But it is time to enter somewhat further into detail on some of the points briefly suggested. Reference was made to the Cambridge Platonists, for although they belong to the history of the seventeenth century, some of their opinions bear too directly on the subject to be entirely passed over. Moreover, Cudworth's 'Immutable Morality' was not published till 1731, at which time it had direct reference to the controversies excited by Mandeville's 'Fable of the Bees.' The popularity also of Henry More's writings continued into the century after his death, and a new edition of his 'Discourse of Enthusiasm' appeared almost simultaneously with writings of Lord Shaftesbury, Dr. Hickes, and others upon the same subject. It might have been well if the works of such men as H. More and Cudworth, J. Smith and Norris, had made a deeper impression on eighteenth-century thought. Their exalted but restrained mysticism and their lofty system of morality was the very corrective which the tone of the age most needed. And it might have been remembered to great advantage, that the doctrine of an inner light, far from being only the characteristic tenet of the fanatical disciples of Fox and Muenzer, had been held in a modified sense by men who, in the preceding generation, had been the glory of the English Church—a band of men conspicuous for the highest culture, the most profound learning, the most earnest piety, the most kindly tolerance. Cudworth, at all events, held this view. Engaged as he was, during a lengthened period of intellectual activity, in combating a philosophical system which, alike in theology, morals, and politics, appeared to him to sap the foundations of every higher principle in human nature, he was led by the whole tenour of his mind to dwell upon the existence in the soul of perceptions not derivable from the senses, and to expatiate on the immutable distinctions of right and wrong. Goodness, freed from all debasing associations of interest and expedience, such as Hobbes sought to attach to it, was the same, he was well assured, as it had existed from all eternity in the mind of God. To a mind much occupied in such reflections, and nurtured in the sublime thoughts of Plato, the doctrine of an inner light naturally commended itself. All goodness of which man is capable is a participation of the Divine essence—an effluence, as it were, from God; and if knowledge is communicable through other channels than those of the outward senses, what is there which should forbid belief in the most immediate intercourse between, the soul and its Creator, and in a direct intuition of spiritual truth? We may attain a certain comprehension of the Deity, 'proportionate to our measure; as we may approach near to a mountain, and touch it with our hands, though we cannot encompass it all round and enclasp it within our arms.' In fact, Cudworth's general train of reasoning and of feeling brought him into great sympathy with the mystics, though he was under little temptation of falling into the extravagances which had lately thrown their special tenets into disrepute. He did not fail, indeed, to meet with some of the customary imputations of enthusiasm, pantheism, and the like. But an ordinary reader will find in him few of the characteristic faults of mystic writers and many of their merits. In him, as in his fellow Platonists, there is little that is visionary, there is no disparagement of reason, no exaggerated strain of self-forgetfulness. On the other hand, he resembles the best mystics in the combination of high imaginative with intellectual power, in warmth of piety, in fearlessness and purity of motive. He resembles them too in the vehemence with which he denies the liberty of interpreting Scripture in any sense which may appear to attribute to God purposes inconsistent with our moral perceptions of goodness and justice—in his horror of the more pronounced doctrines of election—in his deep conviction that love to God and man is the core of Christianity—in his disregard for controversy on minor points of orthodoxy, and in the comprehensive tolerance and love of truth and liberty which should be the natural outgrowth of such opinions.
The other Cambridge Platonist whose writings may be said to have a distinct bearing on the subject and period before us, is Henry More. Even if there were no trace of the interest with which his works continued to be read in the earlier part of the eighteenth century, it would still seem like an omission if his treatise upon the question under notice were passed over. For perhaps there never was an author more qualified than he was to speak of 'enthusiasm' in a sympathetic but impartial spirit. He felt himself that the subject was well suited to him. 'I must,' he said, 'ingenuously confess that I have a natural touch of enthusiasm in my complexion, but such, I thank God, as was ever governable enough, and have found at length perfectly subduable.' He was in truth, both by natural temperament and by the course which his studies had taken, thoroughly competent to enter into the mind of the mystics and enthusiasts against whom he wrote. It was perhaps only his sound intellectual training, combined with the English attribute of solid practical sense, that had saved him from running utterly wild in fanciful and visionary speculations. As it is, he has been occasionally classed among the so-called Theosophists, such as Paracelsus and Jacob Behmen. His exuberant imagination delighted in subjects which, since his time, have been acknowledged to be closed to all efforts of human reason, and have been generally abandoned to the dreams of credulity and superstition. He revelled in ingenious conjectures upon the condition of the soul in the intermediate state after death, upon the different stages and orders of disembodied spirits, and upon mysterious sympathies between mind and matter. We have continually to remember that he wrote before the dawn of the Newtonian philosophy, if we would appreciate his reasonings and guesses about strange attractions and affinities, which pointed as he thought to an incorporeal soul of the world, or spirit of nature, acting as 'a great quartermaster-general of Providence' in directing relations between the spiritual and material elements of the universe.
Such was Henry More in one side of his character. The counterbalancing principle was his unwavering allegiance to reason, his zealous acknowledgment of its excellence as a gift of God, to be freely used and safely followed on every subject of human interest. He held it to be the glory and adornment of all true religion, and the special prerogative of Christianity. He nowhere rises to greater fervour of expression than where he extols the free and devotional exercise of reason in a pure and undefiled heart; and he is convinced of the high and special spiritual powers which under such conditions are granted to it. 'I should commend to them that will successfully philosophise the belief and endeavour after a certain principle more noble and inward than reason itself, and without which reason will falter, or at least reach but to mean and frivolous things. I have a sense of something in me while I thus speak, which I must confess is of so retruse a nature that I want a name for it, unless I should adventure to term it Divine sagacity, which is the first rise of successful reason.... All pretenders to philosophy will indeed be ready to magnify reason to the skies, to make it the light of heaven, and the very oracle of God: but they do not consider that the oracle of God is not to be heard but in his Holy Temple, that is to say, in a good and holy man, thoroughly sanctified in spirit, soul, and body.'
Believing thus with all his heart both in the excellence of reason and in a true inspiration of the spirit granted to the pure in heart, but never dissociating the latter from the former; well convinced that 'Christian religion is rational throughout,' and that the suggestions of the Holy Spirit are in all cases agreeable to reason—More wrote with much force and beauty of argument his 'Exorcism of Enthusiasm.' He showed that to abandon reason for fancy is to lay aside the solid supports of religion, to trust faith to the mere ebb and flow of 'melancholy,' and so to confirm the sceptic in his doubts and the atheist in his unbelief. He dwelt upon the unruly power of imagination, its deceptive character, its intimate connection with varying states of physical temperament—upon the variety of emotional causes which can produce quakings and tremblings and other convulsive forms of excitement—upon the delusiveness of visions, and revelations, and ecstasies, and their near resemblance to waking dreams—upon the sore temptations which are apt to lead into sin those who so closely link spirituality with bodily feelings, making religion sensual. He warned his readers against that sort of intoxication of the understanding, when the imagination is suffered to run wild in allegorical interpretations of Scripture, in fanciful allusions, in theories of mystic influences and properties which carry away the mind into wild superstitions and Pagan pantheism. He spoke of the self-conceit of many fanatics, their turbulence, their heat and narrow scrupulosity, and asked how these things could be the fruits of heavenly illumination. He suggested as the proper remedies against enthusiasm, temperance (by which he meant temperate diet, moderate exercise, fresh air, a due and discreet use of devotion), humility, and the sound tests of reason—practical piety, and service to the Church of God. Such is the general scope of his treatise; but the most interesting and characteristic portion is towards the close and in the Scholia appended to it, in which he speaks of 'that true and warrantable enthusiasm of devout and holy souls,' that 'delicious sense of the Divine life' which the spirit of man is capable of receiving. If space allowed, one or two fine passages might be quoted in which he describes these genuine emotions. He has also some good remarks upon the value, within guarded limits, of disturbed and excited religious feelings in rousing the soul from lethargy, and acting as external aids to dispose the mind for true spiritual influences.
Henry More died the year before King William's accession. But his opinions were, no doubt, shared by some of the best and most cultivated men in the English Church during the opening years of the eighteenth century. After a time his writings lost their earlier popularity. Wesley, to his credit, recommended them in 1756 to the use of his brother clergymen. As a rule, they appear at that time to have been but little read; their spiritual tone is pitched in too high a key for the prevalent religious taste of the period which had then set in. Some years had to pass before the rise of a generation more prepared to draw refreshment from the imaginative and somewhat mystical beauties of his style and sentiment.
When once the genius of Locke was in the ascendant, more spiritual forms of philosophy fell into disrepute. Descartes, Malebranche, Leibnitz were considered almost obsolete; More and Cudworth were out of favour: and there was but scanty tolerance for any writer who could possibly incur the charge of transcendentalism or mysticism. It is not that Cartesian or Platonic, or even mystic opinions, are irreconcileable with Locke's philosophy. When he spoke of sensation and reflection as the original sources of all knowledge, there was ample room for innate ideas, and for intuitive perceptions, under the shelter of terms so indefinite. Moreover, the ambiguities of expression and apparent inconsistencies of thought, which stand out in marked contrast to the force and lucidity of his style, are by no means owing only to his use of popular language, and his studied avoidance of all that might seem to savour of the schools. His devout spirit rebelled against the carefully defined limits which his logical intellect would have imposed upon it. He could not altogether avoid applying his system to the absorbing subjects of theology, but he did so with some unwillingness and with much reserve. Revelation, once acknowledged as such, was always sacred ground to him; and though he often appears to reduce all evidence to the external witness of the senses, there is something essentially opposed to materialistic notions, in his feeling that there is that which we do not know simply by reason of our want of a new and different sense, by which, if we had it, we might know our souls as we know a triangle. Locke would have heartily disowned the conclusions of many who professed themselves his true disciples, and of many others whose whole minds had been trained and formed under the influences of his teaching, and who insisted that they were but following up his arguments to their legitimate consequences. The general system was the same; but there was nothing in common between the theology of Locke and Toland's repudiation of whatever in religion transcended human reason, or Bolingbroke's doubts as to the immortality of the soul, or the pronounced materialism of Hartley and Condillac, or the blank negative results at which Hume arrived.
