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THE AUTHOR OF “SELF-FORMATION.” DEAR SIR,—Such of your readers as had their interest excited by a letter of mine in your last November number, on the remarkable book published by Mr. Charles Knight in the early part of the present century, entitled “Self-Formation, or the History of an Individual Mind,” may be pleased to have their attention called to the following extract from “Harriet Martineau's Autobiography” (vol. i. p. 416), relating to the book and its author. Her remarks apparently have reference to the year 1834. She says:
“ One of the most striking of my occasional visitors was Capel Lofft the younger, the author of that wonderful book, the merits of which were discovered by Charles Knight, 'Self-Formation, which should be read by every parent of boys. Those who know the work do not need to be told that the author was a remarkable man; and if they happen to have met with his agrarian epic, 'Ernest,' a poem of prodigious power, but too seditious for publication, they will feel yet more desire to have seen him. When he called on me to ask my advice what to do with his poem, his card revived all I had heard about his eccentric father, the patron of the Poet Bloomfield. He was neat and spruce in his dress and appearance, with his glossy olive coat, and his glossy brown hair, parted down the middle, and his comely and thoughtful face. He was as nervous as his father ; and hy degrees I came to consider him as eccentric; especially when I found what was his opinion of the feminine intellect, and that his wife, to whom he appeared duly attached, did not know of the existence of his poem. He died early; but not before he had left a name in the world by his 'Self-Formation,' and an impression of power and originality by his formidable epic.”.
It will be remembered that a correspondent, in commenting on my letter in your February number, expressed his surprise that Mr. Capel Lofft's book should not have found a publisher to reissue it. The above extract is the first indication I have met with of the interest excited by the book at the time it was first given to the world of readers. The like interest, I think, would speedily be aroused in it were it to be republished in an accessible form.-Y irs faithfully,
H. N. GRIMLEY. UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, ABERYSTWYTH,
July 14, 1877.
Reviews. CHRISTIAN INSTRUCTION FOR YOUNG PEOPLE WHO ARE OF AGE FOR
CONFIRMATION, OR DEDICATION OF THEMSELVES TO A CHRISTIAN
LIFE. By the Rev. Dr. BAYLEY. London: James Speirs. This little work is well adapted for the purpose explained in its title. Its contents include clear and forcible expositions on the subjects of the Lord's Prayer, the Commandments, the Creed, the Word, Daily and Sabbath Worship, the Sacraments, Life in the World, Regeneration, and the Future Life; together with appropriate and suggestive prayers for use before and after receiving the communion, and on other occasions. As a manual for the religious instruction of the elder children in New Church families, preparation to or simultaneously with the study of the writings of the Church, these lessons cannot but prove highly valuable. They are also well adapted to fit young people for the solemn and voluntary public recognition of their religious responsibilities, which it is hoped that the Order of Confirmation—or whatever the title adopted by the Conference—will provide for the services of the Church.
AUTHORITY IN THE NEW CHURCH. By the Rev. R. L. TAFEL, A.M., Ph.D).
London: James Speirs. This is an exhaustive treatise in vindication of the authority of Swedenborg, which is here treated as a disputed point. We know his infallibility is denied, but we were not aware that his authority was called in question. Where difference of opinion has been entertained on any subject treated of in his writings, we do not recollect to have heard in conversation or in Conference, or to have read in book or magazine, any attempt to maintain a point of doctrine, or of order, in opposition to his expressed views upon the subject. On the contrary, all have been desirous to establish their opinions by the authority which all alike allow to be due to his teaching. Whether the point in question has been separation or non-separation, glorification by impletion or by substitution, baptism or re-baptism, ordination or re-ordination, or no ordination at all
, every one has appealed to the writings in support of his opinion, or offered explanations of what appeared opposed to it. Had any one attempted to maintain his own view in opposition to the testimony of the writings, he would have adopted the surest course to defeat his own object, by insuring the condemnation, by the whole Church, of the view he maintained. Where men equally sincere and intelligent have formed different opinions on subjects treated of in the writings, they must, of course, have understood them differently, or laid too much stress on some particular statements, without taking sufficient pains, or exercising sufficient care, to form a conclusion from all the different statements on the subject combined. Yet where difference of opinion has existed, it has been on points of secondary importance. On none of the great doctrines or principles of the Word, and thence of the Church, has opinion ever been divided, or the teaching of the writings received discordant interpretations. Who ever heard of their teaching on the leading doctrines being called in question? It may be said, however, that unless the Church admits the absolute authority of Swedenborg she has no security against the encroachments of human opinion; if his authority is once denied in theory, it will come to be denied in practice. We should like to hear the Lord's messenger spoken of more as a guide than as an authority; as one whose undertanding was opened to understand the Scriptures, and whose eyes were opened to see into the eternal habitations of the good and the evil; and who is able to be our guide in searching the Scriptures, in which we know we have eternal life, and in striving to obtain a knowledge of that world in which we are to live to eternity. It may be said again, But he must be acknowledged to be an infallible guide, else what security or certainty have we that we are guided aright, or that some one, opposing his opinion to our author's teaching, may not lead us astray? A sufficient answer to this, we think, would be, We have the use of the faculties which God has given us to enable us to judge between the
