Thoughts on Religious Experience

Archibald Alexander, 1844

Causes of diversity in experience continued—Effect of temperament—Melancholy—Advice to the friends of people thus affected—Illustrative cases—Causes of melancholy and insanity

We have before shown how the principle of spiritual life is affected in its appearance by two circumstances—the degree of vigor given to it in its commencement, and the degree of knowledge and maturity of judgment which one may possess above another. We now come to another pregnant cause of the great variety which is found in the exercises and comforts of real Christians, and that is the difference of temperament which is so familiar, and which so frequently modifies the characters, as well as the feelings of men in other matters. There can be no doubt, I think, that the susceptibility of lively emotion is exceedingly different in men under the same circumstances. People of strong affections and ardent temperament, upon an unexpected bereavement of a beloved wife or child, are thrown into an agony of grief which is scarcely tolerable; while those of a cold, phlegmatic temperament seem to suffer no exquisite anguish from this or any other cause. Not that they possess more fortitude or resignation, for the contrary may be the fact; but their susceptibilities are less acute. And this disparity appears in nothing more remarkably than in the tendency to entertain different degrees of hope or fear in similar circumstances. For while some will hope whenever there is the smallest ground for a favorable result, others are sure to fear the worst which can possibly happen; and their apprehensions are proportioned to the magnitude of the interest at stake.

Now, is it amazing that men's religious feelings should be affected by the same causes? When two exercised people speak of their convictions, their sorrows and their hopes, is it not to be expected that with the same truths before their minds, those of a optimistic temperament will experience more sensible emotions, and, upon the same evidence, entertain more confident hopes than those of a contrary disposition? And, of necessity, the joy of the one will be much more lively than that of the other. Thus, two people may be found, whose experience may have been very similar as to their conviction of sin and exercise of faith and repentance; and yet the one will express a strong confidence of having passed from death unto life, while the other is afraid to express a trembling hope. Of these two classes of Christians, the first is the more comfortable; while the latter the safer, as being unwilling to be satisfied with any evidence but the strongest.

But there is not only a wide difference from this natural cause of the liveliness of the emotions of joy and sorrow, and of the confidence of the hopes entertained—but usually a very different mode of expression. Optimistic people, from the very impulse of ardent feeling, have a tendency to express things in strong language constantly verging on exaggeration. They are apt to use superlatives and strong emphasis, as wishing to convey a full idea of their feelings, while those of a colder temperament and more timid disposition fall below the reality in their descriptions, and are cautious not to convey to others too high an idea of what they have experienced. This diversity, as the cause is permanent, characterizes the religious experience of these respective classes of Christians through their whole pilgrimage, and may be equally manifest on a dying bed. Hence it appears how very uncertain a knowledge of the internal state of the heart we obtain from the words and professions of serious people. It should also serve to shake the vain confidence of those who imagine that they can decide with certainty whether another is a truly converted person, merely from hearing a narrative of his religious experience.

Two people may employ the same words and phrases to express their feelings, and yet those feelings may be specifically different. Each may say, "I felt the love of God shed abroad in my heart", (Rom 5:5) which in the one case may be the genuine affection described in these words, while in the other it may be a mere transport of natural feeling, a mere selfish persuasion of being a favorite of heaven, or a high state of nervous exhilaration, produced by a physiological cause. Both these people may be sincere, according to the popular acceptance of that term; that is, both have really experienced a lively emotion, and both mean to express the simple fact; and yet the one is a real Christian, while the other may be in an unregenerate state.

Another thing which ought to destroy this foolish persuasion that we can certainly determine the true spiritual condition of another person by hearing from him a narrative of his experience, is that any words or phrases which can be used by a really pious man may be learned by a designing hypocrite. What is to hinder such a one from using the very language and imitating the very manner in which true Christians have been heard to relate their experience? What can prevent deceivers from catching up the narrative of godly exercises so abundantly found in religious biography, and applying it to themselves, as though they had experience of these things? While only two classes of Christians have been mentioned, yet in each of these there are many subordinate divisions, to describe all of which would be tedious and not for edification. The reader can readily apply the general principles to every variety of experience, modified by this cause.

