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Spiritual Reformers In The 16th And 17th Centuries by Rufus M. Jones


The struggle for political liberty in the Netherlands forms one of the most dramatic and impressive chapters in modern history, but the story of the long struggle in these same Provinces for the right to believe and to think according to the dictates of conscience is hardly less dramatic and impressive. Everybody knows that during the early years of the seventeenth century Holland was the one country in Europe which furnished cities of refuge for the persecuted and hunted exponents of unpopular faiths, and that the little band of Pilgrims who brought their precious seed to the new world had first preserved and nurtured it in a safe asylum among the Dutch; but the slow spiritual travail that won this soul freedom, and the brave work of spreading, on that soil, a religion of personal insight and individual experience are not so well known. The growth and development of this great movement, with its numerous ramifications and differentiations, obviously cannot be told here, but one or two specimen lines of the movement will be briefly studied for the light they throw upon this general type of religion under consideration, and for their specific influence {105} upon corresponding spiritual movements in England and America.

The silent propagation and germination of religious ideas in lands far away from their original habitat, their sudden appearance in a new spot like an outbreak of contagion, are always mysterious and fascinating subjects of research. Some chance talk with a disciple plants the seed, or some stray book comes to the hand of a baffled seeker at the moment when his soul is in a suggestible state, and lo! a new vision is created and a new apostle of the movement is prepared, often so inwardly and mysteriously that to himself he seems to be |an apostle not of men nor by man.| One of the earliest Dutch exponents and interpreters of this type of spiritual religion which we have been studying as a by-product of the Reformation in Germany, and one who became an apostle of it because at a critical period of his life the seeds of it had fallen into his awakened mind, was Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert.

He was born in Amsterdam in 1522. He perfected himself as expert in copper-plate engraving and etching, and intended to pursue a quiet career in his adopted city of Haarlem, but he found himself disturbed with |intimations clear of wider scope.| A keen desire to go back to the original sources of religious truth and to read the New Testament and the Fathers in their own tongue induced him to learn Greek and Latin after he was thirty years of age. He possessed excellent gifts and natural abilities of mind, and he soon had an enviable reputation for skill and learning. Like Sebastian Franck, whom he resembled in many points, he was profoundly interested in history and in the stages of man's historical development, and, like the former, he undertook the translation of great masterpieces which expressed the ideas that peculiarly suited his own temper of mind, such as Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy; Cicero, On Duties; and Erasmus' Paraphrases of the New Testament. He was throughout {106} his life deeply influenced by Erasmus, and his writings show everywhere a very strong humanistic colouring. It was no accident that one of his most important literary works was on Ethics (|Sittenkunst|), for his primary interest centred in man and in the art of living well (|Die Kunst wohl zu leben|).

As he developed into independent manhood, he threw himself with great zeal into the cause of political freedom for the city of Haarlem, on account of which he suffered a severe imprisonment in the Hague in 1560, and at a later time was compelled to flee into temporary exile. He attracted the attention of William of Orange, who discovered his abilities and made him Secretary to the States-General in 1572, prized him highly for his character and abilities, commissioned him to write important state papers, and intrusted very weighty affairs to him.

In his youth he had been an extensive traveller and had seen with his own eyes the methods which the Spanish Inquisition employed to compel uniformity of faith and, with his whole moral being revolting from these unspiritual methods, he dedicated himself to the cause of liberty of religious thought, and for this he wrote and spoke and wrought with a fearlessness and bravery not often surpassed. With this passion of his for intellectual and spiritual freedom was joined a deeply grounded disapproval of the fundamental ideas of Calvinism, as he found it expounded by the preachers and theologians of the Reformed Church in Holland. As a Humanist, he was convinced of man's freedom of will, and he was equally convinced that however man had been marred by a fall from his highest possibilities, he was still possessed of native gifts and graces, and bore deep within himself an unlost central being, which in all his wanderings joined him indissolubly to God. On the great theological {107} issues of the day he |disputed,| with penetrating insight, against the leading theologians of the Netherlands, and he always proved to be a formidable antagonist who could not be put down or kept refuted. Jacobus Arminius, at the turning of his career, was selected by the Consistory to make once for all a refutation of Coornhert's dangerous writings. He, however, became so impressed, as he studied the works which he was to refute, that he shifted his own fundamental points of belief, accepted many of Coornhert's views, and became himself a greater |heretic| and a more dangerous opponent of Calvinism than the man whom he was chosen to annihilate.

Sometime in his religious development -- it is impossible to settle precisely when or where -- he read the writings of the spiritual Reformers, and received from them formative influences which turned him powerfully to the cultivation of inward religion for his own soul and to the expression and interpretation of a universal Christianity -- a Christianity of the inward Word and of an invisible Church. The lines of similarity between many of his views and those of Franck are so marked that no one can doubt that he read the books and meditated upon the bold teachings of this solitary apostle of the invisible Church. In fact he frequently mentions Franck by name in his writings and quotes his views. It is certain, too, that he admired, loved, and translated the writings of Sebastian Castellio, the French Humanist, first an admirer and then opponent of Calvin, pioneer defender of freedom of thought, and exponent of inward and spiritual religion of the type of the German Spiritual Reformers, and it is unmistakable that we have, in this Dutch self-taught scholar, a virile interpreter of this same type of Christianity, marked with his own peculiar variation, and penetrated with the living convictions of his personal faith and first-hand experience. While putting emphasis on personal experience and on inward insight he nevertheless, like Franck, was suspicious {108} and wary of mystical |enthusiasm| and of |private openings.| He criticized the |revelations| of David Joris and Henry Nicholas, and in place of their caprice he endeavoured to find the way to a religion grounded in the nature of things and of universal value. He was deeply read in the Mystics and constantly used their terminology, but he often gave new meaning to their words and pursued quite a different goal from that which absorbs the true mystic.

