In the “Life of William Tennent,” that zealous, devoted minister, and friend and fellow-laborer of Whitefield, the author of his memoirs gives an account of Tennent being three days in a trance. He became prostrated with a fever, and by degrees sunk under it, until, to appearances, he died. In laying him out, one felt a slight tremor under the left arm, though the body was cold and stiff. The time for the funeral arrived, and the people were assembled. But a physician, Tennent’s friend, plead that the funeral might be delayed.
Tennent’s brother remarked: “What! A man not dead who is cold and stiff as a stake?” The doctor, however, prevailed; another day was appointed for the funeral. During the interval, various efforts were made to discover signs of life, but none appeared save the slight tremor. For three days and nights his friend, the physician, never left him. Again the people met to bury him, but could not even then obtain the physician’s consent. For one hour more he pled; when that was gone, he craved half an hour more. That being expired, he implored a stay of fifteen minutes, at the expiration of which Tennent opened his eyes.
The following brief account is given in Mr. Tennent’s own language, and was related to a brother minister: “As to dying, I found my fever increase, and I became weaker and weaker, until all at once, I found myself in heaven, as I thought. I saw no shape as to the Diety, but glory all unutterable. I can say as Paul did, I heard and saw things unutterable. I saw a great multitude before His glory, apparently in the height of bliss, singing most melodiously. I was transported with my own situation, viewing all my troubles ended, and my rest and glory begun, and was about to join the great and happy multitude, when one came to me looked me full in the face, laid his hand upon my shoulder, and said: “You must go back.”
“These words went through me; nothing could have shocked me more. I cried out: “Lord, must I go back?” With this shock, I opened my eyes in this world, I fainted, then came to, and fainted again several times, as one probably would naturally have done in so weak a situation.
“For three years the sense of the Divine things continued so great, and everything else appeared so completely vain, when compared to heaven, that could I have had the world for stooping down for it, I believe I should not have thought of doing it.”
To the writer of his memoirs, Mr. Tennent, concerning this experience, once said: “I found myself, in an instant, in another state of existence, under the direction of a superior being, who offered me to follow him. I was accordingly wafted along, I know not how, till I beheld, at a distance, an ineffable glory, the impression of which on my mind, it is impossible to communicate to mortal man.
“Such was the effect on my mind of what I had seen and heard, that if it be possible for a human being to live entirely above the world, and the things of it, for some time afterward I was that person. The ravishing sounds of the songs and hallelujahs that I heard, and the very words that were uttered, were not out of my ears, when awake, for at least three years. All the kingdoms of the earth were in my sight as nothing and vanity. So great were my ideas of heavenly glory, that nothing which did not in some measure relate to it, could command my serious attention.
Mr. Tennent lived a number of years after this event, and died in the triumphs of a living faith, March 8, 1777, aged 71 years; his mortal remains being interred at his chapel, in Freehold, N. J. He was an able, faithful preacher; and the Divine presence with him was frequently manifested in his public and private ministrations. In personal appearance, he was tall, erect, and of spare visage, with bright, piercing eyes, and grave, solemn countenance.
The following was related and vouched for by the late Robert Young, the missionary. We quote his account of the trance as given in a tract entitled, “A Vision of Hell,” issued by the Evangelical Publishing Company, Chicago:
“While residing in a British colony as a Christian missionary, I was called one evening to visit Miss D----, who was said to be dying. Mrs. Young, by whom she was met weekly for religious instruction, feeling a deep interest in her spiritual welfare, accompanied me to her residence. We found her in the chamber of a neat little cottage, exceedingly ill, but confiding in the merits of Jesus; and after spending some time with her in conversation and prayer, we commended her to God, and took our departure, without the least hope of seeing her again in this life. Soon after we left she seemed to die; but as the usual signs of death, which so rapidly develop themselves in that country, did not appear, her friends anxiously waited to see the end.
“She was watched with great interest, both night and day; and after having been in this state for nearly a week, opened her eyes and said: "Mr. C---- is dead." Her attendants, thinking that she was under the influence of delirium, replied that she was mistaken, as he was not only alive but well. "Oh, no!" said she, "he is dead; for a short time ago, as I passed the gates of hell, I saw him descend into the pit, and the blue flame cover him. Mr. B---- is also dead, for he arrived at heaven just as I was leaving that happy place, and I saw its beautiful gates thrown wide open to receive him, and beard the host of heaven shout: "Welcome, weary pilgrim!"
“Mr. C---- was a neighbor, but a very wicked person, and Mr. B----, who lived at no great distance, many years had been a member of the Church of God. The parties who heard Miss D----’s startling and confident statements immediately sent to make inquiries about the two individuals alluded to, and found, to their utter astonishment, that the former had dropped down dead about half an hour before, whilst in the act of tying his shoe; and that about the same time the latter had suddenly passed into the eternal world. For the truth of these facts I do solemnly vouch. She then went on to tell them where she had been, and what she had seen and heard.
