September 6, 2011

Enthusiasm Described and Caution'd Against, by Charles Chauncy

I had a hard time trying to find this document online in its entirety, so I'm posting it here to help make it more accessible.

This is a polemic against the Great Awakening written by a Puritan minister, Charles Chauncy, in 1742.  The sermon is printed in a book titled Puritan Rhetoric: The Issue of Emotion in Religion, starting on page 103.  That book is only available for partial view on google books.  I then signed up for a trial version of a pay-per-view article database website and grabbed it off there, however that version was devoid of italics.  I have tried to add in the italics where possible based off the partial view of Puritan Rhetoric on google books.  Therefore, the formatting presented in the below version is not complete.


Enthusiasm Described and Caution'd Against 
by Charles Chauncy (1742)

1 CORINTHIANS 14:37:  If any man among you think himself to be a PROPHET or SPIRITUAL, let him acknowledge that the Things that I write unto you are the Commandments of the LORD. 
Many Things were amiss in the Church of Corinth, when Paul wrote this Epistle to them. There were envyings, strife and divisions among them, on account of their ministers. Some cried up one, others another: one said, I am of Paul, another I am of APPOLLOS. They had form'd themselves into parties, and each party so admired the teacher they followed, as to reflect unjust contempt on the other.
Nor was this their only fault. A spirit of pride prevailed exceedingly among them. They were conceited of their gifts, and too generally dispos'd to make an ostentatious shew of them. From this vain glorious the disturbance, rather than edification of the church...they spake not by turns, but several at once, in the same place of worship, to the introducing such confusion, that they were in danger of being tho't mad.
Nor were they without some pretence to justify these disorders. Their great plea was, that in these things they were guided by the Spirit, acted under his immediate influence and direction. This seems plainly insinuated in the words I have read to you. If any man think himself to be a prophet, or Spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.... 'Tis all imagination, meer pretence, unless you pay a due regard to the commandments I have here wrote to you.... You are nothing better than Enthusiasts; your being acted by the SPIRIT, immediately guided and influenced by him, is meer pretence; you have no good reason to believe any such thing.
From the words thus explained, I shall take occasion to discourse to you upon the following Particulars. 
I. I shall give you some account of Enthusiasm, in its nature and influence.
II. Point you to a rule by which you may judge of persons, whether they are under the influence of Enthusiasm.
III. Say what may be proper to guard you against this unhappy turn of mind. 
The whole will then be follow'd with some suitable Application. 
I. I am in the first place, to give you some account of Enthusiasm.... The word, from it's Etymology, carries in it a good meaning, as signifying inspiration from GOD: in which sense, the prophets under the old testament, and the apostles under the new, might properly be called Enthusiasts. For they were under a divine Influence, spake as moved by the HOLY GHOST, and did such things as can be accounted for in no way, but by recurring to an immediate extraordinary power, present with them. 
But the word is more commonly used in a bad sense, as intending an imaginary, not a real inspiration: according to which sense, the Enthusiast is one, who has a conceit of himself as a person favoured with the extraordinary presence of the Deity. He mistakes the workings of his own passions for divine communications, and fancies himself immediately inspired by the SPIRIT of GOD, when all the while, he is under no other influence than that of an over-heated imagination. 
The cause of this enthusiasm is a bad temperament of the blood and spirits; 'tis properly a disease, a sort of madness.... And various are the ways in which their enthusiasm discovers itself. 
Sometimes, it may be seen in their countenance. A certain wildness is discernable in their general look and air; especially when their imaginations are mov'd and fired. 
Sometimes, it strangely loosens their tongues, and gives them such an energy, as well as fluency and volubility in speaking, as they themselves, by their utmost efforts, can't so much as imitate, when they are not under the enthusiastick influence.  
Sometimes, it affects their bodies, throws them into convulsions and distortions, into quakings and tremblings.... Sometimes, it will unaccountably mix itself with their conduct, and give it such a tincture of that which is freakish or furious, as none can have an idea of, but those who have seen the behaviour, of a person in a phrenzy. 
Sometimes, it appears in their imaginary peculiar intimacy with heaven. They are, in their own opinion, the special favourites of GOD, have more familiar converse with him than other good men, and receive immediate, extraordinary communications from him. The tho'ts which suddenly rise up in their minds, they take for suggestions of the SPIRIT; their very fancies are divine illuminations; nor are they strongly inclin'd to any thing, but 'tis an impulse from GOD, a plain revelation of his will.... 
