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


The first appearance in English of any of the writings of Jacob Boehme was in 1645, when a tiny volume was issued with the title: Two Theosophical Epistles, Englished.

There had appeared a year earlier (1644) a seven-page biography of Boehme which was the first presentation of him to the English reader. This brief sketch contains the well-known incidents which became the stock material for the later accounts of his life. It also contained the following quaint description of Boehme which was the model for all the portraits of the Teutonic philosopher in the English biographies of him: |The stature of his outward body was almost of no Personage; his person was little and leane, with browes somewhat inbowed; high Temples, somewhat hauk-nosed: His eyes were gray and somewhat heaven blew, and otherwise as the Windows in Solomon's Temple: He had a thin Beard; a small low Voyce. His Speech was lovely. He was modest in his Behaviour, humble in his conversation and meeke in his heart. His spirit was highly enlightened by God, as is to be seen and discerned in the Divine Light out of his writings.|

The slender volume of Theosophical Epistles was followed by another little book issued a year later (1646), {209} consisting of a Discourse delivered in Latin in the Schools at Cambridge by Charles Hotham, Rector of Wigan. This Discourse was translated into English by the author's brother, Justice Durant Hotham, and was published under the title: Introduction to Teutonic Philosophy, or A Determination concerning the Original of the Soul, Englished by D. F. [Durant Frater], 1650. This interesting little volume, full of quaint phrase and strange speculation, reflects throughout its pages the profound influence of Boehme on these two brothers. The Preface to the Englished edition written by Justice Hotham not only shows specific marks of Boehme's influence upon a high-minded and scholarly man, but it also reveals in an impressive way a type of thought that was very prevalent in England at this period of commotion. |There are,| Justice Hotham says, |two islands of exceeding danger, yet built upon and inhabited and defended as part of the main continent of Truth. The first is called: 'I believe as the Church believeth.' Happy man whom so easie labour hath set on the shore of wisdom! The other island is called: 'whatsoever the Church believes that will I not believe.'| Both these |islands| seem to him |exceeding dangerous.| To adopt as truth what the Church has believed, solely because the Church has believed it, to forego the personal quest and to arrive at |the shores of wisdom| without the venturous voyage, is |too easie labour| for the soul. But, nevertheless, he feels that the opposite danger -- the danger of negating a truth merely because the Church affirms it -- is even more serious. It is wise to maintain an attitude of |much reverence| toward the |unanimous consent of good and pious men in sacred matters.| He suggests that the way of wisdom consists in making the |I believe| of the Church |neither a fetter nor a scandel.| |May I be,| he says, |in the bed-route of those Seekers that, distrusting the known and experienced deceits of their own Reason, walk unfettered in the quest of truth, . . . not hunting those poor soules with Dogge and speare whose dimme sight hath led them into desert and unbeated {210} paths.| This was in all probability the Justice Hotham of whom George Fox wrote: |He was a pretty tender man yt had had some experiences of God's workeinge in his hearte: & after yt I had some discourse with him off ye things of God hee tooke mee Into his Closett & saide hee had knowne yt principle [of the Light] this 10 yeere: & hee was glad yt ye Lorde did now publish it abroade to ye people.|

Like his Teutonic master, Justice Hotham distrusts Reason and Sense as spiritual guides. They are at best, he says, |but guides of the night, dim lights set up, far distant from Truth's stately mansion, to lead poor groping souls in this world's affairs.| The surer Guide is within the soul itself, for the soul of man, he insists, has |a noble descent from eternal essences| and |our nobel Genealogy should mind us of our Father's House and make us weary of tutelage under hairy Faunes and cloven-footed Satyres.| He shows that he has lost all interest in theological speculations that assume a God remote in time and space, a God who once created a world and left it to go to ruin. He reminds his readers that the God in whom he believes is |yet alive and still speaks.| In the light of this Preface, in which he declares that he has |suckt in truth from divinest philosophy| from his childhood, it is not strange that he welcomed Fox, when the latter appeared in Yorkshire in 1651, proclaiming an inward Light and a present God near at hand, nor is it surprising that Hotham said to the young prophet of the inward Guide: |If God had not raised uppe this principle of light and life, ye nation had beene overspread with rantism . . . but this principle of truth overthrew ye roote & grounde of there [i.e. the Ranters'] principle.|

The enthusiasm of Justice Hotham for his Teutonic master gets fervid expression at the end of his Preface as follows: |Whatever the thrice great Hermes [Hermes Trismegistus] delivered as oracles from his prophetical tripos, or Pythagoras spake by authority or {211} Socrates debated or Aristotle affirmed; yea, whatever divine Plato prophesied or Plotinus proved: this and all this, or a far higher and profounder philosophy is (I think) contained in the Teutonick's writings. And if there be any friendly medium which can possibly reconcile these ancient differences between the nobler wisdom which hath fixt her Palace in Holy Writ and her stubborn handmaid, Naturall Reason: this happy marriage of the Spirit and Soul, this wonderful consent of discords in one harmony, we owe in great measure to Teutonicus his skill!|

The central problem of the Discourse, written by the brother, Charles Hotham, is the origin of the soul. After the manner of his German teacher, the English disciple finds the origin of man's soul in |the bottomless, immeasurable Abyss of the Godhead,| in |the great deep of the perpetually eternal God.| Man is an epitome of the universe. He unites in himself all the contrary principles of the worlds visible and invisible, he is a unity of body and soul, a centre of light and darkness, and in him is a |supreme region,| or |Divine Principle,| |by the mediation of which man has direct fellowship with God.| In man, who thus epitomizes all the spheres and principles of the universe, |God, as in a glasse, hath a lively and delightful prospect of His own lovely visage and incomprehensible Beauty.| Finally, again, the disciple reflects the constant teaching of Boehme that everything in the visible world is a symbol of a fundamental and eternal World.

