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THE FATHERS, THE LITURGIES,
AND THE MYSTICS
upo PneumatoV Agion feromeuoi elalhsan oi agioi Qeou anqrwpoi
There are many allusions in the hymns to the writings of the Fathers of the Church. Samuel Wesley the elder, in a letter to a young clergyman containing detailed advice as to his studies--a letter which John Wesley published, with a preface, many years later--declared that ‘the blessed Ignatius's Epistles can never be enough read, or praised, or valued, next to the inspired writings.’ And John Wesley devoted thirty pages of the first volume of the Christian Library to the Epistles of Ignatius. It is not surprising, therefore, that there should be several echoes of a passage in his Epistle to the Romans (7:2), ‘Living I write unto you, but it is as loving to die. For my Love has been crucified (o emos eros estaurwtai) and there is left in me no fire of earthly love at 40 all.’ The famous phrase becomes the refrain of the hymn, ‘O Love Divine, what hast thou done?’--
The immortal God for me hath died:
My Lord, my Love is crucified--
and it is recalled in several other hymns. It had been previously used in an old German hymn which John Wesley is not likely to have seen, and it is quoted in one of the Spiritual Songs of John Mason, which was certainly known to both brothers:
My Lord, my Love is crucified,
He all the Pains did bear;
But in the Sweetness of His Rest,
He makes His Servants share.
Another hymn contains an echo of Tertullian--
Though earth and hell the word gainsay
The Word of God can never fail;
The Lamb shall take my sins away;
'Tis certain, though impossible;
The thing impossible shall be,
All things are possible to me.
The passage is in Tertullian's treatise De Carne Christi. He is arguing against Marcion, whose contention was that the humiliation implied in the fact of the Incarnation was unworthy of God. Tertullian answers this in a passage splendidly paradoxical and profoundly spiritual: ‘Spare the whole world's one only hope, thou 41 who art destroying the indispensable dishonor of our faith. Whatever is unworthy of God is of gain to me. . . . The Son of God is born; we are not ashamed, because we ought to be ashamed. And the Son of God died; it is perfectly credible, because it is absurd. And being buried He rose again; it is certain, because it is impossible.’ (Natus est Dei Filius; non pudet quia pudendum est; et mortuus est Dei Filius; prorsus credibile est quia ineptum est; et sepultus resurrexit; certum est quia impossibile.) The hymn, however, merely quotes the famous phrase that is known to all the world.
A passage in Tertullian's Apology (c. 39), ‘Look ye, say they, how these Christians seem to love one another!’ is also recalled in a hymn which is probably by John Wesley--
In them let all mankind behold
How Christians lived in days of old
Mighty their envious foes to move,
A proverb of reproach--and love.
Here it is hardly probable that this is a direct reference to the passage, for John Wesley wrote to his mother from Marienborn while on his journey to Herrnhut, quoting the words and attributing them to Julian the Apostate: ‘Eighty-eight of them [the Moravians] praise God with one heart and one mouth at Marienborn; another little company at Runnesburg, an hour off; another at Budingen, an hour from 42 thence; and yet another at Frankfort. I now understand those words of poor Julian, “See how these Christians love one another!”’ The phrase is quoted as proverbial in the introduction to Arndt's True Christianity, and in at least one other of the works included in the Christian Library.
‘The Christians to the Lions!’
Another passage in the Apology is referred to in more than one hymn: ‘If Tiber overflows, and Nile does not; if heaven stands still and withholds its rain, and the earth quakes; if famine or pestilence take their marches through the country, the word is, Away with these Christians to the lions!’ (c. 40.)
‘Away with them,’ the world exclaim,
‘The Christians to the lions cast!’
The stream is troubled by the lamb,
And must be so, while time shall last.
The Lamb, they say, disturbs the stream,
The world confounded is by them
Who its confusions end:
Yet still, ‘Away with them,’ they cry,
‘The Christians burn or crucify,
Or to the lions send!’
It is curious that both these hymns which have the allusion to Tertullian's words should also contain a reference to one of Aesop's fables, the story of the wolf who complained that the stream of which he was drinking was disturbed by a lamb 43 farther down--a mere pretext for devouring the alleged disturber.
It has been suggested that the lines--
To damp our earthly joys,
To increase our gracious fears,
For ever let the Archangel's voice
Be sounding in our ears:
The solemn midnight cry,
Ye dead, the Judge is come.