But in nothing does the enthusiasm of these persons discover it self more, than in the disregard they express to the Dictates of reason. They are above the force of argument, beyond conviction from a calm and sober address to their understandings. As for them, they are distinguish'd persons; GOD himself speaks inwardly and immediately to their souls. "They see the light infused into their understandings, and cannot be mistaken; 'tis clear and visible there, like the light of bright sunshine; shews it self and needs no other proof but its own evidence. They feel the hand of GOD moving them within, and the impulses of his SPIRIT; and cannot be mistaken in what they feel. Thus they support themselves, and are sure reason hath nothing to do with what they see and feel. What they have a sensible experience of, admits no doubt, needs no probation." And in vain will you endeavour to convince such persons of any mistakes they are fallen into. They are certainly in the right; and know themselves to be so. They have the SPIRIT opening their understandings and revealing the truth to them. They believe only as he has taught them: and to suspect they are in the wrong is to do dishonour to the SPIRIT; 'tis to oppose his dictates, to set up their own wisdom in opposition to his, and shut their eyes against that light with which he has shined into their souls. They are not therefore capable of being argued with; you had as good reason with the wind. 
And as the natural consequence of their being thus sure of every thing, they are not only infinitely stiff and tenacious, but impatient of contradiction, censorious and uncharitable: they encourage a good opinion of none but such as are in their way of thinking and speaking. Those, to be sure, who venture to debate with them about their errors and mistakes, their weaknesses and indiscretions, run the hazard of being stigmatiz'd by them as poor unconverted wretches, without the SPIRIT, under the government of carnal reason, enemies to GOD and religion, and in the broad way to hell. 
They are likewise positive and dogmatical, vainly fond of their own imaginations, and invincibly set upon propagating them: And in the doing of this,...they sometimes exert themselves with a sort of extatic violence: And 'tis this that gives them the advantage, among the less knowing and judicious, of those who are modest, suspicious of themselves, and not too assuming in matters of conscience and salvation. The extraordinary fervour of their mind, accompanied with uncommon bodily motions, and an excessive confidence and assurance, gains them great reputation among the populace; who speak of them as men of GOD in distinction from all others, and too commonly hearken to, and revere their dictates as tho' they really were, as they pretend, immediately communicated to them from the DIVINE SPIRIT. 
This is the nature of Enthusiasm, and this is operation, in a less or greater degree, in all who are under the influence of it. 'Tis a kind of religious Phrenzy, and evidently discovers it self to be so, whenever it rises to any great height.... 
But I come 
II. In the second place, to point you to a rule by which you may judge of persons, whether they are enthusiasts, meet pretenders to the immediate guidance and influence of the SPIRIT. And this is, in general, a regard to the bible, an acknowledgment that the things therein contained are the commandments of GOD. This is the rule in the text. And 'tis an infallible rule of tryal in this matter: We need not fear judging amiss, while we keep closely to it. 
'Tis true, it wont certainly follow, that a man, pretending to be a prophet, or Spiritual, really is so, if he owns the bible, and receives the truths therein revealed as the mind of GOD: But the conclusion, on the other hand; is clear and certain; if he pretends to be conducted by the SPIRIT, and disregards the scripture, pays no due reverence to the things there delivered as the commandments of GOD, he is a meer pretender, be his pretences ever so bold and confident, or made with ever so much seeming seriousness, gravity, or solemnity. 
And the reason of this is obvious; viz that the things contained in the scripture were...received from God, and committed to writing under his immediate, extraordinary influence and guidance. And the divine, ever-blessed SPIRIT is consistent with himself. He cannot be supposed to be the author of any private revelations that are contradictory to the public standing ones.... 'Tis therefore as true, that those are enthusiastical, who pretend to the SPIRIT, and at the same time express a disregard to the scripture, as that the SPIRIT is the great revealer of the thing, therein declared to us. And we may depend upon the certainty of this conclusion. We have warrant to do so from the inspired PAUL.... 
But the rule in the text is yet more particular. It refers especially to the things wrote by the apostle PAUL, and which he wrote to the church of Corinth, to rectify the disorders that had crept in among them.... And here suffer me to make particular mention of some of the things, the apostle has wrote in this Epistle, which, whoever will not acknowledge, in deed as well as word, to be the commandments of GOD, they are not guided by the SPIRIT, but vainly pretend to be so. 
The first thing, in this kind, I would mention, is that which relates to Ministers; condemning an undue preference of one to another, the holding one in such admiration as to reflect disgrace on another. This was one of the disorders the Apostle takes notice of, as prevailing in the church of Corinth; and he is particular in his care to give check to this unchristian spirit, which had crumbled them into parties, and introduced among them faction and contention.... 