But though Locke and multitudes of his admirers were profoundly Christian in their belief, the whole drift of his thought tended to bring prominently forward the purely practical side of religion and the purely intellectual side of theology, and to throw into the background, and reduce to its narrowest compass, the more entirely spiritual region which marks the contact of the human with the Divine. Its uncertain lights and shadows, its mysteries, obscurities, and difficulties, were thoroughly distrusted by him. He did not—a religious mind like his could not—deny the existence of those feelings and intuitions which, from their excessive prominence in that school, may be classed under the name of mystic. But he doubted their importance and dreaded their exaggerations. Not only could they find no convenient place, scarcely even a footing, in his philosophical system, but they were out of accord with his own temperament and with the opinions, which he was so greatly contributing to form, of the age in which he lived. They offended against his love of clearness, his strong dislike of all obscurity, his wish to see the chart of the human faculties mapped out and defined, his desire to translate abstract ideas into the language of sound, practical, ordinary sense, divested as far as could be of all that was open to dispute, and of all that could in any way be accounted visionary. His perpetual appeal lay to the common understanding, and he regarded, therefore, with much suspicion, emotions which none could at all times realise, and which to some minds were almost, or perhaps entirely unknown. Lastly, his fervent love of liberty indisposed him to admissions which might seem to countenance authority over the consciences of men on the part of any who should assert special claims to spiritual illumination.
Locke struck a keynote which was harped upon by a host of theologians and moralists after him, whenever, as was constantly the case, they had occasion to raise their voice against that dreaded enemy, enthusiasm. There were many who inveighed against 'the new modish system of reducing all to sense,' when used to controvert the doctrines of revelation. But while with vigour and success they defended the mysteries of faith against those who would allow nothing but what reason could fairly grasp, and while they dwelt upon the paramount authority of the Spirit which inspired Holy Scripture, they would allow no sort of spiritual influence to compete with reason as a judge of truth. Reason, it was perpetually argued, is sufficient for all our present needs. Revelation is adequately attested by evidence addressed to the reason. We need no other proof or ground of assent; at all events, none other is granted to us. It was not so indeed in the first age of the Church. Special gifts of spiritual knowledge and illumination were then given to meet special requirements. The Holy Spirit was then in very truth immediately present in power, the greatest witness to the truth, and its direct revealer to the hearts of men. Many of the principal preachers and theological writers of the eighteenth century dwell at length upon the fulness of that spiritual outpouring. But it is not a little remarkable to notice with what singular care they often limit and circumscribe its duration. A little earlier or a little later, but, at all events, at the end of a generation or two after the first Christian Pentecost, a line of demarcation was to be drawn and jealously guarded.
In the second book of Warburton's 'Doctrine of Grace' there is a singular instance of apparent incapacity on the part of a most able reasoner to acknowledge the possible existence in his own day of other spiritual influences than those which, in the most limited sense of the word, may be called ordinary. He is speaking of the splendour of the gifts which shed their glory upon the primitive Church and afterwards passed away. He dwells with admiration upon the sudden and entire changes which were made in the dispositions and manner of those whom the Holy Spirit had enlightened. Sacred antiquity, he says, is unmistakeable in its evidence on this point, and even the assailers of Christianity confessed it. Conversions were effected among early Christians such as could not be the result of mere rational conviction. It is utterly impossible for the magisterial faculty of reason to enforce her conclusions with such immediate power, and to win over the will with such irresistible force, as to root out at once inveterate habits of vice. 'To what must we ascribe so total a reform, but to the all-powerful operation of grace?' These remarks are true enough; but it seems incredible that, writing in the very midst of an extraordinary religious outburst, he should calmly assume the impossibility in other than primitive times of such sudden changes from irreligion to piety, and should even place the miraculous conversions of apostolic times at the head of an argument against Methodist enthusiasts. Well might Wesley remark with some surprise, 'Never were reflections more just than these,' and go on to show that the very same changes were constantly occurring still.
In truth, it may be said without any disparagement of a host of eminent English divines of the eighteenth century, that their entire sympathies were with the reasonable rather than with the spiritual side of religion. Their ideal of Christian perfection was in many respects an elevated one, but absolutely divested of that mystic element which in every age of the Church has seemed to be inseparable from the higher types of saintliness. If we may judge from the treatises of Lord Lyttelton and Dean Graves, the character even of the apostles had to be carefully vindicated from all suspicion of any taint of enthusiasm if they were to maintain their full place of reverence as leaders and princes of the Christian army. Only it must not be supposed that this religious characteristic of the age was by any means confined to the sceptical and indifferent on the one hand, or to persons of a sober and reflective spirit on the other. It was almost universal. John Wesley, for example, repeatedly and anxiously rebuts the charges of enthusiasm which were levelled upon him from all sides. He would have it understood that he had for ever done with enthusiasm when once he had separated from the Moravians. The same shrinking from the name, as one of opprobrium, is shown by Dr. Watts; and one of the greatest troubles in Hannah More's life seems to have been her annoyance, that she and other faithful members of the English Church should be defamed as encouragers of enthusiasm.
The eighteenth century was indeed an age when sober reason would hear of no competitor, and whose greatest outburst of religious zeal characteristically took its name from the well-ordered method with which it was organised. It will not, however, be inferred that enthusiasm, as the word was then commonly understood, scarcely existed. On the contrary, the vigour and constancy of the attack points with sufficient clearness to the evident presence of the enemy. In fact, although the more exaggerated forms of mysticism and fanaticism have never permanently thriven on English soil, there has never been an age when what may be called mystical religion has not had many ardent votaries. For even the most extravagant of its multiform phases embody an important element of truth, which cannot be neglected without the greatest detriment to sound religion. Whatever be its particular type, it represents the protest of the human soul against all that obscures the spirituality of belief. But of all the accidents and externals of religion, there is not one, however important in itself, which may not be made unduly prominent, and under such circumstances interfere between the soul and the object of its worship. It will be readily understood, therefore, upon how great a variety of grounds that protest may be based, how right and reasonable it may sometimes be, but also how easily it may itself run into excess, and how quickly the understanding may lose its bearings, when once, for fear of the abuse, it begins to dispense with what was not intended to check, but to guide and regulate the aspirations of the Spirit. Mystical and enthusiastical religion, whether in its sounder or in its exaggerated and unhealthy forms, may be a reaction against an over-assertion of the powers of reason in spiritual matters and questions of evidence, or against the undue extension, in subjects too high for it, of the domain of 'common sense;' or it may be a vindication of the spiritual rights of the uneducated against the pretensions of learning; or an assertion of the judgment and conscience of the individual against all tyranny of authority. It may be a protest against excessive reverence for the letter of Holy Scripture as against the Spirit which breathes in it, against all appearance of limiting inspiration to a book, and denying it to the souls of living men. It may express insurrection against all manner of formalism, usages which have lost their significance, rites which have ceased to edify, doctrines which have degenerated into formulas, orthodoxy which has become comparatively barren and profitless. It may represent a passionate longing to escape from party differences and sectarian strife into a higher, purer atmosphere, where the free Spirit of God bloweth where it listeth. It often owes its origin to strong revulsion against popular philosophies which limit all consciousness to mere perceptions of the senses, or against the materialistic tendencies which find an explanation for all mysteries in physical phenomena. It may result from endeavours to find larger scope for reverie and contemplation, or fuller development for the imaginative elements of religious thought. It may be a refuge for spirits disgusted at an unworthy and utilitarian system of ethics, and at a religion too much degraded into a code of moral precepts. All these tendencies, varying in every possible degree from the healthiest efforts after greater spirituality of life to the wildest excesses of fanatical extravagance, may be copiously illustrated from the history of enthusiasm. The writers of the eighteenth century were fully alive to its dangers. It was easy to show how mystical religion had often led its too eager, or too untaught followers into the most mischievous antinomianism of doctrine and life, into allegorising away the most fundamental grounds of Christianity, and into the vaguest Pantheism. They could produce examples in abundance of bewildered intellects, of 'illuminations' obscurer than any darkness, of religious rapture, in its ambitious distrust of reason, lapsing into physical agencies and coarse materialism. They could hold up, in ridicule or warning, profuse illustrations of exorbitant spiritual pride, blind credulity, infatuated self-deceit, barefaced imposture. It was much more congenial to the prevalent temper of the age to draw a moral from such perversions of a tone of feeling with which there was little sympathy, than to learn a useful lesson from the many truths contained in it. Doubtless, it is not easy to deal with principles which have been maintained in an almost identical form, but with consequences so widely divergent, by some of the noblest, and by some of the most foolish of mankind, by true saints and by gross fanatics. The contemporaries of Locke, Addison, and Tillotson, trained in a wholly different school of thought, were ill-fitted to enter with patience into such a subject, to see its importance, to discriminate its differences, and to solve its perplexities.
