by C. W. Naylor

Part 2 of 2

We have always a surer test than feelings. We belong to the Lord so long as we do not in heart turn away from him. So long as we have in our hearts a desire and purpose to serve him, he will not cast us off. Paul says, "Know ye not your own selves how that Jesus Christ is in you, except that ye be reprobates?" (2 Corinthians 13:5). He does not say that we know Christ is in us when we feel all right, but in effect he says that we know Christ is in us if we have not turned away from him. What is the underlying purpose of your life? Is it to have your own way, or to please the Lord? Is it to do evil, or to do good? Let us judge ourselves with a righteous judgment.

The reader must not suppose that because I say so much about bad feelings that these are the normal and usual feelings of a Christian. The Christian life is, on the whole, a joyous and victorious life. People are not trouble over their good feelings. The more they have of them, the better they like it. It is the other kind of feelings that trouble them; therefore it is the bad feelings of which I speak, that I may be helpful to those who need help.

The Sequence of Emotions

Different emotions may follow each other in rapid succession. Joy may succeed sorrow, or rejoicing may almost instantly be changed into heaviness. Our feelings often swing to and fro from one extreme to another like the pendulum of a clock. When we children used to grow enthusiastic and hilarious in our play, our folks would remark, "Now look out for a cry next." I observed that the tears usually cam before the play was finished. There is nothing stable about our emotions. Like the tumble-weed of the Western prairies, they roll whichever way the wind blows. This play of emotions we see even in Christ. Sometimes he rejoiced in spirit; at another time he said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Matthew 26:38). In Paul's life we find this same alternation of joy and sorrow, or rejoicing and of heaviness. Peter speaks of it thus: "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations" (I Peter 1:6).He knew from his own experience that there were times when Christians would greatly rejoice and other times, or seasons, as he calls them, when they would be in heaviness. He implies that these seasons of heaviness are a "need be"; he nowhere says the same of the seasons of joy. The "need be" seasons must come; the other seasons may come. The fact that we enjoy the joy more than the heaviness does not mean that the former is of more value to us or that it is more needful to us.

If children have too much candy, it spoils their digestion and appetite. Some people are blessing-hunters. Their chief prayer is, "O Lord, bless me"; and they count nothing a blessing but joyful emotions. Such emotions stand in the same relations to the soul that candy does to the body. We can easily get along with out candy, but our lives depend upon good nourishing food. We could get along very well without blessings, but we must have those needful things that develop the soul. We could serve God all our days and reach heaven safely in the end if we never in all our lives had a single emotion of joy. Our service could be just as faithful and just as acceptable. Our good feelings do not recommend us to God. They are often a source of weakness to us. Just when emotions subside, we are the least able to meet difficulties. Joyful emotions are delightful, but they do not strengthen. They do not give a finer quality to faith. Sometimes emotions run very high. The soul seems carried out of itself. It rejoices with "joy unspeakable and full of glory," but right at the end of this rejoicing comes faith's critical period. Very often we come down off the mountain of transfiguration only to find a devil to be cast out. Very often after a period of rejoicing comes a period of serious testing. The reaction is inevitable. The farther our feelings swing to the one extreme, the farther they will swing to the other when the reaction comes. I have seen people so happy that they could almost imagine themselves in heaven, and a few hours later have seen them in the greatest distress. The reaction had to come. Their good feelings were gone and they did not know how to meet the situation.

In a meeting which I attended a number of years ago, a young sister sought the Lord for entire sanctification. Whole-hearted and earnest, she sought diligently, and she soon received what she sought. Her emotions were very greatly wrought upon. It seemed as if she would never stop rejoicing. She kept on for a long time, breaking forth again and again with praises to God. She seemed overwhelmed by her emotions. I called my wife's attention to her and said, "You had better go and talk to her presently; for when this joy subsides, something else is going to come." About an hour later my wife went and hunted her up and found her in the deepest gloom. The reaction had come, and she was doubting that God had done a work for her. She was almost ready to give it up entirely. Her faith was rapidly slipping away from her. The needed encouragement and instruction were given, and in a little while she was again believing with a steadfast faith. Years have passed, but she is still sanctified.

Almost always a testing time comes just after the emotions have been wrought up. It is just at such a juncture that things take hold most upon us, and it is just at such times that we have the greatest difficulty in preserving our equilibrium. Such emotions are not an unmixed blessing. We need to learn this certain reaction and to be prepared to meet it; otherwise our faith is likely to be greatly shaken.