Another thing the apostle is particular in writing upon, is the commandment of charity. And this he declares to be a matter of such essential importance in true christianity, that if a man is really destitute of it, he is nothing in the sight of GOD; Nay, tho' his pretences, his attainments, his gifts, be ever so extraordinary or miraculous; still, if he is without charity he will certainly be rejected of GOD and the LORD JESUS CHRIST. 
This is beautifully represented in the three first verses of the 13th chapter of this Epistle, in some of the boldest figures. "Tho' I speak, says the apostle, with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And tho' I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all Knowledge; and tho' I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And tho' I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and tho' I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."... 
And in vain may any pretend to be under the extraordinary guidance of the SPIRIT, while in their practice they trample upon this law of christian love. Men may talk of their impulses and impressions, conceive of them as the call of GOD, and go about, as moved by them, from place to place, imagining they are sent of GOD, and immediately commissioned by him: But if they are censorious and uncharitable; if they harbour in their minds evil surmisings of their brethren; if they slander and reproach them; if they claim a right to look into their hearts, make it their business to judge of their state, and proclaim them hypocrites, carnal unregenerate sinners, when at the same time they are visibly of a good conversation in CHRIST; I say, when this is the practice of any, they do not acknowledge what the inspired PAUL has here wrote as the commandment of God. ...Charity, my brethren, is the commandment of the gospel by way of eminence. 'Tis the grand mark by which christians are to distinguish themselves from all others.... 
Another thing the apostle bespeaks this church upon, is that self-conceit which appear'd among them in the exercise of spiritual gifts....  'Tis evident from what the apostle here writes, and indeed from the current strain of this whole chapter, that there is in the body of CHRIST, the Church, a distinction of members; some intended for one use, others for another; and that it would bring confusion into the body mystical, for one member to be employed in that service which is adapted to another, and is its proper business. 
'Tis not therefore the pretence of being moved by the SPIRIT, that will justify private christians in quitting their own proper station, to act in that which belongs to another. Such a practice as this naturally tends to destroy that order, GOD has constituted in the church, and may be followed with mischiefs greater than we may be aware of.... And 'tis owing to such pretences as these, that encouragement has been given to the rise of such numbers of lay-exhorters and teachers, in one place and another, all over the land. But if 'tis one of the things wrote by the apostles as the commandment of GOD, that there should be officers in the church, an order of men to whom it should belong, as their proper, stated work, to exhort and teach, this cannot be the business of others.... And indeed, if the SPIRIT has bid men to abide in their own calling, 'tis not conceivable he should influence them to leave their callings.... 
The last thing I shall mention as written by the apostle, is that which obliges to a just decorum in speaking in the house of GOD. It was an extravagance these Corinthians had fallen into, their speaking many of them together, and upon different things, while in the same place of worship. How is it, brethren, says the apostle? When ye come together, every one hath a psalm; hath a doctrine; hath a tongue; hath a revelation; hath an interpretatien. It was this that introduced the confusion and noise, upon which the apostle declares, if an unbeliever should come in among them, he would take them to be mad. And the commandment he gives them to put a stop to this disorder, is, that they should speak in course, one by one, and so as that things might be done to edifying.... 
The disorder of EXHORTING, and PRAYING, and SINGING, and LAUGHING, in the same house of worship, at one and the same time, is as great as was that, the apostle blames in the church of Corinth: And whatever the persons, guilty of such gross irregularity may imagine, and however they may plead their being under the influence of the SPIRIT, and mov'd by him, 'tis evidently a breach upon common order and decency; yea, a direct violation of the commandment of GOD, written on purpose to prevent such disorders.... In these, and all other instances, let us compare men's pretences to the SPIRIT by the SCRIPTURE: And if their conduct is such as can't be reconcil'd with an acknowledgment of the things therein revealed, as the commandments of GOD, their pretences are vain, they are prophets and Spiritual, only in their own proud imaginations.  I proceed now to 
III. The third thing, which is to caution you against giving way to enthusiastic impressions. And here much might be said, 
I might warn you from the dishonour it reflects upon the SPIRIT OF GOD. And perhaps none have more reproach'd the blessed SPIRIT, than men pretending to be under his extraordinary guidance and direction. The veryest fancies, the vainest imaginations, the strongest delusions, they have father'd on him. There is scarce any absurdity in principle, or irregularity in practice, but he has been made the patron of it.... 
I might also warn you from the damage it has done in the world.... It has, in one word, been a pest to the church in all ages, as great an enemy to real and solid religion, as perhaps the grossest infidelity. 
