The statements of ecclesiastical history furnish evidence, conclusive as it is melancholy, that, in almost every age since the time of the Apostles, there have been individuals, who have professed to be the subjects of revelations; persons, to whom God, according to their own ideas of things, has made special communications, and who, accordingly, have assumed, in a greater or less degree, the prophetic character. The age, in which we live, distinguished as it is, by philosophic advancement and by enlightened views on the subject of religion, has been, as it seems to us, distinguished also by the multiplication of instances of this kind. On every side, and in almost all Christian denominations, persons have made their appearance, who have regarded themselves as the subjects of special divine communications. Not the mere subjects of things religiously experienced in the heart; that is not what we mean; but of things supernaturally communicated to the intellect; not the mere subjects of holiness in exercise, but of revelations exteriorly imparted. We do not mean to imply, that these persons were not Christians; we have no doubt that in some cases they were; but we do mean to imply and to say, that their Christianity, their religion, existed, and must have existed independently of their gift or supposed gift of revelations.
It is a matter of notoriety, that the persons, to whom we now refer, have been in the habit not only of uttering predictions of future events; but have also undertaken to pronounce authoritatively upon some things in present existence, which are ordinarily withdrawn from notice; such as the present state of the inward moral and religious character of individuals, and their acceptance with God or their rejection. In many instances the results of their confident anticipations and predictions have shown, that the remarkable visitations and revelations, which they professed to have, and which it is possible that they very sincerely professed to have, were not from God. But if it had been otherwise, in other words if their statements and predictions had been fulfilled, it would not alter the general truth of our proposition. God if he chooses may select those, who are his enemies, to be the depository of his revelations; but their designation to this office, although it is perhaps out of the ordinary course of his proceedings, does not necessarily make them his friends. Saul was at one time numbered among the prophets. And Balaam, the son of Beor, “fell into a trance, having his eyes open;” and the declarations, which he then heard, he seems to have been authorized to utter as the predictions of the Most High.
We might enter into the question of the origin of these rather remarkable states of mind, and institute the inquiry, whether we are to regard them, in the present age of the world, as having their origin in the inspirations of God, or in the suggestions of Satan, or in the movements of a strongly disordered physical system operating upon, or in connection with, a highly excited state of the intellect and the feelings. But without entering into this inquiry, which, interesting and important as it undoubtedly is, would occupy too much time, what we have to remark here is, that the decisive circumstance, unfavorable to this form of Christian experience, if by courtesy we may call it such, is this: that, in itself considered, it is wholly intellectual
. Visions, trances, revelations, and all other things, which are exteriorly imparted without being inwardly and operatively experienced, communicating new and perhaps remarkable views without changing the dispositions of the heart, are just what they are and just what their names indicate; but they are not religion
. They may be regarded, if any one chooses so to regard them, as constituting an intellectual experience, or still more definitely as constituting an “apparitional” experience but we repeat, that, in themselves considered, they do not and cannot constitute religion. If a man has a trance, a vision, and especially if he has a revelation, and can sustain it by such miracles as sustained the divine messages of Christ and the Apostles, we readily admit, that he is entitled to a hearing. But, in the first place, we know of no such cases. And in the second place, if we did, it would furnish no decisive grounds of inference in favor of the piety of such persons. It leaves the case just where it found it. And simply for the reason already indicated, viz. that these things are “apparitional” and intellectual, are addressed to the senses and the external perceptions, and do not penetrate the region of the heart
Isaiah, and Ezekiel, and Daniel, and Peter, and John, and Paul, experienced God’s favor and were his beloved and adopted children, not exclusively or chiefly because they had visions and proclaimed God’s revealed messages and wrought God’s miracles; (missions and attributes, which, so far as we can perceive, might have been assigned to other less holy persons or even to unholy persons,) but because, they had given themselves to God in consecration and in faith, because their hearts were sanctified and their wills were subdued.
— edited from The Life of Faith (1852) Part 1, Chapter 11.