subliminally, and from
which invasive experiences, abruptly upsetting the equilibrium of
the primary consciousness, may come.

I do not see why Methodists need object to such a view. Pray go
back and recollect one of the conclusions to which I sought to
lead you in my very first lecture. You may remember how I there
argued against the notion that the worth of a thing can be
decided by its origin. Our spiritual judgment, I said, our
opinion of the significance and value of a human event or
condition, must be decided on empirical grounds exclusively. If
the fruits for life of the state of conversion are good, we ought
to idealize and venerate it, even though it be a piece of natural
psychology; if not, we ought to make short work with it, no
matter what supernatural being may have infused it.

Well, how is it with these fruits? If we except the class of
preeminent saints of whom the names illumine history, and
consider only the usual run of "saints," the shopkeeping
church-members and ordinary youthful or middle-aged recipients of
instantaneous conversion, whether at revivals or in the
spontaneous course of methodistic growth, you will probably agree
that no splendor worthy of a wholly supernatural creature
fulgurates from them, or sets them apart from the mortals who
have never experienced that favor. Were it true that a suddenly
converted man as such is, as Edwards says,[125] of an entirely
different kind from a natural man, partaking as he does directly
of Christ's substance, there surely ought to be some exquisite
class-mark, some distinctive radiance attaching even to the
lowliest specimen of this genus, to which no one of us could
remain insensible, and which, so far as it went, would prove him
more excellent than ever the most highly gifted among mere
natural men. But notoriously there is no such radiance.
Converted men as a class are indistinguishable from natural men;
some natural men even excel some converted men in their fruits;
and no one ignorant of doctrinal theology could guess by mere
every-day inspection of the "accidents" of the two groups of
persons before him, that their substance differed as much as
divine differs from human substance.

[125] Edwards says elsewhere: "I am bold to say that the work of
God in the conversion of one soul, considered together with the
source foundation, and purchase of it, and also the benefit, end,
and eternal issue of it, is a more glorious work of God than the
creation of the whole material universe."

The believers in the non-natural character of sudden conversion
have had practically to admit that there is no unmistakable
class-mark distinctive of all true converts. The super-normal
incidents, such as voices and visions and overpowering
impressions of the meaning of suddenly presented scripture texts,
the melting emotions and tumultuous affections connected with the
crisis of change, may all come by way of nature, or worse still,
be counterfeited by Satan. The real witness of the spirit to the
second birth is to be found only in the disposition of the
genuine child of God, the permanently patient heart, the love of
self eradicated. And this, it has to be admitted, is also found
in those who pass no crisis, and may even be found outside of
Christianity altogether.

Throughout Jonathan Edwards's admirably rich and delicate
description of the supernaturally infused condition, in his
Treatise on Religious Affections, there is not one decisive
trait, not one mark, that unmistakably parts it off from what may
possibly be only an exceptionally high degree of natural
goodness. In fact, one could hardly read a clearer argument than
this book unwittingly offers in favor of the thesis that no chasm
exists between the orders of human excellence, but that here as
elsewhere, nature shows continuous differences, and generation
and regeneration are matters of degree.

All which denial of two objective classes of human beings
separated by a chasm must not leave us blind to the extraordinary
momentousness of the fact of his conversion to the individual
himself who gets converted. There are higher and lower limits of
possibility set to each personal life. If a flood but goes above
one's head, its absolute elevation becomes a matter of small
importance; and when we touch our own upper limit and live in our
own highest centre of energy, we may call ourselves saved, no
matter how much higher some one else's centre may be. A small
man's salvation will always be a great salvation and the greatest
of all facts FOR HIM, and we should remember this when the fruits
of our ordinary evangelicism look discouraging. Who knows how
much less ideal still the lives of these spiritual grubs and
earthworms, these Crumps and Stigginses, might have been, if such
poor grace as they have received had never touched them at

[126] Emerson writes: "When we see a soul whose acts are regal,
graceful and pleasant as roses, we must thank God that such
things can be and are, and not turn sourly on the angel and say:
Crump is a better man, with his grunting resistance to all his
native devils." True enough. Yet Crump may really be the better
CRUMP, for his inner discords and second birth; and your
once-born "regal" character though indeed always better than poor
Crump, may fall far short of what he individually might be had he
only some Crump-like capacity for compunction over his own
peculiar diabolisms, graceful and pleasant and invariably
gentlemanly as these may be.

