A sect distinguished by their professing pure, sublime, and perfect devotion, with an entire disinterested love of God, free from all selfish considerations.–The authors of this mystic science, which sprung up towards the close of the third century, are not known; but the principles from which it was formed are manifest. Its first promoters proceeded from the known doctrine of the Platonic school, which was also adopted by Origen and his disciples, that the divine nature was diffused through all human souls; or that the faculty of reason, from which proceed the health and vigour of the mind, was an emanation from God into the human soul, and comprehended in it the principles and elements of all truth, human and divine. They denied that men could, by labour or study, excite this celestial flame in their breasts; and therefore they disapprove highly of the attempts of those who, by definitions, abstract theorems, and profound speculations, endeavoured to form distinct notions of truth, and to discover its hidden nature. On the contrary, they maintained that silence, tranquillity, repose, and solitude, accompanied with such acts as might tend to extenuate and exhaust the body, were the means by which the hidden and internal word was excited to produce its latent virtues, and to instruct man in the knowledge of divine things. For thus they reasoned:–Those who behold with a noble contempt all human affairs; who turn away their eyes from terrestrial vanities, and shut all the avenues of the outward senses against the contagious influence of a material world, must necessarily return to god when the spirit is thus disengaged from the impediments that prevented that happy union; and in this blessed frame they not only enjoy inexpressible raptures from their communion with the Supreme Being, but are also invested with the inestimable privilege of contemplating truth undisguised and uncorrupted in its native purity, while others behold it in a vitiated and delusive form.
The number of the Mystics increased in the fourth century, under the influence of the Grecian fanatic, who gave himself out for Dionysius the Areopagite, disciple of St. Paul, and probably lived about this period; and by pretending to higher degrees of perfection than other Christians, and practising greater austerity, their cause gained ground, especially in the eastern provinces, in the fifth century. A copy of the pretended works of Dionysius was sent by Balbus to Lewis the Meek, in the year 824, which kindled the only flame of mysticism in the western provinces, and filled the Latins with the most enthusiastic admiration of this new religion. In the twelfth century these Mystics took the lead in their method of expounding the Scriptures. In the thirteenth century they were the most formidable antagonists of the schoolmen; and towards the close of the fourteenth, many of them resided and propagated their tenets almost in every part of Europe. They had, in the fifteenth century, many persons of distinguished merit in their number; and in the sixteenth century, previous to the reformation, if any sparks of real piety subsisted under the despotic empire of superstition, they were only to be found among the Mystics. The celebrated Madame Bourignon, and the amiable Fenelon, archbishop of Cambray, were of this sect. Dr. Haweis, in speaking of the Mystics’ Church History, vol.liii. p. 47, thus observes: “Among those called Mystics, I am persuaded some were found who loved God out of a pure heart fervently; and though they were ridiculed and reviled for proposing a disinterestedness of love without other motives, and as professing to feel in the enjoyment of the temper itself an abundant reward, their holy and heavenly conversation will carry a stamp of real religion upon it.”
As the late Reverend William Law, who was born in 1687, makes a distinguished figure among the modern Mystics, a brief account of the outlines of his system may, perhaps be entertaining to some readers.–He supposed that the material world was the very region which originally belonged to the fallen angels. At length the light and Spirit of God entered into the chaos, and turned the angels’ ruined kingdom into a paradise on earth. God then created man, and placed him there. He was made in the image of the Triune God, a living mirror of the divine nature, formed to enjoy communion with Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and live on earth as the angels do in heaven. He was endowed with immortality, so that the elements of this outward world could not have any power of acting on his body; but by his fall he changed the light, life, and Spirit of God for the light, life, and spirit of the world. He died the very day of his transgression to all the influences and operations of the Spirit of God upon him, as we die to the influences of this world when the soul and operations of the elements of this life were open in him, as they were in any animal, at his birth into this world; he became an earthly creature, subject to the dominion of this outward world, and stood only in the highest rank of animals. But the goodness of God would not leave man in this condition: redemption from it was immediately granted, and the bruiser of the serpent brought the light, life, and spirit of heaven, once more into the human nature. All men, in consequence of the redemption of Christ, have in them the first spark, or seed, of the divine life, as a treasure his in the centre of our souls, to bring forth, by degrees, a new birth of that life which was lost in paradise. No son of Adam can be lost, only by turning away from the Saviour within him. The only religion which can save us, must be that which can raise the light, life, and Spirit of God in our souls. Nothing can enter into the vegetable kingdom till it have the vegetable life in it, or be a member of the animal kingdom till it have the animal life. Thus all nature joins with the Gospel in affirming that no man can enter into the kingdom of heaven till the heavenly life is born in him. Nothing can be our righteousness or recovery but the divine nature of Jesus Christ derived to our souls. Law’s Life; Law’s Spirit of Prayer and Appeal; Law’s Spirit of Love, and on Regeneration.
Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.