The Varieties of Religious Experience HTML version

Lecture 9. Conversion
To be converted, to be regenerated, to receive grace, to experience religion, to gain an
assurance, are so many phrases which denote the process, gradual or sudden, by which a
self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong inferior and unhappy, becomes unified and
consciously right superior and happy, in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious
realities. This at least is what conversion signifies in general terms, whether or not we
believe that a direct divine operation is needed to bring such a moral change about.
Before entering upon a minuter study of the process, let me enliven our understanding of
the definition by a concrete example. I choose the quaint case of an unlettered man,
Stephen H. Bradley, whose experience is related in a scarce American pamphlet.[98]
[98] A sketch of the life of Stephen H. Bradley, from the age of five to twenty four years,
including his remarkable experience of the power of the Holy Spirit on the second
evening of November, 1829. Madison, Connecticut, 1830.
I select this case because it shows how in these inner alterations one may find one
unsuspected depth below another, as if the possibilities of character lay disposed in a
series of layers or shells, of whose existence we have no premonitory knowledge.
Bradley thought that he had been already fully converted at the age of fourteen.
"I thought I saw the Saviour, by faith, in human shape, for about one second in the room,
with arms extended, appearing to say to me, Come. The next day I rejoiced with
trembling; soon after, my happiness was so great that I said that I wanted to die; this
world had no place in my affections, as I knew of, and every day appeared as solemn to
me as the Sabbath. I had an ardent desire that all mankind might feel as I did; I wanted to
have them all love God supremely. Previous to this time I was very selfish and self-
righteous; but now I desired the welfare of all mankind, and could with a feeling heart
forgive my worst enemies, and I felt as if I should be willing to bear the scoffs and sneers
of any person, and suffer anything for His sake, if I could be the means in the hands of
God, of the conversion of one soul."
Nine years later, in 1829, Mr. Bradley heard of a revival of religion that had begun in his
neighborhood. "Many of the young converts," he says, "would come to me when in
meeting and ask me if I had religion, and my reply generally was, I hope I have. This did
not appear to satisfy them; they said they KNEW THEY had it. I requested them to pray
for me, thinking with myself, that if I had not got religion now, after so long a time
professing to be a Christian, that it was time I had, and hoped their prayers would be
answered in my behalf.
"One Sabbath, I went to hear the Methodist at the Academy. He spoke of the ushering in
of the day of general judgment; and he set it forth in such a solemn and terrible manner as
I never heard before. The scene of that day appeared to be taking place, and so awakened