Durant Hotham showed the full measure of his devotion to his German master in the Life of Jacob Behmen which he wrote in 1653. It is, however, much more important for the insight which it gives of the inner life of the Yorkshire Justice than for any biographical information it furnishes of Boehme himself. Hotham thinks that in Boehme he has discovered a new type of Christian Saint -- |one who led a saint-like life in much sweet communion {212} with God,| while he declares that many of those who |get admission into the Calendar by the synodical jurisdiction of those who claim also to hold the bunch of keys to the bigger Heaven| are hardly ripe for canonization -- |As for many who in these last ages have termed themselves saints -- what shift God may make of them in heaven, I know not (He can do much) -- but if I may speak unfeignedly, they are so unmortified and untrue of word and deed that they are found untoward members for a true Commonwealth and civil Society here on Earth.|

The type of saint the Justice admires is one who refuses utterly to choose the path of least resistance, one who will not be |a messenger of eternal happiness at a cheap rate,| but rather one who comes to challenge the easy world, to fight evil customs and entrenched systems and to win |the Land which the Devil holds in possession|; and, with the name of Jacob Boehme, he thinks he can |begin a new roll of Civil Saints,| hoping, he says, that in these last generations |much company| may be added to the bead roll thus happily started.

Two points stand out clearly as central ideas of Justice Hotham's Christianity. The first one is that religion is an inward affair. |God,| he declares, |hath sent this last Generation a plain, uncouth Message, bidding man to fight, telling him that he shall have a Heaven, a Joy, a Paradise, a Land, a Territory, a Kingship -- but that all this is in himself, the Land to be won is himself.| The second one is that religion is a progressive movement, an unfolding revelation of life. |What a height of Presumption is it,| he says, |to believe that the Wisdom and fullness of God can ever be pent up in a Synodical Canon? How overweening are we to limit the successive manifestations of God to a present rule and light, persecuting all that comes not forth in its height and breadth!| It is through this |unnatural desire| to keep Christians in |a perpetual infancy| that |our dry nurses| in the Church have |brought us to such a dwarfish stature,| {213} and he prays that the merciful God may teach at least one nation a better way than that of |muzzling| the bringer of fresh light.

Much more important, however, for the dissemination of Boehme's ideas in England was the patient and faithful work of John Sparrow who, in collaboration with his kinsman, John Ellistone, translated into English the entire body of Boehme's writings, between the years 1647 and 1661. Sparrow was born at Stambourne in Essex in 1615. He was admitted to the Inner Court in 1633 and subsequently called to the Bar. He was probably the author of a widely-read book, published in 1649, under the title of Mercurius Teutonicus, consisting of a series of |propheticall passages| from Boehme. His outer life was uneventful; his inner life is revealed in his Introductions to the Boehme Translations. He begins his long series of Translations with the testimony that the writings of this author have |so very much satisfied| his own soul that he wants others to be partakers of the same source of light, though he warns his readers that their own souls must come by experience into the condition Boehme himself was in before they can fully understand him. He is profoundly impressed, {214} as his great contemporary, Milton, was, with the strange birth of new sects |now sprung up in England,| but he hopes that |goodness will get the upper hand and that the fruits of the spirit will prevail,| and his mind |is led to think| that through Boehme's message, which has been very beneficial in other nations, |our troubled, doubting souls in England may receive much Comfort, leading to that inward Peace which passeth all understanding, and that all disturbing sects and heresies . . . will be made to vanish and cease.|

Sparrow was deeply impressed with two of Boehme's central ideas, and he gives expression to them, in his own quaint and peculiar way, in almost every one of his Introductions -- (1) the idea that the visible is a parable of the Invisible, and (2) the idea that God manifests Himself within men. In the very first of the Introductions both of these ideas appear: |This outward world,| he says, |is the best outward looking-glasse to see whatever hath been, is, or shall be in Eternity, and our own minds are the best inward looking-glasse to see Eternity exactly in|; and he expresses the belief that any one who learns to read all the work of God in the world without, and in the mind of man within, will learn to know Him truly, will see Eternity manifested in time, will discover that the mind of man is a centre of all mysteries, and that heaven and hell are potentially in us, and he will be convinced that God is in all things and all things are in God; that we live in Him and that He lives in us.

This second idea -- that God can be found in the depth of man's soul -- is strongly emphasized in Sparrow's next Introduction, written in 1648 -- |The Ground of what hath ever been lieth in man.| All that is in the Scriptures has come out of man's experience and therefore can now be grasped by us. All that was in Adam lies in the ground and depth of any man. When the Apostle John wrote that there is an unction which teacheth all things and leadeth into all truth, he did not confine this possibility {215} to apostles, but intended to include all men in the class of those who may be anointed, and all who know |what is in man| realize that it is possible to attain to this inward and apostolic guidance. In a passage of great boldness Sparrow goes in his venturous faith in the inner Spirit as far as the young Leicestershire preacher did who was starting out, the very year this Introduction was written, to proclaim the message of the inward Light. |The ground,| he says, |of all that was in Adam is in us; for whatever Ground lay in God, the same lieth in Christ and through Him it lieth in us, for He is in us all. And he that knoweth God in himself . . . may well be able to speak the word of God infallibly as the holy men that penned the Scriptures. And he that can understand these things in himself may well know who speaketh by the Spirit of God and who speaketh his own fancies and delusions.|

In the Introduction to the Mysterium magnum, Sparrow returns to this idea of inward illumination, though he balances it better than he did in the former Introduction, with his estimation of |the antient Holy Scriptures,| and he does not again suggest that present-day men speak |infallibly.| He thinks that the same God who so eminently taught Moses by His Spirit that he could describe the processes of creation, must have also prepared the people by the instruction of the same Spirit, so that they could understand what was written, and so that the Spirit in one man could verify itself in the experience of many men. He declares that when the Scriptures instruct and perfect the man of God, they are effective, |not as a meer relation of things done,| but as the medium of the living Word which reaches the inward Man, the hidden Man of the heart, the Christ in us, so that we pass beyond |the history of Christ| and rise to |the experience that Christ is born within us.|

