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:
> 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
> suppression of truth in unrighteousness?† False worldviews are plagued by
> 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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>:
> > This is an excellent article IMO - I mean the one that follows by Mr
> >†† Matthew
> > Matthew Winzer <email@example.com> 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
> >†† 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
> > 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
> > see God in a "cloud of unknowing," to borrow the title of a well known
> > 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
> > words "let go and let God." Either anti- or supra-rationality is the mode
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> >†† For the Puritans, then, the condescension of God, expressed by way of
> > covenant, defines the conditions under which both parties, God and man,
> > to be in relationship; and so whatever experience man has of God Ė whether
> > 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
> > the fact that man is a reasonable creature. This is indicated by John
> > one whom the later Puritans perhaps most esteemed as an expounder of
> > 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
> > 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
> > to the mystical ideal. Manís experience of Godís blessedness is in terms of
> > 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
> > character of these [intelligent] creatures makes the difference,"
> > 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
> > 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
> > of divines:
> >†††††† There are some truths above reason, but none contrary to it; for
> > is not contrary to nature, but perfects it; therefore there is nothing in
> > 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
> > as is described in the first answer in a number of Puritan catechisms: "to
> > glorify God." Here, again, is something entirely distinct from the
> > notion which tended to emphasis contemplation of, and passive union in,
> > beatific vision. There is not a hint in Puritan praxis that one must let
> > or lose oneís self. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. At every
> > 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
> > 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
> > in Puritan divinity. Man as "ordained for action" requires guidance, and
> > covenant theology provides a Biblical framework within which to
> > that guidance, to distinguish what properly belongs to Godís sovereignty
> > what to manís responsibility. Samuel Rutherford points out in his unique
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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