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§ 7. Objections to the Mystical Theory.
The idea on which Mysticism is founded is Scriptural and true. It is true that God has access to the human soul. It is true that He can, consistently with his own nature and with the laws of our being, supernaturally and immediately reveal truth objectively to the mind, and attend that revelation with evidence which produces an infallible assurance of its truth and of its divine origin. It is also true that such revelations have often been made to the children of men. But these cases of immediate supernatural revelation belong to the category of miracles. They are rare and are to be duly authenticated.
The common doctrine of the Christian Church is, that God has at sundry times and in divers manners spoken to the children of men; that what eye hath not seen, or ear heard, what never could have entered into the heart of man, God has revealed by his Spirit to those whom He selected to be his spokesmen to their fellow-men; that these revelations were authenticated as divine, by their character, their effects, and by signs and wonders, and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost; that these holy men of old who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, communicated the revelations which they had received not only orally, but in writing, employing not the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; so that we have in the sacred Scriptures the things of the Spirit recorded in the words of the Spirit; which Scriptures, therefore, are the Word of God, — i.e., what God says to man; what He declares to be true and obligatory, — and constitute for his Church the only infallible rule of faith and practice.
Romanists, while admitting the infallibility of the written Word, still contend that it is not sufficient; and hold that God continues in a supernatural manner to guide the Church by rendering its bishops infallible teachers in all matters pertaining to truth and duty.
Mystics, making the same admission as to the infallibility of Scripture, claim that the Spirit is given to every man as an inward teacher and guide, whose instructions and influence are the highest rule of faith, and sufficient, even without the Scriptures, to secure the salvation of the soul.
Mysticism has no Foundation in the Scriptures.
The objections to the Romish and Mystical theory are substantially the same.
1. There is no foundation for either in Scriptures. As the Scriptures contain no promise of infallible guidance to bishops, so they contain no promise of the Spirit as the immediate revealer of truth to every man. Under the Old Testament dispensation the Spirit did indeed reveal the mind and purposes of God; but it was to selected persons chosen to be prophets, authenticated as divine messengers, whose instructions the people were bound to receive as coming from God. In like manner, under the new dispensation, our Lord selected twelve men, endowed them with plenary knowledge of the Gospel, rendered them infallible as teachers, and required all men to receive their instructions as the words of God. It is true that during the apostolic age there were occasional communications made to a class of persons called prophets. But this “gift of prophecy,” that is, the gift of speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit, was analogous to the gift of miracles. The one has as obviously ceased as the other.
It is true, also, that our Lord promised to send the Spirit, who was to abide with the Church, to dwell in his people, to be their teacher, and to guide them into the knowledge of all truth. But what truth? Not historical or scientific truth, but plainly revealed truth; truth which He himself had taught, or made known by his authorized messengers. The Spirit is indeed a teacher; and without his instructions there is no saving knowledge of divine things, for the Apostle tells us, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. ii. 14.) Spiritual discernment, therefore, is the design and effect of the Spirit’s teaching. And the things discerned are “the things freely given to us of God,” i.e., as the context shows, the things revealed to the Apostles and clearly made known in the Scriptures.
The Apostle John tells his readers, “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things” (1 John ii. 20), and again, ver. 27, “The anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him.” These passages teach what all evangelical Christians admit. First, that true knowledge, or spiritual discernment of divine things, is due to the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit; and secondly, that true faith, or the infallible assurance of the truths revealed, is due in like manner to the “demonstration of tine Spirit.” (1 Cor. ii. 4.) The Apostle John also says: “He that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in himself.” (1 John v. 10.) Saving faith does not rest on the testimony of the Church, nor on the outward evidence of miracles and prophecy, but on the inward testimony of the Spirit with and by the truth in our hearts. He who has this inward testimony needs no other. He does not need to be told by other men what is truth; this same anointing teaches him what is truth, and that no lie is of the truth. Christians were not to believe every spirit. They were to try the spirits whether they were of God. And the test or criterion of trial was the external, authenticated revelation of God, as spiritually discerned and demonstrated by the inward operations of the Spirit. So now when errorists come and tell the people there is no God, no sin, no retribution, no need of a Saviour, or of expiation, or of faith; that Jesus of Nazareth is not the Son of God, God manifest in the flesh, the true Christian has no need to be told that these are what the Apostle calls lies. He has an inward witness to the truth of the record which God has given of his Son.
