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The true Way or Method
of attaining to

Psal. 3. 10.

The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdome: a good Understanding have all they that doe his Commandments.

John 7. 17.

If any man will doe his Will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God

Clem. Alexandr. Strom. 3.

Γῶς δέ ἐστι δυνατὸν, ἡττηθέντα τῶν τοῦ σώματος ἡδονῶν, ἐξομοιοῦσθαι τῷ Κυρίῳ, ἢ γνῶσιν ἔχειν Θεοῦ;

Θεοῦ δέ γνῶσιν λαβεῖν. τοῖς ἔτι ὑπὸ τῶν παθῶν ἀγομένοις, ἀδύνατον

Τὰ τῆς πολιτείας ἐλέγχει σαφῶς τοὺς ἐγνωκότας τὰς ἐντολάς. Ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν τὸ δένδρον, οὐκ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθων καὶ πετάλων, γνωρίζεται. ἡ γνῶσις οὗν ἐκ τοῦ καρποῦ καὶ τῆς πολιτείας, οὐκ ἐκ τοῦ λόγου καὶ τοῦ ἄνθους.


The true Way or Method of attaining to
Divine Knowledge.

Section I. That Divine things are to be understood rather by a Spiritual Sensation then a Verbal Description, or meer Speculation. Sin and Wickedness prejudicial to True Knowledge. That Purity of Heart and Life, as also an Ingenuous Freedome of Judgment, are the best Grounds and Preparations for the Entertainment of Truth.

Sect. II. An Objection against the Method of Knowing laid down in the former Section, answered. That Men generally, notwithstanding their Apostasie, are furnished with the Radical Principles of True Knowledge. Men want not so much Means of knowing what they ought to doe, as Wills to doe what they know. Practical Knowledge differs from all other Knowledge, and excells it.

Sect. III. Men may be consider'd in a Fourfold capacity in order to the perception of Divine things. That the Best and most excellent Knowledge of Divine things belongs onely to the true and sober Christian; and That it is but in its infancy while he is in this Earthly Body.

Sect. I.

IT hath been long since well observed, That every Art & Science hath some certain Principles upon which the whole Frame and Body of it must depend; and he that will fully acquaint himself with the Mysteries thereof, must come furnisht with some Præcognita or προλήψεις, that I may speak in the language of the Stoicks. Were I indeed to <2> define Divinity, I should rather call it a Divine life, then a Divine science; it being something rather to be understood by a Spiritual sensation, then by any Verbal description, as all things of Sense & Life are best known by Sentient and Vital faculties; γνῶσις ἑκάστων δι’ ὁμοιότητος γίνεται, as the Greek Philosopher hath well observed, Every thing is best known by that which bears a just resemblance and analogie with it: and therefore the Scripture is wont to set forth a Good life as the Prolepsis and Fundamental principle of Divine Science; Wisdome hath built her an house, and hewen out her seven pillars: But the fear of the Lord is רֵאשִׁית הִכְמָה the beginning of wisdome, the Foundation of the whole fabrick.

We shall therefore, as a Prolegomenon or Preface to what we shall afterward discourse upon the Heads of Divinity, speake something of this True Method of Knowing, which is not so much by Notions as Actions; as Religion it self consists not so much in Words as Things. They are not alwaies the best skill'd in Divinity, that are the most studied in those Pandects which it is sometimes digested into, or that have erected the greatest Monopolies of Art and Science. He that is most Practical in Divine things, hath the purest and sincerest Knowledge of them, and not he that is most Dogmatical. Divinity indeed is a true Efflux from the Eternal light, which, like the Sun-beams, does not only enlighten, but heat and enliven; and therefore our Saviour hath in his Beatitudes connext Purity of heart with the Beatifical Vision. And as the Eye cannot behold the Sun, ἡλιοειδὴς μὴ γινόμενος,[1] unless it be Sunlike, and hath the form and resemblance of the Sun drawn in it; so neither can the Soul of man behold God, θεοειδὴς μὴ γινομένη, unless it be Godlike, hath <3> God formed in it, and be made partaker of the Divine Nature. And the Apostle S. Paul, when he would lay open the right way of attaining to Divine Truth, he saith that Knowledge puffeth up, but it is Love that edifieth. The knowledge of Divinity that appears in Systems and Models is but a poor wan light, but the powerful energy of Divine knowledge displaies it self in purified Souls: here we shall finde the true πεδίον ἀληθείας, as the antient Philosophy speaks, the land of Truth.

