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LECTURE II

[Greek: "To eu zên edidaxen epiphaneis ôs didaskalos, hina to aei zên husteron ôs theos chorêgêsê."]

CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA.

   "But souls that of His own good life partake
    He loves as His own self: dear as His eye
    They are to Him; He'll never them forsake:
    When they shall die, then God Himself shall die:
    They live, they live in blest eternity."

HENRY MORE.

   "Amor Patris Filiique,
    Par amborum, et utrique
      Compar et consimilis:
    Cuncta reples, cuncta foves,
    Astra regis, coelum moves,
      Permanens immobilis.

    "Te docente nil obscurum,
    Te præsente nil impurum;
      Sub tua præsentia
    Gloriatur mens iucunda;
    Per te læta, per te munda
      Gaudet conscientia.

    "Consolator et fundator,
    Habitator et amator
      Cordium humilium;
    Pelle mala, terge sordes,
    Et discordes fac concordes,
      Et affer præsidium."

ADAM OF ST. VICTOR

THE MYSTICAL ELEMENT IN THE BIBLE

"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fulness of God."—EPH. iii. 17-19.

The task which now lies before me is to consider how far that type of religion and religious philosophy, which I tried in my last Lecture to depict in outline, is represented in and sanctioned by Holy Scripture. I shall devote most of my time to the New Testament, for we shall not find very much to help us in the Old. The Jewish mind and character, in spite of its deeply religious bent, was alien to Mysticism. In the first place, the religion of Israel, passing from what has been called Henotheism—the worship of a national God—to true Monotheism, always maintained a rigid notion of individuality, both human and Divine. Even prophecy, which is mystical in its essence, was in the early period conceived as unmystically as possible, Balaam is merely a mouthpiece of God; his message is external to his personality, which remains antagonistic to it. And, secondly, the Jewish doctrine of ideas was different from the Platonic. The Jew believed that the world, and the whole course of history, existed from all eternity in the mind of God, but as an unrealised purpose, which was actualised by degrees as the scroll of events was unfurled. There was no notion that the visible was in any way inferior to the invisible, or lacking in reality. Even in its later phases, after it had been partially Hellenised, Jewish idealism tended to crystallise as Chiliasm, or in "Apocalypses," and not, like Platonism, in the dream of a perfect world existing "yonder." In fact, the Jewish view of the external world was mainly that of naïve realism, but strongly pervaded by belief in an Almighty King and Judge. Moreover, the Jew had little sense of the Divine in nature: it was the power of God over nature which he was jealous to maintain. The majesty of the elemental forces was extolled in order to magnify the greater power of Him who made and could unmake them, and whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain. The weakness and insignificance of man, as contrasted with the tremendous power of God, is the reflection which the contemplation of nature generally produced in his mind. "How can a man be just with God?" asks Job; "which removeth the mountains, and they know it not; when He overturneth them in His anger; which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble; which commandeth the sun, and it riseth not, and sealeth up the stars…. He is not a man, as I am, that I should answer Him, that we should come together in judgment. There is no daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both." Nor does the answer that came to Job out of the whirlwind give any hint of a "daysman" betwixt man and God, but only enlarges on the presumption of man's wishing to understand the counsels of the Almighty. Absolute submission to a law which is entirely outside of us and beyond our comprehension, is the final lesson of the book.5656In referring thus to the Book of Job, I rest nothing on any theory as to its date. Whenever it was written, it illustrates that view of the relation of man to God with which Mysticism can never be content. But, of course, the antagonism between our personal claims and the laws of the universe must be done justice to before it can be surmounted. The nation exhibited the merits and defects of this type. On the one hand, it showed a deep sense of the supremacy of the moral law, and of personal responsibility; a stubborn independence and faith in its mission; and a strong national spirit, combined with vigorous individuality; but with these virtues went a tendency to externalise both religion and the ideal of well-being: the former became a matter of forms and ceremonies; the latter, of worldly possessions. It was only after the collapse of the national polity that these ideals became transmuted and spiritualised. Those disasters, which at first seemed to indicate a hopeless estrangement between God and His people, were the means of a deeper reconciliation. We can trace the process, from the old proverb that "to see God is death," down to that remarkable passage in Jeremiah where the approaching advent, or rather restoration, of spiritual religion, is announced with all the solemnity due to so glorious a message. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah…. After those days, saith the Lord, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.5757Jer. xxxi. 31-34." That this knowledge of God, and the assurance of blessedness which it brings, is the reward of righteousness and purity, is the chief message of the great prophets and psalmists. "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil, he shall dwell on high; his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given unto him; his waters shall be sure. Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty; they shall behold the land that is very far off.5858 Isa. xxxiii. 14-17."

This passage of Isaiah bears a very close resemblance to the 15th and 24th Psalms; and there are many other psalms which have been dear to Christian mystics. In some of them we find the "amoris desiderium"—the thirst of the soul for God—which is the characteristic note of mystical devotion; in others, that longing for a safe refuge from the provoking of all men and the strife of tongues, which drove so many saints into the cloister. Many a solitary ascetic has prayed in the words of the 73rd Psalm: "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever." And verses like, "I will hearken what the Lord God will say concerning me," have been only too attractive to quietists. Other familiar verses will occur to most of us. I will only add that the warm faith and love which inspired these psalms is made more precious by the reverence for law which is part of the older inheritance of the Israelites.

There are many, I fear, to whom "the mystical element in the Old Testament" will suggest only the Cabbalistic lore of types and allegories which has been applied to all the canonical books, and with especial persistency and boldness to the Song of Solomon. I shall give my opinion upon this class of allegorism in the seventh Lecture of this course, which will deal with symbolism as a branch of Mysticism. It would be impossible to treat of it here without anticipating my discussion of a principle which has a much wider bearing than as a method of biblical exegesis. As to the Song of Solomon, its influence upon Christian Mysticism has been simply deplorable. A graceful romance in honour of true love was distorted into a precedent and sanction for giving way to hysterical emotions, in which sexual imagery was freely used to symbolise the relation between the soul and its Lord. Such aberrations are as alien to sane Mysticism as they are to sane exegesis.5959See Appendix D, on the devotional use of the Song of Solomon.

