PRAYER is profitable and speedful to be used for the getting of purity of heart by destroying of sin and bringing in virtues; not that thou shouldst thereby make our Lord know what thou desirest, for He knoweth well enough what thou needest, but to dispose thee and make thee ready and able thereby, as a clean vessel, to receive the grace which our Lord would freely give thee, which grace cannot be felt till thou be exercised and purified by the fire of desire in devout prayer. For though it be so that prayer is not the cause for which our Lord giveth grace, nevertheless it is a way or means by which grace freely given cometh into a soul.
But now thou wilt desire perhaps to know how thou shouldst pray and upon what thing thou shouldst set the point of thy thoughts in prayer, and also what prayer was best for thee to use. As to the first, I answer that when thou art wakened out of thy sleep, and art ready to pray, thou shalt feel thyself fleshly and heavy, tending ever downwards to vain thoughts, either of dreams or fancies, or of unnecessary things of the world or of the flesh, then behoveth it thee to quicken thy heart by prayer, and stir it up as much as thou canst to some devotion. In thy prayer set not thy heart on any bodily thing, but all thy care shall be to draw in thy thoughts from beholding any bodily thing, that thy desire may be as it were naked and bare from all earthly things, ever aspiring upward to Jesus Christ, whom yet thou canst never see bodily as He is in His Godhead, nor frame any image or likeness of Him in thy imagination; but thou mayest, through devout and continual beholding of the humility of His precious humanity, feel the goodness and the grace of His Godhead.
When thy desire and mind is gotten up, and as it were set free from all fleshly thoughts and affections, and is much lifted up by spiritual power unto spiritual favour and delight in Him and of His spiritual presence; hold thou therein much of thy time of prayer, so that thou have no great mind of earthly things, or if they come into thy mind that they do but trouble or affect thee little. If thou canst pray thus, thou prayest well, for prayer is nothing else but an ascending or getting up of the desire of the heart into God by withdrawing of it from all earthly thoughts. Therefore it is likened to a fire which, of its own nature, leaveth the lowness of the earth and always mounteth up into the air, even so desire in prayer, when it is touched and kindled of the spiritual fire, which is God, is ever aspiring up to Him that it came from.
They that speak of this fire of love know not well what it is; save this I can tell that it is neither any bodily thing nor felt by any sense of the body. A soul may feel it in prayer or in devotion, which soul is in the body, but it feeleth it not by any bodily sense; for though it is true that it works in and upon the soul, that the body itself is turned thereby into a heat and be as it were chafed through the labour and travail of the spirit, nevertheless the fire of love is not bodily, for it is only in the spiritual desire of the soul. And this is no riddle to any man or woman that have had the experience of devotion; but because some are so simple as to imagine that because it is called a fire that therefore it should be hot as bodily fire is, therefore have I set down thus much.
Now as to thy other question to know what prayer is best to be used, I shall give thee my opinion. Thou shalt understand that there be three kinds of vocal prayer.
The first is that which was made immediately by God Himself, as the Pater noster; the second those that are made more generally by the ordinance of holy Church, as Matins, Evensong and Hours; the third sort such as are made by pious men addressed to our Lord and to our Lady and to His saints.
As to these kinds of prayers that are called vocal, I judge that for thee that art religious and art bound by custom and thy rule to say thy Breviary it is most expedient to say it, and that as devoutly as thou canst, for in saying of them thou sayest also the Pater noster and other prayers likewise. And to stir thee up more to devotion there be ordained psalms and hymns, and such other which were made by the Holy Ghost, like as the Pater noster was. Therefore thou shalt not say them hastily nor carelessly, as if thou wert troubled or discontented for being bound to the recital of them; but thou shalt recollect thy thoughts to say them more seriously and more devoutly than any other prayers of voluntary devotion, deeming for truth that, seeing it is the prayer of holy Church, there is no vocal prayer so profitably to be used by thee as it is. Thus shalt thou put away all heaviness, and by God's grace turn thy necessity into good will and thy Obligation into a great freedom, so that it shall be no hindrance to thy other spiritual exercises. After this thou mayest, if thou wilt, use others, as the Pater noster or any other, and stick to those in which thou feelest most savour and spiritual comfort.
This kind of vocal prayer is commonly most profitable for every man in the beginning of his conversion, as being then but rude and gross and carnal (unless he have the more grace) nor cannot think of spiritual thoughts in his meditations, for his soul is not yet cleansed from his old sins. And therefore I hope it is most speedful to use this manner of prayer, as to say his Pater Noster and his Ave, and to read upon his psalter and such other. For he that cannot run easily and lightly by spiritual prayer, his feet of knowledge and love being feeble and sick by reason of sin, hath need of a firm staff to hold by, which staff is set forms of vocal prayer ordained by God and holy Church for the help of men's souls. By which the soul of a fleshly man that is alway falling downward into worldly thoughts and sensual affections shall be lifted up above them, and holden up as by a staff, and fed with the sweet words of those prayers as a child with milk, and guided and held up by them that he fall not into errors or fancies through his vain imaginations; for that in this manner of prayer is no deceit nor error to him that will diligently and humbly exercise himself therein.