In the preceding remarks, the healthy, constitutional temperament has alone been brought into view; but by far the most distressing cases of conscience with which the spiritual physician has to deal, are owing to a morbid temperament. As most people are inclined to conceal their spiritual distresses, few have any conception of the number of people who are habitually suffering under the frightful malady of melancholy. With some, this disease is not permanent—but occasional. They have only periodical paroxysms of deep religious depression; and they may be said to have their compensation for the dark and cloudy day, by being favored with one of peculiar brightness, in quick succession. If their gloom was uninterrupted, it would be overwhelming—but after a dark night, rises a lovely morning without the shadow of a cloud.

This rapid and great alternation of feeling is found in those who possess what may be called a mercurial temperament. It is connected with a nervous system peculiarly excitable, and exceedingly liable to temporary derangement. A rough east wind is sufficient to blow up clouds which completely obscure the cheerful sunshine of the soul; while the wholesome zephyrs as quickly drive all these gloomy clouds away. Such people always have a stomach easily disordered, and one ounce of improper food, or one too much of wholesome food, is cause sufficient to derange the nerves and depress the spirits. The lack of refreshing sleep, or wakefulness, is another cause of the same effects; and in its turn, is an effect from disordered nerves.

But physical causes are not the only ones which produce this painful state of feeling. It is often produced, in a moment, by hearing some unpleasant news, or by the occurrence of some disagreeable event. But as was hinted, when these people of nervous temperament are relieved from a fit of depression, their sky is uncommonly free from clouds; their hopes are lively, their spirits buoyant, and nothing can trouble them. These alternations of day and night, of sunshine and darkness, must of necessity affect the feelings in regard to all matters, temporal and spiritual; for as in a dark night every object appears black, so when the mind is overcast with gloomy clouds, every view must partake of the same aspect. To many people this description will be unintelligible; but by others, it will be recognized at once as a just view of their own case. But when religious melancholy becomes a fixed disease, it may be reckoned among the heaviest calamities to which our suffering nature is subject. It resists all argument and rejects every topic of consolation, from whatever source it may proceed. It feeds upon distress and despair and is displeased even with the suggestion or offer of relief. The mind thus affected seizes on those ideas and truths which are most awful and terrifying. Any doctrine which excludes all hope, is congenial to the melancholy spirit; it seizes on such things with an unnatural avidity, and will not let them go.

There is no subject on which it is more vain and dangerous to theorize than our religious experience. It is therefore of unspeakable importance that ministers of the gospel, who have to deal with diseased consciences, should have had some experience themselves in these matters. This, no doubt, is one reason why some, intended to be "sons of consolation" (Acts 4:36) to others, have been brought through deep waters, and have been buffeted by many storms, before they obtained a settled peace of mind. It is a proper object of inquiry, why, in our day, so little is heard about the spiritual troubles of which we read so much in the treatises of writers of a former age. It can scarcely be supposed that the faith of modern Christians is so much stronger than that of believers who lived in other days, that they are enabled easily to triumph over their melancholy fears and despondency.

Neither can we suppose that Satan is less busy in casting his fiery darts, and in attempts to drive the children of God to despair. There is reason to fear, that among Christians of the present time, there is less deep, spiritual exercise than in former days; and as little is said on this subject in public discourses, there may be greater concealment of the troubles of this kind than if these subjects were more frequently discussed. It is observable that all those who have experienced this sore affliction and have been mercifully delivered from it, are very solicitous to administer relief and comfort to others who are still exposed to the peltings of the pitiless storm; and these are the people who feel the tenderest sympathy with afflicted consciences, and know how to bear with the infirmities and waywardness which accompany a state of religious melancholy. It is also remarkable that very generally, those who have been recovered from such diseases, attribute no small part of their troubles to a morbid temperament of body, and accordingly, in their counsels to the melancholy—they lay particular stress on the regular, healthy state of the body.