In Jewish writings of a later period, composed under Greek influence, we find plenty of Platonism ready to pass into Mysticism. But the Wisdom of Solomon does not fall within our subject, and what is necessary to be said about Philo and Alexandria will be said in the next Lecture. In the New Testament, it will be convenient to say a very few words on the Synoptic Gospels first, and afterwards to consider St. John and St. Paul, where we shall find most of our material.

The first three Gospels are not written in the religious dialect of Mysticism. It is all the more important to notice that the fundamental doctrines on which the system (if we may call it a system) rests, are all found in them. The vision of God is promised in the Sermon on the Mount, and promised only to those who are pure in heart. The indwelling presence of Christ, or of the Holy Spirit, is taught in several places; for instance—"The kingdom of God is within you"; "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them"; "Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world." The unity of Christ and His members is implied by the words, "Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me." Lastly, the great law of the moral world,—the law of gain through loss, of life through death,—which is the corner-stone of mystical (and, many have said, of Christian) ethics, is found in the Synoptists as well as in St. John. "Whosoever shall seek to gain his life (or soul) shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life (or soul) shall preserve it."

The Gospel of St. John—the "spiritual Gospel," as Clement already calls it—is the charter of Christian Mysticism. Indeed, Christian Mysticism, as I understand it, might almost be called Johannine Christianity; if it were not better to say that a Johannine Christianity is the ideal which the Christian mystic sets before himself. For we cannot but feel that there are deeper truths in this wonderful Gospel than have yet become part of the religious consciousness of mankind. Perhaps, as Origen says, no one can fully understand it who has not, like its author, lain upon the breast of Jesus. We are on holy ground when we are dealing with St. John's Gospel, and must step in fear and reverence. But though the breadth and depth and height of those sublime discourses are for those only who can mount up with wings as eagles to the summits of the spiritual life, so simple is the language and so large its scope, that even the wayfaring men, though fools, can hardly altogether err therein.

Let us consider briefly, first, what we learn from this Gospel about the nature of God, and then its teaching upon human salvation.

There are three notable expressions about God the Father in the Gospel and First Epistle of St. John: "God is Love"; "God is Light"; and "God is Spirit." The form of the sentences teaches us that these three qualities belong so intimately to the nature of God that they usher us into His immediate presence. We need not try to get behind them, or to rise above them into some more nebulous region in our search for the Absolute. Love, Light, and Spirit are for us names of God Himself. And observe that St. John does not, in applying these semi-abstract words to God, attenuate in the slightest degree His personality. God is Love, but He also exercises love. "God so loved the world." And He is not only the "white radiance" that "for ever shines"; He can "draw" us to Himself, and "send" His Son to bring us back to Him.

The word "Logos" does not occur in any of the discourses. The identification of Christ with the "Word" or "Reason" of the philosophers is St. John's own. But the statements in the prologue are all confirmed by our Lord's own words as reported by the evangelist. These fall under two heads, those which deal with the relation of Christ to the Father, and those which deal with His relation to the world. The pre-existence of Christ in glory at the right hand of God is proved by several declarations: "What if ye shall see the Son of Man ascending where He was before?" "And now, O Father, glorify Me with Thine own self, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was." His exaltation above time is shown by the solemn statement, "Before Abraham was, I am." And with regard to the world, we find in St. John the very important doctrine, which has never made its way into popular theology, that the Word is not merely the Instrument in the original creation,—"by (or through) Him all things were made,"—but the central Life, the Being in whom life existed and exists as an indestructible attribute, an underived prerogative,6060Leathes, The Witness of St. John to Christ, p. 244. the Mind or Wisdom who upholds and animates the universe without being lost in it. This doctrine, which is implied in other parts of St. John, seems to be stated explicitly in the prologue, though the words have been otherwise interpreted. "That which has come into existence," says St. John, "was in Him life" ([Greek: ho gegonen, en autô zôê ên.]) That is to say, the Word is the timeless Life, of which the temporal world is a manifestation. This doctrine was taught by many of the Greek Fathers, as well as by Scotus Erigena and other speculative mystics. Even if, with the school of Antioch and most of the later commentators, we transfer the words [Greek: ho gegonen] to the preceding sentence, the doctrine that Christ is the life as well as the light of the world can be proved from St. John.6161The punctuation now generally adopted was invented (probably) by the Antiochenes, who were afraid that the words "without Him was not anything made" might, if unqualified, be taken to include the Holy Spirit. Cyril of Alexandria comments on the older punctuation, but explains the verse wrongly. "The Word, as Life by nature, was in the things which have become, mingling Himself by participation in the things that are." Bp. Westcott objects to this, that "the one life is regarded as dispersed." Cyril, however, guards against this misconception ([Greek: ou kata merismon tina kai alloiôsin]). He says that created things share in "the one life as they are able." But some of his expressions are objectionable, as they seem to assume a material substratum, animated ab extra by an infusion of the Logos. Augustine's commentary on the verse is based on the well-known passage of Plato's Republic about the "ideal bed." "Arca in opere non est vita; arca in arte vita est. Sic Sapientia Dei, per quam facta sunt omnia, secundum artem continet omnia antequam fabricat omnia. Quæ fiunt … foris corpora sunt, in arte vita sunt." Those who accept the common authorship of the Gospel and the Apocalypse will find a confirmation of the view that [Greek: ên] refers to ideal, extra-temporal existence, in Rev. iv. 11: "Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they were ([Greek: êsan] is the true reading) and were created." There is also a very interesting passage in Eusebius (Proep. Ev. xi. 19): [Greek: kai outos ara ên ho logos kath' hon aei onta ta gignomena egeneto, hôsper Hêrakleitos an axiôseie.] This is so near to the words of St. John's prologue as to suggest that the apostle, writing at Ephesus, is here referring deliberately to the lofty doctrine of the great Ephesian idealist, whom Justin claims as a Christian before Christ, and whom Clement quotes several times with respect. The world is the poem of the Word to the glory of the Father: in it, and by means of it, He displays in time all the riches which God has eternally put within Him.