At the opening of the eighteenth century, the elements of enthusiasm were too feeble to show themselves in any acknowledged form either in the Church of England or in the leading Nonconformist bodies. In England, no doubt, as in every other European country, there were, as Mr. Vaughan observes, 'Scattered little groups of friends, who nourished a hidden devotion by the study of pietist and mystical writings.... Whenever we can penetrate behind the public events which figure in history at the close of the seventeenth, and the opening of the eighteenth century, indications are discernible, which make it certain that a religious vitality of this description was far more widely diffused than is commonly supposed. But these recluse societies made no visible impression upon the general state of religion. If it were not for the evident anxiety felt by many writers of the period to expose and counteract the dangers of a mystical and enthusiastical bias, it might have been supposed that there never was a time when the Church was so entirely free from any possible peril in that direction. Their fear, however, was not without some foundation. When an important phase of spiritual truth is comparatively neglected by established authorities and in orthodox opinion, it is sure to find full vent in another less regular channel. We are told that in the first years of the century, the Quakers had immensely increased. 'They swarm,' said Leslie, 'over these three nations, and they stock our plantations abroad.' Quakerism had met with little tolerance in the previous century. Churchmen and Dissenters had unanimously denounced it, and Baxter, large-minded as he often proved himself, denied its adherents all hope of salvation. But the sect throve under persecution; and; in proportion as its follies and extravagances became somewhat mitigated, the spirituality of belief, which even in its most exaggerated forms had always been its soul of strength, became more and more attractive to those who felt its deficiency elsewhere. Between the passing of the Toleration Act and the end of William III.'s reign it made great progress. After that it began gradually to decline. This was owing to various causes. Some share in it may perhaps be attributed to the continued effects of the general religious lethargy which had set in some years before, but may have now begun to spread more visibly among the classes from which Quakerism was chiefly recruited. Again, its intellectual weakness would naturally become more apparent in proportion to the daily increasing attention paid to the reasonable aspects of faith. The general satisfaction felt, except by the pronounced High Church and Jacobite party, at the newly established order in Church and State, was unfavourable to the further progress of a communion which, from its rejection of ideas common to every other ecclesiastical body, seemed to many to be rightly called 'the end and centre of all confusion.' It may be added that, as the century advanced, there gradually came to be within the confines of the National Church a little more room than had lately existed for the upholders of various mystical tenets. With the rise of Wesleyanism enthusiasm found full scope in a new direction. But the power of Quakerism was not only silently undermined by the various action of influences such as these. In the first years of the century it received a direct and serious blow in the able exposure of its extravagances written by Leslie. The vagaries of the French 'Prophets' also contributed to discredit the assumption of supernatural gifts in which many Quakers still indulged.
It is needless to dwell with Leslie on the wild heretical opinions into which the over-strained spirituality of the disciples of Fox and Penn had led them. Certainly, the interval between them and other Christian communities had sometimes been so wide that there was some justification for the assertions made on either side, that the name of Christian could not be so widely extended as to be fitly applied to both. Archbishop Dawes, for example, in the House of Lords, roundly refused them all claim to the title; and there were thousands of Quakers who would retaliate the charge in terms of the most unsparing vigour. To these men, all the Gospel was summed up in the one verse that tells how Christ is the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. Leslie was able to produce quotations in plenty from acknowledged authorities among them which allegorised away all belief in a personal Saviour, and which bade each man seek within himself alone for the illuminating presence of his Christ and God.
It was well that the special dangers to which Quakerism and other forms of mysticism are liable should be brought clearly and openly into view. But after all it is not from the extravagances and perversions of a dogma that the main lesson is to be learnt. With the Bible open before them, and with hearts alive to the teachings of holiness, the generality of religious-minded Quakers were not likely to be satisfied with what Warburton rightly called not so much a religion as 'a divine philosophy, not fit for such a creature as man,' nor with a religious vocabulary summed up, as a writer in the 'Tatler' humorously said, in the three words, 'Light,' 'Friend,' and 'Babylon.' There was no reason why the worship of the individual should not be very free from the prevalent errors of the sect, and be in a high sense pure and Christian. For the truths which at one time made Quakerism so strong are wholly separable, not only from the superficial eccentricities of the system, but from its gravest deficiencies in form and doctrine. There is nothing to forbid a close union of the most intensely human and personal elements of Christian faith with that refined and pervading sense of a present life-giving Spirit which was faithfully borne witness to by Quakers when it was feeblest and most neglected elsewhere. If Quaker principles, instead of being embodied in a strongly antagonistic form as tenets of an exclusive and often persecuted sect, had been transfused into the general current of the national religious life, they would at once have escaped the extravagances into which they were led, and have contributed the very elements of which the spiritual condition of the age stood most in need. Not only in the moderate and constantly instructive pages of Barclay's 'Apology' for the Quakers, but also in the hostile expositions of their views which we find in the works of Leslie and their other opponents, there is frequent cause for regret that so much suggestive thought should have become lost to the Church at large. The Quakers were accustomed to look at many important truths in somewhat different aspects from those in which they were commonly regarded; and the Church would have gained in power as well as in comprehension, if their views on some points had been fully accepted as legitimate modes of orthodox belief. English Christianity would have been better prepared for its formidable struggle with the Deists, if it had freely allowed a wider margin for diversity of sentiment in several questions on which Quaker opinion almost universally differed from that of the Churchmen of the age. It was said of Quakers that they were mere Deists, except that they hated reason. The imputation might not unfrequently be true; for a Quaker consistently with his principles might reject some very essential features of Christianity. Often, on the other hand, such a charge would be entirely erroneous, for, no less consistently, a Quaker might be in the strictest sense of the word a thorough and earnest Christian. But in any case he was well armed against that numerous class of Deistical objections which rested upon an exclusively literal interpretation of Scripture. This is eminently observable in regard of theories of inspiration. To Quakers, as to mystical writers in general, biblical infallibility has never seemed to be a doctrine worth contending for. They have always felt that an admixture of human error is perfectly innocuous where there is a living spirit present to interpret the teaching of Scripture to the hearts of men. But elsewhere, the doctrine of unerring literal inspiration was almost everywhere held in its straitest form. Leslie, for example, quotes with horror a statement of Ellwood, one of his Quaker opponents, that St. Paul expected the day of judgment to come in his time. 'If,' answers Leslie, 'he thought it might, then it follows that he was mistaken, and consequently that what he wrote was not truth; and so not only the authority of this Epistle, but of all the Epistles, and of all the rest of the New Testament, will fall to the ground.' Such specious, but false and dangerous reasoning is by no means uncommon still; but when it represented the general language of orthodox theologians, we cannot wonder that the difficulties started by Deistical writers caused widespread disbelief, and raised a panic as if the very foundations of Christianity were in danger of being overthrown.
There were other ways in which profound confidence in direct spiritual guidance shielded Quakers from perplexities which shook the faith of many. They had been among the first to turn with horror from those stern views of predestination and reprobation which, until the middle of the seventeenth century, had been accepted by the great majority of English Protestants without misgiving. It was doctrine utterly repugnant to men whose cardinal belief was in the light that lighteth every man. The same principle kept even the most bigoted among them from falling into the prevalent opinion which looked upon the heathen as altogether without hope and without God in the world. They, almost alone of all Christian missionaries of that age, pointed their hearers (not without scandal to their orthodox brethren) to a light of God within them which should guide them to the brighter radiance of a better revelation. Nor did they scruple, to assert that 'there be members of this Catholic Church both among heathens, Jews, and Turks, men and women of integrity and simplicity of heart, who, though blinded in some things of their understanding, and burdened with superstition, yet, being upright in their hearts before the Lord, ... and loving to follow righteousness, are by the secret touches of the holy light in their souls enlivened and quickened, thereby secretly united to God, and thereby become true members of this Catholic Church.' Such expressions would be generally assented to in our day, as embodying sound and valuable truths, which cannot be rejected on account of errors which may sometimes chance to attend them. At the beginning of the eighteenth century there were few, except Quakers, who were willing to accept from a wholly Christian point of view the element of truth contained in the Deistical argument of 'Christianity as old as the Creation.'
Somewhat similar in kind was the protest of the Quakers against dogmatism as to the precise nature of the Atonement, and against unspiritual and, so to say, physical interpretations put upon passages in Scripture which speak of the efficacy of the blood of Christ. On this ground also they, and the mystic school in general, were constantly inveighed against as mere Deists. Yet the rigid definitions insisted upon by many of the Reformers were much at variance with the wider views held in earlier and later times. It is at all events certain that, both within and without the English Church, those who held these views were protected from many of the most forcible objections with which the Christianity of the age was assailed.