<235> If we roughly arrange human beings in classes, each class
standing for a grade of spiritual excellence, I believe we shall
find natural men and converts both sudden and gradual in all the
classes. The forms which regenerative change effects have, then,
no general spiritual significance, but only a psychological
significance. We have seen how Starbuck's laborious statistical
studies tend to assimilate conversion to ordinary spiritual
growth. Another American psychologist, Prof. George A. Coe,[127]
has analyzed the cases of seventy-seven converts or ex-candidates
for conversion, known to him, and the results strikingly confirm
the view that sudden conversion is connected with the possession
of an active subliminal self. Examining his subjects with
reference to their hypnotic sensibility and to such automatisms
as hypnagogic hallucinations, odd impulses, religious dreams
about the time of their conversion, etc., he found these
relatively much more frequent in the group of converts whose
transformation had been "striking," "striking" transformation
being defined as a change which, though not necessarily
instantaneous, seems to the subject of it to be distinctly
different from a process of growth, however rapid."[128]
Candidates for conversion at revivals are, as you know, often
disappointed: they experience nothing striking. Professor Coe
had a number of persons of this class among his seventy-seven
subjects, and they almost all, when tested by hypnotism, proved
to belong to a subclass which he calls "spontaneous," that is,
fertile in self-suggestions, as distinguished from a "passive"
subclass, to which most of the subjects of striking
transformation belonged. His inference is that self-suggestion
of impossibility had prevented the influence upon these persons
of an environment which, on the more "passive" subjects, had
easily brought forth the effects they looked for. Sharp
distinctions are difficult in these regions, and Professor Coe's
numbers are small. But his methods were careful, and the results
tally with what one might expect; and they seem, on the whole, to
justify his practical conclusion, which is that if you should
expose to a converting influence a subject in whom three factors
unite: first, pronounced emotional sensibility; second, tendency
to automatisms; and third, suggestibility of the passive type;
you might then safely predict the result: there would be a
sudden conversion, a transformation of the striking kind.

[127] In his book, The Spiritual Life, New York, 1900.

[128] Op. cit., p. 112.

Does this temperamental origin diminish the significance of the
sudden conversion when it has occurred? Not in the least, as
Professor Coe well says; for "the ultimate test of religious
values is nothing psychological, nothing definable in terms of
HOW IT HAPPENS, but something ethical, definable only in terms of

[129] Op. cit., p. 144

As we proceed farther in our inquiry we shall see that what is
attained is often an altogether new level of spiritual vitality,
a relatively heroic level, in which impossible things have become
possible, and new energies and endurances are shown. The
personality is changed, the man is born anew, whether or not his
psychological idiosyncrasies are what give the particular shape
to his metamorphosis. "Sanctification" is the technical name of
this result; and erelong examples of it shall be brought before
you. In this lecture I have still only to add a few remarks on
the assurance and peace which fill the hour of change itself.

One word more, though, before proceeding to that point, lest the
final purpose of my explanation of suddenness by subliminal
activity be misunderstood. I do indeed believe that if the
Subject have no liability to such subconscious activity, or if
his conscious fields have a hard rind of a margin that resists
incursions from beyond it, his conversion must he gradual if it
occur, and must resemble any simple growth into new habits. His
possession of a developed subliminal self, and of a leaky or
pervious margin, is thus a conditio sine qua non of the Subject's
becoming converted in the instantaneous way. But if you, being
orthodox Christians, ask me as a psychologist whether the
reference of a phenomenon to a subliminal self does not exclude
the notion of the direct presence of the Deity altogether, I have
to say frankly that as a psychologist I do not see why it
necessarily should. The lower manifestations of the Subliminal,
indeed, fall within the resources of the personal subject: his
ordinary sense-material, inattentively taken in and
subconsciously remembered and combined, will account for all his
usual automatisms. But just as our primary wide-awake
consciousness throws open our senses to the touch of things
material so it is logically conceivable that IF THERE BE higher
spiritual agencies that can directly touch us, the psychological
condition of their doing so MIGHT BE our possession of a
subconscious region which alone should yield access to them. The
hubbub of the waking life might close a door which in the dreamy
Subliminal might remain ajar or open.

Thus that perception of external control which is so essential a
feature in conversion might, in some cases at any rate, be
interpreted as the orthodox interpret it: forces transcending
the finite individual might impress him, on condition of his
being what we may call a subliminal human specimen. But in any
case the VALUE of these forces would have to be determined by
their effects, and the mere fact of their transcendency would of
itself establish no presumption that they were more divine than

I confess that this is the way in which I should rather see the
topic left lying in your minds until I come to a much later
lecture, when I hope once more to gather these dropped threads
together into more definitive conclusions. The notion of a
subconscious self certainly ought not at this point of our
inquiry to be held to EXCLUDE all notion of a higher penetration.

If there be higher powers able to impress us, they may get access
to us only through the subliminal door. (See below, p. 506 ff.)

Let us turn now to the feelings which immediately fill the hour
of the conversion experience. The first one to be noted is just
this sense of higher control. It is not always, but it is very
often present. We saw examples of it in Alline, Bradley,
Brainerd, and elsewhere. The need of such a higher controlling
agency is well expressed in the short reference which the eminent
French Protestant Adolphe Monod makes to the crisis of his own
conversion. It was at Naples in his early manhood, in the summer
of 1827.