If the Bible gives no support to the Mystical doctrine of the inward, supernatural, objective revelation of truth made by the Spirit to every man, that doctrine is destitute of all foundation, for it is only by the testimony of God that any such doctrine can be established.
Mysticism is contrary to the Scriptures.
2. The doctrine in question is not only destitute of support from Scripture, but it contradicts the Scriptures. It is not only opposed to isolated declarations of the Word of God, but to the whole revealed plan of God’s dealing with his people. Everywhere, and under all dispensations, the rule of faith and duty has been the teaching of authenticated messengers of God. The appeal has always been “to the law and testimony.” The prophets came saying, “Thus saith the Lord.” Men were required to believe and obey what was communicated to them, and not what the Spirit revealed to each individual. It was the outward and not the inward word to which they were to attend. And under the gospel the command of Christ to his disciples, was, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mar. xvi. 15, 16), — believeth, of course, the gospel which they preached. Faith cometh by hearing. “How,” asks the Apostle, “shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. x. 14.) God, he tells us, hath determined to save men by the foolishness of preaching. (1 Cor. i. 21.) It is the preaching of the cross he declares to be the power of God. (Verse 18.) It is the gospel, the external revelation of the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, he says in Rom. i. 16, which “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek; for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.” This idea runs through the whole New Testament. Christ commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel. He declared that to be the way in which men were to be saved. They accordingly went forth preaching everywhere. This preaching was to continue to the end of the world. Therefore, provision was made for continuing the ministry. Men called and qualified by the Spirit, were to be selected and set apart to this work by divine command. And it is in this way, so far, the world has been converted. In no case do we find the Apostles calling upon the people, whether Jews or Gentiles, to look within themselves, to listen to the inner Word. They were to listen to the outward Word; to believe what they heard, and were to pray for the Holy Spirit to enable them to understand, receive, and obey what was thus externally made known to them.
Contrary to the Facts of Experience.
3. The doctrine in question is no less contrary to fact than it is to Scripture. The doctrine teaches that by the inward revelation of the Spirit saving knowledge of truth and duty is given to every man. But all experience shows that without the written Word, men everywhere and in all ages, are ignorant of divine things, — without God, without Christ, and without hope in the world. The sun is not more obviously the source of light, than the Bible is the source of divine knowledge. The absence of the one is as clearly indicated as the absence of the other. It is incredible that an inward revelation of saving truth is made to every man by the Holy Spirit, if the appropriate effects of that revelation are nowhere manifested. It is to be remembered that without the knowledge of God, there can be no religion. Without right apprehensions of the Supreme Being, there can be no right affections towards him. Without the knowledge of Christ, there can be no faith in him. Without truth there can be no holiness, any more than there can be vision without light. As right apprehensions of God, and holiness of heart and life, are nowhere found where the Scriptures are unknown, it is plain that the Scriptures, and not an inward light common to all men, are, by the ordinance of God, the only source to us of saving and sanctifying kmnowledge.
There is a sense in which, as all evangelical Christians believe, the Spirit is given to every man. He is present with every human mind exciting to good and restraining from evil. To this the order, and what there is of morality in the world, are due. Without this “common grace,” or general influence of the Spirit, there would be no difference between our world and hell; for hell is a place or state in which men are finally given up of God. In like manner, there is a general providential efficiency of God by which He cooperates with second causes, in the productions of the wonderful phenomena of the external world. Without that coöperation — the continued guidance of mind — the cosmos would become chaos. But the fact that this providential efficiency of God is universal, is no proof that He everywhere works miracles, that He constantly operates without the intervention of second causes. So, also, the fact that the Spirit is present with every human mind, and constantly enforces the truth present to that mind, is no proof that He makes immediate, supernatural revelations to every human being. The fact is, we cannot see without light. We have the sun to give us light. It is vain to say that every man has an inward light sufficient to guide him without the sun. Facts are against the theory.