In St. John, as in mystical theology generally, the Incarnation, rather than the Cross, is the central fact of Christianity. "The Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us," is for him the supreme dogma. And it follows necessarily from the Logos doctrine, that the Incarnation, and all that followed it, is regarded primarily as a revelation of life and light and truth. "That eternal life, which was with the Father, has been manifested unto us," is part of the opening sentence of the first Epistle.6262It will be seen that I assume that the first Epistle is the work of the evangelist. "This is the message which we have heard of Him and announce unto you, that God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all." In coming into the world, Christ "came unto His own." He had, in a sense, only to show to them what was there already: Esaias, long before, had "seen His glory, and spoken of Him." The mysterious estrangement, which had laid the world under the dominion of the Prince of darkness, had obscured but not quenched the light which lighteth every man—the inalienable prerogative of all who derive their being from the Sun of Righteousness. This central Light is Christ, and Christ only. He alone is the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Door, the Living Bread, and the True Vine. He is at once the Revealer and the Revealed, the Guide and the Way, the Enlightener and the Light. No man cometh unto the Father but by Him.

The teaching of this Gospel on the office of the Holy Spirit claims special attention in our present inquiry. The revelation of God in Christ was complete: there can be no question that St. John claims for Christianity the position of the one eternally true revelation. But without the gradual illumination of the Spirit it is partly unintelligible and partly unobserved.6363Westcott on John xiv. 26. The purpose of the Incarnation was to reveal God the Father: "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." In these momentous words (it has been said) "the idea of God receives an abiding embodiment, and the Father is brought for ever within the reach of intelligent devotion.6464Westcott." The purpose of the mission of the Comforter is to reveal the Son. He takes the place of the ascended Christ on earth as a living and active principle in the hearts of Christians. His office it is to bring to remembrance the teachings of Christ, and to help mankind gradually to understand them. There were also many things, our Lord said, which could not be said at the time to His disciples, who were unable to bear them. These were left to be communicated to future generations by the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of development had never before received so clear an expression; and few could venture to record it so clearly as St. John, who could not be suspected of contemplating a time when the teachings of the human Christ might be superseded.

Let us now turn to the human side of salvation, and trace the upward path of the Christian life as presented to us in this Gospel. First, then, we have the doctrine of the new birth: "Except a man be born anew (or, from above), he cannot see the kingdom of God." This is further explained as a being born "of water and of the Spirit"—words which are probably meant to remind us of the birth of the world-order out of chaos as described in Genesis, and also to suggest the two ideas of purification and life. (Baptism, as a symbol of purification, was, of course, already familiar to those who first heard the words.) Then we have a doctrine of faith which is deeper than that of the Synoptists. The very expression [Greek: pisteuein eis], "to believe on," common in St. John and rare elsewhere, shows that the word is taking a new meaning. Faith, in St. John, is no longer regarded chiefly as a condition of supernatural favours; or, rather, the mountains which it can remove are no material obstructions. It is an act of the whole personality, a self-dedication to Christ. It must precede knowledge: "If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the teaching," is the promise. It is the "credo ut intelligam" of later theology. The objection has been raised that St. John's teaching about faith moves in a vicious circle. His appeal is to the inward witness; and those who cannot hear this inward witness are informed that they must first believe, which is just what they can find no reason for doing. But this criticism misses altogether the drift of St. John's teaching. Faith, for him, is not the acceptance of a proposition upon evidence; still less is it the acceptance of a proposition in the teeth of evidence. It is, in the first instance, the resolution "to stand or fall by the noblest hypothesis"; that is (may we not say?), to follow Christ wherever He may lead us. Faith begins with an experiment, and ends with an experience.6565Cf. Theologia Germanica, chap. 48: "He who would know before he believeth cometh never to true knowledge…. I speak of a certain truth which it is possible to know by experience, but which ye must believe in before ye know it by experience, else ye will never come to know it truly." "He that believeth in Him hath the witness in himself"; that is the verification which follows the venture. That even the power to make the experiment is given from above; and that the experience is not merely subjective, but an universal law which has had its supreme vindication in history,—these are two facts which we learn afterwards. The converse process, which begins with a critical examination of documents, cannot establish what we really want to know, however strong the evidence may be. In this sense, and in this only, are Tennyson's words true, that "nothing worthy proving can be proven, nor yet disproven."

Faith, thus defined, is hardly distinguishable from that mixture of admiration, hope, and love by which Wordsworth says that we live. Love especially is intimately connected with faith. And as the Christian life is to be considered as, above all things, a state of union with Christ, and of His members with one another, love of the brethren is inseparable from love of God. So intimate is this union, that hatred towards any human being cannot exist in the same heart as love to God. The mystical union is indeed rather a bond between Christ and the Church, and between man and man as members of Christ, than between Christ and individual souls. Our Lord's prayer is "that they all may be one, even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us." The personal relation between the soul and Christ is not to be denied; but it can only be enjoyed when the person has "come to himself" as a member of a body. This involves an inward transit from the false isolated self to the larger life of sympathy and love which alone makes us persons. Those who are thus living according to their true nature are rewarded with an intense unshakeable conviction which makes them independent of external evidences. Like the blind man who was healed, they can say, "One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see." The words "we know" are repeated again and again in the first Epistle, with an emphasis which leaves no room for doubt that the evangelist was willing to throw the main weight of his belief on this inner assurance, and to attribute it without hesitation to the promised presence of the Comforter. We must observe, however, that this knowledge or illumination is progressive. This is proved by the passages already quoted about the work of the Holy Spirit. It is also implied by the words, "This is life eternal, that they should know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." Eternal life is not [Greek: gnôsis], knowledge as a possession, but the state of acquiring knowledge ([Greek: hina gignôskôsin]). It is significant, I think, that St. John, who is so fond of the verb "to know," never uses the substantive [Greek: gnôsis].

