THE WAY TO DIVINE KNOWLEDGE: THE SECOND DIALOGUE
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I must take the liberty, gentlemen, of speaking first this afternoon; for though I have been much pleased with what passed betwixt Humanus and Theophilus in the morning, yet I must own to you all, that I was quite disappointed; for I came in full expectation of hearing everything, that I wish, and want to know, concerning Jacob Behmen, and his works. For though I have been reading, for more than two years, some one or other of his books, with the utmost attention, and I everywhere find the greatest truths of the gospel most fundamentally asserted, yet presently I am led into such depths, as I know not where I am, and talked to in such new, intricate, and unintelligible language, as seems quite impossible to be comprehended. Sometimes I almost suspect, that the author understood not himself: for I think, if I knew any truths, though ever so deep or uncommon; yet, if I understand them plainly myself, I could set them before others in the same plainness, that they appeared to me.
All my acquaintance have the same complaint that I here make; but some hope, and others say, that if you live to publish any of his books, you will remove most of his strange and unintelligible words; and give us notes and explications of such as you don’t alter. Surely a kind of commentary upon him, would reconcile many to the reading of him, who, in the state he is in, cannot have patience to puzzle their heads about him.
Oh this impatient scholar! How many troubles do I escape, through the want of his learning? How much better does my old neighbor John the shepherd proceed? In winter evenings, when he comes out of the field, his own eyes being bad, the old woman his wife puts on her spectacles, and reads about an hour to him, sometimes out of the scriptures, and sometimes out of Jacob Behmen; for he has had two or three of his books some years. I sat by one evening, when my old dame, reading Jacob, had much ado to get on: “John,” said I, “do you understand all this?” “Ah,” says he, “God bless the heart of the dear man, I sometimes understand but little of him; and mayhap Betty does not always read right; but that little which I often do understand, does me so much good, that I love him where I don’t understand him.” “John,” said I, “shall I bring a man to you, that knows the meaning of all of Jacob’s hard words, and can make all his high matters as plain to you, as the plainest things in the world?” “No, no,” replied John, “I don’t want such a man, to make a talking about Jacob’s words; I had rather have but a little of his own, as it comes from him, than twenty times as much at second-hand. Madam, the squire’s wife, of our town, hearing how Betty and I loved the scriptures, brought us, one day, a huge expounding book upon the New Testament; and told us, that we should understand the scripture a deal better, by reading it in that book, than the Testament alone. The next Lord’s Day, when two or three neighbors, according to custom, came to sit with us in the evening; ‘Betty,’ said I, ‘bring out madam’s great book, and read the fifth chapter of St. Matthew.’ When she had done that, I bid her read the fifteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians. The next morning, said I to Betty, ‘Carry his expounding book again to my mistress, and tell her, that the words of Christ, and his apostles, are best by themselves, and just as they left them.’ “And, as I was that morning going to my sheep, thought I to myself, this great expounding book seems to have done just as much good to this little book of the Testament, by being added to it, and mixed with it, as a gallon of water would do to a little cup of true wine, by being added to it, or mixed with it. The wine indeed would be all there; but its fine taste, and cordial spirit, which it had, when drank by itself, would be all lost and drowned in the coldness and deadness of the water. “When my Betty used to read this, or some such words of Christ, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’; she used to stop a little, that my heart might have time to be affected with them, to love the blessed thing there spoken of, and lift up itself to God in desire of it. But this great book takes this good work from my heart; and only calls upon my mind, to behold the many parts which the text may be split into, and the many meanings, some better and some worse, some higher and some lower, that every part has, and may be taken in, by some doctor of some church or other. Therefore, Rusticus, I sent the great book to madam again; and am, for the same reason, utterly against hearing your expounder of Jacob Behmen. If Jacob has more truths than other folks, he is the best able to tell me what they are; and if he has some matters too high for me, I don’t desire any lesser man to make them lower. “When he, like an Elijah, in his fiery chariot, is caught up into such heights, and sees and relates such things, as I cannot yet comprehend; I love and reverence him for having been where I never was; and seeing such things as he cannot make me to see: just as I love and reverence St. Paul for having been caught up into the third heaven, and hearing and seeing things not possible to be uttered in human words. “As I have but one end in hearing the scriptures read to me, to fill me with the love of God, and every kind of goodness; so every part of scripture, whether plain or mysterious, does me the same good, is alike good to me, and kindles the same heavenly flame in my soul. Thus these plain words, ‘Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls’; give me, without any expounder of their meaning, such an aversion and dislike of all vanity and pride, fill me with such sweet contentment in every lowliness of life, that I long to be the servant of every human creature. On the other hand, these lofty words of scripture, ‘Behold, a throne was set in heaven; and he that sat thereon, was, to look upon, like a jasper-stone; and there was a rainbow round about the throne; and four-and-twenty seats; and upon the seats, four-and-twenty elders in white raiment, and crowns of gold upon their heads: and out of the throne proceeded lightnings, and thunders, and voices: and before the throne were seven lamps of fire, which are the seven spirits of God: and before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about it, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind: and the first beast was like a lion, the second like a calf, the third had a face as a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle: and the four beasts had each of them six wings, and were full of eyes; and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy Lord God almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. And when these beasts give glory, and honor, and thanks, to him that sat on the throne, the four-and-twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor, for thou hast created all things,’ etc. (Revelation, 4, ver. 2 etc.) “Now these lofty and mysterious words, instead of puzzling my head, lay hold of my heart, which, all inflamed with them, rises up with the eyes and wings of the beasts in their song of praise and honor; and bows down with the elders that worship the high and mighty Lord of heaven and earth.
And thus I want no Hebrew or Greek scholar to tell me this or that, what are the seven spirits of God, why four kinds of beasts, why neither more nor less than six wings, who were the elders, and why twenty-four; but the whole matter, as if a glance of the majesty of heaven had just passed by me, strikes my heart with such good transports of wonder and joy, as makes me all longing and desire to be one of those, who are always singing the praises and wonders of the majesty of God. And thus, Rusticus, all that the scriptures give me to drink, whether high or low, is equally a cup of blessing to me, and equally helps forward the growth of heaven in my soul. “Bring not therefore your cunning man, that has skill in words, to me; for words are but words; and though they be spoken even by the messengers of God, as angels, or prophets, or apostles; when they do their best, they can only do, as John the Baptist did, bear witness to the light: but the light itself, which can only give light to the soul, is God himself. And therefore not he that can best speak with the tongues of men and angels, but he that most loves God, that is, that most loves the goodness of the divine nature; he has most of God, and the light of God within him.”
Thus ended honest old John the shepherd. And now, Academicus, if your learned curiosity could be as much affected with what he has said, as my ignorant simplicity is, you would drop all that you had said, as the effect of such impatience as is much fitter to bring darkness than light into your soul. You own, that, in the works of Behmen, the greatest points of Christianity are most fundamentally opened. And how can you be more self-condemned, than by desiring more?
But the truth is, you have only heard these fundamental matters; you have only received them as good notions; are content with the hearsay of them; and are therefore impatient to have more of this hearsay knowledge, that you may become more learned in high matters, and more able to talk about the ground and depth of Christian doctrines. You know, as well as I can tell you, that this is your joy in Jacob Behmen; and thence it is, that you have no patience, when you can’t come at his meaning, so as to add it to your number of notions. And thus you forget how often he tells you, and how fundamentally he proves to you, that this notional knowledge, the treasure of human reason, is the very builder of Babel. Whilst you are under the guidance of our own Babylonian reason, you can have no good either from the scriptures, or the writings of Jacob Behmen; but will be hunting after notes and commentaries to help you to notions which only delude your mind with the empty shadows of knowledge. Would you know the truths of Jacob Behmen, you must see that you stand where he stood; you must begin where he began, and seek only, as he tells you he did, the heart of God, that he might be saved from the wrath of sin and Satan; and then it was, that the light of God broke in upon him. But you, full of the power of your own reason, want to stand upon the top of his ladder, without the trouble of beginning at the bottom, and going up step by step. But I believe you had rather have Theophilus speak than me; and therefore I shall now leave you to him.
Truly, Academicus, I am much of the same mind with honest Rusticus, though perhaps I might not have spoken it so bluntly as he has done. You seem to be in the same error, that most of my learned friends are in, with regard to Jacob Behmen, who, though they greatly admire him, yet, of all people, receive the least true benefit from him. They have been trained up in dispute and controversy, accustomed to determine everything by the light of their own reason, and know no other guide to truth. And therefore, till, sooner or later, they come to know the falseness of this guide, they can have no entrance into the region of divine light; but must be forced to take their part, not of truth, but of some such system of opinions, as their birth and education has placed them in. Thus, a learned Papist has one creed, and the learned Protestant has another; not because truth and light has helped him to it; but because birth and education have given to the one popish, to the other Protestant eyes. For reason, which is the eye or light of both, finds as much to its purpose, and as many good tools to work with, in popish, as in Protestant opinions. Learning and criticism are an open field to both, and he only has the greatest harvest, who is best skilled in reaping.
I perceive then, that I must renounce all my learning and reason, if I am to understand Jacob Behmen. I cannot say, that I am resolved to purchase it at so great a price. I hope the knowledge to be had from the scriptures, will be sufficient for me, without his deep matters. I did not expect to find you so great an enemy to learning.
Dear Academicus, be not so uneasy; I am no more an enemy to learning, than I am to that art which builds mills to grind our corn, and houses for ourselves to dwell in. I esteem the liberal arts and sciences as the noblest of human things; I desire no man to dislike or renounce his skill in ancient or modern languages; his knowledge of medals, pictures, paintings, history, geography, or chronology; I have no more dislike of these things in themselves, than of the art of throwing silk, or making lace.
But then all these things are to stand in their proper places, and everyone kept within its own sphere.
Now all this circle of science and arts, whether liberal or mechanic, belongs solely to the natural man; they are the work of his natural powers and faculties; and the most wicked, sensual, unjust person, who regards neither God, nor man, may yet be one of the ablest proficients in any or all of them. But now Christian redemption is quite of another nature; it has no affinity to any of these arts or sciences; it belongs not to the outward natural man, but is purely for the sake of an inward, heavenly nature, that was lost, or put to death, in paradise, and buried under the flesh and blood of the earthly, natural man. It breathes a spark of life into this inward, hidden, or lost man; by which it feels and finds itself, and rises up in new awakened desires after its lost Father, and native country.
This is Christian redemption; on the one side, it is the heavenly divine life offering itself again to the inward man, that had lost it. On the other side, it is the hope, the faith, and desire of this inward man, hungering, and thirsting, stretching after, and calling upon this divine and heavenly life.
Now, whether this awakened, new man breathes forth his faith and hope towards this divine life, in Hebrew, Greek, or English sounds, or in no one of them, can be of no significancy: a man that can do it only in one, or in all these languages, is neither farther from, nor nearer to, this redeeming life of God. Or can you think, that the heavenly life must more willingly enter into, and open itself in, a man that has many languages, than in him, who knows only one? Or, that a man, who can make high Dutch, Welsh, or Greek grammars, must have a stronger faith, a more lively hope, and a more continual thirst after God, than he who can but poorly spell in his mother tongue? But now, if this is too absurd to be supposed; then, my friend, without the least injury done, or the least enmity shown, to learning, science, reason, and criticism, you must place them just where I have done, amongst the things and ornaments of this earthly life, and such things as, in their own nature, are as easy to be had, and as highly enjoyed, by men that despise all goodness, as by those who fear God, and eschew evil.
