A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Behmenists
BEHMENISTS, a name given to those mystics who adopted the explication of the mysteries of nature and grace as given by Jacob Behmen.— This writer was born in the year 1575, at Old Siedenburg near Gorlitz, in Upper Lusatia. He was a shoemaker by trade; and is described as having been thoughtful and religious from his youth up, taking peculiar pleasure in frequenting public worship. At length seriously considering that speech of our Saviour, My Father which is in heaven will give the Holy spirit to him that asketh him, he was thereby awakened to desire that promised Comforter; and, continuing in that earnestness, he was at last, to use his own expression, "surrounded with a divine light for seven days, and stood in the highest contemplation and kingdom of joys!" After this, about the year 1600, he was again surrounded by the divine light, and replenished with the heavenly knowledge; insomuch that by bis inward light he saw into the essences, uses, and properties of things, which were discovered to him by their lineaments, figures, and signatures. In the year 1610, he had a third special illumination, wherein still farther mysteries were revealed to him; but it was not till the year 1612, that Behmen committed these revelations to writing. His first treatise is entitled, Aurora, which was seized by the senate of Gorlitz before completed. His next production is called The Three Principles, by which he means the dark world, or hell; the light world, or heaven; and the external or visible world, which we inhabit. In this work he more fully illustrates the subjects treated of in the former, and supplies what is wanting in that work, showing, (1.) How all things came from a working-will of the holy, triune, incomprehensible God, through an outward, perceptible, working, triune power of fire, light, and spirit, in the kingdom of heaven.—(2.) How and what angels and men were in their creation; that they are in and from God, his real offspring; that their life begun in and from this divine fire, which is the Father of light, generating a birth of light in their souls; from both which proceeds the holy Spirit, or breath of divine love in the triune creature, as in the triune Creator.—(3.) How some angels, and all men, are from God, and what they are in their fallen state.—(4.) How the earth, stars, and elements were created, in consequence of the fall of angels.— (5.) Whence there is good and evil in all this temporal world; and what is meant by the curse that dwells in it.—(6.) Of the kingdom of Christ, how it is set in opposition to the kingdom of hell.—(7.) How man, through faith in Christ, is able to overcome the kingdom of hell, and thereby obtain eternal salvation.—(8.) How and why sin and misery shall only reign for a time, until God shall, in a supernatural way, make fallen man rise to the glory of angels.
The next year Behmen produced his Three-fold Life of Man, according to the three principles. In this work he treats more largely of the state of man in this world:—That he has—1. That immortal spark of life which is common to angels and devils:—2. That divine life which forms the difference between both; and 3. The life of this external and visible world. The first and last are common to all men; but the second only to a true Christian.
Behmen wrote several other treatises, but these are the basis of all his other writings. His conceptions are often clothed under allegorical symbols; and in his latter writings he has frequently adopted chemical phrases which he borrowed from conversation with learned men. But as to the matter contained in them, he disclaims having borrowed it either from men or books. He died in the year 1624, and his last words were, "Now I go hence into paradise !"
Behmen's principles were adopted by the late ingenious and pious Mr. Law, who has clothed them in a more modern dress, and in a less obscure style; for whose sentiments, see article Mystics.
- Behmen's Works, vol. i. p. 6—20; vol. ii. p. 1. Okely's Memoirs of Behmen, p. 1—8.