Archive for the ‘religious experience’ Category

In times of affliction we commonly meet with the sweetest experiences of the love of God

December 8, 2009

I never knew what it was for God to stand by me at all turns… as I have found him since I came in hither (in prison)…In times of affliction we commonly meet with the sweetest experiences of the love of God . . . . Jesus Christ was never more real and apparent than now.

John Bunyan, in Faith Cook, Fearless Pilgrim: The Life and Times of John Bunyan, Evangelical Press, 2008, p.209

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around half the adult population of Britain have had or have from time to time, religious experiences or awareness

October 7, 2009

…around half the adult population of Britain have had or have from time to time, religious experiences or awareness.

Usually people report themselves to be surprised by an unexpected awareness of God or some other sacred presence such as an angel or a saint…nearly half of them never attend a place of worship…People who experience this awareness are usually better educated and in a better psychological state than people who say they have no such experience. There is thus a striking paradox..since the popular stereotype of people reporting such experiences is that they are most probably stupid or slightly mentally unbalanced.

National Survey 1976, Gallup Poll, 1985, 1986

My safety and happiness and eternal enjoyment of God’s immutable love seemed as durable and unchangeable as God Himself

October 7, 2009

I cannot find language to express how certain this appeared…My safety and happiness and eternal enjoyment of God’s immutable love seemed as durable and unchangeable as God Himself. Melted and overcome by the sweetness of this assurance, I fell into a great flow of tears and could not forbear weeping aloud. The presence of God was so near, and so real, that I seemed scarcely conscious of any things else. At night my soul seemed to be filled with an inexpressibly sweet and pure love to God and to the children of God, with a refreshing consolation and solace of soul which made me willing to lie on the earth, at the feet of the servants of God, to declare His gracious dealings with me and breathe forth before them my love an gratitude and praise. all night I continued in a constant, clear, and lively sense of the heavenly sweetness of Christ’s excellent love, of his nearness to me, and of my dearness to him. with an inexpressibly sweet calmness of soul in an entire rest in Him. My soul remained in a kind of heavenly Elysium. I think that what I felt each minute, during the continuance  of the whole time, was worth more than all the outward comfort and pleasure which I had enjoyed in my whole life put together.

Sarah Edwards

More here

I had a view that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God as Mediator between God and man, and His wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension

October 7, 2009

Once, as I rode out into the woods for my health in 1737, having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God as Mediator between God and man, and His wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. This grace that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The Person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent, with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception, which continued, as near as I can judge, about an hour, which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears and weeping aloud . . . I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust and to be full of Christ alone; to love Him with a holy and pure love; to trust in Him; to live upon Him; to serve and follow Him and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure with a divine and heavenly purity.

Jonathan Edwards, cited by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in An Exposition of Ephesians 1, God’s Ultimate Purpose, p. 275

And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts, a sense sublime

October 7, 2009

And I have felt 

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

 Of elevated thoughts, a sense sublime 

 Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean, and the living air, 

 And the blue sky, and in the mind of man —

 A motion and a spirit that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought, 

 And rolls through all things.

Wordsworth, Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,
On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, 13 July 1798″
(Lyrical Ballads, 1798)

The essence of evangelical humiliation, consists in a mean esteem of himself, as nothing, and as altogether contemptible and odious, attended with a mortification of a disposition to exalt himself, and a free renunciation of his own glory

September 28, 2009

The essence of evangelical humiliation, consists in such humility as becomes a creature under a dispensation of grace, consisting in a mean esteem of himself, as nothing, and as altogether contemptible and odious, attended with a mortification of a disposition to exalt himself, and a free renunciation of his own glory. — He that has much grace, apprehends, much more than others, that great height to which his love ought to ascend, and he sees better than others how little a way he has risen towards that height, and, therefore, estimating his love by the whole height of his duty, it appears astonishingly little and low in his eyes. —It most demonstratively appears that true grace is of that nature, that the more a person has of it, with remaining corruption, the less does his goodness and holiness appear, in proportion, not only to his past deformity, but to his present deformity, in the sin that now appears in his heart and in the abominable defects of his highest affections and brightest experience.

Jonathan Edwards

For a time, a sort of mystic illumination possessed me

September 24, 2009

[Bertrand Russell was present when the wife of his collaborator Alfred North Whitehead was undergoing an unusually severe bout of pain due to heart trouble. He was 29 at the time, and in the following excerpt from his autobiography he described the effect this experience had on him.]

