IV. -- (From S. M.)
Paris, 12th July, 1792.
No doubt, Sir, there are intermediate degrees in which books and advice are useful; but they are so only to discover the country we knew not of: our course afterwards is left to our own efforts and experience. I will do all in my power to answer your inquiries, and, if I use any reserve, it will only be for your good. I have no copy here of the 'Tableau Naturel'; have therefore the goodness to quote, in full, the passages on which you ask for explanations.
I am very glad you have studied the natural sciences: it is an excellent introduction to the great truths; it is through them they transpire; besides, these natural sciences accustom the mind to a justness and precision of the greatest importance in the higher pursuits, which, owing to our wide separation from them here below, leave us liable to injurious mistakes. Your law of chemical affinity is an universal law which you have too well comprehended to require further development from me: Nature, Spirit, the Repairer, these are the fixed alkalis given to us for our re-union with God; for, our first crime turned us into a substance very heterogeneous to the supreme principle. I believe, with you, Sir, that Divine Wisdom makes use of agents and virtues to make His Verb audible within us. It is said that Madame Guyon, of whom you speak, has written very well on this point; I have not read her myself. You think they act chiefly on our bodies; some of them are appointed to this, but their work stops there, and ought to be restricted to the preservation and support of our form, to which we may greatly contribute by a wise physical and moral regimen; but we must not repose too much in them; there are neighbours of theirs who also act on this region, who seek nothing better than that we should give them our confidence, which we are too ready to do on account of the external assistance they procure for us, or rather, more commonly, only promise to us. I thus look upon all that regards these external ways as only preludes to our work, for, as our being is central, it ought to find every needful succour in the centre in which it was born.
I will not conceal from you that I formerly walked in this fruitful external way, and by it the door of the career was opened to me. My leader therein was a man of very active virtues, and most of those who followed him, with myself, received confirmations thereby which may have been useful to our instruction and development. Nevertheless, I, at all times, felt so strong an inclination to the intimate secret way, that this external one never further seduced me, even in my youth; for, at the age of twenty-three, I had been initiated into all those things; so that, in the midst of what was so attractive to others, in the midst of means and formulas and preparatives of all sorts, in which we were trained, I, more than once, exclaimed to our master, "Can all this be needed to find God?" and the proof that it was all a mere substitution was that the master answered, "We must even be content with what we have."
Without, therefore, wishing to depreciate the help we may gather from all that surrounds us, everything after its kind, I only exhort you to classify the powers and virtues. They have each their department; the central virtue alone extends over the whole empire. Pure air, and all good elementary properties, are useful to the body, and keep it in a condition favourable for the operations of our spirit; but when, by grace from on high, our spirit has attained its full stature, then the elements become its subjects, and even its slaves, instead of simply servants, which they were before. See what the Apostles were.
I do not agree with you, Sir, that the elementary light becomes the envelope of the beneficent Agents in their manifestations; they have their own light, which is hidden in the elements. Our friend Jacob Boehme gives us such grand ideas on this head, that I refer you to him with confidence, feeling sure that he will satisfy you. This is one of the points in his works which have pleased me the most, and which perfectly agrees with the teaching I formerly received in my school.
But I agree with you entirely as to the dispositions which are essential to our advancement in this race, and which, as you very well say, consist in a profound self-annihilation before the Being of beings, retaining no will but His, and giving ourselves up to Him with a resignation without limits, a confidence without bounds; I will add, in suppressing every human motive within us, and reducing ourselves (excuse the comparison) to the condition of a cannon waiting for the match to be applied.
On the subject of Boehme, I presume, Sir, you will have some difficulty in following him in what he calls the first principle; for, as he himself says, he speaks creaturely of a thing which is not creaturely, and he elsewhere expounds this first principle in a way which to me seems revolting. But to assist you, I recommend you, when you are embarrassed, to read over again his work 'On the Three Principles,' chap. i., sec.4, 5, 6. These three numbers are often useful to me, and I imagine they will be so to you.
I shall be glad to receive the letter you promise me, with your second observation on elementary nature. I will give you my opinion on it, as on the first, and submit all to your good and wise judgment. I am happy to see that my soul finds a pleasant friend in yours; I reciprocate it most sincerely. Farewell, dear Sir; I leave you without ceremony, and avail myself of my little remaining space to point out to you two works on the inward secret life. They are both in your language, in Arnold's 'History of the Church and Heretics,' 3 vols. folio. The first is called, 'Relation of the Spiritual Direction of a great Witness of the Truth, who lived in the Low Countries about 1550, and who in his writings is known by the Hebrew name of Hiel,' vol. ii. of Arnold, part iii., chap. 3, sec. 10, 27, p. 343. The second is Jane Lead's 'Discourse on the Difference between True and False Revelations,' p. 519.