This section is from the book "Faith - Healing. Christian Science And Kindred Phenomena", by James Monroe Buckley. Also available from Amazon: Faith-Healing, Christian Science and Kindred Phenomena.
It is natural that a large proportion of dreams of a terrifying nature should relate to deaths, because in death center all grounds of anxiety concerning one's self or one's friends. As death is the king of terrors and the dream state often a disturbed state, death would be also the king of dreams.
Of the 173 who declare that they have had distressing dreams, only 24 experienced fulfilment. An exact statement of the situation of the twenty-four persons dreamed about, or their physical condition and circumstances, would be as essential to a scientific estimate as the condition and circumstances of the dreamer.
The recollection of dreams depends much upon habit and upon the practice of relating them. I found by experience that this had a tendency to perpetuate a particular dream. For twenty-five years I was visited at irregular intervals by a dream of the death, by drowning, of my brother who is still living. It frequently recurred soon after I had told it with elaborateness of detail to another. The number of appalling dreams that come to nothing is very great, where the vividness of details sometimes fairly compels belief. In many instances a dream of one's death originates in a profound derangement of the nervous system, and the effect of such a dream upon that weakened condition may be fatal. The young student to whom reference has been made came of a family peculiarly liable to instant death from heart-disease. Since that period his only brother died without warning, when quietly, as it was supposed, reposing upon his bed, and since the death of the brother, their mother has died in a similar manner. The dream was so vivid that the young man believed it, and prepared himself for it in mind while his body was depressed by the natural physical effect. Had he been treated as was another young man who had a similar dream, and believed it as implicitly, he might have lived. In that case a sagacious physician, finding evidences that death was near, and believing the symptoms to be caused wholly by the impression that he was to die, administered a heavy dose of chloro-form. When the young man became conscious and found the hour fixed upon for his death long past, he speedily recovered.
The repetition of dreams on the same night or on other nights is explained by the impression which they make; and doubtless the number 3 has literary and religious associations which have an effect upon some dreamers. If I hey have a notion that 3 is the number for significant dreams, when they have dreamed the same thing thrice they are fully aroused and sleep no more. This is not always the case. A member of Congress who dreamed that his only daughter died awoke in great agitation, but on composing himself to sleep the dream returned. This continued for the fourth time, and even until the ninth, and after each recurrence he was awakened: in the morning, though not a believer in dreams, he hastened to his home in a western State, feeling assured that something terrible had happened or was about to happen. The first person whom he met was his daughter, in perfect health.
Coinciding dreams of two persons about a third are often not fulfilled. Abercrombie gives the case of a young man and his mother dreaming substantially the same dream the same night, in which he told her that he was going on a long journey, and she said, " Son, thou art dead." But nothing came of the dream. A young man not far from New York dreamed that his father was being burned to death in a hotel. The same night a lady, a friend of the family, dreamed the same. Nothing came of it.
In regard to the dream of William Tennent's witnesses, the following points may be noticed: First, " the affair made a great noise in the colony "; secondly, Tennent, Stevens, and Anderson all knew where they had been in Pennsylvania or Maryland, and it was easy for them to procure witnesses who could conclusively prove their innocence, and a supernatural interference was not necessary; thirdly, the delay between the trial of Rowland and that of Tennent at a period when information was principally distributed by word of mouth, taken in connection with the general interest in the subject of religion at that time and the excitement produced by the preceding trial, rendered it highly probable that all of every community where Rowland had preached knew about these facts. The account cannot tell much about these witnesses, or even whether the preaching and the dream occurred in Pennsylvania or Maryland. The natural explanation of the whole proceeding is that they knew the facts and had talked, or heard others talk, about the trial; and so far as evidence goes they had themselves conversed about it, and the double dream was a mere coincidence. Whether this be true or not, the facts that the accounts are so defective, contradictory, and improbable, and that Mr. Anderson was allowed to be convicted and punished when he was as innocent as Mr. Tennent, greatly strengthen the natural explanation of the entire proceedings, for it is certain that fortunate coincidences have as often helped sinners as saints.
In the " Princeton Review" for July, 18G8, the first article is a discussion of the trial of the Rev. William Tennent, by that eminent lawyer and Presbyterian, Chancellor Henry W. Green of New Jersey. After an elaborate and closely analytical investigation of the records, to which he had complete access, he shows that the events transpired in 1742; that they were first reduced to writing in 1805, more than sixty years after they had occurred; and that the narrative lacks precision and certainty in all its details. He closes the review in these words: " It will be perceived in what we have said we have taken as true every part of the narrative which is not shown to be erroneous by unquestionable record testimony, or by circumstances so strong as to compel the disbelief of a fair and impartial man. We fully admit the perfect integrity of all the witnesses, whose veracity is involved, the perfect integrity of Mr. Tennent, his unqualified belief in all the statements which he made.
. . . But from whatever cause the errors may have arisen, and whether our hypothesis as to the real facts be true or erroneous, certain it is that the narrative in all its material facts and circumstances is either established by the record to be untrue, or is rendered by the facts of the case utterly incredible. . . . We assert, therefore, with perfect confidence that his deliverance was not effected by supernatural means, and that the attendance of the witnesses was not procured by a dream".
The possibilities of coincidence in human affairs are incomputable. A gentleman residing near New York remarked to a friend on the 4th of February, 1888, "We shall have suow to-day." There was not a sign of it then, but before they separated snow began to fall. "How did you know that it would snow?" asked the friend. The sad and singular answer was, " Forty-three years ago to-day I buried my only son. It snowed that day and has snowed on the 4th day of February every year since, and I felt sure that it would snow to-day." Let those who fancy that the law of probabilities is of any value when applied to a particular day ascertain how many chances there were that it would snow for forty-three consecutive years in a certain part of the country on the 4th day of February.
Inquiry of the passengers on numerous ocean voyages has shown that not a ship crosses the sea upon which there is not some passenger who had a dream that the ship would be destroyed, which strongly tempted him to remain at home; or was warned by a friend, who, after such a dream, prophesied disaster; or which had not left behind some intending passenger deterred by a dream.
Many of the supposed eases of fulfilment of dreams, and where the coincidences are most startling, relate to events which neither man nor devil, disembodied spirit nor angel, could foreknow if true, since neither the events nor their causes were in existence in the universe; and the fulfilment depended upon actions involving juxtapositions which could not have been foreseen by any finite being, as they were themselves coincidences, and only conceivable as foreknown by God, because of the assumption of his infinity.