VISIT TO HEAVEN
“After being sufficiently recovering to leave the house, she paid us a visit, and Mrs. Young, as well as myself, heard from her own lips the following account of what she had passed through. She informed us that at the time she was supposed to die, a celestial being conducted her into the invisible world, and mysteriously unveiled to her the realities of eternity. He took her first to heaven, but she was told that, as she yet belonged to time, she could not be permitted to enter into that glorious place, but only to behold it; which she represented as infinitely exceeding in beauty and splendor the most elevated conceptions of mortals, and whose glories no language could describe.
“She told us that she beheld the Savior upon a throne of light and glory, surrounded by the four-and-twenty elders, and a great multitude which no man could number; among whom she recognized patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and all the missionaries who had died in that colony, besides many others whom she mentioned; and although those parties were not named by the angel that attended her, yet she said that seeing them was to know them.
“She described these celestial spirits as being variously employed; and, although she felt herself inadequate to convey any definite idea of the nature of that employment, yet it appeared to be adapted to their respective mental tastes and spiritual attainments. She also informed us that she heard sweet and most enrapturing music, such as she had never heard before, and made several attempts to give us some idea of its melodious character, but found her notes too earthly for that purpose.
While thus favored, the missionaries already referred to, and other happy spirits, as they glided past her, sweetly smiled, and said they knew whence she came, and, if faithful to the grace of God, she would, in a-short time, be admitted into their delightful society. All the orders of heaven were in perfect and blessed harmony, and appeared to be directed in all their movements by mysterious influence, proceeding from the throne of God.
“She was next conducted to a place whence she had
A VIEW OF HELL
“This she described in the most terrific language, and declared that the horrid shrieks of lost spirits still seemed to sound in her ears. As she approached the burning pit, a tremendous effort was made to draw her into it; but she felt herself safe under the protection of her guardian angel. She recognized many in the place of torment whom she had known on earth, and even some who had been thought to be Christians.
“There were princes and peasants, learned and un-learned, writhing together in one unquenchable fire, where all earthly distinctions and titles were forever at an end. Among them she beheld a Miss W----, who had occupied a prominent station in society, but had died during the illness of this young woman. She said that when Miss W saw her approach, her shrieks were appalling, beyond the power of language to describe, and that she made a desperate but unsuccessful effort to escape.
“The punishment of lost souls she represented as symbolizing the respective sins which had occasioned their condemnation. Miss W----, for instance, was condemned for the love of money, which I had every reason to believe was her besetting sin; and she seemed robed in a garment of gold, all on fire. Mr. O----, whom she saw, was lost through intemperance; and he appeared to be punished by devils administering to him some boiling liquid.
“She said there was no sympathy among these unhappy spirits, but that unmixed hatred, in all its frightful forms, prevailed in every part of the fiery regions. She beheld parents and children, husbands and wives, and those who had been companions in sin, exhibiting every mark of deep hatred to each other’s society; and heard them in fiendish accents upbraiding and bitterly cursing each other. She saw nothing in hell but misery and despair, and heard nothing there but the most discordant sounds, accompanied with weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
“While she gazed upon this revolting scene, many souls arrived from earth, and were greedily seized by innumerable devils of monstrous shape, amid horrid shouts of hellish triumph, and tortured according to their crimes.”
John Wesley, in his Journal of August, 1746, vol. 1, pages 374-375-376, concerning one he styles “S.T.,” says:
“About six in the morning she was rising, and inwardly praying to God; when on a sudden, she was seized with a violent trembling. Quickly after she lost her speech in a few minutes her hearing; then her sight, and, at the same time, all sense and motion.
“Her mother immediately sent for Mrs. Designe, to whom she then went to school. At the same time her father sent for Mr. Smith, apothecary, who lived near. At first he proposed bleeding her immediately, and applying a large blister; but upon examining her further, he said ‘ It signifies nothing, for the child is dead.’ About twelve o’clock she began to stir; then opened her eyes, and gave the following account:
“As soon as I lost my senses, I was in a dismal place, full of briers, and pits, and ditches; stumbling up and down, and not knowing where to turn, or which way to get either forward or backward; and it was almost quite dark, there being but a little faint twilight, so that I could scarce see before me. I was crying, ready to break my heart; and a man came to me, and said: ‘Child, where are you going?’ I said: ‘I could not tell.’ He said: ‘ What do you want?’ I answered: ‘I want Christ to be my refuge.’ He said: ‘You are the child for whom I am sent; you are to go with me.’ I saw it grew lighter as he spoke. I observed his clothes; they reached down to his feet, and were shining and white as snow.