genuine and the spurious, the true and the false. The claim of authority, as made for him by the author of this work, supposing it were formally established by the Church, would not, we think, be a certain safeguard against the existence and extensive acceptance of erroneous views. A Church which acknowledges the supreme authority of the Scriptures is yet divided ntoi numerous sects, each distinguished by some dogma of its own. The authority of the Word is no security against its misinterpretation. The right understanding of the Word is the only real security against error. Of that we possess the means in the writings of Swedenborg, and the power in the full exercise of the intellectual freedom which has been secured to us by the last judgment, and by the formation of the new heaven, through which the Lord's Spirit descends with new and ever-increasing power into the human mind. The best authority of the writings is their power of meeting the religious wants of the new age, in which all things are to made new. They will establish more and more their own true authority, as they are gradually more intelligently studied and their teaching is more faithfully applied to practice.
While we have no fear for the cause of truth suffering from any difference of opinion on the question of "authority” in regard to the writings of Swedenborg, we have no doubt of Dr. Tafel's high purpose in preparing his present work; and we can testify to the great value of the matter which he has so industriously collected from the writings, and so intelligently arranged in his several chapters.
In his first chapter the author treats of authority in general. There cannot be harmony and unity without order, and there cannot be order without laws; and these laws must be authoritative, and to them every one must bow. If there was no supreme authority, but every one was a law unto himself, confusion and destruction would ensue. The law of the Church of the New Jerusalem, 'in respect to the Lord, in respect to the neighbour, and in respect to the ceremonies of the Church,' are the doctrines of the internal sense of the Sacred Scripture, which have been revealed by the Lord at His second coming for the special benefit of this Church, and which are contained in the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg." This statement of the subject is simply, or at least substantially, the basis on which the visible New Church in this country rests; for every one before he can be recognized as a member of Conference, which represents the Church, must sign the declaration of Faith, that he believes the doctrines of the New Church as revealed in the Word of God, and explained in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. Dr. Tafel, in answering objections to the Divine authority of the writings of the New Church," charges the English Conference itself with denying it. This charge is based on the address to the members of the Church printed in the Minutes for 1873. That address was written by a minister who was one of the brightest ornaments that ever adorned the Church in this country, and whose memory, after a too brief stay amongst us, we all admiringly and affectionately cherish. Yet an “Annual Address” by the minister appointed to write it must not be too literally understood as expressing the universal sentiments of the body on whose behalf he speaks. The Conference, of course, has confidence in the man it chooses to perform this duty, but it would never think of either limiting its choice to men holding one set of opinions, even on such a question as this, or of compelling him when chosen to withhold the expression of opinions he is known to entertain. On the occasion on which that Address was adopted, Dr. Tafel, took exception to some of the views it contained ; and in order to give an opportunity of having the subject discussed, a moruing sitting of the Conference was suspended, and a meeting was held in the church to hear the expression of opinion upon the subject. The two principal speakers were, of course, the writer of the Address and Dr. Tafel, but several others took part in the discussion. And though no formal decision took place, we understood the result to be what is often the outcome of a friendly conference between those who differ in opinion, that the two leading speakers found themselves really much more in agreement with each other than one or both had previously supposed.
We have already stated that the English Conference declares the doctrines of the New Church to be those revealed in the Word and explained in the writings of Swedenborg. We generally speak of Swedenborg as having been illuminated, but Dr. Tafel contends that he was inspired. “Swedenborg was filled by the Spirit of God, and was thus inspired, so that what he wrote was from the Lord and not from himself. . . . That Swedenborg, in writing his theological works, wrote from inspiration is further taught in the heading to the Coronis, n. 18, where we read :— The Lord Jehovah from the new heaven derives and produces a New Church upon earth, which takes place by means of a revelation of truths from His mouth, or from His Word, and by inspiration. He also says in the Arcana 6957, “ that the internal sense is such as it has been expounded, appears from the particulars that have been explained, and especially from this circumstance, that this sense has been dictated to me out of heaven.'”