Sometimes we have conflicting emotions. We may have two opposite emotions at the same time, or rapidly changing emotions. We may seem to glide from one to another and have several different sets of them in a single day's time. If we try to test our standing before God by emotions, we are thrown into confusion. Form the habit of judging yourself, not by your emotions, but by your purposes and intentions. Do not be swerved from that. Feelings will be a source of weakness toyou if you do not.

The Powerful Influence of Our Emotions

Our emotions seem so clearly to be the true indication of existing facts that we oftenhave much difficulty in discrediting them, no matter what may be the evidence to the contrary. We can sometimes overlook the most positive evidence easier than we can set aside the testimony of our feelings, especially when we are used to relying upon our feelings. Some become the creatures of their emotions. They never know that they are right except when they have joyous emotions. Just as soon as these subside, such persons begin to question themselves. While they feel all right, they know they are all right; but if the voice of emotion is stilled, they no longer have any evidence of their salvation. As a result, they are often in confusion and are never certain of themselves for more than a short period. They are the slaves of a hard master. When their master smiles, they are elated and confident; when he frowns, they are in despair. Some people seem to live in a dark, deep pit of bad feelings. They manage to climb up now and then so that they can see the sunshine and rejoice in its rays for a time; but soon they lose their hold and fall down into their pit again, there to sit in melancholy shadows and to brood over their sad fate. They could get out of their pit and stay out if they would trust God and his Word instead of their feelings, but they cannot persuade themselves that anything is true that contradicts their feelings. O soul, break away from this bondage and get out in God's sunshine and base your hope on a surer foundation!

Emotions No Basis for a Settled Experience

If our experience is founded on our feelings, it is like a house-boat floating on the water. We are tossed to and fro by every wave and every wind, and drifted by every current or tide. A house built on a good foundation stands firm. It is not moved. God provides a good foundation for everybody. If we will build on that, we may stand, and not be tossed about. That foundation is faith. It is a sure foundation. No one can ever have repose of soul long who judges himself by his feelings. Emotions can never be the basis of a settled experience. The soul who trust in them will never be sure of himself for more than a short period. He is like a man trying to balance himself on a floating log which rolls now this way, now that way, and which is whirled about by every eddy and turn of the current. We do not have to be spiritual acrobats to serve God. Settled peace comes only from a settled faith. I have seen many souls in trouble who when asked what was the matter could only answer, "Oh, I do not know, only I do not feel right." The more they looked at their feelings, the worse they felt.

One of the greatest evils that can come to any Christian is for him to set up an ideal standard for his feelings and condemn himself or question himself whenever they fall short of his expectations. He soon develops a morbid sensitiveness that leads him into a maze of uncertainties and brings him into distress whenever his emotions fall below the point that he has marked as zero on his spiritual thermometer. Your thermometer of feelings may register only the influences that surround you, and be no true test whatever of you spiritual state. Throw away your home-made thermometers. Take God's tester, which is his Word, and measure your life by it. When you trust in your old feeling-thermometer, if it goes down below your zero-mark you are almost sure to think that you are frozen to death spiritually. You desire a settled experience. Very well. You may have it, provided you will go about getting it in the only possible way that it may be attained. It must be based on something more substantial than your emotions. God has a sure foundation. If you will build on that, you may stand secure. Learn to value your emotions at their true worth. At the very best, joyful emotions are only the foam on the waters of salvation. Do not suppose there is no water if there is no foam. Do not judge the depth of the water by the amount of foam. It is usually the case that the more foam there is, the shallower the water is. Enjoy your pleasant emotions when they come; but when they have gone, do not suppose that it is because of a change in your spiritual condition. There will be seasons of joyfulness and seasons of heaviness, but remember that a few bad feelings do not frighten the Holy Spirit away from our hearts.

Reaction and Interaction

Man is a trinity of the physical, the mental, and the moral, or spiritual. These are not three separate, distinct, and independent parts. They are united into a mutuallydependent whole. Each part is related to and affected by each other part. What affects one part affects the whole. Anything that throws one part out of balance reacts upon the others. Any abnormal state of one part has its reaction on the others and hinders or prevents their normal functioning. Lack of understanding this has led many persons to judge wrongly themselves or others for things which, though they were manifested in the moral, did not have their origin in the moral at all, but were only reactions from the physical or mental. We can never understand either ourselves or others until we learn the facts involved in these relations of the various parts of our being. Every one who would be a spiritual teacher should carefully inform himself regarding the principles of psychology and physiology. Without this knowledge he will be at a disadvantage in dealing with souls. He will often judge from appearance instead of judging righteous judgment. We all owe it to ourselves to study ourselves till we are able to tell the forces that are producing the spiritual and mental effects by which we usually judge our religious standing. We should study ourselves until we know the causes that produce the effect that troubles us. If we merely guess at them, we shall often guess wrong. There is always an underlying cause for every effect, but that cause may sometimes be considerably removed from the effect or from the manifestations that it produces.