About the close of the seventeenth century, Timothy Rogers, 1658-1728, a pious and able minister of London, fell into a state of deep melancholy; and such was the distressing darkness of his mind, that he gave up all hope of the mercy of God, and believed himself to be a vessel of wrath, designed for destruction, for the praise of the glorious justice of the Almighty. His sad condition was known to many pious ministers and people throughout the country, who, it is believed, were earnest and incessant in their supplications in his behalf. And these intercessions were not ineffectual; for it pleased God to grant a complete deliverance to His suffering servant. And having received comfort of the Lord, he was exceedingly desirous to be instrumental in administering the same comfort to others, with which he himself had been comforted. He therefore wrote several treatises with this object in view, which are well calculated to be of service to those laboring under spiritual distress. One of these is entitled, 'Recovery from Sickness', another, 'Consolation for the Afflicted', and a third, 'A Discourse on Trouble of Mind, and the Disease of Melancholy'. In the preface to this last, the author gives directions to the friends of people laboring under religious melancholy, how to treat them. The substance of these, I will now communicate to the reader.

"1. Look upon your distressed friends as under one of the worst distempers to which this miserable life is exposed. Melancholy incapacitates them for thought or action: it confounds and disturbs all their thoughts and fills them with vexation and anguish. I verily believe, that when this malignant state of mind is deeply fixed and has spread its deleterious influence over every part, it is as vain to attempt to resist it by reasoning and rational motives—as it is to oppose a fever or the gout or pleurisy. One of the very worst attendants of this disease is the lack of sleep, by which in other distresses men are relieved and refreshed; but in this disease, either sleep flies far away, or is so disturbed that the poor sufferer, instead of being refreshed, is like one on the rack. The faculties of the soul are weakened, and all their operations disturbed and clouded; and the poor body languishes and pines away at the same time.

And that which renders this disease more formidable is its long continuance. It is a long time often before it comes to its height; and it is usually as tedious in its declension. It is, in every respect, sad and overwhelming; a state of darkness that has no discernible beams of light. It generally begins in the body and then conveys its venom to the mind. I pretend not to tell you what medicines will cure it, for I know of none. I leave you to advise with such as are skilled in medicine, and especially to such doctors as have experienced something of it themselves; for it is impossible to understand the nature of it in any other way than by experience. There is danger, as Richard Greenham says, 'that the bodily physician will look no further than the body; while the spiritual physician will totally disregard the body, and look only at the mind'.

"2. Treat those who are under this disease with tender compassion. Remember also that you are liable to the same affliction; for however brisk your spirits and lively your feelings now, you may meet with such reverses, with such long and sharp afflictions, as will sink your spirits. Many, not naturally inclined to melancholy, have, by overwhelming and repeated calamities, been sunk into this dark gulf.

"3. Never use harsh language to your friends when under the disease of melancholy. This will only serve to fret and perplex them the more—but will never benefit them. I know that the counsel of some is to rebuke and chide them on all occasions; but I dare confidently say that such advisers never felt the disease themselves; for if they had, they would know that thus they do but pour oil into the flames, and chafe and exasperate their wounds, instead of healing them. John Dod, 1549-1645, by reason of his mild, meek and merciful spirit, was reckoned one of the fittest people to deal with those thus afflicted. Never was any person more tender and compassionate, as all will be convinced, who will read the accounts of Mr. Peacock and Mrs. Drake, both of whom were greatly relieved by his conversation.

"4. If you would possess any influence over your friends in this unhappy state of mind, you must be careful not to express any lack of confidence in what they relate of their own feelings and distresses. On this point there is often a great mistake. When they speak of their frightful and distressing apprehensions, it is common for friends to reply, 'that this is all imaginary'—'nothing but fancy', 'an unfounded whim'. Now the disease is a real one, and their misery is as real as any experienced by man. It is true, their imagination is disordered—but this is merely the effect of a deeper disease. These afflicted people never can believe that you have any real sympathy with their misery, or feel any compassion for them, unless you believe what they say.

"5. Do not urge your melancholy friends to do what is out of their power. They are like people whose bones are broken, and who are incapacitated for action. Their disease is accompanied with perplexing and tormenting thoughts; if you can innocently divert them, you would do them a great kindness; but do not urge them to anything which requires close and intent thinking; this will only increase the disease. But you will ask, ought we not to urge them to hear the Word of God? I answer, if they are so far gone in the disease as to be in continual, unremitting anguish, they are not capable of hearing, on account of the painful disorder of their minds. But if their disorder is not come to such a distressing height, you may kindly and gently persuade them to attend on the preaching of the Word; but beware of using an overbearing and violent method. The method pursued by John Dod with Mrs. Drake should be imitated. 'The burden which overloaded her soul was so great, that we never dared add any thereunto—but fed her with all encouragements, she being too apt to overload herself, and to despair upon any addition of fuel to that fire which was inwardly consuming her. And so, wherever she went to hear, notice was given to the minister officiating, that he had such a hearer, and by this means she received no discouragement from hearing.'