Coornhert makes a sharp distinction between lower knowledge and higher knowledge -- knowledge proper. Lower knowledge does not get beyond images and copies of true reality. It is sufficient for man's practical guidance in the affairs of this world of space and time, but it becomes only a |dead knowledge| when it is applied to matters of eternal moment. The higher knowledge, on the other hand, is knowledge won through direct experience and practice of the will. This higher knowledge is possible for man because through Reason he partakes of the Word of God which is Reason itself revealed and uttered, and therefore he may know God and know of his own salvation with a certainty that far transcends the lower knowledge which he possesses of external things, or of mere historical happenings.

This Word of God is eternal, and is the source of all spiritual light and truth that have come to the race in all ages. Through it the patriarchs discovered how to live well, even in a world of sin, and through this same Word the prophets saw the line of march for their people, and by the power and inspiration of this Word the written word was given as a temporary guidance, as a pedagogical help, as a lantern on men's paths, until the morning Star, Jesus Christ, the living Word, should rise and shine in men's hearts. The living Word is, thus, vastly different from the written word. One is essence, the other only image or shadow; one is eternal, the other is temporal; one is uncreated, the other is made; one is the Light itself, the other is the lantern through which the {109} Light shines; one is Life itself, the other is only the witness of this Life -- the finger which points toward it.

True religion is distinguished from all false or lower forms of religion in this, that true religion is always inward and spiritual, is directly initiated within the soul, is independent of form and letter, is concerned solely with the eternal and invisible, and verifies itself by producing within man a nature like that of God as He is seen in Christ. The |law| of true religion is a new and divinely formed disposition toward goodness -- a law written in the heart; its temple is not of stone or wood, but is a living and spiritual temple, its worship consists entirely of spiritual activities, i.e. the offering of genuine praise from appreciative hearts, the sacrifice of the self to God, and the partaking of divine food and drink through living communion with Christ the Life. Religion, of this true and saving sort, never comes through hearsay knowledge, or along the channels of tradition, or by a head knowledge of texts of the written word. It comes only with inward experience of the Word of God, and it grows and deepens as the will of man lives by the Will of God, and as the kingdom of God comes, not in some far-away Jerusalem, or in some remote realm above the sky, but in a man's own heart.

This true and saving religion is begun, and completed, within the soul by a process which Coornhert names by the great historic word, faith. Faith is the soul's free assent to the living Word of God as, through amazing grace, it offers itself to man in the desperate straits of his life. Man is so made that he perpetually seeks some desired satisfaction and, in his restless search for this unattained good, he tries many false and specious trails, is endlessly baffled and deceived, and finally discovers, if he is fortunate enough to come to himself, that he is like a shipwrecked man on a single plank with sea everywhere about him and no haven in sight. In this strait the Light, which he has not noted before, breaks in on his darkness, and the way of Grace is presented to him in {110} Christ. He feels himself called to a strange way of finding his desired satisfaction -- no longer the way of flesh and worldly wisdom, but the way of the cross, of suffering, and of sacrifice. Reason, enlightened by the Word of God, prompts him to assent; the Scriptures, laden with promises, bear their affirmative testimony, and thus he makes his venture of faith, takes the risk of the voluntary sacrifice of his own pleasant desires, his preference for ways of ease and comfort, his self-will, and makes the bold experiment of trusting the Word of God, as it reveals itself to him, and of following Christ. He finds that his faith verifies itself at every step, his experiment carries him on into an experience, his venture brings him to the reality he is seeking. Every stage of this pragmatic faith, which in a word is obedience to the Light, makes the fact and the meaning of sin clearer, at the same time makes the knowledge of God more real and the nature of goodness more plain, and it leads away from a superstition of fear to a religion of love and of joy.

All other religions, besides this true and inward religion of the spirit, called by Coornhert |outer or external religions,| are considered of value only as preparatory stages toward the one true religion which establishes the kingdom of God in man's heart. With this fundamental view, he quite naturally regards all external forms and ceremonies as temporary, and he holds that all of them, even the highest of them, are nothing else than visible signs, figures, shadows, symbols, pointing to invisible, spiritual, eternal realities, which in their nature are far different from the signs and symbols. The signs and symbols can in no way effect salvation; they can at best only suggest to the quickened soul the true realities, to know which is salvation. The real and availing circumcision, as the spiritual prophets and apostles always knew, was a circumcision of the heart, and not of the flesh, and so, too, the true and availing baptism is a baptism into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, {111} and cleanses the soul of its sins and produces |a good conscience toward God| -- the old sinful man is buried and a new and Christlike man is raised. The same transforming effects attach to the real communion in which the finite human spirit feeds upon its true divine food and drink -- the Life of Christ given for us. The real Sabbath is not a sacred day, kept in a ceremonial and legal sense, but rather an inward quiet, a prevailing peace of soul, a rest in the life of God from stress and strain and passion. The Church has been pitiably torn and mutilated by disputes over the genuine form of administering these outer ceremonies, supposing them to be in themselves sacraments of life. As soon as they are recognized to be what they really are, only temporary signs and symbols, then the main emphasis can be put where it properly belongs, and where Christ himself always put it, on love and on the practice of love. No ceremony, even though instituted by Christ himself and practised with absolute correctness, can make a bad heart good, but love -- love which suffers long and is kind -- flows only from a renewed and transformed heart which already partakes of the same nature as that which was incarnate in Christ. Imprisonment, isolation, exile, excommunication may deprive one of the outward ceremonies, but neither death nor life, nor any outward circumstance in the universe, need separate the soul from the love of God in Christ, or deprive it of the privilege of loving!