No other book, he says, but the Scriptures, teaches {216} man |with assured knowledge of all the things which concern the soule, the eternal part of man,| for other writers have written from the observation of their outward senses, but these writers had |inward senses -- their eyes saw, their ears heard, their hands handled the Word of Life.| And yet for those in these days who can |look through the vayle or shell within which the Eternal Spirit works its Wonders,| the visible things of the world prove to be |a glasse wherein the similitude of spirituall things are represented| and |the Minde of man is a most clear and undeceiving glasse wherein we may perceive the motions and activities of that Work-Master, the Spirit who hath created everything in the world.| In the most satisfactory of all his Introductions, the one to the Aurora in 1656, he undertakes to show that |the Light within| which has now arisen in England is not a substitute for the Christ of history. On the contrary, he insists that the Christ within and the Christ of history is one and the same Person who is not divided. He was once manifested in the likeness of sinful flesh, suffering, dying, rising, ascending in glory, and now, in an inward and spiritual manner, He is actually present within men so that they may become conformable in soul and spirit to Him and share in His life, sufferings, death, resurrection and glory, or they may, by their own choice, crucify Him afresh within themselves. The Word of Life calls loudly within every man, urging the soul to forsake that which it perceives to be evil and to embrace that which it perceives to be good and holy and divine. This, he says, is the Eternal Gospel, and it brings to all men everywhere the good news that we live and move and have our being in God, and that the soul that gropes in sincerity after God will find Him, for He is very nigh, even in the heart of the seeker. He deals in an interesting way with the important contemporary problem -- raised by the prevalence of the emphasis on an inward Divine Presence -- whether human Perfection is possible in this life. His {217} conclusion is that the tendency to sin remains so long as |the mortal body| lasts. No person will ever reach a stage of earthly life in which the spur of the flesh is eradicated, and so no person can be infallibly certain that he is beyond sin, but when Christ is inwardly united to the soul and His Spirit dwells in us and reigns in us and we are risen in soul, spirit, and mind with Him, then we live no longer after the flesh, or according to its thrust and push, but share His life and partake of the conquering power of His Spirit; and thus, though |sown in imperfection we are raised in perfection.| The important matter, however, is not that one call himself a |Perfectist,| but that he actually live |in this earthly pilgrimage and in this vale of sinfull flesh| in the power of Eternity and by the Light of Christ, whose fulness may be revealed in himself.

John Ellistone, Sparrow's kinsman and able helper in the work of bringing Boehme into English thought, holds the same fundamental ideas as his co-labourer, though he has his own peculiar style and his own unique way of uttering himself. The stress of his emphasis is always on first-hand experience -- what he calls |an effectual, living, essential knowledge and real spiritual being of it in one's own soul|; and the brunt of his attack is {218} always against a religion of |notions| -- what he calls |verball, high-flowne, contrived knowledge and vapouring Notions,| constructed from |the mental idolls of approved masters.| Religion, he maintains, can no more consist of |the letter| or of |a talkative historicall account| than music can consist of a row of written notes. These things are only signs for the direction of the skilful musician who must himself make the sounds on his instrument before there is any music. So, too, if there is to be any real religion in the world, we Christians must do more than read and approve |the deciphered writings of illuminated men,| we must act by the same Spirit that inspired those men, we must be |practitioners of the Divine Light,| we must give |living expression to Divine love and righteousness,| we must |practice the way of regeneration in the Spirit of Christ and divinitize our knowledge into an effectual working love and attaine the experimental and essential reality of it in our owne soules!| The way out of |the tedious Maze and wearisome laborinth of discussions and opinions concerning God, Christ, Faith, Election, the Ordinances and the Way of Worship| is |to know the Word of Life, Light and Love experimentally,| to have |the fire of His love so enkindled in our own hearts that it may breake forth in our practice and conversation to the destroying of all Thornes and tearing Bryars of vaine contentions!|

Like his kinsman, he has endless faith in the possibility of man; he thinks that the entire Scripture directs us to the Word within us, and that the Book of all mysteries is within ourselves. |In our owne Book,| he says, |which is the Image of God in us, Time and Eternity and all Mysteries are couched and contained, and they may be read in our owne soules by the illumination of the Divine Spirit. Our Minde is a true mysticall Mirror and Looking-glasse of Divine and Naturall Mysteries, and we shall receive more real knowledge from one effectuall innate essentiall beame or ray of Light arising from the New Birth within us than in reading many {219} hundreds of authors whereby we frame a Babel of knowledge in the Nation.|

He goes so far with his faith in the soul's possibility to return into |the Original Centre of all Reality| that he declares that a man may sink deep enough into this Original Principle that binds his own soul into union with God so that he can penetrate by an inner Light and experience into the secret qualities and virtues hid in all visible and corporeal things, and may learn to discover the healing and curative powers of metals and plants, and may thus, by inward knowledge, advance all Arts and Sciences.

Ellistone returns to this inner way of arriving at a knowledge of outward things in his Preface to Signatura rerum in 1651. Man, he declares, is a microcosm, or abridgment, of the whole universe, he is the emblem and hieroglyphic of Time and Eternity, and he who will take pains to push in beyond Solomon's Porch, or the Outer Court of sense and natural reason, to the Inner Court and Holy Place, where the immortal Seed abides and where man can become one again with that which he was in God before he became a creature, then he will have the key that opens all mysteries both inner and outer. Nature will be an open Book of Parables in which he can read the truth of Eternity, the world will be a clear mirror in which he can see the things of the Spirit and he will know what will cure both soul and body. The |Depth of God within the Soul,| the Inner Light, is the precious Pearl, the never-failing Comfort, the Panacea for all diseases, the sure Antidote even against death itself, the unfailing Guide and Way of all Wisdom.

Here, then, were two very enthusiastic disciples of Boehme who took their master's teaching very seriously, who on the whole grasped its essential meaning, were possessed and penetrated by the idea of a deeper eternal world manifesting itself in the temporal, and who gave their lives to the difficult task of making Boehme's message {220} available to their own people and to their own perplexed age. They were not |occultists.| They did not run into enthusiastic vapourings, nor did they strain after psychic experiences which would relieve them of the stress and strain of achieving the goal of life through the formation of balanced character and the practice of social virtues, though, as we shall see, some of the readers of their translations took the risky course, and ended in the fog rather than in the clear light.