Arise, and meet Him in the sky,
And meet your instant doom!
--recall a passage of Jerome: ‘Quoties diem ilium considero, toto corpore contremisco, sive enim comedo, sive bibo, sive aliquid aliud facio, semper videtur illa tuba terribilis sonare in auribus meis, Surgite, mortui, venite ad judicum.’ (In xvii. Johannis.) Charles Wesley may very probably have met with the words, apart from any patristic reading, for they are quoted in the Latin in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, and in English by Chaucer in the Persones Tale: ‘For as Seint Jerome sayth: at every time that me remembreth of the day of dome, I quake: for whan I ete or drinke, or do what so I do, ever semeth me that the trompe sowneth in min eres: riseth ye up that ben ded, and cometh to the jugement.’
In John Austin's Offices (1668) (partly republished in the Christian Library) there is a hymn of which one verse runs--44
O quicken, Lord, our Faith,
Of these great Joys and Fears;
And make the last Day's Trumpet be
Still sounding in our Ears.
But Charles Wesley's stanza is more than an echo of this: it carries the allusion to Jerome's language farther than Austin's lines do, to Surgite, mortui, venite ad judicum.
The lines in one of the hymns on heaven--
A brother dead to God,
By sin alas! undone,
--recall the famous story of St. John and the robber, told by Eusebius in the Ecclesiastical History (iii. 23)--a book which John Wesley records reading for the second time in November, 1741. Inquiring of a bishop in the neighborhood of Ephesus as to the welfare of a young man whom he had previously committed to the bishop's special charge, the Apostle received the answer, ‘He is dead.’ Being further questioned, the bishop said, ‘He is dead to God, for alas! he is become a villain, and is fled to the mountains to be a robber.’ Whereupon the Apostle hastened to the mountain fastnesses, and never rested until he had brought back the young man in penitence, and restored him to the Church. (It may be added that the story is told in Wesley's abridgement of Cave's Primitive Christianity in the Christian Library.)45
When we reach Augustine we are on surer ground. The Wesleys evidently knew the Confessions well. It was one of the highly interesting list of books which had to be provided (by the direction of an early Conference) for the use of Wesley and the preachers at the three centers of London, Bristol, and Newcastle. Wesley once prepared for the press an edition of it in the original Latin, probably intended for the scholars of Kingswood School.
In 1745 Wesley maintained a long correspondence with ‘Mr John Smith’--supposed to be the nom de guerre of Dr. Secker, Bishop of Oxford. In one of his letters Wesley quoted, as an instance of what he meant by his doctrine of assurance, a whole chapter of the Confessions, ‘which,’ he writes, ‘I was reading yesterday.’ It is the great passage which ends with the words, ‘And Thou criedst to me from afar, Yea, verily, I am that I am. And I heard, as the heart heareth, nor had I room to doubt, and I should sooner doubt that I live, than that Truth is not’ (vii. 10).
This great spiritual classic has left considerable traces in the hymns of both brothers. A passage in the first book recalls some of Charles Wesley's most impassioned lines. Augustine wrote: ‘Hide not Thy face from me. Let me die (that I die not) that I may see Thy face!’ (Moriar ne moriar, ut cam videam) (i. 5). There is a very similar passage 46 in the Soliloquies: ‘But why dost thou hide Thy face? Haply Thou wilt say, “No man can see Me and live.” Ah, Lord, let me die, that I may see Thee; let me see Thee, that I may die.’ (Sed cur faciem tuam abscondis? Forte dicis non videbit me homo et vivet’ (Ex. 33:20). Eia, Domine, moriar ut te videam. Videam, ut hic moriar) (Solil. c. i.). This became a favorite thought with the poet of Methodism, and inspired many stanzas such as:
I cannot see Thy face and live!
Then let me see Thy face, and die!
Now, Lord, my gasping spirit receive!
Give me on eagles' wings to fly;
With eagles' eyes on Thee to gaze,
And plunge into the glorious blaze.
And if there were any doubt about the connection between such lines as these and the words of the great African Father, it would be dispelled by the fact that another hymn which echoes the thought--
Live only Christ in me, not I;
O let me see Thy face, and die!
--was headed, when published in the Hymns and Sacred Poems of 1742, ‘Moriar ut te videam!’ ‘Let me die that I may see Thee! Here the phrase is evidently quoted from the Soliloquies.
