THE WAY TO DIVINE KNOWLEDGE: THE FIRST DIALOGUE
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BETWEEN HUMANUS, ACADEMICUS, RUSTICUS, AND THEOPHILUS.
Oh! Theophilus, I must yield, and it is with great pleasure that I now enter into conversation with you. You have taken from me all power of caviling and disputing. I have no opinions that I choose to maintain, but have the utmost desire of entering further into this field of light, which you have so clearly opened to my view. I shall not trouble you with the relation of what has passed in my soul, nor what struggles I have had, with that variety of heathenish notions which have had their turn in my mind. It is better to tell you, that they are dead and buried, or rather consumed to nothing by that new light, which you have opened in so many great points, that I was quite a stranger to before. To reject all that you have said concerning the fall of angels, the original of this world, the creation and fall of man, and the necessity of a redemption, as great as that of the gospel, is impossible; nothing can do it, or stand out against it, but the most willful and blind obstinacy.
But these great points cannot be received in any true degree, without seeing the vain contention of all those, who either defend or oppose the gospel without any true and real knowledge of them. The one contend for, and the other oppose, not the gospel, but a system of empty words, and historical facts, branched into forms and modes of dividing one church from another; whereas the gospel is no history of any absent, distant, or foreign thing, but is a manifestation of an essential, inherent, real life and death in every son of Adam; grounded on the certainty of his first angelical nature, on the certainty of his real fall from that into an animal earthly life of impure, bestial flesh and blood, and on the certainty of an inward redemption from it, by the divine nature given again into him. These three great points, with all the doctrines, duties, and consequences, that are essentially contained in, or flow from them, are the gospel of Jesus Christ, to which, by your means, I am become a convert. I am now, dear Theophilus, strongly drawn two different ways. First, I am all hunger and thirst after this new light, a glimpse of which has already raised me, as it were, from the dead; and I am in the utmost impatience to hear more and more of this divine philosophy, which, I so plainly see, opens all the mysteries both of nature and grace from the beginning to the end of time.
What I have heard from you, when I was obliged to be silent, and what I have since found and felt by much reading the Appeal, and that Dialogue, obliges me to speak in this ardent manner. They have awakened something in me which I never felt before, something much deeper than my reason, and over which I have no power; it glows in my soul, like a fire, or hunger, which nothing can satisfy, but a further view of those great truths, which I this day expect from your opening to us the mysteries of heaven revealed to that wonderful man, Jacob Behmen.
On the other hand, I find in myself a vehement impulse to turn preacher amongst my former infidel brethren; which impulse I know not how to resist: For being just converted myself, I seem to know, and feel the true place, from whence conversion is to arise in others; and by the reluctance which I have felt in my passage from one side to the other, I seem also to know the true ground on which infidelity supports itself. And he only is able to declare with spirit and power any truths, or bear a faithful testimony of the reality of them, who preaches nothing but what he has first seen, and felt, and found to be true, by a living sensibility and true experience of their reality and power in his own soul. All other preaching, whether from art, hearsay, books, or education, is, at best, but playing with words, and mere trifling with sacred things. Being thus divided in myself, I hope to have your direction.
Dear Humanus, my heart embraces you with great joy, and I am much pleased with what you say of yourself. This hunger of your soul is all that I wish for; it is the fire of God, the opening of eternity, the beginning of your redemption, the awakener of the angelic life, the root of an omnipotent faith, and the true seeker of all that is lost. For all these things, and much more, are the blessed powers which will soon break forth, and show themselves to be the true workings of this celestial fire, that has begun to glow within you.
Your business is now to give way to this heavenly working of the Spirit of God in your soul, and turn from everything either within you, or without you, that may hinder the farther awakening of all that is holy and heavenly within you. For within you is that heavenly angel that died in paradise, and died no other death, than that of being hid a while from your sight and sensibility.
For be assured of this, as a certain truth, that corrupt, fallen, and earthly as human nature is, there is nevertheless in the soul of every man, the fire, and light, and love of God, though lodged in a state of hiddenness, inactivity, and death, till something or other, human or divine, Moses and the prophets, Christ or his apostles, discover its life within us.
For the soul of every man is the breath and life of the triune God, and as such a partaker of the divine nature; but all this divinity is unfelt, because overpowered by the workings of flesh and blood, till such time as distress, or grace, or both, give flesh and blood a shock, open the long shut-up eyes, and force a man to find something in himself, that sense and reason, whilst at quiet were not aware of. Wonder not therefore at this conflict in your soul, that you are eager after more light, and impatient to communicate that which you have. For you must be thus driven; and both these desires are only two witnesses to this truth, that a heaven-born spirit is come to life in you.
Only remember this; look well to the ground on which you stand, keep a watchful eye upon every working of nature, and take care that nothing human, earthly, private, or selfish, mix with this heavenly fire: that is, see that your mind be free, universal, impartial, without regard to here or there, this or that, but loving all goodness, practicing every virtue, for itself, on its own account, because it is so much of God; neither coveting light, nor longing to communicate it to others, but merely and solely for this reason, that the will of God may be done, and the goodness of God brought to life both in you and them. For there is no goodness but God’s; and his goodness is not alive, or fruitful in you, but so far, and in such degree, as the good that you mean, and do, is done in and by that Spirit, by which God himself is good. For as there is but one that is good, so there is, and can be but one goodness. And therefore it is, that we are called not to an human, worldly, prudential, partial goodness, suitable to our selfish reason, and natural tempers, but to be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. And the full reason is expressed in the words; for if our Father is in heaven, we must be there too in spirit and life, or we are not his children; if heaven is that for which we are made, and that which we have lost, it is not any human goodness, but a heavenly birth and Spirit of God’s own goodness, working in us, as it does in God, that can make us the heavenly children of our Father in heaven. You must love the light of God, as God loves it; you must desire that others may enjoy it, as God desires it. Now God is a free, universal, impartial love, loving and doing every kind of good, for its own sake, because that is the highest and most perfect working of life; and because everything else but goodness, for its own sake, is imperfect, and a degree of evil, misery, and death. And no creature can come out of its imperfection, misery, and death, but by the pure, free, unmixed goodness of God, being born in it. Though you had outwardly all virtues, and seemed doing all that the saints of God have done, yet unless the same Spirit, by which God himself is good, brought forth your goodness, all would be only an earthly labor, that could have no communication with heaven.
Therefore, my friend, set out right, and be assured of this truth, that nature, and self, and every particular view, must be totally renounced; or else, be your zeal what it will, ever so pleasing to yourself, or astonishing to the world, you are not working with God.
Here now you have the test of truth, by which you may always know, whether it be the Spirit of God, and the love of God, that drives you. If your zeal is after this pure, free, universal goodness of God, then of a truth the Spirit of God breatheth in you; but if you feel not the love of this pure, free, universal goodness, and yet think that you love God, you deceive yourself; for there is no other true love of God, but the loving that, which God is.
But if you please, Humanus, pray tell me, in what manner you would attempt to make converts to Christianity.
I would not take the method generally practiced by the modern defenders of Christianity. I would not attempt to show from reason and antiquity, the necessity and reasonableness of a divine revelation in general, or of the Mosaic and Christian in particular. Nor enlarge upon the arguments for the credibility of the gospel-history, the reasonableness of its creeds, institutions, and usages; or the duty of man to receive things above, but not contrary to, his reason. I would avoid all this, because it is wandering from the true point in question, and only helping the Deist to oppose the gospel with a show of argument, which he must necessarily want, was the gospel left to stand upon its own bottom.
And, on the other hand, should the Deist yield up such a cause as this, and change sides, he could only be said to have changed his opinion about facts, without any more altering or bettering his state in God, than if he had only altered his opinion about things in dispute amongst the ancient philosophers.
For since the fall of man, implying a real change from his first state, or a total death to his first created life, since the necessity of a new birth of that lost life, by the life of God again restored to, or born in the soul, are two points, quite overlooked by those who defend the truth and reasonableness of the Christian scheme, it may be truly said, that the only ground, and the whole nature of the gospel is quite dropped and given up by those who thus defend it.
How unreasonable would it be, to offer the Christian redemption to glorious angels in heaven? Could anything be more inconsistent with their heavenly, unfallen state? Yet just so unreasonable would it be to offer it to man unfallen from his first created state — for man standing in that first perfection of life, which God breathed into him, and in that very outward state, or world, into which God himself brought him, wants no more redemption, than the most glorious angels do; and to preach to such a man, in order to be reconciled to God, the necessity of dying to himself, and the world he is in, would be as contrary to all sense and reason, as to preach to angels the necessity of dying to themselves, their divine life and the kingdom of heaven, for which God had created them.
Hence it is that the gospel has only one simple proposal of certain life, or certain death to man; of life, if he will take the means of entering into the kingdom of God, of death if he chooses to take up his rest in the kingdom of this world. This is the simple nature, and sole drift of the gospel; it means no more, than making known to man, that this world, and the life of it, is his fall, and separation from God, and happiness, both here and hereafter: and that to be saved or restored to God and happiness, can only be obtained, by renouncing all love, and adherence to the things of this world. Look at all the precepts, threatenings and doctrines of the gospel, they mean nothing, but to drive all earthly-mindedness and carnal affections out of the soul, to call man from the life, spirit and goods of this world, to a life of hope, and faith, and trust, and love and desire of a new birth from heaven.