And therefore, sir, no truths concerning the divine and heavenly life are to be brought for trial before this learned bar, where both jury and judges are born and bred, live and move and have their being, in another world, which have no more power of feeling the divine life, than an eagle’s eyes can look into the kingdom of God. If you, my friend, having read many old Greek and Latin books, should intend to publish Homer, or Caesar’s Commentaries, with critical notes, I should have nothing to object to your ability; you might be as well qualified by such means for such a work, as one man is to make baskets, or another traps to catch flies. But if, because of this skill in old Greek and Latin, you should seem to yourself, or others, to be well qualified to write notes upon the spirit and meaning of the words of Christ, I should tell you, that your undertaking was quite unnatural, and as impossible to be free from error, as when a blind man undertakes to set forth the beauty of different colors.
For the doctrines of redemption belong no more to the natural man, than the beauty of colors to him, that never saw the light. And from this unnatural procedure it is, that the scriptures are as useful to the Socinian or Aryan, the papist or the Protestant; and they can as easily, by the light of reason, charge one another with absurdities, and confute each other’s opinion, as two blind men can quarrel and reject each other’s notions of red and green.
Jesus Christ is the light of that heavenly man that died in paradise; and therefore nothing in man, but that awakened seed of life, that died in paradise, can have the least sensibility or capacity for receiving the redeeming power of Jesus Christ. But light and life have no dependence upon words or phrases; they both can only proceed from a birth, whether it be the light and life of God, or the light and life of this world. How absurd would it be, to suppose, that a man, naturally blind, must be taught grammar or logic, to fit him for the reception of the light of the sun, and the knowledge of colors? Yet not less absurd, than to think, that skill in Hebrew and Greek words can open the light of God and heaven in the soul. If you now, Academicus, can set this matter in a juster light, I am ready to hear you.
Standing upon the ground, that you, Theophilus, stand upon, all that you have said of reason, science, historical knowledge, or critical skill in words, is unanswerable. For what can all these things avail, if redemption is purely a birth of the divine nature, light, and Spirit of God, offered to fallen man; which birth can only be received by the faith, hope, and desire of that inward man, which is divine in us? For nothing else can have any hunger or thirst after the divine nature, but that which is itself born of it.
Now this true ground of the Christian redemption gives the greatest glory to God and comfort to man. It explains the fact, why plain and simple souls, having their inward man kindled into love, hope, and faith in God, are capable of the highest divine illumination; whilst learned students, full of art and science, can live and die without the least true knowledge of God and Christ, and slaves to all the lusts of the flesh. For thus, this redemption belongs only to one sort of people, and yet is common to all.
It is equally near, and equally open, to every son of man. There is no difference between learned and unlearned, between Jew or Greek, male or female, Scythian or barbarian, bond or free; but the same Lord is God over all, and equally nigh to all that call upon him. It is told us, as the glory of the divine goodness, that “it giveth fodder to the cattle; and feedeth the young ravens that cry unto it.” What cattle? Surely not only to the cattle of Jacob; or only to the young ravens that cry in the land of Judah. Yet this would be much more consistent with the goodness of the one universal God, than to hold, that only the sons of Jacob, or the children of the circumcision, were in the covenant of God’s redemption.
But now, though this one ground of Christian redemption stands in the highest degree of plainness from scripture, and is absolutely certain from the very nature of the thing; yet, till I met with honest Rusticus, I never conversed with any man, or read any book, that gave me the least hint of it. When I had taken my degrees, I consulted several great divines, to put me in a method of studying divinity. Had I said to them, “Sirs what must I do to be saved?” they would have prescribed hellebore to me, or directed me to the physician as a vapored enthusiast. And yet I am now fully satisfied, that this one question ought to be the sole inquiry of him, who desires to be a true divine. And was our savior himself on earth, who surely could do more for me, than all the libraries in the world; yet I need have asked no more divinity-knowledge of him, than is contained in the one question.
It would take up near half a day, to tell you the work which my learned friends have cut out for me. One told me, that Hebrew words are all; that they must be read without points; and then the Old Testament is an opened book. He recommended to me a cart load of lexicons, critics, and commentators, upon the Hebrew Bible. Another tells me, the Greek Bible is the best; that it corrects the Hebrew in many places; and refers me to a large number of books learnedly writ in defense of it. Another tells me, that church history is the main matter; that I must begin with the first fathers, and follow them through every age of the church, not forgetting to take the lives of the Roman emperors along with me, as striking great light into the state of the church in their times. Then I must have recourse to all the councils held, and the canons made, in every age which would enable me to see with my own eyes the great corruptions of the Council of Trent.
Another, who is not very fond of ancient matters, but wholly bent upon rational Christianity, tells me, I need go no higher than the reformation; that Calvin and Cranmer were very great men; that Chillingworth and Locke ought always to lie upon my table; that I must get an entire set of those learned volumes wrote against popery in King James’s reign; and also be well versed in all the discourses which Mr. Boyle’s and Lady Moyer’s lectures have produced: and then, says he, you will be a match for our greatest enemies, which are the popish priests, and modern Deists.
My tutor is very liturgical; he desires me, of all things to get all the collections that I can of the ancient liturgies, and all the authors that treat of such matters; who, he says, are very learned, and very numerous. He has been many years making observations upon them, and is now clear, as to the time, when certain little particles got entrance into the liturgies, and others were by degrees dropped. He has a friend abroad, in search of ancient manuscript liturgies; for, by the bye, said he, at parting, I have some suspicion that our sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is essentially defective, for want of having a little water in the wine, etc. Another learned friend tells me, the Clementine Constitutions is the book of books; and that all that lies loose and scattered in the New Testament, stands there in its true order and form; and though he won’t say, that Dr. Clarke and Mr. Whiston are in the right; yet it might be useful to me to read all the Aryan and Socinian writers, provided I stood upon my guard, and did it with caution. The last person I consulted, advised me to get all the histories of the rise and progress of heresies, and of the lives and characters of heretics.
These histories, he said, contract the matter; bring truth and error close in view; and I should find all that collected in a few pages, which would have cost me some years to have got together. He also desired me to be well versed in all the casuistical writers, and chief schoolmen; for they debate matters to the bottom; dissect every virtue, and every vice, into its many degrees and parts; and show, how near they can come to one another without touching. And this knowledge, he said, might be useful to me, when I came to be a parish priest.
Following the advice of all these counselors, as well as I could, I lighted my candle early in the morning, and put it out late at night. In this labor I had been sweating for some years, till Rusticus, at my first acquaintance with him, seeing my way of life, said to me, “Had you lived about seventeen hundred years ago, you had stood just in the same place as I stand now. I cannot read; and therefore,” says he, “all these hundreds of thousands of disputing books, and doctrine books, which these seventeen hundred years have produced, stand not in my way; they are the same thing to me, as if they had never been. And had you lived at the time mentioned, you had just escaped them all, as I do now; because, though you are a very good reader, there was then none of them to be read. “Could you therefore, be content to be one of the primitive Christians, who were as good as any that have been since; you may spare all this labor. Take only the gospel into your hands; deny yourself; renounce the lusts of the flesh; set your affections on things above; call upon God for his Holy Spirit; walk by faith, and not by sight; adore the holy Deity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in whose image and likeness you was at first created; and in whose name and power you have been baptized, to be again the living likeness, and holy habitation, of his life, and light, and Holy Spirit. “Look up to Christ, as your redeemer, your regenerator, your second Adam; look at him, as truly he is, the wisdom and power of God, sitting at his right hand in heaven, giving forth gifts unto men; governing, sanctifying, teaching, and enlightening with his Holy Spirit, all those that are spiritually-minded; who live in faith, and hope, and prayer, to be redeemed from the nature and power of this evil world. Follow but this simple, plain spirit of the gospel, loving God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself; and then you are Christ’s disciple, and have his authority to let the dead bury their dead. “God is a spirit, in whom you live and move and have your being; and he stays not till you are a great scholar, but till you turn from evil, and love goodness, to manifest his holy presence, power, and life, within you. It is the love of goodness, that must do all for you; this is the art of arts; and when this is the ruling spirit of your heart, then Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, will come unto you, and make their abode with you, and lead you into all truth, though you knew no more books than I do.”
So ended Rusticus. It is not easy for me, Theophilus, to tell you, how much good I received from this simple instruction of honest Master Rusticus; for master I may well call him, since he, in so few words, taught me a better lesson of wisdom, than ever I had heard before.
What a project was it, to be grasping after the knowledge of all the opinions, doctrines, disputes, heresies, schisms, councils, canons, alterations, additions, inventions, corruptions, reformations, sects, and churches, which 1700 years had brought forth through all the extent of the Christian world! What a project this, in order to be a divine, that is, in order to bear true witness to the power of Christ, as a deliverer from the evil of flesh, and blood, and hell, and death, and a raiser of a new birth and life from above! For as this is the divine work of Christ, so he only is a true and able divine, that can bear a faithful testimony to this divine work of Christ.
How easy was it for me to have seen with Rusticus, that all this labyrinth of learned inquiry into such a dark, thorny wilderness of notions, facts, and opinions, could signify no more to me now, to my own salvation, to my interest in Christ, and obtaining the Holy Spirit of God, than if I had lived before it had any beginning! But the blind appetite of learning gave me no leisure to apprehend so plain a truth. Books of divinity indeed I have not done with; but I will esteem none to be such, but those that make known to my heart the inward power and redemption of Jesus Christ. Nor will I seek for anything even from such books, but that which I ask of God in prayer; viz., how better to know, more to abhor and resist the evil that is in my own nature; and how to attain a supernatural birth of the divine life brought forth in me: all besides this is pushpin. The shipwrecked man wants only to get to shore. Did we see the truth of our state as he does, we should have but one want, and that would be, to get possession of our first created state. There is no misery but in the evil that is in our own fallen state; this is our shipwreck, and great distress; nor is there any happiness, but in having the first life of God, and all goodness, opened again in the soul. He that is not intent upon this one thing needful, is not a wise Christian, much less a divine, or one qualified to make known to others the mystery of the power of Christ in the work of redemption.
But now I go back to that which I first spoke of; and though I give up all that I said of putting out Jacob Behmen in new language, with comments, etc. yet I must still desire, that, some way or other, he may be made more plain and intelligible; call it by what name you please.
Jacob Behmen may be considered, (1.) as a teacher of the true ground of the Christian religion. (2.) As a discoverer of the false anti-Christian church, from its first rise in Cain, through every age of the world, to its present state in all and every sect of the present divided Christendom. (3.) As a guide to the truth of all the mysteries of the kingdom of God. In these three respects, which contain all that anyone can possibly want to know or learn from any teacher; he is the strongest, the plainest, the most open, intelligible, awakening, convincing writer, that ever was. As to all these three matters, he speaks to everyone, as himself saith, in the sound of a trumpet. And here to pretend to be an explainer of him, or make him fitter for our apprehension, in these great matters, is as vain, as if a man should pipe through a straw, to make the sound of a trumpet better heard by us.
Further, he may be considered, (4.) as a relater of depths opened in himself, of wonders which his spirit had seen and felt in his ternario sancto .