Another reminiscence of the Confessions occurs in John Wesley's translation of Tersteegen's 47 great hymn, 'Thou hidden love of God, whose height.' The lines--
My heart is pained, nor can it be
At rest, till it finds rest in Thee--
deliberately recall the famous passage: ‘Thou dost arouse us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it find rest in Thee!’ (i. 1). Here the allusion is John Wesley's own; there is nothing of it in Tersteegen's German, the last lines of which are--
Ich bin nicht stille, wie ich soll
Ich fühles ist dem Geist nicht wohl,
Weil er in dir nicht stehet.
There is a further reminiscence of Augustine in another of John Wesley's translations from the German. The lines--
Ah! why did I so late Thee know,
Thee, lovelier than the sons of men!
--recall the classic passage: ‘Too late I loved Thee, Beauty so old and yet so new, too late I loved Thee!’ (x. 27). Here it is Scheffler himself who is responsible for the allusion to Augustine, for it is clearer in the German than in the English: ‘Ach, dass ich dich so spät erkennet, Du hochgelobte Schönheit du!’
A phrase in one verse of John Wesley's translation of Scheffler's Du unvergleichlich Gut has 48 been colored by the translator's remembrance of the same passage in Augustine. Angelus wrote ‘Du bist die Schönheit selbst, Du kannst nichts Schönres finden! Es kann dich nichts als nur Dein eigne Schönheit binden.’ But die Schonheit selbst becomes in Wesley's translation, with a memory of Augustine's pulchritudo antiqua:
Primeval Beauty! in Thy sight,
The first-born, fairest sons of light
See all their brightest glories fade!
In the hymn ‘For an Unconverted Child’ the lines occur:
Regard my endless griefs and fears
Nor let the Son of all these tears
Be finally undone.
Monica and the Bishop
This is an unmistakable allusion to the story told by Augustine in the Confessions (iii. 12) about his mother and the Bishop. Monica besought the Bishop to see her son, and strive to bring him from the error of his ways. The Bishop replied that it was best to leave him alone, and pray for him. ‘When she would not be satisfied, but urged him more, with entreaties and many tears, that he would see me, and discourse with me; he, a little displeased at her importunity, saith, “Go thy ways, and God be with thee: it is not possible that the son of these tears should perish.” Which answer she took (as 49 she often mentioned in her conversations with me) as if it had been a voice from heaven.
And there is at least one other of Augustine's wonderful phrases; in the Confessions that influenced the verse of Charles Wesley. It is a part of a great supplication: ‘Narrow is the home of my soul; enlarge it, that Thou mayest enter in. It is ruinous; do Thou repair it, (i. 5). This is reflected in the lines--
Thou know'st the way to bring me back,
My fallen spirit to restore
O for Thy truth and mercy's sake,
Forgive, and bid me sin no more;
The ruins of my soul repair,
And make my heart a house of prayer.
There are other passages in the Soliloquies which seem to have influenced the hymns. ‘Aegrotus sum, ad medicum clamo: caecus sum, ad lucem propero: mortuus sum, ad vitam suspiro. Tu es medicus, tu lux, tu vita. Jesu Nazarene, miserere mei’ (c. ii.). It is difficult to read this without thinking that some remembrance of it was in Charles Wesley's mind when he wrote--
Jesu, my all in all Thou art;
My rest in toil, my ease in pain,
The medicine of my broken heart,
In war my peace, in loss my gain,
My smile beneath the tyrant's frown,
In shame my glory and my crown:
In want my plentiful supply,
In weakness my almighty power,
In bonds my perfect liberty,
My light in Satan's darkest hour,
In grid my joy unspeakable,
My life in death, my heaven in hell.
And here is another characteristic passage: ‘Quoniam Si quid boni est parvum vel magnum, donum tuum est, et nostrum non est nisi malum’ (c. xv.). The thought seems to be reproduced in the lines--
All power is Thine in earth and heaven,
All fullness dwells in Thee alone;
Whate'er I have was freely given,
Nothing but sin I call my own.
And, once more, Augustine's words: ‘Et video nunc quia donum tuum est’ (c. xv.) seem to be reflected in John Wesley's translation of Scheffler's Ich will dich tiebe, meine Stärke (there is an unquestioned allusion to Augustine, in the preceding verse, which we have already mentioned):
And now if more at length I see,
'Tis through Thy light, and comes from Thee.
