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Law's Defence of Enthusiasm.
enthusiasts, though capable of no other flame than that which is kindled by tailors and peruke-makers.
“The grammarian, the critick, the poet, the connoisseur, the antiquary, the philosopher, the politician are all violent enthusiasts, though their heat is only a flame from straw, and therefore they all agree in appropriating enthusiasm to religion. ... Enthusiasts we all are, as certainly as we are men. You need not go to a cloyster, the cell of a monk, or to a field-preacher to see enthusiasts ; they are everywhere : at balls and masquerades, at court and the exchange. Enthusiasm is not blameable in religion when it is true religion that kindles it.' Then, after defending this position at some length, he thus sums up the character of the true religious enthusiast, in whom we still see the mystic and the High Churchman blended. 'Every man, as such, has an open gate to God in his soul; he is always in that temple, where he can worship God in spirit and truth; every Christian, as such, has the firstfruits of the Spirit, a seed of life, which is his call and qualification to be always in a state of inward prayer, faith, and holy intercourse with God.' So far the mystic. Now observe in the passage which immediately follows the High Churchman : ‘All the ordinances of the Gospel, the daily sacramental service of the Church, is to keep up, and exercise, and strengthen this faith ; to raise us to such an habitual faith and dependence upon the Light and Holy Spirit of God, that by thus seeking and finding God in the institutions of the Church, we may be habituated to seek Him and find Him, to live in His Light, and walk by His Spirit in all the actions of our ordinary life. This is the enthusiasm in which every good Christian ought to endeavour to live and die.' I
" It is interesting to compare with this passage Wesley's sermon on ‘Enthusiasm ' (see his Sermons, vol. i. serm. xxxvii.). Of course Wesley agrees with Law in defending those whom the world calls . enthusiasts,' but, unlike
Law, unlike an Eighteenth Century Man.
The reflection which the reading of such a passage as this calls up must be, Is it possible that this man could have lived in the eighteenth century ? This defender of pilgrimages and crucifixes in an age when anti-Popery was rampant? This depreciator of grammarians, criticks,' and the rest, in an age when reason was triumphant ? This apologist for enthusiasm in an age which, when it had labelled a man 'enthusiast,' thought that it had put him under an universal ban? Could William Law really have been the contemporary of the Warburtons, the Hoadlys, and the Trapps, ay, or even of the Butlers and the Sherlocks?
Law, he gives up the name: 'As to the nature of enthusiasm, it is undoubtedly a disorder of the mind,' &c. Wesley is far more of an eighteenth century man than his quondam mentor ; hence, in part, the far wider influence which he exercised.
· The Spirit of Prayer.'
"THE SPIRIT OF PRAYER' AND 'THE SPIRIT OF LOVE.'
If the 'Appeal to all that Doubt, &c.,' is the most comprehensive of all Law's mystic works, the two treatises which are the subject of this chapter are certainly the most attractive, and also the most exhaustive in their explanation of particular points. They were written after Law's mysticism had excited much attention and much opposition; and therefore he adopts a method which gave him an opportunity not only of elucidating his own views, but also of answering possible and actual objections to those views. That method was, in both cases, first, to unfold his own sentiments without interruption, and then to introduce speakers who comment upon them; that is, to give first an essay, and then some dialogues upon it.
The first part of the Spirit of Prayer' was published in 1749. It is an essay of about one hundred pages, written in a most fascinating style, and describing on the principles of Behmenism the progress of the Soul Rising out of the Vanity of Time into the Riches of Eternity. This, indeed, is its alternative title, and a very proper one, according to Law's view ; for he understands the word 'prayer' in the same sense as he did in the two practical treatises ;' that is, not merely as the offering up of petitions to God, nor even as holding communion with God, but as synonymous with a life of devotion in the strictest sense of the term.
Sce the Christian Perfection and Scrious Call, passim.
The Spirit of Prayer.'
The second part was not published till 1750, because, it is said, Law wished to observe the reception of the first part, and to be in some measure guided by it as to the construction and contents of the remainder. It is, as has been already observed, in the form of dialogues ; and these dialogues are singularly characteristic of the writer's own mind and position.
The speakers are Academicus, Rusticus, and Theophilus, with the addition of a dummy, who is called Humanus. Theophilus represents Law's own views, and is completely master of the situation, as Law himself always was; he is an adept in the art of shutting-up, as Law also certainly was; but there is an earnestness, a tenderness, and a thorough reality about him which attract far more than his occasional asperity repels us, and in these respects he exactly resembles Law. Academicus is a professing and, according to his lights, a sincere Christian, but he is so hampered by his ‘letter-learning,' that he finds many obstacles to the reception of Christianity according to Behmen. He is, therefore, continually laying himself open to severe snubs from Theophilus; and is still more often being set right by Rusticus, who, being unable to read or write, is in a far better position to receive the truth in its fulness and simplicity. Humanus is a learned unbeliever, a friend and neighbour of Academicus, who is admitted into the company only on the express condition that he is never to open his mouth-a condition which he strictly fulfils in the first two dialogues.
The 'Way to Divine Knowledge' was published in a volume by itself in 1752, 'as preparatory to a new edition of the works of Jacob Behmen, and the right use of them.' So far as it had this object in view, it may be regarded as a separate work ; but in other respects it is, to all intents and purposes, merely a continuation of the ' Spirit of
• The Way to Divine Knowledge.'
Prayer,' the same speakers taking up the thread of their discourse just where they left it at the end of the preceding dialogue. It opens with a full confession of his errors by the long tongue-tied Humanus, who owns that his objections to Christianity had been due simply to the wrong tactics of its defenders. 'I had frequently,' he says, 'a consciousness rising up within me that the debate was equally vain on both sides, doing no more real good to the one than to the other; not being able to imagine that a set of scholastic, logical opinions about history, facts, doctrines, and institutions of the church, or a set of logical objections against them, were of any significance towards making the soul of man either an eternal angel of heaven, or an eternal devil of hell. ... You have taught me that Christianity is neither more nor less than the goodness of the Divine Life, Light, and Love living and working in the soul!' This to some extent represents Law's own experience. Not that he had ever for one moment the slightest temptation to join the ranks of the unbelievers to which Humanus belonged. But it is obvious that Humanus' conclusion may be reached as well from the Christian as from the unChristian side. In fact it was so reached by Academicus, whose long account of his experience is well worth quoting, both as a specimen of Law's quiet humour, and as a vivid picture, mutatis mutandis, of Law's own mental history.
When,' he says, “I had taken my degrees, I consulted several great divines to put me in a method of studying divinity. Had I said to them, “ Sirs, what must I do to be saved ?” they would have prescribed hellebore, or directed me to the physician as a vapoured enthusiast. It would take up near half a day to tell you the work which my learned friends cut out for me. One told me that Hebrew words are all ; that they must be read without points, and then the Old Testament is an open book; he recom