Now in this respect he is no teacher, nor his reader a learner; but all that he saith is only for the same end as St. Paul spoke of his having been in the third heaven, and hearing things not possible to be spoken in human words. And yet in these matters it is, that most of his readers, especially if they are scholars, are chiefly employed; everyone in his way trying to become masters of them. Thus, when he first appeared in English, many persons of this nation, of the greatest wit and abilities, became his readers; who, instead of entering into his one only design, which was their own regeneration from an earthly to an heavenly life, turned chemists, and set up furnaces to regenerate metals, in search of the philosopher’s stone. And yet, of all men in the world, no one has so deeply, and from so true a ground, laid open the exceeding vanity of such labor, and utter impossibility of success in it from any art or skill in the use of fire. And this must with truth be affirmed of him, that there is not any possible error, that you can fall into in the use of his books, but what he gives you notice of beforehand, and warns you against it in the most solemn manner; and tells you, that the blame must be yours, if you fall into it. Neither is there any question that you can put, nor advice or direction that you can ask, but what he has over and over spoke to; telling you, in the plainest manner, what the mystery is which his books contain; how, and by whom, and for what end, they are to be read.
There are two sorts of people to whom he forbids the use of his books, as incapable of any benefit from them, and who will rather receive hurt, than any good from them. The first sort he shows in these words: “Loving reader, if thou lovest the vanity of the flesh still, and art not in an earnest purpose of the way to the new birth, intending to be a new man, then leave the above-written words in these prayers unnamed, or else they will turn to a judgment of God in thee.” (Repent. p. 42) Again, “Reader, I admonish you sincerely, if you be not in the way of the prodigal, or lost son, returning to his father again, that you leave my book, and read it not; it will do you harm. But if you will not take warning, I will be guiltless; blame nobody but yourself.” (Three Prin.)
In this advice, so different from that of other writers, he shows the truth and reality of his own regenerated state; and that the very same spirit speaks in him, as formerly said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Unless a man deny himself, and forsake all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. No man can come unto me, except the Father draweth him.
Except a man be born again from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
He that is of God, heareth God’s word. Come unto me, all ye that labor, are weary and heavy-laden.” For all these texts of scripture say that very self-same thing that Jacob Behmen doth, when he absolutely requires his reader to be in the way of the returning prodigal. It is not rules of morality observed, or an outward blameless form of life, that will do: for pride, vanity, envy, self-love, and love of the world, can be, and often are, the heart of such a morality of life. But the state of the lost son is quite another thing; and must be the state of every man: as soon as he comes to himself, and has seeing eyes, he will then, like him, see himself far from home; that he has lost his first paradise, his heavenly Father, and the dignity of his first birth; that he is a poor, beggarly slave in a foreign land, hungry, ragged, and starving, amongst the lowest kind of beasts, not so well fed and clothed as they are: when thus finding himself, he saith, “I will arise, and go to my Father,” etc. then has he his first fitness for the mysteries opened in Jacob Behmen’s writings; for they are addressed to man only in this supposed state; they have no fitness to him but in this state; and therefore no one, whether Jew, Christian, or Deist, who does not find and feel himself to be the very lost son described in the parable, has any capacity to receive benefit from them, but they will be a continual stumbling block to him. And it is just thus with the gospel itself; wherever it is received and professed, without something of this preparation of heart, without this sensibility of the lost son, there it can only be a stone of stumbling, and help the earthly man to form a religion of notions and opinions from the unfelt meaning of the letter of the gospel.
Secondly, the other sort of people, whom he excludes from his books, and for whom he has writ nothing, are the men of reason, who give themselves up to the light of reason, as the true touchstone of divine truths. To these he declares over and over, that he has not his light from reason; and that he writes nothing to reason. “The rational man,” saith he, “understands nothing in reference to God; for it is without and not in God.” Again, “The true understanding must flow from the inward ground, out of the living Word of God. In which inward ground, all my knowledge concerning the divine and natural ground, hath taken its rise, beginning, and understanding.
I am not born of the school of this world, and am a plain simple man; but by God’s Spirit and will am brought, without my own purpose and desire, into divine knowledge in high natural searchings.” (Epist. p. 121.) Again, “He that will learn to understand the true way, let him depart from and forsake his own reason.” (p. 138) “If my writings,” says he, “come into your hands, I would that you should look upon them as of a child’s, in whom the highest has driven his work; for there is that couched therein, which no reason may understand or comprehend.” (Ibid. p. 141.) Again, “Reason must be blinded, kept under, and not allowed to stir.” (p. 68.)
Again, “Reason must yield up its own hearing and life, and give itself up to God, that God may live in the understanding of man, else there is no finding in the divine wisdom. All that is taught and spoken concerning God, without the Spirit of God, is but Babel.” (Epist. p. 9) Again, “We must wholly reject our own reason; it is not available to help us to the light, but is a mere leading astray, and keeping us back. This we intimate to the reader, that he may know what he readeth. Let none account it for a work of outward reason.” Again, “Speaking of the mystery, (Three-fold L. p. 68,88.) he saith, “pray to God the most high, that he would be pleased to open the door of knowledge, without which no man will understand my writings; for they surpass the astral reason; they apprehend and comprehend the divine birth; and therefore only the like spirit can understand them aright. No reasoning or speculating reacheth them, unless the mind be illuminated from God, to the finding of which the way is faithfully shown to the seeking reader.” (Epist. p. 138) And now, Academicus, you may see how needless it is to ask me, or anyone else, to help you to understand his works: he himself has given you all the assistance that can be given: he has laid open before you, in the utmost plainness, both the nature of the mystery, and the one only possible way that you can partake of it.
You speak often of the mystery: pray, what am I to understand by it?
You are to understand by it, the deep and true ground of all things. A mystery, in which the birth and beginning of eternal nature, or the first workings of the inconceivable God, opening and manifesting his hidden triune Deity in an outward state of glory in the splendor of united fire, light, and spirit, all kindled and distinguished, all united and beatified by the hidden three. In this eternal nature, all inward powers, all the hidden riches of the incomprehensible Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are from eternity to eternity brought forth into outward majesty, and visible glory. In which triune opening of heavenly glory, power, and majesty, the triune God beholdeth himself as in his own manifestation, is clothed as with his own garment, dwelleth as in his own habitation, and worketh all his wonders of wisdom and omnipotence in and by, and according to, the possible powers of this eternal nature. For this eternal nature is the first possibility of all after-beings and things; for before, or without, this eternal nature, all is an eternal, silent, still, unmovable, unperceivable nothingness; and this eternal nature is the first manifestation, the first opening of the divine omnipotence; and in it are included, in its own infinite bounds, all the height and depth, and extent, of the divine wisdom and powers. All that God is, and can do, or bring forth from himself, is done in and by the working of his triune spirit in this eternal nature.
This is the great scene of his eternal wisdom and omnipotence, in which new wonders are eternally rising up, and declaring the fathomless depths of the riches of the invisible triune Deity. And to say, that God can do no more, than what he can do through and by the possible powers of this eternal nature, is only saying, that he can do more than what he can do by himself, because this eternal nature is the eternal manifestation of the total God, or an out-birth of that which the Deity is, in its invisible power and Deity.
Out of this transcendent eternal nature, which is as universal and immense as the Deity itself, do all the highest beings, cherubims and seraphims, all the hosts of angels, and all intelligent spirits, receive their birth, existence, substance, and form. They are all so many different, finite, bounded forms of the heavenly fire, and light of eternal nature, into which creaturely beings the invisible triune God breatheth his invisible Spirit, by which they become both the true children and likeness of the invisible Deity, and also the true offspring of his eternal nature; and are fitted to rejoice with God, to live in the life of God, and live and work, and have their being, in that eternal nature, or kingdom of heaven, in which the Deity itself liveth and worketh. And they are one, united in one, God in them, and they in God, according to the prayer of Christ for his disciples; that they, and he, and his holy Father, might be united in one. ( John 16.)
This is in part what you are first to understand concerning the mystery.
But, secondly, it is a mystery, in which the creation and fall of angels, with all its consequences in them, and their kingdom; in which the system of this visible universe, why, and from what, and how it came to be as it is; the birth of the sun and the planets, why and how they come to have such difference in nature, place, and office, as also of all the stars; the nature of every creaturely life, and ground of its vast variety; the cause of every inanimate dead thing; a mystery in which the creation, dignity, and perfection, of the first angelic man in paradise; the whole kingdom of nature, and kingdom of grace; their connection, difference, and mutually affecting and working upon one another under the providence of the invisible Spirit of God, from the beginning to the end of time, are all unfolded from their first root and cause.
Thirdly, it is a mystery, in which the ground of Christian redemption, its whole nature, absolute necessity, and the working of all its parts both in the redeemer and in the redeemed, are set forth in the utmost degree of clearness; where the whole process of Christ, as incarnate, living, suffering, dying, rising from the dead, ascending into heaven, and sitting at the right hand of God, and governing his church on earth by his Holy Spirit; and all the practical duties of the gospel, whether of faith and hope, or of self-denial; dying to this world, and strict conformity to the life and Spirit of Christ; are all demonstrated from the deepest ground of the nature of things, to be absolutely necessary to the recovery and redemption of the fallen human nature.
This, sir, is, in some degree, the mystery which it has pleased the Spirit of God to open in this plain and unlearned man.
Well, Theophilus, I entirely consent to this account you have given of it, and think it is sufficiently supported by what is to be found in his books; they seem to mean all these great matters which you mentioned. But then, sir, give me leave to tell you, that I think it is impossible for you to defend what you have said above concerning reason; or to show the unreasonableness of my demanding rational illustrations and comments. For if this is the truth, that his works contain the ground and philosophy of nature, and all creatures; surely they must not only allow the use of our reason, but call for the highest and most acute exercise of it. For what can enter into the reasons and philosophy of things, but reason? Or what do all these great matters appeal to, but to our reason? I see no possibility of denying this; and if this be granted, all that has been said about silencing our reason, must be given up.
The conclusion, my friend, that you here think to be so just and strong, as not possible to be denied, is so far from being so, that it is a glaring absurdity; and the quite contrary to that one only true conclusion, which you should have made, and which so easily and naturally flowed from what was said. For if the mystery is the deep ground of all things, of all nature, and all creatures, etc. then the one conclusion that infallibly flows from it, is this, that no acuteness or ability of natural reason can so much as look into it. For natural reason is no older than flesh and blood; it has no higher a nature or birth than natural doubting; it had no existence when nature began its first workings, and therefore can bear no witness to them. It was not present, had no eyes, when things first came forth; it never stood in the center, from whence the birth of everything must arise; it never saw the forming of the first seeds of every life: and yet the mystery, you see, contains all this: and therefore the one plain and necessary conclusion is this; that natural reason is, and must be, as incapable of entering into this mystery, as flesh and blood is incapable of entering into the kingdom of heaven.
Behold, now, what a flagrant proof you have given of the vanity, weakness, and blindness of natural reason in divine matters. Your reason saw, with the utmost certainty, that the mystery must be an appeal to reason, merely because it contained such an height and depth of a divine philosophy; and yet the height and depth of its matters is the one full proof, that reason can have nothing to do with it. This may show you by what means Babel has built itself all over the Christian world. For, by the light of this Babylonian reason, the defenders and opposers of doctrines confute one another with such a certainty and strength of reason, as you saw, that reason must be the only judge of the mystery, from which it is just as much excluded by its own nature, as the mole under ground is, by its nature, excluded from the flight and sight of the towering eagle.
