picture of Archibald Alexander
Alexander presumably had permission to publish his friend's letter

Alexander, a theology professor, had a friend* who suffered from obsessive blasphemous thoughts. "Knowing this person to be discreet, as well as pious, I requested, by letter, some account of this dreadful state of mind" (p. 184). The friend replied with a long letter that Alexander then reprinted in his 1844 book, Thoughts on Religious Experience.

I feel a singular reluctance [the friend wrote to Alexander] to speak of my religious experience. I have felt that my case was a very remarkable one. I have thought, at times, that no one could recount a similar experience. . . . I have no doubt that the state of my health had some connection with the mental sufferings I then endured. My constitution, which had always been feeble, had given to my disposition a proneness to melancholy; and in my bereaved and desolate state I was peculiarly susceptible of gloomy impressions. . . . You may, perhaps, recollect that I stated to you that my chief distress arose from blasphemous suggestions--unnatural, monstrous, and horrid, which seemed to fill my mind, and hurry away my thoughts, with a force as irresistible as a whirlwind. I strove against them-- I prayed against them; but it was all in vain. The more I strove, the more they prevailed. The very effort to banish them appeared to detain them. My soul all this while was wrapped in midnight darkness, and tossed like the ocean in a storm. It seemed to me as if I was delivered over to the powers of darkness, and that to aggravate my wretchedness, some strange and awfully impious association would be suggested by almost every object that met my eye. You asked me to describe my deliverance. It was gradual. A return of domestic comforts, a restoration of health, and an OCCUPATION OF THE MIND WITH DUTY, were the means which God was pleased to bless to the removal of this distressing experience. For twelve or thirteen years I have had no return of this state of mind, except to a partial extent; yet I have, at times, been greatly harassed with these fiery darts of the wicked one, which I can truly say, are my sorest affliction. I have always remarked, that these painful exercises of mind have attended seasons of special examination and prayer. When I have thought most of my obligation to God, and endeavoured to meditate most on divine things, then it has been, that my mind has suffered most from the intrusion of thoughts, at which my soul is filled with anguish, and from which I desire deliverance more than from death. This fact is mysterious to me. I cannot but think I love God. I am sure I do desire an entire consecration to Christ. It is my daily prayer to attain holiness. . . .

You see, I have nothing to relate, that is instructive or cheering--and yet I sometimes feel thankful for the terrible conflicts which I endure, for there is nothing which so constantly drives me to a throne of grace--nothing that strips me so entirely of self-dependence, and creates within me such longing after holiness. . . .

P.S.--The most discouraging fact in all my experience has been, what I have already alluded to--the rushing in of a tide of unutterably impious thoughts or imaginations, at a time when I have sought the most elevated and glorious views of God, breaking up my peace and comfort, when I have tried to fix my mind most intently on spiritual objects. Is [this] the onset of the enemy to drive one from a close communion with God? or is it to be traced to a law of association recalling past experiences?

If I had more confidence in my religious experience I think I could suggest many thoughts that might be useful to Christians under temptation [i.e., beset with sinful thoughts]; and especially, when suffering under certain physical disorders. One thing, I am free to say, USEFUL OCCUPATION is essential to the restoration and peace of some minds.

From Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1844), 184-7.

*The writer is described here as a friend but may have been a relative or acquantaince instead.


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