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tended that the truth on all these questions is immediately
revealed, without any speculative reasonings, to the inward
man. So, likewise, with reference to the rule of action.
The greater part of moralists affirm that the rule of human
action is the will of God. That will is intimated, either in
the eternal fitness of certain actions to produce given
results — in the moral constitution of human nature — in
the laws of the understanding — in the social sympathies,
in the practical utility of acting according to truth and
nature — or in the express precepts of the Divine revelation.
To all these moralists the mystic says, the will of God is
communicated immediately to all men, and our rule is
written by His unseen finger, or whispered by His small,


still voice, within us. This inward standard of truth, this
inward rule of action, is ascribed by the theological mystic
to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. By some this inspi-
ration of the Spirit is believed to be common to the human
race ; while by others it is believed to be restricted to par-
ticular persons.

The fundamental doctrine on which speculative mysticism
rests, is older than the beginnings of philosophy. We find
it in the earliest traditions of the East.

It would lead us away from our present purpose to touch
the interesting inquiry, whether the first teachers of philo-
sophy derived the rudiments of their speculations from the
East. Notwithstanding the strong reasons which have been
urged on the other side, we cannot follow the migrations
from the countries east of Greece, or trace the radical unity
of the earliest forms of philosophy with the oriental tra-
ditions, without acknowledging the oriental origin of some
of the principles which received new forms and combina-
tions from the peculiar tendencies of the Grecian mind ;
and we are the more persuaded of the soundness of this
opinion, when w r e find the same principles pervading the
philosophy of the Druids, and the mystical Initiations of
Orpheus. Thales, the founder of the Ionian school, taught
that God is the mind of the world. Plato taught that the
soul partaking of mind, reasoning, and harmony, is not the
mere work of God, but a part of God, not existing by Him,
but of Him. In the spirit of this philosophy we find
Marcus Antoninus speaking of himself as a partaker of the
divine mind, and saying, " Let him who would live with
the gods, do whatever that divine genius (djemon) which
Jupiter has given him for a guide, as a particle of himself :
this is the mind and reason of each man." Indeed this
was the prevailing doctrine of the ancient philosophers.

"When the Christian preachers began to spread the
Gospel, this philosophical doctrine was held by some of
their opponents as a reason for rejecting the Gospel,


while by those of the philosophers who embraced the
Gospel it was blended with the Christian doctrine.

Justin Martyr is not known to have sustained any office
in the church. He was a philosopher, who had studied the
writings of Plato and imbibed some of his principles.
We trace such principles in his frequent reference to
"the Spermatic Word," which he represents as having
been given to men before the coming of " the Word In-
carnate," and also in the expression that " the soul is
incorruptible, being a portion and implantation of God."*
Clemens of Alexandria appears to have thought that " by
the continual contemplation of God, man enters into the
Divine essence and becomes God (deovfievov)."\ Basil
the Great held that every holy man is God. J Cyril of
Alexandria, in his treatise against Anthropomorphites,
maintains that the breath of life which God breathed
into Adam was not the soul of man, nor of any creature,
but the Holy Spirit, which is lost by sin, but recovered
through Jesus Christ; and in his commentary on John's
Gospel he represents " the Word "as " the grace given to
every man, but rejected by those who, neglecting to go
forward, bury the illumination, and make their measure
of grace, in some respects, to languish."

The same principle formed one element of the fantastic
opinions of the Gnostics. In the controversies which dis-
tracted the Eastern church, we detect, both on one side
and on the other, the subtle working of the same tendency.
It was embodied in the monastic institutions. The moral
and devotional treatises of nearly every age, both in the
East and in the West, betray, sometimes unconsciously,
the same tendency. When the scholastic theology had
given so scientific and logical a form to Christianity as to

• *H juev ^/v\rj farrl H(p6apTO<: pipo? ovaa tov Otov Hal itx<piat]^t.a. iiag. (le

Resur. ii.
■[ Stromata, lib. iv.

t ©to? earl 3«i rovro tKuarot iwv uytwv. Adv. Ennon. lib. V. Opp. tom. ii-
UO, Ed. Par.


make it entirely an affair of the intellect, and while the
popular superstition was at the same time degraded by
the substitution of ceremonies for spiritual worship, there
arose a large and interesting series of writers who with
more or less pretensions to system, as they were more or
less imbued with the scholastic habits of mind, turned
away alike from the notions of the schools, and from
the gross materialism of the vulgar, to find the saving
truths of the Gospel in the hidden operations of the

In the mystic writers of the fourteenth century there
is often a subtlety of speculation peculiar to the age in
which they lived ; and there is sometimes a vagueness of
thought, a dreaminess of emotion, or a wildness of fancy,
peculiar to the personal temperament or the secluded life
of the particular writer, which can now be interesting only
as illustrating the history of the human mind ; yet in
many of them we discover a fervour, a childlike simplicity,
a spiritual freshness, which remind us of earlier times,
and which no Christian can study even now without
eminent advantage. Bernard is known only to the
learned. Echart was condemned by a pope. Tauler is
forgotten, excepting by a few. The memory of Suso has
been revived in Germany. Kuysbrock's " Little Book on
German Theology " was published by Luther, who highly
prized it, and it has been praised by a modern German
critic* as " a sound and energetic treatise, full of spirit
and life." Hamerken of Kempen (Thomas a Kempis) is
known to pious readers throughout Europe by his precious
treatise on " The Imitation of Christ." Nearly at the
same time with Thomas a Kempis, Marsiglio Ficino, of
Florence, the translator of Plato, addressed an epistle to
Lorenzo de Medici on the Christian Faith and Piety ; and
not long after, his fellow-citizen Savonarola published
his Triumph of the Cross ; and by his powerful preaching
* De Wette.


excited that strong spirit of devotion which spread the
doctrine of justification by faith among the Florentine
patriots of Venice, and, through them, over a great part of
Italy. Valdesso, Valer, Egidius, and other eminent asso-
ciates, laboured in various ways, amid overwhelming diffi-
culties, to diffuse a similar spirit in Spain.

The revival of letters in Europe brought out the mys-
ticism of the middle ages, in connexion with every depart-
ment of knowledge, and more especially in connexion with
religion. The empiricism of Hohenheim, who, in the Gre-
cising fashion of the age, translated his German name into
Paracelsus, heaped up a mass of incoherent fancies which
his followers digested into a kind of spiritual theory — that
true philosophy is learned from God alone by the inward
light of the invisible man. This philosophy taught that
life, intellect, will, action, and even vegetation, are pro-
duced by a luminous fire proceeding from the Holy Spirit
who is the soul of the world. From this supposed Divine
and essentially central light, our countryman Robert Fludd
professed to explain the mysteries of man, and of the
universe. Following the same notion, Jacob Boehm, the
philosophical shoemaker of Gorlitz, turned away from the
controversies of the Crypto-Calvinists of Saxony, to solitary
prayer and silent meditation, in which he believed that he
enjoyed the intuition of God. His philosophy, which is a
mixture of the scholastic notions of the age, and the
opinions of Paracelsus, with the dreams of a strongly fer-
tile and imaginative genius, he attributed entirely to the
inspiration of " that Spirit which dwells in God, and per-
vades all nature."

To this theosophy John Baptist Helmont of Brussels
was attracted by a dream which warned him to resign the
studies in which his youth had been spent with extraor-
dinary success, yet without attaining the certitude for
which he longed. Out of his dreams and ecstacies he
brought forth an unintelligible jumble of contradictions,


to which his son added new absurdities from the Cabala
of the Kabbins.

Antoinette Bourignon of Lille in Flanders, whose sin-
gular adventures are so full of romantic interest, had fed
her thoughts from early childhood with such mystic writ-
ings as fell in her way ; and, observing how different the
lives of Christians were from their professions, she sought
for herself the intimate communings with God of which
she had read, by fleeing from the society of men to the
loneliness of the desert.* Encouraged by Fenelon, the
pious Archbishop of Cambray, she passed some years of
solitude in Flanders, from whence she returned to her
patrimony at Lille ; where, assuming the order and habit
of St. Augustine, she presided over a hospital. There she
was accused of sorcery ; but she escaped to Ghent. She
had not been long in that city, when she gave it out that
God had disclosed many sacred mysteries to her. She
published, at Amsterdam, a book entitled " The Light of
the World." In that city she became a centre of attraction
to imaginary prophets and prophetesses, and she began to
hope that the reformation at which she aimed was about to
be firmly established. Labadie and his mystic disciples
sought to form a union with her at Noordstrandt ; but she
affirmed that their sentiments were not the same as hers,
that they were ruled by their own spirit rather than by the
tranquil inspirations by which she was Divinely guided.
By means of a private printing press which she set up in
Holstein, she diffused her writings, which were exceedingly

* " Stop only at the things which move your heart to the love of God,
without going further till you have found the means of practising it. This
I did in my younger years ; when I first saw the New Testament, and when I
understood thereby what a Gospel life was, I closed the book for twenty
years, and exercised myself in the practice of what is herein contained, and
so I found the light of the Holy Spirit without using books to instruct me."
— Letter IX. of the Treatise on Solid Virtue, in twenty-four letters to a young
man who sought after the perfection of his soul. Dated from Holstein, near
Goltorp Castle, May 5, 1G72. St. Vet.


numerous, and composed with incredible rapidity, over
Germany, Flanders, and France. After being forced by
persecution to lead a wandering life, she at length died at
Franeker in Friesland, at the age of sixty-four. — Of a harsh
and melancholy temper, violent in her self-will, highly
imaginative, ardent, and endued with unbounded powers
of language, she believed herself to be inspired from
heaven to rekindle the extinguished fire of spiritual reli-
gion, by calling men away from the services of the church
to immediate intercourse with God. Though she seems at
her death not to have left a single follower in the country
where she had lived, her writings were eagerly devoured.*

* Her " Light of the World " was translated and published by some of her
Scottish followers, in English, with a long preface, claiming for her the
character of an extraordinary prophetess. Her admirable " Treatise on Solid
Virtue," and her " Innovation of the Gospel Spirit," are not unknown to the
curious in these matters. " The Snake in the Grass " was published by
Charles Lesley, the eccentric non-juror, who seems to have been the first
English writer who combated the mysticism of Antoinette Bourignon.

She seems, at one time, to have had a great many followers in Scotland;
and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in the year 1701, con-
demned her wx-itings as " freighted with impious, pernicious, and damnable
doctrines." Dr. George Garden, a minister of the church in Aberdeen, pub-
lished an Apology for her opinions, which the assembly also adjudged "to
contain a mass of dangerous, impious, blasphemous, and damnable errors."
Dr. Garden was deposed from his rank as a minister, and "prohibited from
exercising the same in all time coming, under pain of the highest censures
of the church." — Acts of Assembly. 1701.

Previously, however, to this movement in the General Assembly a work
had appeared, entitled " The Delusions and Errors of Antonia Bourignon,
and her growing Sect Detected. In Two Narratives. By John Cockburn-
D.D. London: Printed for Wm. Kebblewhite, at the White Swan, in St.
Paul's Churchyard, &c. mdcxcviii." Dr. Cockburn was, I believe, a Pres-
byterian minister, who on account of ill health had to leave his country, and
take up his abode at Rotterdam. The first of the two narratives was written
and published before he left England. Replies to it were issued before he
had time to bring out the second. These replies were chiefly written by
foreigners. In a letter to a friend in London, Dr. Cockburn apologizes for
the delay of his second narrative, and states that his object in the first had
been to prove, that the judgments of M. Bourignon's advocates were not in-
fallible, and far from being competent evidence in matters 60 important as
those which she pretended to reveal.


It is to the writings of Pierre Poire t that we owe the
exact and logical exhibition of the mystical theology, in
two works of remarkable acuteness and elegance — " Ra-
tional Thoughts concerning God; the Soul, and God;"
and " The Divine Economy." In this latter work, his
object is to reduce the opinions of the mystics into a sys-
tem, and to explain them according to the principles which
they involved. As the foundation of the whole, he main-
tains that there is in man a certain inward and saving light
which consists in sensible, rather than ideal, knowledge.
He thus separates the human faculties : — the faculty of
passively receiving the Divine light, — boundless desire, —
and boundless acquiescence. He represents the 2^ a ssive-
ness of the intellect as the only entrance to true wisdom
and illumination ; and the activity of the intellect he repu-
diates as forming nothing but ideal knowledge, and as
injurious to the solid acquisition of truth. Starting from
these principles, he teaches that if a man will turn from

The second narrative sets forth " The Pretences of Antonia Bourignon,"
and contains a well- written refutation of them. By extracts from her own
writings Dr. Cockburn shows that she arrogated to herself a degree of
sanctity surpassing all others ; a knowledge of all things natural and Divine
greater than that possessed even by prophets and apostles ; an acquaintance
with things the most secret, and with matters of fact at the greatest distance,
attained without reading, study, or any human means. Dr. C. shows that she
pretended sometimes to inspiration guiding her in both the matter of her
communications and the language in which she conveyed them ; and some-
times only in their substance and matter ; that she asserted a kind of union
with God ; that she was sent with new and full light to convert the world ; to
renew and perfect the churches as the last grace which men were to expect ;
that Christ was a type of herself; that she was the mother of all who shall
be converted ; and that she travailed as in birth when any were converted by
her means.

Dr. Cockburn, after refuting these pretensions, shows that " it is usual
with impostors and deluded persons to ape ridiculously what they read in
Scripture," but that "such pretences are too high to be rashly admitted ; "
and that " Antonia Bourignon had no credentials to justify her claims."

From the end of the second narrative it appears that the author had de-
signed a third ; but whether it ever was published I have not been able to



all creatures to the truth shilling in the centre of his mind,
he will be led to God and to salvation, and become a true
Christian, though he be ignorant of the letter of the Gos-
pel; and that this light shining in men's hearts is the
Spirit of Jesus Christ himself, by whose efficacy Christ is
born within him. According to his triple division of the
human faculties, he distinguishes these three kinds, de-
grees, or aspects, of saving faith; — the faith of desire,
which is the fountain of conversion, — the faith of light,
which is the cause of purification, — and the faith of acqui-
escence, by which justification is secured. He represents
regeneration as arising from the simultaneous operations
of these three faiths.*

Poiret was endowed with a singularly perspicacious
intellect ; and he had been thoroughly disciplined in litera-
ture, theology, and the Cartesian philosophy. He sought
to supply the deficiencies of his metaphysical specula-
tions ; and, convinced by the writings of Tauler, Thomas
a Kempis, and others belonging to the same class, of the
necessity of acquiring mental purity, he produced his first
work, which sought to harmonize, on Cartesian principles,
the jarring opinions of contending sects. But the study of
the writings of Antoinette Bourignon shook his confidence
in his principles ; he exchanged the philosophy of Descartes
for the doctrines of the mystics, and abandoned himself to
the indulgence of his reveries, and the publication of his
writings, at Eheinburg.

The modern mysticism of Germany is chiefly remark-
able for its excessive ir religiousness, and its close alliance
with a congeries of metaphysical clouds, misnamed philo-
sophy, which by essaying to pass beyond the limits of the
human faculties, turns day dreams into logical systems,
and resolves all truth and all religion into the discovery
that there is no God, or that God is but a name for the
universe. The infidelity which in England took the form of
* (Econ. Div. torn. i. lib. iii. c. vii. sect. 12. Torn. ii. lib. v. c. is.


natural religion, and in France that of ribaldry and ridi-
cule, assumed in Germany the garb of speculation, and of
sentimental feeling.

" The Society for Light and Illumination " held their
secret meetings of philosophers and preachers at Berlin,
and in their writings they substituted living reasonably
for the Scripture doctrine of the work of the Spirit;
the purpose of leading a new life for regeneration ; and
reformation for sanctification.*

To the speculations of Kant, of Fichte, and of Schelling,
as well as to the claims of Divine revelation, Friedrich
Henry Jacobi, in his work on " Divine Things," opposed
that intuitive and immediate knowledge of Divine things
which he denominated Faith, Mental Feeling, or Pieason,
and which has acquired for his philosophy the name of
Mysticism. It is a revival of the reveries of Boehm, of
the Gnostics, and of the Orientals. Passing through such
modifications as it could receive from the learned piety
of Schleiermacher, the critical acumen of De Wette, the
poetry of Novalis, and the picturesque genius of Carlyle,
we now find it exciting to something like vitality the
negative theology of Unitarianism, in America and in

Instead of receiving the authentic revelations of the
Gospel, men are taught to look within themselves for the
inspiration of God; to regard "wisdom, righteousness,
and love, as the Spirit of God in the soul of man — the
income of God to the soul in the form of truth, through


the reason ; of right through the conscience ; of love and
faith through the affections and religious sentiments."
To become thus " partakers of the Divine nature, as the
Platonists, Christians, and Mystics call' it," we are assured

* The works in which these deistical notions appeared, hore characteristic
titles, such as, " The Worth of the Feelings in Religion ;" — " The Religion
of the Children of Light;" — "Christ and Reason;" — "Religion within the
limits of Pure Reason."


that " the soul of all flows into the man ; that which is
private, personal, peculiar, ebbs off before that mighty
influx from on high."*

We could not complete even this slight outline without
some notice of the opinions of Coleridge, who is said to
have " talked like an angel," and whose influence, for good
or evil, on the theology of our countrymen, it is of no
slight importance to appreciate, especially from their rela-
tion to the systems which are slowly working their way
among us from " the region of German theology."

The mental attributes of Coleridge w r ere of a high order,
strangely blended, and luxuriantly cultivated. To a
subtlety which would have acquired distinction in the
scholastic age, he added a compass and breadth of thought
which seemed as though it could grasp at once the rudi-
ments of all truth. His poetical imagination seemed to
aid his intellect by giving body, form, and colouring, to the
most profound abstractions. His principal prose writings
indicate the congeniality of his mental temperament with
the German philosophy, and not less congeniality with the
theology of those writers who, in every age, have risen
above the formalism of logic to the contemplations of spi-
ritual piety. Laden with the stores of the principal lite-
ratures of Europe in all ages, he was in the habit of look-
ing at .the modern theology of England with aversion and
with fear; and he devoted the ripest years of his life to the
training of educated youth, especially the younger Eng-
lish clergy, to a profound view of the capacities of human
nature, and, by the application of metaphysical principles,
to present the orthodox theology as the expression of the
highest reason, and as the fitting aliment of a truly
spiritual life. His admiration of the most devotional
compositions of Hooker, of Jeremy Taylor, of TV Donne,
of Baxter, and especially of Archbishop Leighton, is

* Parker's Discourse of Matters Pertaining to Religion. Bk. ii. c. viii.
pp. 160—174.


expressed in terms which prove that he was not merely a
literary reader, but a religious student, of those immortal
productions. In his endeavour to harmonize the dictates
of pure reason with the most sacred mysteries of Chris-
tianity, he familiarizes himself, and his readers, with forms
of expression which convey no meaning to those who have
not reached the same standing-place ; and, even by them,
they will often be found to correspond with their feelings
rather than with their ideas of truth, or their conceptions
of things, and thus to conduct them beyond the limits of
speculation and reasoning to the domains of mysticism.
Following the Father of the so-called Critical Philosophy
in his distinction between the understanding — or judging
according to sense and nature, — and the reason — or the
faculty of perceiving the spiritual, the infinite, the eternal,
he condemns the restriction of moral and theological
truths within the boundaries of the understanding, and
claims them as belonging to the higher department of
Faith, which he represents as the blending of the reason
with the will, deriving from the reason its illumination,
and from the will its energy. He never professes to dis-
cover any new doctrine; neither does he lower the doc-
trines of the Gospel after the manner of the rationalists,
to adjust them to the preconceptions of the human mind.
He affirms that there is a power in men, as such, to
behold by direct intuition the spiritual beings, and the
spiritual states, which the Gospel has revealed ; but this
power he says is not mere speculative reason ; it is prac-
tical faith : and this faith is quickened and guided by the
Spirit of God. Though Coleridge often speaks of " my
system," he is the least systematic of writers. Instead of
either assuming or vindicating a set of established pre-
mises, and building on them a regular scheme of doc-
trine, he aims at turning men's minds to the contem-
plation of the permanent laws of intellectual, moral, and
religious truth which are within them ; and it is by those


only who have become habituated to self-reflection that

Online LibraryW. H. (William Hendry) StowellOn the work of the spirit (Volume 14) → online text (page 18 of 33)