Pray then tell me, how a man is to attain the knowledge of the mystery, or have any share in the light of it.
There is but one possible way, and that is this: it must be born in you. All true knowledge, either of God or nature, must be born in you. You cannot possibly know anything of God, but so far as God is manifested in you; so far as his light and Holy Spirit is born in you, as it is born in him, and liveth and worketh in you, as it liveth and worketh in him. A distant, absent, separate God, is an unknown God. For God can only manifest God, as light can only manifest light, and darkness make darkness to be known.
Again, you can have no real knowledge of nature, and its inward working power, but so far as the workings of nature, and the birth of things, are a working and birth in yourself. Natural reason may trade in the outside of things; it may measure, and make drafts of magnitude, height, and distance of things on the earth, and above the earth; it may make many and fine experiments of the powers of every element: but then this is going no farther into the ground of nature, than when the potter makes curious vessels with his clay and fire.
To count the stars, to observe their places or motions, is just the same height of natural knowledge, as when the shepherd counts his sheep, and observes their time of breeding.
This world, with all its stars, elements, and creatures, is come out of the invisible world; it has not the smallest thing, or the smallest quality of anything, but what is come forth from thence; and therefore every quality of everything is what it is, and worketh that which worketh, by a secret power and nature in and from the invisible world. Bitter, sweet, sour, hard, soft, hot, cold, etc. have all of them their first seed and birth in the invisible world, called eternal nature. The irrational animals of this world feel all these things: the rational man goes farther; he can reason and dispute about their outward causes and effects: but the mystery of eternal nature must first be opened in man, before he can give the divine philosophy of them. For as they all come from thence, have their nature, birth, and growth, from thence; so no philosophy, but that which comes from thence, can give the true ground of them.
If man himself was not all these three things, viz., (1.) a birth of the holy Deity; (2.) a birth of eternal nature; and, (3.) also a microcosm of all this great outward world; that is, of everything in it, its stars and elements; and if the properties of every creaturely life were not in an hidden birth in him; no omnipotence of God could open the knowledge of divine and natural things in him.
For God can only manifest that, which there is to be manifested; and therefore only open that, which before lay unopened, and as in a state of hiddenness or death. Nothing can come forth from man, or any creature, but that which first had its seed in him; and to think, that any knowledge can be put into him, but that which is a birth of his own life, is as absurd as to think, that the tree and its branches may first grow, and then be brought to the root.
We are led into mistakes about this matter from the common practice of the world, which calls everything knowledge, that the reason, wit, or humor of man prompts him to discourse about; whether it be fiction, conjecture, report, history, criticism, rhetoric, or oratory: all this passes for sterling knowledge; whereas it is only the activity of reason, playing with its own empty notions.
From this idea of knowledge it is, that when this rational man turns his thoughts to the study of divinity, he is content with the same knowledge of divine matters, as he had in these exercises of his reason; and he proceeds in the same manner, as when he studied history and rhetoric.
He turns his mind to hearsay, to conjecture, to criticism, and great names; and thinks he is then a member of the true church, when he knows it as plainly as he knows the ancient commonwealth of Rome. His knowledge of the being of God stands upon the same bottom, and is made known to him by the same means and methods of proof, as he comes to be assured, that once upon a time there was a first man, and his name was Adam. His knowledge of the kingdom of heaven is looked upon to be sufficient, as soon as he knows it, as he knows that there is such a place as Constantinople. When he turns his inquiries into the mysteries of Christian redemption, he looks as much out of himself as when he is searching into the antiquities of Greece; and appeals to the same helps for his knowledge, as when he wants to know the inward structure of Solomon’s temple, and all its services, etc.
This is the great delusion which has long over-spread the Christian world; and all countries, and all libraries, are the proof of it. It is this power and dominion of reason in religious matters, that Jacob Behmen so justly calls the anti-Christ in Babel; for it leads men from the life and truth of the mysteries of Christ, to put a carnal trust in a confused multitude of contrary notions, inventions, and opinions. And the thing is unavoidable, it cannot be otherwise with reason; it cannot do more good with, or make a better use of, gospel doctrines; it is anti-Christ as soon as ever it is admitted to debate and state the nature of any divine truth. And that for these two great reasons: first, because it has absolutely the same incapacity for it, as the man that is born blind hath for the light. Wherein now lieth the incapacity of the blind man, to speak or think anything truly about light? It is because he is born and bred in another world, where nothing of light ever did or can enter; it is because there is the gulf of a whole birth betwixt him and the light of this world; and therefore, though he lives ever so long, reasons ever so much, or hears ever so many speeches, about the light, all that he gets by it is only more false ideas of the unknown thing.
Now this is strictly the incapacity of reason, to speak, or think anything truly of the divine life. It is because it is born and bred in another world, in the darkness of flesh and blood, into which no perception or sensibility of God and heaven can enter; it is because there is the gulf of a whole birth betwixt it, and the light of God and heaven; and therefore, let reason, from age to age, hear, read, and dispute ever so much about the light of God and heaven, all that it can get by it, is only to be enriched with more and more fictions and falsities about the unknown thing.
Secondly, natural reason, whenever judging or ruling in divine matters, must be anti-Christ, because it cannot make any other use of the mysteries of religion, or do anything else with them, but in the same spirit, and for the same ends, that it receiveth and useth the things of this world. It matters not, what are the names or natures of the things, whether you call them spiritual or temporal: natural reason can make but one and the same use of them; it can only turn them to an earthly use, to worldly prosperity, to private interest, honor, power, or distinction. And the thing is unavoidable, it is impossible to be otherwise; it is not a fault that reason might amend, if it would; but is as much its own nature, as it is natural to flame to ascend. Now everything must act according to its nature; every kind of life must be for itself, for its own good. Now reason has no higher a birth and nature, than the spirit of this world; it must be as worldly as its birth is, and cannot possibly have anything else but worldly views, and the interests of its own flesh and blood, in everything that it can make any use of. This is as essential to the natural reason of man, as to the natural subtlety of every beast; for they have both the same original from the light and life of this world, have both the same earthly nature, and can act only in an earthly manner, to serve the same ends of an earthly life. The reason of the one has no more of God and the divine nature in it, than the subtlety of the other. And hence it is, that man, following only the cunning of his natural reason, is often more mischievous than the worst of beasts. And thus, you see how reason, ruling in divine things, is and must be anti-Christ: first, as it turns the living mysteries of God into lifeless ideas, and vain opinions; and, secondly, as it sets up a worldly kingdom of strife, hatred, envy, division, and persecution, in defense of them. And therefore it is a fundamental truth, that man has no capacity for divine knowledge, till the particle of divine life, lost in the fall, is awakened; in which alone, the mystery of God and the divine nature can have a birth.
You have carried your point, Theophilus, with a high hand, and I rejoice in seeing this matter so well proved. But still I would ask you something, that I know not how to express; I would fain understand more clearly, how this mystery of God, and eternal nature, is to be born in me.
Everything, Academicus, is, and must be, its own proof; and can only be known from and by itself. There is no knowledge of anything, but where the thing itself is, and is found, and possessed. Life, and every kind and degree of life, is only known by life; and so far as life reaches, so far is there knowledge, and no farther. Whatever knowledge you can get by the searching and working of your own active reason, is only like that knowledge, which you may be said to have got, when you have searched for a needle in a load of straw, till you have found it.
For nothing that is brought into the mind from without, or is only an idea beheld by our reasoning faculty, is any more our knowledge, than the seeing our natural face in a glass, is seeing our own selves. And all the ideas or images that your reason can form of any absent, unpossessed thing, is no more a part of your own knowledge, than your drawing a picture of your own hand is making a member of your own body. It is therefore a vain and fruitless inquiry, to be asking beforehand for the knowledge of any unpossessed matters; for knowledge can only be yours, as sickness and health is yours, not conveyed into you by a hearsay notion, but the fruit of your own perception and sensibility of that which you are, and that which you have in yourself. How often have you been warned against this procedure, in words like these? “Therefore let the reader be warned not to dive farther into these very deep writings, nor plunge his will deeper, than so far as he apprehendeth: he should always rest satisfied with his apprehension for in his apprehension, he standeth yet in that which hath its reality; and therefore he erreth not, how deep soever the Spirit leadeth him: for to one more will be given than to another. And this is the only mark to be observed, that every one continue steadfast in humility towards God, and submit himself, that he may make the will and the deed as he pleaseth. When you do that, you are in yourself as dead; for you desire nothing but God’s will, and the will of God is your life, which goeth inward even to the opening of the highest mysteries.” (Threefold L. p. 158.)
One would have thought, Academicus, that this advice, if only from the uncommon nature of it, should have had more effect upon you. For it is not only new to you, but to every reader; there being nothing like it, either for the sense, the sobriety, or the depth of its matter, ever given by the wisest of philosophers to their readers.
Truth, my friend, whatever you may think of it, is no less than the savior and redeemer of the world.
Hear therefore its own language: “If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and come after me.” He does not say, “Let him get a clear and distinct idea of me, what, and how I am God and man in the unity of my person”; he only tells him what he is to part with, what he must put off, to be made a child of the light. Search and look where you will, this denial of self is the one only possible way to the truth. For nothing has separated us from truth, nothing stands betwixt us and truth, but this self of an earthly life, which is not from God, but from our wandering out of our first created state.
God created us in and for the light; and had Adam kept his first state, he had not been an ignorant, blind pilgrim in the darkness of this world, but the illustrious opener of all its wonders in the light of God. But as this light and knowledge was lost in Adam, so it can only be recovered by him who came to restore all that was lost, and who justly called himself the light of the world. Would you therefore be a disciple of truth, you must not, with Pilate, ask, “What is truth?” or consult the schools, how you shall form an idea of it: but you must alter your life, put a stop to all earthly lusts, renounce all that you are, and have from self; give up all the workings of your own reason, and your own will; and then, and then only, are you fitted for that unction from above which can teach you all things.
But till Christ, who is the one fountain of life and light, be opened in you; it is in vain, that you rise up early, and late take rest, in quest of truth; for he himself hath said, “Without me, ye can do nothing.” And every son of earthly Adam, however naturally enriched with the spirit, and light, and arts of this world, is born, and must remain, a spirit in prison, till Christ is found to be an inward preacher, and light within him. As he is the one resurrection from the dead, so is he the one deliverer from everything that has the nature of death, darkness, and ignorance. And to expect seeing eyes, hearing ears, and sensibility of heart, from anything but that eternal Word, by which we were at first made, is robbing God and Christ of more honor, is a more idolatrous departure from the true worship and dependence upon him, than if we sometimes hoped to have good from this or that saint’s praying for us. For this is a truth, that admits of no restriction, but reaches from one end of the earth to the other, that as no man can come unto the Father, but through the Son; so no one can come at any divine knowledge either in grace or nature, but through him alone.
The schools of this world are of no higher a nature, than the markets of this world; and, when rightly used, serve only to the end of this earthly life. But as markets and traffic seldom keep within their just bounds, but become serviceable to vanity, earthly lusts, and all the luxury of life; so it mostly happens in our learned labors; we grow old, and blear-eyed, in studies that nourish pride and envy, division and contention; and only help our old man to be content with the riches of his fallen nature, and feel no necessity of being born again.