To seek our Divinity meerly in Books and Writings, is to seek the living among the dead: we doe but in vain seek God many times in these, where his Truth too often is not so much enshrin'd, as entomb'd: no; intra te quære Deum, seek for God within thine own soul; he is best discern'd νοερᾷ ἑπαφῇ, as Plotinus phraseth it, by an Intellectual touch of him: we must see with our eyes, and hear with our ears, and our hands must handle the word of life, that I may express it in S. John's words. Ἔστι καὶ ψυχῆς αἴσθησίς τις , The Soul it self hath its sense, as well as the Body: and therefore David, when he would teach us how to know what the Divine Goodness is, calls not for Speculation but Sensation, Tast and see how good the Lord is. That is not the best & truest knowledge of God which is wrought out by the labour and sweat of the Brain, but that which is kindled within us by an heavenly warmth in our Hearts. As in the natural Body it is the Heart that sends up good Blood and warm Spirits into the Head, whereby it is best enabled to its several functions; so that which enables us to know and understand aright in the things of God, must be a living principle of Holiness within us. When the Tree of Knowledge is not planted by the Tree of Life, and sucks not up sap from <4> thence, it may be as well fruitful with evil as with good, and bring forth bitter fruit as well as sweet. If we would indeed have our Knowledge thrive and flourish, we must water the tender plants of it with Holiness. When Zoroaster's Scholars asked him what they should doe to get winged Souls, such as might soar aloft in the bright beams of Divine Truth, he bids them bathe themselves in the waters of Life: they asking what they were; he tells them, the four Cardinal Vertues, which are the four Rivers of Paradise. It is but a thin, aiery knowledge that is got by meer Speculation, which is usher'd in by Syllogisms and Demonstrations; but that which springs forth from true Goodness, is θειότερόν τι πάσης ἀποδείξεως, as Origen speaks, it brings such a Divine light into the Soul, as is more clear and convincing then any Demonstration. The reason why, notwithstanding all our acute reasons and subtile disputes, Truth prevails no more in the world, is, we so often disjoyn Truth and true Goodness, which in themselves can never be disunited; they grow both from the same Root, and live in one another. We may, like those in Plato's deep pit with their faces bended downwards, converse with Sounds and Shadows; but not with the Life and Substance of Truth, while our Souls remain defiled with any vice or lusts. These are the black Lethe-lake which drench the Soules of men: he that wants true Vertue, in heavn's Logick is blind, and cannot see afar off.[2] Those filthy mists that arise from impure and terrene minds, like an Atmospheare, perpetually encompass them, that they cannot see that Sun of Divine Truth that shines about them, but never shines into any unpurged Souls; the darkness comprehends it not, the foolish man understands it not. All the Light and Knowledge that <5> may seem sometimes to rise up in unhallowed mindes, is but like those fuliginous flames that arise up from our culinary fire, that are soon quench'd in their own smoak; or like those foolish fires that fetch their birth from terrene exudations, that doe but hop up & down, and flit to and fro upon the surface of this earth where they were first brought forth; and serve not so much to enlighten, as to delude us; nor to direct the wandring traveller into his way, but to lead him farther out of it. While we lodge any filthy vice in us, this will be perpetually twisting up it self into the thread of our finest-spun Speculations; it will be continually climbing up into the τὸ Ἡγεμονικόν, the Hegemonicall powers of the Soul, into the bed of Reason, and defile it: like the wanton Ivie twisting it self about the Oak, it will twine about our Judgments and Understandings, till it hath suck'd out the Life and Spirit of them. I cannot think such black oblivion should possess the Mindes of some as to make them question that Truth which to Good men shines as bright as the Sun at noon-day, had they not foully defil'd their own Souls with some hellish vice or other, how fairly soever it may be they may dissemble it. There is a benumming Spirit, a congealing Vapour that ariseth from Sin and Vice, that will stupifie the senses of the Soul; as the Naturalists say there is from the Torpedo that smites the senses of those that approach to it. This is that venemous Solanum, that deadly Nightshade, that derives its cold poyson into the Understandings of men.

