PURITAN NEWS WEEKLY

www.puritans.net/news/

01/12/06

 

 

MYSTICISM VERSUS THE TRUE REFORMED FAITH

 

By J. Parnell McCarter

 

 

On r-f-w list recently there was insightful discussion concerning mysticism that I think is worth reference at this site.Here were some of the comments posted in the discussion:

 

 

Quoting jparnellm@usxchange.net:

 

> Yes, it is excellent.Would it not be correct to say that false religion

> inevitably descends into some form of irrationality because it is marked by

> the

> suppression of truth in unrighteousness?False worldviews are plagued by

> such

> contradictions, whereas truth contains none.

>

> example : the contradictions inherent in the Romish doctrine of

> transubstantiation concerning their Mass

>

>

> - Parnell McCarter

> Seek member in FPCS

> Attender, ARC of GR

> GR, MI

>

 

 

 

 

 

> Quoting Matthew Vogan <mavogan@yahoo.co.uk>:

>

> > This is an excellent article IMO - I mean the one that follows by Mr

> Winzer.

> >†† Matthew

ō      >

 

 

 

> > Matthew Winzer <mwinzer@pap.com.au> wrote:

> >†††††††††† The less this erroneous article is passed around, the better for

> > the kingdom of Christ.I was permitted to contributed an article to Credo

> > Quarterly called "the Puritans and Experience," which shows the difference

> > between Puritan experimentalism and medieval mysticism.An extract

> follows:

> >†††

> >†† Begin quote.

> >†††† 1. The nature of spiritual experience:

> >††

> >†† Covenantal.

> >††

> >†† The idea of an immediate, spiritual experience is reminiscent of the

> > mystics. They, too, had reacted to the medieval tendency to reduce

> religion

> > to forms and mediums. Puritanism, however, differed from mysticism in its

> > fundamental conception as to the manner in which spiritual things are

> > experienced.

> >†† For the mystics, the experience of the Holy is primarily transcendental.

> > Man must ascend beyond the conceptions and images of oneís self in order

> to

> > see God in a "cloud of unknowing," to borrow the title of a well known

> work

> > by an unknown author. This is generally described as a process which makes

> > use of devotional practices, the practice of the presence of God; but the

> > ideal is to be constantly reaching higher until self is either lost in or

> > given over to the Divine. In the present day this would be expressed in

> the

> > words "let go and let God." Either anti- or supra-rationality is the mode

> of

> > the experience, while passivity is its mood.

> >†† Anyone who has read even the smallest portion of Puritan experimental

> > divinity will be unable to equate their writings with what is described

> > above. That is because the Puritan experience of the things of God was

> always

> > viewed as covenantal. To quote the Westminster Confession of Faith:

> >†††††† The distance between God and the creature is so great, that ...

> > reasonable creatures ... could never have any fruition of him as their

> > blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on Godís part,

> > which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

> >†† In Puritan experience God must descend. Man cannot ascend because the

> > ontological distance (the difference in being) is infinite and cannot be

> > traversed by any means on finite manís part. The Creator must graciously

> > initiate any relationship which the creature is to have with Him; and as

> the

> > initiator, He defines the nature and conditions of the relationship to be

> > established.

> >†† The exclusive nature of the covenant for manís experience of God is

> > declared with great conviction by Dr. John Owen:

> >†††††† Without this a man could have no foundation for any intercourse or

> > communion with God, or of any expectation from him, nor any direction how

> to

> > deal with him in any of his concernments. Great and signal, then, was the

> > condescension of God, to take his poor creature into covenant with

> himself."

> >†† For the Puritans, then, the condescension of God, expressed by way of

> > covenant, defines the conditions under which both parties, God and man,

> are

> > to be in relationship; and so whatever experience man has of God Ė whether

> of

> > God acting for or upon man, or of man acting for or towards God Ė it is in

> > the terms which the Lord of the covenant has prescribed. There can be no

> > fruition of God outside of this.

> >††

> >†† Rational.

> >††

> >†† The reason why the Almighty chose this manner of dealing with man is due

> to

> > the fact that man is a reasonable creature. This is indicated by John

> Ball,

> > one whom the later Puritans perhaps most esteemed as an expounder of

> covenant

> > theology:

> >†††††† First that the creature might know what to expect from the Creator,

> > into what state soever cast. Secondly, that the same creature might always

> > recognize, and acknowledge what to retribute. Thirdly, Such manner of

> dealing

> > suites best withe the nature of the reasonable creature, and his

> > subordination to the Almighty.