To embrace the gospel is to enter with all our hearts into its terms of dying to all that is earthly both within us, and without us; and on the other hand to place our faith, and hope, and trust, and satisfaction in the things of this world, is to reject the gospel with our whole heart, spirit and strength, as much as any infidel can do, notwithstanding we made ever so many verbal assents and consents to everything that is recorded in the New Testament.
This therefore is the one true essential distinction between the Christian and the infidel. The infidel is a man of this world, wholly devoted to it, his hope and faith are set upon it; for where our heart is, there, and only there is our hope and faith. He has only such virtues, such goodness, and such a religion, as entirely suits with the interest of flesh and blood, and keeps the soul happy in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life: this, and this alone, is infidelity, a total separation from God, and a removal of all faith, and hope from him, into the life of this world. It matters not, whether this infidel be a professor of the gospel, a disciple of Zoroaster, a follower of Plato, a Jew, a Turk, or an opposer of the gospel-history: this difference of opinions or professions alters not the matter, it is the love of the world instead of God, that constitutes the whole nature of the infidel.
On the other hand, the Christian renounces the world, as his horrid prison; he dies to the will of flesh and blood, because it is darkness, corruption, and separation from God; he turns from all that is earthly, animal, and temporal, and stands in a continual tendency of faith, and hope, and prayer to God, to have a better nature, a better life and spirit born again into him from above.
Where this faith is, there is the Christian, the new creature in Christ, born of the Word and Spirit of God; neither time nor place, nor any outward condition of birth, and life, can hinder his entrance into the kingdom of God.
But where this faith is not, there is the true, complete infidel, the man of the earth, the unredeemed, the rejector of the gospel, the son of perdition, that is dead in trespasses and sins, without Christ, an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, a stranger from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.
Here therefore I fix my true ground of converting men to Christianity; and how miserably, may I say, do they err, who place Christianity and infidelity in anything else, but in the heart either devoted to this world, or devoted to God!
He therefore that opens a field of controversy to the Deist, about revelation in general, of the history of facts, creeds, and doctrines of churches, not only leads him from the merits of the gospel, but brings him into a field of battle, where he may stand his ground as long as he pleases.
This I can truly say from my own experience, who have been 20 years in this dust of debate; and have always found that the more books there were written in this way of defending the gospel, the more I was furnished with new objections to it, and the less apprehensive of any danger from my not receiving it.
For I had frequently 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 significancy toward making the soul of man either an eternal angel of heaven, or an eternal devil of hell. And therefore it was, that I was often tempted rather to think, there was neither heaven, nor hell, than to believe that such a variety of churches, and systems of opinion, all condemning, and all condemned by one another, were to find the heaven of God opened to receive them, but he who was equally led by opinion to reject them all, was doomed to hell.
But you, sir (and how can I thank you for it?) have put a full end to all this vain strife of opinions floating in the brain; you have dispersed the clouds that surrounded my bewildered mind; you have brought me home to myself, where I find heaven and hell, life and death, salvation and damnation at strife within me; you have shown me the infinite worth of Christianity, and the dreadful nature of infidelity, not by helping me to a new opinion, for my reason to maintain, but by proving to me this great and decisive truth, that Christianity is neither more nor less, than the goodness of the divine life, light and love, living and working in my soul; and that infidelity in its whole nature, is purely and solely the heart of man living in, governed by, and contented with the evil workings of the earthly life, spirit and nature.
This is the infidelity that you have forced me to fly from, and renounce, and that is the Christianity, to which I am converted with all the strength of my heart and spirit. Away then with all the fictions and workings of reason, either for, or against Christianity! They are only the wanton sport of the mind, whilst ignorant of God, and insensible of its own nature and condition. Death and life are the only things in question; life is God, living and working in the soul; death is the soul living and working according to the sense and reason of bestial flesh and blood. Both this life, and this death are of their own growth, growing from their own seed within us, not as busy reason talks or directs, but as our heart turns either to the one or the other.
But, dear Theophilus, I must now tell you that I want to make haste in this new road you have put me in. Time is short, I am afraid of leaving the world, before I have left all worldly tempers, and before the first holy and heavenly birth be quickened, and brought to life in me.
An angel my first father was created, and therefore nothing but the angel belongs to man, and nothing but the angel can enter into heaven. Angelic goodness, therefore, is the one thing that man must look up into God for, because it is the one goodness that he has lost. Everything else, flesh and blood, earth and all earthly tempers, everything that had its rise from the fall of Adam, must be renounced, and given up to death, that the first angelic glory of the life of God in man may be again found in him.
Indeed, Humanus, you have made great haste already; for all the haste that we can make, consists in a total dying to all the tempers and passions which we have received from the spirit of this world, by our fall into it. And the more watchfully, earnestly, and constantly, we do this, the more haste we make to our lost country, and heavenly glory.
It is no extravagance, or overstraining the matter, when we say, that our goodness must be angelic; for no goodness less than that, can be divine and heavenly, or help us to a life in heaven. It is often said, that we are poor, infirm men, and not angels; and therefore must be content with the poverty and infirmity of human virtues. That we are poor, infirm men, is undeniable; but this is the one infallible reason, why a virtue that is according to our nature, or of its own growth, can do us no good. We were not created poor and infirm men by God, but have lost him, are separated from him; full of misery, because we have changed our first state, and brought all this poverty, corruption, and infirmity, upon ourselves. And therefore, as this infirmity is from ourselves, so we must intend nothing less, or short of the total removal of it, nor think that we have our proper goodness, till we stand in that degree of it, in which God created us. For, be assured of this great truth, that nothing in us can be the delight of God, but that very creature, which he created. All therefore must be parted with, that God hath not created and brought to life in us. And no goodness but that of an angel, can overcome the evil that is in us, or do the will of God on earth, as it is done in heaven, which is the only goodness in and for which God created us.
Pray, Theophilus, give me leave to say, that I should think it better, not to insist so much upon the word “angelic,” when you speak of the goodness, that ought to be ours. For it seems to me too liable to objection. We have not the high faculties, and exalted powers, of angels; and therefore our goodness cannot rise up to an equality with theirs.
Pray, Academicus, give me leave also to say, that if your learning did not lead you to mind words, more than things, you could not have fallen into this critical scruple. For our call to angelic goodness does not suppose or require any high stretch, or refined elevation, of our intellectual faculties and powers. A shepherd watching over his flock, a poor slave digging in the mines, may each of them, though so employed to the end of their lives, stand before God in a degree of goodness truly angelic. On the other hand, you may spend all your time in high speculations, writing and preaching upon Christian perfection, composing seraphic hymns of heavenly matters, with a strength of thought and genius that delights both yourself and others, and yet, so doing to the day of your death, have only a goodness like that of eating and drinking that which most pleases your palate.
Would you know the true nature of angelic goodness, see how the Spirit of Christ speaks, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and strength, and thy neighbor as thyself. I came into the world not to do my own will, not to seek my own glory or honor, not to have a kingdom in this world, but to promote the kingdom of God, and do the will of my Father in heaven. My meat and drink is to do the will of him that sent me.
When thou makest a feast, call not thy rich friends and acquaintance, but the poor, the lame, and blind, etc. Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory and praise of God. Thus speaks the Spirit of Christ; and he that in this Spirit thus lives, is an angel, whether he be in heaven, or enclosed in flesh and blood. And all of us are in the way of attaining to this angelic goodness, as soon as we hate the selfish tempers of our own earthly life, and earnestly long, in the spirit of prayer, to have the life of God brought forth in us. Now this goodness we must have, or we have none at all; for there is but one God, one good, and one goodness; and it is rightly called angelic, because nothing is capable of it, but the heavenly angelic nature; nor can it have any existence in man, till the workings of our earthly nature are overcome, and brought into subjection to that Spirit, which is not of man, but from heaven. For flesh and blood in all its workings can work only for itself; darkness can only be dark, it has no other nature; coldness can only be cold; earth can only be earthly; and the works of light can only proceed from light. Flesh and blood, or that life which is only from the stars and elements of this world, can only work as the stars and elements work, only for time, and a corruptible life; it can only be bestial, and serve the end of a bestial life; it is insensible and incapable of divine virtue, and is, and can be of no higher a nature in a man, than in a beast, and must have the same end in both. It is quite incapable of entering into the kingdom of God; and only for this reason, because it is absolutely incapable of having any true and heavenly goodness. It has then only its proper goodness, when it has lost its power of acting, and is governed by a spirit superior to it; whilst it lives and rules, it can only live to itself; is nothing but an earthly own will, own love, own honor, own interest, never rising higher, doing better, or coming any nearer to goodness, than its own pride or covetousness, envy or wrath, can carry it.
For these tempers, with all their lesser subdivisions, are the atmosphere that sets bounds to the breath of the earthly life; they are essential to it, and as inseparable from it, as hardness and darkness are inseparable from a rock of stone. So long as the stony rock lasts, so long is it hard and dark.
And so long as earthly flesh and blood lives and acts, it can only live and act for itself; it can seek, love, like, or do no manner of thing, but as its own will, own love, own interest, is some way or other felt, and found in it. Would you know the true ground and reason of this? It is because no life can go out of, or farther than itself; nor can it will anything, but what its own life is. This is absolutely true of every life, whether it be divine, earthly, or hellish; it can seek, love, and delight in nothing, but that which is according to its own life.