The Quakerism, which at the end of the seventeenth and at the beginning of the eighteenth century was strong in numbers and in religious influence, has claimed our attention thus far in regard only of those modes of thought which it holds in common with most other forms of so-called mystic theology. On this ground it comes into close relation with the history of the English Church. M. Matter, in his 'History of Christianity,' speaks of Quakerism in conjunction with Methodism as the two forms of English reaction against formalism alike in doctrine and in government. But it has been a merit of the English Church, and its most distinguishing title to the name of 'National,' that it has been able to learn from the sects which have grown up around it. Cautiously and tardily—often far too much so for its own immediate advantage—it has seldom neglected to find at last within its ample borders some room for modes and expressions of Christian belief which, for a time neglected, had been growing up outside its bounds. It was so with Methodism; it was so also with Quakerism. When Quakers found that its more reasonable tenets could be held, and find a certain amount of sympathy within the Church, it quickly began to lose its strength. A remark of Boswell's in 1776, that many a man was a Quaker without his knowing it, could scarcely have been made in the corresponding year of the previous century. At the earlier date there was almost nothing in common between the Church and a sect which, both on its strongest and weakest side, was marked by a conspicuous antagonism to established opinions. At the latter date Quakerism had to a great extent lost both its mystic and emotional monopolies. After a few years' hesitation Southey concluded that he need not join the Quakers simply because he disliked 'attempting to define what has been left indefinite.' The semi-mystical turn of thought which is most keenly alive to the futility of such endeavours was no longer a tenable ground for secession. Or if a man believed in visible manifestations of spiritual influences, he would more probably become a Methodist than a Quaker; and the time was not yet come when to be a Methodist was to cease to be a Churchman. In one respect, however, Quakerism possessed a safeguard to emotional excitement which in Methodism was wanting. It was that notion of tranquil tarrying and spiritual quiet which was as alien to the spirit of later Methodism as it is congenial to that of mysticism. The language of the Methodist would entirely accord with that of the Quaker in speaking of the pangs of the new birth, and of the visible tokens of the Spirit's presence; but the absence of reserve and the mutual 'experiences' of the Methodist stand out in a strong, and to many minds unfavourable, contrast with the silence and self-absorption of which Quakerism had learnt the value.
Then comes the Spirit to our hut, When fast the senses' doors are shut; For so Divine and pure a guest The emptiest rooms are furnished best.
Or, in the words of one of the saintliest of the mediaeval mystics, 'In the chamber of the heart God works. But what He works in the souls of those with whom He holds direct converse none can say, nor can any man give account of it to another; but he only who has felt it knows what it is; and even he can tell thee nothing of it, save only that God in very truth hath possessed the ground of his heart.'
It may here be observed that what has been said of Quakerism, so far as it was at one time representative of that mystic element which the eighteenth century called enthusiasm, will be a sufficient reason for passing all the more briefly over other branches of the same subject. The idea of self-surrender to the immediate action of spiritual influence is a bond of union far more potent than any external or ecclesiastical differences. Whatever be the period, or Church, or state of society in which it is found, mysticism is always very nearly the same both in its strength and in its weakness. It exhibits, indeed, the most varied phases, according to the direction and degree in which it falls into those excesses to which it is peculiarly liable, but such extravagances are very independent of the particular community in which they happen to appear. Different as are the associations connected with such names as Plato and Pythagoras, Plotinus and Dionysius, St. Bernard and T. a Kempis, Eckhart and Tauler, More and Norris, Fenelon and Guyon, Arndt and Spener, Law and Byrom, Quakers and Moravians, Schleiermacher and Schelling, yet passages might be collected from each, often striking and sometimes sublime, which show very close and essential points of affinity. And just in proportion as each form of mysticism has relaxed its hold upon steadying grounds of reason, the diversified dangers to which it is subject uniformly recur. Every successive type of mystic enthusiasm, if once it has passed its legitimate bounds, has produced exactly analogous instances of pantheism, antinomianism, or fanaticism.
Early in the eighteenth century, when Quakerism was just beginning to lose its influence, its wild assumptions of an earlier date were paralleled by a new form of fanatical enthusiasm. In 1706 there arose, says Calamy, 'a mighty noise as concerning new prophets.' These were certain Camisards, as they were called, of the Cevennes, who, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, had risen in the cause of their religion, and had been suppressed with great severity by Marshals Montrevel and Villars. Suffering and persecution have always been favourable to highly-wrought forms of mysticism. In their sore distress men and women have implored for and obtained consolations which transcend all ordinary experience. They have cried, in agonies of faith and doubt, for cheering visions of brighter things.
Father, O Father, what do we here, In this land of unbelief and fear? The land of dreams is brighter far, Above the light of the morning star.
Not only have they been comforted by what they feel to be direct intuitions of a Divine Presence in them and about them, but their imaginations have been kindled into fervent anticipations of triumphs near at hand and of judgments soon to fall upon their oppressors. From excited feelings such as these it is but a very little step for illiterate and undisciplined minds to pass into the wildest phrensies of fanaticism. So it was with these 'French prophets.' The cause of foreign Protestantism was at this time very popular in England; and when a number of them found their way hither as refugees they met at first with much sympathy, and had many admirers. Some men even of learning and reputation, as Sir Edward Bulkeley and John Lacy, threw themselves heart and soul into the movement, on the not unreasonable ground that the dulness of religion and the degeneracy of the time needed a new dispensation of the Spirit, and that a great revival had begun. It is unnecessary to follow up the history in any detail. The impulse had been very genuine in the first instance, and had stood the test of much fierce trial. Transplanted to alien soil, it rapidly degenerated, and presently became degraded into mere imposture. For a time, however, it not only created much excitement throughout England, and even as far north as Aberdeen, but also attracted the anxious attention of several men of note. There could not be many subjects on which Hoadly and Shaftesbury, Spinckes the Nonjuror, Winston and Calamy could all be writing contemporaneously on the same side. But it was so in this case.
The commotion caused by these Camisard refugees quickly passed away, but left its impression on the public mind, and made the educated classes more than ever indisposed to bear with any outbursts of religious feelings which should in any way outstep the bounds of sobriety and order. When strange physical manifestations began to break out under the preaching of Wesley and Whitefield, the quakings and tremblings, the sighings and convulsions, which middle-aged people had seen or heard of in their younger days were by many recalled to memory, and helped to strengthen the unfortunate prejudices which the new movement had created, Wesley himself was vexed and puzzled at the obvious resemblance. He was quite ready to grant that such agitations betokened 'natural distemper' in the case of the French prophets, yet the remembrance of them embarrassed him, for he was convinced that what he saw around him were veritable pangs of the new birth, the undoubted effects of spiritual and supernatural agencies.
About the same time that the Protestant enthusiasts of the Cevennes were conspicuously attracting the admiration or derision of the English public, another form of mysticism imported from Catholic France was silently working its way among a few persons of cultivated thought and deep religious sentiment. Fenelon was held in high and deserved esteem in England. Even when vituperation was most unsparingly lavished upon Roman Catholics in general, his name, conjointly with those of Pascal and Bossuet, was honourably excepted. His mild and tolerant spirit, his struggles with the Jesuits, the purity of his devotion, the simple, practical way in which he had discussed the evidences of religion, and, lastly, but perhaps not least, the great popularity of his 'Telemachus,' combined to increase his reputation in this country. The Duke of Marlborough, at the siege of Bouchain, assigned a detachment of troops to protect his estates and conduct provisions to his dwelling. Steele copied into one of the Saturday papers of the 'Guardian,' with a preface expressive of his high admiration of the piety and talents of its author, the devotional passage with which Fenelon concluded his 'Demonstration.' Lyttelton made Plato welcome him to heaven as 'the most pure, the most gentle, the most refined, disciple of philosophy that the world in modern times has produced.' Richard Savage spoke of him as the pride of France. Jortin, in reference to him and other French Churchmen of his stamp, observed that no European country had produced Romanists of so high a type. But Fenelon is thoroughly representative of a pure and refined mysticism. He is, indeed, singularly free from the various errors which closely beset its more exaggerated forms. Yet no admirer of his who had become at all penetrated with the spirit that breathes in his writings could fail to sympathise with the fundamental ideas common to every form of mystic theology. An age which abhorred enthusiasm might have found, nevertheless, in the author whom all extolled, opinions closely analogous to those by which the wildest fanatics had justified their extravagances. The doctrines of an inner light, of perfection, of reason quiescent amid the tumult of the soul, of mystical union, of disinterested love, are all strongly maintained by the Archbishop of Cambray. He wrote his 'Maximes des Saints' with the express purpose of showing how, in every age of the Church, opinions identical with those held by himself and Madame Guyon had been sanctioned by great authorities. It was, in fact, a detailed defence of the Quietism and moderated mystical views which had excited the violent and unguarded attack of Bossuet.
Fenelon, with instinctive ease, escaped the pitfalls with which his subject was encompassed; but it was not so with Madame Guyon, whose opinions he had so vigorously defended and all but identified with his own. There could scarcely be a better example of the insensible degrees in which, by the infirmity of human nature, sound spiritualism may decline into visionary fancies and a morbid state of religious emotion, than to notice how the writings of Guyon and Bourignon form transitory links between Fenelon and the extreme mystics. Their principles were the same, but the meditations of Madame Bourignon, although sometimes ranked in devotional value with those of A Kempis and De Sales, fell, if Leslie and others may be trusted, into most of the dangerous and heretical notions into which an unreined enthusiasm is apt to lead. A defence of her opinions, published in London in 1699, and a collection, which followed soon after, of her translated letters, had considerable influence with many earnest spirits who chafed at the coldness of the times, and cared little for other faults so long as they could find a religious literature in which they could, at all events, be safe from formalism and scholastic or sectarian disputings.