Exposition of St. John's Gospel
Augustine's fine comment upon our Lord's first miracle (In Joan. Ev. Tract. viii. I) is quoted in another hymn. ‘For He who made wine on that day at the marriage feast, in those six water-pots, which He commanded to be filled with water, the selfsame does this every 51 year in vines... But we do not wonder at the latter, because it happens every year: it has lost its marvellousness by its constant recurrence.’
Charles Wesley wrote, in a hymn upon John 2:7:
When wine they want, the Almighty Lord
Water instead of wine demands:
He both created by His word,
Nothing His sovereign will withstands:
And every year in every vine
He changes water into wine.
In one of the hymns there is a singular idea as to the intercourse of heaven:
Where glorified spirits by sight
Converse in their holy abode.
This, it has been suggested, may be derived from a passage in Hudibras (the Heroical Epistle)--a strange source!--
For what can earth produce, but love,
To represent the joys above?
Or who but lovers can converse,
Like angels, by the eye-discourse?
But the notion really comes from Plotinus, and it is quite likely that Charles Wesley may have met with it there. The passage is in the fifth Ennead (viii. 4), ‘They speak not one with the other; but, as we understand many things by the eyes only, so does soul read soul in heaven, 52 where the spiritual body is pure, and nothing is hidden, and nothing feigned.
There are two rather recondite allusions in a stanza of one of the hymns on the Passion:
Dies the glorious Cause of all,
The true eternal Pan,
Falls to raise us from our fall,
To ransom sinful man:
Well may Sol withdraw his light,
With the Sufferer sympathize,
Leave the world in sudden night,
While his Creator dies!
The first reference is to the story recorded by Plutarch (De Oraculorum Delectu) that in the reign of Tiberius a pilot named Thamus was steering his ship round the coast of Epirus, when he heard voices proclaiming, ‘Thamus, Thamus, great Pan is dead!’1010Cf. Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar (May), and Gloss. (Pan o megas teqnhken.)
Dionysius the Areopagite
The other allusion is fainter. There is a legend that Dionysius the Areopagite, perceiving a disturbance in nature at the time of the Crucifixion, said, H to Qeion pascei, h tw pasconti sumpascei, 1111Cf. Brev. Rom., Oct. 9 (Lectio 4), and Hooker, Eccl. Pol. I. iii. 4. ‘Either the Divinity suffers, or sympathizes with the sufferer!’ It would seem that a recollection of this has colored the line, ‘Well may Sol withdraw his light, With the Sufferer sympathize.’53
The Hymns and the Ecclesiastical Year
It is a striking fact that Methodism has supplied English Christendom with hymns for all the great festivals of the ecclesiastical year. At Christmas ‘Hark! the herald angels sing!’ is heard in every land where the English language is spoken. It is the same at Easter with ‘Christ the Lord is risen today!’ and much the same on Ascension Day with ‘Hail the day that sees Him rise,’ and on Whit-Sunday with ‘Granted is the Savior's prayer.’
Some time ago an interesting suggestion was made by an Anglican hymnologist 1212Moorsom, Historical Companion to Hymns Ancient and Modern, pp. 83, 64. with regard to two of these hymns. It was suggested that ‘Hark! the herald angels sing!’ was possibly inspired by a hymn from the Menaion of the Greek Church, cristos gennatai doxasate. This forms a part of the Canon for Christmas Day. It was written by St. Cosmas, the foster-brother of St. John Damascene, who lived in the first half of the eighth century. Unhappily, there is not a great deal that can be urged in support of this attractive suggestion. There is little likeness between the Greek and the English, not more than we might expect to find between any two hymns for the Nativity, and hardly as much as exists, for example, between Wesley's English and the Latin of Peter the Venerable in the hymn Coelum gaude terra plaude.54
It was also suggested by the same writer that Charles Wesley may have had in mind, when writing ‘Hail the day that sees Him rise,’ the hymn of Fortunatus (or a fourteenth-century imitator of his), Salve festa dies toto venerabilis aevo, Qua Deus ad coelos scandit et astra tenet. Here, again, there is very little resemblance--none whatever, in fact, except the initial phrase.