The state of progressive unification, in which we receive "grace upon grace," as we learn more and more of the "fulness" of Christ, is called by the evangelist, in the verse just quoted and elsewhere, eternal life. This life is generally spoken of as a present possession rather than a future hope. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life"; "he is passed from death unto life"; "we are in Him that is true, even Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." The evangelist is constantly trying to transport us into that timeless region in which one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

St. John's Mysticism is thus patent to all; it is stamped upon his very style, and pervades all his teaching. Commentators who are in sympathy with this mode of thought have, as we might expect, made the most of this element in the Fourth Gospel. Indeed, some of them, I cannot but think, have interpreted it so completely in the terms of their own idealism, that they have disregarded or explained away the very important qualifications which distinguish the Johannine theology from some later mystical systems. Fichte, for example, claims St. John as a supporter of his system of subjective idealism (if that is a correct description of it), and is driven to some curious bits of exegesis in his attempt to justify this claim. And Reuss (to give one example of his method) says that St. John cannot have used "the last day" in the ordinary sense, "because mystical theology has nothing to do with such a notion.6666On the second coming of Christ, cf. John v. 25, xxi. 23; I John ii. 28, iii. 2. Scholten goes so far as to expunge v. 25 and 28, 29 as spurious." He means, I suppose, that the mystic, who likes to speak of heaven as a state, and of eternal life as a present possession, has no business to talk about future judgment. I cannot help thinking that this is a very grave mistake. There is no doubt that those who believe space and time to be only forms of our thought, must regard the traditional eschatology as symbolical. We are not concerned to maintain that there will be, literally, a great assize, holden at a date and place which could be announced if we knew it. If that is all that Reuss means, perhaps he is right in saying that "mystical theology has nothing to do with such a notion." But if he means that such expressions as those referred to in St. John, about eternal life as something here and now, imply that judgment is now, and therefore not in the future, he is attributing to the evangelist, and to the whole array of religious thinkers who have used similar expressions, a view which is easy enough to understand, but which is destitute of any value, for it entirely fails to satisfy the religious consciousness. The feeling of the contrast between what ought to be and what is, is one of the deepest springs of faith in the unseen. It can only be ignored by shutting our eyes to half the facts of life. It is easy to say with Browning, "God's in His heaven: all's right with the world," or with Emerson, that justice is not deferred, and that everyone gets exactly his deserts in this life; but it would require a robust confidence or a hard heart to maintain these propositions while standing among the ruins of an Armenian village, or by the deathbed of innocence betrayed. There is no doubt a sense in which it may be said that the ideal is the actual; but only when we have risen in thought to a region above the antitheses of past, present, and future, where "is" denotes, not the moment which passes as we speak, but the everlasting Now in the mind of God. This is not a region in which human thought can live; and the symbolical eschatology of religion supplies us with forms in which it is possible to think. The basis of the belief in future judgment is that deep conviction of the rationality of the world-order, or, in religious language, of the wisdom and justice of God, which we cannot and will not surrender. It is authenticated by an instinctive assurance which is strongest in the strongest minds, and which has nothing to do with any desire for spurious "consolations";6767The allegation that the Christian persuades himself of a future life because it is the most comfortable belief to hold, seems to me utterly contemptible. Certain views about heaven and hell are no doubt traceable to shallow optimism; but the belief in immortality is in itself rather awful than consoling. Besides, what sane man would wish to be deceived in such a matter? it is a conviction, not merely a hope, and we have every reason to believe that it is part of the Divine element in our nature. This conviction, like other mystical intuitions, is formless: the forms or symbols under which we represent it are the best that we can get. They are, as Plato says, "a raft" on which we may navigate strange seas of thought far out of our depth. We may use them freely, as if they were literally true, only remembering their symbolical character when they bring us into conflict with natural science, or when they tempt us to regard the world of experience as something undivine or unreal.

