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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : LETTER VII. You are now, my dear friend, in possession of my whole mind on this pointà

Confessions Of An Inquiring Spirit Etc by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

LETTER VII. You are now, my dear friend, in possession of my whole mind on this pointà

You are now, my dear friend, in possession of my whole mind on this point -- one thing only excepted which has weighed with me more than all the rest, and which I have therefore reserved for my concluding letter. This is the impelling principle or way of thinking, which I have in most instances noticed in the assertors of what I have ventured to call Bibliolatry, and which I believe to be the main ground of its prevalence at this time, and among men whose religious views are anything rather than enthusiastic. And I here take occasion to declare, that my conviction of the danger and injury of this principle was and is my chief motive for bringing the doctrine itself into question; the main error of which consists in the confounding of two distinct conceptions -- revelation by the Eternal Word, and actuation of the Holy Spirit. The former indeed is not always or necessarily united with the latter -- the prophecy of Balaam is an instance of the contrary, -- but yet being ordinarily, and only not always, so united, the term, |Inspiration,| has acquired a double sense.

First, the term is used in the sense of Information miraculously communicated by voice or vision; and secondly, where without any sensible addition or infusion, the writer or speaker uses and applies his existing gifts of power and knowledge under the predisposing, aiding, and directing actuation of God's Holy Spirit. Now, between the first sense, that is, inspired revelation, and the highest degree of that grace and communion with the Spirit which the Church under all circumstances, and every regenerate member of the Church of Christ, is permitted to hope and instructed to pray for, there is a positive difference of kind -- a chasm, the pretended overleaping of which constitutes imposture, or betrays insanity. Of the first kind are the Law and the Prophets, no jot or tittle of which can pass unfulfilled, and the substance and last interpretation of which passes not away; for they wrote of Christ, and shadowed out the everlasting Gospel. But with regard to the second, neither the holy writers -- the so-called Hagiographi -- themselves, nor any fair interpretations of Scripture, assert any such absolute diversity, or enjoin the belief of any greater difference of degree, than the experience of the Christian World, grounded on and growing with the comparison of these Scriptures with other works holden in honour by the Churches, has established. And THIS difference I admit, and doubt not that it has in every generation been rendered evident to as many as read these Scriptures under the gracious influence of the spirit in which they were written.

But alas! this is not sufficient; this cannot but be vague and unsufficing to those with whom the Christian religion is wholly objective, to the exclusion of all its correspondent subjective. It must appear vague, I say, to those whose Christianity as matter of belief is wholly external, and like the objects of sense, common to all alike; altogether historical, an opus operatum -- its existing and present operancy in no respect differing from any other fact of history, and not at all modified by the supernatural principle in which it had its origin in time. Divines of this persuasion are actually, though without their own knowledge, in a state not dissimilar to that into which the Latin Church sank deeper amid deeper from the sixth to the fourteenth century; during which time religion was likewise merely objective and superstitious -- a letter proudly emblazoned and illuminated, but yet a dead letter that was to be read by its own outward glories without the light of the Spirit in the mind of the believer. The consequence was too glaring not to be anticipated, and, if possible, prevented. Without that spirit in each true believer, whereby we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error in all things appertaining to salvation, the consequence must be -- so many men, so many minds! And what was the antidote which the Priests and Rabbis of this purely objective Faith opposed to this peril? Why, an objective, outward Infallibility, concerning which, however, the differences were scarcely less or fewer than those which it was to heal; an Infallibility which taken literally and unqualified, became the source of perplexity to the well-disposed, of unbelief to the wavering, and of scoff and triumph to the common enemy, and which was, therefore, to be qualified and limited, and then it meant so munch and so little that to men of plain understandings and single hearts it meant nothing at all. It resided here. No! there. No! but in a third subject. Nay! neither here, nor there, nor in the third, but in all three conjointly!

