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      P A S S I V E
C O N T E M P L A T I O N

Francis Lee, M.D.

 

Note from Pass the WORD:  The following extract is from a letter by Dr. Francis Lee, found among William Law's papers, and printed by Christopher Walton in his Notes and Materials for an Adequate Biography of William Law in 1854, {pages 171-173, 506-508}.    Walton had great respect for Francis Lee and acknowledged his substantial influence on William Law and Law's later works.    Here Walton reprinted segments of this correspondence from Lee which he considered to be noteworthy as — “touching some of the objections made against the contemplative Way, and representing the true nature of that way,  which may be acceptable to many readers of this treatise:” —

"Without apologizing for myself, I am immediately carried to consider the great point of PASSIVE CONTEMPLATION, wherein I find that you have been much shocked by some considerable objections from a great and active genius.     You shall hear, then, my free sentiments upon the matter;  and after such a long term of silence, it may be concluded that they are my fixed thoughts, and not the hasty eruptions of any natural or preternatural fire in my spirit.

"It must needs be confessed, that several of the admirers and followers of the Passive State do seem to show too little a respect for the sacred Scriptures, and that some of them do even very slightly pass over the mystery of salvation by the death of Christ, and do seek to find God without and above the blessed humanity of our dear Mediator;  which is the ladder of Jacob, whereby the angels of God and all the Divine influences do descend from heaven to earth, and re-ascend from earth to heaven.    But after I had discoursed with Mr. Coester, and had heard him fully, I found that it was the unbounded activity of his genius that had transported him too far; and that it was hardly possible for any one (how acute soever) to reach the punctum of the question, without having first learnt to moderate the active faculties or powers of the soul, or without having had (at least) some lesser experiences concerning this subject matter.

"The way of Contemplation ought in the first place to be understood; and this is to be learned either from the Philosophers, or else from the holy Scriptures and the Christian Mystics.     The Philosophical Contemplation is then evidently misunderstood, when the exercise of it is condemned in those who were never acquainted with the history of the Gospel, or convinced of its truth;  for certainly it can be no fault in any one who never heard of Jesus Christ, (or, which is all one, could never be satisfied, after his best and sincerest endeavours made for that purpose,) to go as directly as he can to God, in the deepest self-abasement, and the most perfect surrender of his will into the hands of the omnipotent Creator and Father.    And no less evidently is it so, when the exercise of holy Contemplation is censured in such who are both acquainted with and convinced of the truth of the history of the Gospel:  for as much as every Christian contemplatist, that is truly such, doth not ascend in his spirit above Christ, or put himself anywise without Christ;  but in the very exercise of Contemplation, doth most truly and properly sink himself down into the heart of Christ, and even more truly and properly than he could possibly have done it by all the meditations and reflections imaginable upon the life and sufferings of Christ.    This, every one that hath had any experience thereof must needs declare.    These meditations indeed, and reflections of the soul, are not to be neglected, for they are most useful and beneficial in their order:  and by these when rightly pursued we may arrive to Contemplation;  and thereby lodge ourselves as in the bosom of this our Beloved, in contemplating whose beauty we can never be weary, of the beauty of Him in whom all the treasures and beautiful forms of the Deity are laid up, which are never to be manifested but to the single and contemplative eye.    The devout and active contemplation of what Christ both did and suffered for us, will naturally lead us into that divine and Passive Contemplation which transcends all meditation and self-action whatever, and which he by the merits of his precious death and suffering hath purchased for us.    It will bring us successively into that divine peace, which passeth all understanding and ratiocination: it will not cease to carry us on, beyond all that the activity of our intellectual abilities is able to arrive to, or apprehend:   and then it will suffer us gently to fall as asleep in his dear arms, and to cease from every motion of our own spirit, that so we may be perfectly passive to all the motions and inactions of that blessed Spirit which through his merits is given unto us; and which, in the highest degree, is given to us when we are denudated of all acts of our own.    And being so under the conduct of this Spirit, we do not then lie exposed to the subtlety of malicious spirits transforming themselves, but are quite delivered from them.    None of the powers of darkness are able to hurt or supplant a soul that continues in this passive and silent state:  for it is therein actually surrendered up into the hands of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;   and, under that consideration too, it is truly animated by the Holy Ghost (no less than the body by it) and is made indeed a partaker of the Divine nature in Christ.     And Christ, indeed, is the true and proper way of Contemplation, (I say to us Christians,) and I come not to the Father but by him:  for it is the Son that cometh to the Father, and they that follow the Son must come to God in like manner as he cometh;   that they may even, in a degree, behold his face, and beholding it, be irradiated by the light of his countenance, lifted up and reflected upon them.    But he that teacheth me to come to the Father, hath taught me not only to see the Father in him, (as if that alone were permitted,) but also to see and contemplate him in the Father.