It is important to insist on this point, because the extreme difficulty (or rather impossibility) of determining the true relations of becoming and being, of time and eternity, is constantly tempting us to adopt some facile solution which really destroys one of the two terms. The danger which besets us if we follow the line of thought natural to speculative Mysticism, is that we may think we have solved the problem in one of two ways, neither of which is a solution at all. Either we may sublimate our notion of spirit to such an extent that our idealism becomes merely a sentimental way of looking at the actual; or, by paring down the other term in the relation, we may fall into that spurious idealism which reduces this world to a vain shadow having no relation to reality. We shall come across a good deal of "acosmistic" philosophy in our survey of Christian Platonism; and the sentimental rationalist is with us in the nineteenth century; but neither of the two has any right to appeal to St. John. Fond as he is of the present tense, he will not allow us to blot from the page either "unborn to-morrow or dead yesterday." We have seen that he records the use by our Lord of the traditional language about future judgment. What is even more important, he asserts in the strongest possible manner, at the outset both of his Gospel and Epistle, the necessity of remembering that the Christian revelation was conveyed by certain historical events. "The Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory." "That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life … that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you." And again in striking words he lays it down as the test whereby we may distinguish the spirit of truth from Antichrist or the spirit of error, that the latter "confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." The later history of Mysticism shows that this warning was very much needed. The tendency of the mystic is to regard the Gospel history as only one striking manifestation of an universal law. He believes that every Christian who is in the way of salvation recapitulates "the whole process of Christ" (as William Law calls it)—that he has his miraculous birth, inward death, and resurrection; and so the Gospel history becomes for the Gnostic (as Clement calls the Christian philosopher) little more than a dramatisation of the normal psychological experience.6868Henry More brings this charge against the Quakers. There are, he says, many good and wholesome things in their teaching, but they mingle with them a "slighting of the history of Christ, and making a mere allegory of it—tending to the utter overthrow of that warrantable, though more external frame of Christianity, which Scripture itself points out to us" (Mastix, his letter to a Friend, p. 306). "Christ crucified is teaching for babes," says Origen, with startling audacity; and heretical mystics have often fancied that they can rise above the Son to the Father. The Gospel and Epistle of St. John stand like a rock against this fatal error, and in this feature some German critics have rightly discerned their supreme value to mystical theology.6969E.g. Strauss and Grau, quoted in Lilienfeld's Thoughts on the Social Science of the Future. "In all life," says Grau, "there is not an abstract unity, but an unity in plurality, an outward and inward, a bodily and spiritual; and life, like love, unites what science and philosophy separate." This co-operation of the sensible and spiritual, of the material and ideal, of the historical and eternal, is maintained throughout by St. John. "His view is mystical," says Grau, "because all life is mystical." It is true that the historical facts hold, for St. John, a subordinate place as evidences. His main proof is, as I have said, experimental. But a spiritual revelation of God without its physical counterpart, an Incarnation, is for him an impossibility, and a Christianity which has cut itself adrift from the Galilean ministry is in his eyes an imposture. In no other writer, I think, do we find so firm a grasp of the "psychophysical" view of life which we all feel to be the true one, if only we could put it in an intelligible form.7070The intense moral dualism of St. John has been felt by many as a discordant note; and though it is not closely connected with his Mysticism, a few words should perhaps be added about it. It has been thought strange that the Logos, who is the life of all things that are, should have to invade His own kingdom to rescue it from its de facto ruler, the Prince of darkness; and stranger yet, that the bulk of mankind should seemingly be "children of the devil," born of the flesh, and incapable of salvation. The difficulty exists, but it has been exaggerated. St. John does not touch either the metaphysical problem of the origin of evil, or predestination in the Calvinistic sense. The vivid contrasts of light and shade in his picture express his judgment on the tragic fate of the Jewish people, The Gospel is not a polemical treatise, but it bears traces of recent conflicts. St. John wishes to show that the rejection of Christ by the Jews was morally inevitable; that their blindness and their ruin followed naturally from their characters and principles. Looking back on the memories of a long life, he desires to trace the operation of uniform laws in dividing the wheat of humanity from the chaff. He is content to observe how [Greek: êthos anthrôpô daimôn], without speculating on the reason why characters differ. In offering these remarks, I am assuming, what seems to me quite certain, that St. John selected from our Lord's discourses those which suited his particular object, and that in the setting and arrangement he allowed himself a certain amount of liberty.

There is another feature in St. John's Gospel which shows his affinity to Mysticism, though of a different kind from that which we have been considering. I mean his fondness for using visible things and events as symbols. This objective kind of Mysticism will form the subject of my last two Lectures, and I will here only anticipate so far as to say that the belief which underlies it is that "everything, in being what it is, is symbolic of something more." The Fourth Gospel is steeped in symbolism of this kind. The eight miracles which St. John selects are obviously chosen for their symbolic value; indeed, he seems to regard them mainly as acted parables. His favourite word for miracles is [Greek: sêmeia], "signs" or "symbols." It is true that he also calls them "works," but this is not to distinguish them as supernatural. All Christ's actions are "works," as parts of His one "work." As evidences of His Divinity, such "works" are inferior to His "words," being symbolic and external. Only those who cannot believe on the evidence of the words and their echo in the heart, may strengthen their weak faith by the miracles. But "blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed." And besides these "signs," we have, in place of the Synoptic parables, a wealth of allegories, in which Christ is symbolised as the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Door of the Sheep, the good Shepherd, the Way, and the true Vine. Wind and water are also made to play their part. Moreover, there is much unobtrusive symbolism in descriptive phrases, as when he says that Nicodemus came by night, that Judas went out into the night, and that blood and water flowed from our Lord's side; and the washing of the disciples' feet was a symbolic act which the disciples were to understand hereafter. Thus all things in the world may remind us of Him who made them, and who is their sustaining life.

In treating of St. John, it was necessary to protest against the tendency of some commentators to interpret him simply as a speculative mystic of the Alexandrian type. But when we turn to St. Paul, we find reason to think that this side of his theology has been very much underestimated, and that the distinctive features of Mysticism are even more marked in him than in St. John. This is not surprising, for our blessed Lord's discourses, in which nearly all the doctrinal teaching of St. John is contained, are for all Christians; they rise above the oppositions which must always divide human thought and human thinkers. In St. Paul, large-minded as he was, and inspired as we believe him to be, we may be allowed to see an example of that particular type which we are considering.