But these suggestions, baseless as they seem to be, are enough to raise in one's mind the whole question of a possible indebtedness, on the part of the Wesleys, to the great hymns of the Middle Ages. At first sight, such a relation does not seem at all likely. In the eighteenth century the whole of the mediaeval hymnody was almost a terra incognita. It was only with the rise of romanticism in literature, at the end of that century, that these hymns began to come to their own. One may say that Scott's use of Thomas of Celano's great dirge (in which he followed Goethe) was almost the beginning of modern interest in mediaeval hymns. And it was nearly half a century later when these hymns began to be recovered for the use of the English Churches by Dr. Neale, and other High Anglican and Catholic scholars. In the age of the Wesleys there was very little knowledge in England of the Latin hymns of the Middle Ages, and still less of the Greek hymns, found in the service-books of the Eastern Church. On the face of it, 55 therefore, these hymns are not likely to have been known to the brothers.
On the other hand, there are some small but significant facts. John Wesley translated a German hymn which itself was a translation from the Latin. ‘Jesu, Thy soul renew my own’ is a version of Scheffler's Die Seele Christi heil'ge mich, which again was a version of the mediaeval Anima Christi sanctifica me. These lines are entitled in the Roman Breviary ‘The Aspirations of St. Ignatius to the Most Holy Redeemer,’ but the ascription to the founder of the Society of Jesus is an error. The lines probably date from the fourteenth century. It is surely possible that John Wesley was aware of the Latin original.
St. Thomas Aquinas
Again, when Charles Wesley was in Dublin in 1747 he wrote in his Journal: ‘I spoke with great freedom to the poor Papists, urging them to repentance and the love of Christ, from the authority of their own Kempis, and their own Liturgy.’ This can only mean that he was a student of the Breviary--a very suggestive fact. Doubtless it was there that he read the splendid story of the ecstasy of St. Thomas Aquinas, which impressed him so much, and left its mark upon more than one hymn. The incident is told in one of the lessons for the saint's festival.1313Brev. Rom., Mar. 7 (Lectio 5). As St. Thomas prayed, he heard the 56 Savior's voice saying, ‘Thou hast written well of Me; what reward wouldst thou have?’ and he exclaimed in answer, ‘Thyself, Lord, nothing but Thyself!’ This is recalled unmistakably in such lines as--
Give me Thyself from every boast,
From every wish set free,
Let all I have in Thee be lost,
But give Thyself to me!
Nothing beside my God I want,
Nothing in earth or heaven!
And if Charles Wesley knew the Breviary, he must have known the Latin hymns in it. Accordingly, we are not surprised to find that the language of the great hymn of St. Thomas Aquinas, Adoro te devote, has apparently colored several of our hymns.
A phrase in the first line, latens Deitas, appears in a hymn for the Nativity:
He laid His glory by
He wrapped Him in our clay,
Unmarked by human eye,
The latent Godhead lay.
Then, later in the hymn, the Angelic Doctor wrote:
Me immundum myinda tuo sanguine,
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere,
--lines which have been translated very literally thus:57
Unclean I am, but cleanse me in Thy blood!
Of which a single drop, for sinners spilt,
Can purge the entire world of all its guilt.
This mystical notion of the efficacy of a single drop of the Redeemer's blood became a favorite thought with Charles Wesley:
By all Thou hast done for my sake,
One drop of Thy blood I implore,
Now, now let it touch me, and make
The sinner a sinner no more!
Sprinkle it, Jesus, on my heart!
One drop of Thine all-cleansing blood
Shall make my sinfulness depart,
And fill me with the life of God!
At least a dozen other examples might be given of the presence of this thought in our hymns. It should be said, in fairness, that the thought occurs in some of the older English poets, notably Donne, who has it more than once:
Now Thou art lifted up, draw me to Thee,
And at Thy death, giving such liberal dole,
Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.
But Donne undoubtedly got it from St. Thomas Aquinas, and so may Charles Wesley, as we have seen. And since he knew the Latin hymns in the Breviary, he may very well have known other mediaeval hymns not found there.58
Adam of St. Victor
John Wesley certainly did know the old Nativity hymns, Puer natus in Bethlehem, and In dulci jubilo, for they are found, with some modern Latin hymns written by Johann Wilhelm Petersen (1649-1727), in Freylinghausen's Gesangbuch. And the brothers may have encountered in their reading other Latin hymns of the Middle Ages. At any rate here is another extraordinary parallel. In a hymn by Adam of St. Victor there is the striking phrase, applied to the Holy Spirit: Tu qui dator es et donum, ‘Thou who Giver art and Gift’; and in another hymn by the same writer there is a variation of the same phrase, Tu donum, tu donator, ‘Thou the Gift, Thou the Giver.’