"The six last chapters of Cardinal Cusanus in his manual Of the Vision of God, by the means of simple abstraction, (which I have only seen in the English translation of it,) lay this down ex professo.     The book of the Idiot doth the same: and many others of the best and wisest of the Mystics will be found perfectly to agree in this point, when they are thoroughly examined into.    Yes, I believe I am able to shew from Dr. Molinos himself, that there is no other way to the quiet of the soul in God, but through Christ; and that in the very laying aside of all sensible images, he is not laid aside, but may then most truly be beheld in the Father.    Nor can I think anything more absurd, or self-contradicting, than that he should write a Book purposely for Daily Communion, and yet not exalt highly the merits of the death of Christ; or that he should undertake to prescribe this as a proper mean for the preservation of this internal quiet, unless that he did believe that this quiet of the recollected soul in God, was both to be acquired and preserved by an union to the humanity of the blessed Jesus, as well as by a communion thence arising of the Divine Word.    This must have been the ground of his writing that little treatise: which is not otherwise considerable in itself, and will sufficiently vindicate him from the charge of Deism.     And I am certain that the French Lady, Madame Guyon, is not so great an heretic in this matter, as the cabal in France would make her.    Her Moyen Court, which was burnt at Paris, has many express passages, some of them very excellent, that do set forth Christ as the way:  and in the article which speaks of the mysteries of redemption, she briefly and fully shews, how her method of simple prayer, or of passive Contemplation, doth more effectually honour them than any other method which is more compounded and active;  and how it imprinteth on us the very stigma of our Lord Jesus, so that we are truly said hereby to bear his marks.     The method of the Jesuits has been always against this, for which they press the very same argument as our friend doth; preferring therefore meditation in their Spiritual Exercises, that they may not put themselves out of the protection of Christ by too much abstractedness and silent recollection:  and upon this score they made in the last age such a violent opposition against Father Austin Baker, and against Dame Gertrude More:  whose reasons, which they bring in vindication of their simple and plain way, are not perhaps unworthy of consideration.    The articles of Issy, which are drawn up by the present Bishop of Meaux, against the little book of that (give me leave to call her so) great woman just mentioned, do run in their beaten track, and fall into the same mistake with them.    I have written some reflections upon them, and have in some measure laid open the fallacy of that manner of proceeding, by taking them into pieces, and reducing them into mere propositions.    These I have some thoughts of printing with the discourse itself to which they belong, and which I have had by me a pretty long while translated, but is now providentially called for after I had laid it aside.    This hath given me a surprising satisfaction as to the universality of that method, which is so subtlely attacked;  and no less therefore as to the security and facility of it, the whole interior process being made hereby direct and linear:  and it hath laid open a field, which others may prosecute with good success.