St. Paul states in the clearest manner that Christ appeared to him, and that this revelation was the foundation of his Christianity and apostolic commission. "Neither did I receive the Gospel from man,7171Gal. i. 12." he says, "nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ." It appears that he did not at first72721 Cor. xv. shows that he subsequently satisfied himself of the truth of the other Christophanies. think it necessary to "confer with flesh and blood"—to collect evidence about our Lord's ministry, His death and resurrection; he had "seen" and felt Him, and that was enough. "It was the good pleasure of God to reveal His Son in me,7373Gal, i. 15, 16." he says simply, using the favourite mystical phraseology. The study of "evidences," in the usual sense of the term in apologetics, he rejects with distrust and contempt.74741 Cor. i. and ii. External revelation cannot make a man religious. It can put nothing new into him. If there is nothing answering to it in his mind, it will profit him nothing. Nor can philosophy make a man religious. "Man's wisdom," "the wisdom of the world," is of no avail to find spiritual truth. "God chose the foolish things of the world, to put to shame them that are wise." "The word of the Cross is, to them that are perishing, foolishness." By this language he, of course, does not mean that Christianity is irrational, and therefore to be believed on authority. That would be to lay its foundation upon external evidences, and nothing could be further from the whole bent of his teaching. What he does mean, and say very clearly, is that the carnal mind is disqualified from understanding Divine truths; "it cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned." He who has not raised himself above "the world," that is, the interests and ideals of human society as it organises itself apart from God, and above "the flesh," that is, the things which seem desirable to the "average sensual man," does not possess in himself that element which can be assimilated by Divine grace. The "mystery" of the wisdom of God is necessarily hidden from him. St. Paul uses the word "mystery" in very much the same sense which St. Chrysostom7575Chrysostom in I Cor., Hom. vii. 2. gives to it in the following careful definition: "A mystery is that which is everywhere proclaimed, but which is not understood by those who have not right judgment. It is revealed, not by cleverness, but by the Holy Ghost, as we are able to receive it. And so we may call a mystery a secret ([Greek: aporrêton]), for even to the faithful it is not committed in all its fulness and clearness." In St. Paul the word is nearly always found in connexion with words denoting revelation or publication7676See Lightfoot on Col. i. 26.. The preacher of the Gospel is a hierophant, but the Christian mysteries are freely communicated to all who can receive them. For many ages these truths were "hid in God,7777Eph. iii. 9." but now all men may be "illuminated,78782 Tim. i. 10 ([Greek: phôtizein]); cf. Eph. i. 9." if they will fulfil the necessary conditions of initiation. These are to "cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit,79792 Cor. vii. 1." and to have love, without which all else will be unavailing. But there are degrees of initiation. "We speak wisdom among the perfect," he says (the [Greek: teleioi] are the fully initiated); but the carnal must still be fed with milk. Growth in knowledge, growth in grace, and growth in love, are so frequently mentioned together, that we must understand the apostle to mean that they are almost inseparable. But this knowledge, grace, and love is itself the work of the indwelling God, who is thus in a sense the organ as well as the object of the spiritual life. "The Spirit searcheth all things," he says, "yea, the deep things of God." The man who has the Spirit dwelling in him "has the mind of Christ." "He that is spiritual judgeth all things," and is himself "judged of no man." It is, we must admit frankly, a dangerous claim, and one which may easily be subversive of all discipline. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty"; but such liberty may become a cloak of maliciousness. The fact is that St. Paul had himself trusted in "the Law," and it had led him into grievous error. As usually happens in such cases, his recoil from it was almost violent. He exalts the inner light into an absolute criterion of right and wrong, that no corner of the moral life may remain in bondage to Pharisaism. The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus and the stoning of Stephen were a crushing condemnation of legal and ceremonial righteousness; the law written in the heart of man, or rather spoken there by the living voice of the Holy Spirit, could never so mislead men as to make them think that they were doing God service by condemning and killing the just. Such memories might well lead St. Paul to use language capable of giving encouragement even to fanatical Anabaptists. But it is significant that the boldest claims on behalf of liberty all occur in the earlier Epistles.

The subject of St. Paul's visions and revelations is one of great difficulty. In the Acts we have full accounts of the appearance in the sky which caused, or immediately preceded, his conversion. It is quite clear that St. Paul himself regarded this as an appearance of the same kind as the other Christophanies granted to apostles and "brethren," and of a different kind from such visions as might be seen by any Christian. It was an unique favour, conferring upon him the apostolic prerogatives of an eye-witness. Other passages in the Acts show that during his missionary journeys St. Paul saw visions and heard voices, and that he believed himself to be guided by the "Spirit of Jesus." Lastly, in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians he records that "more than fourteen years ago" he was in an ecstasy, in which he was "caught up into the third heaven," and saw things unutterable. The form in which this experience is narrated suggests a recollection of Rabbinical pseudo-science; the substance of the vision St. Paul will not reveal, nor will he claim its authority for any of his teaching.8080In spite of this, he is attacked for this passage in the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies (xvii. 19), where "Simon Magus" is asked, "Can anyone be made wise to teach through a vision?" These recorded experiences are of great psychological interest; but, as I said in my last Lecture, they do not seem to me to belong to the essence of Mysticism.

Another mystical idea, which is never absent from the mind of St. Paul, is that the individual Christian must live through, and experience personally, the redemptive process of Christ. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ were for him the revelation of a law, the law of redemption through suffering. The victory over sin and death was won for us; but it must also be won in us. The process is an universal law, not a mere event in the past.8181Compare a beautiful passage in R.L. Nettleship's Remains: "To live is to die into something more perfect…. God can only make His work to be truly His work, by eternally dying, sacrificing what is dearest to Him." It has been exemplified in history, which is a progressive unfurling or revelation of a great mystery, the meaning of which is now at last made plain in Christ.8282Col. i. 26, ii. 2, iv. 3; Eph. iii. 2-9. I have allowed myself to quote from these Epistles because I am myself a believer in their genuineness. The Mysticism of St. Paul might be proved from the undisputed Epistles only, but we should then lose some of the most striking illustrations of it. And it must also appear in each human life. "We were buried with Him," says St. Paul to the Romans,8383Rom. vi. 4. "through baptism into death," "that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life." And again,8484Rom. viii. 11. "If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies through His Spirit that dwelleth in you." And, "If ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above.8585St. Paul's mystical language about death and resurrection has given rise to much controversy. On the one hand, we have writers like Matthew Arnold, who tell us that St. Paul unconsciously substitutes an ethical for a physical resurrection—an eternal life here and now for a future reward. On the other, we have writers like Kabisch (Eschatologie des Paulus), who argue that the apostle's whole conception was materialistic, his idea of a "spiritual body" being that of a body composed of very fine atoms (like those of Lucretius' "anima"), which inhabits the earthly body of the Christian like a kernel within its husk, and will one day (at the resurrection) slough off its muddy vesture of decay, and thenceforth exist in a form which can defy the ravages of time. Of the two views, Matthew Arnold's is much the truer, even though it should be proved that St. Paul sometimes pictures the "spiritual body" in the way described. But the key to the problem, in St. Paul as in St. John, is that pyscho-physical theory which demands that the laws of the spiritual world shall have their analogous manifestations in the world of phenomena. Death must, somehow or other, be conquered in the visible as well as in the invisible sphere. The law of life through death must be deemed to pervade every phase of existence. And as a mere prolongation of physical life under the same conditions is impossible, and, moreover, would not fulfil the law in question, we are bound to have recourse to some such symbol as "spiritual body." It will hardly be disputed that the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the whole man has taken a far stronger hold of the religious consciousness of mankind than the Greek doctrine of the immortality of the soul, or that this doctrine is plainly taught by St. Paul. All attempts to turn his eschatology into a rationalistic (Arnold) or a materialistic (Kabisch) theory must therefore be decisively rejected."

