On Mysticism

J. N. Darby.

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Montpellier, May 29th, 1849.

Dear Brother,

While travelling I read your "Life of Madame de Krudener," and I must tell you that it did me good. Occupation, without any relaxation, tends, if one is not very near the Lord, to impair the most intimate affections; and when the details of the work constitute the chief part of such occupation, they tend to narrow the heart. It is not so the moment one is near Him: then, on the contrary, such details exercise the best affections; and we delight ourselves in Him. It was so with Christ, because His life of details flowed from the fact that He lived by His Father, and was nothing else than the perfect manifestation, in man, of what the Father was. It was the produce of a heart filled with a perfect love, the expression of an infinite love.

The life of Madame de Krudener, which was passed outside the narrowness of secondary questions, recalled to me this love; for she certainly had a heart of spiritual love for the Lord; and, for my part, I have no difficulty in judging the things that are to be condemned in her walk, so that I need not dwell upon them. The one who is constantly a working bee within the hive, is free to gather only honey when he approaches flowers in the open air, whatever they may be. But I will say a few words as to what strikes me when I consider mysticism, as it is found in its best forms in Madame de Krudener and others.

Desire and love may be very exactly distinguished. Desire supposes the capacity to enjoy the thing we desire, that is to say, spiritual affections, which, as to their very nature, have God for their object. It supposes one to be born of Him, although Satan often, in an astonishing manner, imitates this class of feelings; but this state also supposes that one does not possess what one desires.

Love supposes that we have full possession of the object of our desires. It is no longer a want, but enjoyment, appreciation, delight in the object itself.

Now mysticism, while boasting much of its feelings, never gets beyond desire; while simple Christianity, giving the knowledge of salvation, puts us into full possession of the love of God. I know that He loves Christ; that love has saved me; it was He who desired me. In love He had need of me; and this love is perfection in Christ. In peace I contemplate this love, and I adore it in Christ. I dwell in Him and He in me.

219 I have never seen a mystic whose idea of love was not entirely at fault in its nature: it was something in man, which needed to be satisfied, instead of being something in God, which satisfied the heart deeply, infinitely, and perfectly. Thence unheard-of efforts to abase oneself, to vilify oneself, and to speak evil of oneself, as if a saved one could be anything in the presence of a Saviour, instead of being nothing and forgetting himself in the presence of so much love. When one is truly delighted in the presence of God, and beholding His excellent beauty in His temple, is one occupied with the hideous forms which hide themselves in the heart of man? I think not. We think of Him. He has given us the right to do so, by a grace which has really set aside all that we were as alive out of Christ, as in the flesh. Do we then make no humbling experience of self? I say not so. Yes, there are moments when God reveals to us the frightful secrets of that heart in which no good exists; but we do not boast, we do not say much of it, if we have truly seen God. If we try to find in man, in his love to God, something as good as the love of God to us, then we talk about it, and fancy we are humbling ourselves. This is but the vanity of the heart which knows not God, and knows not itself either; it is the true character of mysticism.

But does not such a sight of God produce a humiliating knowledge of self? Yes, when we have not known what we are, nor known the gospel which gives us the right to say, "It is no more I that live." Such was the case with Job, as with many others. He had thought of himself, of the grace in him; then he had to learn himself in the presence of God. But the gospel is the answer to all these disturbances of the soul, by the revelation of what God is, and of what God has done for him whom He knew to the. bottom, just as he was, and who has learned in the cross of Jesus what the love of God is when there was nothing but sin, and sin seen by God as we could not see it, but seen only to be the occasion of a perfect work of love.

God in His holiness, His majesty, His righteousness, His love, has found His rest in the work and Person of Christ: I have found mine there. The mystic never has rest, because he vainly seeks in man what he ought to seek in God, who had accomplished all before he ever thought about it. This is why they seek a disinterested love; but where? In man! Poor worshippers of man deified in their imagination; of a man who will never be found! Here sin is in him, in heaven he will think only of God. This is why the imagination plays so great a part in mysticism, and Satan can so often deceive by it, because the imagination and the heart of man are called into play. I do not say that spiritual affections are never there: far from it; nor that God never reveals Himself to such affections. I doubt not that He does it and thus renders the person happy, but you will find him, after all, occupied with the affections and not with God Himself. It is the chief defect of mysticism. In a word, I see it in an effort of the human heart, trying to produce in itself something strong enough in the way of affection to satisfy a heart awakened by the excellence of its Object: for I am now supposing a true awakening of the heart.