See here, Academicus, the folly of your quarreling with the word “angelic,” since the thing itself, angelic goodness, is absolutely necessary; it is the goodness of our first creation, and must be the goodness of our redemption. The falling from it has brought forth all the evils that we are surrounded with, and nothing can deliver us from the death of our fallen state, but a true and full resurrection of all that purity and goodness, which was living in the first creation of man. To be content with our infirmities, is to be content with our separation from God; and not to aspire after the one angelic goodness, is to be carnally-minded, which we are told is death, that is, death to the one divine life.
A virtue that is only according to the state of this earthly life, is a virtue of art, and human contrivance, a fiction of behavior, modeled according to rule and custom, or education, that can go no deeper, nor rise higher, nor reach farther, than the sense and reason, and interests of flesh and blood, can carry it. But this can have no communication with God and heaven, because it is not born of them, but is a lower, separate state of life, that at best can only bring forth a civility of outward manners, little better than such a new birth as may be had from a dancing-master. But the goodness which we want, and which we were created to have, is the one holy blessed life of God, and Christ, and heaven, living in the soul. For from eternity to eternity, there never was, or ever can be, any other heavenly goodness in any creature, but the life, and Spirit, and Word of God, speaking, living, and breathing in it.
Bid the anatomist, that can skillfully dissect an human body, that can tell you the names, nature, and offices of most of its parts, that can show you how they all conspire to give life, strength, and motion, to the living machine: bid him, I say, put life into the dead carcass.
Now learned reason, when pretending to be a master of morality, is just as powerful as this very anatomist. It can skillfully dissect a dead system of morality, can separate all its parts, tell you the names, nature, distinctions, and connections, of most kinds of good and evil. But when this is done, learned reason, with all its dictates, distinctions, and definitions, can do just as much good to the soul, that has lost its goodness, as the anatomist can do to the carcass, that has lost its life.
It is wonderfully astonishing, that you men of learning seldom come thus far, as to see, and feel this glaring truth, that goodness must be a living thing; but, blinded with the empty sounds of words in variety of languages, are as content and happy with a religion of nature delineated, or book of axioms, maxims, and deductions, mathematically placed one after another, as if you had really found the tree of life. Whereas, in truth, all this is no better than the reading a lecture upon the use of the heart, liver, and lungs, to a dead carcass: for the life of goodness can no more be raised, or brought into the soul, by this art of reasoning, than life can be brought into the carcass, by a discourse upon the heart, live, and lungs, made over it.
Oh! Academicus, forget your scholarship, give up your art and criticism, be a plain man, and then the first rudiments of sense may teach you, that there, and there only, can goodness be, where it comes forth as a birth of life, and is the free natural work and fruit of that which lives within us. For till goodness thus comes from a life within us, we have in truth none at all.
For reason, with all its doctrine, discipline, and rules, can only help us to be so good, so changed, and amended, as a wild beast may be, that by restraints and methods is taught to put on a sort of tameness, though its wild nature is all the time only restrained, and in a readiness to break forth again as occasion shall offer.
Thus far the masters of morality and human discipline may go; they may tame and reform the outward man, clothe him with the appearance of many images of virtue, which will, some or all of them, be put off, just as time, occasion, and flesh and blood, require it. For the goodness of a living creature must be its own life; it must arise up in it as its own love, or any passion doth; just as the fierceness of the tiger, and the meekness of the lamb, are the birth of their own life. And if goodness is not our natural birth from our natural parents, we must of all necessity be born again from a principle above nature, or no goodness can be living in us. Now since goodness is a life, we have a twofold proof, that no goodness can be living in us, till we are born again of the Word and Spirit of God: for nature, as well as scripture, assures us, that God is originally the one good, and the one life; and therefore no good life can possibly be in us, but by the Word, life, and Spirit, of God having a birth in us. And from this birth alone it is, that the free, genuine works of goodness flow forth with the freedom of the divine life, wherewith the Spirit of God has made us free; loving and doing all manner of good, merely for goodness-sake; virtuous in all kind of virtue, purely for virtue-sake: then we are the natural true children of our heavenly Father, and do the works of heaven with a cheerful and willing mind. Then it is, that we are good in the manner as God is good, because it is his goodness that is born in us; we are perfect as he is perfect, we love as he loves, are patient as he is patient, we give as he gives, we forgive as he forgives, and resist evil only with good as he does.
This, Academicus, is angelic goodness; and is the goodness of those who are born again of the Word, and become new creatures in the Spirit of Christ. This goodness our first father lost, when he chose to have the eyes of flesh and blood, and the spirit of this world, opened in him; and therefore our redeemer, who well knew what we had lost, and must have again, has taught us in our daily prayer, to ask for angelic goodness in these words, viz., “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” But I have done, and I think you must have done, with your learned scruple about the word “angelic.” And now, Theophilus, if you please, return to your subject with Humanus.
Let me then tell you, Humanus, that I much approve of the way that you intend to proceed in. You are come directly to the truth and heart of the matter, and have hit upon the one only method of putting Deism to a full stand, by reducing Christianity to this one single great point, which so evidently contains the whole ground and nature of it.
Now this one great point consists of two essential parts; 1st, the fall of man from a divine angelic life into an earthly, bestial, corruptible, miserable life of this world. 2dly, the redemption of man, or his regaining his first angelic perfection, by a new birth of the divine nature, by the Word and Spirit of God. Stand steadily upon this true Christian ground; and then you will not only stand safely yourself, but you will have left the Deist no ground to stand upon. For here all the labored volumes of infidelity, with which these last ages have swarmed, are at once rendered useless, and cannot put so much as a little finger into this debate. Consult all, from Hobbes to the Moral Philosopher, and you consult in vain; their works are as dead as themselves, and unable to give forth one word against this Christianity. They had a much easier task upon their hands; for nothing can be easier than for reason to object, and continue objecting, to the extraordinary matters of the Old and New Testament. I don’t mention this as an accusation of the Deists, or to charge them with the crafty contrivance of placing the merits of the cause where it is not. No the learning of the Christian world must bear the blame of the fruitless disputes: the demonstrators of the truth and reasonableness of Christianity have betrayed their own cause, and left true Christianity unmentioned in their defenses of it. What a reasonableness of Christianity have some great names helped us to? Just as useful, and good to our fallen souls, as the reasonableness of consenting to the death of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea. But you, my friend, being rightly converted to Christianity, that began before the scriptures were written, and is as old as the creation and fall of man; keep close to its true and real ground; and, instead of showing the reasonableness of believing a long history of things, show the absolute necessity of man’s dying to his present life, in order to have a better from God. This is the Christianity that began with the fall, and has been preached ever since to every son of fallen man, in every corner of the world; and by the same preacher that tells every man, that he ought to be better than he is. For was not man fallen from a better state than that he is now in, he could no more be ashamed or offended at anything that his nature prompts him to do, than the ox is ashamed at breaking into a good pasture. Every man, therefore, from the beginning of the world, has had Christianity and the gospel written and preached within him; as it contains the fall of man, and his want of being raised to a better state. But as we see, that the truth and reality of his fall, and the truth and reality of his redemption by a real birth from above, can be lost, nay disowned, amongst those that are daily reading and expounding the scriptures; so it is no wonder that the same should have happened to those, who had no scriptures to read. Justly therefore, Humanus, are churches and creeds, doctrines above and contrary to reason, miracles of the Old and New Testament, and all historical facts and matters, which are so great an harvest to the Deists; justly, I say, are they removed by you out of the debate; and the one great point above-mentioned only insisted upon, as the whole of the matter. For this one point gained, all is gained; and, till this point is cleared up, all the rest is but a debate about nothing.
For if man is fallen from a divine life, no one need be told, that he can only be redeemed or saved from his fall by having the same divine life born in him again, or a second time. Nothing therefore touches the truth of the debate betwixt the Christian and the infidel, but that which proves with certainty, that man has, or has not, lost a divine life.
If he is thus fallen, has died this death to a divine life; then the nature and necessity of the Christian new-birth sufficiently proves itself. But if it can be proved, that he is not thus fallen, but stands in that state and degree of life in which God created him; the Deists have reason enough to reject the Christian scheme of redemption.
Strange it is therefore beyond expression, that every man, whether Christian or infidel, should not see, that here lies the whole of the matter; or that any learned defender of Christianity should think of beginning anywhere, or in anything, but where the redemption itself begins; or imagine there can be the least ground to propose a redemption to man, till he shows why, and from what, he is to be redeemed. Stranger is it still, if you consider, that Christians have nothing to excuse their wandering from this one great point, since both the Testaments bear so open a witness to it. “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” says the Old Testament. “Except a man be born again from above, of the Word and Spirit of God, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven,” says the New Testament.
Thus do these two Testaments begin with the most open declarations of these two things; viz., the death of man to his first created life; 2ndly, his redemption only and solely by a real birth of the divine life, received again from above. What excuse therefore can be made for those who read the scripture, and yet overlook that very one point; not only so plainly declared, but which, in itself, is the one only ground and foundation upon which all the scripture stands? For had not man died, neither Moses, nor the prophets, had ever been in being. For man not fallen, but abiding in his first created perfection of life, had been as free from any outward law, as the light is from darkness. The keeping his own nature had been the keeping, and doing, and seeing, and knowing all that God required of him.
