The Varieties of Religious Experience HTML version
Lecture 10. Conversion—Concluded
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,