Such as Men themselves are, such will God himself seem to be. It is the Maxim of most wicked men, That the Deity is some way or other like themselves: their Souls doe more then whisper it, though their lips <6> speak it not; and though their tongues be silent, yet their lives cry it upon the house-tops, & in the publick streets. That Idea which men generally have of God is nothing else but the picture of their own Complexion: that Archetypall notion of him which hath the supremacie in their mindes, is none else but such an one as hath been shap'd out according to some pattern of themselves; though they may so cloathe and disguise this Idol of their own, when they carry it about in a pompous Procession to expose it to the view of the world, that it may seem very beautiful, and indeed any thing else rather then what it is. Most men (though it may be they themselves take no great notice of it) like that dissembling Monk, doe aliter sentire in Scholis, aliter in Musæis, are of a different judgment in the Schools from what they are in the retirements of their private closets. There is a double head, as well as a double heart. Mens corrupt hearts will not suffer their notions and conceptions of divine things to be cast into that form that an higher Reason, which may sometime work within them, would put them into.

I would not be thought all this while to banish the belief of all Innate notions of Divine Truth: but these are too often smother'd, or tainted with a deep dye of mens filthy lusts. It is but lux sepulta in opaci materia, light buried and stifled in some dark body, from whence all those colour'd, or rather discolour'd, notions and apprehensions of divine things are begotten. Though these Common notions may be very busie somtimes in the vegetation of divine Knowledge; yet the corrupt vices of men may so clog, disturb and overrule them, (as the Naturalists say this unruly and masterless matter doth the natural forms in the formation of living creatures) that they may produce nothing but <7> Monsters miserably distorted & misshapen. This kind of Science, as Plotinus speaks, τῷ ὑλικῷ πολλῷ συνοῦσα, καὶ εἰς αὐτὴν εἰσδεξαμένη, εἶδος ἕτερον ἠλλάξατο κράσει τῇ πρὸς τὸ χεῖρον, companying too familiarly with Matter, and receiving and imbibing it into it selfe, changeth its shape by this incestuous mixture. At best, while any inward lust is harboured in the minds of men, it will so weaken them, that they can never bring forth any masculine or generous knowledge; as Ælian observes of the Stork, that if the Night-owle chanceth to sit upon her eggs, they become presently as it were ὑπηνέμια, and all incubation rendred impotent and ineffectual. Sin and lust are alway of an hungry nature, and suck up all those vital affections of mens Souls which should feed and nourish their Understandings.

What are all our most sublime Speculations of the Deity, that are not impregnated with true Goodness, but insipid things that have no tast nor life in them, that do but swell like empty froath in the souls of men? They doe not feed mens souls, but onely puffe them up & fill them with Pride, Arrogance and Contempt and Tyrannie towards those that cannot well ken their subtile Curiosities: as those Philosophers that Tully complains of in his times, qui disciplinā suam ostentationē scientiæ, non legem vitæ, putabant, which made their knowledge onely matter of ostentation, to venditate and set off themselves, but never caring to square and govern their lives by it. Such as these doe but Spider-like take a great deal of pains to spin a worthless web out of their own bowels, which will not keep them warm. These indeed are those silly Souls that are ever learning, but never come to the knowledge of the Truth. They may, with Pharaoh's lean kine, eat up and devoure all Tongues and Sciences, and yet when they have done, <8> still remain lean and ill-favour'd as they were at first- Jejune and barren Speculations may be hovering and fluttering up and down about Divinity, but they cannot settle or fix themselves upon it: they unfold the Plicatures of Truth's garment, but they cannot behold the lovely face of it. There are hidden Mysteries in Divine Truth, wrapt up one within another, which cannot be discern'd but onely by divine Epoptists.

We must not think we have then attained to the right knowledge of Truth, when we have broke through the outward Shell of words & phrases that house it up; or when by a Logical Analysis we have found out the dependencies and coherencies of them one with another; or when, like stout champions of it, having well guarded it with the invincible strength of our Demonstration, we dare stand out in the face of the world, and challenge the field of all those that would pretend to be our Rivalls.

We have many Grave and Reverend Idolaters that worship Truth onely in the Image of their own Wits; that could never adore it so much as they may seem to doe, were it any thing else but such a Form of Belief as their own wandring speculations had at last met together in, were it not that they find their own image and superscription upon it.