The question has naturally been raised whether Boehme exercised any direct influence upon the early Quaker movement. There is at present no way of proving that George Fox, the chief exponent of the movement, had actually read the writings of the Teutonic philosopher or had consciously absorbed the views of the latter, but there are so many marks of influence apparent in the Journal that no careful student of both writers can doubt that there was some sort of influence, direct or indirect, conscious or unconscious. The works of Boehme were, as we have seen, all available in English, during the great formative period of Fox's life, from 1647 to 1661. There can be no question that they were read by the serious Seekers in the period of the Commonwealth. Thomas Taylor, who was one of the finest fruits of the Seeker movement, bears in 1659 a positive testimony to the spiritual value of Jacob Bewman's (Behmen) writings. Taylor received a letter from Justice William Thornton of Hipswell in Yorkshire, warning him to beware of |the confused Notions and great words of Jacob Bewman and such like frothy scriblers.| Taylor replies: |For thy light expressions of Jacob Bewman, I know in most things he speaks a Parable to thee yet, and so his writings may well be lightly esteemed of by thee; but there is that in his Writings which, if ever thy eye be opened, will appear to be a sweet unfolding of the Mystery of God and of Christ, in divers particulars, according to his Gift. And therefore beware of speaking Evil of that which thou {221} know'st not.| We have also seen how Boehme appealed to such noble Seekers as Charles and Durant Hotham, John Sparrow, and John Ellistone. One Quaker of some importance, Francis Ellington, not only read the writings of Boehme, but regarded |that Faithful Servant Jacob Behme| as |a Prophet of the Lord.| He quotes from his German |Prophet| the words: |A Lilly blossometh to you ye Northern Countries; if you destroy it not with sectarian contention of the learned, then it will become a great Tree among you, but if you shall rather contend than to know the true God, then the Ray passeth by and hitteth only some; and then afterwards you shall be forced to draw water for the thirst of your souls among strange nations.| Ellington regards Boehme as a genuine |prophet,| and the |Lilly| that was to blossom in the North seems to Ellington plainly to be George Fox and his Quaker Society, which the learned have tried in vain to overthrow. He cites many passages from the Teutonic Prophet of the Lord to show the parallelism between the prophesied type of spiritual religion and the Children of the Light who have exactly fulfilled it.

It would be natural to expect that the young Quaker seeker, eager for any light on his dark path, would read the Forty Questions and The Three Principles of the Divine Essence, or at least that he would hear them discussed by the people among whom he moved in these intense and eventful years. In any case there are ideas expressed and experiences described in the Journal which look strangely like memories, conscious or subconscious, of ideas and experiences to be found in the Boehme writings. The most striking single passage is one which describes an experience which occurred to Fox in 1648. It is as follows: |Now was I come up in Spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were {222} new; and all the Creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness and innocency and righteousness, being renewed into the image of God by Jesus Christ, to the state of Adam before he fell. The creation was opened to me; and it was showed me how all things had their names given them, according to their nature and virtue. I was at a stand in my mind, whether I should practise physic for the good of mankind, seeing the nature and virtue of things were so opened to me by the Lord. . . . The admirable works of creation and the virtues thereof may be known through the openings of that divine Word of Wisdom and power by which they were made.|

Jacob Boehme had, as we have seen, a similar experience of having |the nature and virtues of things opened| to him in the year 1600. The following account of it was given in Sparrow's Introduction to Forty Questions, printed in 1647: |He went forth into the fields and there perceived the wonderful or wonder works of the Creator in the signatures, shapes, figures, and qualities or properties of all created things very clearly and plainly laid open. Whereupon he was filled with exceeding joy.| The same incident is told in a slightly different way in Justice Hotham's Life of Behmen: |Going abroad into the Fields, to a Green before Neys-Gate, at Gorlitts, he there sate down, and viewing the Herbs and Grass of the Field, in his Inward Light he saw into their essences, use and properties.| It was, further, a fundamental idea of Boehme's that the outward and visible world is a parable and symbol of the spiritual world within, and that by a spiritual experience which carries the soul down to the inner, hidden, abysmal Centre, the secrets and mysteries of the outward creation may become revealed. Hotham says that Boehme, by his divine Light, |beheld the whole of creation, and from that Fountain of Revelation wrote his book De signatura rerum.| Ellistone, in the Introduction to Boehme's Epistles, printed in 1649, predicts {223} that an experience, like this one which Fox claimed, will come to those who receive the inner Divine Light. |This knowledge,| he says, |must advance all Arts and Sciences and conduce to the attainment of the Universal Tincture and Signature, whereby the different secret qualities and vertues that are hid in all visible and corporeall things, as Metals, Minerals, Plants and Herbes, may be drawne forth and applied to their right naturall use for the curing and healing of corrupt and decayed nature.|

It was also a feature of Boehme's teaching that man must enter again into Paradise and return to the condition of the unfallen Adam. |The Noble Virgin| [i.e. Sophia or Spiritual Wisdom], Boehme writes, |showeth us the Gate and how we must enter again into Paradise through the sharpness of the sword,| which, in a few lines previous, he calls |the flaming sword which God set to keep the Tree of Life.| Fox's experience of the |new smell| of creation is an even more striking parallel. Mystic awakenings and spiritual openings generally impress the recipient of them with a sense of new and fresh penetration into the meaning of things and leave them with a feeling of heightened powers, but cases in which the experience results in a new sense of smell are fairly rare. Two persons might, no doubt, have such an experience quite independently, but one who has become familiar with the range of suggestion in experiences of this type will note with interest the large place which |new Smells and Odours| occupy in Boehme's writings. For example, he says, in the Signatura rerum, where he describes the coming of the Paradise-experience: |When Paradise springs up, the paradisaical joy puts itself forth with a lovely smell,| and in one of his Epistles he speaks of a spiritual awakening in his own life that was marked by a new smell -- |A very strong Odour was given to me in the life of God.|

