Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: What Moves Us: A Unitarian Universalist Theology Program for Adults

Handout 1: Chauncy's Four Categories of Experience

Part of What Moves Us

By Charles Chauncy.

The Four Categories

First: Sensations

For traditional Christians like Chauncy, spiritual awakening is prompted by the minister's sermon, and thus his voice, the sounds of the words impressing themselves upon the bodies (eardrums) of the congregants become the sensations first entailed in a spiritual experience. Chauncy says the Spirit awakens our attention and brings us to consider our sins in a way we have never done before.

Second: Intense Emotions

Persons now feel emotional guilt. They become aware of how their actions, thoughts, and feelings have hurt others and compromised their own soul. Their emotional reaction to this awareness is a spiritual awareness prompted by what Chauncy calls at various times the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, or the Spirit of God. This conviction of sin is the first step towards the experience of religious conversion, Chauncy insists. Evangelists end their work here. But for Chauncy, it is only the beginning, an initial preparation step, as he puts it, for the conversion of the mind.

Third: New Thoughts

Persons now read the Christian scripture in a new way. They read it as Gospel Truth. Chauncy calls this new mindset "mental revelation." The Holy Ghost, Chauncy says, has transformed the human mind. It has produced in persons a true gospel faith, one much celebrated in the writings of the New Testament. This faith is not merely an assent of the mind to Gospel truths... The scripture is seen everywhere as full. This scriptural faith, Chauncy concludes, is the operation of the Spirit. It is the intentional work of God upon the mind of the sinner. (American Unitarian Christianity, in this way, began as a new way of reading and interpreting Christian scripture.)

Fourth: Physical Moral Behavior

With the alignment of emotions (step two) and thoughts (step three), a spiritual transformation of the heart is now produced. Now there is a change of religious and moral values within the person. The Spirit operates in such a way as to make such persons new creatures. This change of heart is spoken of under a variety of names, Chauncy says: as conversion, regeneration, resurrection, a new creation. This change is not physical, Chauncy insists; it is religious and moral. This change is wrought in the heart and in a person's life, in a person's inward principles as well as in altered outward behavior in the world. It is not the product of mere reason, Chauncy insists, nor of external revelation. It is not brought about by the bare influence of moral motives. It is the effect of the power of the Spirit, working effectually in persons that believe.

According to Chauncy, four results follow:

New inner strength, vigor, cheerfulness, and delight

The Holy Ghost excites sincere Christians to practice their duty, increases grace in them, preserves them unto the end. It excites good motions in them, animates their resolutions, quickens their graces and assists them in their exercise with strength and vigor, with cheerfulness and delight.


The Holy Ghost provides support and consolation for persons who are suffering or in some way afflicted. Persons so inspired are ready to undergo the trial of cruel mockings and scourging, bonds and imprisonment. They willingly undergo such torment. They will endure anything for the honor of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Inward Joy

The Holy Ghost produces within persons an inward joy. This joy is the fruit of the Spirit ... This joy is not a mere effect of nature; neither does it result from the sole exercise of the mind, either upon itself, or the truths revealed in the Gospel, but is the produce of the Holy Ghost, which is given to them... . This joy is the testimony of our conscience... To be sure, whoever have this peace of God, this joy of the Lord, they are blessed persons, tho' they know not the meaning of those raptures some others may experience; and the state of mind they are brought to, they may assure themselves, is an effect of the Holy Ghost in them.


The feeling of being spiritually accepted by God. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the witness of the Spirit that satisfied good Christians of their adoption into God's family. Some may expect an immediate whisper from the Spirit, or some secret extraordinary impulse, assuring them, they are children of God. This can happen, but this does not appear to be the way of the Spirit's witnessing. Moreover, it can be dangerous for persons to ground their hopes of heaven upon mere impulses and impressions, especially if they rely upon them instead of Scripture.