He brought me through a narrow lane, into a vast, broad road, and told me: ‘This leads to hell; but be not afraid; you are not to stay there.’ At the end of that road a man stood, clothed like the other, in white, shining clothes. Turning to the left hand, we went down a very high, steep hill. I could scarce bear the stench and smoke of brimstone. I saw a vast many people that seemed to be chained down, crying and gnashing their teeth. The man told me, the sins they delighted in once they are tormented with now. I saw a vast number who stood up, cursing and blaspheming God, and spitting at each other; and many were making balls of fire, and throwing them at one another. I saw many others, who had cups of fire, out of which they were drinking down flames; and others, who held cards of fire in their hands, and seemed to be playing with them.
“We stayed here, I thought, about half an hour. Then my guide said: ‘Come; I will now show you a glorious place.’ I saw the gate of heaven, which stood wide open; but it was so bright I could not look at it long. We went straight in, and walked through a large place, where I saw saints and angels; and another large place, where were abundance more. They were all of one height and stature; and when one prayed, they all prayed; when one sung, they all sung. And they all sung alike, with a smooth, even voice, not one higher or lower than another.
“We went through this into a third place. There I saw God, sitting upon His throne. It was a throne of light, brighter than the sun. I could not fix my eyes upon it. I saw three, but all as one. Our Savior had a pen in His hand. A great book lay at His right side; another at His left; and a third partly behind Him. In the first He set down the prayers and good works of His people; in the second He set down all the curses, and all the evil works of the wicked. I saw that He discerns the whole earth at a glance.
“Then our Lord took the first book in His hand, and went and said: ‘Father, behold the prayers and the works of my people.’ And he held up His hands and prayed, and interceded to His Father for us. I never heard any voice like that; but I cannot tell how to explain it. And His Father said: ‘Son, I forgive Thy people; not for their sake, but Thine.’ Then our Lord wrote it down in the third book, and returned to His throne, rejoicing with the hosts of heaven.
“It seemed to me as if I stayed here several months but I never slept all the while. And there was no night; and I saw no sky or sun, but clear light everywhere. Then we went back to a large door, which my guide opened; and we walked into pleasant gardens, by brooks and fountains. As we walked, I said: ‘I did not see my brother here’ (who died sometime before). He said: ‘Child, thou canst not know thy brother yet. Thy spirit is to return to the earth. Thou must watch and pray. Thou shalt come again hither, and be joined to these, and know everyone as before.’ I said: ‘When is that to be?’ He said ‘I know not, nor any angel in heaven; but God alone.’
While we were walking, he said: ‘Sing.’ I said ‘What shall I sing?’ And he said: ‘Sing praises unto the King of the place.’ I sung several verses. Then he said: ‘I must go.’ I would have fain gone with him; but he said ‘Your time is not yet; you have more work to do on earth.’ Immediately he was gone; and I came to myself, and began to speak.
“She received remission of sins when she was nine years old, and was very watchful from that time. Since this trance she has continued in faith and love.”
Again, Mr. Wesley, in his Journal of August 6, 1759, page 42, says: “I talked largely with Ann Thorn, and two others, who had been several times in trances. What they all agreed in was,
1. That when they went away, as they termed it, it was always at the time they were fullest of the love of God.
2. That it came upon them in a moment, without any previous notice, and took away all their senses and strength.
3. That there were some exceptions; but in general, from that moment they were in another world, knowing nothing of what was done or said by all that were round about them.
“About five in the afternoon I heard them singing hymns. Soon after Mr. B. came up and told me that Alice Miller was fallen into a trance. I went down immediately, and found her sitting on a stool, and leaning against the wall, with her eyes open and fixed upward. I made a motion as if going to strike; but they continued immovable Her face showed an unspeakable mixture of reverence and love, while silent tears stole down her cheeks. Her lips were a little open, and sometimes moved; but not enough to cause any sound. I do not know whether I ever saw a human face look so beautiful; sometimes it was covered with a smile, as from joy, mixing with love and reverence but the tears fell still, though not so fast.
“In about half an hour I observed her countenance change into the form of fear, pity, and distress; then she burst into a flood of tears, and cried out: ‘Dear Lord, they will be damned! They will all be damned!’ But in about five minutes her smiles returned, and only love and joy appeared in her face. About half an hour after six, I observed distress take place again; and soon after she wept bitterly, and cried out: ‘Dear Lord, they will go to hell! The world will go to hell!
‘Soon after, she said: ‘Cry aloud! Spare not!’ And in a few moments her look was composed again, and spoke a mixture of reverence, joy, and love. Then she said aloud: ‘Give God the glory.’ About seven her senses returned. I asked: ‘ Where have you been?’ ‘ I have been with my Savior.’ ‘In heaven, or on earth?’ ‘I cannot tell; but I was in glory.’ ‘Why then did you cry?’ ‘Not for myself, but for the world; for I saw they were on the brink of hell.’ ‘Whom did you desire to give the glory to God?’ ‘ Ministers, that cry aloud to the world; else they will be proud; and then God will leave them, and they will lose their own souls.’"
- The Plumbline
Touching Incidents and Remarkable Answers to Prayer - 1893