There is another passage in Fox's Journal, a few lines {224} beyond this famous account of his Paradise-experience, that also bears the mark of Boehme's influence. In fact, it is difficult to believe that Fox could have got his phraseology anywhere else than from Boehme. The passage reads: |As people come into subjection to the Spirit of God and grow up in the Image and Power of the Almighty, they may receive the Word of Wisdom that opens all things, and, come to know the hidden Unity in the Eternal Being.| Everywhere in Boehme it is |Sophia, the Word of Wisdom,| that |opens all things,| and the goal of all spiritual experience and of all divine illumination for him consists in coming to |the hidden Unity in the Eternal Being, or the Eternal Essence.| That is not a Biblical phrase, and it is not one which the Drayton youth would have heard from native English sources. It came to England with the Boehme literature. Further revelations along this same line of |opening| follow in the Journal. In the Vale of Beavor the Lord |opened| things to Fox, relating to |the three great professions in the world, physic, divinity and law.| |He showed me,| Fox says, |that the physicians were out of the Wisdom of God by which the creatures were made, and so knew not their virtue because they were out of the Word of Wisdom.| He saw that the priests were actuated by the dark power -- a very suspicious phrase to one who knows what a place the |Dark Principle| holds in Boehme's writings -- and he saw that the lawyers were out of the Wisdom of God. But it was opened to him that all these three professions might be |reformed| and |brought into the Wisdom of God by which all things were created,| and |have a right understanding of the virtues of things through the Word of Wisdom|; for |in the Light all things may be seen both visible and invisible.| The extraordinary use of Old Testament figures, by which Fox illustrates the condition of the Church, in the section of the Journal following the passages above quoted, is no less significant. The figures of Cain and Esau, of Korah and Balaam, and the types of Adam and Moses are given {225} quite in the style of The Three Principles, or of the Mysterium magnum. One parallel is especially interesting. Fox says: |I saw plainly that none could read Moses aright without Moses' spirit, by which Moses saw how man was in the Image of God in Paradise, and how he fell and how death came over him, and how all men have been under this death.| The Preface to Mysterium magnum says: |I cannot but think that the same God that taught Moses so eminently by His Spirit had so fitted the people for whom he wrote that they were capable to receive instruction by his words.| This idea, so frequently expressed in the writings of Fox, that no one can understand the Scriptures except by the Spirit that gave forth the Scriptures, is equally a fundamental idea of Boehme and his English interpreters. In many passages of the Mysterium magnum Boehme declares that the written word is only a witness to the living Word, which latter Word can be understood only by those who are in the Spirit that spoke in the Prophets and Apostles. Sparrow, in his Introduction to the Aurora, declares that no person can understand the spiritual mystery of redemption, |though he reade of it in the Scriptures,| unless the Holy Spirit in himself, the true Divine Light, enlighten him, and give him the word of faith in his heart; |neither,| he adds, |can any understand the Holy Scriptures but by the same Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Soul.|

On one occasion the Lord showed Fox the nature of things that are in the human heart -- |as the nature of dogs, swine, vipers, etc.| So, too, Boehme saw that there are many kinds of wild beast in man's nature -- the lion, the wolf, the dog, the fox, and the serpent. Fox frequently speaks of the two |seeds| -- the Seed of God or the Seed of Christ and the seed of the serpent -- and the victory of life in the Spirit consists in having the Seed of God conquer the seed of the serpent, or, as Fox {226} often expresses it, having |the Seed of God bruise the serpent's head,| or having |the Seed of God atop of the devil and all his works|; or having |the Seed reign.| This phraseology runs throughout Boehme's writings. The two |seeds| are everywhere in evidence, and |the Treader on the serpent| is the frequent name for Christ and for the victorious soul. God showed Adam, Boehme says, how |the Treader on the serpent| should once again be brought with virtue and power up into the Paradise of God, and live anew by the Word of God.

Fox, in the account of his first great transforming opening in 1647, says: |I knew God by revelation as one who hath the key doth open.| This is a frequent figure in Boehme for a first-hand experience. |Where is Paradise to be found?| he asks. |Is it far away or is it near? One person cannot lend the key to another. Every one must unlock it with his own key or else he cannot enter,| and again he describes that |surpassing joy of the new regeneration,| when the soul |gets the keys of the kingdom of heaven and may open for itself.|

Fox's |openings| about university-trained ministers and his references to |stone churches,| or |churches of stone and mortar,| have many parallels in Boehme. Dinah of the Old Testament, for example, is |nothing else but a figure of our stone churches and our colleges with their ministers!| and Jacob's concubine, again, |signifieth nothing else but the stone churches in which God's word and testament are handled.|

Finally, Fox's great vision of an ocean of Darkness and an ocean of Light, while no doubt a real experience and expressed in his own words, is profoundly like Boehme's fundamental insight that there are two world-principles of Light and Darkness, and that Light is, in the end, victorious over Darkness.

No attempt has been made to gather an exhaustive set {227} of parallels between the experiences and ideas of these two religious teachers. Enough, however, is presented to show that this spiritual leader in England was distinctly a debtor to the Teutonic seer who died the same year in which the former was born. Fox himself never mentions Boehme by name, nor does he ever refer to the little sect of |Behmenists,| which, springing into existence contemporaneously with the birth of the Quaker movement, had an interesting, though short-lived, history; but a number of the followers of Fox went aggressively into the lists against their puny rival.

The so-called |sect of Behmenists| is thus described by Richard Baxter: |The fifth sect are the Behmenists whose opinions go much toward the way of the former [the Quakers] for the sufficiency of the Light of Nature, Inward Light, the salvation of the Heathen as well as Christians, and a dependence on 'revelations.' But they are fewer in number, and seem to have attained to greater Meekness and conquest of passions than any of the rest. Their doctrines are to be seen in Jacob Behmen's Books, by him that hath nothing else to do, than to bestow a great deal of time to understand him that was not willing to be easily understood!|