There is a knowing of the truth as it is in Jesus, as it is in a Christ-like nature, as it is in that sweet, mild, humble, and loving Spirit of Jesus, which spreads itself like a Morning-Sun upon the Soules of good men, full of light and life. It profits litle to know Christ himself after the flesh; but he gives his Spirit to good men, that searcheth the deep things of God. There is an inward beauty, life and loveliness in Divine Truth, which cannot be known but onely then when it is di- <9> gested into life and practice. The Greek Philosopher could tell those high-soaring Gnosticks that thought themselves no less then Jovis alites, that could (as he speaks in the Comedy) ἀεροβατεῖν καὶ περιφρονεῖν τὸν ἥλιον, and cried out so much βλέπε πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν, look upon God, that ἄνευ ἀρετῆς Θεὸς ὄνομα μόνον, Without Vertue and real Goodness God is but a name, a dry and empty Notion. The profane sort of men, like those old Gentile Greeks, may make many ruptures in the walls of God's Temple, and break into the holy ground, but yet may finde God no more there then they did.

Divine Truth is better understood, as it unfolds itself in the purity of mens hearts and lives, then in all those subtil Niceties into which curious Wits may lay it forth. And therefore our Saviour, who is the great Master of it, would not, while he was here on earth, draw it up into any Systeme or Body, nor would his Disciples after him; He would not lay it out to us in any Canons or Articles of Belief, not being indeed so careful to stock and enrich the World with Opinions and Notions, as with true Piety, and a Godlike pattern of purity, as the best way to thrive in all spiritual understanding. His main scope was to promote an Holy life, as the best and most compendious way to a right Belief. He hangs all true acquaintance with Divinity upon the doing Gods will, If any man will doe his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God. This is that alone which will make us, as S. Peter tells us, that we shall not be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour. There is an inward sweetness and deliciousness in divine Truth, which no sensual minde can tast or rellish: this is that ψυχικὸς ἀνὴρ, that natural man that savours not the <10> things of God. Corrupt passions and terrene affections are apt of their own nature to disturb all serene thoughts, to precipitate our Judgments, and warp our Understandings. It was a good Maxime of the old Jewish Writers, רוח הקדש לא שרה בעצב ולא בכעש the Holy Spirit dwells not in terrene and earthly passions. Divinity is not so well perceiv'd by a subtile wit, ὥσπερ αἰσθήσει κεκαθαρμένῃ as by a purified sense, as Plotinus phraseth it.

Neither was the antient Philosophy unacquainted with this Way and Method of attaining to the knowledge of Divine things; and therefore[3] Aristotle himself thought a Young man unfit to meddle with the grave precepts of Morality, till the heat and violent precipitancy of his youthful affections was cool'd and moderated. And it is observed of Pythagoras, that he had several waies to try the capacity of his Scholars, and to prove the sedateness and Moral temper of their minds, before he would entrust them with the sublimer Mysteries of his Philosophy. The Platonists were herein so wary and solicitous, that they thought the Mindes of men could never be purg'd enough from those earthly dregs of Sense and Passion, in which they were so much steep'd, before they could be capable of their divine Metaphysicks: and therefore they so much solicite a χωρισμὸς ἀπὸ τοῦ σώματος, as they are wont to phrase it, a separation from the Body, in all those that would καθαρῶς φιλὸσοφεῖν, as Socrates speaks, that is indeed, sincerely understand Divine Truth; for that was the scope of their Philosophy. This was also intimated by them in their defining Philosophy to be μελέτη θανάτου a Meditation of Death; aiming herein at onely a Moral way of dying, by loosening the Soul from the Body and this Sensitive life; which they thought was <11> necessary to a right Contemplation of Intelligible things: and therefore besides those ἀρεταὶ καθαρτικαὶ by which the Souls of men were to be separated from sensuality and purged from fleshly filth, they devised a further way of Separation more accommodated to the condition of Philosophers, which was their Mathemata, or Mathematical Contemplations, whereby the Souls of men might farther shake off their dependency upon Sense, and learn to go as it were alone, without the crutch of any Sensible or Material thing to support them; and so be a little inur'd, being once got up above the Body, to converse freely with Immaterial natures, without looking down again and falling back into Sense. Besides many other waies they had, whereby to rise out of this dark Body; ἀναβάσεις ἐκ τοῦ σπηλαίου, as they are wont to call them, several steps and ascents out of this miry cave of mortality, before they could set any sure footing with their Intellectual part in the land of Light and Immortal Being.