Coornhert criticizes the great Reformers for having put far too weighty emphasis on externals, and he especially criticizes Calvin for having given undue prominence to |pure doctrine| and to the right use of sacraments. It is impossible, he insists, to establish authoritatively from Scripture this so-called |pure doctrine.| In fact, many parts of Scripture are against the doctrine of predestination, and Scripture is always against the doctrine of perseverance in sin. All speculations about the Trinity, or about the dual nature of Christ, transcend our knowledge and should be rejected. Furthermore {112} there is no authoritative Scripture or revelation for the new forms of the sacrament that have been introduced by the Reformers and are being made essential to salvation. The true Reformation, he thinks, should be devoted to the construction of the invisible Church, which has existed in all ages of the world, but which is kept from realizing its full scope and power because the attention of men is too greatly absorbed with signs and symbols and outward things.

For similar reasons he disapproved of the Anabaptists, even in their purified form as worked out under the guidance of Menno Simons. They still held, as did the reformed churches, that the true Church is a visible church which every one to be a Christian must join, though this true Church, as they conceive it, consists only of |saints.| They claim the authoritative right to ban all persons who, according to their opinion, are not |saints.| This right Coornhert denies. He further disapproves of their literal interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount, and of the obstacles which they put in the way of the free exercise of prophecy on the part of the members of the community. He insists that a person may be a Christian and yet belong to no visible church, if meantime he is a true member of the invisible Communion. He himself refrained from taking the communion supper, either with Papists, Lutherans, or Calvinists, because he said they all set the sacrament above the real characteristic mark of Christian membership, which is love, and because there is no divine command, with distinct and unambiguous authority, for the efficacious celebration of the sacrament, which in any case could not be rightly kept so long as sectarian hostility and lack of love prevail in the contending visible churches. Under these circumstances, Coornhert, who was intensely concerned for the sincere, simple-minded souls, perplexed by the maze of varying sects and parties, refused to found a new sect or to head a new schismatic movement. On behalf of those who could not {113} conform, he pleaded for freedom of conscience and for the right to live in the world undisturbed as members of the invisible Church, using or omitting outward ceremonies as conscience might direct, waiting meantime and seeking in quiet faith for the coming of new and divinely commissioned apostles who would really reform the apostate Churches, unite all divided sects, and gather in the world a true Church of Christ.

Meantime, while waiting for this true apostolic Church to appear, Coornhert approved of the formation of an interim-Church. This Church, according to his programme, would accept as truth, and as true practice, anything plainly and clearly taught in the canonical Scripture, but he advised against using glosses and commentaries made by men, since that is to turn from the sun to the stars and from the spring to the cistern. This interim-Church was to have no authoritative teachers or preachers. In place of official ministry, the members were to edify one another in Christian love, with the reservation that they would welcome further illumination out of the Scriptures wherever they have made a mistake or gone wrong. All persons who confess God as Father, and Jesus Christ as sent by God, and who in the power of faith abstain from sins, may belong to this interim-Church. For the sake of those who are still weak and spiritually immature, he allowed the use of ceremonies in the interim-Church, but all ceremonies are held as having no essential function for salvation, and the believer is at liberty to make use of them or to abstain from using them as he prefers.


Coornhert's proposed interim-Church, which at best was conceived as only a temporary substitute for the true apostolic Church, for which every spiritual Christian is a |waiter| or |seeker,| found actual embodiment in a very interesting movement of the early seventeenth {114} century, known in Dutch history as the |Collegiants| or |Rynsburgers,| which we shall now proceed to study. The Collegiants had their origin in one of the stormiest of the many theological controversies which swept over the Netherlands in this critical period of religious history, a controversy arising over the views taught by Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609). The Dutch Protestants who accepted his views presented a |Remonstrance| to the States of Holland and Friesland in 1610, in which they formulated their departure from strict, orthodox Calvinism. The |Remonstrance| contained five main Articles: (1) that the divine decrees of predestination are conditioned and not absolute; (2) that the atonement is in intention universal; (3) that a man cannot of himself do anything good without regeneration; (4) that though the Grace of God is a necessary condition of human effort it does not act irresistibly in man; (5) that believers are able to resist sin, but are not beyond the possibility of falling from Grace. The opponents to these views, often called |Gomarists,| issued a counter-blast from which they received the name |counter-Remonstrants.| The States-General passed an edict tolerating both parties and forbidding further dispute, but the conflict of views would not down. It spread like a prairie fire, became complicated with political issues, had its martyrdoms, and produced far-reaching results and consequences. At the Synod of Dort, on April 24, 1619, the Remonstrants were declared guilty of falsifying religion and of destroying the unity of the Church, and were deposed from all their ecclesiastical and academic offices and positions. Two hundred were deposed from the ministerial office for life, and one hundred were banished.