Would you therefore be a divine philosopher, you must be a true Christian; for darkness is everywhere, but in the kingdom of God, and truth nowhere to be found by man, but in a new birth from above. Man was created in and for the truth; that is, he was created in the truth of the divine light, to see and hear, to taste and feel, to find and enjoy all things in the truth of the divine life brought forth in him. And therefore it is, that for fallen man there is but one remedy; it is only the truth that can make him free. Truth is the one only resting-place of the soul; it is its atonement and peace with God; all is, and must be, disquiet, a succession of lying vanities, till the soul is again in the truth, in which God at first created it.
And therefore said the Truth, “Learn of me; for I am meek, and lowly of heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
Pray, Theophilus, stop a while: surely your zeal carries you too far. All ages of the world have seemed to agree in this, that the gospel teaches purely the simplicity of a godly life; calls no man to be a philosopher, nor gives the smallest instruction in matters that relate to philosophy.
All this, Academicus, is very true; but then, this very simplicity and plainness of the gospel, turning man only from this world, to a faith, and hope, and desire of God, is the one reason, and full proof, that it alone is a true guide into the highest school of divine wisdom and philosophy; not only because goodness is our greatest wisdom, but because the mysteries of God, of grace, of nature, of time and eternity, can no other possible way be opened in man, but by this simplicity of a godly life taught in the gospel; because only the godly life hath knowledge of God; just as the creaturely life hath only knowledge of the creature, and the painful life hath knowledge of pain. The scripture saith, “that only the Spirit of God knoweth the things of God.” And indeed, how can it possibly be otherwise? For since the Spirit of God is the spirit and life that goeth through all nature and creature, and only openeth its own hidden powers therein; since it is that which is the former of everything; that which makes everything to have the life that it hath, and to work as it worketh; nothing but the Spirit of God can possibly know the things of God: and therefore, of necessity, this Spirit of God must be in man, and work in man, as it is in nature, and worketh in nature, before man can enter into the knowledge and working of God in nature. And therefore here you have two immutable, and fundamental truths: (1.) that all our ignorance of God and nature is, and must be, purely and solely, the want of the Spirit and life of God in us: and, (2.) that therefore the one only way to divine knowledge is the way of the gospel, which calls and leads us to a new birth of the divine nature brought forth in us.
I have nothing that I can, or would, object to what you have said. But still I must say, that I do not enough apprehend how the Spirit and life of God must thus, of all necessity, be born in us; nor, indeed, do I entirely comprehend how it is done. Human reason, or human instruction, I see plain enough, cannot help me to any divine light. But suppose God should send an angel to instruct me, and that frequently, would not divine knowledge be then imparted to me? And yet this would not be a birth of God in me. Or, will you say, that God cannot sufficiently instruct me, even by the highest of his angels?
An angel, sir, may instruct you, as the scriptures instruct you; but it is only such an instruction, as may direct you where and how to obtain that light, which neither the letter of scripture, nor the voice of an angel, can bring forth in you. The highest angel neither hath, nor ever can have, any more of a redeeming power in it, than the dead paper on which the scriptures are written. But you are to observe, and mark it well, that you cannot have divine light from any other thing, but that which hath full power to redeem you: for light is not only life, but the perfection, and highest state of it; and therefore nothing can bring forth light, but that which can bring forth the truth and perfection of life.
Every other thing, besides the life and light of God, stands only in a state of ministerial service towards you: whether it be words of message from God, written on paper, engraven on tables of stone, or spoken by the mouth of an angel, a prophet, or apostle; be it what it will, it is only a creaturely thing; and its creaturely service can rise no higher, nor go any farther, than to show the true way to him, who only himself can be the truth, the life, and the light in you. For the light of God cannot, even by God himself, be communicated to you by any creature; and the reason is, because the light of God is God himself: it is the light of his own life: and therefore only himself can bring it forth wherever it is; and no creature can possibly partake of his light, but by having a birth in and from the divine nature: for the light of God can never be separate from the divine nature, or be anywhere but where the divine birth is. And thus you fully see, that all that can be divinely known, either in heaven, or on earth, can only be known in that one way, and by that one means, by which fallen man can be saved; namely, by a new birth of the light and Spirit of God within us.
And therefore the simple way of the gospel is the one only way to attain all the knowledge of all that, which can be known of God and nature: for nothing can manifest God and nature, but the Spirit of God working in man, as he worketh in nature, which can only be done by a new birth of the divine nature, brought forth in man: but when man is thus born again of God, then the life and Spirit of God is in him, and worketh in him, as it doth in nature. And thus it is, that man can only be a divine philosopher, when Christ, who is the light of God, and the light of nature, is revealed in him. Then he is in that living Word, and that living Word is in him, by which all things were at first made; and which maketh, createth, and worketh in him, as it worketh in all things, both in heaven and earth.
I never expected to have seen the gospel new birth proved to be the only gate to all that divine knowledge which any son of Adam ever had, or can have. But you have proved it to be so, beyond all possibility of denial. And I now only want to have you go on in this doctrine of the new birth; for I am persuaded, you can still add something to that, which has already been said upon it, both as to the ground, and nature, and fruits of it.
You must remember, Academicus, that all that I can by discourse, from the beginning to the end of this matter, do for you, amounts only to thus much: it is like giving you a full assurance of a wonderful pearl of glorious virtues, hidden in the ground of a certain field, and showing you every step of the way you must take to find it. Now, if from month to month, you should be inquiring and hearing of some new powers and virtues of this heavenly pearl; what good does all this discourse and hearsay do you? You are just as far from the pearl itself, and have no more of it, than when you first heard of it; and would be in the same distance from it, though you was always, to the end of your life, loving to hear and talk about it. I have had no other end in all that is said of the new birth, but to assure you of the truth of the thing, and the true way to it. Now the way to the new birth lies wholly in your will to it; and every step that you can take, consists in a continual dying to that selfish corrupt will, which you have from flesh and blood. Nothing can make any change in you, but the change of your will. For everything, be it what it will, is a birth of that will, which worketh in you. You have nothing therefore to inquire after, nor anything that you can judge of yourself by, but the state of your mind, the working of your will and desire. These will give you more light than all the men or books in the world can give you: where these are, there are you; and what these are, that are you: there you live, and to that you belong; and there you must have all the good or evil that can be called yours.
For nothing leads or carries you anywhere, nothing generates either life or death in you, but the working of your mind, will, and desire. If your will is angelic, you are an angel, and angelic happiness must be yours. If your will is with God, you work with God; God is then the life of your soul, and you will have your life with God to all eternity. If you follow an earthly will, every step you take is a departure from God, till you become as incapable of God, and the life of God, as the animals of this world. If your will worketh in pride and self-exaltation, in envy and wrath, in hatred and ill will, in deceit, hypocrisy, and falseness, you work with the devil, you are generating his nature within you, and making yourself ready for the kingdom of hell. And thus it is, that our works follow us; and that everyone will be rewarded according to his works; and none can reap anything else but that which he hath sown. And the seed of everything that can grow in us, is our will. The will maketh the beginning, the middle, and the end of everything; it is the only workman in nature; and everything is its work. It has all power; its works cannot be hindered; it carries all before it; it creates as it goes; and all things are possible to it. It enters wherever it wills, and finds everything that it seeks; for its seeking is its finding. The will overrules all nature, because nature is its offspring, and born of it; for all the properties of nature, whether they be good or evil, in darkness or in light, in love or in hatred, in wrath or in meekness, in pride or humility, in trouble or joy, are all of them the offspring or birth of the will; as that liveth, so they live; and as that changeth, so they change. So that whatever you are, or whatever you feel, is all owing to the working and creating power of your own will. This is your God or your devil, your heaven or your hell; and you have only so much of one, or the other, as your will, which is the first mover, is either given up to the one, or to the other.
For where the will of man is not, there he hath nothing; and where his will is, there is all that something, which he hath, be it of what kind it will; and it is inseparable from him, till his will worketh contrary to it.
Whence hath the will of man this mighty power, that it can have nothing, but that which itself hath willed?
You might as well ask, why a circle must be perfectly round, or a straight line free from every degree of crookedness. For as it is not a circle till it is perfectly round, nor a straight line till it is free from crookedness; so the will is not in being, but so far as it is free, is its own mover, and can have nothing but that which it willeth. Secondly, the will is not a made thing, which is made out of something, or that came out of some different state, into the state of a will. But the free will of man is a true and real birth from the free, eternal, uncreated will of God, which willed to have a creaturely offspring of itself, or to see itself in a creaturely state. And therefore the will of man hath the nature of divine freedom; hath the nature of eternity, and the nature of omnipotence in it; because it is what it is, and hath what it hath, as a spark, a ray, a genuine birth of the eternal, free, omnipotent will of God. And therefore, as the will of God is superior to, and ruleth over all nature; so the will of man, derived from the will of God, is superior to, and ruleth over all his own nature. And thence it is, that as to itself, and so far as its own nature reacheth, it hath the freedom and omnipotence of that will from which it is descended; and can have or receive nothing, but what itself doth, and worketh, in and to itself.
And herein consisteth the infinite goodness of God, in the birth of all intelligent creatures; and also the exceeding height, perfection, and happiness of their created state: they are descended from God, full of divine power; they can will and work with God, and partake of the divine happiness. They can receive no injustice, hurt, or violence, either from nature or creature; but must be only that, which they generate, and have no evil or hurt, but that which they do in and to themselves. All things stand in the will, and everything animate or inanimate is the effect and produce of that will, which worketh in it, and formeth it to be that which it is. And every will, wherever found, is the birth and effect of some antecedent will; for will can only proceed from will, till you come to the first working will, which is God himself.
And here, my friend, you have an easy entrance into the true meaning of many important passages in the books of Jacob Behmen, like those that follow: “All,” says he, “is magical; the eternity is magical: Magic is the mother of all things. I speak from a magic ground. Here the reader must have magical eyes. This hath a magical understanding,” etc. Vulgar reason is offended at these expressions, because the word “magic” has, for many ages, been mostly used in a bad sense. But don’t you be frighted at the sound of these words; they are not only innocent, but truly good and wise, and deeply founded on the truth of things. They have the most Christian and divine meaning; are strictly conformable to the spirit of the gospel, as shall be shown by and by; and are used for the best of ends; namely, to open the true ground of eternal and temporal nature, and the birth of creatures in each of them. They are to show how the hidden, invisible Deity acteth and worketh all its wonders in both these worlds, in one and the same uniform way; as also, how everything in religion, whether it be a mystery of God, a grace of God, or a duty of man, hath its whole ground, and nature and efficacy, therein.
Now magic power meaneth nothing but the working of the will, whether it be the divine, or the creaturely will; and everything that is the work of the will, and is produced by it, is called its magic work, which only means, that it is generated by and from the will, as a birth brought forth by it. The will is the workman, and the work is that, which it bringeth forth out of itself. So that by these words you are always to understand these two things, the working, and the work of the will. And now, you may already sufficiently see, that their meaning is not only innocent and good, but as necessarily, and divinely, to be ascribed to God, as the power of bringing things into existence by the working of his will. For here you have the true ground and original of the creating power of God; how everything that is not God; is yet come from him, and out of him, as so many births of his invisible power, breaking forth into visibility, and sensible qualities of an outward life.
