Dreams

by Glenn Conjurske

In the present age of “intellectual enlightenment”—-not to mention cold skepticism—-dreams are likely to be rather despised than regarded. And far be it from me to attach any mystical interpretations, or find any supernatural omens, in the ordinary wanderings of our minds during sleep. Nevertheless, scattered here and there throughout the history of the church we find such dreams as compel us to see in them either the hand of God, or the Spirit of God. Many have been awakened or convicted of sin, and arrested in their downward course, by means of dreams. Others have been warned of dangers, or led in the way they should go, by the same means.

In the present article I aim to relate a number of instances of such dreams. But first I wish to direct the reader to the following remarks on the subject by C. H. Mackintosh. They were occasioned by the revival in Ireland, and written in 1859, as part of a series of papers on “The Awakening in Ulster.” I only remark first that while Mackintosh treats of dreams, visions, and prophecies all together, my purpose in quoting him relates solely to the dreams. I abridge his remarks, but it would not be possible (and hardly upright) to delete the references to visions and prophecies. He says,

“We feel it, in some measure, due to our readers to notice a special feature of this movement [the revival] which has come more prominently out within the last few weeks. We allude to the matter of dreams, visions, and prophecies, many of which are most striking and solemnizing. . . .

“And first, then, we would ask, why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should speak to His creatures `in a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed?’ (Job xxxiii.15.) He has done so in all ages. Patriarchs, prophets, and apostles have been so addressed; Abraham was thus addressed, in Genesis xv., Abimelech was thus admonished, in Genesis xx. We have Jacob’s dream, in Genesis xxviii., Laban’s dream, in Genesis xxxi., Joseph’s dreams, in Genesis xxxviii. The dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and baker, in Genesis xl. And Pharaoh’s own dreams in Genesis xli. We have Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel ii. We have Daniel’s dreams and visions, in Daniel vii. Paul saw a vision, in Acts xvi. Various other instances might be adduced, but the above will suffice for our present purpose. God has thought proper, in all ages, to address His people and direct His servants by dreams and visions.

“However, it will most probably be objected, that the cases which we have above brought forward, were all prior to the completion of the canon of Holy Scripture. True; but do they not prove that God did, in those times, make use of dreams and visions as means of communication with His people? Undoubtedly. Well, it devolves upon the objector to prove that He cannot and does not do the same, at the present day. We believe He can and does. We believe that many have been awakened to a sense of their danger, and brought to think seriously of their souls and eternity, by means of a dream. To rest in, or build upon, a dream, would be, obviously, quite a different thing. . . .

“We most fully admit the need and importance of judging all dreams, visions, and prophecies by the truth of God, and rejecting everything contrary thereto. This is the plain duty of every child of God. We are responsible to `try’ the visions as well as `the spirits;’ but to deny the fact that God can communicate with His creatures in the way of a dream or a vision, must be pronounced a most unwarrantable assumption. Who can limit the Almighty? Who can prescribe His mode of acting? Can He not arrest a man, by a vision of the night, now, as well as in the days of Nebuchadnezzar? Can He not cause a person to see a vision now, as well as in the days of the Apostle Paul? Who can doubt it, save one who makes his own limited understanding the measure of what the Almighty can or ought to do, and rejects everything which lies beyond the narrow range of his own reason. This is infidelity, than which nothing can be more contemptible and absurd, though it seems so uncommonly clever and far-seeing. . . .

“If God is pleased to speak to us in dreams and visions, He can do so. If He is pleased to endow us with a knowledge of what shall be on the morrow, He can do so. If He is pleased to strike a man down and evoke from the depths of his agonized and convicted heart the piercing cry of anguish and terror, He can do so. He can cause a man to see with his mental eye the gulf of fire—-the eternal pit of hell yawning to receive him. He can cause him to see the great white throne, prepared, in awful majesty, to try his case. He can cause him to see the roll, containing the black catalogue of all his crimes, unfolded to the gaze of his alarmed conscience.”