And thus we should pass from this Topick of our Discourse, upon which we have dwelt too long already, but that before we quite let it goe, I hope we may fairly make this use of it farther (besides what we have openly driven at all this while) which is, To learn not to devote or give up our selves to any private Opinions or Dictates of men in matters of Religion, nor too zealously to propugne the Dogmata of any Sect. As we should not like rigid Censurers arraign & condemn the Creeds of other men which we comply not with, before a full & mature understanding of them, ripened not onely by the natural sagacity of our own Reasons, but by the benign influence of holy and mortified Affection: so neither should we over-hastily credere in fidem alienam, subscribe to the Symbols and Articles of <12> other men. They are not alwaies the Best men that blot most paper; Truth is not, I fear, so Voluminous, nor swells into such a mighty bulk as our Books doe. Those mindes are not alwaies the most chast that are most parturient with these learned Discourses, which too often bear upon them a foule stain of their unlawfull propagation. A bitter juice of corrupt affections may sometimes be strain'd into the inke of our greatest Clerks, their Doctrines may tast too sowre of the cask they come through. We are not alwaies happy in meeting with that wholsome food (as some are wont to call the Doctrinal-part of Religion) which hath been dress'd out by the cleanest hands. Some men have too bad hearts to have good heads: they cannot be good at Theorie who have been so bad at the Practice, as we may justly fear too many of those from whom we are apt to take the Articles of our Belief have been. Whilst we plead so much our right to the patrimony of our Fathers, we may take too fast a possession of their Errors as well as of their sober opinions. There are Idola specûs, Innate Prejudices, and deceitfull Hypotheses, that many times wander up and down in the Mindes of good men, that may flie out from them with their graver determinations. We can never be well assur'd what our Traditional Divinity is; nor can we securely enough addict our selves to any Sect of men. That which was the Philosopher's motto, Ἐλεύθερον εἰναι δεῖ τῇ γνώμῃ τὸν μέλλοντα φιλοσοφεῖν, we may a little enlarge, and so fit it for an ingenuous pursuer after divine Truth: He that will finde Truth, must seek it with a free judgment, and a sanctified minde: he that thus seeks, shall finde; he shall live in Truth, and that shall live in him; it shall be like a stream of living waters issuing out of his own Soule; he shall drink of <13> the waters of his own cisterne, and be satisfied; he shall every morning finde this Heavenly Manna lying upon the top of his own Soule, and be fed with it to eternal life; he will finde satisfaction within, feeling himself in conjunction with Truth, though all the World should dispute against him.

Section II.

AND thus I should again leave this Argument, but that perhaps we may all this while have seemed to undermine what we intend to build up. For if Divine Truth spring onely up from the Root of true Goodness; how shall we ever endeavour to be good, before we know what it is to be so? or how shall we convince the gainsaying world of Truth, unless we could also inspire Vertue into it?

To both which we shall make this Reply, That there are some Radical Principles of Knowledge that are so deeply sunk into the Souls of men, as that the Impression cannot easily be obliterated, though it may be much darkned. Sensual baseness doth not so grosly sully and bemire the Souls of all Wicked men at first, as to make them with Diagoras to deny the Deity, or with Protagoras to doubt of, or with Diodorus to question the Immortality of Rational Souls. Neither are the Common Principles of Vertue so pull'd up by the roots in all, as to make them so dubious in stating the bounds of Vertue and Vice as Epicurus was, though he could not but sometime take notice of them. Neither is the Retentive power of Truth so weak and loose in all Scepticks, as it was in him, who being well scourg'd in the <14> streets till the blood ran about him, question'd when he came home, whether he had been beaten or not. Arrianus hath well observed, That the Common Notions of God and Vertue imprest upon the Souls of men, are more clear and perspicuous then any else; and that if they have not more certainty, yet have they more evidence, and display themselves with less difficulty to our Reflexive Faculty then any Geometrical Demonstrations: and these are both availeable to prescribe out waies of Vertue to mens own souls, and to force an acknowledgment of Truth from those that oppose, when they are well guided by a skilfull hand. Truth needs not any time flie from Reason, there being an Eternal amitie between them. They are onely some private Dogmata, that may well be suspected as spurious and adulterate, that dare not abide the tryall thereof. And this Reason is not every where so extinguish'd, as that we may not by that enter into the Souls of men. What the Magnetical virtue is in these earthly Bodies, that Reason is in mens Mindes, which when it is put forth, draws them one to another. Besides in wicked men there are sometimes Distasts of Vice, and Flashes of love to Vertue; which are the Motions which spring from a true Intellect, and the faint struglings of an Higher life within them, which they crucifie again by their wicked Sensuality. As Truth doth not alwaies act in good men, so neither doth Sense alwaies act in wicked men: they may sometimes have their lucida intervalla, their sober fits; and a Divine spirit blowing and breathing upon them may then blow up some live sparks of true Understanding within them; though they may soon endeavour to quench them again, and to rake them up in the ashes of their own earthly thoughts.