The law of redemption, which St. Paul considers to have been triumphantly summed up by the death and resurrection of Christ,8686Col. iii. 1. would hardly be proved to be an universal law if the Pauline Christ were only the "heavenly man," as some critics have asserted. St. Paul's teaching about the Person of Christ was really almost identical with the Logos doctrine as we find it in St. John's prologue, and as it was developed by the mystical philosophy of a later period. Not only is His pre-existence "in the form of God" clearly taught,8787Phil. ii. 6. but He is the agent in the creation of the universe, the vital principle upholding and pervading all that exists. "The Son," we read in the Epistle to the Colossians,8888Col. i. 15-17. "is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth; all things have been created through Him, and unto Him; and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist" (that is, "hold together," as the margin of the Revised Version explains it). "All things are summed up in Christ," he says to the Ephesians.8989Eph. i. 10. "Christ is all and in all," we read again in the Colossians.9090Col. iii. 11. And in that bold and difficult passage of the 15th chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians he speaks of the "reign" of Christ as coextensive with the world's history. When time shall end, and all evil shall be subdued to good, Christ "will deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father," "that God may be all in all.91911 Cor. xv. 24-28." Very important, too, is the verse in which he says that the Israelites in the wilderness "drank of that spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ.92921 Cor. x. 4." It reminds us of Clement's language about the Son as the Light which broods over all history.

The passage from the Colossians, which I quoted just now, contains another mystical idea besides that of Christ as the universal source and centre of life. He is, we are told, "the Image of the invisible God," and all created beings are, in their several capacities, images of Him. Man is essentially "the image and glory of God";93931 Cor. xi. 7. the "perfect man" is he who has come "to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.9494Eph. iv. 13." This is our nature, in the Aristotelian sense of completed normal development; but to reach it we have to slay the false self, the old man, which is informed by an actively maleficent agency, "flesh" which is hostile to "spirit." This latter conception does not at present concern us; what we have to notice is the description of the upward path as an inner transit from the false isolation of the natural man into a state in which it is possible to say, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.9595Gal. ii. 20." In the Epistle to the Galatians he uses the favourite mystical phrase, "until Christ be formed in you";9696Gal. iv. 19. and in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians97972 Cor. iii. 18. he employs a most beautiful expression in describing the process, reverting to the figure of the "mirror," dear to Mysticism, which he had already used in the First Epistle: "We all with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory." Other passages, which refer primarily to the future state, are valuable as showing that St. Paul lends no countenance to that abstract idea of eternal life as freedom from all earthly conditions, which has misled so many mystics. Our hope, when the earthly house of our tabernacle is dissolved, is not that we may be unclothed, but that we may be clothed upon with our heavenly habitation. The body of our humiliation is to be changed and glorified, according to the mighty working whereby God is able to subdue all things unto Himself. And therefore our whole spirit and soul and body must be preserved blameless; for the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, not the prison-house of a soul which will one day escape out of its cage and fly away.

St. Paul's conception of Christ as the Life as well as the Light of the world has two consequences besides those which have been already mentioned. In the first place, it is fatal to religious individualism. The close unity which joins us to Christ is not so much a unity of the individual soul with the heavenly Christ, as an organic unity of all men, or, since many refuse their privileges, of all Christians, with their Lord. "We, being many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another.9898Rom. xii. 5." There must be "no schism in the body,99991 Cor. xii. 25." but each member must perform its allotted function. St. Augustine is thoroughly in agreement with St. Paul when he speaks of Christ and the Church as "unus Christus." Not that Christ is "divided," so that He cannot be fully present to any individual—that is an error which St. Paul, St. Augustine, and the later mystics all condemn; but as the individual cannot reach his real personality as an isolated unit, he cannot, as an isolated unit, attain to full communion with Christ.

The second point is one which may seem to be of subordinate importance, but it will, I think, awaken more interest in the future than it has done in the past. In the 8th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul clearly teaches that the victory of Christ over sin and death is of import, not only to humanity, but to the whole of creation, which now groans and travails in pain together, but which shall one day be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. This recognition of the spirituality of matter, and of the unity of all nature in Christ, is one which we ought to be thankful to find in the New Testament. It will be my pleasant task, in the last two Lectures of this course, to show how the later school of mystics prized it.

The foregoing analysis of St. Paul's teaching has, I hope, justified the statement that all the essentials of Mysticism are to be found in his Epistles. But there are also two points in which his authority has been claimed for false and mischievous developments of Mysticism. These two points it will be well to consider before leaving the subject.