|The chiefest| of this |sect of Behmenists,| Baxter says, was Dr. John Pordage. Pordage was born in 1607; was curate in 1644 of St. Lawrence's in Reading; was made rector of the Church in Bradfield late in 1646; was charged in 1651 with heresies, comprised in nine articles, consisting apparently of a sort of mystical pantheism. He was at first acquitted, but was later charged again with heresies on these nine counts, with fifty-six more, and was deprived of his rectory in 1655. He valiantly defended himself in a book with the title, Truth appearing through the Clouds of Undeserved Scandel, and in other publications, and after the Restoration he was reinstated. As the Behmenists were definitely attacked by the Quaker, John Anderdon, in 1661, it is to be inferred that they existed as a society at least as early as the {228} Restoration, though the movement became much more prominent in the 'seventies, when Pordage discovered a remarkable woman named Jane Leade, and they |agreed to wait together in prayer and pure dedication.| Jane Leade, whose maiden name was Jane Ward, was born of a good English family in 1623. She was a psychopathic child, and as a young girl |heard miraculous voices| which led her to devote herself to religion. She became profoundly impressed with the writings of Boehme, as Pordage had been still earlier, and under the suggestion of Boehme's experiences she received many |prophetic visions,| which are recorded in her spiritual Diary, A Fountain of Gardens. A few instances of her experiences in the early stages will be of some value to the reader. She was visiting, she says, in April 1670, in a quiet, retired place, and was |contemplating the happy state of the angelical world, much exercised upon Solomon's choice, which was to find out the Noble Stone of Wisdom.| |There came upon me an overshadowing bright cloud, and in the midst of it the Figure of a woman, most richly adorned with transparent gold, her hair hanging down, and her face as terrible as chrystal for brightness, but her countenance was sweet and mild. At which sight I was somewhat amazed, and immediately this Voice came, saying, Behold, I am God's Eternal Virgin, Wisdom, whom thou hast been enquiring after. I am to unseal the Treasures of God's deep Wisdom unto thee. . . . Wisdom shall be born in the inward parts of thy soul.| Three days later, |the same Figure in greater Glory did appear, with a crown upon her head, full of majesty, saying, Behold me as thy Mother and know thou art to enter into covenant, to obey the New-Creation laws that shall be revealed unto thee.| In her account of the following extraordinary experience there are many marks of Boehme's influence: |I retained no strength, my Sun of Reason and the Moon of my outward sense were folded up and withdrew. I knew nothing by myself, as {229} to those working properties from Nature and Creature, and the wheel of the Motion standing still, another [influence] moved from a central Fire, so that I felt myself transmuted into one pure flame. Then came that Word to me, 'This is no other than the Gate to my Eternal Deep.'|

Pordage's main contribution to the exposition of |Behmenism| was a book published in 1683 and entitled, Theologia Mystica, or the Mystic Divinitie of the Eternal Invisibles. It is the work of a confused mind, and its spiritual penetration, as also its mastery of the English language, are of a low order. The marks of Boehme's influence appear everywhere in the book, though Pordage is quite incapable of comprehending the more profound and robust features of Boehme's philosophy. What he relates professes to be what he himself has seen in visions, or what he has heard from celestial visitants. It has, he says, been his privilege to taste much of that Tree of Life which grows in the midst of the Paradise of God; to smell the difference between heaven and hell; to have seen through the veil of nature into the spiritual glory of eternity, to have felt |the distillations of heavenly dew and secret touches of the Holy Ghost.| Unlike his Teutonic master, he taught (and it was also the view of Jane Leade) that in the end Divine Love transmutes evil into good and even hell into Paradise. One passage in his book, written in his best style, will be sufficient to illustrate his glowing optimism: |Love is of a transmuting and transforming Nature. The great effect of Love is to turn all things into its own Nature, which is all goodness, sweetness, and perfection. This is that Divine Power which turns Water into Wine, Sorrow and Hellish Anguish into exulting and triumphing Joy; Curse into Blessing; where it meets with a barren heathy Desart it transmutes it into a Paradise of delights; yea, it changeth evil to good and all imperfection into perfection. It restores that which is fallen and degenerated to its primary Beauty, Excellence and Perfection. It is {230} the Divine Stone, the White Stone with a Name written on it, which none knows but him that hath it . . . the Divine Elixir whose transforming power and efficacy nothing can withstand.|

His greater disciple, Jane Leade, |the enamoured woman-devotee of Pordage,| the main exponent of the Behmenist movement of this period, was a far too voluminous writer. She was a sincere, pure-minded woman, of intense devotion, but she was a strongly emotional type of person, and lived in a kind of permanent borderland of visions and revelations. Her language, like that also of Pordage, is ungrammatical, of involved style, and full of overwrought and fanciful imagination. Christopher Walton, who in many ways respected her, calls her writings |a huge mass of parabolicalism and idiocratic deformity!| In her Message to the Philadelphian Society she reports a curious vision from heaven which assures her that the Quakers are not God's chosen people. There pass in review before her illuminated sight the various claimants to the lofty title of the true Church, the real Bride of Christ. There are Anabaptists, Fifth Monarchy Men, and many others. |Then,| she says, |did I see a body greater than any of these come up with great boldness, as deeming themselves to have arrived to Perfection and so visibly distinguishing themselves from all the rest, and I said, Now surely the anointed of the Lord is before Him. But a Voice said, Neither are these they; for the Lord seeth not as man seeth.|

A third and intellectually far greater member of this group of |Behmenists| was Francis Lee, a Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford, a student in Leyden University, and a man of splendid parts. He became acquainted with the movement while in Holland, and on his return home sought out Jane Leade, became her adopted son, and, later, on the strength of a |revelation| made to his {231} spiritual mother, he married her daughter. Until the time of Jane Leade's death in 1704, he was her devoted disciple, writing for her in the period of her blindness, and editing and publishing many of her books. He was the moving spirit in the formation of |the Philadelphian Society| for the propagation of the mystical ideas of the followers of Boehme -- a Society which existed from 1697 to 1703, and which had a far-reaching influence not only in England but still more on the Continent of Europe.