All this, and more that might be said upon this Argument, may serve to point out the Way of Vertue. We want not so much Means of knowing what we ought to doe, as Wills to doe that which we may know. But yet all that Knowledge which is separated from an inward acquaintance with Vertue and Goodness, is of a far different nature from that which ariseth out of a true living sense of them, which is the best discerner thereof, and by which alone we know the true Perfection, Sweetness, Energie, and Loveliness of them, and all that which is οὔτε ῥητὸν, οὔτε γραπτὸν, that which can no more be known by a naked Demonstration, then Colours can be perceived of a blinde man by any Definition or Description which he can hear of them.

And further, the clearest and most distinct Notions of Truth that shine in the Souls of the common sort of men, may be extreamly clouded, if they be not accompanied with that answerable practice that might preserve their integrity: These tender Plants may soon be spoyl'd by the continual droppings of our corrupt affections upon them; they are but of a weak and feminine nature, and so may be sooner deceived by that wily Serpent of Sensuality that harbours within us.

While the Soul is πλήρης τοῦ σώματος, full of the Body, while we suffer those Notions and Common Principles of Religion to lie asleep within us; that γενεσιουργὸς δύναμις, the power of an Animal life, will be apt to incorporate and mingle it self with them; and that Reason that is within us, as Plotinus hath well express'd it, becomes more and more σύμφυτος κακαῖς ταῖς ἐπιγενουμὲναις δόξαις, it will be infected with those evil Opinions that arise from our Corporeal life. The more deeply our Souls dive into our Bodies, the more will Reason and Sensuality run one into another, and make <16> up a most dilute, unsavourie, and muddie kinde of Knowledge. We must therefore endeavour more and more to withdraw our selves from these Bodily things, to set our Souls as free as may be from its miserable slavery to this base Flesh: we must shut the Eyes of Sense, and open that brighter Eye of our Understandings, that other Eye of the Soul, as the Philosopher calls our Intellectual Faculty, ἣν ἔχει μὲν πᾶς, χρῶνται δὲ ὀλίγοι, which indeed all have, but few make use of it. This is the way to see clearly; the light of the Divine World will then begin to fall upon us, and those sacred ἐλλάμψεις, those pure Coruscations of Immortal and Ever-living Truth will shine out into us, and in Gods own light shall we behold him. The fruit of this Knowledge will be sweet to our tast, and pleasant to our palates, sweeter then the hony or the hony-comb. The Priests of Mercury, as Plutarch tells us, in the eating of their holy things, were wont to cry out γλυκὺ ἡ ἀλήθεια, Sweet is Truth. But how sweet and delicious that Truth is which holy and heaven-born Souls feed upon in their mysterious converses with the Deity, who can tell but they that tast it? When Reason once is raised by the mighty force of the Divine Spirit into a converse with God, it is turn'd into Sense: That which before was onely Faith well built upon sure Principles, (for such our Science may be) now becomes Vision. We shall then converse with God τῷ νῷ, whereas before we convers'd with him onely τῇ διανοίᾳ with our Discursive faculty, as the Platonists were wont to distinguish. Before we laid hold on him onely λόγῳ ἀποδεικτικῷ, with a strugling, Agonistical, and contentious Reason, hotly combating with difficulties and sharp contests of divers opinions, & labouring in it self, in its deductions of one thing from another; we shall then fasten our <17> minds upon him λόγῳ ἀποφαντικῷ, with such a serene Understanding, γαλήνῃ νοερᾷ, such an Intellectual calmness and serenity as will present us with a blissful, steady, and invariable sight of him.