Among the number of deposed ministers was Christian {115} Sopingius, the pastor of Warmund, and the |Remonstrants,| who formed an important part of his congregation, were left without the opportunity of hearing any ministry of which they approved. In this strait Giesbert Van der Kodde, an Elder in the Warmund church, took a bold step. He was the son of a prosperous farmer who had given his children, John, William, Adrian, and Giesbert, an unusually extended education. All the sons learned Latin, Italian, French, and English, while William (known in the scholarly world as Gulielmus Coddaeus) was a Hebrew and Oriental scholar of note, and at the age of twenty-six was made Professor of Hebrew in the University of Leyden. They owed the course of their religious development and their particular bent of mind to the writings of men like Sebastian Castellio; Coornhert, whose views have been given above; and Jacobus Acontius, the Italian humanist, who laid down the principles that no majority can make a binding law in matters of faith, that only God's Spirit in the hearts of men can certify what is the truth, and that |Confessions of Faith| have been the ruinous source of endless divisions in the Church. Deeply imbued with the ideas of these spiritual reformers, and in sympathy as they were with many of the views and practices of the Mennonites about them, the Van der Kodde brothers decided, under the leadership of the boldest and most conscientious of them, Giesbert, to come together without any minister and hold a meeting of a free congregational type. At first the meeting was probably held in Giesbert's house, and consisted of readings from the Scripture, prayers, and the public utterance of messages of edification by those who formed the group. A little later a |Remonstrant| preacher was sent to care for the orphaned Church in Warmund, but Giesbert had become satisfied with the new type of meeting, and now expressed himself emphatically against listening to preachers who lived without working and at the expense of the community, and who hindered the free exercise of |prophecy.| Many of the members of the Church did not share these views, but {116} much preferred to have the comfort of a minister, so that a |separation| occurred, and Giesbert, with his brothers and fellow-believers, rented a house and perfected their new type of congregational meeting. They soon moved their meeting (called a |Collegium,| i.e. gathering) to the neighbouring town of Rynsburg, where it received additions to its adherents, largely drawn from the Mennonites, many of whose ideas were strongly impressed upon the little |Society,| -- for example, opposition to taking oaths, refusal to fight, or even to take measures of self-defence, and rejection of the right of magistrates and other political officers to inflict punishment. They also adopted, as the Mennonites did, the Sermon on the Mount as the basis of their ethical standard, which they applied with literalness and rigour. They insisted on simplicity of life, the denial of |worldly| occupations or professions, plainness of garb, rejection of the world's etiquette, absence of titles in addressing persons, and equality of men and women, even in public ministry. They introduced the practice of immersion (|Dompeldoop|) as a mark of initiation into the Society, but they considered true Christian baptism to be with the Spirit and not with water, and they allowed their members a large range of liberty in the use or disuse of water baptism, as well as in the form of receiving it. They rejected the Supper as an ecclesiastical ceremony, but they highly prized it as an occasion of fellowship and of group worship. Every person might share the supper with them if he confessed his faith in Christ and were not living in unrepented sin, though they were inclined to exclude persons occupying offices which involved the violation of the Sermon on the Mount. The one essential mark of fellowship was brother-love, which was not to be confined to the narrow limits of the Society, but that person was regarded the truest disciple of Christ who practised the neighbour-spirit in the broadest and most effective manner. They cared for their own sick and poor, and they had a wide sympathy for all oppressed and suffering people. They pushed to the farthest limit {117} their opposition to war and all other forms of destroying human life.

From the first there was a decided strain of |Enthusiasm| evident in the movement, and a pronounced tendency to encourage a ministry of |prophetic openings.| One of the original members, John Van der Kodde, declared that he should fear the loss of his salvation if he failed in a meeting to give utterance to the Word of God revealed to him in his inner being. They encouraged the custom of silent waiting in their gatherings as a preparation for |openings.| They proved from the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians that free prophecy is the highest form of ministry, and they held that God by His grace could pour out His Spirit upon men in the seventeenth century as well as in the days of the Apostles and Evangelists, who did their mighty work, not as Church officials, but as recipients of gifts from God. They felt that prayer accompanied by tears was true prayer, |moved| from above. They, however, were persons of scholarship and refinement, and not tumultuous or strongly emotional, but, on the contrary, they highly valued dignity and propriety of behaviour.

As the movement spread, Collegia, or societies, were formed in Leyden, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and in other localities, essentially like the mother-society in Rynsburg, but with characteristic variations and with particular lines of local developments. Once every year they had a large yearly meeting in Rynsburg, to which the scattered members came from all parts of Holland where there were societies. As time went on, two marked lines of differentiation appeared in the movement, due to the trend of the influence of important leaders, one group emphasizing especially the seeker-attitude, and the other group receiving its formative influence from Cartesian philosophy. Daniel Van Breen, Adam Boreel, and Michael Comans were the early leaders and pillars of the Amsterdam Collegium, which was begun in 1645, and some years later the group was greatly strengthened by the |convincement| of the young Mennonite doctor and {118} teacher, Galenus Abrahams, who soon became the most prominent Collegiant leader in Holland.

Adam Boreel gave the movement a strong impetus and did much toward putting the teachings of Coornhert into practice. He was born at Middleburg in 1603. He was a man of good scholarship, being especially learned in Hebrew, and he was thoroughly impregnated with the views of the spiritualistic Humanists of the former century, Franck, Castellio, and Coornhert, as well as with the views of the mystics, and he was himself a champion of individual religious freedom. He held that the visible Church since the apostolic age has been astray and apostate, that Confessions of faith, Church officers, and sacraments are without |authority,| that the uncontaminated teaching of the Holy Scripture is the only safe norm of faith, and that until a true apostolic Church is again established in the world by divine commission, each faithful, believing Christian should maintain meantime the worship of God in his own way and wait in faith for a fuller revelation. His mystical piety appears strongly in his hymns, which are preserved in his complete works. One of these hymns of Boreel has been very freely translated into English |by a Lover of the Life of our Lord Jesus,| probably Henry More, the Platonist. More says that he finds the hymn |running much upon the mortification of our own wills and of our union and communion with God,| and he loves it as a deep expression of his own faith that |no man can really adhere to Christ, and unwaveringly, but by union to Him by His Spirit.| I give a few extracts from More's free Translation:

1. O Heavenly Light! my spirit to Thee draw,
With powerful touch my senses smite,
Thine arrows of Love into me throw
With flaming dart
Deep wound my heart,
And wounded seize for ever, as thy right.


3. Do thou my faculties all captivate
Unto thyself with strongest tye;
My will entirely regulate:
Make me thy slave,
Nought else I crave
For this I know is perfect Liberty.

5. O endless good!
Break like a flood
Into my soul, and water my dry earth,

6. That by this mighty power I being reft
Of everything that is not One,
To Thee alone I may be left
By a firm will
Fixt to Thee still
And inwardly united into one.

11. So that at last, I being quite released
From this strait-laced Egoity
My soul will vastly be increased
Into that All
Which One we call,
And One in itself alone doth All imply.

12. Here's Rest, here's Peace, here's Joy and Holy Love, The heaven is here of true Content,
For those that seek the things above,
Here's the true light
Of Wisdom bright
And Prudence pure with no self-seeking blent.