"My sadness," he says, "was without limit, and having got entire
possession of me, it filled my life from the most indifferent
external acts to the most secret thoughts, and corrupted at their
source my feelings, my judgment, and my happiness. It was then
that I saw that to expect to put a stop to this disorder by my
reason and my will, which were themselves diseased, would be to
act like a blind man who should pretend to correct one of his
eyes by the aid of the other equally blind one. I had then no
resource save in some INFLUENCE FROM WITHOUT. I remembered the
promise of the Holy Ghost; and what the positive declarations of
the Gospel had never succeeded in bringing home to me, I learned
at last from necessity, and believed, for the first time in my
life, in this promise, in the only sense in which it answered the
needs of my soul, in that, namely, of a real external
supernatural action, capable of giving me thoughts, and taking
them away from me, and exerted on me by a God as truly master of
my heart as he is of the rest of nature. Renouncing then all
merit, all strength, abandoning all my personal resources, and
acknowledging no other title to his mercy than my own utter
misery, I went home and threw myself on my knees and prayed as I
never yet prayed in my life. From this day onwards a new
interior life began for me: not that my melancholy had
disappeared, but it had lost its sting. Hope had entered into my
heart, and once entered on the path, the God of Jesus Christ, to
whom I then had learned to give myself up, little by little did
the rest."[130]

[130] I piece together a quotation made by W. Monod, in his book
la Vie, and a letter printed in the work: Adolphe Monod: I,.
Souvenirs de sa Vie, 1885, p. 433.

It is needless to remind you once more of the admirable congruity
of Protestant theology with the structure of the mind as shown in
such experiences. In the extreme of melancholy the self that
consciously is can do absolutely nothing. It is completely
bankrupt and without resource, and no works it can accomplish
will avail. Redemption from such subjective conditions must be a
free gift or nothing, and grace through Christ's accomplished
sacrifice is such a gift.

"God," says Luther, "is the God of the humble, the miserable, the
oppressed, and the desperate, and of those that are brought even
to nothing; and his nature is to give sight to the blind, to
comfort the broken-hearted, to justify sinners, to save the very
desperate and damned. Now that pernicious and pestilent opinion
of man's own righteousness, which will not be a sinner, unclean,
miserable, and damnable, but righteous and holy, suffereth not
God to come to his own natural and proper work. Therefore God
must take this maul in hand (the law, I mean) to beat in pieces
and bring to nothing this beast with her vain confidence, that
she may so learn at length by her own misery that she is utterly
forlorn and damned. But here lieth the difficulty, that when a
man is terrified and cast down, he is so little able to raise
himself up again and say, 'Now I am bruised and afflicted enough;
now is the time of grace; now is the time to hear Christ.' The
foolishness of man's heart is so great that then he rather
seeketh to himself more laws to satisfy his conscience. 'If I
live,' saith he, 'I will amend my life: I will do this, I will
do that.' But here, except thou do the quite contrary, except
thou send Moses away with his law, and in these terrors and this
anguish lay hold upon Christ who died for thy sins, look for no
salvation. Thy cowl, thy shaven crown, thy chastity, thy
obedience, thy poverty, thy works, thy merits? what shall all
these do? what shall the law of Moses avail? If I, wretched and
damnable sinner, through works or merits could have loved the Son
of God, and so come to him, what needed he to deliver himself for
me? If I, being a wretch and damned sinner, could be redeemed by
any other price, what needed the Son of God to be given? But
because there was no other price, therefore he delivered neither
sheep, ox, gold, nor silver, but even God himself, entirely and
wholly 'for me,' even 'for me,' I say, a miserable, wretched
sinner. Now, therefore, I take comfort and apply this to MYSELF.

And this manner of applying is the very true force and power of
faith. For he died NOT to justify the righteous, but the
UN-righteous, and to make THEM the children of God."[131]

[131] Commentary on Galatians, ch. iii. verse 19, and ch. ii.
verse 20, abridged.

That is, the more literally lost you are, the more literally you
are the very being whom Christ's sacrifice has already saved.
Nothing in Catholic theology, I imagine, has ever spoken to sick
souls as straight as this message from Luther's personal
experience. As Protestants are not all sick souls, of course
reliance on what Luther exults in calling the dung of one's
merits, the filthy puddle of one's own righteousness, has come to
the front again in their religion; but the adequacy of his view
of Christianity to the deeper parts of our human mental structure
is shown by its wildfire contagiousness when it was a new and
quickening thing.

Faith that Christ has genuinely done his work was part of
what Luther meant by faith, which so far is faith in a fact
intellectually conceived of. But this is only one part of
Luther's faith, the other part being far more vital. This other
part is something not intellectual but immediate and intuitive,
the assurance, namely, that I, this individual I, just as I
stand, without one plea, etc., am saved now and forever. [132]
Professor Leuba is undoubtedly right in contending that the
conceptual belief about Christ's work, although so often
efficacious and antecedent, is really accessory and
non-essential, and that the "joyous conviction" can also come by
far other channels than this conception. It is to the joyous
conviction itself, the assurance that all is well with one, that
he would give the name of faith par excellence. "When the sense
of estrangement," he writes, "fencing man about in a narrowly
limited ego, breaks down, the individual finds himself 'at one
with all creation.' He lives in the universal life; he and man,
he and nature, he and God, are one. That state of confidence,
trust, union with all things, following upon the achievement of
moral unity, is the Faith-state. Various dogmatic beliefs
suddenly, on the advent of the faith-state, acquire a character
of certainty, assume a new reality, become an object of faith.
As the ground of assurance here is not rational, argumentation is
irrelevant. But such conviction being a mere casual offshoot of
the faith-state, it is a gross error to imagine that the chief
practical value of the faith-state is its power to stamp with the
seal of reality certain particular theological conceptions.[133]
On the contrary, its value lies solely in the fact that it is the
psychic correlate of a biological growth reducing contending
desires to one direction; a growth which expresses itself in new
affective states and new reactions; in larger, nobler, more
Christ-like activities. The ground of the specific assurance in
religious dogmas is then an affective experience. The objects of
faith may even be preposterous; the affective stream will float
them along, and invest them with unshakable certitude. The more
startling the affective experience, the less explicable it seems,
the easier it is to make it the carrier of unsubstantiated

