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Dr. Cheyne's Mysticism.
William Law had written the finest piece of paraenetic divinity in the language' he was no reasoner. But what was this piece of paraenetic divinity but reasoning from beginning to end? and when the Doctor owned on another occasion that William Law was quite an overmatch for him,' in what was he an overmatch except in reasoning?
But to return to Dr. Cheyne. Regarded from one point of view, he would have seemed to be about the last man in the world one would have expected to be a primum mobile of English mysticism. For he was a kind of eighteenth century Banting. Being afflicted with corpulency, he adopted and recommended in print a milk diet; and, to his great annoyance, was made a butt for the wits of the day in consequence. He also wrote a treatise on the gout, and another on the spleen and the vapours, which he termed the English malady. But though one side of his mind was engrossed with these very material topics, there was another side of it which was filled with the most transcendental speculations. He was, in fact, not only the recommender of German mysticism to William Law, but himself a mystic of a very marked type. This tendency is traceable in almost all his works, but most of all in his
Philosophical Principles of Religion Natural and Revealed.' This work, which is oddly enough based upon mathematics, touches upon most of the points on which mystics love to dwell. It shows us how there is a perpetual analogy (physical, not mathematical) running on in a chain through the whole system of creatures up to their Creator,' how
the visible are the images of the invisible, the ectypical of the archetypical, the creatures of the Creator, at an absolutely infinite distance,' how if gravitation be the principle of the activity of bodies, that of reunion with their origin. must by analogical necessity be the principle of action in
spirits,' how 'material substances are the same with spiritual substances of the higher order at an infinite distance,' how 'the pure and disinterested love of God and of all His images in a proper subordination is the consummate perfection of Christianity. The fall of man is described, the philosophy of Locke argued against, and, in fact, most of the topics dwelt upon which are discussed, only with infinitely greater power, in Law's later works.
It will appear in the sequel that this combination of mysticism with the more mundane subjects on which Dr. Cheyne wrote was not so unusual as one might have expected. Dr. Cheyne is perhaps best known at the present day as a correspondent of David Hume. It is difficult to conceive a more complete contrast than between the Doctor's two friends, William Law and David Hume—that is, so far as religious questions were concerned. Intellectually, however, there were some points of resemblance between them. The same clearness of thought, the same luminous and pure style, the same strong logical power is seen in both ; but to what widely different conclusions did they lead the two men !
Upon the rest of Law's friends and disciples at Putney it is not necessary to dwell at length. Among them may be noticed the daughter of the house, Miss Hester Gibbon, who was a far more docile pupil of Mr. Law's, at least in spiritual matters, than her brother or her more worldly sister Katherine, and of whom Byrom ‘heard it said that she was a very good lady, though some people said she was mad ;'' Miss Dodwell (daughter of the famous nonjuror), to whom (probably) Law wrote three long and interesting letters which will be noticed among his writings during this period ; Mr. Archibald Hutcheson, M.P. for Hastings, who had so high an opinion of Mr. Law that on his death-bed
· Byrom's Journal, vol. ii. part i. p. 124.
he recommended him to his wife as her spiritual director ; and Mr. Archibald Campbell, a relation of the above ; Dr. Stonehouse, who, however, on the rupture between Law and Wesley wavered between the two mentors, and finally seems to have sided with the latter; and others whom it is needless to specify.
The Serious Call.'
THE 'SERIOUS CALL.'
In the early part of his residence at Putney, or to speak more accurately, when he was alternating between Putney and Cambridge, Law wrote that work which probably constitutes to nine-tenths of those who have heard his name at all his one title to fame. If one desires to let people know whom one means by William Law, the best-perhaps, in most cases, the only-way of doing so, is by saying that he was the author of the 'Serious Call. It is his only work which can, as a matter of fact, be called an English classic, though it certainly is not his only work which deserves that somewhat vague title of honour; some may think that it is by no means the work which deserves it best. Still, the popular verdict in such cases is generally correct; or, at any rate, so far correct that there is always some substantial reason for it. In this case the verdict is stamped by the approval of the great name of Gibbon, who calls the
Serious Call'Law's master work. From Gibbon's point of view, one can well understand his selection. He could hardly be expected to appreciate controversial writings, in which he would certainly have taken the other side of the controversy. And still less was he likely to sympathise with Law's mysticism, a subject which was utterly repulsive to his frame of mind. But, Sybarite as he was in his own life,
I 'Gibbon,' wrote Mr. Kingsley, however excellent an authority for facts, knew nothing about philosophy, and cared less' (Alexandria and her Schools, p. 81). This is true, at least so far as anything approaching to idealism or mysticism is concerned.
The 'Serious Call.'
Gibbon could thoroughly appreciate self-denial and piety in others, and a more persuasive and forcible recommendation of these graces was surely never written than is to be found in the Serious Call.' And men of much less mark than Gibbon were quite capable of appreciating the book. It is, in fact, of all Law's works the one most calculated to impress the multitude, and on this ground it may fairly be called his master work;' though as mere specimens of intellectual power his controversial works are more remarkable, and in originality of thought and beauty of expression, in tenderness and maturity both of style and sentiment, he rises to far greater heights in his later mystic works. But there is no need to compare Law with himself. Taken by itself the “Serious Call’ is unquestionably a great work, more than worthy of the high reputation which it won. We may now proceed to examine it in detail.
Its full title is 'A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. Adapted to the State and Condition of all Orders of Christians.' It travels over very much the same ground as the Christian Perfection, but it is a more powerful work than its predecessor, and deserved in every way the greater popularity which it enjoyed. Its style is more matured, its arguments more forcible, the range of subjects which it embraces more exhaustive, its wit more sparkling, and its tone more tender, affectionate, and persuasive.
In the first chapter the author shows that devotion means not merely prayer, public or private, but a life devoted to God. By some well-drawn instances he exposes the inconsistency of those whose lives are a contradiction to their prayers, and declares that the majority of churchgoers only add Christian devotion to a heathen life--pray as Christians, but live as heathens.
In the second chapter he contends that the real cause of the inconsistency is simply this : that men have not so