Lyttelton, in the same paper in which he pronounces his panegyric on Fenelon, calls Madame Guyon a 'mad woman' and 'a distracted enthusiast.' So much depends upon the greater or less sobriety with which views are stated; and excellent as Madame Guyon was, her effuse and somewhat morbid form of devotional sentiment can never be altogether congenial to English feeling, still less to English feeling such as it was in the first half of the eighteenth century. But her hymns, made familiar to readers in this country by Cowper's translations, were received by many with the same welcome as the works of Madame de Bourignon. If there were few who could appreciate the high-strung mystic aspirations after perfect self-renunciation, self-annihilation, and absorption in the abyss of the Divine infinity, the ecstatic joy in self-denial and suffering, whereby the soul might be so refined from selfishness as to surrender itself wholly to the will of God, and to see the marks of His love equally present everywhere—if to religious men and women outside the cloister this seemed like vainly striving
To wind ourselves too high For sinful man beneath the sky,
yet in the general spirit of her verses they could gain refreshment not always to be found elsewhere. They could sympathise with the intense longing for a closer walk with God, with the hunger and thirst after a purer righteousness, a more unselfish love, a closer mystical union with the Divine life.
Yet, after all, it is not France, but Germany that has been for many centuries the chosen abode of every variety of mystic sentiment. The most exalted forms of spiritual Christianity have prospered there, and, on the other hand, the vaguest reveries and the grossest epidemics of fanaticism. We turn from the influence in the England of the eighteenth century of French revivalists and French Pietists to that exercised by one of the most remarkable of German mystics, Jacob Behmen. If it was an influence no longer popular and widely spreading, as it once had been, yet it directly and profoundly impressed one of the most eminent of our theologians, and indirectly its effects were by no means inconsiderable.
Behmen's writings (1612-24) travelled rapidly through Europe, found readers in every class, and are said to have been widely instrumental in recalling unbelievers to a Christian faith. They popularised and gave an immense extension to mysticism of every kind, good and bad. In Germany they largely contributed to form the opinions of Arndt and Andreas, Spener and Francke, men to whom their country was indebted for a remarkable revival of spiritual religion. Their further influence may, perhaps, be traced through Francke on Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians, and through Wolff on the mystic rationalism of later Germany. The German Romanticists of the end of the last and the beginning of this century were extravagant in his praises, Schlegel declaring that he was superior to Luther. Novalis was scarcely less ardent in his admiration. Kahlman protested that he had learnt more from him than he could have learnt from all the wise men of his age together. In England, both in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, he had many devoted followers and many violent opponents. Henry More speaks of him as a good and holy man, but at the same time 'an egregious enthusiast,' and regrets that he 'has given occasion to the enthusiasts of this nation in our late troublesome times to run into many ridiculous errors and absurdities.' J. Wesley admitted that he was a good man, but says 'the whole of Behmenism, both phrase and sense, is useless.' With an absence of appreciation almost amounting to a want of candour, not uncommon in this eminent man towards those from whom he disagreed, he will not even allow that he had any 'patrons' who have adorned the doctrine of Christ. 'His language is barbarous, unscriptural, and unintelligible.' 'It is most sublime nonsense, inimitable bombast, fustian not to be paralleled.' Bishop Warburton also refers to him in the most unqualified terms of contempt. William Blake, most mystical of poets and painters, delighted, as might well be expected, in Behmen's writings. A far weightier testimony to their value is to be found in the high estimate which William Law—a theologian of saintly life, and most thoughtful and suggestive in his reasonings—formed of the spiritual treasury which he found there. He can scarcely find words to express his thankfulness for 'the depth and fulness of Divine light and truth opened in them by the grace and mercy of God.'
This extreme contrast of opinions may be easily accounted for. To most modern readers Jacob Behmen's works must be an intolerable trial of patience. They will find page after page of what they may very pardonably call, as Wesley did, 'sublime nonsense' or unintelligible jargon. Repetitions, obscurities, and verbal barbarisms abound in them, and the most ungrounded fancies are poured profusely forth as the most indubitable verities. But it is like diving for pearls in a deep and turbid sea. The pearls are there, if patiently sought for, and sometimes of rare beauty. To Behmen's mind the whole universe of man and nature is transfigured by the pervading presence of a spiritual life. Everywhere there is a contest against evil, sin, and death; everywhere there is a longing after better things, a yearning for the recovery of the heavenly type. Everywhere there is a groaning and travailing in pain until now, awaiting the adoption—to wit, the redemption of the body. None felt more keenly than Behmen that heaven is truly at our doors, and God not far away from every one of us. The Holy Spirit is to him in very deed Lord and Giver of all life, and teaches all things, and leads into all truth. He is well assured that to him who thirsts after righteousness, and hath his conversation in heaven, and knoweth God within him, and whose heart is prepared by purity and truth, such light of the eternal life will be granted that, though he be simple and unlearned, heavenly wisdom will be granted to him, and all things will become full of meaning. He puts no limit to the grand possibilities and capabilities of human nature. To him the soul of man is indeed 'larger than the sky, deeper than ocean,' but only through union and conformity with that Divine Spirit which 'searcheth all things—yea, the deep things of God.' He would have welcomed as a wholly congenial idea that grand mediaeval notion of an encyclopaedic wisdom in which all forms of philosophy, art, and science build up, as it were, one noble edifice, rising heavenwards, domed in by Divine philosophy, the spiritual and intellectual knowledge of God; he would have agreed with Bonaventura that all human science 'emanates, as from its source, from the Divine Light.' He felt also that in the unity of 'the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will,' would be found something deeper than all diversities in religion, which would reconcile them, and would solve Scripture difficulties and the mysteries which have tormented men.
These and suchlike thoughts, intensely realised, and sometimes expressed with singular vividness and power, possessed great attraction to minds wearied with the religious controversies or spiritual dulness of the time, and which were not repelled by the wilderness of verbiage, the hazy cloudland, in which Behmen's conceptions were involved. William Law, the Nonjuror, was thoroughly fascinated by them, and their influence upon him forms an episode of considerable interest in the religious history of the period.
Yet if it had been only as the translator and exponent of 'the Teutonic theosophy' that William Law had become prominent, and incurred on every side the hackneyed charge of 'enthusiasm,' this excellent man might have claimed but a passing notice. His theological position in the eighteenth century is rendered chiefly remarkable by the power he showed (in his time singularly exceptional) of harmonising the ideas of mediaeval mysticism with some of the most characteristic features of modern religious thought. A man of deep and somewhat ascetic piety, and gifted with much originality and with a cultured and progressive mind, he had many readers and a few earnest and admiring adherents, yet was never greatly in sympathy with the age in which he lived. Three or four generations earlier, or three or four generations later, he would have found much more that was congenial to one or another side of his intellectual temperament. At the accession of George I. in 1716 he declined to take the oaths, and resigned his fellowship at Cambridge, although, like others among the moderate Nonjurors, he remained to the last constant to the communion of the National Church. In 1726 he wrote the 'Serious Call,' one of the most remarkable devotional books that have ever been published. Dr. Johnson, upon whom it made a profound and lasting impression, describes it as 'the finest piece of hortatory theology in any language.' Gibbon, in whose father's house Law lived for some time as tutor and chaplain, says of it that 'if it found a spark of piety in the reader's mind it would soon kindle it to a flame.' Southey remarks of it that 'few books have made so many religious enthusiasts.' The reading of it formed one of the first epochs in Wesley's religious life. It did much towards forming the character of the elder Venn. It was mainly instrumental in effecting the conversion from profligacy to piety of the once famous Psalmanazar. Effects scarcely less striking are recorded in 1771 to have resulted upon its copious distribution among the inhabitants of a whole parish. And lastly it may be added that Bishop Horne made himself thoroughly familiar with a kindred work by the same author—on 'Christian Perfection'—and was wont to express the greatest admiration of it.
From his retirement at Kingscliffe, where he lived a life of untiring benevolence, Law took an active part in the religious controversies of the time; refusing, however, all payment for his publications. He entered the lists against Tindal, Chubb, and Mandeville, against Hoadly, against Warburton, against Wesley. His answer to Mandeville is called by J. Sterling 'a most remarkable philosophical essay,' full 'of pithy right reason,' and has been republished by Frederick Maurice, with a highly commendatory introduction. The authority last mentioned also speaks of him as 'a singularly able controversialist in his argument with Hoadly;' and adds: 'Of all the writers whom he must have irritated—Freethinkers, Methodists, actors, Hanoverians,—of all the nonjuring friends whom he alienated by his quietism, none doubted his singleness of purpose.' It may be added that there were few of his opponents who might not have learnt from him a lesson of Christian courtesy. Living in an age when controversy of every kind was, almost as a rule, deformed by virulent personalities, he yet, in the face of much provocation, kept always faithful to his resolve that, 'by the grace of God, he would never have any personal contention with anyone.'
Such was the man who, from about 1730 to his death in 1761, was a most earnest student of mystical theology. 'Of these mystical divines,' he says, 'I thank God I have been a diligent reader, through all ages of the Church, from the Apostolical Dionysius the Areopagite down to the great Fenelon, the illuminated Guyon, and M. Bertot.' Tauler made a great impression on his mind, but Jacob Behmen most of all. Of these writers in general he speaks in grateful terms, as true spiritual teachers, purified by trials and self-discipline, and deeply learned in the mysteries of God, 'truly sons of thunder and sons of consolation, who awaken the heart, and leave it not till the kingdom of heaven is raised up in it.'