This recurs constantly in Charles Wesley's hymns for Whit-Sunday:
Life Divine in us renew,
Thou the Gift and Giver too.
For Thee our hearts we lift,
And wait the heavenly Gift
Giver, Lord of life Divine
To our dying souls appear.
Grant the grace for which we pine,
Give Thyself, the Comforter.
I come athirst and faint
Thy Spirit to receive,
Give me the Gift for which I pant,
Thyself the Giver give.
The English Liturgy
There are in the hymns many reminiscences of the English Liturgy, as we should expect.
Meet and right it is to sing,
In every time and place,
Glory to our heavenly king,
The God of truth and grace,
is a paraphrase of the Preface and the Sanctus of the Communion Office: ‘It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty . . . Therefore with angels and archangels . . .’
Glory be to God on high,
God, whose glory fills the sky,
is a paraphrase of the Gloria in Excelsis of the Communion Office: ‘Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will toward men. We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee. . . .’
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Thy Godhead we adore,
is a poetical version of the Gloria Patri.
The language of the Litany is paraphrased in the stanza--
Thou loving, all-atoning Lamb,
Thee, by Thy painful agony,
Thy bloody sweat, Thy grief and shame,
Thy Cross and passion on the tree,
Thy precious Death and Life, I pray
Take all, take all my sins away!
And there are numerous other examples of an influence which, in the case of devout Churchmen like the Wesleys, was inevitable.
Mysticism in the Hymns
There is a strain of essential mysticism in the hymns of the Wesleys. The recognition of this fact would correct a frequent mis-judgement. Leslie Stephen wrote ‘Mysticism seemed to John Wesley to be simply folly. His feet were on the solid earth, and he preferred the plain light of day to the glooms and glories loved by more imaginative natures.’ 1414History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, vol. ii. xii., p. 87.
Even so learned and so candid a writer as Dr. Gwatkin thinks that Wesley's teaching was ‘as clear and full of common sense as Matthew Tindal's Deism, and as characteristically wanting in a sense of mystery.’ 1515The Knowledge of God, vol. ii., p. 245. Now it is perfectly true that Wesley was a man of his century, that he had a precise and logical intellect, and that he hated vagueness. It is also true that he said hard things, again and again, about ‘the mystic divines,’ driven thereto by the disastrous effects of an errant Quietism among the Societies. But it should be remembered that there is much on the other side.
Some of the finest of John Wesley's translations from the German are versions of the profoundly mystical hymns of Tersteegen and 61 Scheffler. And then there is the unmistakable accent of mysticism in much of Charles Wesley's verse. The latest French writer on Methodism, Dr. Augustin Leger, has remarked upon this ‘Qui veut aimer Dieu, doit aimer toutes choses en Dieu seul : Un en tous, et tous en Un, formule que répéteront à satiété les vers des Wesley.’ 1616La Jeunesse de Wesley, p. 191. Surely they were mystics who wrote:
O sovereign Love to Thee I cry!
Give me Thyself, or else I die!
Save me from death; from hell set free:
Death, hell, are but the want of Thee,
Eager for Thee I ask and pant,
So strong the principle divine,
Carries me out with sweet constraint,
Till all my hallowed soul is Thine;
Plunged in the Godhead's deepest sea,
And lost in Thy immensity!
Nothing else in earth or skies,
In time, or in eternity:
Heaven itself could not suffice:
I seek not Thine, but Thee.
Then John Wesley was early and deeply imbued with mystical teaching. He read the Theologia Germanica and some of the writings of Tauler in early life, and at Oxford was a professed disciple of William Law. He greatly admired 62 the writings of the Cambridge Platonists (a distinction in itself for one who lived in the eighteenth century) and printed some of John Smith's Sermons in the Christian Library. In the same collection he issued an abridgement of the Guida Spirituale of Molinos, the Spanish mystic. There does not appear to have been any other edition in English between 1699 and 1775.