Effects of the Physical

Our physical being affects very strongly our mental and religious organization. When the physical powers are buoyant and we are full of vitality and animal spirits, the stimulus of this reacts upon the mind and soul so that we may easily be care-free and joyous. At such times we may meet and overcome with ease things that at other times might prove very hard for us. On the contrary, when the physical forces are at a low ebb and the vital energies are tested to overcome disease or weakness, there is an opposite reaction and both mind and spirit feel the effect. Many times people are mentally dull and inactive wholly on account of some physical derangement. The same thing affects them spiritually. Chronic diseases, especially of certain kinds, often react to produce gloom, discouragement, and unrest. Any disease that constantly draws upon the vitality of the system is likely to produce such an effect. Such things naturally discourage and render us despondent. A man once went to a minister and told him a long tale of woe concerning his spiritual troubles. The minister listened patiently, as ministers must listen to such things, and when he had heard the story, he said, "Oh, brother, I'll tell you what's the matter with you; your liver is out of order." That preacher knew the secret of many people's spiritual trouble.

I suppose the majority of the bad feelings that Christians have come from livers or kidneys that do not function properly, indigestion, or some other disorder of the physical functions or organs. Dyspepsia almost always reacts upon the mental and spiritual. A dyspeptic does not feel much like smiling, neither does a bilious person. A great many troubles that seem to be spiritual troubles do not indicate anything wrong in the spiritual nature whatever. They are merely reactions from the physical. Many women have their spiritual skies obscured and suffer much from doubts and discouragements simply as a result of reaction from special diseases or weaknesses with which they are afflicted. Do not be too ready to suppose that bad feelings come from a bad condition of the heart. If we are doing what we know to do and serving the Lord to the best of our understanding, we need not suppose that our bad feelings come from our hearts' being wrong. We may look somewhere else for the cause. We are all aware of the effect of a heavy cold or of a toothache or something else that causes severe suffering or acute derangement of any part. It is often very difficult to pray or to have faith when we are suffering. Many times we cannot think with clearness. The mental and the spiritual are both strongly affected by the reaction from the physical. The reaction from chronic diseases is no less certain, though it may manifest itself in a somewhat different way. Whatever affects the physical, whether it be disease or something else, affects also, by its reaction, the mental and the spiritual. A striking example of such reactions is the experience of an old-time New England circuit-rider, who made the following entries in his diary.

"Wednesday evening. Arrived at the home of Brother Brown late this evening, hungry and tired after a long day in the saddle. Had a bountiful supper of cold pork and beans, warm bread, bacon and eggs, coffee and rich pastry. I go to rest feeling that my witness is clear; the future is bright; I feel called to a great and glorious work at this place. Brother Brown's family are godly people."

The next entry was as follows

"Thursday morning. Awakened late this morning after a troubled night. I am very much depressed in soul; the way looks dark; far from feeling called to work among this people, I am beginning to doubt the safety of my own soul. I am afraid the desires of Brother Brown and his family are set too much on carnal things."

His whole outlook was changed, and, not understanding his trouble, he, like many another, thought his trouble was in his heart, whereas it was really in his stomach.

Overeating often renders us dull, so that we find it very difficult to concentrate our minds on anything. At such times we cannot pray with the same earnestness and grasp of faith as at other times. We cannot feel the same interest in spiritual or mental things. Overwork often produces similar results. After a hard day's work we cannot read with the same mental grasp or attention that we can at other times, and we cannot pray as we are used to doing at other times. The man who comes in after a hard day's work and picks up his Bible and tries to read it, often finds his mind wandering to other things, or he finds himself sleeping and unable to get any satisfaction out of what he reads. He may find little delight in family worship. His prayer may seem dull and dry and meaningless, and he may become greatly tried because of this. The trouble is he has used up his energy in the day's work. He is weary in soul and in mind as well as in body. What he needs to restore him is a good rest. When the physical forces are restored, he will find that his spiritual and mental tone is also restored. A generally worn-out physical state is bound to react on the spiritual. That is why many people find themselves seemingly so much less spiritual in the summer-time than in the winter. It is because their forces are used up in physical labors, and, having only about so much force to expend, they find themselves subnormal spiritually. If we want to prosper spiritually, therefore, we must not overwork, but leave ourselves with sufficient energy for our spiritual duties. If we seem compelled to overwork, we should arrange circumstances so that we shall not be, if that is at all possible; but if we cannot, we ought to take this into consideration and not blame ourselves for not being as spiritual as we ought to be, when it is merely a lack of the necessary energy.