"6. Do not attribute the effects of mere disease to the devil; although I do not deny that he has an agency in producing some diseases; especially, by harassing and disturbing the mind to such a degree, that the body suffers with it. But it is very unwise to ascribe every feeling and every word of the melancholy man to Satan; whereas, many of these are as natural consequences of bodily disease, as the symptoms of a fever, which the poor sufferer can no more avoid, than the sick man can keep himself from sighing and groaning. Many will say to such an one, 'Why do you so pore over your case and thus gratify the devil?', whereas it is the very nature of the disease to cause such fixed musings. You might as well say to a man in a fever, 'Why are you not well, why will you be sick?' Some, indeed, suppose that the melancholy hug their disease, and are unwilling to give it up—but you might as well suppose that a man would be pleased with lying on a bed of thorns, or in a fiery furnace. No doubt the devil knows how to work on minds thus diseased, and by shooting his fiery darts he endeavors to drive them to utter despair. But if you persuade them that all which they experience is from the devil, you may induce the opinion in them that they are actually possessed of the evil one; which has been the unhappy condition of some whose minds were disordered. I would not have you to bring a railing accusation even against the devil, neither must you falsely accuse your friends by saying that they gratify him.

"7. Do not express much surprise or wonder at anything which melancholy people say or do. What will not they say, who are in despair of God's mercy? What will not they do, who think themselves lost forever? You know that even such a man as Job cursed his day, so that the Lord charged him with 'darkening counsel by words without knowledge'. Do not wonder that they give expression to bitter complaints; the tongue will always be speaking of the aching tooth. Their soul is sore vexed, and although they get no good by complaining, yet they cannot but complain, to find themselves in such a doleful case. And they can say with David, 'I am weary with my groaning: all the night make I my bed to swim. I water my couch with my tears'; yet they cannot forbear to groan and weep more, until their very eyes be consumed with grief. Let no sharp words of theirs provoke you to talk sharply to them. Sick people are apt to be peevish, and it would be a great weakness in you not to bear with them, when you see that a long and sore disease has deprived them of their former good temper.

"8. Do not tell them any frightful stories, nor recount to them the sad disasters which have overtaken others. Their hearts already meditate terror, and by every alarming thing of which they hear they are the more terrified, and their disordered imagination is prepared to seize upon every frightful image which is presented. The hearing of sad things always causes them more violent agitations. Yet you must avoid merriment and levity in their presence, for this would lead them to think that you have no sympathy with them, nor concern for them. A mixture of gravity and affableness will best suit them; and if I might advise, I would counsel parents not to put their children, who are naturally inclined to melancholy, to learning, or to any employment which requires much study; lest they should at length be preyed upon by their own thoughts.

"9. Do not, however, think it needless to talk with them. But do not speak as if you thought their disease would be of long continuance; for this is the prospect which appears most gloomy to the melancholy. Rather encourage them to hope for speedy deliverance. Endeavor to revive their spirits by declaring that God can give them relief in a moment, and that He has often done so with others; that He can quickly heal their disease, and cause His amiable and reconciled face to shine upon them.

"10. It will be useful to tell them of others who have been in the same state of suffering and yet have been delivered. It is, indeed, true, that they who are depressed by such a load of grief are with difficulty persuaded that any were ever in such a condition as they are. They think themselves to be more wicked than Cain or Judas, and view their own cases to be entirely singular. It will, therefore, be important to relate real cases of deliverance from similar distress and darkness. Several such cases have been known to me, as that of Mr. Rosewell, and also Mr. Porter, both ministers of the gospel. The latter was six years under the pressure of melancholy; yet both these experienced complete deliverance, and afterwards rejoiced in the light of God's countenance. I myself was near two years in great pain of body, and greater pain of soul, and without any prospect of peace or help; and yet God recovered me by His sovereign grace and mercy. Robert Bruce, 1554-1631, minister in Edinburgh, was twenty years in terrors of conscience, and yet delivered afterwards. And so of many others, who after a dark and stormy night, were blessed with the cheerful light of returning day. John Foxe, in his Book of Martyrs, gives an account of a certain John Glover, who was worn and consumed with inward trouble for five years, so that he had no comfort in his food, nor in his sleep, nor in any enjoyment of life. He was so perplexed, as if he had been in the deepest pit of hell, and yet this good servant of God, after all these horrid temptations and buffetings of Satan, was delivered from all his trouble, and the effect was such a degree of mortification of sin, that he appeared as one already in heaven.