He was specially interested in two mystics of the preceding century, and refers to their life and doctrine again and again--Antoinette Bourignon and Jeanne de la Mothe Guyon.
He read Antoinette Bourignon's Treatise of Solid Virtue and Light of the World in April 1736, while in Georgia. He included the former work in the Christian Library in 1754, and many years before he had published translations of some of the author's devotional verse. Scattered through her voluminous works are five hymns, two of which were translated and included in the Hymns and Sacred Poems of 1739, Venez, Jesus, mon salutaire, ‘Come, Savior Jesus, from above,’ and Adieu, Monde, vray pipeur, ‘World, adieu, thou real cheat!’
Byrom or Wesley?
The identity of the translator is a pretty problem in criticism. The hymns are claimed for Dr. Byrom, on the strength of two facts. First, they are included in his Miscellaneous Poems (1773). But, as these were 63 collected and published ten years after his death, this is not absolutely conclusive evidence. Byrom might have copied out the verses because they interested him by their mysticism, and after his death they might thus have been easily mistaken for his own. (Yet Wesley read the Miscellaneous Poems when they appeared in 1773, and made no remark on the presence of these hymns.) In the second place, there is a letter of Byrom's to Charles Wesley dated March 3, 1738: ‘As your brother has brought so many hymns translated from the French, you will have a sufficient number, and no occasion to increase them by the small addition of Mademoiselle Bourignon's two little pieces. I desire you to favor my present weakness, if I judge wrong, and not to publish them.’ This seems to us to suggest unmistakably Byrom's authorship of the translations. There remains the difficulty that no other translations from the French are known to have been in John Wesley's possession. Is it possible that this was a slip of Byrom's for ‘many hymns translated from the German,’ of which he had previously heard? The sense would then be, ‘since he has so many translated hymns, he will need no more.’ Byrom did not himself begin to learn German until several years after this, which would make the mistake as to the language more conceivable. But, on the other side of the question, there is the fact that Byrom wrote to 64 his son on April 26, 1739, referring to the Hymns and Sacred Poems published in that year by the Wesleys in these terms: ‘They have together printed a book of hymns, amongst which they have inserted two of M. Bourignon's, one of which they call “A Farewell to the World,” and the other “Renouncing all for Christ” (Come, Savior Jesus), I think, from the French.’
The style of the two hymns is unquestionably more like that of John Wesley than like that of Byrom. If the versions were by Byrom, they were certainly somewhat altered by Wesley.
‘Where the Christians live!’
An incident related in Antoinette Bourignon's autobiography has influenced the language of one hymn. When the Flemish Quietist was a child, struck by the unlikeness of the life around her to what she read of in the Gospels, she said to her parents, ‘Where are the Christians? Let us go to the country where the Christians live!’ This is remembered in a hymn on ‘Primitive Christianity’:
Ye different sects, who all declare
Lo! here is Christ! or ‘Christ is there!’
Your stronger proofs divinely give,
And show me where the Christians live!
When John Wesley was on his way to Herrnhut in July 1738 he recorded in his Journal: ‘In the afternoon we came to Weymar, where we had more difficulty to get through the city than is 65 usual, even in Germany; being not only detained a considerable time at the gate, but also carried before I know not what great man (I believe the Duke) in the Square; who after many other questions, asked what we were going so far as Herrnhut for: I answered, “To see the place where the Christians live.” He looked hard, and let us go.’
John Wesley and Frederick the Great
Moore, in his Life of Wesley (i. 329), says that the ‘great man’ was ‘Frederick, afterwards King of Prussia, then Prince Royal, as Mr. Wesley was informed.’ It would be attractive to think of an encounter between two men so famous, and so different, as Frederick the Great and John Wesley; but unfortunately there is little to warrant us in such a fancy. Henry Moore was the intimate friend of Wesley, as well as his biographer, and it is not easy to understand how he could be mistaken in the matter, but there is no hint of ‘the great man’ being Frederick in the Journal, either in the passage quoted, or in several later passages which refer unflatteringly to the great King of Prussia. Moreover, it is difficult to understand how he could be doing the work of a city magistrate at Weimar, which was not in Prussian occupation, as Halle was. And finally, Frederick would appear to have been in another part of the country altogether at that time, spending most of July and August in that year upon 66 a visit to the Duchy of Cleves and Loo in Holland.