[132] In some conversions, both steps are distinct; in this one,
for example:--

"Whilst I was reading the evangelical treatise, I was soon struck
by an expression: 'the finished work of Christ.' 'Why,' I asked
of myself, 'does the author use these terms? Why does he not say
"the atoning work"?' Then these words, 'It is finished,'
presented themselves to my mind. 'What is it that is finished?'
I asked, and in an instant my mind replied: 'A perfect expiation
for sin; entire satisfaction has been given; the debt has been
paid by the Substitute. Christ has died for our sins; not for
ours only, but for those of all men. If, then, the entire work
is finished, all the debt paid, what remains for me to do?' In
another instant the light was shed through my mind by the Holy
Ghost, and the joyous conviction was given me that nothing more
was to be done, save to fall on my knees, to accept this Saviour
and his love, to praise God forever." Autobiography of Hudson
Taylor. I translate back into English from the French
translation of Challand (Geneva, no date), the original not being

[133] Tolstoy's case was a good comment on those words. There
was almost no theology in his conversion. His faith-state was
the sense come back that life was infinite in its moral

[134] American Journal of Psychology, vii. 345-347, abridged.

The characteristics of the affective experience which, to avoid
ambiguity, should, I think, be called the state of assurance
rather than the faith-state, can be easily enumerated, though it
is probably difficult to realize their intensity, unless one has
been through the experience one's self.

The central one is the loss of all the worry, the sense that all
is ultimately well with one, the peace, the harmony, the
WILLINGNESS TO BE, even though the outer conditions should remain
the same. The certainty of God's "grace," of "justification,"
"salvation," is an objective belief that usually accompanies the
change in Christians; but this may be entirely lacking and yet
the affective peace remain the same--you will recollect the case
of the Oxford graduate: and many might be given where the
assurance of personal salvation <243> was only a later result.
A passion of willingness, of acquiescence, of admiration, is the
glowing centre of this state of mind.

The second feature is the sense of perceiving truths not known
before. The mysteries of life become lucid, as Professor Leuba
says; and often, nay usually, the solution is more or less
unutterable in words. But these more intellectual phenomena may
be postponed until we treat of mysticism.

A third peculiarity of the assurance state is the objective
change which the world often appears to undergo. "An appearance
of newness beautifies every object," the precise opposite of that
other sort of newness, that dreadful unreality and strangeness in
the appearance of the world, which is experienced by melancholy
patients, and of which you may recall my relating some
examples.[135] This sense of clean and beautiful newness within
and without is one of the commonest entries in conversion
records. Jonathan Edwards thus describes it in himself:--

[135] Above, p. 150.

"After this my sense of divine things gradually increased, and
became more and more lively, and had more of that inward
sweetness. The appearance of everything was altered; there
seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of
divine glory, in almost everything. God's excellency, his
wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in
the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds and blue sky; in the
grass, flowers, and trees; in the water and all nature; which
used greatly to fix my mind. And scarce anything, among all the
works of nature, was so sweet to me as thunder and lightning;
formerly nothing had been so terrible to me. Before, I used to
be uncommonly terrified with thunder, and to be struck with
terror when I saw a thunderstorm rising; but now, on the
contrary, it rejoices me."[136]

[136] Dwight: Life of Edwards, New York, 1830, p. 61, abridged.

<244> Billy Bray, an excellent little illiterate English
evangelist, records his sense of newness thus:--

"I said to the Lord: 'Thou hast said, they that ask shall
receive, they that seek shall find, and to them that knock the
door shall be opened, and I have faith to believe it.' In an
instant the Lord made me so happy that I cannot express what I
felt. I shouted for joy. I praised God with my whole heart. . .
. I think this was in November, 1823, but what day of the month
I do not know. I remember this, that everything looked new to
me, the people, the fields, the cattle, the trees. I was like a
new man in a new world. I spent the greater part of my time in
praising the Lord."[137]

[137] W. F. Bourne: The King's Son, a Memoir of Billy Bray,
London, Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1887, p. 9.