But even this failed to satisfy; and what was the final resource -- the doctrine of those who would not be called a Protestant Church, but in which doctrine the Fathers of Protestantism in England would have found little other fault, than that it might be affirmed as truly of the decisions of any other bishop as of the Bishop of Rome? The final resource was to restore what ought never to have been removed -- the correspondent subjective, that is, the assent and confirmation of the Spirit promised to all true believers, as proved and manifested in the reception of such decision by the Church Universal in all its rightful members.

I comprise and conclude the sum of my conviction in this one sentence. Revealed religion (and I know of no religion not revealed) is in its highest contemplation the unity, that is, the identity or co-inherence, of subjective and objective. It is in itself, and irrelatively at once inward life and truth, and outward fact and luminary. But as all power manifests itself in the harmony of correspondent opposites, each supposing and supporting the other; so has religion its objective, or historic and ecclesiastical pole and its subjective, or spiritual and individual pole. In the miracles and miraculous parts of religion -- both in the first communication of Divine truths, and in the promulgation of the truths thus communicated -- we have the union of the two, that is, the subjective and supernatural displayed objectively -- outwardly and phenomenally -- AS subjective and supernatural.

Lastly, in the Scriptures, as far as they are not included in the above as miracles, and in the mind of the believing and regenerate reader and meditater, there is proved to us the reciprocity or reciprocation of the spirit as subjective and objective, which in conformity with the scheme proposed by me, in aid of distinct conception and easy recollection, I have named the Indifference. What I mean by this, a familiar acquaintance with the more popular parts of Luther's works, especially his |Commentaries,| and the delightful volume of his |Table Talk,| would interpret for me better than I can do for myself. But I do my best, when I say that no Christian probationer, who is earnestly working out his salvation, and experiences the conflict of the spirit with the evil and the infirmity within him and around him, can find his own state brought before him, and, as it were, antedated, in writings reverend even for their antiquity and enduring permanence, and far more and more abundantly consecrated by the reverence, love, and grateful testimonies of good men, through the long succession of ages, in every generation, and under all states of minds and circumstances of fortune, that no man, I say, can recognise his own inward experiences in such writings, and not find an objectiveness, a confirming and assuring outwardness, and all the main characters of reality reflected therefrom on the spirit, working in himself and in his own thoughts, emotions, and aspirations, warring against sin and the motions of sin. The unsubstantial, insulated self passes away as a stream; but these are the shadows and reflections of the Rock of Ages, and of the Tree of Life that starts forth from its side.

On the other hand, as much of reality, as much of objective truth, as the Scriptures communicate to the subjective experiences of the believer, so much of present life, of living and effective import, do these experiences give to the letter of these Scriptures. In the one THE SPIRIT ITSELF BEARETH WITNESS WITH OUR SPIRIT, that we have received the SPIRIT OF ADOPTION; in the other our spirit bears witness to the power of the Word, that it is indeed the Spirit that proceedeth from God. If in the holy men thus actuated all imperfection of knowledge, all participation in the mistakes and limits of their several ages had been excluded, how could these writings be or become the history and example, the echo and more lustrous image of the work and warfare of the sanctifying principle in us? If after all this, and in spite of all this, some captious litigator should lay hold of a text here or there -- St. Paul's CLOAK LEFT AT TROAS WITH CARPUS, or a verse from the Canticles, and ask, |Of what spiritual use is this?| -- the answer is ready:- It proves to us that nothing can be so trifling, as not to supply an evil heart with a pretext for unbelief.

Archbishop Leighton has observed that the Church has its extensive and intensive states, and that they seldom fall together. Certain it is, that since kings have been her nursing fathers, and queens her nursing mothers, our theologians seem to act in the spirit of fear rather than in that of faith; and too often, instead of inquiring after the truth in the confidence that whatever is truth must be fruitful of good to all who ARE IN HIM THAT IS TRUE, they seek with vain precautions to GUARD AGAINST THE POSSIBLE INFERENCES which perverse and distempered minds may pretend, whose whole Christianity- -do what we will -- is and will remain nothing but a pretence.

You have now my entire mind on this momentous question, the grounds on which it rests, and the motives which induce me to make it known; and I now conclude by repeating my request: Correct me, or confirm me.

Farewell.

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