People who are in a highly nervous state will have more or less spiritual trouble on account of it. They will have many trials that others do not have. They are likely to be filled with apprehensions and melancholy. They are apt to be tried when in such a state by things that would not trouble them at all if they were in a normal condition. We ought to take all these reactions into consideration, and, in judging our spiritual condition, we must do this, or else we shall have continual trouble.

Any functional desire of the physical when excited has a corresponding mental effect. When we are hungry, we naturally think of food and of meal-time. How slow the time seems to go when we are waiting for a meal! and the hungrier we are, the slower it seems to go. All our functional desires act in the same way, directing our thoughts to the means of their gratification. We may turn our minds away from them, but the tendency is for our thoughts to come right back to the same subject again. Persons are sometimes very much troubled about this, in regard to certain functions. They need not be, however; it is the natural physical results. It is only nature's way of looking out for herself.

Effect of the Mental

The effect of the mind upon the body is often very powerful. This is illustrated in the cases of stigmata which are on record. People of certain temperaments have thought about the wounds of Christ until there have appeared upon their own bodies marks in the places where they suppose the marks were upon his body. There are several such cases upon record. Not long ago there was reported in the press the case of a man who attempted to commit suicide, but failed without doing himself any physical injury. Two hours later he died. The coroner's verdict was "mental suicide." The reaction of the unfortunate man's thoughts upon his physical being was such as to destroy his physical life. Many physical derangements come from worry and fear. On the other hand, opposite emotions produce opposite effects upon the physical. The Wise Man said, "A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a broken spirit drieth up the bones" (Proverbs 17:22, ASV). This is why doctors always want their patients encouraged. A gloomy face or a gloomy voice in the sick-room is a great hindrance to the sick person. The effect of the mental reacting upon the spiritual is just as real and powerful as upon the physical.

Effect of Conscious Mental Action

We may say that the human mind is divided into two different parts - that of conscious mind and that of subconscious mind. We are conscious of the working of the first, but the second works without our knowledge, and we become conscious of its action only through the finished results. Life has its bright side and its dark side. We may look upon whichever side we will. If we let our minds look upon dark and gloomy things, if we let ourselves be harassed by worry and fear, we have no one to blame but ourselves. If we give our minds over to such things, we may discourage ourselves and in that discouragement only be reaping what we have sown. If we burn our fingers, we must endure the pain; likewise if we let our minds run on gloomy things, we must bear the soul-pain that follows. The greater part of our troubles are home-made, and this is true of spiritual troubles as well as of any other kind. They are only the reaction of our wrong mental habits. If you wish to be joyful and victorious, keep your mind upon the things that will tend to make you so. Look away from that which is dark and gloomy. Look to that which will arouse different emotions. Never harbor gloomy thoughts; banish them from your mind. You can be cheerful if you will. You may not be able to correct bad mental habits at once; but if you set yourself resolutely to the task, you can break yourself of them and establish right habits of thought, and this will go far toward bringing spiritual serenity.

Sometimes people are troubled over bad dreams. They dream of things that are evil, and sometimes take this as an indication that they are not right in their souls. They think that if they were pure they would not have dreams of impure or evil things. Such dreams are no indication of the soul's condition, any more than a good dream is an indication that one is saved. Many dreams come from physical causes, and we should not count them as having any moral quality.

Although we have no control over our dreams, we do have control over our waking thoughts, at least to a great extent; and we can turn them into right channels till by habit they run there naturally. Sometimes there come to the mind thoughts that are undesirable. We put them away from us, but they return almost immediately. They persist in doing this notwithstanding all our efforts to banish them. The only thing that we can do in such a case is to keep banishing them from our minds as much as possible until they run their course and we can thus get entirely rid of them. We ought not to condemn ourselves for our inability to shut out such thoughts from our minds, for the ability to shut them out does not always depend upon our will. They come and go, and we hardly know why nor whence. It is only when we welcome them and indulge them that they work evil with the soul.

Subconscious Mental Effect

The subconscious mind is that part of the mind that works without our knowing it, or being conscious of its activity. It is the subconscious mind that works out most of the problems of life for us. Our minds may be likened to a factory of two rooms. In one we stand and look about and see what is going on, but we know nothing of what is going on in the other, until a truckload of finished product is run out into our sight. Many of the thoughts that seem to come to our minds from nowhere in particular come from the subconscious mind. They are projected into the conscious mind from it, and it seems as though they just struck our minds someway, and we know not their source, unless we know of the subconscious action of our minds. Sometimes we get to thinking over a subject, and then our attention is called away, and we forget it. A few days later the thought all worked out to a conclusion presents itself to our minds. The subconscious mind has seized upon the thought that was in the conscious mind and has kept working on it until it has solved it to its satisfaction, and then it presents the result of its action to the conscious mind.

