Thoughts on Religious Experience - Book

Not open for further replies.


Puritan Board Freshman
Good afternoon,

I do apologize if this is posted in the wrong place.
I just started reading Thoughts on Religious Experience by Archibald Alexander and am already loving it just after reading the preface. For those that have read the book, tips on getting the most out of it? Or discussions on the book. Thanks!

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Junior
I can't get a view of the table of contents - can you help?

Morning Steve,

I attached a PDF of the Title Page, Contents, and Preface. I also pasted the same below, but it is not formatted. I suggest you download the PDF




Professor of Pastoral and Polemic Theology in the Princeton Theological Seminary.



Entered according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1841, by A. W. MITCHELL, M. D., in the office of the Clerk of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.


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

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

The new birth an event of great importance.—The evidences of the new birth.—Diversities of experience in Converts.—Examples.—Causes of diversity

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

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

Erroneous views of regeneration.—The correct view.—The operation of faith.—Exercises of mind, as illustrated in President Edwards’ Narrative.—The operations of faith still further explained

Considerations on dreams, visions, &c.—Remarkable conversion of a blind infidel from hearing the Bible read

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

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

Imperfect sanctification.—The spiritual warfare

Narrative of G—— A—— S——, an Episcopal Clergyman. Narrative of a young Officer in the Army

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

Growth in grace.—Signs of it.—Practical directions how to grow in grace.—Hinderances to it

Backsliding.—The Backslider restored

The rich man and the poor.—The various trials of believers

Death-bed of the Believer

Death-bed exercises of Andrew Rivet

Death-bed exercises and speeches of Rev. Thomas Halyburton

Dying Experience of Mr. John Janeway, the Rev. Edward Payson, and Rev. Samuel Finley, D. D.

Remarks on Death-bed Exercises, with several illsutrative examples

Death-bed exercises of Mr. Baxter, and the Rev. Thomas Scott, D. D.

Preparation for death.—The state of the soul after death

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


THERE are two kinds of religious knowledge, which, though intimately connected as cause and effect, may nevertheless be distinguished. These are the knowledge of the truth as it is revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and the impression which that truth makes on the human mind when rightly apprehended. The first may be compared to the inscription or image on a seal; the other to the impression made by the seal on the wax. When that impression is clearly and distinctly made, we can understand, by contemplating it, the true inscription on the seal more satisfactorily, than by a direct view of the seal itself. Thus it is found, that nothing tends more to confirm and elucidate the truths contained in the word, than an inward experience of their efficacy on the heart. It cannot, therefore, be uninteresting to the Christian, to have these effects, as they consist in the various views and affections of the mind, traced out, and exhibited in their connexion with the truth, and in their relation to each other. There is, however, one manifest disadvantage, under which we must labour, in acquiring this kind of knowledge, whether by our own experience, or that of others; which is, that we are obliged to follow a fallible guide; and the pathway to this knowledge is very intricate, and the light which shines upon it, often obscure. All investigations of the exercises of the human mind are attended with difficulty; and never more so, than when we attempt to ascertain the religious or spiritual state of our hearts. If, indeed, the impression of the truth were perfect, there would exist little or no difficulty; but when it is a mere outline and the lineaments obscure, it becomes extremely difficult to determine whether it be the genuine impress of the truth: especially as in this case, there will be much darkness and confusion in the mind, and much that is of a nature directly opposite to the effects of the engrafted word. There is, moreover, so great a variety in the constitution of human minds, so much diversity in the strength of the natural passions, and so wide a difference in the temperament of Christians, and so many different degrees of piety, that the study of this department of religious truth is exceedingly difficult. In many cases the most experienced and skilful casuist will feel himself at a loss; or may utterly mistake, in regard to the true nature of a case submitted to his consideration. The complete knowledge of the deceitful heart of man, is a prerogative of the omniscient God. “I the Lord search the hearts and try the reins of the children of men.” But we are not on this account forbidden to search into this subject; so far is this from being true, that we are repeatedly exhorted to examine ourselves, in relation to this very point; and Paul expresses astonishment, that the Corinthian Christians should have made so little progress in self-knowledge. “Examine yourselves,” says he, “whether you be in the faith—prove your own selves—know ye not that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates.” In judging of religious experience, it is all important to keep steadily in view the system of divine truth, contained in the Holy Scriptures; otherwise, our experience, as is too often the case, will degenerate into enthusiasm. Many ardent professors, seem too readily to take it for granted, that all religious feelings must be good. They therefore take no care to discriminate between the genuine and the spurious, the pure gold, and the tinsel. Their only concern is about the ardour of their feelings; not considering, that if they are spurious, the more intense they are, the further will they lead them astray. In our day, there is nothing more necessary than to distinguish carefully between true and false experiences, in religion; to “try the spirits whether they are of God.” And in making this discrimination, there is no other test but the infallible word of God; let every thought, motive, impulse and emotion, be brought to this touch-stone. “To the law and the testimony, if they speak not according to these, it is because there is no light in them.”