220 In Christ I see a divine heart, reflecting the perfect certainty of a love whose perfection cannot be questioned. It is peace. Now He says to us, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you." What peace is there expressed in those words: "I know that thou hearest me always, but because of the people that stood by I said it." And this same peace is ours now; see 1 John 5:14-15. What peace again in those words, "I know whom I have believed," as well as in so many other passages?

Are there not, then, these exercises of the soul's desire before God? Yes; but this again brings out a marked difference. Before having understood redemption through the cross and our portion in Christ, which is its consequence, the awakened soul is exercised; it often seeks peace and rest in a spiritual progress and a love for God which are never found. But the effect of all this exercise, under grace, is to bring the conscience into play and to produce the conviction of its uselessness; that in us, that is, in our flesh, dwells no good thing. Conscience takes full account of what passes in the heart and of what we are, so that we are brought to renounce all attempt to find peace in the state of our souls. We need to be pardoned, saved; we place ourselves at the foot of the cross, but not as having immutable affections. We have discovered that we have them not, and it is not only the heart which is troubled by this, although such is the case, but conscience knows that we are lost, dead under condemnation. We see things as they are in the presence of God; we need to be saved. We no longer seek good in ourselves, under the form of divine affections; but we find it in God, in His kindness towards us by Christ Jesus; and we have peace.

221 Have the deep affections with which the cross inspired me ceased, because I am no longer crushed with the sense of need? No; conscience has intervened, and has set me in my place. What God has done, what He is, has given me peace; and I have divine leisure (because nothing is uncertain in my portion) to contemplate that which is perfect in the object of my affections, without being occupied with myself.

The mystic humbles himself because he still hopes to find good in himself, or he occupies himself in this, as if there might be some, and he finds only evil. The Christian is humble (and that is quite another thing), because he has given up seeking good in himself to adore the One in whom there is nothing else. Now it is not that he deceives. himself, but that the intervention of conscience, by the light of the Spirit and the truth, has put him in his place. I believe, for example, that Madame de Krudener only fully reached that position in her last illness. This is what often happens. The Moravians, while sweetly enjoying Christ, often remain at this point. She was under an obligation to love: a true thing; but she did not know love. She knew that God was love, but she wished to be it also; and this is closely allied to pride of heart, until we have taken our place, as dead in trespasses and sins, and have understood love towards us in that Christ died, and that we are dead and risen in Him.

The truth is this: there is still conflict because the flesh is in us, and the Holy Ghost has sometimes to occupy us with ourselves, and to humble us. God being Infinite and His work perfect, there is always in Him, even when our peace is perfect, that which awakens all the energy of an affection which cannot satisfy itself, although perfectly assured of the love of Him with whom it has to do. This suits the relations of a creature with God, and it is a good thing for us and does not lessen our peace. It is quite a different thing from the mystic desire to love, which is true, but which turns in upon self, because it knows neither God nor self. Yet I find my heart so cold that it sometimes does me good, because I know well enough that I was lost and am saved, not to mix this with my knowledge of a free salvation, accomplished without me, and which fully glorifies God, and God alone. But it often does harm to souls who have not been emptied before God, not having had the work transferred from the heart to the conscience in His presence.

222 It is astonishing from how many errors this delivers without a word being said. My human affections may attach themselves to the Virgin, but conscience …? Is there any blood-shedding there? The Virgin is no more, as to that, than the most miserable sinner; she is a creature before God. Purgatory, the pretended repetition of the sacrifice, absolution, holy unction, and many other things vanish without controversy, like shadows, like apparitions of darkness in the face of the light, before a conscience which has already found itself, such as it is, in the presence of God, and has there been thoroughly purged by the knowledge of His work in Christ. The needs of conscience may throw a sincere soul into these superstitious practices; but for a purged conscience which knows God they are nothing. This is what gives me such horror of a system which traffics with the terrors of conscience to hide the love of God: manifestly the work of the enemy. But see, to say no more, in 1 John 4:7-9, which touches the borders of mysticism, but with the finger of God, in what a manner, side by side with the highest elevation of communion with Him, He always replaces the soul on the simple ground of salvation by objective faith. This is what corrects the heart of man with his wings of Icarus.