And again, “But let it not be supposed that we would by any means, undertake to endorse, as genuine, all the physical manifestations, or all the dreams, visions, and prophecies of the past few months. Far from it. We are quite prepared to admit a vast amount of infirmity, affectation, imitation, and even gross imposition and dishonesty. Nor is this all; we feel assured that just in proportion as the Holy Ghost manifests His power, will Satan manifest his in opposition. This has ever been the case. A strong belief in the Person and actings of the Holy Ghost, will always be attended by an equally strong belief in the person and actings of Satan. But, allowing the widest possible margin for human failure and Satanic power, we are fully persuaded that the Lord may, and does see fit, at times, to allow visions of the eternal world to break in upon the soul, in order to rouse men to a sense of the reality of things which appear on the page of inspiration, and which have been read and heard for years, without impression or practical result. . . . We can only rest in the revealed truth of God—-`the holy scriptures;’ but He may and does make use of dreams and visions to arouse the slumbering conscience, alarm the sceptic mind; and, at times too, to confirm a wavering heart.

“One thing is certain, we are sure to err when we venture to lay down an iron rule, or frame a rigid system; the Holy Ghost will never be confined by such. He is sovereign in His doings. Let us remember this. His operations lie beyond the range of the most enlarged and vigorous understanding. He can cause people to dream dreams, see visions, and utter prophecies. Who will question this? Who will attempt to prescribe a limit to the power of the Holy Ghost, or to the mode of His operations? Who will undertake to say that there is not, at the present moment, an urgent need for the peculiarly solemn and arresting manner in which He is pleased to manifest His power? Have we not all had to complain of coldness, barrenness, and deadness? Has there not been a deplorable amount of scepticism and practical infidelity, even amongst professing Christians? And should we not hail, with unmingled thankfulness, any thing and every thing calculated, in any measure, to meet such a condition of things? For our own part, we can only say, with hearts full to overflowing, the Lord be praised for every exhibition of His right hand and holy arm—-for every display of the lighting down of his power—-for every utterance of His solemn voice, in the ear of this iron age of unbelief and formal profession!”

These, observe, are not the remarks of a modern charismatic, but those of an ancient and sober divine of the most conservative school of the straitest sect of Christendom—-the Plymouth Brethren. Mackintosh was not credulous, but such things as he had seen and heard compelled belief. The modern skepticism concerning everything of this nature is largely an overreaction against Pentecostalism. And though Mackintosh writes of a time of great revival, when there was a profusion of such things, yet those things are not limited to times of revival. I offer to the reader a number of examples which I have gathered up over the years.

I myself was convicted of sin by a dream, at the age of seventeen.

I grew up in a typical evangelical Baptist church, where I heard the typical unsound gospel of these modern days, containing never a word on the subject of repentance. I had of course “accepted Christ as my personal Savior,” but I was living a wicked life, and so (of course) always doubted my salvation. But in a dream of the night I offered some money to a servant of Christ, who refused to accept it from me, because of my wickedness. Though I had sometimes before felt a fear of judgement, it was by means of this dream that I for the first time felt ashamed of my sin—-and that is conviction. I immediately awoke, and lying on my back, looking up to heaven, I said, “Lord, if I never was saved before, I want you to save me now.” I went back to sleep, but got up early in the morning, before any of the rest of the family, and the first thing I did was to ride my bicycle down to the river and throw in my cigarettes.

I cannot doubt the hand of God in that dream. Had I been awake, I probably would not have offered the money to the man, and if I had, he would almost certainly have accepted it, for it was his principle to accept money from the ungodly. “The devil has had it long enough,” he would say. As to the dream itself, I would not pretend that there was anything miraculous or supernatural in it. It was only the workings of my own mind and conscience. But I observe that emotions, though always the same in our dreams as when we are awake, are often stronger and more deeply felt in our dreams. Moreover, it was certainly the hand of God which secured that I should wake up immediately after having that dream, for if I had slept till morning, the impressions which I then felt would likely have been much weakened, if not forgotten.

Many others besides myself have been awakened or convicted of sin by dreams. The first instance I relate occurred in that time of awakening of which C. H. Mackintosh has spoken above, and may serve to establish the validity of his observations:

“The first case of awakening here was of a very peculiar and solemn kind. It was in 1858. It was that of a man who had been a drunkard. He was drunk the week before. In the middle of the night he awoke, and roused the family out of their beds; said he had had a dream; an angel came and told him to be up and busy praying for mercy, for he would die at one o’clock, or, if not at one, decidedly at four o’clock, next day. He dressed, and gave himself up entirely to reading and prayer. People thought he was mad—-in delirium tremens. He refused all solicitations to induce him to drink; went about, wringing his hands and entreating mercy, till about one o’clock; went to his bed, and died happy about four!”