"11. The next thing which you are to do for your melancholy friends is to pray for them. As they have not light and composure to pray for themselves, let your eyes weep for them in secret, and there let your souls melt in fervent holy prayers. You know that none but God alone can help them. Mr. Peacock said to John Dod, and his other friends, "Take not the name of God in vain, by praying for such a reprobate." Mr. Dod replied, "If God stirs up your friends to pray for you, He will stir up Himself to hear their prayers." You ought to consider that nothing but prayer can do them good. It is an obstinate disease that nothing else will overcome. Those who can cure themselves by resorting to wine and company, were never under this disease.

"12. Not only pray for them yourself—but engage other Christian friends also to pray for them. When many good people join their requests together, their cry is more acceptable and prevailing. When the church united in prayer for Peter in chains, he was soon delivered, and in the very time of their prayers. All believers have, through Christ, a great interest in heaven, and the Father is willing to grant what they unitedly and importunately ask in the name of His dear Son. I myself have been greatly helped by the prayers of others, and I heartily thank all those especially who set apart particular days to remember at a throne of grace my distressed condition. Blessed be God that He did not turn away His mercy from me, nor turn a deaf ear to their supplications!

"13. Put your poor afflicted friends in mind, continually—of the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ. Often impress on their minds that He is merciful and gracious; that as far as the heavens are above the earth, so far are His thoughts above their thoughts; His thoughts of mercy above their self-condemning, guilty thoughts. Teach them, as much as you can, to look unto God, by the great Mediator, for grace and strength; and not too much to pore over their own souls, where there is so much darkness and unbelief. And turn away their thoughts from the decrees of God. Show them what great sinners God has pardoned, and encourage them to believe and to hope for mercy. When Mrs. Drake was in her deplorable state of darkness, she would send a description of her case to distinguished ministers, concealing her name, to know whether such a creature, without faith, hope, or love to God or man—hardhearted, without natural affection, who had resisted and abused all means, could have any hope of going to heaven? Their answer was, that such like, and much worse, might by the mercy of God be received into favor, converted and saved; which did much allay her trouble. 'For,' said she, 'the fountain of all my misery has been that I sought that in the 'law'—which I should have found in the 'gospel'; and for that in myself, which was only to be found in Christ.' 'From my own experience, I can testify,' says Mr. Rogers, 'that the mild and gentle way of dealing with such is the best.'"

A volume might be written on the subject of religious melancholy, and such a volume is much needed; but it would be difficult to find a person qualified for the undertaking. We have some books written by pious men; and the subject is handled in medical treatises on insanity; but, to do it justice, physiological knowledge must be combined with an accurate acquaintance with the experience of Christians. The spiritual physician, who has the cure of diseased souls, takes much less pains to inquire minutely and exactly into the maladies of his patients, than is observable in physicians of the body. I have often admired the alacrity and perseverance with which medical students attend upon anatomical and physiological lectures, although often the exhibitions are extremely repulsive to our natural feelings. The patience and ingenuity with which the men of this profession make experiments, are highly worthy of imitation.

Many of our young preachers, when they go forth on their important errand, are poorly qualified to direct the doubting conscience or to administer safe consolation to those troubled in spirit. And in modern preaching there is little account made of the various distressing cases of deep affliction under which many serious people are suffering. If we want counsel on subjects of this kind, we must go back to the old writers; but as there is now small demand for such works, they are fast sinking into oblivion; and their place is not likely to be supplied by any works which the prolific press now pours forth. It is, however, a pleasing circumstance, that the writings of so many of our old English divines have recently been reprinted in London. But still, many valuable treatises are destined to oblivion.