But seeing man is dead to his first life, and living only in an earthly bestial world, under the power and slavery of the evil motions and tempers of gross flesh and blood; therefore Moses must come with his law, to set sin before him, and give him precepts of resisting and dying to all the lusts of this new earthly life, which he is fallen into: therefore, to seek for any other learning in or from Moses, than that of learning to resist and die to the tempers and passions of this earthly life, is knowing nothing right of Moses, nor of ourselves.
Next after Moses came the prophets, or the spirit of prophecy, with its far-seeing sight, and declaration of glories to come. Now the ground of prophecy is this, it is because man is to be restored to his first glorious state; and therefore the spirit of prophecy comes forth from God to awaken hope and faith, expectation and desire in man; because these are the only powers that can draw him out of the mire of the earthly life, in which he sticks, and carry him up to his first heavenly state again. Nothing therefore is to be sought for in or from the prophets, but the increase of our hope, faith, and desire of the new birth of that glorious life which we have lost, and they foretold was to be had again.
Thus, my friend, you see the importance of this one point; Moses and the prophets have no ground or reason but this, that man has lost his divine life; and that this same divine life is to be born again in him. Now seeing this is the ground and reason of the scriptures, therefore is it the one unerring key to the right use of them. They have only this one intent, to make man know, resist, and abhor the working of his fallen earthly nature; and to turn the faith, hope, and longing desire of his heart to God: and therefore we are only to read them with this view, and to learn this one lesson from them. Whatever therefore occurs, that cannot be turned to this general end, but relates to only some temporal, occasional, or private matter, is of no more importance to us, than the cloak and parchments which St. Paul speaks of.
How many hundred barns must there be, to hold all the learned volumes, that had never been written, had man looked upon the scriptures as having no other view or end, but to teach him to renounce the tempers of his fallen earthly nature, and live unto God in faith and prayer; to be born again of the divine nature! But this one end being overlooked by learned reason, Hebrew and Syriac, Arabic, Greek, and Latin, have been called in, to torture the scriptures into a chaos of confused opinions, that has covered the Christian world with darkness, and lost the only good that was to be had from the written Word of God. Whereas, standing upon the ground on which you stand, with only this one great point at heart, the scriptures are a plain, easy, and certain instruction; and no honest unlearned heart stands in need of any commentator to help him to all the benefit that can be had from scripture, or secure him from any hurtful error.
Indeed, Theophilus, my own experience can bear a full testimony to the truth of all that you have said. For upon my reading now the New Testament, with this key in my hand; viz., of man thus fallen, and thus called to a new birth from heaven; everything I read in it has spirit and life, and overflows my soul with such an unction, and sensibility of sweet doctrine, as I am not able to express. For whilst I consider it only as written to drive all earthly tempers and passions out of the soul, and inflame the heart with love and desire of the grace, the spirit, and the light and life of the heavenly nature, I can say, as the Jewish officers did, never man spoke like Christ and his apostles.
Why was the Son of God made man? It was because man was to be made again a divine creature. Why did man want such a savior? It was because he was become earthly, mortal, gross flesh and blood. Now take Christ in this light, and consider man in this state, and then all that is said in the gospel stands in the fullest light.
Thus, “Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” How poor, how mean, and uncertain a sense is there in this, till you know, that man has lost his divine nature, and is fallen into a world that is all labor, burden, and misery! But as soon as this is known, then how easy, how plain, is the full and highest sense of these words, “Come unto me, all that labor, are weary and heavy laden, and I will refresh you!”
I will bring to life that first happy state which you have lost. This is the note, the paraphrase, the expositor, the key to the true sense of every doctrine of Christ; which, though variously expressed to awaken the heart, is only one and the same thing. Thus, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” But why so? Because he that is troubled at the corruption, vanity, and impurity of his fallen earthly state, has the comfort of the heavenly life ready for him. Again, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” How plain and great is the sense here, as soon as we know, that Christ is our righteousness; and that the righteous life of Christ in the soul, is that life which our first father lost! Therefore, to hunger and thirst after this righteousness, is the one way to be filled with that divine life, that we had lost. Again, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. And out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” What can the Latin or Greek critic do here? Nothing at all. He will only try to make some excuse for the strangeness of the phrase. But when these words are read by one who knows that he, and all mankind, have lost the divine nature, he tastes and feels the glad tidings which they bring; and is in love with these sweet sounds, which promise such an overflowing return of heaven into his soul.
Again, “I beseech you,” says the apostle, “as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul,” etc. The critic looks into his books to see how Latin and Greek authors have used the words “stranger” and “pilgrim,” and so some sense or other is given to the apostle; but the Christian, who knows, that man, wandering out of paradise, a colony of heaven, was taken captive by the stars and elements, to live in labor and toil, in sickness and pain, in hunger and thirst, in heat and cold amongst the beasts of the field; where evil spirits, like roaring lions, seek to devour him; he only knows in what truth and reality man is a poor stranger and distressed pilgrim upon earth. Again, “To the poor,” saith Christ, “the gospel is preached.” The critic only considers the several kinds of worldly poverty. But the Christian, who knows that the real great poverty of man consists in his having lost the riches and greatness of his first life, knows, that to this poor man the gospel is preached, because he only, who is sensible of this poverty, can hear and receive it. For to man, insensible of his fallen state, the glad tidings of the gospel are but like news from fairy land; and the cross of Christ can only be a stumbling-block and foolishness to him, whether he be a Christian, a Jew, or a Greek. Thus does it appear, that all the doctrines and sayings of Christ and his apostles are full of a comfortable, divine, and exalted sense, or mere empty words, just as the fall of man from a divine life is either owned or disowned. But I have done.
Thus far then, Humanus, we are agreed, that the fall of man into the life and state of this world, is the whole ground of his redemption; and that a real birth of Christ in the soul, is the whole nature of it. Let me now only ask you, how you would endeavor to convince a man of his fallen state?
I would not begin with the account that Moses gives of it, for several reasons; but chiefly for these two: first, because the fall is not an historical matter; nor would a mere historical knowledge of it be of any use, or do any real good to him. Secondly, because Moses’s account is not the proof of the fall, and therefore not to be appealed to as such.
Moses is the first historian of natural death, and has recorded the death of the first man, and of many others who were born of him: but the proof that man is mortal lies not in Moses’s history of the death of the first man, but in the known nature of man, and the world from which he has his life. Again, we do not want Moses to assure us, that there was a first man; that he had something from heaven, and something from the earth in him; and must have come into the world in another manner than all those who have descended from him. For every man is himself the infallible proof of this; Moses is only the historian that has recorded the when, and where, and how this first man came into the world, and what was his name. But the proof and certainty of the fact, that such a first man there must have been, lies not in Moses’s account, but stands proved to every man from his own nature and state in this world.
Thus it is with the fall; we have no more occasion to go to Moses, to prove that man and the world are in a fallen state, than to prove that man is a poor, miserable, weak, vain, distressed, corrupt, depraved, selfish, self-tormenting, perishing creature, and that the world is a sad mixture of false goods, and real evils; a mere scene of all sorts of trials, vexations, and miseries; all arising from the frame, and nature, and condition both of man and the world. This is the full infallible proof of the fall of man; which is not a thing learnt from any history, but shows itself everywhere, and every day, with such clearness as we see the sun. Moses is not the prover of the fact, that man is fallen; but is the recorder of the when and how, and the manner in which the fall happened.
My first attempt therefore, upon any man, to convince him of the fall, as the ground of the redemption, should be an attempt to do that for him, which affliction, disappointments, sickness, pain, and the approach of death, have a natural tendency to do; viz., to convince him of the vanity, poverty, and misery of his life and condition in this world. For as this is the true proof of the fallen state of man, so man can only be convinced of it, by having this proof truly set before him. I would therefore appeal at first to nothing but his own nature and condition in the world; and show him how unreasonable, nay, impossible, it is, that a God, who has nothing in himself but infinite goodness and infinite happiness, should bring forth a race of intelligent creatures, that have neither natural goodness, nor natural happiness. The inspired saints of God say thus, “Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.” Again, “Man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain.” Now if what is here truly said of mankind, could be truly said of any order of the beasts and animals of the field, who could defend the goodness of God in bringing such creatures into such a state of life? Now though the Deist rejects the scriptures, considered as a volume of divine revelation, yet everything that he outwardly sees, and inwardly feels, demonstrates this capital truth of scripture, that man is in this poor and miserable state of life. And therefore, everything that we know of God, and everything that we know of man, is a daily irresistible proof, that man is in a fallen state. Look at the human infant just come out of the womb, you can hardly bear the sight; it is a picture of such deformity, nakedness, weakness, and helpless distress, as is not to be seen amongst the home-born animals of this world: the chicken has its birth from no sin, and therefore it comes forth in beauty; it runs and pecks as soon as its shell is broken: the pig and the calf go both to play, as soon as the dam is delivered of them; they are pleased with themselves, and please the eye that beholds their frolic state and beauteous clothing; whilst the new-born babe of a woman, that is to have an upright form, that is to view the heavens, and worship the God that made them, lies for months in gross ignorance, weakness, and impurity; as sad a spectacle when he first begins to breathe the life of this world, as when in the agonies of death he breathes his last.
