IT is necessary to a true account of the Master's preaching, to observe, that not only do we find much of error and ignorance mixed up with the gold which I have so gladly sifted and stored up, but also that there was much truth, and much that is not true, very darkly expressed in the strange language used by those we commonly call mystics.
This language, which sounds to us very often as an unmeaning jargon, was no doubt understood more or less by people accustomed to hear it.
It was not that Dr. Tauler could properly be called a mystic. Those who are not aware that there is such a thing as true and real intercourse with God, by the Spirit whom He has given us, would of course include under the name of mystics all those who profess to receive spiritual light from any other than an outward source. They would class together the man who delights in his own feelings and meditations, and the working of his own mind, and the man who holds converse with the living God. In other words, they would see no difference between the water drawn from the cistern within, the natural heart and mind, and the living water that comes from without, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb. It is for ever true that He gives us to drink out of the great depths of the Smitten Rock, and this living water which flows not from our own hearts, but from the heart of God, is received into our innermost being, and becomes in us a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
This true and spiritual converse with God distinguished Dr. Tauler from those properly called mystics, whose dreams, and fancies, and feelings, were to them, that which God the Holy Ghost is to the believer. The two things may, it is true, be found more or less mixed up in the same person. But in the case of Dr. Tauler, it was plain that it was upon a sound, solid, and practical faith in a living and present God, that his experience rested.
The world is incapable of seeing the difference between the work of the Spirit in the heart, and mere human feelings. We hear it often said, |I am not one of those people who like to turn myself inside out, for the benefit of others.| And this is given as an excuse for the entire absence of God from daily conversation. Or, |If people like to talk about their feelings, you may be sure they are not very deep.| Thus is the man who knows not God, utterly incapable of perceiving that were it the inside of ourselves that we are called upon to exhibit, it would be a display of something even worse than the outside of ourselves, and that our own feelings, whether deep or shallow, are at best but a profitless exhibition.
But God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, that from us may shine forth, not that which we feel or think, but the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ. And |they which come in, will see the light.| It is the love and joy of Christ that flow as rivers of living water from the believing soul. Instead of a display of ourselves, it will be a display of Him in whose presence we forget ourselves and all that is ours, even as did the woman in the house of Simon, when with her tears she washed the feet of Him who loved her.
Thus did the Master say, |We fade as a little taper in the presence of the sun.|
Yet Dr. Tauler had been accustomed in his youth to the language used by mystical writers, and he seems to have employed it often, as naturally as the early Quakers used their peculiar expressions. And thus, when he spoke of the |sinking of the soul in faith into the Divine darkness, and into its own groundless Nothing,| it is very possible that some of his friends, to whom these expressions were familiar, attached a meaning to them; and they would seem as natural to them as to talk of |coming up in Spirit through the flaming sword into Paradise,| and of |high professors living in airy notions,| would have been to George Fox; or as easily comprehensible as to George Fox's friends, were his descriptions of |rugged and mountainous,| or |glittering and frothy| persons.
Sometimes, no doubt, the Master meant the right thing, and sometimes the wrong thing, by his mysterious expressions. Much error was abroad then, as now, besides the errors specially taught in the Roman Church. Some of the warnings given in the Master's sermons against those who had |conscientious| objections to doing their common daily work, and who spent their time in dreamy contemplation, till they imagined themselves up in Heaven, were well understood by those who heard him.
For a sect had arisen shortly before, composed of persons calling themselves |The Brethren and Sisters of the free Spirit.| This sect, in which women played an important part, maintained that earthly occupations were a hindrance to communion with God, and that all human instincts and affections were stamped out in persons who were |lost,| as they said, |in God,| this being the |higher Christian life,| to use a modern expression.
To be |dead to nature,| was the state to which the soul should aspire; and having attained this exalted condition, it could then look down upon the sad state of soul in which those were found, who had families to love and care for, or who worked hard to earn their daily bread.
The |brethren,| or |sisters,| who had reached the top of this spiritual pinnacle, were no longer bound by any ordinance, and had attained to a state in which they no longer sinned.
The natural consequence of this delusion may be foreseen. The short road to proving that we never sin, is to declare that there is no sin in anything we do. And consequently these brethren and sisters became speedily remarkable, for their very loose notions of morality. In them, pride, anger, revenge, fraud, malice, and immorality in general, were no longer sins, they were acting under the direction of God, and it was only a poor unenlightened |beginner,| as they would say, or one in a low state of soul, who could so misunderstand their course, as to find any specks or stains in any part of it.
|We proceed from God,| they said, |and by holy contemplation we are re-united to God, and therefore cannot do wrong, for we are one with God.| It is true that the accounts of this sect are chiefly derived from Roman Catholic sources, and their errors may have been exaggerated. But as such errors have proved themselves to be a natural growth in the heart of man, by springing up again and again since those days, we may believe that there were those in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries who held them. There is nothing new under the sun.
Tauler was often suspected of holding the same errors, and it cannot be denied that amongst the dark sayings which we find in his sermons there are some which might be so understood. It has been shown in the extracts, given from his sermons, that he regarded forms of prayer, and saint-worship, and ceremonies, as amongst those things that would |drop off| as a man was taught of God, and it would seem that he trusted rather to this result, than to arguments which were to prove that such things were unscriptural. And therefore, if he met with persons who prayed to the saints, he would probably endeavour to lead them on to a clearer knowledge of God, without at once telling them that such prayers were displeasing to Him. It was easy for a Roman Catholic to mistake this for the teaching of the |Brethren of the free Spirit,| that a man attained by contemplation to a state wherein he was raised above all outward ordinances.
Tauler also used an expression commonly used by the |Brethren of the free Spirit,| and by many others since, that of a believer's |being united to God.| He seems to have meant by this no more than that a believer, being made partaker of the Divine nature, and practically yielding himself up, body, soul, and spirit, to God, and loving God with a single heart, will have his will conformed so completely to the will of God, that he is lost, so to speak, in God, and that it will be his true experience, |I live no longer, but Christ liveth in me.|
The expression, |union with God,| is, however, unscriptural, and there are many in our days who would do well to consider this. For there are many who admit that the Church is united to Christ, and who yet imagine that the Church existed long before the Word was made flesh. They do not see that it is to Christ as the Divine Man that the Church is united, and this in consequence of His death, resurrection, and ascension. And that it is by the baptism of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, when Jesus was glorified, and not before, that this union was wrought.
It is not strange that many errors, and many truths expressed in incorrect words, are to be found in the Master's teaching, and it is not to him that we should go for clear statements of doctrine on every point. But the Lord has at all times nourished and cherished His people, however ignorant. And wherever He has found a heart athirst for Him, to that longing heart has He given to drink of the water of life freely.
And thus from the remnants of popery, and shreds of philosophy, and from the fragments of many human delusions, we can pick out the jewels which shine with the |light of the Stone most precious,| and which are portions of God's eternal Truth.
It is also to be constantly borne in mind that to reject the light, and choose the darkness, is a very different thing from coming out of the darkness into the marvellous light. A man may do this more or less completely, according to the circumstances in which he is placed. But none can know how much of the land of light remains as yet unexplored, for it was into gross darkness that the professing Church went back, and it is only by slow degrees that any have won their way back into the pure unclouded light of the earliest days, the days, as it has been observed, not of the |fathers,| but of the forefathers, the Apostles of the Lord. Let us therefore press forward ourselves, daily learning more of that which the Church possessed and lost.