Dan Young, a Methodist preacher, thus relates his own awakening: “In my sleep I conceived that I was in a very solitary place, and walking across a very large hall where all appeared safe. I stepped on a trap-door which dropped me into a very deep cellar, which had no other light than what came through the opening left by the trap-door. I wandered about in search of a place to get out, but could find none, and came to the painful conclusion that I should there starve to death. My feelings were as awful as if it had been a reality in my wakeful hours. In this horrible dilemma, to my unspeakable joy, I heard a voice above saying, `Come here and I will help you out.’ I looked, and saw a man standing on the floor above, yet I could not conceive how he could help me out, the cellar was so deep; but as I approached under the door he reached down his hand, and his arm became elongated, so that he took me by the shoulder, raised me up, and set me on the floor. I shall never forget the look of pity and benevolence he fixed on me. But immediately his appearance changed, his garments became as white as light, and his countenance like the sun. He then said to me: `I am Christ, and I have come to help you out of this cellar, and warn you of your danger. This trap-door on which you stepped, where all appeared safe, is to represent to you the doctrine of universal salvation, in which you are trusting; and as it gave way, and dropped you into despair, so if you continue to trust in that doctrine it will lead you to utter ruin.’ He then instantly vanished from my sight and I awoke. All was very vivid on my mind. I lay awake and pondered, and said to myself, an important doctrine in theology should not be changed on the strength of a dream. O no; but is it not possible that I may be wrong? Can there be any harm in the review of the whole subject? This course I finally determined on, and went into it with all the candor and close thought that I could be master of. I reviewed all the arguments for and against the doctrine of Universalism, and the result was, a clear conviction that although the writers which I had read had reasoned with great ingenuity, yet their arguments involved subtle sophisms, and that any candid and intelligent person who would read the Bible with a disinterested desire to know what doctrines it contained, would undoubtedly arrive at the conclusion that it clearly contained the doctrine that the righteous shall be forever happy in a future state, and the finally wicked forever miserable. I now determined to count the cost: to consider candidly and deeply this question, Is it best or not, all things considered, to be religious? For some weeks my mind was closely engaged in weighing and digesting this subject. All the crosses, trials, and persecutions which would attend a religious course were closely considered. And, on the other hand, the joys, hopes, and consolations of religion, as far as I could judge of them by the testimony of the Scriptures and the testimony of the pious, were well weighed. The final result was, all things considered, it is beyond all possible doubt best to be religious, even in view of the present life. And then when the thoughts are carried to a future state, the argument in favor of religion is perfectly overwhelming. I then came to a full decision that, by the grace of God, I would serve him. From that moment to this hour I have never hesitated for an instant as to my course. In about four weeks from that time I had the witness that my sins were washed away in the blood of the Lamb.”

In the biography of one of the early American Baptist missionaries to Burmah we read, “Toward the close of this year, cases of inquiry began to multiply, and a number of hopeful converts soon presented themselves for the ordinance of baptism. One of these, in relating the exercises of his mind, said that about three months previous, his heart had been very much perplexed through a dream; he imagined himself going toward Shway Dagong, and when not far off, it crumbled down into a mass of ruins. He woke up in great distress, feeling that all his life long he had been rendering the homage, due only to God, to that senseless mass of ruins. He betook himself to prayer and the reading of the New Testament. The light of truth shined in upon his soul, and he found peace in believing.”

Many others have been led to the light of the gospel, or to the servants of Christ who could give it to them, by means of dreams—-and in these there is often something as obviously supernatural as in the vision of Cornelius, which directed him to Peter.

Samuel Walker, usually known as “Walker of Truro,” was one of the few evangelical clergymen in the church of England during the eighteenth century. A young man was led to him in the following manner: “A poor man, Samuel W—-—-–, abandoned to sinful practices, and long inured to a course of wickedness, had engaged himself as trumpeter to a set of strolling players. One morning a companion told him that he was greatly tempted to destroy himself. Samuel laughed at his weakness; but in a few days the wretched man actually put an end to his life. Very soon after, Samuel was violently tempted to commit the same crime. He resisted; but his mind was always in a tempest; he thought Satan was continually urging him to destroy himself as his comrade had done, telling him that he had sinned beyond the hope of mercy, and that the longer he lived the greater would be his condemnation. Harassed for more than a year, he sought the advice of two clergymen and a physician, but found no relief. In this distress, he saw in a dream a minister, who said to him, `I know your troubles, and have come to show you the way to peace with God: follow me.’ Presently he thought he was conducted into a beautiful garden, where every thing he saw was delightful to his mind. A few weeks after this dream, he came to Truro, saw the Rev. Mr. Walker in the street, and instantly cried out, `That is the very man who appeared to me in my dream! I must go and tell him what my sufferings are.’ After showing him the sinfulness of sin, and the necessity of repentance, Mr. Walker preached Christ unto him. Samuel was set free from the bondage of Satan: he left his former companions, got another employment, and led a new life,—-a life becoming a follower of Jesus Christ.”

