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The Nature of Enthusiasm.
ACTS xxvi. 24.
And Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, Thou art beside thyself:
, God, of all that are of Paul's religion; of every one who is so a follower of him, as he was of Christ. It is true, there is a sort of religion, nay, and it is called Christianity too, which may be practised without any such imputation, which is generally allowed to be consistent with common sense. That is, a religion of form, a round of outward duties, performed in a decent, regular manner. You may add orthodoxy thereto, a system of right opinions, yea, and some quantity of Heathen morality. And yet not many will pronounce, that much religion hath made you mad. But if you aim at the religion of the heart, if you talk of righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, then it will not be long before your sentence is past, Thou art beside thyself.
2. And it is no compliment which the men of the world pay you herein. They, for once, mean what they say. They not only affirm, but cordially believe, that every man is beside himself, who says, the love of God is shed abroad in his heart, by the Holy Ghost given unto him, and that God has enabled him to rejoice in Christ, with joy unspeakable and full of glory. If a man is indeed alive to God, and dead to all things here below; if he continually sees him that is invisible, and accordingly walks by faith and not by sight: then they account it a clear case: beyond all dispute, much religion hath made him mad.
3. It is easy to observe, that the determinate thing which the world accounts madness, is that utter contempt of all temporal things, and steady pursuit of things eternal; that divine conviction of things not seen ; that rejoicing in the favour of God; that happy, holy love of
God; and that testimony of his Spirit with our spirit, that we are the children of God. That is, in truth, the whole spirit and life and power of the religion of Jesus Christ.
4. They will however allow, in other respects, the man acts and talks like one in his senses. In other things, he is a reasonable man: it is in these instances only his head is touched. It is therefore acknowledged, that the madness under which he labours, is of a particular kind. And accordingly they are accustomed to distinguish it by a particular name, Enthusiasm.
5. A term this, which is exceeding frequently used, which is scarce ever out of some men's mouths. And yet it is exceeding rarely understood, even by those who use it most. It may be therefore not uacceptable to serious men, to all who desire to understand what they speak or hear, if I endeavour to explain the meaning of this term, to shew what Enthusiasm is. It may be an encouragement to those who are unjustly charged there with: and may possibly be of use, to some who are justly charged with it, at least to others, who'might be so, were they not cautioned against it.
6. As to the word itself, it is generally allowed to be of Greek extraction. But whence the Greek word evSxolaouis, is derived, none has yet been able to shew. Some have endeavoured to derive it from Ev Dew in God, because all Enthusiasm has reference to him. But this is quite forced ; there being small resemblance between the word derived, and those they strive to derive it from. Others would derive, it from sy Quola, in sacrifice, because many of the Enthusiasts of old, were affected in the most violent manner during the time of sacrifice. Perhaps it is a fictitious word, invented from the noise, which some of those made who were so affected.
7. It is not improbable, that one reason why this uncouth word has been retained in so many languages, was because men were no better agreed, concerning the meaning, than concerning the derivation of it. They therefore adopted the Greek word, because they did not understand it: they did not translate it into their own tongues, because they knew not how to translate it: it No. IX.
having been always a word of a loose uncertain sense, to which no determinate meaning was affixed.
8. It is not therefore at all surprizing, that it is so variously taken at this day: different persons understanding it in different senses, quite inconsistent with each other. Some take it in a good sense, for a divine impulse or impression, superior to all the natural faculties, and suspending for the time, either in whole or in part, both the reason and the outward senses. In this meaning of the word, both the prophets of old, and the apostles were proper Enthusiasts : being at divers times so filled with the Spirit, and so influenced by him who dwelt in their hearts, that the exercise of their own reason, their senses, and all their natural faculties being suspended, they were wholly actuated by the power of God, and spoke only as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
9. Others take the word in an indifferent sense, such as is neither morally good nor evil. Thus they speak of the Enthusiasm of the poets; of Homer and Virgil in particular. And this a late eminent writer extends so far as to assert, there is no man excellent in his profession, whatsoever it be, who has not in his temper a strong tincture of Enthusiasm. By Enthusiasm these appear to understand, an uncommon vigour of thought, a peculiar fervour of spirit, a vivacity and strength not to be found in common men : elevating the soul to greater and higher things, than cool reason could have attained.