"Many notwithstanding must be alarmed at it:  but in the end you will see that truth shall be justified of her children.    And after all the janglings that are in the world, there will be found no other way to arrive to the truth but this.    It is Contemplation and Abstraction that must lead us through the veil into the Sanctum Sanctorum, where the originals of truth are preserved, even in that ark of the Divine presence, which is Christ, the Alpha and the Omega of every creature.     And it is through him that we can come with boldness, (being first purified by the blood of Sprinkling, which cleanseth us from every pollution of the flesh through faith,) to the throne of Grace, which is the everlasting mercy-seat in the third heavens, and inmost sanctuary, where this great High Priest ministreth continually, and presenteth such pure Contemplative souls as do ascend hither upon the wings of the Divine eagle, to his God and their God.    He is the way, and he is the truth of Contemplation:  though we may not be always reflecting upon the way, while we are in it;  nor reasoning about the truth, while we possess it, if we are so happy.     And Christ being the truth of Contemplation, or that Truth which the contemplator beholds, and beholding possesses, — every one in such a state, or frame, is necessarily under the protection of the truth, and so by consequent, can be in no danger of falling into errors, or of being blinded by delusions;  because the truth itself dwelleth in him, and he dwelleth in the truth, being possessed by it in silence and passiveness of spirit, and walketh in the truth, then when he putteth forth what he hath learnt in this internal silence as under this divine possession by the word of truth, by passing from rest into action, and so bringing forth all the fruits and powers of the Holy Ghost, in the life of the blessed Jesus, both active and passive;  and the truth shall be with him for ever, as an inward principle of life, and of the resurrection from the dead.    He is now in the truth, and the truth is in him;  he is vitally united with the truth, and of this union (as it is made truly out of time,) there can never be a dissolution:  so that all the subtle and intriguing spirits of darkness are hereby effectually shut out, and they have no power to deceive, because when they come they find nothing of their own to mix with;  for as much as the creature being silenced, God alone in Christ speaketh, moveth, and doeth.     And I think that this is a state both warrantable, and christian, and what every one would do well to press after;  there being few incapable of it, and none but may be made capable of it.    Before we arrive to it, we are not yet in the Truth, but are only advancing toward it;  neither is the truth (properly speaking) in us, but instead thereof, there is a shadow only, or image of the truth, which being followed, will lead us into that which it is a shadow and an image, as we shall silently introvert our souls into the fountain of divine Being.    And then may we be said to worship God in truth.    The more spiritual, and the more perfect our worship of God in Christ is, it must of necessity be so much the more near to this state of internal silence and rest:  that so Christ our Lord in like manner as in the Heavens, may in us also come to enter into his rest, and to sit down in the soul as on his throne.    He hereby becomes our everlasting priest and king as well as a prophet, to reveal unto us the whole will of God, and the length and depth and breadth of his love to usward.    He offers up in us pure incense, in which there is nothing of man's composition:  and he commands in us both as the King of Righteousness and also as the Prince of Peace, with an absolute sceptre, and without dividing his dominion to any.    All this is nothing but the natural result of that Passive Contemplation which I am contending for, as you will easily find by a little application:  because that Christ himself, as he is the union, of God and man, is both the way and the truth of it. 