By means of the following remarkable dream the way was opened before Jesse Lee in Connecticut, where prejudice was very strong against the Methodists: “One afternoon a Mrs. Wells was at the house of her neighbour, Mrs. Wheeler, taking tea; and stated that during the preceding night she had dreamed that a man rode up to a house in which she was, got off his horse, took his saddle-bags on his arm, and walking directly into the house, said, `I am a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I have come to preach to the people of this place. If you will call your neighbours together, I will preach to them to-night.’ She moreover said, that she retained so vivid and perfect a recollection of the man’s face and general appearance, that she should certainly know him if she should ever see him. She then entered into a particular description of the preacher she had seen in her dream. While she was yet speaking, she looked through the window, and exclaimed, `Why, there is the man now!’ And it was so. Mr. Lee rode up, dismounted, took his saddle-bags on his arm, entered the house, and addressing himself to the women, said, `I am a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have come to preach to the people of this place. If you will call your neighbours together, I will preach to them to-night.’ He was welcomed to the house; and that night preached the first sermon ever delivered in that part of Connecticut by a Methodist preacher.” Can anyone doubt the hand of God in this?

A similar thing happened to Valentine Cook: “When wending his way through the Alleghany Mountains, at a late hour on Saturday evening, a lonely stranger, knowing and known of none, he began to reflect on his chances for the night and the approaching Sabbath. He had already been several times repulsed in his applications. At length he saw a neat dwelling on the side of a neighbouring mountain. He rode up with but little hope of success. A well-dressed lady came to the door. In a subdued tone of voice he inquired: `Can you accommodate a stranger for the night?’ She looked at him for a moment, and said: `Yes, and to-morrow too. You are the very man I saw in my dream last night.’ . . . The Spirit of the Lord commenced the work that night: he preached to the people the next day; a glorious revival broke out in the neighbourhood, upwards of seventy souls were converted to God, a Methodist society was organized, and the whole settlement brought under the influence of the gospel before he left the place.”

Dreams have been used of God to encourage the downcast, to confirm the wavering, to deliver from dangers, and to direct to needed supplies. The following account presents a notable deliverance of Richard Boardman from imminent danger:

“I preached one evening at Mould, in Flintshire, and next morning set out for Parkgate. After riding some miles, I asked a man if I was on the road to that place. He answered, `Yes; but you will have some sands to go over, and unless you ride fast you will be in danger of being enclosed by the tide.’ It then began to snow to such a degree that I could scarcely see a step of my way. I got to the sands, and pursued my journey over them for some time as rapidly as I could; but the tide then came in, and surrounded me on every side, so that I could neither proceed nor turn back, and to ascend the perpendicular rocks was impossible. In this situation I commended my soul to God, not having the least expectation of escaping death. In a little time I perceived two men running down a hill on the other side of the water, and by some means they got a boat, and came to my relief, just as the sea had reached my knees, as I sat on my saddle. They took me into the boat, the mare swimming by our side till we reached the land. While we were in the boat, one of the men said, `Surely, sir, God is with you.’ I answered, `I trust he is.’ The man replied, `I know he is,’ and then related the following circumstance: `Last night I dreamed that I must go to the top of such a hill. When I awoke the dream made such an impression on my mind that I could not rest. I therefore went and called upon this man to accompany me. When we came to the place we saw nothing more than usual. However, I begged him to go with me to another hill at a small distance, and there we saw your distressed situation.”’

The reader will observe that all of these dreams are not of the same character. Some of them evidently contain something directly supernatural. Others are only providential. Many are certainly to be accounted for purely on the ground of the workings of the emotions or the conscience of the dreamer. Yet even in these we may see the hand of God in the timing of such dreams, and especially in the fact that the sleeper is often wide awake immediately the dream is finished, so that the strong impression made in sleep remains when awake. In all of this we surely see the hand of God.

Glenn Conjurske

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