15. Thus shall you be united with that One,
That One where's no Duality,
For from that perfect Good alone
Ever doth spring
Each pleasant thing
The hungry soul to feed and satisfy.

Stoupe, in his Religion of the Dutch, gives some interesting contemporary light on this branch of Collegiants whom he calls |Borellists,| as follows: |The Borellists had their name from one Borrell, the Ringleader of their {120} sect, a man very learned, especially in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latine tongues. He was brother to Monsieur Borrell, ambassador from the States-General to his most Christian Majesty. These Borrellists do for the most part maintain the opinions of the Mennonites though they come not to their assemblies. They have made choice of a most austere kind of life, spending a considerable part of their Estates in almsgiving and a careful discharge of all the duties incumbent on a Christian. They have an aversion for all Churches, as also for the use of the Sacraments, publick prayers, and all other external functions of God's Service. They maintain that all Churches which are in the world and have been since the death of the apostles and their first subsequent successors have degenerated from the pure doctrine which they preached to the world; for this reason, that they have suffered the infallible Word of God contained in the Old and New Testaments to be expounded and corrupted by Doctors who are not infallible and would have their own confessions, their catechisms, and their Liturgies and their sermons, which are the works of men, to pass for what they really are not, to wit, for the pure Word of God. They hold also that men are not to read anything but the Word of God alone without any additional application of men.|

Abrahams (b.1622) intensified the seeker aspect of the Amsterdam group, emphasizing the view that the existing Church, even in its best form, is only an interim-Church with no saving sacraments and no compelling authority. His position is expressed in the highly important |Nineteen Articles| which he, and his fellow-believer, David Spruyt, drew up in 1658, and in the further Exposition Nader Verklaringe of 1659. These documents present the apostolic pattern or model as the ideal of the visible Church for all ages. There neither is nor can be any other true Church. It is essentially a Church managed, maintained, and governed through |gifts| bestowed by the Holy Spirit, and in this Church each spiritual member takes his part according to the measure of his special |gift.| This pattern Church, however, {121} fell away and became corrupted after the death of the apostles, and instead of this glorious Church an external Church was established, claiming to possess authoritative officials, saving sacraments, and infallible doctrines, but really lacking the inward power of the apostolic Church, no longer following and imitating Christ, on the contrary adopting the world's way and the world's type of authority, and destitute of the very mark and essence of real Christianity, the spirit of love. Through all the apostasy of the visible Church, however, an invisible Church has survived and preserved the eternal ideal. It consists of all those, in whatever ages and lands, who have lived by their faith in Christ, have kept themselves pure and stainless in the midst of a sinful world, have practised love, even when they have received the buffets of hate, have lived above division and schism and sect, and have steadily believed that their names were written in heaven and that their Church was visible to God, even though none on earth called them brother, or recognized their membership in the body of Christ. Some time, in God's good time, that invisible Church, which no apostasy has annulled or destroyed, will become once again a visible Church, equipped with |gifted| teachers and with apostolic leaders as at the first, beautiful once more as a bride adorned for her husband, and powerful again as the irresistible sword of the Spirit.

But the Reformers -- Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and even Menno Simons -- have taken an unwarranted course toward the reform and restoration of the Church. It was within their right and power to improve the unbearable condition of the outward Church, by faithfully following the plain teaching of the New Testament, and without usurping authority. They, however, have not been satisfied to do what lay within the narrow limits of their commission. They have ambitiously undertaken to set up again an authoritative visible Church, even though they lacked the gifts of the Spirit for it, and were without the necessary apostolic commission. They insisted on their form of sacraments as essential to salvation; they {122} drew up their infallible creeds; they set up Church officials who were to rule over other men's faith, and they assumed a certain divine right to compel the consciences of their members. Most of the Reformers have even sanctioned the use of bonds and prisons to secure uniformity of faith! The primitive apostles claimed no such right and made use of no such unspiritual methods. Order is a good thing and is everywhere to be sought, but God nowhere has conferred upon the heads of His Church the authority to compel conscience or to force tender souls to submit to a system which reveals in itself no inherent evidences of divine origin.

The writers of these Nineteen Articles fail to see anywhere in the world a divinely established and spiritually endowed Church of Jesus Christ. They are determined to live in purity and love, to avoid dissension and strife, to guard their membership in the invisible Church, and to wait in faith for the outpouring of the Spirit and the bestowal of miraculous gifts for the restoration of the Church in its pristine apostolic purity and power. We have thus, here in Holland, an almost exact parallel to the |Seekers| who were very numerous in England in the middle decades of the seventeenth century.

We get a very interesting side-light on Galenus Abrahams in the Journal of George Fox. William Penn and George Keith held a |discussion| with this famous Collegiant leader in 1677, at which time the latter |asserted that nobody nowadays could be accepted as a messenger of God unless he confirmed his doctrine by miracle,| and Fox says that Abrahams was |much confounded and truth gained ground.| Fox himself was not present at the |discussion,| but he had a personal interview with Abrahams at about the same time as the |discussion.| The interview was not very satisfactory. Fox says that he found this |notable teacher| |very high and shy, so that he would not let me touch him nor look upon him, but he bid me keep my eyes off him, for {123} he said they pierced him!| But at a later visit, in 1684, Fox found the Collegiant doctor, now venerable with years, |very loving and tender.| |He confessed in some measure to truth,| Fox says, |and we parted very lovingly.| At a meeting, held in Amsterdam a few weeks later, Abrahams was among the large group of attenders, and |was very attentive to the testimony of the truth,| and, when the meeting was over, Fox says, |he came and got me by the hand very lovingly,| and seemed no longer afraid of the Quaker's |piercing eyes.| In spirit they were very near together, and with a little more insight on both sides the two movements might have joined in one single stream. For many years afterwards the common people, not given to nice distinctions, called the annual gathering of the Collegiants at Rynsburg |the meeting of the Quakers.|