Now, a few words upon your work. You are conscious that it is rather made for the world, so that it must be considered with respect to this. A life of Madame de Krudener carries us into the midst of emperors, queens, and titles. I agree that one loves to see grace everywhere, that grace which despises neither great nor small. However, the ways of God are different when He acts in the power which is proper to Him. The world is then left in its true place; and His Son, with His apostles, and His servants, are brought before its great men seated in tribunal, and this turns for a testimony. It is thus that God makes His voice penetrate into the places most distant from Him, while preserving, in its perfection, the character of His own, and of that which belongs to Himself. I admire His grace which deigns to act otherwise; but I admire His perfection as He has Himself presented it to me.

223 I have said that I take, as given, the worldly form of the book, and that you have therefore left to each the responsibility of forming a judgment for himself on the worldly life of Madame de Krudener, by passing lightly, and without remark, over her wanderings; the grace which pardoned all being the true contrast to the evil. I think that this reproduced itself and is found again in her spiritual wanderings, for the ways of God are just.

Her devotedness awakened my deepest interest. It is refreshing in a selfish world, the slave of formalities behind which it hides; because it is too hideous to be seen, desiring to preserve its egotism as intact as possible, without confessing it - a world without heart - a world without independence because it is without heart. It is refreshing, I say, to find something which overleaps the barriers and acts from motives which shew heart and love - that love which is only true liberty.

Thus the devotedness of Madame de Krudener interested and also humbled me much. The little that I have had of it in my life made me enjoy hers, and it has been so little that it makes me admire what I see in her. But here again I trace the ways of God. When the devotedness came directly from Himself and was manifested in her ways, the energy found in them attained a result which was altogether of Him, and was guarded from the seductions of the enemy. Now God can never abandon His own ways. If man abandons them, even while devoting himself, the result is of the enemy under one form or another. One sometimes wonders that a good part of the life of a devoted and spiritual person should be passed in mistakes and wanderings; one asks oneself how the presence of the Spirit of God, necessary to produce this life, comports with these mistakes. I say, on the contrary, that in the government of God it is a necessary consequence. Can God place His stamp upon that which is contrary to His thoughts? Will He refuse blessing as the answer to real devotedness, because there is error? He cannot sanction the former, nor deny Himself to the latter. What is the consequence? Blessing is found, as well as His tender care. He keeps the foundation, even through all the wanderings; but He abandons to their natural consequences the evil and the false confidence which accompany it; otherwise He would justify evil.

If the work of Madame de Krudener had had the character of that of Paul, the seal of God would have been upon that which was contrary to His will. The mercy of God does not permit that. An ardent woman, impulsive, full of imagination, acting under impressions and influences, subject to the excitement of circumstances - this was Madame de Krudener. The principle at the bottom was divine, that is found in the work: Satan meddles with it; he always makes use of the flesh when we allow it to act. This is the history of all such cases, and if the world judged itself aright, if it were in the truth before God, there would be no difficulty in unravelling them. But God does not explain these things to those who have them not: this would be to sanction evil, although He may bring us out of this state of grace, and He is faithful not to allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able. If we wait upon Him, there is no danger. If we are hasty, He must let us see the consequences of it. If that which is spiritual exists at the bottom, it will be found again in eternal happiness; but, in government, each thing brings its own consequences. He can, in grace, honouring the instrument, make use of a repentant and devoted woman, He has done it in His grace; but an excited woman, and one who, it seems to me, was little sensible of what she had been, is not the perfect instrument according to the ways of God, for carrying on a work. We see the consequences of this, in order that the perfection of the ways of God may be known.

224 I even think that a certain state of things in the kingdom of God, or in Christians, may not, according to the thoughts of God, comport with a perfect instrument and mode of action. It would be out of place; it would not even do His work. Such a thing may be extraordinary, but I do not know what the apostle Paul would do (or rather Paul would not know what to do) in the actual state of things. God always knows what to do, because He is above all. He will judge at the end. He will cause His grace to shine forth by transporting to glory those who are faithful in the confusion; but the creative energies of a perfect order are not suited to the confusion and moral culpability which result from having spoiled that order. It would be to dishonour that fresh light of first love of which Christ is the Centre and Object.