What is all this, but the strongest proof, that man is the only creature that belongs not to this world, but is fallen into it through sin? And therefore his birth, in such distress, bears all the marks of shame and weakness. Had he been originally of this world, it is necessary to suppose, that this world had done the highest honor to its highest creature; and that he had begun his life in greater perfection than any other animal, and brought with him a more beautiful clothing than the finest lilies of the field have. But, to go on: when the human infant is set upon his legs, and begins to act for himself, he soon becomes a more pitiable object than when crying in the cradle. The strength of his life is a mere strength of wild passions; his reason is craft, and selfish subtlety; he loves and hates only as flesh and blood prompt him, jails and gibbets cannot keep him from theft and murder. If he is rich, he is tormented with pride and ambition; if poor, with murmuring and discontent: be he which he will, sooner or later, disordered passions, disappointed lusts, fruitless labor, pains and sickness will tear him from this world in such travail as his mother felt, when she brought forth the sinful animal.
Now all this evil and misery are purely the natural and necessary effect of his birth in the bestial flesh and blood of this world, and there is nothing in his natural state that can put a stop to it; he must be evil and miserable so long as he has only the life of this world in him. Therefore the absolute certainty of the fall, and the absolute necessity of a new birth, are truths, independently of scripture, plain to a demonstration. Thus, God is in himself infinite goodness, and infinite happiness; but man, in his present earthly birth and life, can neither have goodness or happiness, therefore his present state of life could not be brought forth by a God who is all goodness and happiness. Thus every man, that believes in a creator infinitely perfect, is under a necessity of believing the whole ground of Christian redemption, namely, that man hath some way or other lost that perfection of life which he had at first from his creator.
Thus, “Let us make man in our image; according to our own likeness.”
How great, how divine, is this beginning of man? How can there be any evil or misery, any vanity or weakness, in a creature so brought forth? But now what is become of this man? For if you look at man just coming out of the womb, the pitiable object above described, what can be so absurd, as to call this birth, his creation in the likeness and after the image of God?
Now what is said of the first man, is not spoken of one person, but of the human nature; for the first man was only the first instance of that which mankind were to be. He had no perfection peculiar to himself, but that of being the first man; and had he stood, all that came from him, had come to life as he did, in the same strength and glory of perfection, and not been born of a bestial womb, like the wild ass’s colt. Again, set the following text against Moses’s perfection of the first image of God, “Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.”
Is not this a full proof, that the first created life of man is quite dead, and that an earthly life of misery is risen up instead of it? Again, the apostle saith, “The natural man knoweth not the things of God; they are foolishness unto him.” Can this natural man, the man of earthly flesh and blood, that can have no acquaintance with, or knowledge of God, to whom the “things of God are foolishness”; can this be the man first created in the image and likeness of God? What can be more absurd than such a thought?
Or what excuse can be made for that learning which cannot see from so plain a scripture, that human nature, now, is not that human nature, which it was at first created, but is dead to that first life, which it had in the image and likeness of God, or the things of God could not possibly be foolishness to it? But I will end this matter with these borrowed words, “We were no more created to be in the sorrows, burdens, and anguish of an earthly life, than the angels were created to be in the wrath and darkness of hell. It is as contrary to the will and goodness of God towards us, that we are out of paradise, as it is contradictory to the designs and goodness of God towards the angels, that some of them are out of heaven, prisoners of darkness. “The grossness, impurity, sickness, pain, and corruption of our bodies, is brought upon us by ourselves, in the same manner as the hideous, serpentine, form of the devils are brought upon them. How absurd, and even blasphemous would it be, to say with the scripture and the church, “that we are children of wrath, and born in sin,” if we had that nature, which God at first gave us? What a reproach upon God, to say, that this world is a valley of misery, a shadow of death, full of disorders, snares, evils, and temptations, if this was an original creation, or that state of things for which God created us? Is it not as consistent with the goodness and perfection of God, to speak of the misery and disorder that unfallen holy angels find above, and of the vanity, emptiness, and sorrow of their heavenly state, as to speak of the misery of men, and the sorrows of this world, if men and the world were in that order, in which God at first had placed them? If God could make any place poor and vain, and create any beings into a state of vanity and vexation of spirit, he might do so in all places, and to all beings.’
You have put the fall, Humanus, upon its right proof, and shown great judgment in your intended method of converting anyone to the belief of it. You have set the whole matter in so just a light, that I have nothing that I would add to it.
Give me leave, gentlemen, just to put in a word or two concerning another plain indication, that man has lost that life and nature, in which he was first created. Reason has been my God, and is the vain idol of modern Deism, and modern Christianity; and yet human ignorance, infirmity, and mortality; they all began together; they are inseparable; they generate and are generated from one another; they are the life of each other; and they must live and die together, and all bear the same witness to the fallen state of man. For no creature can come from the hands of God into a state of any ignorance of anything, that is fit and proper to be known by it. This is as impossible as for God to have an envious, or evil will. Now all right and natural knowledge, in whatever creature it is, is sensible, intuitive, and its own evidence. But opinion, reasoning, or doubting (for they are all but one thing) can only then begin when the creature has lost its first right and natural state, and is got somewhere, and become somewhat, that it cannot tell what to make of. Then begins doubting, from thence reasoning, from thence debating; and this is the high birth of our magnified reason, as nobly born, as groping is, which has its beginning in and from darkness, or the loss of light. Hence we have a full proof, that man has lost his first natural state in which God created him. For reasoning, doubt, and perplexity in any creature, is the effect of some fall, or departure from its first state of nature, and shows, that it wants, and is seeking, something that its nature would have, but knows not how to come at it. The beasts seek not after truth; a plain proof, that it has no relation to them; has no suitableness to their nature, nor ever belonged to them.
Man is in quest of it, in perplexity about it, cannot come at it; takes lies to be truth, and truth to be lies; a plain proof, both that he has it not, and yet has had it, was created in it, and for it; for nothing can seek for anything, but that which is lost, and is wanted; nor could it form the least idea of it, but because it has belonged to it, and ought to be his.
The beasts have no ignorance of anything, that concerns them; but have all the sensible, intuitive knowledge of everything that is the good of their nature. But man left to his reason is all over ignorance, doubt, conjecture, and perplexity in matters of the highest moment, about what he himself is, what is his chief good, where he is to seek it, and how to obtain it. For to ask your reason, how God is your God, how you are in him, and from him, what he is in himself, and what he is in you, is but like asking your hands to feel out the thickness, or the thinness, of the light. To ask your reason, whether the soul of man is immortal in its nature, is to as good purpose, is going no father out of the way, than if you was to ask your eyes to show you, where extension begins, and where it ends. To ask your reason, whether man has anything of God, or the divine nature in him, is just as suitable to the nature and power of your reason, as if you was to ask your nose, whether this or that sweet, aromatic smell in the garden, has any heavenly power mixed with, and opening itself in it.
Reason, therefore, is so far from being able to help man to that knowledge, which his nature and condition wants, that it can only help his ignorance to increase and fructify in doubts, fictions, and absurd debates. And the thing cannot be otherwise; man must walk in a vain shadow, so long as reason is his oracle. For nothing can act suitably to nature, find its true state in nature, or answer the end of its creation by the power of reason; because reason is not the life, the power, or former of nature; and therefore has no more power over nature, than over the powers and principles of vegetation, either in the body of man, or any other creature. He therefore who turns to his reason, as the true power and light of his nature, betrays the same ignorance of the whole nature, power, and office of reason, as if he was to try to smell with his eyes, or see with his nose. For as each of these senses has only its one work or power, which it cannot alter, or exceed; so reason has only its one work or power, which it cannot alter, or exceed; and that one work is, to be a bare observer and comparer of things that manifest themselves to it by the senses. This is as much its one only power, as seeing is the one only power of the eyes. When therefore reason takes upon it to determine on things not manifested to it by the senses, as to judge about divine new birth, a divine light, and divine faith; or how the soul wants, or does not want God, etc. it is then as much out of its place and office, as the eye that takes upon it to smell; and its true name and nature is, whim, humor, caprice, conjecture, opinion, fancy, and every other species of blindness, and passion.
Now suppose man to come thus into the world, with this chief difference from other creatures; that he is at a loss to find out what he is, how he is to live, and what he is to seek, as his chief happiness; what he is to own of a God, of providence, religion, etc. Suppose him to have faculties that put him upon this search, and no faculties, that can satisfy his inquiry; and what can you suppose more miserable to himself, or more unworthy of a good creator? Therefore, if you will not suppose a God, that has been good to all creatures, and given every animal its proper light of nature, except man, you must be forced to own, that man has certainly lost the true light and perfection of his nature, which God at first gave him.
But I believe Academicus wants to say something, and therefore I have done.
I was only going to say, that every attribute of God, everything that sense and reason force us to see, and know, and feel, both of ourselves, and the world, join with the letter and spirit of all scripture in attesting, that man has certainly had a divine life, to which he has certainly died. But yet I must own it is very difficult to conceive, how a creature brought forth in so high perfection, in such enjoyment of the life, light, and Spirit of God, could either deceive himself, or be deceived by another.