In 1776 John Wesley published An Extract of the Life of Madame Guion. He had long been a critical student of her life and writings.
In 1742 he records in his Journal that he read Madam Guyon's Les Torrents Spirituelles. It would seem probable that Charles Wesley read it a few years later, for there appear to be traces of it in some hymns published in the Hymns and Sacred Poems of 1749. The imagery of the following passages runs through the whole of the Spiritual Torrents. ‘All have a loving impatience to purify themselves, and to adopt the necessary ways and means of returning to their source and origin, like rivers, which after leaving their source, flow on continuously, in order to precipitate themselves into the sea.’ . . . ‘Finally . . they reach the sea, where they are lost to be found no more . . . it is the sea, and yet it is the river, because the river, being lost in the sea, has become one with it.’
This thought is reflected in the lines--
Wherefore to Thee I all resign:
Being Thou art, and love, and power;
Thy only will be done, not mine!
Thee, Lord, let earth and heaven adore!
Flow back the rivers to the sea,
And let our all be lost in Thee!
and in the lines--
Our love from earthly dross refine:
Holy, angelical, divine,
Thee its great Author let it show,
And back to the pure Fountain flow,
A drop of that unbounded sea,
O Lord, resorb it into Thee!
Another favorite image appears in this passage: ‘Therefore the heart of man is perpetually in motion, and can find no rest until it returns to its origin and center, which is God: like fire, which, being removed from its sphere, is in continual agitation, and does not rest till it has returned to it.’ This is reflected in another stanza of the last hymn quoted:
A spark of That ethereal fire,
Still let it to its Source aspire:
To Thee in every wish return,
Intensely for Thy glory burn,
While all our souls fly up to Thee,
And blaze through all eternity!
William Law was a mystic if there ever was one, and he was the early master of both brothers. They parted company with him, it is true, but he had an abiding influence upon them. As late as 1768, John Wesley published a volume of extracts from Law's later writings. Many illustrations of Law's influence might be given. There are some favorite ideas of Charles Wesley's which appear 68 in the hymns again and again. Such is the thought that the regenerate soul is a reflection of the Holy Trinity:
O that we now, in love renewed,
Might blameless in Thy sight appear
Wake me in Thy similitude,
Stamped with the Triune character
Flesh, spirit, soul, to Thee resign,
And live and die entirely Thine!
And when we rise, in love renewed,
Our souls resemble Thee,
An image of of the Triune God
To all eternity.
Made like the first happy pair,
Let us here Thy nature share,
Holy, pure, and perfect be,
Transcripts of the Trinity.
. . . a sinless saint
In perfect love renewed;
A mirror of the Deity,
A transcript of the One in Three,
A temple filled with God!
Transcripts of the Trinity
Charles Wesley once commented upon these last lines, which had been criticized. In a letter to his wife he wrote--
You and the other objectors do not understand those lines. A transcript of the One in Three is the definition of man unfallen, and of man restored to the divine image. The expression is Mr. Law's, not mine; who proves a trinity throughout all nature.69
How could the Holy Trinity be an object of Man's worship and adoration, if the Holy Trinity had not produced itself in Man? . . . Our redemption consists in nothing else but in the Bringing Forth this new Birth in us . . . that, being thus born again in the Likeness of the Holy Trinity, we may be capable of its threefold Blessing and Happiness.
In Christian Regeneration he writes--
We have before shown, that Man was created a living Image of the Holy Trinity in Unity, that the Divine Birth arose in him, and that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost saw themselves in him, in a creaturely Manner. . . . There appears a surprising Agreeableness and Fitness, in the Means of our Redemption, namely, that we could only be saved by the eternal Son of God; that He could only save us by taking our Nature upon Him, and so uniting it with Him, that His Life, or Birth, might again arise in us, as at the first, and so we become again a perfect living image of the Holy Trinity.
The notion also occurs in Byrom's writings. In An Epistle to a Gentleman of the Temple there are the lines describing Adam--
Formed in the likeness of the sacred Three,
He stood immortal, powerful, and free;
Image of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
The destined sire of a new heavenly host.
Byrom and Law had ploughed with the same heifer. They got the thought from Jacob Böhme, who wrote--
So near thee, indeed, is God, that the birth of the Holy Trinity takes place in thy heart also, and there all Three Persons are born, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Aurora, c. x., 58)
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