William Law was a man of far too great intellectual ability to be a mere borrower of ideas. What he read he thoroughly assimilated; and Behmen's strange theosophy, after passing through the mind of his English exponent, reappeared in a far more logical and comprehensible form. It cannot be said that Law was altogether a gainer by his later studies. To many of his contemporaries the result appeared quite the contrary; and he was constantly reproached with having become a mere mystic or a hopeless enthusiast. No doubt, he borrowed from his favourite authors some of their faults as well as many of their virtues. Jacob Behmen's most glaring faults in style and phraseology are sometimes transferred with little mitigation to his pages. A person who gathered his ideas of William Law from Wesley's critique would probably turn with impatience, and something like aversion, from one who could use upon the gravest subjects what might seem a strange jargon compounded out of Gnostic cosmogonies and alchemistic fancies. We take Jacob Behmen for what he was—a man in some respects of extraordinary spiritual insight, but perfectly illiterate; living at a time when the fame of Agrippa and Paracelsus was still recent, and accustomed to refer all his conceptions to immediate revelation from heaven. But we do not expect to find in a cultivated scholar of the eighteenth century such outlandish sayings as 'Nature is in itself a hungry, wrathful fire of life,' or pages of argument grounded upon the condition and fall of angels before the creation of the world. Such phraseology and such reasonings, even if culled from Law's writings less unrelentingly and more fairly than by Wesley and Warburton, are quite sufficient to create a reasonable prejudice against his opinions. Yet these are blemishes which lie comparatively on the surface. They are always found in reference to certain views which he had adopted about creation and the fall of man. Although, therefore, they occur constantly—for the Fall is always a very essential feature in the whole of Law's theology—they do not interfere with the general lucidity of his argument, or the devotional beauty of his thought.
Independently of occasional obscurities of language and visionary notions, Law does not altogether escape those more serious objections to which mystic writers are almost always liable. When he speaks of heavenly illumination, and of the birth of Christ within the soul, or of the all of God and the nothingness of man, or when he refers over slightingly to 'human reason' or 'human learning,' or to the outward machinery of religion in contrast to the direct communion of the soul with its Creator, it is impossible not to feel that he sometimes approaches over nearly to the dangerous verge where sound spiritualism loses self-control.
The ascetic austerity of Law's life and teaching was at once a recommendation and an impediment to the influence of his writings. From the beginning to the end of his active life he would never swerve an atom from the high and uncompromising type of holiness which he constantly set before himself as the bounden goal of all human effort. His mysticism only intensified this feeling. Assured as of a certain truth that, corrupt, fallen, and earthly as human nature is, there is nevertheless in the soul of every man 'the fire and light and love of God, though lodged in a state of hiddenness, inactivity, and death, ... overpowered by the workings of flesh and blood,' it seemed to him the one worthy object of life, by purification and by mortification of the lower nature, to remove all hindrances to the enlightening efficacy of the Holy Spirit. So only could the Divine Image, the life of the triune God within the soul, be restored, and the heaven-born Spirit, 'that angel that died in Paradise,' be born again to life within us. His words sound like a Christian paraphrase of what Plato had said in the 'Republic,' where he compares the present appearance of the soul to an image of the sea-god Glaucus, so battered by waves, so disfigured by the overgrowth of shells, and seaweed, and all kinds of earthy substances, that it has almost lost the similitude of the immortal likeness. No one could have felt more keenly than William Law the overpowering need of this restorative process, and the fervent longing of the awakened soul to be delivered from that bondage of corruption which presses like a burden too heavy to be borne, not upon man only, but upon all creation, groaning and travailing in sympathetic pain, to be delivered from the evil and misery and death with which it is laden. He will allow of no ideal short of the highest pattern of angelic goodness, nor concede that we are called upon to pray, 'God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven,' without its full accomplishment being in human power. This height of aspiration gives great stimulative power to Law's writing, but, as is unfortunately apt to be the case, it is a source of weakness as well as of power. With him, as with many mystic writers, all other elements of human nature are slighted and neglected in the absorbing thirst for holiness. His ideal is indeed lofty, but it fails in expansiveness. When he speaks of absorption into the Divine will—of seeking 'deliverance from the misery and captivity of self by a total continual self-denial'—of converting 'this poison of an earthly life into a state of purification'—of 'turning from all that is earthly, animal, and temporal, and dying to the will of flesh and blood, because it is darkness, corruption, and separation from God;' when—sound and thoughtful reasoner as he often is—he speaks with thorough distrust of 'the guidance of our own Babylonian reason,' and of learning as good indeed within its own sphere, but 'as different from Divine light as heaven from earth,' and wholly useless to one who would 'be well qualified to write notes upon the spirit and meaning of the words of Christ;' it is impossible not to feel that he is approaching very closely to the morbid pietism of the recluse. His was indeed no mere contemplative asceticism, but fruitful in practical virtues; and even its weaker points stand out in noble contrast with the deficiencies of an age which admired prudential religion, and took in good earnest the words of the Preacher as to being righteous overmuch. But his writings would probably have had greater and wider influence if his piety had been less austere, and his ideal of life more comprehensive.
Yet, on the whole, William Law's mysticism had a most elevating effect on his theology, and has done much toward raising him to the very foremost rank of eighteenth-century divines. It broadened and deepened his views, so that from being only a luminary of the estimable but somewhat narrow section of the Nonjurors, he became a writer to whom some of the most distinguished leaders of modern religious thought have thankfully acknowledged their obligations. He learnt to combine with earnest piety and strong convictions an unreserved sympathy, as far as possible removed from the sectarianism of religious parties, with all that is good and Christlike wherever it might be found, wherever the Light that lighteth every man shines from its inward temple. He would like no truth, he said, the less because Ignatius Loyola or John Bunyan or George Fox were very zealous for it; and while he chose to live and die in outward communion with the Church of England, he desired to 'unite and join in heart and spirit with all that is Christian, holy, good, and acceptable to God in all other Churches.' He deplored the 'partial selfish orthodoxy which cannot bear to hear or own that the spirit and blessing of God are so visible in a Church from which it is divided.' He grieved that 'even the most worthy and pious among the clergy of the Established Church are afraid to assert the sufficiency of the Divine Light, because the Quakers who have broken off from the Church have made this doctrine their corner-stone.' Of Romanism he remarked that 'the more we believe or know of the corruptions and hindrances of true piety in the Church of Rome, the more we should rejoice to hear that in every age so many eminent spirits, great saints, have appeared in it, whom we should thankfully behold as so many great lights hung out by God to show the true way to heaven.'
Nor would he by any means limit the operations of true redeeming grace to the bounds of Christendom. Ever impressed with the sense that 'there is in all men, wherever dispersed over the earth, a divine, immortal, never-ending Spirit,' and that by this Spirit of God in man all are equally His children, and that as Adam is spoken of as first father of all, so the second Adam is the regenerator of all, he insisted that 'the glorious extent of the Catholick Church of Christ takes in all the world. It is God's unlimited, universal mercy to all mankind.' Understood rightly, Christianity might truly be spoken of as being old as the Creation; for the Son of God was the eternal life and light of men, quite independently of the infinitely blessed revelation of Himself afforded in the Gospel. There is a Gospel Christianity, which is as the possession compared with the expectation. There is an 'original, universal Christianity, which began with Adam, was the religion of the Patriarchs, of Moses and the Prophets, and of every penitent man in every part of the world that had faith and hope towards God, to be delivered from the evil of this world.' The real infidel, whether he be a professed disciple of the Gospel, of Zoroaster, or of Plato, is he who lives for the world and not for God.
There was probably no one man in the eighteenth century, unless we except Samuel Coleridge, so competent as William Law to appreciate, from a thoroughly religious point of view, spiritual excellence in Christian and heathen, in Anglican, and Roman Catholic, and Methodist, and Quaker. Much in the same way, although a firm believer in revealed religion and a vigorous opponent of the Deists, engaged 'for twenty years in this dust of debate,' he did not yield even to Bishop Butler in his power of recognising what was most forcible in their objections. The mystical tendencies of his religion, whatever may have been the special dangers incidental to them, at all events enabled him to meet the Deists with advantage on their own chosen ground. How he met Tindal's 'Christianity as Old as Creation' has been already mentioned. As Eusebius and St. Augustine and many others had done before him, he accepted it as to a great extent true, while he declined to accept Tindal's inferences from it.' So of the Atonement which was always considered the cardinal point in the controversy with Deists. Law willingly acknowledged the justice of many of their arguments, but maintained that the opinions they impugned were simply a mistaken view of true Christianity. The author of 'Deism fairly stated,' &c.—a work which excited much attention at its publication in 1746—had said, 'That a perfectly innocent Being, of the highest order among intelligent natures, should personate the offender and suffer in his place and stead, in order to take down the wrath and resentment of the Deity against the criminal, and dispose God to show mercy to him—the Deist conceives to be both unnatural and improper, and therefore not to be ascribed to God without blasphemy.' 'What an arrow,' answers Law, 'is here: I will not say shot beside the mark, but shot at nothing!... The innocent Christ did not suffer to quiet an angry Deity, but as cooperating, assisting, and uniting with that love of God which desired our salvation. He did not suffer in our place or stead, but only on our account, which is a quite different matter.' 'Our guilt is transferred upon Him in no other sense than as He took upon Him the state and condition of our fallen nature ... to heal, remove, and overcome all the evils that were brought into our nature by the fall ... His merit or righteousness is imputed or derived into us in no other sense than as we receive from Him a birth, a nature, a power to become the sons of God.' There is nothing here said which would not now be widely assented to among members of most sections of the Christian Church. William Law's writings will not be rightly estimated unless it be remembered that in his time orthodox theology in England scarcely allowed of any other than those scholastic and forensic notions of the Atonement which he deprecates. Other views were commonly thought to savour of rank Deism or rank Quakerism. His theological opponents seemed somewhat to doubt under which of these denominations he should be placed, or whether he would not more properly be referred to both.
