Archdeacon Thomas Colley (July 1839 – September 1912)
“In the realm of the occult and transcendental, moved to its exploration from the Sadducean bias of my early days, I have for the best part of half a century had experiences rarely equaled by any, and I am sure, surpassed by none; yet have they led me up till now, I admit, to no very definite conclusions. With suspension of judgment, therefore, not being given to dogmatize on anything, and with open mind I trust, in equipoise of thought desiring to hold an even balance of opinion ‘twixt this and that, I am studious still of being receptive of light from every source—rejecting nothing that in the least degree makes for righteousness, hence my taking the chair here tonight, hoping to learn what may help to resolve a few of the many perplexities of life, to wit: Why some live to the ripe old age of my dear father while others live but for a moment, to be born, gasp and die. Why some are born rich and others poor; some having wealth only to corrupt, defile, deprave others therewith, while meritorious poverty struggles and toils for human betterment all unaided. Some gifted with mentality; others pitiably lacking capacity. Some royal‑souled from the first naturally, others with brutal, criminal propensities from beginning to end.
“The sins of the fathers visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation may in heredity account for much, but I want to see through the mystery of a good father at times having a bad son, as also of one showing genius and splendid faculties—the offspring of parentage the reverse of anything suggesting qualities contributive thereto. Then as a clergyman, I have in my reading noted texts of Holy Scripture, and come across passages in the writings of the Fathers of the Early Church which seem to be root‑thoughts, or survivals of the old classic idea of re‑incarnation.
“The prophet Jeremiah (1:5) writes, ‘The word of the Lord came unto me saying, before I formed thee, I knew thee, and before thou wast born I sanctified thee and ordained thee a prophet.’
“Does this mean that the Eternal‑Uncreate chose, from foreknowledge of what Jeremiah would be, the created Ego of His immaterialized servant in heaven ere he clothed his soul with the mortal integument of flesh in human birth—schooling him above for the part he had to play here below as a prophet to dramatize in his life and teaching the will of the Unseen? To the impotent man at the Pool of Bethesda, whose infirmity was the cruel experience of eight and thirty years, the Founder of our religion said (John 5:14), ‘Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.’ Was it (fitting the punishment to the crime proportionately) some outrageous sin as a boy, in the spring of years and days of his inexperienced youth of bodily life, that brought on him such physical sorrow, which youthful sin in its repetition would necessitate an even worse ill than this nearly forty years of sore affliction? ‘Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ (John 9:2), was the question of the disciples to Jesus. And our query is—Sinned before he was born to deserve the penalty of being born blind?
“Then of John the Baptist—was he a reincarnation of Elijah, the prophet, who was to come again? (Malachi 4:5). Jesus said he was Elijah, who indeed had come, and the evil‑minded Jews had done unto him whatsoever they listed. Herod had beheaded him (Matthew 11:14 and 17:12).
“Elijah and John the Baptist appear from our reference Bibles and Cruden’s Concordance to concur and commingle in one. The eighth verse of the first chapter of the second Book of Kings and the fourth verse of the third chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel note similarities in them and peculiarities of dress. Elijah, as we read, was a ‘hairy man and girt a leathern girdle about his loins,’ while John the Baptist had ‘his raiment of camel’s hair and a leathern girdle about his loins.’ Their home was the solitude of the desert. Elijah journeyed forty days and forty nights unto Horeb, the mount of God in the Wilderness of Sinai. John the Baptist was in the wilderness of Judea beyond Jordan baptizing. And their life in exile—a self‑renunciating and voluntary withdrawal from the haunts of men—was sustained in a parallel remarkable way by food (bird—brought on wing—borne). ‘I have commanded the ravens to feed thee,’ said the voice of Divinity to the prophet; while locusts and wild honey were the food of the Baptist.
“‘And above all,’ said our Lord of John the Baptist to the disciples, ‘if ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come.’
“Origen, in the second century, one of the most learned of the Fathers of the early Church, says that this declares the pre‑existence of John the Baptist as Elijah before his decreed later existence as Christ’s forerunner.
“Origen also says on the text, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated,’ that if our course be not marked out according to our works before this present life that now is, how would it not be untrue and unjust in God that the elder brother should serve the younger and be hated by God (though blessed of righteous Abraham’s son, of Isaac) before Esau had done anything deserving of servitude or given any occasion for the merciful Almighty’s hatred?
“Further, on the text (Ephesians 1:4), ‘God who hath chosen us before the foundation of the world,’ Origen says that this suggests our pre‑existence ere the world was.
“While Jerome, agreeing with Origen, speaks of our rest above, where rational creatures dwell before their descent to this lower world, and prior to their removal from the invisible life of the spiritual sphere to the visible life here on earth, teaching, as he says, the necessity of their again having material bodies ere, as saints and men made ‘perfect as our Father which is in heaven is perfect,’ they once more enjoy in the angel‑world their former blessedness.
“Justin Martyr also speaks of the soul inhabiting the human body more than once, but thinks as a rule (instanced in the case of John the Baptist forgetting that he had been Elijah) it is not permitted us to remember our former experiences of this life while yet again we are in exile here as strangers and pilgrims in an uncongenial clime away from our heavenly home.
“Clemens Alexandrinus, and others of the Fathers, refer to re‑incarnation (or transmigration or metempsychosis, as it is called in the years that are passed of classic times and later now as re‑birth) to remind us of the vital truth taught by our Lord in the words, ‘Ye must be born again.’“
(As quoted in Mystic Christianity – pages 172-175)