The other tendency in the movement, which received its fullest expression in the group of Collegiants at Rynsburg and their friends in Amsterdam, had a still greater parallelism with Quakerism, in fact, the most important book which came from a member of this group -- The Light on the Candlestick -- is indistinguishable in its body of ideas from Quaker teaching, and differs only in one point, that it reveals a more philosophically trained mind in the writer than does any early Quaker book with the single exception of Barclay's Apology. The author of The Light on the Candlestick -- written originally in Dutch and published in 1662 under the title Lucerna super candelabro -- was probably Peter Balling, though the book, with characteristic Collegiant modesty, was published anonymously. Peter Balling was one of an interesting group of scholarly Collegiants who became very intimate friends of Baruch Spinoza, and who received from the Jewish philosopher a strong impulse toward mystical religion. Before they became acquainted with the young Spinoza, however, they had already received through Descartes a powerful intellectual awakening, {124} and had discovered that consciousness itself, when fully sounded, has its own unescapable evidence of God. It is not possible here to turn aside and study adequately this extraordinary philosophical movement known as Cartesianism, beginning in Descartes (1596-1650) and culminating in Spinoza (1632-1677), but the distinct religious influence of it is so profoundly apparent, both in Peter Balling and in the Quaker apologist Robert Barclay (1648-1690), that a very brief review of the contribution from this source seems necessary.

Rene Descartes, like almost every other supreme genius who has discovered a new way and has forever shifted the line of march for the race, passed through a momentous inward upheaval, amounting to a conversion experience, and emerged into a new moral and intellectual world. It was on November 10, 1619, in the midst of a great campaign during the opening stages of the Thirty Years' War, in which at this time the young Frenchman was a soldier on the Roman Catholic side, that Descartes, sitting alone all day in a heated room of some German house, resolved to have done with outworn systems of thought and with tradition, and determined to make the search for truth the object of his life. The new scientific method, which was the fruit of his reflections and experiments, and which has since been carried into every field of human research, does not now concern us. The feature of his philosophy which impressed these serious seekers after God was his fresh discovery of what is involved in the nature of self-consciousness. Beginning with the bold resolution to accept nothing untested, to doubt everything in the universe that can be doubted, and to receive as truth only that which successfully resists every attempt to doubt it, he found one absolutely solid point with which to start, in the self-existence of self-consciousness -- |At least I who am doubting am thinking, and to think is to exist.| {125} Pushing his search deeper down to see what is further involved in the constitution of this self-consciousness, he discovered a consciousness of God -- the idea of an infinitely perfect Being -- within himself, and this consciousness of God seemed to him to be the underlying condition of every kind of knowledge whatever. It turns out to be impossible, he believes, to think of the |finite| without contrasting it, in implication at least, with the |infinite| which is therefore in consciousness, just as it is impossible to talk of |spaces| without presupposing the one space of which given |spaces| are parts. That we are oppressed with our own littleness, that we |look before and after and sigh for what is not,| that we are conscious of finiteness, means that we partake in some way of an infinite which reveals itself in us by an inherent necessity of self-consciousness. There are, then, some ideas within us -- at least there is this one idea of an infinitely perfect reality -- implanted in the very structure of our thinking self, which could have come from no other source but from God, who is that infinitely perfect Reality. Other things may still be doubtful, and a tinge of uncertainty may rest upon everything external to the mind that perceives them, but the soul and God are sure, and, of these two certainties, God is as sure as the soul itself, because an idea of Him is native to the soul as a necessary part of its |furnishings,| and is the condition of thinking anything at all.

Spinoza, though bringing to his philosophy elements which are foreign to Descartes, and though fusing his otherwise mathematical and logical system with the warmth and fervour of mystical experience that is wholly lacking in the French philosopher, carried Cartesianism to its logical culmination, and has given the world one of the most impressive presentations that ever has been given of the view that all things centre in God and are involved in His existence, that it belongs to the very nature of the {126} human mind to know God, and that all peace and felicity come from |the love of an infinite and eternal object which feeds the soul with changeless and unmingled joy.| He, too, had his conversion-awakening which took him above the love of earthly things, and through it he found an unvarying centre for his heart's devotion, which made his life, outwardly extremely humble, inwardly one of the noblest and most saintly in the history of philosophy. |After experience had taught me,| he writes in the opening of his early Treatise on the Improvement of the Understanding, |that all things which are ordinarily encountered in common life are vain and futile... I at length determined to inquire if there were anything which was a TRUE GOOD, capable of imparting itself, and by which alone the mind could be affected to the exclusion of all else; whether, indeed, anything existed by the discovery and acquisition of which I might have continuous and supreme joy to all eternity,| and the remainder of his life was penetrated by a noble passion for the Eternal, and dedicated to the interpretation of the Highest Good which he had discovered, and which henceforth no rival good was ever to eclipse. Dr. A. Wolf well says of him: |His moral ardour seems almost aglow with mystic fire, and if we may not call him a priest of the most high God, yet he was certainly a prophet of the power which makes for righteousness.| He is giving his own experience in the spiritual principle which he laid down early in his life: |So long as we have not such a clear idea of God as shall unite us with Him in such a way that it will not let us love anything beside Him, we cannot truly say that we are united with God, so as to depend immediately on Him.|

It is Spinoza's primary principle that the only Reality in the universe is an all-inclusive Reality which is the origin, source, and explanation of all that is. All human experience, either of an inward or outward world, if it is to have any meaning and reality at all, involves the {127} existence of this inclusive Whole of Reality, that is of God. It belongs, thus, fundamentally to the nature of human consciousness to know God, for if we did not know Him we should not know anything else. The moment a |finite thing| or a |finite idea| is severed from the Whole in which it has its ground and meaning, it becomes nothing; it is |real| only so long as it is a part of a larger Reality, and so every attempt to understand a |flower in a crannied wall,| or any other object in the universe, drives us higher up until we come at last to that which is the prius of all being and knowledge, the explanation of all that is.