The only object which I have in view in introducing this subject is to inquire, what connection there is between real experimental religion and melancholy. And I must in the first place endeavor to remove a prevalent prejudice, that in all religious people there is a strong tendency to melancholy. Indeed, there are not a few who confound these two things so completely, that they have no other idea of becoming religious, than sinking into a state of perpetual gloom. Such people as these are so far removed from all just views of the nature of religion, that I shall not attempt at present to correct their errors. There are others, who entertain the opinion that deep religious impressions tend to produce that state of mind called melancholy; and not only so—but they suppose that in many cases insanity is the consequence of highly raised religious affections.

The fact cannot be denied that religion is often the subject which dwells on the minds of both the melancholy and the insane. But I am of opinion that we are here in danger of reversing the order of nature, and putting the effect in the place of the cause. Religion does not produce melancholy—but melancholy turns the thoughts to religion. People of a melancholy temperament seize on such ideas as are most awful, and which furnish the greatest opportunity of indulging in despondency and despair. Sometimes, however, it is not religion which occupies the minds and thoughts of the melancholy—but their own health, which they imagine, without reason, to be declining; or their estates, which they apprehend to be wasting away, and abject poverty and beggary stare them in the face.

Frequently this disease alienates the mind entirely from religion, and the unhappy victim of it refuses to attend upon any religious duties, or to be present where they are performed. Frequently it assumes the form of monomania—or a fixed misapprehension in regard to some one thing. The celebrated and excellent William Cowper labored for years under one of the most absurd hallucinations respecting a single point; and in that point, his belief—though invincible—was repugnant to the whole of his religious creed. He imagined that he had received from the Almighty a command, at a certain time, when in a fit of insanity, to kill himself; and as a punishment for disobedience, he had forfeited a seat in paradise. And so deep was this impression, that he would attend on no religious worship, public or private; and yet at this very time took a lively interest in the advancement of Christ's kingdom; and his judgment was so sound on other matters, that such men as John Newton and Thomas Scott were in the habit of consulting with him on all difficult points. The case of this man of piety and genius was used by the enemies of religion, and particularly by the enemies of Calvinism, as an argument against the creed which he had embraced; whereas his disease was at the worst, before he had experienced anything of religion, or had embraced the tenets of Calvin. And let it be remembered that it was by turning his attention to the consolations of the gospel that his excellent physician was successful in restoring his mind to tranquility and comfort; and the world will one day learn that, of all the remedies for this malady, the pure doctrines of grace are the most effectual to resuscitate the melancholy mind.

This is, in fact, a bodily disease, by which the mind is influenced and darkened. Thus it was received by the ancient Greeks; for the term is compounded of two Greek words which signify black bile. How near they were to the truth in assigning the physical cause which produces the disease, I leave to others to determine. Philosophers have often erred egregiously by referring all such cases to mental or moral causes. It is probable, even when the disease is brought on by strong impressions on the mind, that by these, physical derangement occurs. To reason with a man against the views which arise from melancholy is commonly as inefficacious as reasoning against bodily pain! I have long made this a criterion, to ascertain whether the dejection experienced, was owing to a physical cause; for in that case, argument, though demonstrative, has no effect. Still such people should be affectionately conversed with; and their peculiar opinions and views should rarely be contradicted. Cases often occur in which there is a mixture of moral and physical causes; and these should be treated in reference to both sources of their affliction.

Melancholy is sometimes hereditary, and often constitutional. When such people are relieved for a while, they are apt to relapse into the same state as did William Cowper. The late excellent and venerable James Hall, of North Carolina, was of a melancholy temperament, and after finishing his education at Princeton, he fell into a gloomy dejection, which interrupted his studies and labors for more than a year. After his restoration, he labored successfully and comfortably in the ministry for many years, even to old age; but at last was overtaken again, and entirely overwhelmed by this terrible malady. Of all men that I ever saw, he had the tenderest sympathy with people laboring under religious despondency. When on a journey, I have known him to travel miles out of his way to converse with a sufferer of this kind; and his manner was most tender and affectionate in speaking to such.