10. But neither of these is the sense wherein the word Enthusiasm is most usually understood. The generality of men, if no farther agreed, at least agree thus far concerning it, that it is something evil : and this is plainly the sentiment of all those, who call the religion of the heart Enthusiasm. Accordingly I shall take it in the following pages, as an evil; a misfortune, if not a fault.
11. As to the nature of Enthusiasm, it is undoubtedly a disorder of the mind; and such a disorder, as greatly hinders the exercise of reason. Nay sometimes, it wholly sets it aside: it not only dims, but shuts the eyes of the understanding. It may therefore well be accounted a species of madness; of madness rather than of folly : seeing a fool is properly one who draws wrong conclusions from right premises : whereas a madman draws right
conclusions, but from wrong premises. And so does an Enthusiasc. Suppose his premises true, and his conclusions would necessarily follow. But here lies his mistake, his premises are false. He imagines himself to be what he is not.
And therefore setting out wrong, the farther he goes, the more he wanders out of the way.
12. Every Enthusiast then is properly a madman. Yet his is not an ordinary, but a religious madness. By religious, I do not mean, that it is any part of religion. Quite the reverse : religion is, the spirit ofa sound mind: and consequently stands in direct opposition to madness of every kind. But I mean, it has religion for its object; it is conversant about religion. And so the Enthusiast is generally talking of religion, of Godor the things of God: but talking in such a manner that every reasonable Christian may discern the disorder of his mind. Enthusiasm in . general may then be described in some such manner as this: a religious madness arising from some falsely imagined influence or inspiration of God: at least, from imputing something to God which ought not to be imputed to him, or expecting something from God which ought not to be expected from him.
13. There are innumerable sorts of Enthusiasm. Those which are most common, and for that reason most dangerous, I shall endeavour to reduce under a few general heads, that they may be more easily understood and avoided.
The first sort of Enthusiasm which I shall mention, is that of those who imagine they have the grace which they have not. Thus some imagine, when it is not so, that they have redemption through Christ, even the forgiveness of sin. These are usually such as have no root in themselves ; no deep repentance, or thorough conviction. Therefore they receive the word with joy. And because they have no deepness of earth, no deep work in their heart, therefore the seed immediately springs up. There is immediately a superficial change, which together with that light joy, striking in with the pride of their unbroken heart, and with their inordinate self-love, easily persuades them, they have already tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come.
14. This is properly an instance of the first sort of Enthusiasm : it is a kind of madness, arising from the im
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agination, that they have that grace which in truth they have not: so that they only deceive their own souls. Madness it may justly be termed : for the reasonings of these poor men are right, were there premises good : but ås those are a mere creature of their own imagination, so all that is built on them falls to the ground. The foundation of all their reveries is this: they imagine themselves to have faith in Christ. If they had this, they would be Kings and Priests to God, possest of a kingdom which cannot he moved. But they have it not. Consequently, all their following behaviour, is as wide of truth and soberness, as that of the ordinary madman, who fancying himself an earthly king, speaks and acts in that character.
15. There are many other Enthusiasts of this sort. Such, for instance, is the fiery zealot for religion; or (more probably) for the opinions and modes of worship, which he dignifies with that name. This man also strongly imagines himself, to be a believer in Jesus, yea, that he is a champion for the faith, which was once delivered to the saints. Accordingly all his conduct is formed, upon that vain imagination. And allowing his supposition to be just, he would have some tolerable plea for his behaviour: whereas now it is evidently the effect of a distempered brain, as well as of a distempered heart.
16. But the most common of all the Enthusiasts of this kind, are those who imagine themselves Christians, and are not. These abound not only in all parts of our land, but in most parts of the habitable earth. That they are not Christians is clear and undeniable, if we believe the oracles of God. For Christians are holy; these are unholy: Christians love God; these love the world. Christians are humble; these are proud : Christians are gentle; these are passionate. Christians have the mind which was in Christ; these are at the utmost distance from it. Consequently, they are no more Christians, than they are archangels. . Yet they imagine themselves so to be ; and they can give several reasons for it. For they have been called so ever since they can remember : they were christened many years ago : they embrace the Christian opinions, vulgarly termed, The Christian or Catho