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most consecutive of writers, it is equally impossible to condense his arguments without doing him grievous injustice. It must, therefore, suffice to add that Law shows unanswerably his perfect consistency in adhering to his literal interpretation of his favourite text on the Light which lighteth every one that cometh into the world, and yet warning his reader to 'cast away this religion of nature from him with more earnestness than he would cast burning coals out of his bosom'; 'for,' he adds, could it only destroy your body, I should have been less earnest in giving you notice of it.'
Considering Law's reluctance to take up any personal quarrel, we have perhaps lingered too long on the subject of this chapter. But, whether he would or no, Law's opponents occupied too conspicuous a place in relation to his biography to allow his biographer to ignore them ; and even yet there is more to be said on the subject, as the next chapter will show.
Law on Systems kindred to Mysticism.
LAW ON SYSTEMS KINDRED TO MYSTICISM.
We have seen that there were several systems which hung, as it were, on the outskirts of mysticism. With these, Law's position necessarily brought him into contact; and his relation to them must now be briefly noticed.
From the wild extravagances which characterised some of these semi-mystic schemes, Law was saved not merely by his strong sense and clear judgment, but still more by his firm adherence to the creeds of the Church. He might be a "rank enthusiast'; but the rankest enthusiasm cannot go far beyond the bounds of sound spirituality so long as it is chastened and corrected by the well-weighed and deliberate judgments of the Church Catholic, as expressed in the symbols of her faith. Those who depreciate the value of creeds would do. well to ponder on the contrast between the enthusiasts who let their fancy run riot, scorning to be bound by such trammels, and the enthusiast whose speculations, wild and dreamy as they sometimes were, were always held in check by his regard for the utterances of the Church. This contrast will, it is hoped, be brought out in strong colours in the following brief sketch.
1. The Philadelphians. In the year 1697 a short-lived society was formed under the name of the Philadelphian Society,' the object
The Philadelphian Society.
of which was 'to cultivate spiritual and practical piety founded on the study of Jacob Behmen. Its leading spirits were Mrs. Joanna Lead, who was the intimate friend of Dr. Pordage, a nonjuring clergyman, and afterwards a physician, the learned and excellent Francis Lee, who married Mrs. Lead's daughter, Lot Fisher, also a physician, and Thomas Bromley, also a physician, the author of the Sabbath of Rest.' The society, however, was not content with Behmenism pure and simple, but regarded Mrs. Lead as an inspired prophetess, and accepted her visions almost as articles of faith. The society was broken up long before Law became a mystic, having 'completed its public testimony,' and consequently dissolved itself, in 1703. But, as a Behmenist, Law was naturally led to give his opinion about these earlier admirers of the illuminated Jacob. When accused of reading Jacob Behmen, Dr. Pordage, and Mrs. Lead, with almost the same veneration and implicit faith that other people read the Scripture,' he replied, 'Two of these writers I know very little of, yet as much as I desire to know.'' And from a private letter we find, what, indeed, we might have anticipated from the general tone of Law's writings, the reason why he desired to know no more of Dr. Pordage and Mrs. Lead. In the beginning,' he writes, of this century, a number of persons, many of them of great piety, formed themselves into a kind of society, by the name of Philadelphians. They were great readers, and well versed in the language of Jacob Behmen, and used to make eloquent discourses of the mystery in their meetings. Their only thirst was after visions, openings, and revelations. And yet nowhere could they see their distemper so fully described, the causes it proceeded
See Works, vi. (2), 313.
Physicians attracted to Mysticism.
from, and the fatal consequences of it, as by J. B.'' On another occasion he stigmatised Mrs. Lead as a 'seeker of visions,' a character of which, the reader need hardly be told, Law highly disapproved.
But though Law had little sympathy with the Philadelphians generally, and the visions of their prophetess in particular, he was deeply interested in the writings of Francis Lee, who was really a man of learning and culture, as well as of piety. Lee was a fellow of St. John's, Oxford ; but, like Law, lost his fellowship on account of his conscientious adherence to the Stuart dynasty. He then became a physician, and, like so many others who practised physic, was imbued with mystical notions. The affinity between mysticism and the medical profession probably arose from the deep, spiritual view of nature which the mystics took. There certainly was no class of minds to which mystic schemes were so attractive as those which studied the human body. Lee thus belonged to the first generation of nonjurors, as Law belonged to the second; but, unlike Law, he was not isolated when he declined to take the oaths. The earlier nonjurors hung closely together, as a small party naturally does; and Lee became an intimate friend of Nelson, Dodwell, Hickes, and the other good men who suffered for conscience' sake.2 It has been said that Lee reversed the process which Law went through, having first been a mystic and then a High Churchman, whereas Law's progress was vice versa. But this is not quite accurate; at any rate, the statement requires very large modification.
1 The Philadelphian Society,' writes Dr. Blunt, contributed largely to the spread of that mystical piety which is so conspicuous in the works of the good and learned William Law, and which affected in no small degree the early stages of Methodism.'-Dictionary of Sects, Heresies, Ecclesiastical Parties, and Schools of Religious Thought, by J. H. Blunt.
? See Mr. Abbey's chapter on Robert Nelson and his friends in The English Church in the Eighteenth Century,
For, in the first place, a wide distinction must be drawn between the so-called mysticism of Lee and that of Law. Both were mystics, and something more-Law as a Behmenist, Lee as a Philadelphian—but the apologist for Mrs. Lead's visions diverged far more widely from mysticism proper than Law ever did. Again, it is not quite correct to say that Law changed from High Churchism to mysticism. His mysticism very largely modified his Churchmanship; but that was all. When he became a mystic he did not cease to be a Churchman, nor even a High Churchman, if it is necessary to use that epithet to distinguish his Churchmanship from that of Hoadly and Warburton, on the one side, or of Hervey and Berridge on the other. And, once more, Lee did not cease to be a mystic when he ceased to be a Philadelphian, while he could hardly have been other than a High Churchman before he became a mystic ; for there is a correspondence-interesting, but of portentous length-between him and Dodwell which clearly implies as much. To no other than a High Churchman would the uncompromising Dodwell have written as he did in his first letter to Lee:
'Shottisbrook : Oct. 12, 1697.' Worthy Sir, I was at once both troubled and surprised to hear that so good and so accomplished a person as you are should be engaged in a new division from that Church for whose principles you had so generously suffered ; and I hope you will excuse me if the love of our late common excellent cause, as well as of a common brother and common assertor of it, encourage me to hope that so new a change has not altogether alienated you from hearing an affectionate expostulation concerning it. ... You, who
1 Shottisbrook was the residence of the excellent Francis Cherry, a country gentleman who kept open house for the ejected nonjurors.