Sometimes our minds are suddenly filled with thoughts that bring joy and an uplift to the soul. These often result from something that has been taken into the subconscious mind and there wrought upon and finally turned back suddenly into the conscious mind. The opposite also is true. Oftentimes gloomy thoughts and feelings suddenly come upon us and we have no idea whence they come, when, in reality, some thought that was in our mind days or weeks before went into the subconscious mind and there worked, and now it comes out in a flood of gloom. Many seasons of gloominess and trial have their development in the subconscious mind, and the spiritual effect is only the reaction from the subconscious mind. Every time you allow yourself to think over dark and discouraging things, you are in danger of the thoughts sinking into your subconscious mind and coming out later on in a flood of discouragement. It is probable that the greater part of our spiritual trouble comes from either physical or spiritual reaction, Satan having nothing whatever to do with it. If we know of these reactions and treat them as reactions, we shall not feel that there is something wrong in our souls when we feel bad spiritually.

External Influences

We are often strongly influenced by the persons around us. We may be either encouraged or discouraged by them. We sometimes come into contact with those who are melancholy or under deep trial or discouragement, and their feelings react on us to produce unpleasant results. We feel ourselves depressed in spirit, or we may become deeply tried by partaking of the influence resting on them, in just the same way as we become uplifted and encouraged by a person who is full of sunshine and good cheer. We need to recognize the probability of this influence of others working upon us. We need to guard ourselves against yielding to such influence, except where the influence is good, any more than it is possible to avoid.

Natural conditions, such as the weather, climate, scenery, etc., often affect our feelings very strongly. Bright, sunny weather often reacts upon us to make us cheerful and happy; dark, gloomy weather has a tendency to depress our spirits. Unpleasant surroundings or uncongenial employment often affects us for ill, causing homesickness, gloominess, and like feelings.

Besides those influences already mentioned, there are direct spiritual influences that work upon us. God, by his Spirit, often strongly influences us. His influence is always for good; it always uplifts and helps and brightens. He often manifests himself to us when we are not expecting it. Sometimes during physical suffering or other distress he comes to us with such sweetness and blessedness that we are quite lifted above our affliction. He can make us joyful in all our tribulations. Just in our time of need his Spirit is with us. He comforts and helps and cheers; in fact, he is all and in all to us.

We are also subject to other spiritual influences. Evil spirits abound. Sometimes heavy depressions suddenenly settle down upon us; heavy clouds obscure our sky, and we know no reason why they should. Fiery and unexpected temptations come upon us. Sometimes we are conscious that such are the direct influence of evil agents. These experiences are not indications that we are not right in our souls, and we should not question ourselves wrongly at such times. We may feel these influences very keenly. We may have hand-to-hand combat with demons in the spiritual element. We may sometimes be hard pressed. At such times we should resist stedfastly in the faith. We should hold fast our confidence in ourselves and in God, and expect to have power from God to overcome. Satan has power to affect our feelings very strongly, and also power to put thoughts into our minds; and he often takes advantage of this power. Sometimes we realize that we have two kinds of feelings simultaneously, one superficial and the other deeper, and that there is a conflict between these feelings. Sometimes profane or impure thoughts will be impressed upon our minds, and if we do not understand their source, we may be greatly troubled over them. There may sometimes be feelings of resentment toward God or a feeling of purposes that are quite out of harmony with the Christian life or experience. Sometimes souls having this experience are horrified and think themselves in a deplorable condition; when, in reality, these things come directly from Satan, and not from themselves at all. They do not spring from the heart, but are from an external Influence. Underneath these feelings are the true feelings and purposes of the soul. These deeper and better feelings show the real state and condition of the heart. We should not condemn ourselves because Satan imposes such feelings or thoughts upon us. If we will simply resist them and assert in our souls that we will not accept them nor have anything to do with them, we may overcome them and be none the worse for them, although the experience may be rather trying to our souls while we tire passing through it.

Being subject, as we are, to all these influences, we ought not to suppose that all our difficulties are soul difficulties. The thing to do is to keep our hearts open before God; to keep our purposes and lives pure; to live by faith, not by our feelings; to judge ourselves, not by our emotions or the influences brought to bear upon us, but by the inmost purposes of our hearts. If the reader will carefully study the facts already enumerated and get hold of them until he understands them for himself, they will be of the greatest value to him in the Christian life