Friday, July 01, 2011

Religious Affection and Enthusiasm

Sarah Pierpoint Edwrds

Locke’s Essay, first published in 1671, went through five editions in Locke’s lifetime. Edwards is reckoned to have read the book around 1717 (Marsden 62). The fourth edition of the Essay (1700) contained, amongst other new material, the chapter ‘Of Enthusiasm’ which was retained in the fifth (1706) and subsequent editions. Locke died in 1704. A question is, was the version of the Essay that Edwards read the one that lacked the chapter ‘Of Enthusiasm’, or did he read the fourth or the fifth edition? In what follows I am going to try to show from internal evidence from the Affections that he read Locke’s new chapter, but this would count for nothing if in fact he did not.

Happily, the following seems to be true. Edwards had access at Yale to the 1690 London ed. of Locke's Essay, for it was included in the collection of books provided by Jeremiah Dummer. (See Louise May Bryant and Mary Patterson, "The List of Books Sent by Jeremiah Dummer," in Papers in Honor of Andrew Keogh, Librarian of Yale University, by the Staff of the Library, 30 June 1938 (New Haven: privately printed, 1938), 435). More importantly, however, Edwards purchased and used the two-volume seventh edition of the Essay (London, 1716). It is listed in his "Account Book" (a register of books that he owned and lent to others). See the Yale edition of Edwards’s works, vol. 26, 337-38. (I am grateful to Doug Sweeney for this information.) The Affections was published in 1746. So it appears that while Edwards first read the edition of the Essaywithout the chapter ‘Of Enthusiasm’ he later bought, (and no doubt read) an edition with it.

Locke on Enthusiasm

The chapter on enthusiasm is situated towards the end of Book IV of the Essay, entitled ‘Of Knowledge and Opinion’, coming immediately after ‘Of faith and reason, and their distinct provinces’, and can be thought of as supplementing Locke’s views on faith and reason.

Here are some of the claims that Locke makes (the page references are to the Dent edition of Locke’s Essay, ed. John Yolton, volume II)

Enthusiasm puts reason and revelation to one side, and ‘substitutes in the room of them the ungrounded fancies of a man’s own brain, and assumes them for a foundation both of opinion and conduct’ (289). By contrast reason is natural revelation, and ‘revelation is natural reason enlarged by a new set of discoveries communicated tby GOD immediately, which reason vouches for the truth of, buy the testimony and proofs it gives that they come from God. So that he that takes away reason, to make way for revelation, puts out the light of both’. (289)

The enthusiast: ‘whatsoever odd action they find in themselves a strong inclination to do, that impulse is concluded to be a call or direction from heaven and must be obeyed’ (290)

So enthusiasm has to be distinguished from true religion which is grounded upon special revelation, validated by God’s natural revelation, the use of human reason. Locke proceeds to set up tests for the presence of enthusiasm. It is interesting to note some of these:

The question then here is: How do I know that GOD is the revealer of this to me, that this impression is made upon my mind by the Holy Spirit, and therefore I ought to obey it? (292)

If they say that they know it to be true because it is a revelation from God, the reason is good; but then it will be demanded how they know it to be a revelation from God. If they say by the light it brings with it, which shines bright in their minds and they cannot resist, I beseech them to consider whether this be any more than what we have taken notice of already, viz. That it is a revelation because they strongly believe it to be true. (293)

The strength of our persuasions are no evidence at all of their own rectitude: crooked things may be as still and inflexible as straight, and men may be as positive and peremptory in error as in truth. (293)

Light, true light, in the mind is, or can be, nothing else but the evidence of the truth of any proposition; and if it be not a self-evident proposition, all the light it has or can have is from the clearness and validity of those proofs upon which it is received……For if strength of persuasion be the light which must guide us, I ask how shall anyone distinguish between the delusions of Satan and the inspirations of the Holy Ghost? He can transform himself into an angel of light. (294)

God when he makes the prophet does not unmake the man. He leaves all his faculties in their natural state, to enable him to judge of his inspiration, whether they be of divine original or not. When he illuminates the mind with supernatural light, he does not extinguish that which is natural. (295)

