Thoughts on Religious Experience (Alexander)

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The nature of spiritual experience is probably both the most interesting and the most difficult subject in Christian literature: interesting because it concerns human life in all observable stages from childhood to death, and embraces all the emotions and behaviour possible in a man regenerated by the Holy Spirit; difficult because the adequate treatment of the subject makes immense demands upon the author. To trace sanctification and backsliding, as they appear in human consciousness, presupposes a sound biblical theology as well as a spirituality of mind and a pastoral knowledge broad enough to interpret all the varieties in type which occur.

Twenty years a pastor and preacher in a revival era, then forty years a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary (commenced in 1812 when he was the sole instructor), Archibald Alexander brought to this volume the best wisdom of his life. From his own observations, and from case histories drawn from Christian biography, he follows his subject with the hand of a master. He was, in Dr. Theodore Woolsey’s words, ‘The Shakespeare of the Christian heart’. Primarily concerned with what ought to be the impression made upon the life by scriptural truths he has nothing of the vague devotionalism of the religious mystics. But within this biblical context a wide variety of experiences passes under review, along with a consideration of the practical problems involved in an understanding of the new-birth, Christian growth, spiritual conflict and kindred subjects.

This is a lucid and fascinating volume almost alone in the field which it covers.


Table of Contents:

Biographical Introduction


I. Early religious impressions-Different results-Classes of persons least impressed-Examples of ineffectual impressions

II. Piety in children-Comparatively few renewed in infancy and childhood-Soul awakened in different ways-Legal conviction not a necessary part of true religion-Progress of conviction

III. The new birth an event of great importance-The evidences of the New birth-Diversities of experience in converts-Examples-Causes of diversity

IV. Causes of diversity in experience continued-Effect of temperament­-Melancholy-Advice to the friends of persons thus affected-Illustrative cases-Causes of melancholy and insanity

V. Effect of sympathy illustrated-Cautions in relation to this subject­-A singular case in illustration

VI. Erroneous views of regeneration-The correct view-The operation of faith-Exercises of mind, as illustrated in Jonathan Edwards’s Narrative-The operations of faith still further explained

VII. Considerations on dreams, Visions, etc.-Remarkable conversion of a blind infidel from hearing the Bible read

VIII. Religious Conversation-Stress laid by some on the knowledge of the time and place of conversion-Religious experience of Halyburton

IX. Christian experience of R– C—Narrative of Sir Richard Hill’s experience

X. Imperfect sanctification-The spiritual warfare

XI. Narrative of G– A– S-, an Episcopal clergyman-Narrative of a young officer in the army

XII. The spiritual conflict-Various exhibitions of it-Evil thoughts-A case in illustration

XIII. Growth in grace-Signs of it-Practical directions how to grow in grace-Hindrances to it

XIV. Backsliding-The backslider restored

XV. The rich man and the poor-The various trials of believers

XVI. Death-bed of the believer

XVII. Death-bed exercises of Andrew Rivet

XVIII. Death-bed exercises and speeches of Thomas Halyburton

XIX. Dying Experience of John Janeway, Edward Payson, and Samuel Finley

XX. Remarks on death-bed exercises, with several illustrative examples

XXI. Death-bed exercises of Richard Baxter and Thomas Scott

XXII. Preparation for death-The state of the soul after death

A prayer for one who feels that he is approaching the borders of another world


Letters to the Aged

Counsels of the Aged to the Young

Counsels to Christian Mothers

Letter to a Mourning Afflicted Widow

Letter to a Bereaved Widower



Archibald Alexander (1771-1851), converted in 1789, was ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church. He served as an itinerant missionary, President of Hampden-Sydney College, and minister of churches in Virginia and Philadelphia, before becoming the first professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1812.