All that we want to know, my friend, is the certainty of the fact, and this is of the greatest moment to us: for this is it, that takes us from the herd of earthly animals, and lays the foundation of religion, and divine virtue. For had not a divine life at first been in us, we should be now at the same distance from all true virtue and goodness, and as incapable of forming the least thought or desire of it, as other animals; and should have nothing to do, but to look to ourselves, live to our earthly nature, and make the most of this world. For this is the only wisdom and goodness, that an earthly nature is capable of, whether it be a man, or a fox. The certainty therefore of the fact, of our first divine birth, is all; nothing more need be inquired after. For on this ground stands all our comfort; hence it is, that, in faith and hope, we can look up to God as our Father, to heaven as our native country, and have the honor to be accounted only as strangers and pilgrims upon earth.
But however, to remove your difficulty, I shall give you a little sketch of the possibility of man’s falling, although created in the perfection abovementioned.
Now supposing God to have brought a new intelligent creature into a new world, all the attributes of God oblige us to suppose this creature to be created in a perfect state both inwardly and outwardly. As intelligent, it must partake of the divine understanding; as living, it must have a degree of the divine life in it; as good, it must have a birth of the divine goodness in it; as an offspring of divine love, it must have a divine happiness, for the enjoyment of which the love of God created it. Now there is but one possible way, for this intelligent creature, thus endowed, to fall from, or lose the happiness of its first created state. It cannot knowingly choose misery, or the loss of its happiness: therefore it can only fall by such an ignorance, or power of falling as is consistent with its perfect state. Now this power lay wholly in the newness of its life: it only began to find itself an intelligent being; and yet had a power of looking with the eyes of its understanding either inwards, or outwards; upwards, or downwards. It had a power of acquiescing and rejoicing in that, which it found itself to be, and adoring that power and goodness which had brought it into the possession of such a nature: and it had a power of wandering into conjectures, and reasons about that, which it was not. Now as a free, intelligent creature, it could not be without this power of thus turning its intelligent eye; and yet, as a beginning creature, that had no experience, this power could not be free from a possibility of wandering; and therefore its power of wandering was not a defect, but a necessary part of its first perfect state. Now in this possibility of wandering with its intelligent eye, looking where it ought not, and entering into conjectures about that, which it was not, may be clearly seen the possibility of its falling from a state of high perfection.
This is the one only possible way for a good, intelligent, new creature to lose its happiness. And I think it may justly be affirmed, that the Mosaic account of the fall of man is exactly this very case; namely, how the eye of his new unexperienced understanding, beginning to cast a wandering look into that, which he was not, was by an unsuspected subtlety, or serpent, drawn into a reasoning and conjecturing about a certain good and evil, which were no part of his own created state.
Which inquiry, being given into, ended in the real knowledge of this good and evil, the sensibility of which became an immediate death to his first divine life, destroyed the angelic image in the likeness of God, and set a gross, earthly, naked, ashamed, frighted, wretched animal of bestial flesh and blood in its place, the only animal to which this new knowledge of good and evil could belong.
Supposing therefore the fall of man, which is a fact attested, and proved by everything we know of God, ourselves, and the world; the Mosaic account of it has every mark of truth, sobriety, and justness, as being a plain and easy description of the one only way, by which a creature so endowed could change or lose its first happy state.
Truly, Theophilus, you have given a most natural and full solution of my difficulty, by which, I suppose, you mean as well to explain the fall of angels, as of men. But, sir, if that pride, to which their fall is charged, must have stolen upon them, in that same unsuspected way, in which the longing after the tree of good and evil insinuated itself into man; viz., from a wandering look into that, which they were not, occasioned by the newness of their untried life, in which they had but just began to be; suffer me then, to ask, why the fallen angels were not, at first, the immediate objects of divine mercy and goodness? Why they are to be forever prisoners of a never-ending hell? Or, are you of the opinion, that angels, as well as men, will be at last brought back to their first state?
Your questions, Academicus, seem to have too much of curiosity in them: but, as I hope you will not give way to this temper, so I will, for once, comply with your demands.
The fall of angels must be supposed to have been as soon after their creation, as that of Adam. Had they stood any time in their new-created state, they had been in one and the same impossibility of falling, as the angels that are now in heaven. For no pure, intelligent, good, and holy created being, can possibly lose this divine state of perfection, but through the first use of its untried state and powers. The manner of Adam’s falling into the life of this world plainly shows the manner how the angels fell into hell, namely, at first only by looking and conjecturing with their intelligent eye into that, which they were not, which was not opened in them, but was hid in God. This looking went on till it became a lust and strong longing after that somewhat; just as it had done in Adam, who so gazed upon the earthly good and evil, till it opened itself in him. Adam looked only at that which was creaturely, and in a life below him; and therefore only that lower, creaturely, bestial life was brought forth in him.
But the angel turning his wandering look into that height and depth which was not creaturely, but hid in God; namely, into the might and strength of eternity, that he might know how the creaturely life was kindled by it; and thinking himself by his exalted nature, to be as near to this great power, and as capable of entering into it, as Adam thought himself near to, and capable of knowing the good and evil of the earthly life; and as Adam thought to be like God in this new knowledge; so the angel imagined to be like God, could he enter into this knowledge, how the might of God kindled the creaturely life, for then he himself should have the power of creating or kindling the creaturely life; and as Adam’s imagination brought forth a lust and longing, which could not be stopped, till the earthly knowledge, and earthly life, had opened itself in him; so the angel’s imagination begot such a lust and longing to know the ground and original of life, as would not be stopped till the ground and original of life, namely, that depth of darkness and fire, in and from which every creaturely life must begin, was totally opened in him, and he as much swallowed up by hell, as Adam was by the earthly life. Thus you may see, how the same aspiring imagination (but with regard to different matters) rising in the same manner, and from the same cause, in both these creatures, and working itself up into a lust and longing, brought the one from heaven into hell, and the other from paradise into a bestial world.
Now as the lust of Adam, when it had obtained its desire, opened all the properties and tempers of the bestial life in him; so the lust of the angel, when it got what it wanted; viz., the ground and original of the creaturely life, which is darkness and fire; immediately opened all the dreadful properties of darkness and fire in him, which at once swallowed up or extinguished the angelic nature. Hence wrath, hatred, pride, envy, malice, and every enmity to light and love, are the one only life of the fallen angel; and he can will and act nothing else, but as these properties of darkness and fire drive him.
To ask therefore, why the fallen angels continue in their state, is to ask, why darkness is not made to be light? For the root and ground of nature is unchangeable; it keeps its own nature, or it could not be the ground; it must stand always in its own place, and be only the ground and root; it cannot rise higher than the root, no more than the root of the tree can be its branches and fruit. The angels, therefore, being fallen into the ground and root of nature, have only the working life of the ground and root of nature in them; and therefore seem to be as unchangeable, and incapable of having any other, as the root itself is.
To ask therefore, why the fallen angels were not helped by the mercy and goodness of God, as fallen man was; is like asking, why the refreshing dew of heaven does not do that to flint, which it does to the vegetable plant?
For as the nature of the flint is too hard, and too much compacted, to receive any alteration from the sweet softness of refreshing water; so the fallen angel, like the flint, being shut up in the wrathful working of its own hard darkness and fire, the goodness of God can have no entrance into it.
For what are we to understand by the mercy and goodness of God? His mercy is his patience. And his goodness, is his light, and Word, and Holy Spirit. Now every creature has the benefit of divine patience; but no creature can have his goodness, but that which is capable of receiving his light, and Holy Spirit.
And his light, and Holy Spirit, cannot enter into a creature, as an external, additional thing, that may be given to it, whether it will, or not, but must be brought forth as a birth in it. For the light, and Spirit of God can be nowhere, but as a birth, whether it be in God, or the creature. And therefore the goodness of God can be imparted to no creature, but that which is capable of a birth of the light and Spirit of God, or, in the words of scripture, unless it be “born of the Word and Spirit of God.”
This therefore you may rest upon, as a certain truth, that the one only reason, why the fallen angels have as yet had nothing of the Spirit or light of God breathed into, or born in them, is, because they are as yet utterly incapable of such a birth, or of being helped by the divine goodness. For as flame cannot communicate itself to flint, nor the Spirit of God to a beast; because the flint stands in the utmost contrariety to flame, and the beast in a total incapacity of holiness; so the fallen angel is in its working life altogether incapable of receiving the Spirit and life of God into it. Were it not thus, angels had been helped, as early as man: for the goodness, or the light and Spirit of God loses no time, but stands always in the same fullness of communication of itself to every creature that is capable of receiving it.
And therefore it is, that fallen man was immediately helped, because he fell only into earthly flesh and blood, in which the light of this world is kindled, which light has something of heaven in it, and was kindled by the light of heaven.
And therefore the goodness of God, or his light, and Holy Spirit, could come to man’s assistance in the light of this life, and therein begin a covenant of redemption with him. For in this light of his life, which is a ray of heaven, the inspoken Word in paradise could enter, and have communion with it, and make itself to be a beginning of salvation to all those, who by faith and hope should lay hold of it, and endeavor after a new birth from it. Thus stands the ground and reason why men, and not angels, were immediately helped at their fall.