Starbuck and Leuba both illustrate this sense of newness by
quotations. I take the two following from Starbuck's manuscript
collection. One, a woman, says:--

"I was taken to a camp-meeting, mother and religious friends
seeking and praying for my conversion. My emotional nature was
stirred to its depths; confessions of depravity and pleading with
God for salvation from sin made me oblivious of all surroundings.
I plead for mercy, and had a vivid realization of forgiveness and
renewal of my nature. When rising from my knees I exclaimed,
'Old things have passed away, all things have become new.' It was
like entering another world, a new state of existence. Natural
objects were glorified, my spiritual vision was so clarified that
I saw beauty in every material object in the universe, the woods
were vocal with heavenly music; my soul exulted in the love of
God, and I wanted everybody to share in my joy."

The next case is that of a man:--

"I know not how I got back into the encampment, but found myself
staggering up to Rev. ----'s Holiness tent--and as it was full of
seekers and a terrible noise inside, some groaning, some
laughing, and some shouting, and by a large oak, ten feet from
the tent, I fell on my face by a bench, and tried to pray, and
every time I would call on God, something like a man's hand would
strangle me by choking. I don't know whether there were any one
around or near me or not. I thought I should surely die if I did
not get help, but just as often as I would pray, that unseen hand
was felt on my throat and my breath squeezed off. Finally
something said: 'Venture on the atonement, for you will die
anyway if you don't.' So I made one final struggle to call on
God for mercy, with the same choking and strangling, determined
to finish the sentence of prayer for Mercy, if I did strangle and
die, and the last I remember that time was falling back on the
ground with the same unseen hand on my throat. I don't know how
long I lay there or what was going on. None of my folks were
present. When I came to myself, there were a crowd around me
praising God. The very heavens seemed to open and pour down rays
of light and glory. Not for a moment only, but all day and
night, floods of light and glory seemed to pour through my soul,
and oh, how I was changed, and everything became new. My horses
and hogs and even everybody seemed changed."

This man's case introduces the feature of automatisms, which in
suggestible subjects have been so startling a feature at revivals
since, in Edwards's, Wesley's and Whitfield's time, these became
a regular means of gospel-propagation. They were at first
supposed to be semi-miraculous proofs of "power" on the part of
the Holy Ghost; but great divergence of opinion quickly arose
concerning them. Edwards, in his Thoughts on the Revival of
Religion in New England, has to defend them against their
critics; and their value has long been matter of debate even
within the revivalistic denominations.[138] They undoubtedly have
no essential spiritual significance, and although their presence
makes his conversion more memorable to the convert, it has never
been proved that converts who show them are more persevering or
fertile in good fruits than those whose change of heart has had
less violent accompaniments. On the whole, unconsciousness,
convulsions, visions, involuntary vocal utterances, and
suffocation, must be simply ascribed to the subject's having a
large subliminal region, involving nervous instability. This is
often the subject's own view of the matter afterwards. One of
Starbuck's correspondents writes, for instance:--

[138] Consult William B. Sprague: Lectures on Revivals of
Religion, New York, 1832, in the long Appendix to which the
opinions of a large number of ministers are given.

"I have been through the experience which is known as conversion.
My explanation of it is this: the subject works his emotions up
to the breaking point, at the same time resisting their physical
manifestations, such as quickened pulse, etc., and then suddenly
lets them have their full sway over his body. The relief is
something wonderful, and the pleasurable effects of the emotions
are experienced to the highest degree."

There is one form of sensory automatism which possibly deserves
special notice on account of its frequency. I refer to
hallucinatory or pseudo-hallucinatory luminous phenomena,
photisms, to use the term of the psychologists. Saint Paul's
blinding heavenly vision seems to have been a phenomenon of this
sort; so does Constantine's cross in the sky. The last case but
one which I quoted mentions floods of light and glory. Henry
Alline mentions a light, about whose externality he seems
uncertain. Colonel Gardiner sees a blazing light. President
Finney writes:--

"All at once the glory of God shone upon and round about me in a
manner almost marvelous. . . . A light perfectly ineffable shone
in my soul, that almost prostrated me on the ground. . . . This
light seemed like the brightness of the sun in every direction.
It was too intense for the eyes. . . . I think I knew something
then, by actual experience, of that light that prostrated Paul on
the way to Damascus. It was surely a light such as I could not
have endured long."[139]

[139] Memoirs, p. 34

Such reports of photisms are indeed far from uncommon. Here is
another from Starbuck's collection, where the light appeared
evidently external:--

"I had attended a series of revival services for about two weeks
off and on. Had been invited to the altar several times, all the
time becoming more deeply impressed, when finally I decided I
must do this, or I should be lost. Realization of conversion was
very vivid, like a ton's weight being lifted from my heart; a
strange light which seemed to light up the whole room (for it was
dark); a conscious supreme bliss which caused me to repeat 'Glory
to God' for a long time. Decided to be God's child for life, and
to give up my pet ambition, wealth and social position. My
former habits of life hindered my growth somewhat, but I set
about overcoming these systematically, and in one year my whole
nature was changed, i. e., my ambitions were of a different

Here is another one of Starbuck's cases, involving a luminous

"I had been clearly converted twenty-three years before, or
rather reclaimed. My experience in regeneration was then clear
and spiritual, and I had not backslidden. But I experienced
entire sanctification on the 15th day of March, 1893, about
eleven o'clock in the morning. The particular accompaniments of
the experience were entirely unexpected. I was quietly sitting
at home singing selections out of Pentecostal Hymns. Suddenly
there seemed to be a something sweeping into me and inflating my
entire being--such a sensation as I had never experienced before.