The first manifestation of the invisible God, is that which is called, and is, eternal nature; which is the eternity of all possible powers and qualities of life, the first source of every natural power that can be in any creature. All these qualities of life, in their eternal birth, and rising from one another by the working will of God, are the outbirth, or outward glory of God, in which he manifests his triune, invisible Deity in a threefold life of fire, light, and spirit, which are the ground of all the qualities of life, sensibility, power, and spirit, that ever were, or can be found in any creature.
Everything that exists, or thinks, or moves, or finds itself in any kind or degree of sensibility, is from, and out of, this glassy sea of these united powers of life. And this whole manifestation of all the possible powers, and perfection of life and glory, is called that kingdom of heaven, in which God dwelleth; and is, as it were, his divine workhouse, out of which he is perpetually giving forth new works, and forms of wonder.
This manifestation of God is a magic birth from the triune working will of the hidden Deity, which willed to see itself in this opened, outward show of all the possible powers of life and glory; and from whence new worlds of finite divine beings, as so many living images of God, might have a possibility of coming forth. For without nature, God must be by himself, and continue an unmanifested God. For no form or creature can be, unless there be something antecedent to it, that can be formed. Life must be, before there can be any finite living creatures; just as light must be, before there can be any seeing eyes. And therefore the manifestation of God in an outward glory of all the possible powers, qualities, perfections of life, called eternal nature, must be, or there could be no possibility for the existence of any creature.
Now this same working will of the triune Deity, which manifested itself in an eternal nature, manifesteth itself in creaturely forms, all generated from, all enlivened and animated with, that same trinity of fire, light, and spirit, that constitutes eternal nature. So that all intelligent creatures are that in their finite being, which eternal nature is in its infinite state. And thus all of them are from God, and from heaven, live in God, and may work with God, as God is in heaven, and heaven in him; one life, one power, one will, and one happiness with God.
Now everything that is not God, but after him, and distinct from him, must be that which it is, from the working will of the Deity. For since it cometh into being, only because it is willed to be, it can have nothing in it, or be any other thing, but that which the working or creating will brought forth. And as all things began in and from this working will; so all things must go on in it; and there can be no other creator, worker, or former of things to all eternity, but the working will of God, either mediately or immediately. Nor can there be any other nature in anything, but that which is the birth, or magic effect, of a working will within it. And everything that is done by the creature, everything which it seeks and likes, or abhors and resists, is all driven on by a working will, or magic power, which stirs, and generates, and works within it.
Would you know now the true ground of all this? It is this: it is because will is the first original of all power, and the omnipotence of God consisteth in nothing else but his working will; and therefore no power ever was, or ever can be, anywhere else, but as it is in God, and if the creature hath any power, it must have it, as God hath it, in the working will. For since all nature, with all its qualities, births, and creatures, are all brought into being by the working will of God; it evidently follows, that every creature, with every quality, power, and property in it, is magically born, and therefore must have a magic nature, that is, a nature that cometh from, and standeth in, a working will.
And now, sir, you are come into a full view of the most important matter of the mystery of all things; a matter which, if rightly apprehended in the inward ground of your soul, puts an entire end to all the jargon of a false philosophy, and to all those fictions of doctrines and disputes, which reason has built upon the written Word of God.
For nothing is effected by fiction and invention, by any contrived arts or searchings of rational inquiries; all this is nothing, because it toucheth not nature, but leaveth it to itself; which carrieth on its own works by its own power, and can only work in its own way; and must bring forth its own births independent of everything but its own working life. But all lieth in the will and working desire of the soul, because will began and brought forth all that nature that lives in the soul, and is the only life in it; and this life can work and grow from nothing else, but that which first brought it forth. Hence you see the full meaning of these words of our author, “All is magical and that magic is the mother of all things,” and consequently, the only opener of all divine knowledge. All which expressions only imply thus much, that the will, whether in God, or the creature, is the ground and seed of everything; is the generating working power, which maketh and worketh all things to be in that state and condition which they are; and that everything begins, goes on, and ends, in the working of the will; and that nothing can be otherwise, than as its will worketh; and therefore eternity and time is magical; and magic is, and must be, the mother of all things.
Now here you see, in the utmost degree of clearness, how all true and false religion divide from one another. For if nothing worketh but the will, if nothing else carries on the work of nature; then all is false and vain in religion but the working of the will; and nothing is saving, or redeeming the life of the soul, but that which helps the will to work towards God.
Hence it is, that our author so often tells his reader, that when he sees and finds this magic birth of things, he is “delivered from Babel”; not by running from one place to another, or from one system of opinions to another, but by inwardly leaving all the workings of the earthly self, all the paper buildings of natural reason, and turning to God with the whole will and working desire of his heart. This is the right coming out of our own Babel of vain opinions into the truth and reality of nature, where the living God of nature is found; not in notions, but in the living working of the soul, and worshipped in spirit and in truth.
I said, into the truth and reality of nature, because nature is the standard of truth, and all is Babel but that which worketh with nature, that is, with eternal nature; for as eternal nature is the manifestation of the unchangeable God, so it must be as unchangeable in itself, and its own workings, as God is; because it hath nothing in it, but what is in and from the unchangeable God. And therefore, God cannot be manifest, or work in any creature, but as he is manifest, and worketh in eternal nature; and therefore all that the creature doth is labor lost, and a vain beating of the air, but that which it worketh with, and according to eternal nature.
Because God never was, nor ever can be, or be found, anywhere else but in his own heaven, or eternal nature. And no soul can by any one possible thing find, or be found by God, but by standing before him in the same will and working as eternal nature doth. And therefore all is fiction and Babel but the working of the will, because nothing but the will can work with nature; and that for this reason, because all life, and all nature, eternal and temporal, is what it is, merely and solely, from the working of the will. All things in heaven and in earth stand in this magic birth; and nothing can change its state, either for better or worse, but as the working of its will changes. Justly therefore is it said, that where this truth is found, there is a full and true deliverance from Babel; that is, from all strife, and zeal, and division about opinions, sects, and churches; since the one thing that works either to life, or to death, the one thing that alone opens heaven or hell for us, is with every individual man in every place, and in every age of the world; and that one thing is the working of the will. And when, in any such man, his will is turned from his own earthly self, and this earthly life and worketh with its desire to God, then all these sayings of the scripture are true of him; viz., that he is redeemed from this evil world — that he has his conversation in heaven — that he is of God, and heareth God’s Word — that he is saved by faith — that Christ is revealed in him — that he is Christ’s, and Christ is his — that Christ is in him of a truth — and that he is led by the Spirit of Christ. All these texts would be true of him, though he had never seen, nor heard, a syllable of the written Word of God.
For the Word of God which saveth and redeemeth, which giveth life and light to the soul, is not the word printed on paper, but is that eternal, ever-speaking Word, which is the Son of God, who in the beginning was with God, and was the God by whom all things were made. This is the universal teacher and enlightener of all that are in heaven, and on earth, who from the beginning to the end of time, without respect of persons, stands at the door of every heart of man, speaking into it not human words, but divine goodness; calling and knocking, not with outward sounds, but by the inward stirring of an awakened divine life. And therefore, as sure as that is true, which St. John saith, that this eternal Word “is the light of men, and the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world,” so sure is it, that our savior and salvation, our teacher and enlightener, from whom we have every good thought, is Christ within us; not within this or that man, but in every man wherever born, and in whom the light of life ariseth. And indeed how can it be otherwise?
For if God is the God of all men; and the Word of God the life and light of all men; and all men are capable of goodness; and all goodness can only be from God; and no goodness can belong to man, but that which is within him; then every man must have the Word, or Christ of God within him, and can have it nowhere else. All teachers therefore, who teach men to look for life or salvation in anything but from the Word and Spirit of God within them, stand chargeable with the blood and death of souls; because, in all the possibility of things, nothing can overcome that death which is in the soul, but the Word, or Christ of God living and working in it. For, observe, man must have goodness in the same way as God hath goodness, that is, from the divine nature; for goodness is nowhere else, neither is anything else capable of it; and therefore, if goodness is to be in man, the divine nature must, of all necessity, be first brought to life within him. But this cannot be, till the working will of our heart turns and gives up itself wholly to the Word and Spirit of God within us. For we can have nothing but that, towards which the earnestness of our will goeth.
Again, see here in a still higher degree of proof the absolute necessity, and unspeakable benefit, of the spirit of prayer; how it does, and must, in spite of all opposition, raise the fallen soul out of the poverty of flesh and blood, into the riches of an heavenly nature brought forth in it. For since all things in heaven and earth stand in a magic birth, or working of the will; the will is that, which hath all power; it unites all that is united in heaven or on earth; it divides and separates all that is divided in nature; it makes heaven, and it makes hell; for there is no hell, but where the will of the creature is turned from God; nor any heaven, but where the will of the creature worketh with God. Therefore, as we pray, so we are; and as our will-spirit secretly worketh, so are we either swallowed up in the vanity of time, or called forth into the riches of eternity. And therefore the spirit of prayer is most justly conceived, and most simply expressed, when it is said to be the rising of the soul out of the vanity of time into the riches of eternity: for all the vanity which the soul hath, is from its living in, and loving the things of time; and therefore it can only come out of the vanity of its state, by loving and living in the truths, which are the riches of eternity: for the spirit of prayer is the hunger of the soul; and as every hunger is, so it eats; it always eateth that which it hungereth after, and hath a life suitable to the nature, state, and condition, both of its hunger, and its food. If it hungereth after the things of flesh and blood, it eateth nothing else, and only groweth in the bestial life; and of the flesh must reap the corruption that belongs to flesh: and if it hungereth after God, it eateth the food which giveth life to the angels; it eateth the bread that is come down from heaven; namely, the real heavenly body and blood of Christ, which surely may be called the riches of eternity.
All the mysteries of religion, and the necessity of the whole process of Christ in our redemption, have all of them their ground, and necessity, and efficacy, in this magic nature of things, and are all of them only for this one end; to help fallen man to have a working will towards that first life, which he has lost. And therefore no one joins with the mysteries of redemption, or can have any share in them, but he whose will turns wholly from this world, and hath all its workings towards God and heaven. And now, sir, see the plain, and easy, and certain deliverance from all perplexity and vain labor in the disputes and divisions of religion. It is but opening your natural eyes, that is, letting simple nature work with its own power, and all difficulties are removed; and the way to God and goodness is as natural, and as free from all perplexity, as the opening our eyes to see the light of the sun. For what is so natural to man as the working of the will? And yet he can have nothing, or be anything, different from that, to which his will worketh.
Nor does this at all too much exalt the human will, or make our salvation not to be the pure grace and gift of God to us, but quite the contrary. For the will here spoken of, is not the will of flesh and blood, but that heavenly will, which is the only spark of the Deity in us, given by the free grace of God to all mankind, as soon as fallen, and called in scripture the inspoken Word of God in paradise; which was the beginning of the redemption, when God first entered into a covenant of salvation with Adam, and all his posterity. This inspoken Word is Christ, or the spark of the divine nature, which is the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. And here, in this Christ in us, lieth the will that hath the power of salvation in it; and all its salvation is the salvation of Christ. For it is the will of this heavenly nature, hid in every man, that is the working will, that bringeth forth the new birth of heaven in us; and therefore is the pure free salvation of Christ, given to be a redeemer within us. So that all our salvation, though wrought out by this working will within us, is, from the beginning to the end, the pure grace of God to us, and no salvation of our own.