As to your last question, whether I believe the final restoration of all the fallen angels; I shall only say, that neither ancient nor modern writers, on either side of the question, have touched the true merits of the cause, or spoke to that point on which the decision of the matter wholly rests.
For it can neither be sufficiently affirmed, nor sufficiently denied, by any arguments drawn either from the divine attributes, or texts of scripture; for they cannot come up to the point in question. But the true ground and merit of the cause lies solely in the possibility of the thing, which no one has attempted to prove, nor perhaps is anyone able to do it; namely, to show from a true ground, that the diabolical nature is possible to be altered. Darkness can by no omnipotence be made to be light; it can only be suppressed, or overcome by it, or forced to be hid under it, as heaven hides or overcomes hell; but still the darkness has its first nature, never to be changed.
Now if anyone can show, that the devils are not essentially evil, as darkness is essentially dark, but have only such an accidental difference from goodness, as ice has from water, or a flint from transparent glass; then their restoration is possible, and they will infallibly have all their evil removed out of them by the goodness of God.
But unless it could be shown from a true ground in nature, that the fallen angels must have something of the heavenly life in them, though shut up in a thousand times harder death, than fire is in the dark flint, no length of time, or anything else, can produce any alteration, or cessation of their evil nature.
Now if the fallen angels have nothing heavenly in them, but stand in as full a contrariety to all that is heavenly, as the circle does to the properties of the right line; then goodness is as impossible to be ever awakened in them, as in a beast. The beast must always be what it was at first; and for this reason, because nothing but the bestial nature is in it: if therefore the fallen angel is totally hellish, as the beast is bestial, it must always be what it is.
But we have launched far enough in a deep that does not belong unto us; and which cannot be sufficiently affirmed or denied but from the known possibility, or the known impossibility, of the thing, which does not yet appear. If it is possible, I am heartily glad of it; and am also sure enough, that it will then come to pass in its own time. For if he could not be thought to be a good man, who did not do all that he could to make sinners become holy and happy in goodness, we may be sure enough that the boundless goodness of God, will set no bounds to itself, but remove every misery from every creature that is capable of it. But let me now return to Humanus, and ask him, that, supposing he could not convince a man of the certainty of his fallen state, how he would farther proceed with him.
Truly, Theophilus, I would proceed no farther at all; and for this good reason, because I should then have nothing to proceed upon. Did I certainly know of an infallible remedy for every disorder of the eyes, only to be had by going to China for it, I should not attempt to persuade a man, who believed his eyes to be sound and good, to leave all that he had, and go to China for this infallible remedy for bad eyes.
Now to press a man to deny himself, and leave all that he hath in the enjoyments of flesh and blood, in order to be reconciled to God, who believes himself to be in the same good state, in which God created him, seems to be as wild a project, as to desire him who is well pleased with the goodness of his sight, to go to the Indies to be helped to see.
And indeed I very well know, from former experience, that all discourse about the reasonableness of Christianity, the doctrine of the cross, the exceeding love of God in giving so great a savior, with many more things of the like nature, were mere empty sounds, heard with the greatest indifference, and incapable of raising the least seriousness in me, merely because I had not the least notion or suspicion of the truth and greatness of my fallen state, and therefore was not the man who had any fitness to be affected with these matters. And thence it was that Christ said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you”; as plain as if he had said, No one else can come to me, nor anyone else be refreshed by me.
Here therefore, in my humble opinion, should all begin, who would propagate Christianity, or make true converts to it, and here stop, as Christ did. It is only the weary, and heavy laden, that are fitted to be converts, or refreshed; and therefore we can no way help a man to be a Christian, or fit him to be refreshed by Christ, but by bringing him into a full sensibility of the evil, and burden, and vanity of his natural state, till some good providence awakens him out of it; and not make proposals to him of the reasonableness of believing the Holy Trinity, the incarnation of the Son of God, and the necessity of his sufferings and death, etc. for this method is full as absurd, as to enter into solemn debate with a confessed atheist, about the reasonableness of worshipping God in spirit and truth; for, as the excellence of a God is the only ground of proving that he ought to be worshipped in spirit and truth, so the certainty and belief of our fallen state is the only ground of showing the reasonableness of the mysteries of redemption. And he that disowns the fall of man from a divine life, has all the same reasons for rejecting the mysteries of our salvation, as the atheist has to reject the doctrines of a spiritual worship of God. Therefore, to expose the mysteries of our salvation to the wrangle of a debate with an unbeliever of the fall of man, which mysteries have no other ground to stand upon, is not only helping him to an easy triumph over you, but is the most likely method to prevent his ever becoming a Christian. For seeing how easily he can ridicule mysteries, which, to him in his present state, can have no reasonableness in them, he is put into the most likely way of living and dying in a hardened contempt of them.
Whereas if you stick close to the one true ground of Christianity, and only proceed as that proceeds, and make the unbeliever no offers of any other Christianity, but that which is to begin with the acknowledged sensibility of the fall of human nature from its first divine life; you stop where you ought to stop, and rob him of all power and pretense of meddling with the other mysteries of salvation.
The one business then upon his hands, if he will hold out against you, must be to deny his reason and senses, and maintain, in spite of both, that man is not fallen, but is by nature holy, just, good, and happy both in body and soul; and that mankind, and the world they are in, have all that goodness and happiness, which they could be supposed to have from an infinitely good and happy God; and who can will nothing in the creature but goodness and happiness. Here you bring the Deist to his proper work, and all the contradiction to sense and reason will lie on his side: you set Christianity upon its true ground; and whoever thus defends it, as it ought to be defended, not only does justice to the Christian cause, but acts the most kind and friendly part towards those who oppose it merely through a misunderstanding of its true ground and nature; which I will venture to say is the case of all the sober well-meaning Deists. For Deism has no natural foundation, or ground of its own, to stand upon; it does not grow from any root or strength within itself, but is what it is merely from the bad state of Christendom, and the miserable use that heathenish learning, and worldly policy, have made of the gospel. If it (Deism) seems to itself to be strong and well-grounded, it is merely because it can so easily object to church-doctrines, and scholastic opinions: if it seems to itself to be good it is because it can so easily lay open the evils which Christians and churches bring upon one another: if it seems to itself to be highly rational, its reason is, because it is free from that number of absurdities and contradictions which Christian churches lay to the charge of one another.
Lastly, if it keeps off all fearful forebodings of the consequences of not receiving the gospel, it is because it so plainly sees, that Christians say, “Hail, master,” kiss the gospel, and then break every part of it.
This is the true height, and depth, and total strength of Deism or infidelity; it never had any other support in myself but this; nor did I ever converse with a Deist, who carried the matter higher or farther than this, to support the cause. Hence it is, that you made so speedy a convert of me, by showing me such a Christianity as I never heard of before; and stripped of everything that gave me power to oppose it. Had you proceeded in the way practiced by most defenders of the gospel, you had left me just as you found me, if not more confirmed in my old way. But as you have justly removed all controversy about doctrines from the merits of the cause, and shown that it all lies in this one short, plain, and decisive point, namely the fall of man; a fall proved and demonstrated to all my senses and reason, by every height and depth of nature, by every kind of misery, evil, and sin in the world, by everything we know of God, ourselves, and the world we live in; the ground and foundation of Christianity is undeniable, and no one can be too speedy a convert to the belief of it. And as you have also shown, that the whole nature of the gospel redemption means nothing but the one, true, and only possible way of delivering man from his miserable state in this world; Christianity is shown to be the most intelligible and desirable thing that the heart of man can think of. And thus, contrary to all expectation, the tables are quite turned; Deism can no longer be founded on argument, and Christianity is as self-evident as our senses: all learning on both sides, either for or against it, is insignificant; Christianity stands upon a bottom quite superior to it, and may be the sure possession of every plain man, who has sense enough to know whether he is happy or unhappy, good or evil. For this natural knowledge, if adhered to, is every man’s sure guide to that one salvation preached by the gospel. Which gospel stands in no more need of learning and critical art now, than it did when Christ was preaching it upon earth. How absurd would it have been for any critics in Greek and Hebrew, to have followed Christ and his apostles, as necessary explainers of their hard words, which called for nothing in the hearers but penitent hearts turned to God; and declared, that they only “who were of God, could hear the Word of God!”
How strange, that Christ should choose only illiterate men to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God, if only great scholars could rightly understand what they said! Again, supposing learned men to have only the true fitness to understand the word of scripture, and that the plain man is to receive it from them, how must he know which are the scholars that have the right knowledge? From whence is he to have this information?
For no one need be told, that ever since learning has borne rule in the church, learned doctors have contradicted and condemned one another in every essential point of the Christian doctrine. Thousands of learned men tell the illiterate, they are lost in this or that church; and thousands of learned men tell them, they are lost, if they leave it.
If therefore Christianity is in the hands of scholars, how must the plain man come at it? Must he, though unable to understand scripture, for want of learning, tell which learned man is in the right, and which is not? If so, the unlearned man has much the greatest ability, since he is to do that for scholars, which they cannot do for themselves.