"Moreover, as he is the way and truth, so also the life of pure Contemplation, and the soul that shall arrive to it, may then truly indeed cry out, It is no longer I that live, but Christ that liveth in me.     For the soul being in it doth not properly live its own life:   it doth not reason;  but he who is the eternal reason reasoneth in the soul, or giveth himself, and in himself all things to be seen.    It doth not will; but he who came into the world to do the will of the Father, is come into the soul to do his will, and he alone willeth there, in such a manner as the will of the Father, of Christ, and of the soul are all three but one will:  it doth not remember, for all old things are passed away, and is as redeemed (for that season) out of the earth and temporal nature;  only the spirit of Christ bringeth to remembrance whatever pleaseth him:  it imagineth not, being lifted out of and above all images, by being brought into the possession of the truth itself;  but the truth imageth itself upon the soul, in which all the ideas of the archetypal and angelical worlds are contained, and will spring forth;  and so this divine imagination of the truth maketh all things new in the soul, as likewise in all nature internal and external, and is the proper medium or instrument of the new creation, and of the new Jerusalem descending out of heaven:   it doth not perceive, being out of the bodily senses, ravished into a state that is altogether supersensual, which no eye hath seen, neither can tongue express;  but the body of Christ being the body of his whole church, and no less of every particular member, the soul, after its purification, is taken into the body of Christ, and in that it seeth, heareth &c. the heavenly objects, sounds &c. by a free and passive reception of the same into the mind, which is become the mind of Christ.    But till souls be purified from the mortal body by the prayer of simple abstraction, there can be no such free and pure reception of the divine objects, lights, voices, tastes &c.;   but there must be some impurity and mixture still adhering to them, which will remain so long as any activity of their own remains, or so long as they are not perfectly separated from the body of sin, in the exercise of Contemplation, and so united to the body of righteousness, which is Christ.    So that herein is the greatest security;  and the life of Contemplation is a most strong fortress, against which none of the gates of hell shall be able to prevail, forasmuch as it is the very life of Christ in the soul.    He who is arrived to the blessed state puts forth no acts of his own life, but is led and acted wholly (yet freely) by the divine life in him:  he has no ratiocination, volition, memory, imagination, or sensation which he can call his own;  but all is surrendered up, and all proceeds again from a new spring of life;  which is not his but Christ's.     And in this new life, which can never perfectly be attained without Contemplation, is the will of our God to be done by us upon earth, as it is done by the angels in heaven, who though they are continually contemplating his face, yet are also always ready to be sent forth as ministering spirits from him, to execute all his commands.    Hereby likewise we feed upon the hidden manna, we sup with Christ and Christ with us;  the door being opened to Him by naked faith, in total abstraction from the flesh, and the senses thereof.    So that there is an end of iniquity and transgression, and we are cleansed from all by the blood of the Lamb, to walk with him in white.    And then following him in white we are made priests with him, and intercessors for others, that they likewise may obtain mercy and be purified from every evil that so easily besets them, being brought into the same state of holy contemplation, and called up again into their primitive inheritance of the divine light.    Thus we come to live as translated out of the wilderness of this wicked world, and are secured against all temptations, having our conversation in heaven, where the malice of the evil one cannot reach us:  and the kingdom of God is made manifest in our souls, and his power is revealed, and his glory is spread forth to the utter confusion of the creature;  and then is that new name given upon the white stone, whereby the name of our Heavenly Father is no less hallowed in the earth than in the heavens.    For it is the very name of this our Heavenly Father (whom we can now most truly call so) written, and sealed, upon us invisibly and visibly.     And having once obtained this name, there is nothing which we shall ask in it either for ourselves or for others, but it shall be perfectly and fully answered:   and we shall not pray afterwards in vain, any one petition of that prayer which Christ has taught us, but shall see the complete fulfilling of the same both in ourselves, and in all them that we pray for and with.    Thus it appears that the life of Contemplation is the life of Christ in the soul, the life of God in man, and the wonderful gate of the Holy Ghost, and the powers thereof:  and that it is not only warrantable, but laudable to wrestle against the senses, and even against all the imaginations and thoughts of our own hearts, by means of the highest and most perfect abstraction;  and to press after the mark of this life, to believe and pray for it, to retire and wait much in the presence of God, and so by ceasing from all operations of our own, and all self-willings, though never so apparently good, to stand still and see what Christ, our life, will do for us, and in us, so soon as we shall hereby have given up ourselves to his sole and immediate conduct.     And if this be unchristian, I know not what is christian;  it is the way that I desire to be found in, and the truth which I court, and the life which will not make me ashamed before the face of my righteous Judge.    

"If now I have cleared this point to you, or am made rather an instrument to direct you to Him who alone is able to clear it fully, I shall heartily rejoice in Him; and you will have cause to say that, Great is the truth:  but I have made use only of one topic, whereas I could have made use of many others.    However it is that which I take to be the most considerable, as it was also the first which came to my mind;  there being nothing more strongly imprinted in it than this axiom of my blessed Lord, I am the way, the truth, and the life;  or than this dear salutation from his adorable mouth, 'I will be thy way, thy truth, and thy life:'  and this is so far from being exhausted by what I have said upon it, as I doubt not but you will be able to say much more, and to draw thence beside many corollaries both delightful and profitable in the christian race.     As for other arguments it would be quite unnecessary to heap them together, if this one be able to bear the shock:  and if this will not, a multitude will not help, or help but little.    I find arguments not a few both in the Gospels and in the Epistles, that do establish the doctrine I have been pleading for, and serve to remove that grand objection of our friend (and with it all other objections too), and such as do it unanswerably, if I understand them:  which you also of yourself will easily find out by the key that has here been given.    But not only the New Testament, but also the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets will be found after a just inquiry to patronize and recommend to us the state of silent Abstraction, and to lead us in the noble path of Contemplation, after Enoch, Moses, Elias, David, and other great worthies.    What is contained under the institution of sacrifices, and the whole Levitical law, hath all a reference to this matter, either near or more remote:  the tabernacle and the temple are never to be understood without it;   the office of the high priest will be still little better than a riddle, even after all the history which we have of his antitype;  and the establishment of the Colleges of the Prophets will be most absurd and unaccountable.    The truth of all is within the veil:  and there is no passing there but by the contemplative soul;   and none can assist the soul in breaking through the veil, by the deepest abnegation of her own power and the most profound exercise of Contemplation and silent watchfullness, but Christ alone.    Therefore as Christ is the fulfilling of the Law and of the Prophets, so also is Contemplation the key which leads us into their inward cabinets, and the mirror in which we may behold all their wonders.