I have remarked, that people who gave no symptoms of this disease until the decline of life, have then fallen under its power, owing to some change in the constitution at that period, or some change in their active pursuits. I recollect two cases of overwhelming melancholy in people who appeared in their former life as remote from it as any that I ever knew. The first was a man of extraordinary talents and eloquence, bold and decisive in his temper, and fond of company and good cheer. When about fifty-five years of age, without any external cause to produce the effect, his spirits began to sink, and feelings of melancholy to seize upon him. He avoided company; but I had frequent occasion to see him, and sometimes he could be engaged in conversation, when he would speak as judiciously as before; but he soon reverted to his dark melancholy mood. On one occasion he mentioned his case to me, and observed with emphasis, that he had no power whatever to resist the disease, and, said he, with despair in his countenance, "I shall soon be utterly overwhelmed." And so it turned out, for the disease advanced until it ended in the worst form of mania, and soon terminated his life. The other was the case of a gentleman who had held office in the American army during the revolutionary war. About the same age, or a little later, he lost his cheerfulness, which had never been interrupted before, and by degrees sank into a most deplorable state of melancholy which, as in the former case, soon ended in death. In this case, the first thing which I noticed was a morbid sensibility of the moral sense, which filled him with remorse for acts which had little or no moral turpitude attached to them.

I would state then, as the result of all my observation, that true religion, in its regular and rational exercise, has no tendency to melancholy or insanity—but the contrary; and that religion is the most effectual remedy for this disease, whatever be its cause. But melancholy people are very apt to seize on the dark side of religion, as affording food for the morbid state of their minds. True Christians, as being subject to like diseases with others, may become melancholic—but not in consequence of their piety: but in this melancholy condition they are in a more comfortable, as well as in a safer state than others. They may relinquish all their hopes—but they cannot divest themselves of their pious feelings.

I have said nothing respecting the supposed tendency of strong religious feelings to produce INSANITY, for what has been said respecting melancholy is equally applicable to this subject. Indeed, I am of opinion that melancholy is a species of insanity; and in its worst form, the most appalling species; for in most cases insane people seem to have many enjoyments, arising out of their strange misconceptions—but the victim of melancholy is miserable; he is often suffering under the most horrible of all calamities—black despair. When a child, I used to tremble when I read Bunyan's account, in his Pilgrim, of the man shut up in the iron cage. And in the year 1791, when I first visited the Pennsylvania Hospital, I saw a man there who had arrived a few days before, said to be in a religious melancholy and to be in despair. He had made frequent attempts on his own life, and all instruments by which he might accomplish that direful purpose were carefully removed. Having never been accustomed to see insane people, the spectacle of so many deprived of reason made a solemn impression on my mind; but although some were raving and blaspheming in their cells, and others confined in straitjackets, the sight of no one so affected me as that of this man in despair. Although near half a century has elapsed since I beheld his sorrowful countenance, there is still a vivid picture of it in my imagination. We spoke to him—but he returned no answer, except that he once raised his despairing eyes—but immediately cast them down again. Whether this man had been the subject of any religious impressions, I did not learn. But this one thing I must testify, that I never knew the most pungent convictions of sin to terminate in insanity; and as to the affections of love to God and the lively hope of everlasting life producing insanity, it is too absurd for any one to believe it.

I do not dispute, however, that wild enthusiasm may have a tendency to insanity; and some people are so ignorant of the nature of true religion as to confound it with enthusiasm. I will go further and declare that, after much thought on the subject of enthusiasm, I am unable to account for the effects produced by it, in any other way than by supposing that it is a case of real insanity. Diseases of this class are the more dangerous because they are manifestly contagious. The very looks and tones of an enthusiast are felt to be powerful by everyone; and when the nervous system of any one is in a state easily susceptible of emotions from such a cause, the dominion of reason is overthrown, and wild imagination and irregular emotion govern the infatuated person, who readily embraces all the extravagant opinions, and receives all the disturbing impressions which belong to the party infected.

Without a supposition such as the foregoing, how can you account for the fact, that an educated man and popular preacher, and a wife, intelligent and judicious above most, having a family of beloved children, should separate from each other, relinquish all the comforts of domestic life, and a pleasant and promising congregation, to connect themselves with a people who are the extreme of all enthusiasts—the Shakers? But such facts have been witnessed in our own times, and in no small numbers. In a town in New Hampshire, the writer, when in the neighborhood, was told of the case of a young preacher who visited the Shaker settlement out of curiosity to see them dance, in which exercise their principal worship consists: but, while he stood and looked on, he was seized with the same spirit, and began to shake and dance too; and never returned—but remained in the society. But, there being no demand for his learning or preaching talents, whatever they might be—and he being an able-bodied man, they employed him in building stone fences. This species of infatuation, which is called enthusiasm, is apt to degenerate into bitterness and malignity of spirit towards all who do not embrace it, and then it is termed fanaticism.