Law's unwavering trust in a Spirit which guides faith and goodness into all necessary truth, led him to take a different course from the evidence writers of his time. 'I would not,' he says, 'take the method generally practised by the defenders of Christianity. I would not attempt to show from reason and antiquity the necessity and reasonableness of a Divine revelation in general, or of the Mosaic and Christian in particular. Nor do I enlarge upon the arguments for the credibility of the Gospel history, the reasonableness of its creeds, institutions, and usages; or the duty of man to receive things above, but not contrary to his reason. I would avoid all this, because it is wandering from the true point in question, and only helping the Deist to oppose the Gospel with a show of argument, which he must necessarily want, was the Gospel left to stand upon its own bottom.' To follow up the line of thought suggested by these words would be in itself a treatise. It is a first axiom among all mystics, that light is its own witness. With what limitations and precautions this is to be transferred to the spiritual region, and how far Christianity is independent of other testimony than its own intrinsic excellence—is a question of profound importance, and one which various minds will answer very differently. Law's unhesitating answer is another example of the way in which he was wont to combat Deists with their own weapons.
The vigour and success with which Law controverted the reasonings of those who grounded human society upon expedience, was also owing in large part to what was styled his mysticism or his enthusiasm. A religious philosophy which led him to dwell with special emphasis on the Divine element inherent in man's nature, and his faculties in communion with the Infinite, inspired him with the strongest force of conviction in combating theories such as that expressed in its barest form by Mandeville—that, in man's original state, right and wrong were but other expressions for what was found to be expedient or otherwise, that not rarely
Vice is beneficial found, When it's by justice lopt and bound;
and that 'moral virtues' (unless regarded as dictates of a special revelation) 'are but the political offspring which flattery begot on pride.' The answers even of Berkeley and Hutchinson had been comparatively feeble. They could not altogether escape from being hampered by those favourite reasonings of the day about the wisdom of morality and the advantages of religion, which after all were much like the very same argument from expedience, clothed in fairer garb. Law wrote in a different strain. Addressing himself to Deists who, whatever else might be their doubts, rarely departed from belief in a God, he bade them find their answer in that belief. 'Once turn your eyes to heaven, and dare but own a just and good God, and then you have owned the true origin of religion and moral virtue.' 'Suppose that God is of infinite justice, goodness, and truth ... this is the strong and unmoveable foundation of moral virtue, having the same certainty as the attributes of God.' Thence came that original excellence of man's nature which is essentially his healthy state, his sound and perfect condition, and of which all evil is the corruption and disease. Examine goodness, analyse it with unsparing strictness; and see 'whether the investigation does not prove that evil is not the substantial part of any act which is acted, or thought which is thought, in this world; but, on the contrary, the destructive element of it, that which makes it unreal and false.'
Closely connected with this unfaltering conviction of the immutable character of right and wrong, that the light of our souls comes direct from the source of light, and that the principles of justice, truth, and mercy cannot be otherwise than identical in God and His reasoning creatures—came William Law's speculations about the ultimate destinies of man. It has been truly observed that 'the first step commonly taken by Protestant mysticism is an endeavour to mitigate the gloom which hangs over the future state.' This is very strongly marked in all the later productions of Law's mind. He was very far from taking anything like an optimist view of the world around him. There is no writer of his age who shows himself more impressed with an abhorrence of sin, and with the sense of its widespread and deeply rooted influences. He is austere even to excess in his views of what godliness requires. His whole soul is oppressed with the wilful ruin of spiritual life which he everywhere beholds. Yet he can conceive of no hope except by the recovery of that spiritual life, no atonement except by the extinguishing of sin, no salvation nor redemption except by regeneration of nature, no forgiveness of sin but by being made free from sin. But paramount above all such thoughts is his ever-ruling conviction of the perfect love of God. 'Ask what God is? His name is Love; He is the good, the perfection, the peace, the joy, the glory and blessing of every life. Ask what Christ is? He is the universal remedy of all evil broken forth in nature and creature. He is the destruction of misery, sin, darkness, death, and hell. He is the resurrection and life of all fallen nature. He is the unwearied compassion, the long-suffering pity, the never-ceasing mercifulness of God to every want and infirmity of human nature. He is the breathing forth of the heart, life, and Spirit of God into all the dead race of Adam. He is the seeker, the finder, the restorer of all that was lost and dead to the life of God.' Law utterly rejected the possibility of Divine love contradicting the highest conceptions which man can form of it; and he turned with horror from the arbitrary sovereignty suggested in the Calvinistic scheme. Nations or individuals, he said, might be chosen instruments for special designs, but 'elect' ordinarily meant 'beloved.' In any other sense the evil nature only in every man is reprobated, and that which is divine in him elected. 'The goodness and love of God,' he asserted, 'have no limits or bounds, but such as His omnipotence hath.' It was indeed conceivable that there may be spirits of men or fallen angels that have so totally lost every spark of the heavenly nature, and have become so essentially evil, that restoration is no more consistent with their innermost nature than for a circle to have the properties of a straight line. If not, 'their restoration is possible, and they will infallibly have all their evil removed out of them by the goodness of God.' Christianity, he said, is the one true religion of nature, because man's corrupt state 'absolutely requires two things as its only salvation. First, the Divine life must be revived in the soul of man. Secondly, there must be a resurrection of the body in a better state after death.' That religion only can be sufficient to the want of his nature which can provide this salvation. God's redeeming love, said Law, will not suffer the sinner to have rest or peace until, in time or in eternity, righteousness is restored and purification completed. He expressed in the strongest language his belief that 'every act of what is called Divine vengeance, recorded in Scripture, may and ought, with the greatest strictness of truth, to be called an act of the Divine love. If Sodom flames and smokes with stinking brimstone, it is the love of God that kindled it, only to extinguish a more horrible fire. It was one and the same infinite love, when it preserved Noah in the ark, when it turned Sodom into a burning lake, and overwhelmed Pharaoh in the Red Sea.' If God did not chastise sin, that lenience would argue that He was not all love and goodness towards man. And so far from its being a lessening of the just 'terrors of the Lord,' to say that His punishments, however severe, are inflicted not in vengeance but in love, such wholesome terrors are placed on more certain ground. Every work of piety is turned into a work of love; but from the licentious all false and idle hopes are taken away, and they must know that there is 'nothing to trust to as a deliverance from misery but the one total abolition of sin.'
A few words may be added upon what was said of enthusiasm by one who was generally looked upon as the special enthusiast of his age. How much the usual meaning of the word has altered since the middle of the last century, is well illustrated by the length at which he argues that 'enthusiasm' ought not to be applied only to religion, and that it should be used in a good as well as in a bad sense. It is 'a miserable mistake,' he says, 'to treat the real power and operation of an inward life of God in the birth of our souls, as fanaticism and enthusiasm.' 'It is the running away from this enthusiasm that has made so many great scholars as useless to the Church as tinkling cymbals, and all Christendom a mere Babel of learned confusion.' Instead of being blameable, the enthusiasm which meant perfect dependence on the immediate inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit in the whole course of life was one, he said, in which every good Christian should endeavour to live and die. But he was too wise a man not to warn his readers against expecting uncommon illuminations, visions, and voices, and revelations of mysteries. Extraordinary operations of the Holy Spirit granted to men raised up as burning and shining lights are not matters of common instruction. Many a fiery zealot would be fitly rebuked by his words, 'Would you know the sublime, the exalted, the angelic in the Christian life, see what the Son of God saith, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself." And without these two things no good light ever can arise or enter into your soul.'
John Byrom, whose life and poetical writings will be found in Chalmers' edition of the British poets, has already been slightly referred to. His works would demand more attention at this point, were they not to a great degree an echo in rhyme of William Law's prose works. One of his longest poems was written in 1751, on the publication of Law's 'Appeal,' &c., upon the subject of 'Enthusiasm.' It may be said of it, as of several other pieces he has left, that although written in very pedestrian verse, they are worth reading, as containing some thoughtful remarks, expressed occasionally with a good deal of epigrammatic force. A few of his hymns and short meditations rise to a higher poetical level. They are referred to with much praise by Mr. G. Macdonald, who adds the just remark that 'The mystical thinker will ever be found the reviver of religious poetry.' Like Law, John Byrom was a great admirer of Behmen. He learnt High Dutch for the purpose of studying him in the original, and, nowise daunted by the many dark parables he found there, paraphrased in his halting rhymes what Socrates had said of Heraclitus:—
All that I understand is good and true, And what I don't, is I believe so too.