If genuine religious experience is nothing but the impression of divine truth on the mind, by the energy of the Holy Spirit, then it is evident that a knowledge of the truth is essential to genuine piety; error never can, under any circumstances, produce the effects of truth. This is now generally acknowledged. But it is not so clearly understood by all, that any defect in our knowledge of the truth, must, just so far as the error extends, mar the symmetry of the impression produced. The error, in this case, is of course not supposed to relate to fundamental truths, for then there can be no genuine piety; but where a true impression is made, it may be rendered very defective, for want of a complete knowledge of the whole system of revealed truth; or its beauty marred by the existence of some errors mingled with the truth, which may be well illustrated by returning again to the seal. Suppose that some part of the image inscribed on it has been defaced, or that some of the letters have been obliterated, it is evident, that when the impression is made on the wax there will be a corresponding deficiency or deformity, although in the main the impress may be correct. There is reason to believe, therefore, that all ignorance of revealed truth, or error respecting it, must be attended with a corresponding defect in the religious exercises of the person. This consideration teaches us the importance of truth, and the duty of increasing daily in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is the true and only method of growing in grace. There may be much correct theoretical knowledge, I admit, where there is no impression corresponding with it on the heart; but still, all good impressions on the heart are from the truth, and from the truth alone. Hence we find, that those denominations of Christians which receive the system of evangelical truth, only in part, have a defective experience; and their Christian character, as a body, is so far defective; and even where true piety exists, we often find a sad mixture of enthusiasm, self-righteousness, or superstition. And even where the theory of doctrinal truth is complete, yet if there be an error respecting the terms of Christian communion, by narrowing the entrance into Christ’s fold to a degree which his word does not authorize, this single error, whatever professions may be made to the contrary with the lips, always generates a narrow spirit of bigotry, which greatly obstructs the free exercise of that brotherly love which Christ made the badge of discipleship.
If these things be so, then let all Christians use unceasing diligence in acquiring a correct knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus; and let them pray without ceasing for the influence of the Holy Spirit, to render the truth effectual in the sanctification of the whole man, soul, body, and spirit. “SANCTIFY THEM THROUGH THY TRUTH, THY WORD IS TRUTH,” was a prayer offered up by Christ, in behalf of all whom the Father had given him.

Alexander, A. (1841). Thoughts on Religious Experience (pp. 1–10). Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication.


  • Thoughts on Religious Experience.pdf
    311.9 KB · Views: 0
Last edited:


Puritan Board Freshman
This is an excellent book, although it's a while since I read it.

This bit here in the preface is something I've held onto over the years and found useful time after time:
"If genuine religious experience is nothing but the impression of divine truth on the mind, by the energy of the Holy Spirit, then it is evident that a knowledge of the truth is essential to genuine piety; error never can, under any circumstances, produce the effects of truth."

When people confuse an emotional buzz with religious experience, the guiding principle is, "genuine religious experience is nothing but the impression of divine truth on the mind."

When people want to eliminate all emotional responses from orthodox religion altogether, the guiding principle is, "genuine religious experience is nothing but the impression of divine truth on the mind..."

And that's just the preface! There is so much sanity and wisdom in this book.


Puritan Board Freshman
Agreed completely! It’s awesome!
I’m trying to read it slow so I capture as much of its wisdom as I can.
Not open for further replies.