When this experience came, I seemed to be conducted around a
large, capacious, well-lighted room. As I walked with my
invisible conductor and looked around, a clear thought was coined
in my mind, 'They are not here, they are gone.' As soon as the
thought was definitely formed in my mind, though no word was
spoken, the Holy Spirit impressed me that I was surveying my
own soul. Then, for the first time in all my life, did I know
that I was cleansed from all sin, and filled with the fullness of

Leuba quotes the case of a Mr. Peek, where the luminous affection
reminds one of the chromatic hallucinations produced by the
intoxicant cactus buds called mescal by the Mexicans:--

"When I went in the morning into the fields to work, the glory of
God appeared in all his visible creation. I well remember we
reaped oats, and how every straw and head of the oats seemed, as
it were, arrayed in a kind of rainbow glory, or to glow, if I may
so express it, in the glory of God."[140]

[140] These reports of sensorial photism shade off into what are
evidently only metaphorical accounts of the sense of new
spiritual illumination, as, for instance, in Brainerd's
statement: "As I was walking in a thick grove, unspeakable glory
seemed to open to the apprehension of my soul. I do not mean any
external brightness, for I saw no such thing, nor any imagination
of a body of light in the third heavens, or anything of that
nature, but it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had
of God."

In a case like this next one from Starbuck's manuscript
collection the lighting up of the darkness is probably also

"One Sunday night, I resolved that when I got home to the ranch
where I was working, I would offer myself with my faculties and
all to God to be used only by and for him. . . . It was raining
and the roads were muddy; but this desire grew so strong that I
kneeled down by the side of the road and told God all about it,
intending then to get up and go on. Such a thing as any special
answer to my prayer never entered my mind, having been converted
by faith, but still being most undoubtedly saved. Well, while I
was praying, I remember holding out my hands to God and telling
him they should work for him, my feet walk for him, my tongue
speak for him, etc., etc., if he would only use me as his
instrument and give me a satisfying experience--when suddenly the
darkness of the night seemed lit up--I felt, realized, knew, that
God heard and answered my prayer. Deep happiness came over me; I
felt I was accepted into the inner circle of God's loved ones."

In the following case also the flash of light is metaphorical:--

"A prayer meeting had been called for at close of evening
service. The minister supposed me impressed by his discourse (a
mistake--he was dull). He came and, placing his hand upon my
shoulder, said: 'Do you not want to give your heart to God?' I
replied in the affirmative. Then said he, 'Come to the front
seat.' They sang and prayed and talked with me. I experienced
nothing but unaccountable wretchedness. They declared that the
reason why I did not 'obtain peace' was because I was not willing
to give up all to God. After about two hours the minister said
we would go home. As usual, on retiring, I prayed. In great
distress, I at this time simply said, 'Lord, I have done all I
can, I leave the whole matter with thee.' Immediately, like a
flash of light, there came to me a great peace, and I arose and
went into my parents' bedroom and said, 'I do feel so wonderfully
happy.' This I regard as the hour of conversion. It was the
hour in which I became assured of divine acceptance and favor.
So far as my life was concerned, it made little immediate

The most characteristic of all the elements of the conversion
crisis, and the last one of which I shall speak, is the ecstasy
of happiness produced. We have already heard several accounts of
it, but I will add a couple more. President Finney's is so vivid
that I give it at length:--

"All my feelings seemed to rise and flow out; and the utterance
of my heart was, 'I want to pour my whole soul out to God.' The
rising of my soul was so great that I rushed into the back room
of the front office, to pray. There was no fire and no light in
the room; nevertheless it appeared to me as if it were perfectly
light. As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if
I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me
then, nor did it for some time afterwards, that it was wholly a
mental state. On the contrary, it seemed to me that I saw him as
I would see any other man. He said nothing but looked at me in
such a manner as to break me right down at his feet. I have
always since regarded this as a most remarkable state of mind;
for it seemed to me a reality that he stood before me, and I fell
down at his feet and poured out my soul to him. I wept aloud
like a child, and made such confessions as I could with my choked
utterance. It seemed to me that I bathed his feet with my tears;
and yet I had no distinct impression that I touched him, that I
recollect. I must have continued in this state for a good while,
but my mind was too absorbed with the interview to recollect
anything that I said. But I know, as soon as my mind became calm
enough to break off from the interview, I returned to the front
office, and found that the fire that I had made of large wood was
nearly burned out. But as I turned and was about to take a seat
by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost.
Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in
my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any
recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any
person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a
manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel
the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and
through me. Indeed, it seemed to come in waves and waves of
liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It
seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly
that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings.