I might go on and warn you from the danger of it to yourselves. If you should once come under the influence of it, none can tell whither it would carry you. There is nothing so wild and frantick, but you may be reconcil'd to it. And if this shou'd be your case, your recovery to a right mind would be one of the most difficult things in nature.... 
But as the most suitable guard against the first tendencies towards enthusiasm, let me recommend to you the following words of counsel. 
1. Get a true understanding of the proper work of the SPIRIT; and don't place it in those things wherein the gospel does not make it to consist. The work of the SPIRIT is different now from what it was in the first days of christianity. Men were then favoured with the extraordinary presence of the SPIRIT. He came upon them in miraculous gifts and powers; as a spirit of prophecy, of knowledge, of revelation, of tongues, of miracles: But the SPIRIT is not now to be expected in these ways. His grand business lies in preparing men's minds for the grace of GOD, by true humiliation, from an apprehension of sin, and the necessity of a Saviour; then in working in them faith and repentance, and such a change as shall turn them from the power of sin and Satan unto GOD.... 
Herein, in general, consists the work of the SPIRIT. It does not lie in giving men private revelations, but in opening their minds to understand the publick ones contained in the scripture. It does not lie in sudden impulses and impressions, in immediate calls and extraordinary missions.... 
2. Keep close to the Scripture, and admit of nothing for an impression of the SPIRIT, but what agrees with that unerring rule. . . . And whatever you are moved to, reject the motion, esteem it as nothing more than a vain fancy, if it puts you upon any method of thinking, or acting, that can't be evidently reconcil'd with the revelations of GOD in his word.... 
3. Make use of the Reason and Understanding GOD has given you. This may be tho't an ill-advis'd direction, but 'tis as necessary as either of the former. Next to the Scripture, there is no greater enemy to enthusiasm, than reason. 'Tis indeed impossible a man should be an enthusiast, who is in the just exercise of his understanding; and 'tis because men don't pay a due regard to the sober dictates of a well inform'd mind, that they are led aside by the delusions of a vain imagination. Be advised then to shew yourselves men, to make use of your reasonable powers; and not act as the horse or mule, as tho' you had no understanding. 
'Tis true, you must not go about to set up your own reason in opposition to revelation: Nor may you entertain a tho't of making reason your rule instead of Scripture. The bible, as I said before, is the great rule of religion, the grand test in matters of salvation: But then, you must use your reason in order to understand the bible: Nor is there any other possible way, in which, as a reasonable creature, you shou'd come to an understanding of it. 
You are, it must be acknowledged, in a corrupt state. The fall has introduc'd great weakness into your reasonable nature. You can't be too sensible of this; nor of the danger you are in of making a wrong judgment, thro' prejudice, carelessness, and the undue influence of sin and lust. And to prevent this, you can't be too solicitous to get your nature Sanctified: Nor can you depend too strongly upon the divine grace to assist you in your search after truth: And 'tis in the way of due dependance on GOD, and the influences of his SPIRIT, that I advise you to the use of your reason: And in this way, you must make use of it, How else will you know what is a revelation from GOD? What shou'd hinder your entertaining the same tho't of a pretended revelation, as of a real one, but your reason discovering the falshood of the one, and the truth of the other? And when in the enjoyment of an undoubted revelation from GOD, as in the case of the scripture, How will you understand its meaning, if you throw by your reason? How will you determine, that this, and not that, is its true sense, in this and the other place? Nay, if no reasoning is to be made use of, are not all the senses that can be put on scripture equally proper? Yea, may not the most contrary senses be receiv'd at the same time since reason only can point out the inconsistency between them? And what will be sufficient to guard you against the most monstrous extravagancies, in principle as well as practice, if you give up your understandings? What have you left, in this case, to be a check to the wantoness of your imaginations? What shou'd hinder your following every idle fancy, 'till you have lost yourselves in the wilds of falshood and inconsistency? 
You may, it is true, misuse your reason: And this is a consideration, that shou'd put you upon a due care, that you may use it well; but no argument why you shou'd not use it at all: And indeed, if you shou'd throw by your reason as a useless thing, you would at once put your selves in the way of all manner of delusion. 
But, it may be, you will say, you have committed yourselves to the guidance of the SPIRIT; which is the best preservative. Herein you have done well; nothing can be objected against this method of conduct: Only take heed of mistakes, touching the SPIRIT's guidance. Let me enquire of you, how is it the SPIRIT preserves from delusion? Is it not by opening the understanding, and enabling the man, in the due use of his reason, to perceive the truth of the things of GOD and religion? Most certainly: And, if you think of being led by the SPIRIT, without understanding, or in opposition to it, you deceive yourselves. The SPIRIT of GOD deals with men as reasonable creatures: And they ought to deal with themselves in like manner. And while they do thus, making a wise and good use of the understanding, GOD has given them, they will take a proper means to prevent their falling into delusions; nor will there be much danger of their being led aside by enthusiastic heat and imagination. 