John Anderdon, an interesting Quaker pamphleteer, born in 1624, convinced of the Truth of the Quaker Message by the preaching of Francis Howgil in 1658, and for many years a prisoner for his faith, for which he finally died in prison, furnishes in his attack on the |Behmenists| in 1661 the earliest data available for an estimate of their views and practices. The writer has evidently read the works of Jacob Boehme, or at least some of them, and he contends that the |Behmenists| whom he is attacking have failed to understand the writings of their master and have never fathomed |the tendencie of his spirit|: |The Conclusion which you have drawn to yourselves from his Writings will not profit you; neither doth it make you any jot the more excellent, that ye can talk much of him and his Books and Writings, being not come to the right Spirit in which is life, which brings men out of dead Forms.|

His main criticism of the little sect is that its members make use of |Mediums and borrowed Instruments for the conveyance of God's Grace and Virtue into the Soul,| and that they have |not come to the Light which gives {232} a true understanding of the things of God,| though he admits that there |was sometime| in them |a hungering and thirsting after Righteousness.| These |Mediums| are evidently the Water of Baptism and the Bread and Wine of the Supper -- |Ordinances,| he says, |as you call them.| It would seem from this Quaker Pamphlet that the |Behmenists| under review were much like the followers of Fox, except only that they continued to use the sacraments. This use of |Mediums| seemed to him indicate that they were |out of the Light| and |trying to cover the serpent's head,| instead of stamping on it, but Anderdon would not have written his Blow at Babel if he had not been impressed with the general marks of likeness in other respects between the |Behmenists| and his own people.

Another interesting Quaker document furnishes a glimpse of the |Behmenists| a dozen years later -- at about the period when John Pordage and Jane Leade were beginning to |wait together in prayer and pure meditation.| It is a Minute adopted by the London |Morning Meeting| of Friends, |the 21st of ye 7th Month 1674.| The occasion for action was the reception of |an Epistle to the Behminists,| written by Ralph Frettwell of Barbadoes, at an earlier period |one of the Chief Judges of the Court of Common-pleas| in the island. He had been stirred to write for the same reason that impelled Anderdon, and his |Epistle| called these partly spiritualized people, as he believed, to the fuller Light, and warned them against the use of Baptism, and Bread and Wine, and |the Pater Noster.| The Minute of the Morning Meeting, which opens with the words: |Deare freind R. F. in the Truth that never changeth but changeth all who believe and obey it,| records the decision of the Meeting not to publish the Epistle, |wee haveing well weighed it in the feare of God and in tender Care of Truth.| The reason given in the Minutes for not publishing the |Epistle| is, first, that |the writings of J. B. reveal {233} a great mixture of light and darkness,| and indicate that he lived sometimes in the power of one and sometimes in the power of the other, that God Himself has tried and judged the Spirit of darkness, and that the Spirit of Light has already |come to its own Centre and flows forth again purely| -- presumably in the Quaker movement. As the Lord Himself has given judgment and has given victory to the Principle of the Light, the publication of the |Epistle| is unnecessary.

And, secondly, Frettwell, in calling the |Behmenists| from |the use of Mediums,| admits that at an earlier period of his life, before he received the full Light, he |received light and peace| through these external things. This seemed to the Meeting |too much giveing them encouragement| to dwell in things which give |only drynesse and barrenness,| and they fear that |the ffoxes among them would take advantage| of this aid and comfort. It would appear that the gravamen of the Quaker attack on the little sect was the failure of its members to dispense with sacraments. At a later period, when the |Philadelphian Society| was in full flower, an old-time pillar Quaker, George Keith, then become a Churchman and |an apostate| in the eyes of Friends, attacked the writings of Jane Leade on the ground that |she wrote derogatory to the Humanity of Christ,| i.e. the historical Christ. Francis Lee took up vigorously the defence, and told George Keith that he himself had taught again and again the same principle of inward Light and inward Religion, that he had never yet publicly renounced these early ideas of his, and that he of all men ought to understand the meaning of a Christ within and of a |Still Eternity.|

Traces of Boehme's influence appear in the terms and {234} ideas of many English writers during the period under consideration, besides those specifically mentioned. Sir Isaac Newton read Boehme's books with great appreciation and meditated upon those strange accounts of the invisible universe which underlies and is in the visible world, but we need not take too seriously the claim of the |Behmenists| that |he was ploughing with Behmen's heifer| when he discovered the law of universal gravitation! Milton, without any doubt, had read the German mystic's account of the eternal war between the Light Principle and the Dark Principle, of the fall of Lucifer, of the loss of Paradise, and of the return of man in Christ to Paradise, and there are many passages in the great poet which look decidedly like germinations from the seed which Boehme sowed, but we must observe caution in tracing the origin of verses written by a poet of Milton's genius and originality and range of knowledge. One great Englishman of a later period, William Law, unmistakably owed to Jacob Boehme the main influences which transformed his life, and through the pure and lucid style of this noble English mystic of the eighteenth century, Boehme's insights found a new interpretation and a clearer expression than he himself or any other interpreter had been able to give them.

|The Life of one Jacob Boehmen, who although he was a meane man, yet wrote the most wonderful deepe knowledge in Naturall and Divine Things, that any hath been known to doe since the Apostles' Times, and yet never read them or learned them from any other man, as may be scene in that which followeth.| -- London, 1644, printed by L. N. for Richard Whitaker.

Journal of George Fox (Cambridge edition, 1911), i. p.18.

Preface, A.4.


Journ. i. p.29.

The Life of Jacob Behmen, written by Durant Hotham, Esquire, November 7, 1653. Printed for H. Blunden, and sold at the Castle in Corn Hill, 1654.

Life of Jacob Behmen, B.2.

Op. cit. B.2.

The writings were translated in the following order: In 1647, Forty Questions by Sparrow; The Clavis, by Sparrow. In 1648, The Three Principles, by Sparrow; The Way to Christ (including the Treatises, On True Repentance; On True Resignation; On Regeneration; The Supersensual Life; and On Illumination), by Sparrow. In 1649, Of the Last Times, by Sparrow; Epistles of Jacob Behmen, by Ellistone. In 1650, The Three-fold Life, by Sparrow. In 1651, De signatura rerum, by Ellistone. In 1652, Christ's Testaments -- Baptism and Supper, -- by Sparrow. In 1654, The Mysterium magnum, by Ellistone and Sparrow; A Table of the Divine Manifestation, by H. Blunden and Sparrow; A Table of the Three Principles, H. Blunden and Sparrow; An Epitome of the Three Principles, by Sparrow. In 1655, On Predestination, by Sparrow; A Short Compendium on Repentance, by Sparrow. In 1656, The Aurora, by Sparrow. In 1659, The Treatise on the Incarnation, by Sparrow. In 1661, The Great Six Points; The Earthly and Heavenly Mystery; The Four Complexions; Two Apologies to Tylcken; Considerations concerning Stiefel's Threefold State of Man; An Apology concerning Perfection; On Divine Contemplation; An Apology for the Books on True Repentance and True Resignation; 177 Theosophic Questions; The Holy Week; 25 Epistles, by Sparrow.