Section III.

AND now if you please, setting aside the Epicurean herd of Brutish men, who have drowned all their own sober Reason in the deepest Lethe of Sensuality, we shall divide the rest of Men into these Four ranks, according to that Method which Simplicius upon Epictetus hath already laid out to us, with a respect to a Fourfold kinde of Knowledge, which we have all this while glanced at.

The First whereof is Ἄνθρωπος συμπεφυρμένος τῇ γενέσει,[4] or, if you will, ἄνθρωπος ὁ πολὺς, that Complex and Multifarious man that is made up of Soul & Body, as it were by a just equality and Arithmetical proportion of Parts and Powers in each of them. The knowledge of these men I should call ἀμυδρὸν δόξαν in Plutarch's phrase; a Knowledge wherein Sense and Reason are so twisted up together, that it cannot easily be unravel'd, and laid out into its first principles. Their highest Reason is ὁμόδοξος ταῖς αἰσθήσεσι complying with their senses, and both conspire together in vulgar opinion. To these that Motto which the Stoicks have made for them may very well agree, βίος ὑπόληψις, their life being steer'd by nothing else but Opinion and Imagination. Their higher notions of God and Religion are so entangled with the Birdlime of fleshly Passions and mundane Vanity, that they cannot rise up <18> above the surface of this dark earth, or easily entertain any but earthly conceptions of heavenly things. Such Souls as are here lodg'd, as Plato speaks, are ὀπισθοβαρεῖς heavy behinde, and are continually pressing down to this world's centre: and though, like the Spider, they may appear sometime moving up and down aloft in the aire, yet they doe but sit in the loome, and move in that web of their own gross fansies, which they fasten and pin to some earthly thing or other.

The Second is Ἄνθρωπος κατὰ τὴν λογικὴν ζωὴν οὐσιωμένος,[5] The man that looks at himself as being what he is rather by his Soul then by his Body; that thinks not fit to view his own face in any other Glass but that of Reason and Understanding; that reckons upon his Soul as that which was made to rule, his Body as that which was born to obey, and like an handmaid perpetually to wait upon his higher and nobler part. And in such an one the Communes notitiæ, or common Principles of Vertue and Goodness, are more clear and steady. To such an one we may allow τρανεστέραν καὶ ἐμφανεστέραν δόξαν, more clear and distinct Opinions, as being already ἐν καθάρσει, in a Method or course of Purgation, or at least fit to be initiated into the Mysteria minora the lesser Mysteries of Religion. For though these Innate notions of Truth may be but poor, empty, and hungry things of themselves, before they be fed and fill'd with the practice of true Vertue; yet they are capable of being impregnated, and exalted with the Rules and Precepts of it. And therefore the Stoick suppos'd ὅτι τοιούτῳ προσήκουσιν αἱ ἠθικαὶ καὶ πολιτικαὶ ἀρεταὶ, that the doctrine of Political and Moral vertues was fit to be delivered to such as these; and though they may not be so well prepared for Divine Vertue (which is of an higher Emanation) yet they are not immature for Hu <19> mane, as having the Seeds of it already within themselves, which being water'd by answerable practice, may sprout up within them.