"No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in
my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but
I should say I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of
my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me,
one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, 'I shall die
if these waves continue to pass over me.' I said, 'Lord, I
cannot bear any more;' yet I had no fear of death.

"How long I continued in this state, with this baptism continuing
to roll over me and go through me, I do not know. But I know it
was late in the evening when a member of my choir --for I was the
leader of the choir--came into the office to see me. He was a
member of the church. He found me in this state of loud weeping,
and said to me, 'Mr. Finney, what ails you?' I could make him no
answer for some time. He then said, 'Are you in pain?' I
gathered myself up as best I could, and replied, 'No, but so
happy that I cannot live.'"

I just now quoted Billy Bray; I cannot do better than give his
own brief account of his post-conversion feelings:--

"I can't help praising the Lord. As I go along the street, I
lift up one foot, and it seems to say 'Glory'; and I lift up the
other, and it seems to say 'Amen'; and so they keep up like that
all the time I am walking."[141]

[141] I add in a note a few more records:--

"One morning, being in deep distress, fearing every moment I
should drop into hell, I was constrained to cry in earnest for
mercy, and the Lord came to my relief, and delivered my soul from
the burden and guilt of sin. My whole frame was in a tremor from
head to foot, and my soul enjoyed sweet peace. The pleasure I
then felt was indescribable. The happiness lasted about three
days, during which time I never spoke to any person about my
feelings." Autobiography of Dan Young, edited by W. P.
Strickland, New York, 1860.

"In an instant there rose up in me such a sense of God's taking
care of those who put their trust in him that for an hour all the
world was crystalline, the heavens were lucid, and I sprang to my
feet and began to cry and laugh." H. W. Beecher, quoted by

"My tears of sorrow changed to joy, and I lay there praising God
in such ecstasy of joy as only the soul who experiences it can
realize." --"I cannot express how I felt. It was as if I had
been in a dark dungeon and lifted into the light of the sun. I
shouted and I sang praise unto him who loved me and washed me
from my sins. I was forced to retire into a secret place, for
the tears did flow, and I did not wish my shopmates to see me,
and yet I could not keep it a secret."--"I experienced joy almost
to weeping."--"I felt my face must have shone like that of Moses.

I had a general feeling of buoyancy. It was the greatest joy it
was ever my lot to experience."--"I wept and laughed alternately.

I was as light as if walking on air. I felt as if I had gained
greater peace and happiness than I had ever expected to
experience." Starbuck's correspondents.

One word, before I close this lecture, on the question of the
transiency or permanence of these abrupt conversions. Some of
you, I feel sure, knowing that numerous backslidings and relapses
take place, make of these their apperceiving mass for
interpreting the whole subject, and dismiss it with a pitying
smile at so much "hysterics." Psychologically, as well as
religiously, however, this is shallow. It misses the point of
serious interest, which is not so much the duration as the nature
and quality of these shiftings of character to higher levels.
Men lapse from every level--we need no statistics to tell us
that. Love is, for instance, well known not to be irrevocable,
yet, constant or inconstant, it reveals new flights and reaches
of ideality while it lasts. These revelations form its
significance to men and women, whatever be its duration. So
with the conversion experience: that it should for even a short
time show a human being what the high- water mark of his
spiritual capacity is, this is what constitutes its
importance--an importance which backsliding cannot diminish,
although persistence might increase it. As a matter of fact, all
the more striking instances of conversion, all those, for
instance, which I have quoted, HAVE been permanent. The case of
which there might be most doubt, on account of its suggesting so
strongly an epileptoid seizure, was the case of M. Ratisbonne.
Yet I am informed that Ratisbonne's whole future was shaped by
those few minutes. He gave up his project of marriage, became a
priest, founded at Jerusalem, where he went to dwell, a mission
of nuns for the conversion of the Jews, showed no tendency to use
for egotistic purposes the notoriety given him by the peculiar
circumstances of his conversion--which, for the rest, he could
seldom refer to without tears--and in short remained an exemplary
son of the Church until he died, late in the 80's, if I remember

The only statistics I know of, on the subject of the duration of
conversions, are those collected for Professor Starbuck by Miss
Johnston. They embrace only a hundred persons, evangelical
church-members, more than half being Methodists. According to
the statement of the subjects themselves, there had been
backsliding of some sort in nearly all the cases, 93 per cent. of
the women, 77 per cent. of the men. Discussing the returns more
minutely, Starbuck finds that only 6 per cent. are relapses from
the religious faith which the conversion confirmed, and that the
backsliding complained of is in most only a fluctuation in the
ardor of sentiment. Only six of the hundred cases report a
change of faith. Starbuck's conclusion is that the effect of
conversion is to bring with it "a changed attitude towards life,
which is fairly constant and permanent, although the feelings
fluctuate. . . . In other words, the persons who have passed
through conversion, having once taken a stand for the religious
life, tend to feel themselves identified with it, no matter how
much their religious enthusiasm declines."[142]

[142] Psychology of Religion, pp. 360, 357.