Christ Himself begins with - "Blessed, blessed"; it was natural that this should come forth from the heart of the One who had come from heaven; but He ends with, "Woe unto you, woe unto you." Had His grace diminished? No indeed, it had but been tested, approved more glorious, His unfailing faithfulness more than ever made sure to our hearts. But He could not be at the end what He was at the beginning.

225 It is the same with the work. Still, the love and blessedness of the one who understands this grace are greater than before. Paul in the Epistle to the Philippians is more matured, knows himself more profoundly in Christ, than when he was in the energy by which he confounded his adversaries. His experience of Christ is more complete, and his heart thus more perfect in its feelings. Elias might compare himself to Moses, for they were together glorified companions of the Saviour on the mount; but Elias, in presence of the golden calves, could not make a tabernacle as did Moses. He was, by this very reason, a still more striking witness of the grace of God.

One more remark about Madame de Krudener, without doubt less important, but, I think, true. There was in her a lack of spiritual originality, not of sincerity: this serious fault betrays itself also in her work, and, among other things, has given it its character. She received impressions from Jung Stilling, from Oberlin, from Tersteegen, from Maria Kummrin. Perhaps this was natural in a woman; but that is why a woman cannot be a principal agent in the work. It is contrary to the ways of God. She may help, GREATLY help, but not be a principal agent; she may do things man cannot do, but not do what he does. This is true in a more important point of view. She could not receive from Christ impulses for a position which He did not give her. The love of Christ was there; the impulse came from elsewhere. Now, when it is Christ Himself who sets the heart in motion, He acts upon the man, as He also forms in us that new man whom the wicked one touches not. His presence acts upon the conscience, silences the flesh, makes nothing of man - his vanity, his self-love, and his good opinion of himself. The whole man is judged in His presence, and the work produced is of Christ Himself, whatever may be the vessel. If there is a danger of its being otherwise, a thorn in the flesh is sent.

When we receive our impressions and impulses second-hand, the flesh and the heart are not judged at all, although the love may be in us. Flesh and the heart are reproduced, and the agent is exposed, by his very activity, to all sorts of traps of the enemy, which, on their part again, are reproduced in the work. This was the case with Madame de Krudener; but she certainly will not lose the fruit of her devotedness, of which I do not in the least, for my own part, doubt the sincerity. But there was too much of man in her, and man is always false. It is so true (it is important to notice it) that, while tasting the love of Christ, she never really knew the gospel, as being herself in the presence of God, until her last illness. And then she immediately perceived that she had often mistaken her imagination for the voice of God; for it is only there that man dies, and that God shews Himself alone such as He is. Now as long as man is not dead, Satan can use him, and spiritual discernment is wanting. The fact of the accomplishment of visions proves nothing in these things. All that also accompanies the power of the enemy; but the spiritual man, being humble, easily judges these things when God places him before them, and when he takes the word of God as the absolute guide of his judgment.

226 These, you will say, are remarks upon Madame de Krudener, and not upon my work. Except a few words of blame, you have said nothing about it: this is a poor compliment. You are mistaken. Of compliments, it is true, I make none; but the best, the true, praise of a work is that it produces thoughts in the one who reads, and such has been the effect of your work.

In our state of imperfection, every moral position has its own season, and, instead of starting clear from the perfection and riches of Christ, the process with us is generally gradual, and thus alas! we reproduce ourselves in our work, even after we think we have judged all.

In a life of Madame de Krudener, it would be important to know what works she habitually read; they betray themselves sometimes! Oberlin may be recognised. He was a devoted man, but with an unbridled imagination, a heretic, whose errors bear their fruits now, while that which might be admired by man, and even by the church, is lost and forgotten; for the judgment of God is not that of man. Tersteegen also may be recognised: I do not know if we could trace any others; but this would be one of the elements which formed Madame de Krudener's public character. It is well, in order not to feed the vain curiosity of the public, that your volumes contain so little of the views which acted so powerfully upon her life; yet in order to judge rightly of it, we should need to know a little more.