Sparrow refers to this book in his Introduction to The Three Principles as follows: |For a taste of the Spirit of prophecy which the author [Boehme] had, there is a little treatise of some prophecies concerning these latter times, collected out of his writings by a lover of the Teutonic philosophy and entitled Mercurius Teutonicus.|

Introd. to Forty Questions.

Introd. to Forty Questions.



Introd. to The Three Princ.

Introd. to The Three Princ.


|To the Reader| in Myst. mag.

|To the Reader| in Myst. mag.

Preface to the Reader in Aurora.

Preface for the Aurora.

Preface for the Aurora.

A contemporary of Sparrow, probably Samuel Pordage, wrote an Encomium on Sparrow in the Introduction to a long Behmenite Poem called Mundorum explicatio (London, 1661). The passage is as follows:

|And learned Sparrow we thy praises too
Will Sing; rewards too small for what is due,
The Gifts of Glory and of Praise we owe:
The English Behmen doth Thy Trophies show.
Whilst Englishmen that great saint's praise declare, Thy Name shall join'd with his receive a share.
The Time shall come when his great Name shall rise, Thy Glory also shall ascend the skies.
Thou mad'st him English speak, or else what Good
Had his works done us if not understood?
To Germany they beneficial prove
Alone: till we enjoyed them by thy Love.
Their German Robes thou took'st from them, that we
Their Beauties might in English Garments see.
Thus has thy Love a vast rich Treasure showen,
And made what was exotic now our own.|

Preface to Boehme's Epistles (1649).

Preface to Boehme's Epistles.



Preface to Epistles.


Preface to Sig. re.

This question was raised by Barclay in his Inner Life of the Religious Societies of the Commonwealth (London, 1879), pp.214-215.

Thomas Taylor's Works (London, 1697), p.86.

The writings themselves constantly use the word |Seeker,| and the Introductions emphasize the Seeking attitude.

Christian Information Concerning these Last Times, by F. E. (London, 1664), pp.10-11.

Op. cit. pp.11-12.

Journal (ed.1901), 28. Unfortunately the Cambridge Journal does not contain any biographical incidents prior to 1652.

Hotham's Life, D.4.

Preface to Epistles, p.10.

The Three Princ., trans.1648, xx.40-41.

Sig. re. viii.23.

Ep. xv.18. For another passage on |the new smell,| see The Three Princ. iv.27.

Journal, i. p.29.

Ibid. i. pp.29-30.

See Journal, i. pp.31-34.

Ibid. i. p.33.

Op. cit. A.

See, for specimen passages, Journal, i. pp.36 and 124.

See especially Myst. mag. xxxviii. sections 52-59.

Preface to Aurora, B.

Journal, i. p.19.

Three Princ. xvi.31-37.

See Journal, i. p.13; pp.190-191 and passim.

Three Princ. iv.5. See also ibid. xv.24; xvi.42; and xviii.24.

Journal, i. p.12.

Three Princ. ix.25-26.

Ibid. xix.33.

Myst. mag. lxii.17 and lxiii.36.

See Fox's Journal, i. p.19.

Reliquiae Baxterianae (London, 1715), i.77.

A Fountain of Gardens, 4 vols., London, 1696-1701.

Op. cit. i. pp.17-19.

A Fountain of Gardens, p.25.

Theologia mystica, p.81.

Christopher Walton, in his Notes and Materials (1854), gives a list of eighteen of her books.

Ibid. p.238.

Op. cit. p.9. Pordage disliked the Quakers and speaks slightingly of them in Theologia mystica. He also wrote a Treatise against them. See Walton, p.203.

Important material on this subject may be found in Walton's Notes and Materials, especially pp.188-258.

The full title-page of Anderdon's book is as follows: One Blow at Babel. In those of the Pepole called Behemnites, whose Foundation is not upon that of the Prophets and Apostles, which shall stand sure and firm forever; but upon their own carnal conceptions, begotten in their Imaginations upon Jacob Behmen's writings: They not knowing the better part, the Teachings of that Spirit that sometime opened some Mysteries of God's Kingdom in Jacob, have chosen the worser part in Esau, according to the predominancy of that Spirit which ruled in them when they made choice of their Religion, as it doth in others the hearts of the children of disobedience. -- By John Anderdon. (London, printed in the year 1662, written in 1661).

One Blow at Babel, p.3.

Ibid. pp.1 and 6.

One Blow at Babel, pp.1-2.

Jane Leade's writings give great importance to the outward sacraments.

The use of the phrase |its own Centre,| which became an important Quaker term, is an interesting relic of Boehme's influence.

Minutes of the Morning Meeting, i. George Fox apparently asked to see Frattwell's MS., for in a Letter under date of eighth mo.1st, 1674, Alexander Parker writes to George Fox: |I likewise spoke to Edw. Man [Edward Mann] to send down Ralph ffrettwells Book, I suppose he intends to see thee shortly and if he can find ye Book to bring itt with him.| -- Journal (Cambridge edition), ii. p.305.

Walton's Notes and Materials, pp.227 and 231.

See Walton's Notes and Materials, pp.3, 46, 72, and 404.

William Law lies beyond the period to which this volume is devoted. It is customary to call the edition of Behmen's Works, published 1764-1781, |William Law's Edition.| This is quite incorrect. This edition is in the main a reprint of the earlier Translations by Sparrow and Ellistone. It was edited by George Ward, assisted by Thomas Langcake, and printed at the expense of Mrs. Hutcheson, an intimate friend of William Law.

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