But the truth of the matter is this; Christian redemption is God’s mercy to all mankind; but it could not be so, if every fallen man, as such, had not some fitness and capacity to lay hold of it. It must have no dependence upon times and places, or the ages and several conditions of the world, or any outward circumstance of life; as the first man partook of it, so must the last; the learned linguist, and the blind, the deaf and dumb, have but one and the same common way of finding life in it. And he that writes large commentaries upon the whole Bible, must be saved by something full as different from book knowledge, as they were, who lived when there was neither book nor any alphabet in the world.
For this salvation, which is God’s mercy to the fallen soul of man, merely as fallen, must be something that meets every man; and which every man, as fallen, has something that directs him to turn to it. For as the fall of man is the reason of this mercy, so the fall must be the guide to it; the want must show the thing that is wanted. And therefore the manifestation of this one salvation, or mercy to man, must have a nature suitable, not to this or that great reader of history, or able critic in Hebrew roots and Greek phrases, but suitable to the common state and condition of every son of Adam. It must be something as grounded in human nature, as the fall itself is, which wants no art to make it known; but to which the common nature of man is the only guide in one man, as well as another.
Now this something, which is thus obvious to every man, and which opens the way to Christian redemption in every soul, is a sense of the vanity and misery of this world; and a prayer of faith and hope to God, to be raised to a better state.
Now in this sensibility, which every man’s own nature leads him into, lies the whole of man’s salvation; here the mercy of God and the misery of man are met together; here the fall and the redemption kiss each other.
This is the Christianity which is as old as the fall; which alone saved the first man, and can alone save the last. This is it on which hang all the law and the prophets, and which fulfills them both; for they have only this end, to turn man from the lusts of this life, to a desire, and faith, and hope of a better. Thus does the whole of Christian redemption, considered on the part of man, stand in this degree of nearness and plainness to all mankind; it is as simple and plain as the feeling our own evil and misery, and as natural as the desire of being saved and delivered from it.
This is the Christianity which every man must first be made sensible of, not from hearsay, but as a growth or degree of life within himself, before he can have any fitness, or the least pretense to judge or speak a word about the further mysteries of the gospel. But here I stop.
Well, Humanus, I have now pushed the matter with you, as far as I intended; and you have given me full proof of the truth and solidity of your own conversion, and your ability to do good amongst your old brethren. You must now enter the lists with them; not to charge them with ignorance, ill will, or profaneness of spirit, but only to try, in the spirit of love and meekness, to undeceive them, in the manner you have been undeceived; and to show them, that Christianity is by no means that thing, which you and they have so long disliked.
Nothing can be more right than your resolution not to enter into debate about the gospel doctrines, or propose the reasonableness of them to anyone, till he owns himself sensibly convinced of the forementioned fall of man; and stands in a full desire to be saved, or delivered from it. And if that time never comes, you must leave him, as in the same incapacity to hear or judge of the doctrines of the Holy Trinity, in the incarnation of the Son of God, the operation of the Holy Spirit, as Epicurus would be. For every man that cleaves to this world, that is in love with it, and its earthly enjoyments, is a disciple of Epicurus, and sticks in the same mire of atheism, as he did, whether he be a modern Deist, a Popish or Protestant Christian, an Aryan, or an orthodox teacher. For all these distinctions are without any difference, if this world has the possession and government of his heart. For the whole of the matter lies solely in this, whether heaven, or earth, hath the heart and government of man. Nothing divides the worshipers of the true God from idolaters but this: where earth possesses and rules the heart, there all are of one and the same religion, and worship one and the same God, however they may be distinguished by sect or party.
And wherever the heart is weary of the evil and vanity of the earthly life, and looking up to God for an heavenly nature, there all are one of the true religion, and worshipers of the true God, however distant they may be from one another, as to time or place. But enough has been said of this matter.
Let me now only, before we break up, observe to you the true ground and nature of gospel Christianity: I call it so by way of distinction from that original universal Christianity, which began with Adam; was the religion of the patriarchs, of Moses and the prophets, and of every penitent man in every part of the world, that had faith and hope towards God, to be delivered from the evil of this world.
But when the Son of God had taken a birth in and from the human nature, had finished all the wonders that belonged to our redemption, and was sat down at the right hand of God in heaven, then a heavenly kingdom was set up on earth, and the Holy Spirit came down from heaven, or was given to the flock of Christ in such a degree of birth and life, as never was, nor could be given to the human nature, till Christ, the redeemer of the human nature, was glorified. But when the humanity of Christ, our second Adam, was glorified, and became all heavenly, then the heavenly life, the comfort, and power, and presence of the Holy Spirit, was the gift which he gave to his brethren, his friends and followers, which he had left upon earth.
The Holy Ghost descended in the shape of cloven tongues of fire on the heads of those, that were to begin and open the new powers of a divine life set up amongst men. This was the beginning and manifestation of the whole nature and power of gospel Christianity, a thing as different from what was Christianity before, as the possession of the thing hoped for is different from hope, or deliverance different from the desire or expectation of it. Hence the apostles were new men, entered into a new kingdom come down from heaven, enlightened with new light, inflamed with new love, and preached not any absent or distant thing, but Jesus Christ, as the wisdom and power of God, felt and found within them, and as a power of God ready to be communicated in the same manner, as a new birth from above, to all that would repent and believe in him. It was to this change of nature, of life, and spirit, to this certain immediate deliverance from the power of sin, to be possessed and governed by gifts and graces of an heavenly life, that men were then called to, as true Christianity. And the preachers of it bore witness, not to a thing that they had heard, but to a power of salvation, a renewal of nature, a birth of heaven, a sanctification of spirit, which they themselves had received. Gospel Christianity then stood upon its own true ground; it appeared to be what it was. And what was it? Why, it was an awakened divine life set up amongst men; itself was its own proof; it appealed to its proper judge, to the heart and conscience of man, which was alone capable of being touched with these offers of a new life.
Hence it was, that sinners of all sorts, that felt the burden of their evil natures, were in a state of fitness to receive these glad tidings. Whilst the rigid Pharisee, the orthodox priest, and the rational heathen, though at enmity with one another, and each proud of his own distinction, yet all agreed in rejecting and abhorring a spiritual savior, that was to save them from their carnal selves, and the vanity of their own rational selfish virtues. But when, after a while, Christianity had lost its first glory, appeared no longer as a divine life awakened amongst men, and itself was no longer its own proof of the power and Spirit of God manifested in it; then heathenish learning, and temporal power, was from age to age forced to be called the glory and prosperity of the church of Christ; although in the Revelation of St. John, its figure is that of a scarlet whore riding upon the beast.
Here therefore, my friend, you are to place the true distinction of gospel Christianity from all that went before it, or that is come up after it. It is purely and solely a divine life awakened, and set up amongst men, as the effect and fruit of Christ’s glorification in heaven; and has no other promise from him but that of his Holy Spirit, to be with it, as its light, its guide, its strength, its comfort, and protection, to the end of the world.
Therefore as gospel Christians, we belong to the new covenant of the Holy Spirit, which is the kingdom of God come down from heaven on the day of Pentecost; and therefore it is, that there is no possibility of seeing or entering into this new kingdom, but by being born again of the Spirit. The apostles and disciples of Christ, though they had been baptized with water, had followed Christ, heard his doctrines, and done wonders in his name; yet as then, stood only near to the kingdom of God, and preached it to be at hand. They had only seen and known Christ according to the flesh; had followed him with great zeal, but with little and very low knowledge either of him or his kingdom; and therefore it was, that they were commanded to stand still, and not act as his ministers in his new glorified state, till they were endued with power from on high: which power they then received, when the Holy Ghost with his cloven tongues of fire came down upon them, by which they became illuminated instruments, that were to diffuse the light of an heavenly kingdom over all the world. From that day began gospel Christianity, with its true distinction from everything that was before it; which was the ministration of the Spirit; and the ministers of it called the world to nothing but gifts and graces of the same Spirit, to look for nothing but spiritual blessings, to trust, and hope, and pray for nothing but the power of that Spirit, which was to be the one life and ruling Spirit of this newly opened kingdom of God. No one could join himself to them or have any part with them but by dying to the wisdom and light of the flesh, that he might live by the Spirit, through faith in Jesus Christ, who had thus called him to his kingdom and glory. Now this Christianity is its own proof; it can be proved from nothing but itself; it wants neither miracles, nor outward witness; but, like the sun, is only its own discoverer.
He that adheres only to the history of the facts, doctrines, and institutions of the gospel, without being born of its Spirit, is only such a Christian, and is no nearer to Christ, than the Jew, who carnally adhered to the letter of the law. They both stand in the same distance from gospel Christianity.
It is in vain therefore for the modern Christian, to appeal to antiquity, to history, and ancient churches, to prove that he belongs to Christ; for he can only belong to him, by having the power of Christ, and the Spirit of God living and dwelling in his renewed inward man.
But a learned Christianity, supported and governed by reason, dispute, and criticism, that is forced to appeal to canons, and councils, and ancient usages, to defend itself, has lost its place, stands upon a fictitious ground, and shows, that it cannot appeal to itself, to its own works, which alone are the certain and only proofs either of a true, or a false Christianity.
For the spiritual life is as much its own proof, as the natural life, and needs no outward, or foreign thing to bear witness to it. But if you please, gentlemen, we will end for this time, and refer what remains to the afternoon.
THE END OF THE FIRST DIALOGUE