The inspiration and dictation of which Swedenborg declares he was the subject were internal; they came from the Spirit of the Lord, with which he was filled, but they came into his mind as light, and not, as with the prophets, into his organs as speech. The question has been, Is there any difference, and if there is, what is the difference between these two kinds of inspiration as to authority? Dr. Tafel maintains that “the revelation of Divine Truth made through him (Swedenborg) is as fully Divine, and comes to us with the same force of authority as does the letter of the Word of God." We question whether this will be generally admitted. One difference between the writers of the Word and the writer of its exposition is this : The revelation that came by the prophets was in no measure dependent on their spiritual state; the revelation of the internal sense of the Word was dependent on the spiritual state of him through whom it
Two conditions were necessary: he must have been in a state of good adequate to the perception of truth, and in the possession of knowledges adequate to give it form and expression. This is stated by Dr. Tafel himself. We think it may be questioned whether any one could be so highly perfected in both respects as to place the authority of his teaching on a level with that of the Word itself. Dr. Imanuel Tafel says, “Swedenborg maintains that only the Scriptures of the prophets and the evangelists are the Word of God, and places them on an infinitely higher pinnacle than his own writings” (Vindication; against Mochler and Perrone). It may be said that though they are on a lower level they are not less true, in fact, not less infallible. We regard the Scriptures as the origin of all true doctrine, and as the ultimate and final authority in matters of faith; and we see no reason to doubt the truth of the Divinely enlightened interpretations of them as given in the writings; but we do not see that one can claim the same absolute authority for them.
After all, we are to reflect that the authority for them, which Dr. Tafel maintains, is their external authority in dividing questions of doctrine. As already remarked, we have never on any such questions found the soundness of that teaching, doubted, much less denied; and we have no fear that it ever will be among those who are really members of the Lord's New
Church. There is a still more important question: What is the ground of their internal authority? “There is,” says Frank Sewall,“ po stronger testimony in the world than this : The testimony of the heart's perception, the mind's conviction. It is to this alone that Swedenborg appeals, and on this alone that the New Church finds its basis in the mind--the perception and conviction on reading Swedenborg's writings that they are the truth.”
THE EVENING AND THE MORNING: A Narrative. 227. pp., crown 8vo,
cloth. London : James Speirs.. THE New Church, though prolific of a literature which, in comparison with the numbers of those among whom it originates, must be acknowledged remarkable alike in quantity and value, has not hitherto availed herself to any great extent of the popular vehicle of fiction. The present production is therefore interesting, as almost the first essay in a direction which may ultimately prove worthy of further pursuit. The Divine and Perfect Teacher systematically employs the parabolic mode as that best suited for the communication of instruction to all orders of intellect and character; and those who would humbly imitate Him will often find wisdom in the use of a corresponding method. For
" Truth in closest words shall fail
Shall enter in at lowly doors." The author of the pages before us has most effectually adopted this principle. The “evening” in which his story commences, is the state of infidelity unfortunately professed by his hero: the "morning” to which he conducts his narrative, is the voluntary acknowledgment by the former doubter of the existence of the Deity, the recognition of the Lord Jesus Christ as the only God, and an acceptance of the Scriptures as His Word, and the channel of Divine and spiritual wisdom to all degrees of human and angelic intelligence. The events which lead to this contrast are pleasantly related ; and the arguments, in which the book necessarily abounds, are real arguments, not,
as is frequently the case in controversial dialogues, mere rhetorical ninepins, obviously set up for the author to bowl over, and of such feeble stability that the weakest logic would suffice for their subversion. Indeed, a reader of secularist proclivities would probably wonder to find his objections stated with such genuine force and freshness. But however candidly the propositions supposed to be adverse to religion are presented, those in its favour are always shown to be superior, because based upon that spiritual rationality which the New Church is privileged to possess, and which is broad and deep enough to include all the varying aspects of each degree of truth.
In two particulars only are we disposed to question the author's treatment of his subject. In our judgment he concedes too much to those who deny the literal occurrence of some of the Scripture miracles, especially those recorded in the Old Testament; and he preserves too entire an anonymousness, not as regards his own name, which he had an undoubted right to disclose or conceal as he pleases, although it could only win respect by its connection with this most creditable production; but-an omission which is surely a grave mistake—by withholding all distinct allusion to the theologian whose heaven-taught wisdom illuminates his every page. His hook is so good, and likely to prove so useful to many honest inquirers, that we deeply regret its readers are never referred to the writings of Swedenborg, as the
reservoir where their thirst for increased knowledge, of the same kind, may be satisfied to the utmost.