The first is a contempt for the historical framework of Christianity. We have already seen how strongly St. John warns us against this perversion of spiritual religion. But those numerous sects and individual thinkers who have disregarded this warning, have often appealed to the authority of St. Paul, who in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians says, "Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know Him so no more." Here, they say, is a distinct admission that the worship of the historical Christ, "the man Christ Jesus," is a stage to be passed through and then left behind. There is just this substratum of truth in a very mischievous error, that St. Paul does tell us1001001 Cor. ii. 1, 2. that he began to teach the Corinthians by giving them in the simplest possible form the story of "Jesus Christ and Him crucified." The "mysteries" of the faith, the "wisdom" which only the "perfect" can understand, were deferred till the converts had learned their first lessons. But if we look at the passage in question, which has shocked and perplexed many good Christians, we shall find that St. Paul is not drawing a contrast between the earthly and the heavenly Christ, bidding us worship the Second Person of the Trinity, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, and to cease to contemplate the Cross on Calvary. He is distinguishing rather between the sensuous presentation of the facts of Christ's life, and a deeper realisation of their import. It should be our aim to "know no man after the flesh"; that is to say, we should try to think of human beings as what they are, immortal spirits, sharers with us of a common life and a common hope, not as what they appear to our eyes. And the same principle applies to our thoughts about Christ. To know Christ after the flesh is to know Him, not as man, but as a man. St. Paul in this verse condemns all religious materialism, whether it take the form of hysterical meditation upon the physical details of the passion, or of an over-curious interest in the manner of the resurrection. There is no trace whatever in St. Paul of any aspiration to rise above Christ to the contemplation of the Absolute—to treat Him as only a step in the ladder. This is an error of false Mysticism; the true mystic follows St. Paul in choosing as his ultimate goal the fulness of Christ, and not the emptiness of the undifferentiated Godhead.

The second point in which St. Paul has been supposed to sanction an exaggerated form of Mysticism, is his extreme disparagement of external religion—of forms and ceremonies and holy days and the like. "One man hath faith to eat all things; but he that is weak eateth herbs.101101Rom. xiv." "One man esteemeth one day above another, another esteemeth every day alike." "He that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, and giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks." "Why turn ye back to the weak and beggarly rudiments, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage again? Ye observe days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed labour upon you in vain.102102Gal. iv. 9-11." "Why do ye subject yourselves to ordinances, handle not, nor taste, nor touch, after the precepts and doctrines of men?103103Col. ii. 20-22." These are strongly-worded passages, and I have no wish to attenuate their significance. Any Christian priest who puts the observance of human ordinances— fast-days, for example—at all on the same level as such duties as charity, generosity, or purity, is teaching, not Christianity, but that debased Judaism against which St. Paul waged an unceasing polemic, and which is one of those dead religions which has to be killed again in almost every generation.104104I have been reminded that great tenderness is due to the "sancta simplicitas" of the "anicula Christiana," whose religion is generally of this type. I should agree, if the "anicula" were not always so ready with her faggot when a John Huss is to be burnt. But we must not forget that these vigorous denunciations do occur in a polemic against Judaism. They bear the stamp of the time at which they were written perhaps more than any other part of St. Paul's Epistles, except those thoughts which were connected with his belief in the approaching end of the world. St. Paul certainly did not intend his Christian converts to be anarchists in religious matters. There is evidence, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, that his spiritual presentation of Christianity had already been made an excuse for disorderly licence. The usual symptoms of degenerate Mysticism had appeared at Corinth. There were men there who called themselves "spiritual persons1051051 Cor. xiv. 37." or prophets, and showed an arrogant independence; there were others who wished to start sects of their own; others who carried antinomianism into the sphere of morals; others who prided themselves on various "spiritual gifts." As regards the last class, we are rather surprised at the half-sanction which the apostle gives to what reads like primitive Irvingism;106106There seem to have been two conceptions of the operations of the Spirit in St. Paul's time: (a) He comes fitfully, with visible signs, and puts men beside themselves; (b) He is an abiding presence, enlightening, guiding, and strengthening. St. Paul lays weight on the latter view, without repudiating the former. See H. Gunkel, Die Wirkungen des H. Geistes nach der popul. Anschauung d. apostol. Zeit und d. Lehre der Paulus. but he was evidently prepared to enforce discipline with a strong hand. Still, it may be fairly said that he trusts mainly to his personal ascendancy, and to his teaching about the organic unity of the Christian body, to preserve or restore due discipline and cohesion. There have been hardly any religious leaders, if we except George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, who have valued ceremonies so little. In this, again, he is a genuine mystic.

Of the other books of the New Testament it is not necessary to say much. The Epistle to the Hebrews cannot be the work of St. Paul. It shows strong traces of Jewish Alexandrianism; indeed, the writer seems to have been well acquainted with the Book of Wisdom and with Philo. Alexandrian idealism is always ready to pass into speculative Mysticism, but the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews can hardly be called mystical in the sense in which St. Paul was a mystic. The most interesting side of his theology, from our present point of view, is the way in which he combines his view of religious ordinances as types and adumbrations of higher spiritual truths, with a comprehensive view of history as a progressive realisation of a Divine scheme. The keynote of the book is that mankind has been educated partly by ceremonial laws and partly by "promises." Systems of laws and ordinances, of which the Jewish Law is the chief example, have their place in history. They rightly claim obedience until the practical lessons which they can teach have been learned, and until the higher truths which they conceal under the protecting husk of symbolism can be apprehended without disguise. Then their task is done, and mankind is no longer bound by them. In the same way, the "promises" which were made under the old dispensation proved to be only symbols of deeper and more spiritual blessings, which in the moral childhood of humanity would not have appeared desirable; they were (not delusions, but) illusions, "God having prepared some better thing" to take their place. The doctrine is one of profound and far-reaching importance. In this Epistle it is certainly connected with the idealistic thought that all visible things are symbols, and that every truth apprehended by finite intelligences must be only the husk of a deeper truth. We may therefore claim the Epistle to the Hebrews as containing in outline a Christian philosophy of history, based upon a doctrine of symbols which has much in common with some later developments of Mysticism.

In the Apocalypse, whoever the author may be, we find little or nothing of the characteristic Johannine Mysticism, and the influence of its vivid allegorical pictures has been less potent in this branch of theology than might perhaps have been expected.


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