The Third is Ἄνθρωπος ἤδη κεκαθαρμένος,[6] He whose Soule is already purg'd by this lower sort of Vertue, and so is continually flying off from the Body and Bodily passion, and returning into himself. Such in S. Peter's language are those who have escaped the pollutions which are in the world through lust. To these we may attribute a νόθη ἐπιστήμη, a lower degree of Science, their inward sense of Vertue and moral Goodness being far transcendent to all meer Speculative opinions of it. But if this Knowledge settle here, it may be quickly apt to corrupt. Many of our most refined Moralists may be, in a worse sense then Plotinus means, πληρωθέντες τῇ ἑαυτῶν φύσει, full with their own pregnancy; their Souls may too much heave and swell with the sense of their own Vertue and Knowledge: there may be an ill Ferment of Self-love lying at the bottome, which may puffe it up the more with Pride, Arrogance, and Self-conceit. These forces with which the Divine bounty supplies us to keep a stronger guard against the evil Spirit, may be abus'd by our own rebellious Pride, enticing of them from their allegiance to Heaven, to strengthen it self in our Souls, and fortifie them against Heaven: like that supercilious Stoick, who when he thought his Minde well arm'd and appointed with Wisdome and Vertue, cry'd out, Sapiens contendet cum ipso Jove de felicitate. They may make an aiery heaven of these, and wall it about with their own Self-flattery, and then sit in it as Gods, as Cosroes the Persian king was sometime laughed at for enshrining himself in a Temple of his own. And therefore if this Knowledge be not attended with Humility and a <20> deep sense of Self-penury and Self-emptiness, we may easily fall short of that True Knowledge of God which we seem to aspire after. We may carry such an Image and Species of our Selves constantly before us, as will make us lose the clear sight of the Divinity, and be too apt to rest in a meer Logical life (it's Simplicius his expression) without any true participation of the Divine life, if we doe not (as many doe, if not all, who rise no higher) relapse and slide back by vain-glory, popularity, or such like vices, into some mundane and externall Vanity or other.

The fourth is Ἂνθρωπος θεωρητικός,[7] The true Metaphysical and Contemplative man, ὃς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ λογικὴν ζωὴν ὑπερτρέχων, ὃλως εἶναι βούλεται τῶν κρειττὸνων, who running and shooting up above his own Logical or Self-rational life, pierceth into the Highest life: Such a one, who by Universal Love and Holy affection abstracting himself from himselfe, endeavours the nearest Union with the Divine Essence that may be, κέντρον κέντρῳ συνάψας, as Plotinus speaks; knitting his owne centre, if he have any, unto the centre of Divine Being. To such an one the Platonists are wont to attribute θεῖαν ἐπιστήμην a true Divine wisedome, powerfully displaying it self ἐν νοερᾷ ζωῇ in an Intellectual life, as they phrase it. Such a Knowledge they say is alwaies pregnant with Divine Vertue, which ariseth out of an happy Union of Souls with God, and is nothing else but a living Imitation of a Godlike prefection {sic} drawn out by a strong fervent love of it. This Divine Knowledge καλοὺς καὶ ἐραστοὺς ποιεῖ &c. as Plotinus speaks, makes us amorous of Divine beauty, beautifull and lovely; and this Divine Love and Purity reciprocally exalts Divine Knowledge; both of them growing up together like that Ἔρως and Ἀντέρως that Pausanias sometimes speaks <21> of. Though by the Platonists leave such a Life and Knowledge as this is, peculiarly belongs to the true and sober Christian who lives in Him who is Life it self, and is enlightned by Him who is the Truth it self, and is made partaker of the Divine Unction, and knoweth all things, as S. John speaks. This Life is nothing else but God's own breath within him, and an Infant-Christ (if I may use the expression) formed in his Soul, who is in a sense ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης, the shining forth of the Father's glory. But yet we must not mistake, this Knowledge is but here in its Infancy; there is an higher knowledge or an higher degree of this knowledge that doth not, that cannot, descend upon us in these earthly habitations. We cannot here see באספקלריא מאירה in Speculo lucido; here we can see but in a glass, and that darkly too. Our own Imaginative Powers, which are perpetually attending the highest acts of our Souls, will be breathing a grosse dew upon the pure Glasse of our Understandings, and so fully and besmear it, that we cannot see the Image of the Divinity sincerely in it. But yet this Knowledge being a true heavenly fire kindled from God's own Altar, begets an undaunted Courage in the Souls of Good men, & enables them to cast a holy Scorn upon the poor petty trash of this Life in comparison with Divine things, and to pitty those poor brutish Epicureans that have nothing but the meer husks of fleshly pleasure to feed themselves with. This Sight of God makes pious Souls breath after that blessed time when Mortality shall be swallowed up of Life, when they shall no more behold the Divinity through those dark Mediums that eclipse the blessed Sight of it.

[1] Plotin. En. 1. l. 6.

[2] 2 Pet. I.9

[3] Eth. Nicom. l. 1.

[4] 1.

[5] 2.

[6] 3.

[7] 4.

Cite as: John Smith, ‘A Discourse concerning the True Way or Method of attaining to Divine Knowledge’, from Select Discourses (1660), pp. lv-21,, accessed 2023-12-01.