If this internal light, or any proposition which under that title we take for inspired, be conformable to the principles of reason or to the word of God, which is attested revelation, reason warrants it and we may safely receive for true and be guided by it in our belief and actions.(295)

Thus we see that holy men of old, who have revelations from GOD, had something else besides that internal light of assurance in their own minds to testify to them that it was form GOD. They were not left to their own persuasions alone that those persuasions were form GOD, but had outward signs to convince them of the author of those revelations. (295)

In what I have said I am far from denying that GOD can or doth sometimes enlighten men’s minds in the apprehending of certain truths, or excite them to good actions by the immediate influence and assistance of the Holy Spirit, without any extraordinary signs accompanying it. But in such cases too we have reason and Scripture, unerring rules to know whether it be form GOD or not. (296)

These extracts will be sufficient, I hope, to get Locke’s drift in his own words. Note the framework of reason and revelation; the approval of the terminology of ‘internal light’ and ‘supernatural light’, familiar to readers of the Religious Affections; and above all the method of testing claims to be imbued with the Spirit of God in the light of certain criteria, those provided by reason and revelation.

Edwards the Lockean

Edwards agrees with Locke’s religious epistemology on reason and revelation, but he makes the most of Locke’s concessions. His references to a new inward perception etc. (205 f.) are in accord with Locke’s recognition that God ‘doth sometimes enlighten men’s minds in the apprehending of certain truths…by the immediate influence and assistance of the Holy Spirit, without any extraordinary signs accompanying it’. (Essay 296) and he broadens Locke’s tests to include moral and spiritual fruit. No doubt theologically-speaking he ‘puritanised’ Locke by his more developed appreciation of the Word and Spirit.

Nevertheless Edwards’s doctrine of the ‘new sense’ deliberately meets the Lockean arguments – it is an immediate, supernatural intuition from God, not from man, which Locke allows, provided that this is subordinated to and informed by revelation. Edwards provides the tests, appealing to reason (eg 132) and revelation to do so, in (as we have seen), a broadly Lockean fashion. For Edwards, Lockean ‘enthusiasm’ is not ‘spiritual’ 210f. He dismisses the idea of new revelations, and the provision of new faculties (210f.) No doubt Locke would have regarded the various agitations of the body that Edwards condoned or encouraged as rather unbecoming and even somewhat embarrassing, but he could hardly have argued that in and of themselves they had great epistemological significance. In any case, as we know, Edwards thought that such agitations were neither here nor there.

Jonathan and Sarah

As is well known Edwards’s wife Sarah experienced at least one period of heightened religious affection, in which she was so conscious of God’s love in Christ, and a willingness to resign herself to the will of God, that this brought on various bodily agitations: swooning, fainting, bodily weakness, coldness in the body, weeping, waving and leaping, the onset of bodily exhaustion requiring her to lie down for several hours, and so on. Edwards was impressed, so much so that he asked her to write an account of what happened, which she did. He edited out the personal references and then published it. The edited version concludes with the following editorial comment:

Now if such things are enthusiasm, and the fruits of a distempered brain, let my brain be evermore possessed of that happy distemper! If this be distraction, I pray God that the world of mankind may be all seized with this benign, meek, beneficent, beatifical, glorious distraction! If agitations of body were found in the French Prophets, and ten thousand prophets more, 'tis little to their purpose, who bring it as an objection against such a work as this, unless their purpose be to disprove the whole of the Christian religion. The great affections and high transports that others have lately been under, are in general of the same kind with those in the instance that has been given, though not to so high a degree, and many of them, not so pure and unmixed, and so well regulated.

Sarah receives the husbandly seal of approval - her great affections and high transports were pure, unmixed and well regulated.

‘Enthusiasm’ was one of the charges that opponents of the revivals leveled against them. But it was not a charge, Edwards believed, that his hero John Locke could have endorsed about all the effects of the revivals, though perhaps of some of them. Edwards concurred with this outlook and framed the argument of the long, repetitive Parts II and III of the Affections accordingly