And thus, sir, you see, that every soul of man is partly human, and partly divine; and is united to an earthly and an heavenly nature; and so not only can, but must, always work either with one or the other, and has nothing else to work with; and must and can be, or have nothing else, but as he followeth or worketh with either of these wills. So that, infallibly to know both your present and future state, what you are, and to what you belong, you need only to see, what you cannot help seeing, how, and where, and to what, your will worketh.
And thus, from this knowledge of the magic nature of things, which all are that which they are, solely from the working of the will in everything, you are delivered from all vain labor and party zeal; and are brought back to that pure and safe ground, on which God has placed you to work out your own salvation, without any hindrance from any builders of Babel, of whatever denomination.
But life and death are both of them immutable, and founded in the unchangeable nature of things. Nothing can alter them, or invent a new way, either to or from either of them. To what purpose then, is all this dividing into so many parties? Why all this strife and zeal about opinions?
Death and life go on their way, carry on their own work, and stay for no opinions. Does the stone stop, or alter its tendency towards the earth? Do the sparks and flame cease to fly upwards, because philosophers dispute and quarrel about the reasons of one or the other? No; nature goes on in its own way, let reason say what it will. Now death and life have their own unchangeable nature and working in and from themselves; and are just as distinct from, and independent of, all opinions of men about them, as the things just now mentioned: so that to will and work, as life willeth and worketh, and to will and work, as death willeth and worketh, is the one only possible way to partake either of life or death. What a delusion is it therefore, to grow grey headed in balancing ancient and modern opinions; to waste the precious uncertain fire of life in critical zeal, and verbal animosities; when nothing but the kindling of our working will into a faith, that overcometh the world, into a steadfast hope, and ever -burning love, and desire of the divine life, can hinder us from falling into eternal death!
Oh! Theophilus, you have led me into a depth, that I never thought of seeing into.
For this magic power of everything, that works in all nature and creature, shows me everything in a new view. You might well say, that reason has no power in this mystery; that nothing is proposed to it: for since life and death have their own working within themselves, and must at last, when time is at an end, divide and take possession of everything, according as its will has worked either with one or the other, it signifies no more to them what reason has been all this time discoursing about, than in what language a man used to talk. But before you go any farther, I beg a word or two on these matters. First, how I am to understand our author, when he says, “Here the reader must have magical eyes”; and, “This or that hath a magical understanding.” And, secondly, that you would, as you promised, show, how the speaking thus of this magical power of life, is strictly conformable to the spirit of the gospel.
As to your first matter, concerning magical eyes; I should have thought the thing plain enough already. But you may understand it thus. When a carpenter cuts timber into various shapes and forms, and then joins one piece to another, till it is formed into the shape of a house; this is no magical work, because one part does not grow from the other, till the whole is brought forth, and therefore there is no need of magical eyes to see what this work is. But when an oak groweth from an acorn, or a plant from a seed in the ground, here the work is magical; that is, it is a birth or product generated from the working will in the acorn and seed, from whence the stem, and all its branches and fruits, grow forth; which working will continueth till the plant or tree hath reached its limit, that is, till the working will in the seed hath spent itself. Now all this is a magical work, and therefore can only be seen by such magical eyes as can see into the beginning, and go on with the working of that which works and generates in the tree or plant.
As to your other matter, how this language of the magical working of the will is entirely conformable to the spirit of the gospel; the answer is easy, because the thing is plain. For the first possible beginning of the Christian life, is, by the founder of it, expressly laid in a new birth from above, and therefore plainly declared to be a magical work, and to have no other nature; because a generating work, and a magical work, are only different expressions for the same thing. And as the beginning, so every following advancement in the Christian life, is as really and truly only a growth of life, or magical birth from the powers of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, upon the working will in the soul, as the plant, from its first stirring in the seed, to its last state, is only a growth from the powers of the sun, stars, and elements, upon the working will in the seed.
Everything that is outward in religion, whether it be men or things, planting or watering, is only for the sake of this inward birth; either to direct man to it, to help him to work in it, or warn him of that eternal death, which the will, working according to flesh and blood, must inherit as its own genuine fruit. And whoever fancies the Christian life to be anything else than a birth growing up in God, till it comes to the perfection of the divine life, by the same way of a gradual growth from the seed, has not a syllable in the gospel, nor an instance in nature, to plead in excuse of his fanciful error.
For nothing worketh in all nature or grace, but what worketh as a birth, or magical growth of life. For nothing can come from the living God but life, nor for any other end, but to manifest some kind or degree of life. There are no dead forms, or lifeless inventions to be found, till you come to the mechanic works of men’s hands, and the cobweb schemes of dead knowledge, brought forth by human reason. For reason is the old serpent called subtlety, the first and the last grand deceiver of mankind, that takes them from the powerful workings of nature, to follow the shadows of empty sounds, till all is swallowed up either by final life or death, which will at last reap everything into its own unchangeable barn.
For all these powers, whether of faith, hope, love, and desire towards God and the divine life, are only so many different powers of the working of the will, and have all their efficacy, as so many parts of it; and only alter, raise, and bring forth a new life, because the working of the will is magical, and generates as it works, and unites with that which it willeth. And thus Christ, or the new man in Christ Jesus, is formed in us, from a seed of heaven, which is the will that can work towards God, till it becomes a godly birth, as the seed works towards the sun, till it is changed into the birth of a beauteous fragrant flower.
Again, hence it is, namely, from this magic power of the working of the will, that our blessed Lord speaks so often of the omnipotence of faith; viz., “that all things are possible to him that believeth. Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. If ye had faith but as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say to this tree, be thou plucked up by the root; and to this mountain, be thou cast into the sea; and it should be done. Thy faith hath saved thee. According to thy faith, so be it done unto thee.”
Hence all these truths plainly follow: first, that faith, which is in itself only the working of the will, is the source of all power; and that all that is done in nature is done by it alone; and that therefore all nature standeth in a magic working of the will. For all things could not be possible to him that believeth, but because faith, or the working of the will, is the true source of all power in or over nature. Secondly, here is a full demonstration of the high and powerful state, in which man was at first created! A Lord over all this outward world; who could, by the working of his will, command the obedience of all things about him.
This was the dominion he had over all the creatures on the earth, in the sea, and in the air; not such a poor power as invented weapons, or the strength of his hands and feet, could help him to; but a power here mentioned, of standing still, and, by the faith or will of his mind, making every creature to come or go, just as the faithful disciple of Christ was, by his faith, to have power over every outward thing of this world.
Now all this high state of his first power is undeniable from the words of our savior. For it is not to be supposed, that he would turn men’s thoughts to any such powers, as to have all things obedient to their faith, or the working will of their minds, if this had not been man’s first created state, or such powers as did then belong to it. For no man or creature can have any higher power, than that which belongs to his first created state.
And therefore all gospel faith, however wonderful in its power, can only have somewhat of that first powerful faith, which man had when he first came out of the hands of God. And faith now in a redeemer can only be the means of obtaining salvation, for this reason; because faith was then that original high power in man, which could have preserved him in his first perfection and glory of life. Thus, when Christ saith, “Thy faith hath saved thee,” it is the same thing as if he had said, faith had always such power; that faith was the strength and glory of the first man, that could have saved him from falling under the power of the stars and elements; that it was faith alone which could and did put an end to his first paradisiacal glory, by turning its strength and desire into the life of this world. Again, when our Lord saith, “According to thy faith, so be it done unto thee”; this was no new thing, or new operation in the power of faith, but was only a declaration of a truth as old as nature and creature, and was in reality so much said of the powerful faith of the first man; and infallibly shows, that as now, so then, nothing was done to him in his fall, but that which was done according to the faith and working of his will. For this is God’s immutable righteous procedure with man, that nothing but his own works can follow him; and that, from first to last, whether standing or falling, according to his faith, and working will, so must it be done unto him. And therefore man’s faith, and working will, was his divine power of living superior to, and independent of all the stars and elements of this world, in his own angelic perfection of a divine life.
For if the revival of faith, in so small a degree, as to be compared to a grain of mustard seed, could bring forth in man such a divine power over all the things of this world, is it not a sufficient proof of the high power of his first lost faith; which only thus coming again, as the smallest of seeds, yet comes with such mighty power over all outward nature, the flesh and the devil? And thus, all that is said in the gospel, of the power of faith, is, in the strictest truth, so much said of the power and perfection of our first father, over whom this earthly system had no power: but whether he stood, or fell, or was to rise again, all was, and is, and must be done, by his faith, or the working of his will.
And thus also, you see, that all that was said of the nature and extent of the magic power of the will, is not only conformable to, but is the very spirit of the gospel, and all the written word of God. For from the first promise made to Adam, to the last written words of scripture, man is only called and directed to the true exercise of these magic, generating powers of the will; namely, to believe, to hope, to trust in God; to love, desire, and expect the renewal of a divine life from the goodness of God.
Give me leave only to add, that in these words of our savior, “According to thy faith, so be it done unto thee,” and other such-like sayings, he has not only opened the true nature and power of faith, but has discovered more of the true philosophy of nature, than ever was told the world before. Faith is generally considered as a speculative thing, as an assent of the mind to the credibility of things related. This may sometimes, as well in the scriptures, as in other books, be called faith, as the same word may be used in various senses. But the faith in question, about which our savior speaks, and to which he ascribes so much power, and which alone can do a man any real good or harm, is quite of another nature: I say, good or harm; because all that is good or bad proceeds from it, and it carries its power which way it will: as it can work all wonders, and overcome the world, so it alone has power over life and heaven in the soul, can drive them out, and set up the kingdom of hell and death instead of them.
Now this faith may be thus understood; it is that power by which a man gives himself up to anything, seeks, wills, adheres to, and unites with it, so that his life lives in it and belongs to it. Now to whatever the soul gives itself up; whatever it hungereth after; and in which it delights, and seeks to be united there, and there only, is its faith; that faith which can work either life or death, and according to which faith everything is, and must be done to man.
Now this faith is not a matter of choice, so that a man may live without it, if he pleases; but is essential to his life, and altogether inseparable from it.
For whatever the life drives at, to whatever it is given up, there is its living and powerful faith. Therefore, be a man given up to what he will, seeking, delighting, and acquiescing in whatever it be, temporal or eternal, whether it be Christianity, idolatry, Deism, or atheism; this is a certain conclusion, that every man in the world is a man of faith, lives by faith, and that equally so; because every man’s life is equally given up to the seeking, and delighting in, and uniting itself to, something or other; and therefore every man equally lives by faith, and that in its highest degree. It matters not, whether a man delights and acquiesces in the philosophy of Epicurus, or Spinoza; whether he be given up to luxury and sensuality, or to syllogisms and definitions, to mysteries of redemption, or mysteries of atheism: he is neither more nor less a man of faith for all this; but is equally under the power of faith, whether it be divine, earthly, sensual, or devilish. For which way soever the life of man tends, or drives; to whatever he gives up himself; there he is, and lives by faith, and that in its highest degree; for no faith can rise higher than this. Nor can a man’s faith be anywhere, but where his life is, and to which it belongs; nor can he be said to live to anything, but by faith. For faith is as much the one working power of life, as thought is the one working power of understanding; and the understanding of man may as easily proceed without being led by thought, as the life of man go on without being led by faith; that is, without giving itself up to something, or other, with which it would be united, and to which it would belong, as its desired good; which, as I said before, is the highest degree of the most living faith.