> >†† Words such as know, recognise, and acknowledge are noteworthy in

> comparison

> > to the mystical ideal. Manís experience of Godís blessedness is in terms of

> a

> > covenant because this best suits his reasonable nature; and consequently,

> > everything experienced under the covenant relation admits of a rational

> > explanation.

> >†† Upon this ground the Puritans unanimously made a claim for the use of

> > reason which might possibly startle a post-modern era like ours. "The

> unique

> > character of these [intelligent] creatures makes the difference,"

> according

> > to William Ames.

> >†††††† Since they are created after the image of God, are in some way

> > immortal, and decide their actions in accord with their own counsel, they

> are

> > to be directed towards an eternal state of happiness or unhappiness in

> > accordance with their own counsel and freedom.

> >†† Thomas Manton speaks to the same effect on behalf of the younger

> generation

> > of divines:

> >†††††† There are some truths above reason, but none contrary to it; for

> grace

> > is not contrary to nature, but perfects it; therefore there is nothing in

> the

> > gospel but what is agreeable to sound reason."

> >†† Quite to the contrary of that which the mystics claimed, there can be no

> > experience of the blessedness of God which does not involve the consent of

> > the rational faculty.

> >††

> >†† Active.

> >††

> >†† If it be asked, why was man blessed with reason? the answer is ably

> > provided by Thomas Goodwin:

> >†† ††††Man, you all know, is a reasonable creature; and as he himself was

> > principally ordained for action, so to help him therein reason was

> > principally given him to guide and steer him.

> >†† Reason is given to lead man as he endeavours to fulfil his principal

> > purpose, or chief end, namely, action; more specifically, the type of

> action

> > as is described in the first answer in a number of Puritan catechisms: "to

> > glorify God." Here, again, is something entirely distinct from the

> mystical

> > notion which tended to emphasis contemplation of, and passive union in,

> the

> > beatific vision. There is not a hint in Puritan praxis that one must let

> go

> > or lose oneís self. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. At every

> point

> > of practical divinity the Puritans stress the full use of manís faculties.

> > The mind, the will, the affections, the conscience, all are to be engaged.

> > Manís soul is not only reasonable, it is living and active as well.

> > Therefore, the whole man Ė guided along by reason, set to work by the

> will,

> > moved to action and carried along by the affections, confirmed by the

> > testimony of a good conscience Ė is to be employed, holistically, in

> > communion with, and service to, God.

> >"The whole conversation of a Christian," declares Richard Sibbes, "is

> > nothing else but knowledge digested into will, affection, and practice."

> >†† It is at this point that the concept of the covenant becomes all

> important

> > in Puritan divinity. Man as "ordained for action" requires guidance, and

> > covenant theology provides a Biblical framework within which to

> systematise

> > that guidance, to distinguish what properly belongs to Godís sovereignty

> and

> > what to manís responsibility. Samuel Rutherford points out in his unique

> work

> > on the covenant of grace, that

> >†††††† it is of much concernment, to make out the Union of our Duty and the

> > breathings of the Lord, and what can be done under deadness, to either

> fetch

> > the wind, or to be put in a spiritual condition, that the soul may ly fair

> > for the receiving of the influences of God.

> >†† For Rutherford and his associates, the covenant was a fortress which

> served

> > to resist the onslaughts of Antinomian and Arminian unorthodoxy alike.

> > Against Antinomians, covenantal theology demonstrated that the duty of man

> > was as essential to blessedness as the breathings of the Lord; against

> > Arminians, that the breathings of the Lord were essential if man was going

> to

> > fulfil his duty and be blessed of God.

> >†† The fortress of covenant theology was as much a shelter for the troubled

> > conscience as a defence against the troublers of Israel. This is seen most

> > vividly in the work of another Scottish divine, David Dickson. His

> > Therapeutica Sacra attempts to briefly show "the method of healing the

> > diseases of the conscience concerning regeneration." The fact that its

> > brevity runs to 532 pages is indicative that the healing of the conscience

> is

> > a vast topic in Puritan practical divinity. A large section of the book is

> > concerned with providing a correct explanation of the covenants; and the

> > reason is "because the healing of the sickness of the conscience cometh by

> a

> > right application of the covenants about our salvation."

> >

> >†† Endquote.

> >†††

> >†† I apologise that the footnotes could not be copied.

> >†††

> >†† Yours sincerely,

> > Rev. Matthew Winzer

> >†† AFC, Burnie, Tasmania

> >†††