But this ultimate Reality up to which all our experience carries us -- if we take the pains to think out what is involved in the experience -- is no mere sum of |finites,| no bare aggregation of |parts,| no heaped-up totality of separate |units.| It is an Absolute Unity which binds all that is into one living, organic Whole, a Divine Nature, -- natura naturans Spinoza calls it, -- and which lives and is manifested in all the finite |parts,| in so far as they are real at all. And as soon as the mind finds itself in living unity with the eternal Nature of things, and views all things from their centre in God, and sees how all objects and events flow from the eternal Being of God, it is |led as by the hand to its highest blessedness.| The complications of Spinoza's system, and the difficulty of finding a |way down| from the Absolute Unity of God to the differentiation of the modes of a world -- natura naturata -- here, in space and time, do not now concern us.

The point of contact between Spinoza and the spiritual movement which we are studying is found in his central principles that God is the prius of all finite reality, that to know things or to know one's own mind truly is to know God, and that a man who has formed a pure love for the eternal is above the variations of temporal fortune, is not disturbed in spirit by changes in the object of his love, but loves with a love which eternally feeds the soul with joy.


During the most important period of his intellectual and spiritual development, Spinoza spent three years (1660-1663) in the quiet village of Rynsburg, living in close and intimate contact with his Collegiant friends. It was here during these happiest years of his life, in this quiet retreat and surrounded with spiritually-minded men with whom he had much in common, that he wrote his Short Treatise on God, Man and His Well-Being, as well as his Treatise on the Improvement of the Understanding, which opens with his account of the birth of his own spiritual passion. These intellectual and high-minded Collegiants had their influence upon the philosopher, and he in turn had a deep influence upon them. Peter Balling translated into Dutch in 1664 Spinoza's version of Descartes' Principia, and Balling turned to his friend Spinoza for consolation in his great loss occasioned by the death of his child that same year, while the philosopher at his death left all his unpublished manuscripts to another life-long intimate Collegiant friend of his, John Rieuwertsz.

The Light on the Candlestick, to which we shall now turn for the ripest ideas of the little sect, was written while Spinoza was living among the Collegiants in Rynsburg. It was very quickly discovered by the Quakers, who immediately recognized it as |bone of their bone,| and circulated it as a Quaker Tract. It was translated into English in 1663 by B. F., who published it with this curious title-page: |The Light upon the Candlestick. Serving for Observation of the Principal things in the Book called, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God, &c. Against several Professors, Treated of, and written by Will Ames. Printed in Low Dutch for the Author, 1662, and translated into English by B. F.|

The Collegiant author, quite in the spirit and style of Spinoza, urges the importance of discovering a central love for |things which are durable and incorruptible,| |knowing thereby better things than those to which the {129} multitude are link't so fast with love.| We have outgrown the |toyes with which we played as children,| there is now |no desire or moving thereunto, because we have found better things for our minds|; so, too, |all those things in which men, even to old age, so much delight| would seem like |toyes| if they once discovered the true Light |which abides forever unchangeable,| and if through it they got a sight of |those things which are alone worthy to be known.| This |true and lasting change,| from |toyes| to |the things which are durable and eternal,| can come only through an inward conversion. When a new vision begins from within, then the outward action follows of itself, but no man will part with what he judges best till he sees something better, and then the weaker yields to the stronger without any forcing. This whole work of conversion, of transformation, of |lasting change,| must have its origin in something within ourselves. We cannot turn from baubles and |toyes| and our |desire for that which is high in the world| until a Light from some source plainly shows us an eternal reality for which we may |highly adventure the tryal.| There is, our author insists, only one place where such a guiding Light could arise, and that is within the soul itself, as an inward and immediate knowledge: |'Tis not far to seek. We direct thee to within thyself. Thou oughtest to turn into, to mind and have regard unto, that which is within thee, to wit, the Light of Truth, the true Light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world. Here 'tis that thou must be and not without thee. Here thou shalt find a Principle certain and infallible, through which increasing and going on into, thou mayest at length arrive unto a happy condition. Of this thou mayest highly adventure the tryal. And if thou happenest to be one of those that would know all things before thou dost begin... know this, Thou dost therein just as those that would learn to read without knowing the Letters. He that will not adventure till he be fully satisfied, shall never begin, much less finish {130} his own salvation. We say then, that we exhort every one to turn unto the Light that's in him.|

In true Cartesian fashion, he demonstrates why this Light must have its locus within the soul and not in some external means or medium. All knowledge that God is being revealed in external signs, or through external means, already presupposes a prior knowledge of God. We can judge no doctrine, no Book to be Divine except by some inward and immediate knowledge of what really is Divine. Without this Light the Scriptures are only Words and Letters. But |if we experience that the Book called the Bible in regard to the Divine doctrine therein comprised hath such a harmony with That [in us] by which God is known, that He must needs have been the Author of it, there cannot rationally be any more powerful demonstration.|

The same principle is true with regard to every conceivable form of revelation which could be made to our outward senses, whether by words, or by miracles, or by any other visible |operations.| No finite thing can bring us a knowledge of God unless we already have within us a sufficient knowledge of Him to make us able to appreciate and judge the Divine character of the particular revelation; that is to say, we must already have God in order either to seek Him or to find Him; or, as Balling puts it, |Unless the knowledge of God precedes, no man can discern Him.| God is, therefore, the prius of all knowledge: |The knowledge of God must first be, before there can be knowledge of any particular things,| and God must be assumed as present in the soul before any basis of truth or of religion can be found. |The Light is the first Principle of Religion; for, seeing there can be no true Religion without the knowledge of God, and no knowledge of God without this Light, Religion must necessarily have this Light for its first Principle.| |Without thyself, O Man,| he concludes, |thou hast no {131} means to look for, by which thou mayest know God. Thou must abide within thyself; to the Light that is in thee thou must turn thee; there thou wilt find it and nowhere else. God is nearest unto thee and to every man. He that goes forth of himself to any creature, thereby to know God, departs from God. God is nearer unto every man than himself, because He penetrates the most inward and intimate parts of man and is the Life of the inmost spirit. Mind, therefore, the Light that is in thee.|