This species of insanity, as I must be permitted to call it, differs from other kinds in that it is social, or affects large numbers in the same way, and binds them together by the link of close fraternity. It agrees with other kinds of monomania, in that the aberration of mind relates to one subject, while the judgment may be sound in other matters. No people know how to manage their agricultural, horticultural, and mechanical business more skillfully and successfully than the Shakers. And the newer sect of Mormons would soon settle down to peaceable industry, if the people would let them alone. This country promises to be the theater of all conceivable forms of enthusiasm and fanaticism; and as long as these misguided people pursue their own course without disturbing other people, they should be left to their own delusions, as it relates to the civil power; but if any of them should be impelled by their fanatical spirit to disturb the peace, they should be treated like other maniacs.

The causes of melancholy and insanity, whether physical or moral, cannot easily be explored. The physician will speak confidently about a lesion of the brain—but when insane people have been subjected to a postmortem examination, the brain very seldom exhibits any appearance of derangement. The philosopher, on the other hand, thinks only of moral causes, and attributes the disease to such of this class as are known to have existed, or flees to 'hypothesis', which will account for everything.

There is a remarkable coincidence, however, which has fallen under my observation, between those who assign a moral and those who assign a physical cause for melancholy and madness, in regard to one point. Some forty or fifty years ago, the writer, about the same time, read Thomas Shepard's Sincere Convert, and James Robe on Religious Melancholy, and he noticed that they both ascribe the deep and fixed depression of spirits frequently met with, to a secret, reprehensible indulgence. In the statistics of several insane asylums and penitentiaries which have been published recently, the most of the cases of insanity are confidently ascribed to the same thing, as its physical cause. This increasing evil is of such a nature that we cannot be more explicit. Those who ought to know the facts will understand the reference. It must, after all, be admitted that the claims of intemperance in the use of intoxicating drinks, to a deleterious influence on the reason, stand in the foremost rank; but the madness produced by this cause is commonly of short duration. I do not speak of that loss of reason which is the immediate effect of alcohol on the brain—but of that most tremendous form of madness called delirium tremens. I have said that it was short, because it is commonly the last struggle of the human constitution, under the influence of a dreadful poison, which has now consummated its work—and death soon steps in and puts an end to the conflict.

After spending so much time in speaking of melancholy as a disease, I anticipate the thoughts of some good people, who will be ready to say, 'What, is there no such thing as spiritual desertion—times of darkness and temptation, which are independent of the bodily temperament?' To which I answer, that I fully believe there are many such cases; but they deserve a separate consideration, and do not fall within the compass of my present design. The causes, symptoms, and cure of such spiritual maladies are faithfully delineated by many practical writers; and although these cases are entirely distinct from melancholy, they assume, in many respects, similar symptoms, and by the unskillful philosopher are confounded with it. These two causes, as I have before intimated, may often operate together and produce a mixed and very perplexing case, both for the bodily and spiritual physician.

After all that has been said, the fact with which we commenced is that religious exercises are very much modified by the temperament, and in some cases, by the idiosyncrasy of the individual. The liquor put into an old cask commonly receives a strong tincture from the vessel. Old habits, although a new governing principle is introduced into the system, do not yield at once; and propensities, apparently extinguished, are apt to revive and give unexpected trouble.

It is a comfortable thought, that these vile bodies cannot go with the saints to heaven, until they are completely purified. What proportion of our present feelings will be dropped with the body, we cannot tell. How a disembodied spirit will perceive, feel, and act, we shall soon know by consciousness; but, if ever so many of the departed should return and attempt to communicate to us their present mode of existence, it would be all in vain; the things which relate to such a state are inconceivable, and unspeakable. What Paul saw in the third heaven he dare not, or he could not communicate; but he did not know whether he saw these wonderful things in the body or out of the body. This was a thing known, as he intimates—only to God.