The debate therefore, set up by the Deists, about reason and faith, as two principles of life; the one appropriated to Christians, and the other to themselves, is founded on the grossest ignorance of both their natures; as great as that of supposing, that there are two principles of seeing and smelling; viz., reason and the senses. And the Deist, who turns from all faith, to have a life of reason, proceeds as much according to nature, as if he was to leave it to Christians, to see and smell by their senses; but himself and brethren to see and smell by the power of reason. For reason is no more the power of life, than it is the power of the senses; but must stand below them both, and follow them both, in the same degree of inability to alter, increase, or lessen the natural power of either of them, as the eye hath to alter the vegetation, or color, or smell, of the plant on which it looks. For reason like the eye, is only an outward looker on; and can no more form, or model, or alter the life of the soul, than it can alter the life and vegetation of the body. But this saying, “According to thy faith, so be it done unto thee,” contains the unchangeable ground, and true philosophy of life, and the power of life. And this saying takes in every individual of human nature and the Deist may as well think of turning death over to the Christians, and reserving immortality for himself, as to think of being anything else, either here or hereafter, but purely and solely that, which his faith has brought to pass in him. He may, indeed, easily enough keep himself free from all Christian faith; but, whether he will or no, a faith must do all in him, and for him, just in the same degree, as it does for the Christian. Let him make ever so many declarations against the superstition and blindness of faith; ever so many encomiums upon the beauty of axioms, syllogisms, and deductions of reason; his life is just as far from being a life of reason, as the Christian’s is, who declares only for a life of faith. For as the eye and the nose have just the same nature, office, and power; and he cannot, as such, have either more or less from them, or be more or less helped by them; so reason and faith have just the same nature, office and power, in a man, and are always in him, and will always do the same for him, whether he be Christian or Deist. And was the Deist to change sides, he would be neither more nor less a man of faith and reason, than he was before; nor have got or lost any power either of faith or reason. He would only be under a divine, instead of an earthly and sensual faith; and his reason would not have changed its state, or office, or power, but only be the servant of a better master; that is, of a divine faith.
Now, was not faith the power of life in every man, no man could live by faith, nor could it be the principle or power of life in any man. But seeing every man, whether earthly or heavenly, is that which he is, by faith; and faith will and must have its work in every man; and he cannot live without it, or free from it; hence is the absolute necessity of the one right faith, in order to salvation, and the impossibility of anything else to avail in the stead of it. Thence also it is, that Christianity applies not to the reason of any man, because reason is not the principle of life, or the former of it; but it calls the heart to a right faith, because man is only lost and separate from God and heaven by his faith in the things and powers of this world. And therefore all salvation does, and only can, arise from a faith turned to God; and also all damnation from faith in the things of this world. And no man can turn either to God, or to this world, but by faith; that is, by giving up himself either to the one, or the other; which is the highest act or power of faith. For there is nothing that works either to life or death, in any man, but that to which he is given up, by faith in it. And reason never had, nor ever can have, or do, anything else, but one and the same underwork, or office, let faith take which way it will.
The delusion of the Deist lies here: he refuses an assent to the history of facts and doctrines of the gospel; and this is his proof to himself, that he lives by reason, and that it is the real principle of his life. On the other hand, he that assents to the history of facts and doctrines of the gospel, is, by the Deist, reckoned to be a man of gospel faith, and that lives by it. But this is all mistake on both sides. For this assent on one side, and dissent on the other, touches not the matter either of reason or faith. For both these persons, notwithstanding this difference of assenting, may not only be equally governed by faith; but have strictly one and the same faith. For if the things of this world have the heart of both of them, which very easily may be; then they have but one and the same faith, and are equally governed by it; for they both equally live by a faith in this world.
The Deist therefore hath no other possible way of showing, that he is not as much a man of faith, as any Christian can be, but by showing, that he has no will, no desire, no inclination of heart left in him; that his life drives no way, is given up to no one thing, as its end and good; but that reason, without affection, carries him only from syllogism to syllogism, in quest of nothing. Then it is, that he may deem himself to be a man of reason, but not till then; for if he has any heart that hath any inclination to be united with, or belong to anything; then he becomes a man of faith, and he lives by faith in that to which he is given up, as much as any Christian does, who is given up to the mysteries of Christian redemption.
I could not help saying thus much on this delusion, in which I have been so long ensnared myself, and therefore have the utmost good will and earnestness to help others out of it. And, to this end, I shall add the following passages, taken from a book, where this whole matter is justly said to be examined to the bottom. “We have no want of religion, but so far as we want to better our state in God; or so far as we are unpossessed of God, or less possessed of him than we might be, and our nature requires. This is the true and only ground of religion; viz., to alter our state of existence in God, and to have more of the divine nature and perfections communicated to us. Nothing therefore is our good in religion, but that which alters our state of existence in God for the better, and puts us in possession of something of God; or makes us partakers of the divine nature in such a manner and degree, as we wanted it. Everything that is in life, has its degree of life in and from God; it lives and moves and has its being in God. This is as true of devils, as of the highest and most perfect angels. Therefore, all the happiness or misery of all creatures consists only in this; viz., as they are more or less possessed of God, or as they differently partake of the divine nature, or according to their different state of excellence in God. But if this be a truth (and who can deny it?) then we have the certainty of demonstration, that nothing can be our good in religion, but that which communicates to us something of God, or the divine nature, or that which betters our state and manner of existence in God. “For if devils are what they are, because of their state and manner of existence in God; if blessed angels are what they are, because of their state, and manner of existence in God; then it undeniably follows, that all that is betwixt angels and devils, all beings, from the happiness of the one, to the misery of the other, must and can have no other happiness or misery, but according to their state and manner of existence in God, or according as they have more or less of the state of angels, or the state of devils, in them. Therefore nothing can be our good in religion, but that which alters our state and manner of existence in God, and renders us possessed of him in a different and better manner. “Now, if you was to send to the fallen spirits of darkness all the systems of your religion of reason, that have been published, to let them know that they have the power of their own restoration and happiness within themselves; that they need seek to nothing, but their own natural reason and understanding, and the strength and activity of their own powers, to raise them to all the happiness they are capable of; such a religion would be so far from altering or mending their state of existence in God, or doing them any good, that it would add strength to all their chains; and the more firmly they believed and relied upon it, the more would they be confirmed and fixed in their separation from God. And yet, a religion that must necessarily keep them in hell, is the only religion, that you have to carry you to heaven. May God deliver you from this error! “Hence it sufficiently appears, that your way of natural religion cannot be the way of salvation; because the want of salvation is nothing else, but the wanting to have our state and manner of existence in God altered for the better, or to have something of God communicated to us, which we want, and are capable of receiving.
But if this is, and must be, the nature of salvation; then no religion can save us, or do us our proper good, or supply our proper want, but that which has power to alter our state of existence in God, or to communicate to us that of God, which we want, and are capable of. And therefore, nothing but that same power of God, which created us, which gave us our state and manner of existence in God, and communicated to us that which we possess in him, can redeem us, or help us to that state and manner of existence in him, which we have lost, and are in want of. “There never could have been any dispute about the possibility of saving ourselves by our own natural faculties, had not men lost all true knowledge both of God and themselves. For this dispute cannot happen, till men suppose God to be some outward being; that our relation to him is some outward relation; that religion is an outward thing, that passes between God and us, like terms of behavior between man and man; that sin hurts, and separates us from God, only as a misdemeanor hurts, and separates us from our prince; that an offended God either gives or refuses pardon to us, as an angry prince does to his subjects; and that, what he gives or forgives to us, is something as distinct or different from himself, as when a prince, sitting upon his throne, gives or forgives something to an offender, that is an hundred miles from him. “Now all this is the same total ignorance of God, what he is in himself, and what he is in relation to us, and the manner of his being our good, as when the old idolators took men to be gods. And yet nothing is more plain, than that your religion of reason is wholly founded upon all these gross and false notions of God. You have not an argument in its defense, but what supposes, that our relation to God is an outward relation, like that of subjects to their prince; and that what we do to and for God, as our service to him, is, and must be done, by our own power, as that which we do to and for our prince, must be done by our own power. And from these errors it is, that you draw this false conclusion, that if our own reason and natural power were not sufficient to obtain for us all that we want, and God requires of us; God must be less good than a good earthly prince, who requires no more of us, than that which we have a natural strength to do, or can do by our own power. And yet all this is pure absurdity, and has all the grounds of idolatry in it, as soon as you know, that God is no outward or separate being; but that we are what we are, have what we have, and do that which we can do, because he has brought us to this state of life, power, and existence in himself; because he has made us, so far as we are made, partakers or possessors of a life in him, and has communicated to us, such a life in himself; or in the words of scripture, because ‘in him we live and move and have our being,’ and consequently have no life, motion, or being, out of him. For from this state of our existence in God, it necessarily follows; first, that by the nature of our creation, we are only put into a capacity of receiving good. A creature, as such, can be in no other state; it is as impossible for him to enrich himself, or communicate more good to himself, as it was to create himself. Secondly, that nothing but God can do us any good. Thirdly, that God himself cannot do us any good, but by the communication of himself, in some manner, to us. Hence it is plain, that your religion of reason, which supposes, that we have natural powers, that can put us in possession of that which we want to be possessed of in God; or, that we need no more divine assistance to recover what we have lost of God, than to obtain a pardon from a prince; or, that God need communicate no more of himself to us in our reconcilement to him, than a prince communicates of himself to his pardoned subject; has all the mistakes, error, and ignorance of God, that is in idolatry, when it takes God to be something that he is not; and has all the false devotion that is in idolatry, when it puts the same trust in, and expects the same benefit from, its own powers and faculties, which idolators did in and from their idols. Your religion of reason, therefore, which you esteem as the modern refinement of the human mind, and more excellent and rational, than the faith and humility of the gospel, has all the dregs of the grossest heathen idolatry in it; and has changed nothing in idolatry, but the idol; and only differs in such a degree of philosophy, as the religion of worshiping the sun differs from the religion of worshiping an onion. “For as soon as it is known and confessed, that God is all in all; that in him we live and move and have our being; that we have nothing separately, or at a distance, from him, but everything in him; that we have no degree of being, nor any degree of good, but in him; that the almighty can give us nothing, but that which is something of himself; nor any degree of amendment or salvation, but in such degree as he communicates something more of himself to us; as soon as this great immutable truth is known, then it is known with the utmost certainty, that to put our trust in the sun, or an onion, or our own reason, if not equally absurd, is yet equally idolatrous, and equally prejudicial to our salvation.” (A Demonstration of the gross and fundamental Errors of a late Book, entitled, A Plain Account of the Sacrament, etc. p. 161, etc. etc.)
And now, Theophilus, if you please, you may proceed in the matter you was upon.
We have discoursed long enough for this time. Let silence, recollection, inward and outward retirement, have their work for a few days. They purify the heart; they weaken and disarm self; they strengthen the spirit of prayer, and help us not only to pray, but to find, to love, and live in God. Let us all desire such an interval as this; and then we shall be fitter to meet again for our mutual benefit. My friends, adieu.
THE END OF THE SECOND DIALOGUE