4. You must not lay too great stress upon the workings of your passions and affections. These will be excited in a less or greater degree, in the business of religion: And 'tis proper they shou'd. The passions, when suitably mov'd, tend mightily to awaken the reasonable powers, and put them upon a lively and vigorous exercise. And this is their proper use: And when address'd to, and excited to this purpose, they may be of good service: whereas we shall mistake the right use of the passions, if we place our religion only or chiefly, in the heat and fervour of them. The soul is the man: And unless the reasonable nature is suitably wro't upon, the understanding enlightned, the judgment convinc'd, the will perswaded, and the mind intirely chang'd, it will avail but to little purpose; tho' the passions shou'd be set all in a blaze. This therefore you shou'd be most concern'd about. And if while you are sollicitous that you may be in transports of affection, you neglect your more noble part, your reason and judgment, you will be in great danger of being carried away by your imaginations. This indeed leads directly to Enthusiasm: And you will in vain, endeavour to preserve yourselves from the influence of it, if you a'nt duly careful to keep your passions in their proper place under the government of a well inform'd understanding. While the passions are uppermost, and bear the chief sway over a man, he is in an unsafe state: None knows what he may be bro't to. You can't therefore be too careful to keep your passions under the regimen of a sober judgment. 'Tis indeed a matter of necessity, as you would not be led aside by delusion and fancy. 
5. In the last place here, you must not forget to go to GOD by prayer.... And if he shall please to undertake for you, no delusion shall ever have power over you, to seduce you; but, possessing a sound mind, you shall go on in the uniform, steady service of your maker and generation, till of the mercy of GOD, thro' the merits of the REDEEMER, you are crowned with eternal life. 
But I shall now draw towards a close, by making some suitable application of what has been said, And, 
1. Let us beware of charging GOD foolishly, from what we have heard of the nature, and influence of enthusiasm. This may appear a dark article in GOD'S government of the world; but it stands upon the same foot with his permission of other evils, whether natural or moral. 
2. Let none, from what has been offered, entertain prejudices in their minds against the operations of the SPIRIT. There is such a thing as his influence upon the hearts of men. No consistent sense can be put upon a great part of the bible, unless this be acknowledged for a truth: Nor is it any objection against its being so, that there has been a great deal of enthusiasm in the world, many who have mistaken the motions of their own passions for divine operations. This, it must be acknowledged, shou'd make us cautious.... But at the same time, 'tis no reason, why we shou'd think the worse of the blessed SPIRIT, or of those influences that are really his...lest we shou'd grieve the good SPIRIT, and he shou'd leave us to perish in a state of alianation from GOD, and true holiness. 
3. Let not any think ill of religion, because of the ill representation that is made of it by enthusiasts.... There is such a thing as real religion, 15 let the conduct of men be what it will; and 'tis, in it's nature, a sober, calm, reasonable thing: Nor is it an objection of any weight against the sobriety or reasonableness of it, that there have been enthusiasts, who have acted as tho' it was a wild, imaginary business. We should not make our estimate of religion as exhibited in the behaviour of men of a fanciful smind; to be sure, we should not take up an ill opinion of it, because in the example they give of it, it don't appear so amiable as we might expect. This is unfair. We shou'd rather judge of it from the conduct of men of asound judgment; whose lives have been such a uniform, beautiful transcript of that which is just and good, that we can't but think well of religion, as display'd in their example.... 
4. Let us esteem those as friends to religion, and not enemies, who warn us of the danger of enthusiasm, and would put us upon our guard, that we be not led aside by it." 16...This land had, in all probability, been over-run with confusion and distraction, if they acted under the influence of the same heat and zeal, which some others have been famous for. 
The good LORD give us all wisdom; and courage, and conduct, in such a Day as this! And may both ministers and people behave after such a manner, as that religion may not suffer; but in the end, gain advantage, and be still more universally established. And, may that grace of GOD, which has appeared to all men, bringing salvation, teach us effectually, to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, and righteously, and godlily in the world: so may we look with comfort for the appearing of our SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST: And when he shall appear in the glory of his FATHER, and with his holy angels, we also shall appear with him, and go away into everlasting life: Which GOD, of his infinite mercy grant may be the portion of us all; for the sake of CHRIST JESUS.


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