The Journals & Notebook of
 Nathan Bangs 1805-1806, 1817

 

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Editorial Annotations


This entry is undated and follows immediately the 1802 narrative concerning the trader of Little York. It comprises an interesting distillation of nineteenth-century Methodism by beginning with an exorcism and ending with an apologetic sermon that draws as much on logic as it does on scripture. The former seems the quintessence of practical, experiential Christianity while the latter represents a shift towards scholarship and reason. It is possible that this latter apologetic text is an excerpt from Bangs's previously mentioned (though never published) "Essay on the Reasonableness of Christianity."

As an aside, Bangs's arguments for embracing Christianity are highly reminiscent of Pascal's Wager and also a stark departure from St. Paul's view that Christians are the most pitiable of people if their religious hopes are in vain (1 Cor 15.12-19). It may provide an insight into the tenor of sermons preached by Bangs in the latter half of his career.

 

[Retrospective entry: Autumn 1800]

B

Soon after I experienced religion, there was a poor man in the neighborhood, who, by resisting the conviction of truth, lost his reason, becoming quite deranged. Several times did the people of God pray for, and with him; but apparently to no purpose. Sometimes when they would come into his presence, he would gnash with his teeth, and ask, "where is your God. He is not with you." [cf. Ps 42.3] I once visited him, talked with him and prayed with him; but without any visible effect. On a certain day a number being assembled in the vicinity for meeting, and the preacher not arriving, they were principally collected at the house of the crazy man. It came to my mind that, if the people could be taken away, except two or three, who should remain with him, the Lord would answer prayer, and deliver him. Means were accordingly used for that purpose. The people being withdrawn, two others with myself entered the house, persuaded him to kneel down, a brother by the name of Ostrander began praying. In a few minutes the power of God descended, which prostrated the man to the floor, he giving a hideous yell. The noise being heard the people came down, and rushed into the house, which seemed to interrupt the fervour of our souls. The man, however, was restored to his right mind, and remained so. I saw him three years afterwards, and he had continued well until that time; and for aught I know until this day. He did not profess to find peace to his soul. Who can say the Lord heareth not prayer? Might not the evil spirit, who appears to possess many, be cast out by fasting and prayer? [cf. Mt 17.21, Mk 9.29].

Not long since, I conversed with a gentleman, once a zealous professor of religion, but now a complete sceptic, as it respects Christianity. The candor and frankness with which he acknowledged his doubts interested me considerably in his behalf. I thought he was an example of the justness of our Lord's solemn caution, "Take heed lest the light that is within thee be darkness; and then how great is that darkness" [Mt. 6.23].

Allowing heathenism, atheism, deism, and Christianity, each to be supported with an equal quantum of probable evidence, reason declared that Christianity ought to be embraced, on account of its superior advantages. In respect to the immutabily [immutability] of the soul, a truth so desirable in itself, the heathens only conjectured and therefore hoped, in its reality, the atheist denies it altogether, and the Deist is indebted to revelation for this article of his faith; but this divine revelation sets the certainty of it in the clearest and most perspicuous point of light. This is the first advantage. That mankind are sinners, or are in a spiritually descended state, is everywhere felt, universally acknowledged; but no where is its true cause ascertained, or an adequate remedy discovered but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. This is a second. The Christian revelation is proposed to us under such solemn and awful sanctions, that if true, it cannot be rejected with impunity, but by insuring the severest penalties imaginable; and if not true, the deception of embracing it as truth, can do no possible injury; whereas if true, and we reject it, eternal consequences of the most fatal nature, must insure. The other systems mentioned can yield us no remedy. We can be no loosers [sic] therefore ultimately, if by embracing Christianity, we are eventually deceived. But O! who can calculate the immense advantage, if the believer in divine revelation, finally finds himself founded upon immutable truth. Endless felicity is the certain consequence! Now I aver if there were twenty probabilities against the truth of the Christian religion, where there were one against infidelity, still reason declares we ought to be Christians. It is of such tremendous importance. How awful, how Holy, just, wise, and good, the character of that God, revealed to us in the sacred scriptures! How sublime the doctrines of Christianity, how pure its precepts; and what a direct aptitude, considered in all its parts, to promote the individual, general, and universal good of mankind! All that is excellent in natural religion, all that is approvable in the civil institutions of the most refined, and the highest communities, are included in Christianity. And in those things in which it goes beyond them, it as much transcends them in sublimity, purity, and suitableness to the moral condition of mankind as the magnitude of the objects revealed, surpasses the objects of sense with which we are surrounded in this world. Taking the scriptures for our guide, and we have a universal monstrum [?]to dissolve all the knotty difficulties, respecting our duty, to God, ourselves, our neighbor, our origin, and our end; the imposition of our bodies, the nature and immortality of our souls, a future state, the certainty of, and the way to obtain everlasting felicity. Closing our eyes upon this divine light, all is dark; impenetrable clouds of uncertainty hang over our minds, and leave us in a state of extreme anxiety. Look then at the advantages of being, not a nominal, but a real Christian but, Add to these considerations, that no history of antiquity handed down to us, attended with half the force of evidence, as that with which the Christian revelation is accompanied And then say, if you ought not to believe.

These were some of the considerations which were urged their propriety were acknowledged.

What a fearful thing it is to depart from the living God! How dark that mind, when the light of divine truth, the illumination of the Holy Spirit, is withdrawn.
   

October 1802

7 January 1817

Primary Sources


David Smyth "Map of the Province of Upper Canada 1813" Detail showing region of Niagara circuit

 

Terms


 

 

Edited by Scott McLaren
Book History Practicum
University of Toronto