"But not withstanding all this it must be confessed that the too early affecting and endeavouring after this state may be highly dangerous to many souls:  for that not a few would be glad to be at the end of the journey, before they have gone perhaps two or three fair steps in it.     And souls that come to it unprepared do very often overset themselves, and make shipwreck of the death of Christ, and of the resurrection from the dead;   putting themselves out of his protection, as not being led by his spirit, but by their own.    Wherefore if we have a longing to enter into this most excellent path, we must not fail to pray the Father assiduously and confidently that he would give us his Holy Spirit that may purify us in spirit, soul and body, that so we may be fit to walk therein.    And especially ought we never to let go out of our mind the word of our Lord, that it is the pure in heart that shall contemplate God;  and therefore no other can contemplate him.    For the blessing has a regard both to this life and to the next;  as also the rest of the blessings.    We are taught from the mount that purity of heart is necessary to the attainment of the vision of God, in this blessed state of the kingdom of heaven upon earth, this silent path of peace and joy inexpressible:  and without this purity all Contemplation that can be pretended to, how glittering soever it may appear to some, is nothing but mere rantism and madness.    Wherefore, Dear Sir, I do not fear but you will seek after holiness, and wait at Wisdom's gates, and be obedient to her discipline, that after a due term of days (i.e. by unceasing diligence in prayer, watchfulness, mortification, and dying to all self,) you may be admitted into her palace, and advanced to this state;  which is so very lovely and desirable, as every hour (if your heart be struck, as I believe it is) will appear a year until you can attain.    So it did to the ancient hermits, and to the holy fathers (whose names they that are most against us have so due a reverence for,) who never thought that they could do or suffer enough, that they might be made partakers of this heavenly gift, which was very far from being a relict of Paganism in them, as is pretended;  unless the belief of a Deity may be called so too.    And supposing that it were so, it must have introduced of necessity whole Paganism again;   forasmuch as they did still represent this state as a state of communion betwixt the Divine Word and the soul, which must have been (upon that supposition) nothing else but a state of communion with impure demons and the malicious spirits of darkness, presenting themselves to them in the name of Christ, the heavenly Word.     The consequences whereof I leave you to consider, being too many for me to mention.    So that these holy men did not retain this as it was part of the Ethnic religion, but only as it was a true (and precious) relict of the patriarchal religion which the Ethnics had transferred and corrupted;  and they therefore did restore and bring back with them according to the primitive design, and according also to the clearer Light which was now revealed to them in the face of Jesus Christ, manifested in the truth.

"There is a book of Benedictus Anglus which, for the settling you fully as to this matter, deserves to be recommended to your perusal, if you can procure it in either Latin or English, which bears for the title De Triplici Voluntate Dei;  whose two first parts do make in English The Rule of Perfection, and the third The Bright Star. I have found much benefit by it;   but the last part in the English wants of that union which is found in that of the two former.    The sum of all is contained in the exercise of the Divine Will.

"Now the activity of a soul that is arrived, will not be less, but greater than it was before;  it will be more central and deeper but not so sensible and outward. For by being made passive to the divine energy, it loses nothing of those forces which it had in its first creation, or constitution, but being renewed it becomes by many degrees, more quick, powerful, and penetrating than it was before.    Of which I have several special observations to make;  but am prevented by the female Quietist of France [Madame Guyon] who has said enough upon this matter:  I think better cannot be said.

"Sir, what I have written to you, you may communicate as you please, but with all due caution; and in what else I can further serve you, you may assuredly command —

Your most affectionate servant in Christ. —
F. Lee. 
Hogsden (Hoxton), 
August 9th 1700. "

 

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