No Criterion by which to judge of the Source of Inward Suggestions.
4. A fourth objection to the Mystical doctrine is that there is no criterion by which a man can test these inward impulses or revelations, and determine which are from the Spirit of God, and which are from his own heart or from Satan, who often appears and acts as an angel of light. This objection, Barclay says, “Bespeaketh much ignorance in the opposers. . . . . For it is one thing to affirm that the true and undoubted revelation of God’s Spirit is certain and infallible; and another thing to affirm that this or that particular person or people is led infallibly by this revelation in what they speak or write, because they affirm themselves to be so led by the inward and immediate revelation of the Spirit.”5757Barclay’s Apology, p. 67. It is admitted that there is an inward and infallible testimony of the Spirit in the hearts of believers to the truths objectively revealed in the Scriptures. It is admitted, also, that there have been immediate revelations of truth to the mind, as in the case of the prophets and Apostles, and that these revelations authenticate themselves, or are attended with an infallible assurance that they come from God. But these admissions do not invalidate the objection as above stated. Granted that a man who receives a true revelation knows that it is from God; how is the man who receives a false revelation to know that it is not from God? Many men honestly believe themselves to be inspired, who are under the influence of some evil spirit, — their own it may be. The assurance on certainty of conviction may be as strong in one case as in the other. In the one it is well founded, in the other it is a delusion. Irresistible conviction is not enough. It may satisfy the subject of it himself. But it cannot either satisfy others, or be a criterion of truth. Thousands have been, and still are, fully convinced that the false is true, and that what is wrong is right. To tell men, therefore, to look within for an authoritative guide, and to trust to their irresistible convictions, is to give them a guide which will lead them to destruction. When God really makes revelations to the soul, He not only gives an infallible assurance that the revelation is divine, but accompanies it with evidence satisfactory to others as well as to the recipient that it is from God. All his revelations have had the seal both of internal and external evidence. And when the believer is assured, by the testimony of the Spirit, of the truths of Scripture, he has only a new kind of evidence of what is already authenticated beyond all rational contradiction. Our blessed Lord Himself said to the Jews, “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works.” (John x. 37, 38.) He even goes so far as to say, “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin.” (John xv. 24.) The inward teaching and testimony of the Spirit are Scriptural truths, and truths of inestimable value. But it is ruinous to put them in the place of the divinely authenticated written Word.
The Doctrine productive of Evil.
5. Our Lord says of men, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” The same rule of judgment applies to doctrines. Mysticism has always been productive of evil. It has led to the neglect or undervaluing of divine institutions, — of the Church, of the ministry, of the sacraments, of the Sabbath, and of the Scriptures. History shows that it has also led to the greatest excesses and social evils. The Society of Friends has in a good degree escaped these evils but it has been by a happy inconsistency. They have not carried out their principle. For, while they teach that the inward revelations of the Spirit present the “formal object” of faith; that they are clear and certain, forcing “the well-disposed understanding to assent, irresistibly moving it thereto;” that they are the primary, immediate, and principal source of divine knowledge; that they are not “to be subjected to the examination either of the outward testimony of the Scriptures, or of the natural reason of man, as to a more noble or certain rule or touchstone;”5858Barclay’s Second Proposition. yet they also teach that nothing not contained in the Scriptures can be an article of faith; that we are bound to believe all the Bible teaches; that everything contrary to its teaching is to be rejected as “a delusion of the devil,” no matter from what source it may come; and that the Scriptures are the judge of controversies among Christians; and thus they, as a society, have been preserved from the excesses into which Mystics have generally run. Nevertheless, the Mystical principle of immediate, objective revelation of truth to every man, as his principal and primary rule of faith and practice, has wrought with Friends its legitimate fruit, inasmuch as it has led to comparative neglect of the Scriptures and of the ordinances of the Church.
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