Lectures XI, XII, and XIII


The last lecture left us in a state of expectancy. What may the
practical fruits for life have been, of such movingly happy
conversions as those we heard of? With this question the really
important part of our task opens, for you remember that we began
all this empirical inquiry not merely to open a curious chapter
in the natural history of human consciousness, but rather to
attain a spiritual judgment as to the total value and positive
meaning of all the religious trouble and happiness which we have
seen. We must, therefore, first describe the fruits of the
religious life, and then we must judge them. This divides our
inquiry into two distinct parts. Let us without further preamble
proceed to the descriptive task.

It ought to be the pleasantest portion of our business in these
lectures. Some small pieces of it, it is true, may be painful,
or may show human nature in a pathetic light, but it will be
mainly pleasant, because the best fruits of religious experience
are the best things that history has to show. They have always
been esteemed so; here if anywhere is the genuinely strenuous
life; and to call to mind a succession of such examples as I have
lately had to wander through, though it has been only in the
reading of them, is to feel encouraged and uplifted and washed in
better moral air.

The highest flights of charity, devotion, trust, patience,
bravery to which the wings of human nature have spread themselves
have been flown for religious ideals. I can do no better than
quote, as to this, some remarks which Sainte-Beuve in his History
of Port-Royal makes on the results of conversion or the state of

"Even from the purely human point of view," Sainte-Beuve says,
"the phenomenon of grace must still appear sufficiently
extraordinary, eminent, and rare, both in its nature and in its
effects, to deserve a closer study. For the soul arrives thereby
at a certain fixed and invincible state, a state which is
genuinely heroic, and from out of which the greatest deeds which
it ever performs are executed. Through all the different forms
of communion, and all the diversity of the means which help to
produce this state, whether it be reached by a jubilee, by a
general confession, by a solitary prayer and effusion, whatever
in short to be the place and the occasion, it is easy to
recognize that it is fundamentally one state in spirit and
fruits. Penetrate a little beneath the diversity of
circumstances, and it becomes evident that in Christians of
different epochs it is always one and the same modification by
which they are affected: there is veritably a single fundamental
and identical spirit of piety and charity, common to those who
have received grace; an inner state which before all things is
one of love and humility, of infinite confidence in God, and of
severity for one's self, accompanied with tenderness for others.
The fruits peculiar to this condition of the soul have the same
savor in all, under distant suns and in different surroundings,
in Saint Teresa of Avila just as in any Moravian brother of

[143] Sainte-Beuve: Port-Royal, vol. i. pp. 95 and 106,

Sainte-Beuve has here only the more eminent instances of
regeneration in mind, and these are of course the instructive
ones for us also to consider. These devotees have often laid
their course so differently from other men that, judging them by
worldly law, we might be tempted to call them monstrous
aberrations from the path of nature. I begin therefore by asking
a general psychological question as to what the inner conditions
are which may make one human character differ so extremely from

I reply at once that where the character, as something
distinguished from the intellect, is concerned, the causes of
human diversity lie chiefly in our differing susceptibilities of
emotional excitement, and in the different impulses and
inhibitions which these bring in their train. Let me make this
more clear.

Speaking generally, our moral and practical attitude, at any
given time, is always a resultant of two sets of forces within
us, impulses pushing us one way and obstructions and inhibitions
holding us back. "Yes! yes!" say the impulses; "No! no!" say the
inhibitions. Few people who have not expressly reflected on the
matter realize how constantly this factor of inhibition is upon
us, how it contains and moulds us by its restrictive pressure
almost as if we were fluids pent within the cavity of a jar. The
influence is so incessant that it becomes subconscious. All of
you, for example, sit here with a certain constraint at this
moment, and entirely without express consciousness of the fact,
because of the influence of the occasion. If left alone in the
room, each of you would probably involuntarily rearrange himself,
and make his attitude more "free and easy." But proprieties and
their inhibitions snap like cobwebs if any great emotional
excitement supervenes. I have seen a dandy appear in the street
with his face covered with shaving-lather because a house across
the way was on fire; and a woman will run among strangers in her
nightgown if it be a question of saving her baby's life or her
own. Take a self-indulgent woman's life in general. She will
yield to every inhibition set by her disagreeable sensations, lie
late in bed, live upon tea or bromides, keep indoors from the
cold. Every difficulty finds her obedient to its "no." But make
a mother of her, and what have you? Possessed by maternal
excitement, she now confronts wakefulness, weariness, and toil
without an instant of hesitation or a word of complaint. The
inhibitive power of pain over her is extinguished wherever the
baby's interests are at stake. The inconveniences which this
creature occasions have become, as James Hinton says, the glowing
heart of a great joy, and indeed are now the very conditions
whereby the joy becomes most deep.

This is an example of what you have already heard of as the
"expulsive power of a higher affection." But be the affection
high or low, it makes no difference, so long as the excitement it
brings be strong enough. In one of Henry Drummond's discourses
he tells of an inundation in India where an eminence with a
bungalow upon it remained unsubmerged, and became the refuge of a
number of wild animals and reptiles in addition to the human

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest