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Law on Outward Ordinances.


Law himself personally never neglected the means of grace; he and all who were under his influence attended every service, week-day and Sunday, at their own parish church, and he never intended one syllable of his teaching to direct his readers otherwise. But some of his sentiments might not unreasonably be construed as depreciating outward ordinances. Take, for example, that magnificent passage in the Spirit of Prayer,' which gave such deep offence to John Wesley : ‘This pearl of eternity is the Church, or temple of God within thee, the consecrated place of divine worship, where alone thou canst worship God in spirit and in truth. In spirit, because thy spirit is that alone in thee, which can unite and cleave unto God, and receive the working of His Divine Spirit upon thee. In truth, because this adoration in spirit is that truth and reality, of which all outward forms and rites, though instituted by God, are only the figure for a time, but this worship is eternal. Accustom thyself to the holy service of this inward temple. In the midst of it is the fountain of living water, of which thou mayst drink and live for ever. There the mysteries of thy redemption are celebrated, or rather opened in life and power. There the Supper of the Lamb is kept ; the bread that came down from Heaven, that giveth life to the world, is thy true nourishment: all is done and known in real experience, in a living sensibility of the work of God on the soul. There the birth, the life, the sufferings, the death, the resurrection and ascension of Christ are not merely remembered, but inwardly found and enjoyed as the real state of thy soul, which has followed Christ in the regeneration. When once thou art well-grounded in this inward worship, thou wilt have learnt to live unto God above time and place. For every day will be Sunday to thee, and wherever thou goest thou wilt have a priest, a church, and an altar along with


Mysticism and Dogmatić Theology.

thee.' 1 John Wesley drew inferences from this passage which Law never intended, but Wesley was a practical man and saw whither, as a matter of fact, such doctrines tended when imbibed by ordinary mortals.

(3.) Mysticism,' wrote Alexander Knox, 'is hostile to Christianity, because it necessarily disqualifies the mind for that distinct and intelligent contemplation of Immanuel. The contemplation of the deity, to which the embodied spirit is unequal, is contrary to the incarnation.'? This is far too strongly stated, but it points to a peril against which all who have a tendency to mysticism should be on their guard. Law over and over again affirms, as Behmen affirmed before him, that the doctrine of the Christ within in no wise weakened his belief in the historical Christ who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate;' and all the more moderate mystics affirm the same. But there is among the more extravagant mystics unquestionably a tendency to ignore the glorious truth that by the incarnation God, as it were, came down from the clouds in order to prevent men from losing themselves in the clouds. This question, however, is in fact part of a greater : Does mysticism tend to sap the foundation of dogmatic theology? Here, again, we must answer, Not necessarily, but still there is a danger of the system being so perverted. To men who are accustomed to soar to the lofty heights of mystic ecstasy, 'to lose themselves in the divine dark,' it is apt to appear slavish, grovelling work to be tied down to articles of faith. Law himself was by no means free from this danger. He is never weary of crying down the learned labours of divines, apparently forgetful of the fact that, after all, Christianity is, in one sense, an historical religion, which requires its proofs like any other history, that after all it is a system of distinct articles of belief, which must

Spirit of Prayer, Law's Works, vol. vii. p. 74-5. ? Remains, vol. ii. P. 333.

Mysticism and Philosophy.


be defended and proved like those of any other system. Mysticism avowedly addresses itself to the feelings, not to the reason ; the eighteenth century was essentially an age of reason not of feeling ; each mode of viewing the matter has something to say for itself; each has its peculiar snares; and assuredly, if there be danger on the one hand of the heart of religion being frozen out by cold dogmas, there is, at least, equal danger on the other, of the rationale of religion evaporating in mere heat of feeling and in airy speculation.

(4.) The charge against mysticism of giving too little prominence to Christian dogmas is unquestionably a grave one, which the Christian mystic cannot afford to neglect ; but he need not be so careful to answer another similar objection raised against his system on the grounds of philosophy. It may be necessary, from the philosopher's point of view, to explain philosophically this phenomenon of the human mind; but certainly, from the mystic's own point of view, any such explanation would seem strangely out of place. 'Sensationalism, idealism, scepticism, mysticism, eclecticism,'' would appear to him to be what the logicians call a cross division. He would ask himself •What in the world am I doing in this galley ?' He has been conscious of no such intellectual process as that by which the historian of philosophy supposes him to have arrived at his conclusions, if we are to call those conclusions which he would call simply intuitions or illuminations. He would say in effect to the philosopher, ' Settle these matters among yourselves. I know nothing about all these processes of the human mind; one thing I know, whereas I was blind, now I see, and that is enough for me.'?

" This is Mr. Morell's division of the various systems of philosophy. See his History of Philosophy, passim.

? •We cannot,' writes Dr. Dorner (Hist, of Prot. Theology Eng. Tr. i. 52), with some recent writers, regard it (mysticism) only as a kind of philosophy, or as the preliminary stage of a modern speculative mode of thought,


Other Charges against Mysticism.

(5.) A very favourite expression of reproach against the mystics is that they are'visionary ; 'if by visionary be meant apt to see and believe in visions, the epithet cannot be applied with truth to the genuine mystic. It is true that many mystics, such as S. Theresa, did see visions, but not quâ mystics. The very essence of mysticism is that a man should retire into the temple of his own soul, and he will find God there. He has no need of any vision or appearance from without,-no, not even from God ; his state of ecstasy or contemplation is not a manifestation of God from without, but an opening of God from within. Law was in this respect a true mystic ; he held that visions were not to be sought; and he looked with considerable suspicion and reserve on those who professed to have been favoured with them.

(6.) ‘Mysticism encourages vanity or spiritual pride.'' Theoretically it might be enough to answer that humility is the very cardinal grace of the mystic ; but then there is a pride which apes humility, and it is quite possible that spiritual pride might lurk under the garb of mystic selfabasement. But, as a matter of fact, the most pronounced mystics have without exception, so far as I know, been in very truth the humblest of men ; nor can I think of one instance in which true mysticism has led to self-conceit.

(7.) Mysticism is charged with using too familiar, not to say improper, expressions to describe the relation between Christ and the Christian. It has been seen that, according

which fell with its time, a stage, however, which retires in obscure idealism into itself, to find in itself all truth and reality. The whole essence of mysticism lies in a real religious fellowship of the subject with the personal God and of God with him. The religious element must be regarded as the original principle, as the life-germ of mysticism.'

1 Ceux qui traitent les mystiques de visionnaires seraient fort étonnés de voir quel peu de ces ils font des visions en elles-mêmes.'-Dictionnaire de Mystique Chrétienne, Introduction par l'Abbé Migne,

? Hey's Lectures on Divinity, i. 470.

The Earthly and the Spiritual Marriage. 219

to the mystic theory, perfect union of the soul with God is to be the aim of the Christian ; that this union is to be effected through love ; and that all earthly and visible things are types, or rather, more than types, actually lower forms of things spiritual and invisible. It naturally follows that the best figure under which this spiritual union can be represented is the union of two human beings through earthly love. That there is a beautiful analogy between the earthly and the heavenly in this respect no one of course will deny. God has consecrated the state of matrimony to such an excellent mystery, that in it is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his church.' But in this 'mystical union' of which our prayer-book speaks, the bride is the church collectively, not the individual Christian. Some mystics not only married the individual soul to Christ, but closely followed out the analogy in the minutest particulars, and, it must be confessed, outraged sometimes one's notions not only of reverence but even of decency. No one worked out this analogy more elaborately than Jacob Behmen; in fact it would be quite impossible to transfer to these pages many passages from him on this subject. Happily, on this point Law did not follow his master; not only is there not one syllable in his writings which could shock the most fastidious; he hardly ever alludes to the analogy at all.

To sum up, it appears to me that the prejudices against mysticism have been excessive, but not altogether without foundation ; and that William Law, though he has escaped many of the snares to which mysticism is exposed, has, to some little extent, laid himself open to the charges which were only too freely brought against his system. We may now, after this long discussion return to his outer


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