This Light -- the first Principle of all Religion -- is also called in this little Book by many other names. It is |the living Word,| |the Truth of God,| |the Light of Truth|; it is |Christ|; it is the |Spirit.| As a Divine Light, it reproves man of sin, shows him that he has strayed from God, accuses him of the evil he commits. It leads man into Truth, |even though he has never heard or read of Scripture|; it shows him the way to God; it gives him peace of conscience in well-doing; and, if followed and obeyed, it brings him into union with God, |wherein all happiness and salvation doth consist.| It operates in all men, though in many men there are serious |impediments| which hinder its operations -- |the lets to it are manifold| -- but as soon as a man turns to it and cleanses his inner eye -- removes the |lets| -- he discovers |a firm foundation upon which he may build stable and enduring things: A Principle whereby he may, without ever erring, guide the whole course of his life, how he is to carry himself toward God, his Neighbour and himself.| The writer, having thus delivered his message, wishes to have it distinctly understood that he is not trying to draw his readers to any new sect, or to any outward and visible church. |Go to, then, O Man,| he says, |whoever thou art, we will not draw thee off from one heap of men to carry thee over unto another, 'tis somewhat else we invite thee to! We invite thee to Something which may be a means to attain thy own {132} salvation and well-being membership in the invisible Church.|

Such is the teaching of this strange little book, written by the friend of Spinoza, and revealing the maturest expression of this slowly developing spiritual movement, which began with Hans Denck and flowed uninterruptedly through many lives and along many channels and burst out full flood in England in |the Children of the Light,| who were known to the world as Quakers.

Three important books on this subject are C. B. Hylkema, Reformateurs (Haarlem, 1902); Dr. Heinrich Heppe, Geschichte des Pietismus und der Mystik in der reformirten Kirche, namentlich der Niederlande (Leiden, 1879); and Wilhelm Goeters, Die Vorbereitung des Pietismus in der reformierten Kirche der Niederlande (Leipzig, 1911).

The biographical details of his life are given in a Preface to the three-volume edition of his collected works, published in Amsterdam in 1631.

The title of this work is Zedekunst, dat is, Wellevens Kunst, vermits waarheydts kennisse vanden Mensche, vande Zonden ende vande Deughden. Nu aldereerst beschreven in't Neerlandtsch. Coornhert's Wercken (1631), i. fol.268-3353.

Two of his powerful pleas for the freedom of the mind are, Epitome processus de occidendis haereticis et vi conscientiis inferenda (Gouda, 1591), and Defensio processus de non occidendis haereticis (Hannover, 1593).

Gottfried Arnold, Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historien, ii. p.378, sec.3.

See Chap. VI.

Zedekunst, chaps. i. and ii.

Zedekunst, chaps. iv. and v.

Wercken, iii. fol.413-427. See also |Hert-Spiegel godlycker Schrifturen,| Wercken, i. fol.1-44.

Wercken, iii. fol.413-427.

See Arnold, op. cit. ii. p.380, sec.8.

His views in this particular are very similar to those of Schwenckfeld.

Arnold, op. cit. pp.381-382.

Wercken, i. fol.554 ff.

The best history of the Collegiants is J. C. Van Sloe's De Rijnsburger Collegianten (Haarlem, 1895).

One of the most tragic consequences of the controversy was the martyrdom of John of Barneveldt, the political head of the Remonstrants. Hugo Grotius was thrown into prison, but escaped through the bold ingenuity of his wife.

Adam Boreel's teaching is set forth in his treatise, Ad. legem et testimonium (Amsterdam, 1643). Information upon his life and teaching is given in Arnold, op. cit. ii.386-387; in Hylkema, Reformateurs; and in Walter Schneider, Adam Boreel (Giessen, 1911).

Henry More's Annotations upon the Discourse of Truth (London, 1682), pp.271-276.

Stoupe, La Religion des Hollandois (Paris, 1673), translated into English under the title The Religion of the Dutch (London, 1680). The extract is from p.82 of the French edition and pp.26-28 of the English edition.

Sewel, History of the People called Quakers (Phila. edition, 1823), ii. p.368.

Journal, (ed.1901), ii. p.310.

Journal, ii. p.401.

Ibid. ii. pp.401-402.

Simeon Friderich Rues, Mennoniten und Collegianten (Jena, 1743), p.244.

See E. S. Haldane, Descartes, His Life and Times (1905), pp.51-53.

The autobiographical account of this experience is given in the opening of part ii. of the Discourse on Method.

Descartes' famous argument is found in Meditations III. and IV. of his Meditations on First Philosophy, first published in 1641. For an illuminating interpretation of the entire movement, see Edward Caird's Essay on Cartesianism in Essays on Literature and Philosophy (1892), ii. pp.267-383.

Spinoza, Short Treatise on God, Man, and his Well-Being, Wolf's edition (London, 1910), p.102.

Ibid. p.40.

Ethics, part ii. Preface.

See Spinoza's Correspondence, Letter No. XXX.

Benjamin Furley, a Quaker merchant of Colchester, then living in Rotterdam.

The Light upon the Candlestick, p.8, freely rendered.

The Light upon the Candlestick, pp.3-4.

Op. cit. p.10. He uses also the Cartesian argument that there must at least be as much reality in the cause as there is in the effect, p.12.

Op. cit. p.12.

Ibid. p.6.

The Light upon the Candlestick, pp.12-13.

Ibid. pp.4 and 9.

Ibid. p.5.

Ibid. p.6.

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