The same influences, springing from a German origin, which thus deeply and directly impressed William Law, and a few other devout men of the same type of thought, acted upon the national mind far more widely, but also far more indirectly, through a different channel. The Moravian brethren, though dating in the first instance from the time of Huss, owed their resuscitation to that wave of mystic pietism which passed through Germany in the seventeenth century, showing its early power in the writings of Behmen, and reaching its full tide in the new vigour of spiritual life inspired into the Lutheran Church by the activity of Arndt and Spener. Their work was carried on by Francke, 'the S. Vincent de Paul of Germany.' Educated by him, and trained up in the teaching of Spener's School at Halle, Count Zinzendorf imbibed those principles which he carried out with such remarkable success in his Moravian settlement at Herrnhut. There he organised a community to which their severest critics have never refused a high amount of admiration; a society which set itself with simple zeal to lead a Christian life after the primitive model—frugal, quiet, industrious, shunning temptation and avoiding controversy,—a band of brethren who held out the hand of fellowship to all in every communion who, without giving up a single distinctive tenet, would unite with them in a union of godly living—which sent out labourers into Christian countries to convert but not to proselytise—whose missionaries were to be found among the remotest heathen savages. That they should fall short of their ideal was but human weakness; and no doubt they had their special failings. They might be apt, in the fervency of their zeal, to speak too disdainfully of all gifts of learning; they might risk alternations of distressing doubt by too presumptuous expectations of visible supernatural help; they might think too lightly of all outward aids to religion. Such errors might, and sometimes did, prove very dangerous. But one who knew them well, and to whom, as his mind expanded, their too parental discipline, their timid fears of reasoning, their painful straining for experiences, had become intolerable, could yet say of them, 'There is not throughout Christendom, in our day, a form of public worship which expresses more thoroughly the spirit of true Christian piety, than does that of the Herrnhut brotherhood.... It is the truest Christian community, I believe, which exists in the outward world.'
The first Diaspora, or missionary colony, established by the Moravians in England was in 1728, at the instance of a lady in that centre of intellectual and religious activity, the Court of Queen Caroline. They did not, however, attract much attention. Winston, ever inquisitive and unsettled, wanted to know more about them, and began to read some of their sermons, but 'found so much weakness and enthusiasm mixed with a great degree of seriousness,' that he did not care to go to their worship. Their strictly organised discipline was in itself a great impediment to success among a people so naturally attached to liberty as the English. In the middle of the century, their missionary enterprise secured them special privileges in the American colonies. More than this. At the instance of Gambold, who was exceedingly anxious that the Brotherhood should gain ground in England within the bosom of the Anglican Church, a Moravian synod, held in 1749, formally elected Wilson, the venerable Bishop of Sodor and Man, 'into the order and number of the Antecessors of the General Synod of the brethren of the Anatolic Unity.' With this high-sounding dignity was joined 'the administration of the Reformed Tropus' (or Diaspora) 'in our hierarchy, for life, with full liberty, in case of emergency, to employ as his substitute the Rev. T. Wilson, Royal Almoner, Doctor of Theology, and Prebendary of St. Peter's, Westminster.' It is further added that the good old man accepted the office with thankfulness and pleasure. Here their success ended. Soon afterwards many of the English Moravians fell for a time into a most unsatisfactory condition, becoming largely tainted with Antinomianism, and with a sort of vulgar lusciousness of religious sentiment, which was exceedingly revolting to ordinary English feeling. After the death of Zinzendorf in 1760, the Society recovered for the most part a healthier condition, but did not regain any prospect of that wider influence in England which Gambold and others had once begun to hope for, and perhaps to anticipate.
Warburton said of Methodism, that 'William Law was its father, and Count Zinzendorf rocked the cradle.' The remark was no doubt a somewhat galling one to Wesley, for he had afterwards conceived a great abhorrence of the opinions both of the father and the nurse. But it was perfectly just; and Wesley, though he might have been unwilling to own it, was greatly and permanently indebted to each. The light which, when he read Law's 'Christian Perfection and Serious Call,' had 'flowed so mightily on his soul that everything appeared in a new view,' was rekindled into a still more fervent flame by the glowing words of the Moravian teacher on the morning of the day from which he dated his special 'conversion.' Nor was his connection with men of this general turn of thought by any means a passing one. His visit to William Law at Mr. Gibbon's house at Putney in 1732—the correspondence he carried on with him for several years afterwards—his readings of the mystic divines of Germany—his loving respect for the company of Moravians who were his fellow-travellers to Georgia in 1736—his meeting with Peter Boehler in 1738—the close intercourse which followed with the London Moravians—the fortnight spent by him at Herrnhut, 'exceedingly strengthened and comforted by the conversation of this lovely people,'—his intimate friendship with Gambold, who afterwards completely threw in his lot with the United Brethren and became one of their bishops,—all these incidents betoken a deep and cordial sympathy. It is true that all this fellow-feeling came at last to a somewhat abrupt termination. Passing, at first, almost to the bitter extreme, he even said in his 'Second Journal' that 'he believed the mystic writers to be one great Anti-Christ.' Some years afterwards he retracted this expression, as being far too strong. He had, he said, 'at one time held the mystic writers in great veneration as the best explainers of the Gospel of Christ;' but added, that though he admired them, he was never of their way; he distrusted their tendency to disparage outward means. 'Their divinity was never the Methodist doctrine. We cannot swallow either John Tauler or Jacob Behmen.' His friendly correspondence with Law ceased after a few years. He continued to 'admire and love' his personal character, but attacked his opinions with a vehemence contrasting somewhat unfavourably with the patience and humility of Law's reply. As for the Moravians, not Warburton, nor Lavington, nor Stinstra, nor Duncombe, ever used stronger words against 'these most dangerous of the Antinomians—these cunning hunters.' Count Zinzendorf, on the other hand, published a notice that his people had no connection with the Wesleys.
Like many other men who have been distinguished in divinity and religion, John Wesley, as he grew older, became far more charitable and large-hearted in what he said or thought of opinions different from his own. Methodism also had become, by that time, well established upon a secure basis of its own. Wesley had no longer cause to be disturbed by its features of relationship with a school of theology which he had learnt greatly to distrust. The fanciful and obscure philosophy of Dionysius, of Behmen, or of Law had been repugnant to him from the first. He had beheld with the greatest alarm Law's departures from commonly received doctrine on points connected with justification, regeneration, the atonement, the future state. Above all, he had become acquainted with that most degenerate form of mysticism, when its phraseology becomes a pretext to fanatics and Antinomians. Much in the same way as in the Germany of the fourteenth century the lawless Brethren of the Free Spirit had justified their excesses in language which they borrowed from men of such noble and holy life as Eckhart and Tauler, and Nicolas of Basle, so the flagitious conduct, at Bedford and elsewhere, of some who called themselves Moravians threw scandal and odium on the tenets of the pure and simple-minded community of Herrnhut. This was a danger to which Wesley was, without doubt, all the more sensitive, because he lived among hostile critics who were only too ready to discredit his teaching by similar imputations on its tendencies. The truth is that Methodism, in its different aspects, had so many points of contact with the essential characteristics of mysticism, both in its highest and more spiritualised, and in its grosser and more fanatical forms, that Wesley was exceedingly anxious his system should not be confused with any such 'enthusiasm,' and dwelt with jealous care upon its more distinctive features.
It has been already observed that a French historian of Christianity speaks of Quakerism and Methodism as the two chief forms of English mysticism. To an educated man of ordinary observation in the eighteenth century, especially if he regarded the new movement with distrust, the analogy between this and different or earlier varieties of 'enthusiasm' appeared still more complete. Lord Lyttelton, for example, in discussing a favourite theological topic of that age—namely, the absence of enthusiasm in St. Paul, and his constant appeals to the evidence of reason and the senses—contrasts with the life and writings of the Apostles the extravagant imaginations, and the pretensions to Divine illumination, of 'mystics, ancient and modern,' mediaeval saints, 'Protestant sectaries of the last age, and some of the Methodists now.' Montanus and Dionysius, St. Francis and Ignatius Loyola, Madame Bourignon, George Fox, and Whitefield are all ranked together in the same general category. Methodists, Moravians, and Hutchinsonians are classed as all nearly-related members of one family. Just in the same way Bishop Lavington, in his 'Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists,' has entered into an elaborate comparison between what he finds in Wesley's journals and in the lives and writings of saints and mystics of the Roman Church. Nor does he fail to discover similar resemblances to Methodist experiences among the old mystic philosophers, Montanists, Quakers, French Quietists, French prophets, and Moravians. The argumentative value of Lavington's book may be taken for what it was worth. To his own contemporaries it appeared the achievement of a great triumph if he could prove in frequent cases an almost identical tone of thought in Wesley and in Francis of Assisi or Francis de Sales. To most minds in our own days it will rather seem as if he were constantly dealing blows which only rebounded upon himself, in comparing his opponent to men whose deep piety and self-denying virtues, however much tinged by the errors of their time and order, worked wonders in the revival of earnest faith. On the whole Lavington proved his case successfully, but he only proved by what easy transitions the purest and most exalted faith may pass into extravagances, and, above all, the folly of his own Church in not endeavouring to find scope for her enthusiasts and mystics, as Rome had done for a Loyola and a St. Theresa. He himself was a typical example of the tone of thought out of which this infatuation grew. What other views could be looked for from a bishop who, though himself an awakening preacher and a good man, whose dying words were an ascription of glory to God ([Greek: doxa to theo]), was yet so wholly blind to the more intense manifestations of religious fervour that he could see nothing to admire, nothing even to approve, in the burning zeal of the founders of the Franciscans and of the Jesuits? Of the first he had nothing more to say than that he was 'at first only a well-minded but weak enthusiast, afterwards a mere hypocrite and impostor;' of the other he spoke with a certain compassion as 'that errant, shatter-brained, visionary fanatic.' And the Methodist, he thought, had a somewhat 'similar texture of brain.'