She seemed cut off from everyone and everything by walls of agony, and the sense of the solitude of each human soul suddenly overwhelmed me. Every since my marriage, my emotional life had been calm and superficial. I had forgotten all the deeper issues, and had been content with flippant cleverness. Suddenly the ground seemed to give way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region…
At the end of those five minutes, I had become a completely different person. For a time, a sort of mystic illumination possessed me. I felt that I knew the inmost thoughts of everybody that I met in the street, and though this was, no doubt, a delusion, I did in actual fact find myself in far closer touch than previously with all my friends, and many of my acquaintances. Having been an Imperialist, I became during those five minutes a pro-Boer and a Pacifist. Having for years cared only for exactness and analysis, I found myself filled with semi-mystical feelings about beauty, with an intense interest in children, and with a desire almost as profound as that of the Buddha to find some philosophy which should make human life endurable. A strange excitement possessed me, containing intense pain but also some element of triumph through the fact that I could dominate pain, and make it, as I thought, a gateway to wisdom. The mystic insight which I then imagined myself to possess has largely faded, and the habit of analysis has reasserted itself. But something of what I thought I saw in that moment has remained always with me, causing my attitude during the first war, my interest in children, my indifference to minor misfortunes, and a certain emotional tone in all my human relations.

In other place he says:

Within five minutes I went through such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless; it follows that war is wrong, that a public school education is abominable, that the use of force is to be deprecated…

Bertrand Russell, in Ray Monk, vol.1, p.135

So for all his rationalism, basically his pacifism was based on this five minute religious experience. If he was ‘deluded’ about seeing into people’s souls, how did he know he wasn’t deluded about being pro-Boer and pacifist – sentiments that he fought for (not literally of course – that would be inconsistent!) the rest of his life.

He also said that he learned in this experience that, ‘strife is the root of all evil and gentleness the only balm. I became infinitely gentle for a time.’

So he learned that gentleness is good not through reason but through an experience. And it didn’t last.

Waiting upon ane inward light

September 23, 2009

Anne Blacklyn, a Quakeress, was fined for disturbing the minister at Haverhill Church calling him a hireling priest and deceiver, and to remain in prison till the fine was paid.

John Gilpin listened to a speaker denounce all ministerial teaching and all knowledge gained therein, in order to, ‘lay a new ground work vis. to be taught of God within ourselves by waiting upon ane inward light.’ After the third meeting Gilpin himself was seized, trembled and quaked extermely, fell on his bed, howled and cried to the astonishment of his family. After five meetings he was grabbibng a bass viol and playing on it, dancing (things never before done by him) and finally running through the streets of the town proclaiming, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. And the devil as he put it, did not leave him before he had believed two swallows in the chimney to be angels, had nearly knifed himself in the throat, and had fallen on the floor to lick the dust.

Antonia Fraser, Cromwell, pp.570-571

Without the authority of Scripture, a doctrinal standard and only experience to go on – this is the potential consequence.

Dogma blamed for wars

September 14, 2009

How unjustly, therefore, do you reproach religion with loving persecution, with being malignant, with overturning society, and making blood flow like water. Blame those who corrupt religion, who flood it with an army of formulas and definitions, and seek to cast it into the fetters of a so-called system. What is it in religion about which men have quarrelled and made parties and kindled wars? About definitions, the practical sometimes, the theoretical always, both of which belong elsewhere…But religion does not, even once, desire to bring those who believe and feel to one belief and one feeling. Its endeavour is to open in those who are not yet capable of religious emotions, the sense for the unity of the original source of life. But just because each seer is a new priest, a new mediator, a new organ, he flees with repugnance the bald uniformity which would again destroy this divine abundance.

Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, Second Speech, THE NATURE OF RELIGION

Doctrine causes wars – those who feel religious emotions are, of course, the good guys. How postmodern, even though he said it 200 years before postmodernism.

But Scheiermacher was wrong to lump all ‘doctrine’ together: to lump the ‘hope’ of paradise through Jihad with the beatitudes or the money-grubbing ideas of penance that lead to indulgences to build St Peter’s with the true faith once for all delivered to the saints is daft. It’s a daft as when Boris Johnson equated the ‘fanaticism’ of Christians willing to die for their faith in ancient Rome with those who kill in the name of religion today.

Russell’s Mysticism

September 14, 2009

Suddenly the ground seemed to give way beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region… At the end of those five minutes, I had become a completely different person. For a time, a sort of mystic illumination possessed me… Having been an imperialist, I became during those five minutes a pro-Boer and a pacifist.

Bertrand Russell, 1901, aged 28

It’s amazing that a man who would say that we should follow reason, not tradition or religious experience, should have changed his beliefs so radically in a mystical experience.

Quite why pro-Boer means pacifist, given they fought to defend their land, I’m not sure – except it was an anti-(British)Imperialist position