And hereby thou mayest learn that those men (if any such there be) who in the beginning of their conversion, or soon after, having felt some spiritual comfort, either in devotion or knowledge, and are not yet stablished therein, leave such vocal prayer and other outward exercises too soon, and give themselves wholly to meditation, are not wise; for ofttimes in that time of rest which they take to themselves for meditation, imagining and thinking on spiritual things after their own fancies, and following their bodily feeling, having not yet received sufficient grace thereto, by indiscretion overtravel their wits and break their bodily strengths and so fall into fancies and singular conceits, or into open errors, and hinder that grace which God hath already given them, by such vanities. The cause of all this is secret pride and overweening of themselves; for when they have felt a little grace and some sensible devotion, they esteem it so much to surpass the graces and favours He doth to others that they fall into vain-glory. Whereas if they knew but how little it were in comparison of that which God giveth, or may give, they would be ashamed to speak anything of it, unless it were in a case of great necessity. Of this kind of vocal prayer speaketh David in the Psalms, thus: With my voice have I cried unto the Lord, with my voice have I prayed to our Lord. Behold how the prophet, for to stir other men to pray both with mouth and with voice, saith: With my voice I cried to God, and with my speech I besought our Lord.
There is another sort of vocal prayer which is not by any set common form of prayer; but is, when a man or woman, by the gift of God, feeling the grace of devotion, speaketh to God as it were bodily in His presence, with such words as suit most to his inward stirrings for the time, or as cometh to his mind, answerable to the feelings or motions of his heart, either by way of rehearsal of his sins and wretchedness, or of the malice and sleights of his enemy, or of the mercies and goodness of God. And hereby he crieth with desire of heart and speech of mouth to our Lord for succour and for help, as a man that were in peril among his enemies; or in sickness, showing his sores to God as to a physician, saying with David: Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord.70 Or else this: Heal my Soul, for I have sinned against Thee; or other suchlike words as they come to his mind.
And at other times there appears to him to be so much goodness and grace and mercy in God that it delighteth him with great affection of heart to love Him, and thank Him in such words and psalms as do most suit to that occasion, as David saith: Confess ye to the Lord because He is good, because His mercy endureth for ever.71
This kind of prayer pleaseth God much, for it proceedeth wholly from the affection of the heart, and therefore never goeth away unsped or empty without some grace, and this prayer belongeth to the second part of contemplation, as I have said before. Whoso hath this gift of God fervently ought for a time to eschew the presence and company of all men, to be alone that he be not letted; whoso hath it let him hold it as long as he can, for it will not last long in its fervour. If the grace of it come plenteously, it is wondrous painful to the spirit, though it be much pleasant also to it; for it is much wasting to the body whoso useth it much, for it maketh the body (if the grace of it come in abundance) for to stir and move here and there as if the man were mad or drunk and could have no rest. This is a point of the passion of love, the which by great violence and mastery breaketh down and mortifieth all lusts and likings of any earthly thing, and woundeth the soul with the blessed sword of love, that it makes the body sink, not able to bear it. The touch of love is of so great power that the most vicious or fleshly man living on earth, if he were once strongly touched with this sharp sword, he would be right sober and grave a great while after, and abhor all the lusts and likings of the flesh and all earthly things which before he took most delight in.
Of this manner of feeling speaketh the prophet Jeremy thus: And there was made in my heart as a fire boiling, and shut up in my bones, and I fainted, not able to bear it; which words may be understood thus: The love and feeling of God was made in my heart, not fire, but as boiling or burning fire; for as material fire burneth and wasteth all bodily things where it cometh, right so doth spiritual fire (as is the love of God) burneth and wasteth all fleshly loves and likings in a man's soul. And this fire is shut up in my bones, as the prophet saith of himself, that is to say: This love filleth the powers of the soul, as the mind, reason and will, with grace and spiritual sweetness, as marrow filleth the bones, and that inwardly, and not outwardly in the senses. Nevertheless it is so mighty within that it worketh out into the body, and maketh it quake and tremble. And yet it hath so little to do with the bodily senses, and so unacquainted is the body with it that it cannot skill of it and cannot bear it, but faileth and falleth down as the prophet saith. Therefore our Lord tempereth it and withdraweth this fervour, and suffereth the heart to fall into more sobriety and softness. He that can pray thus often, he speedeth soon in his travail, and shall get more of virtues in a little time than another without this, or exercised in any other way of prayer, shall get in a long time for all the bodily penance he can do. Whoso hath this need not afflict his body with more penance than this brings along with it, which will be enough if it come often.
The third sort of prayer is only in the heart without speech, with great rest and quietness both of soul and body. A pure heart it behoveth him to have that shall pray after this manner; for such only attain to it who by long travail both of body and soul, or else by such sharp touches or motions of love, as I have before mentioned, have arrived to rest of spirit, so that his affections are turned into spiritual savour and relish, that he is able to pray continually in his heart, and love and praise God without great letting of temptations or of vanities, as is said before in the chapter of the second sort of Contemplation. Of this kind of prayer St Paul saith thus: If I pray with the tongue, my spirit prayed, but my mind is without fruit. What then? I will pray also in the spirit, I will pray also in the mind; I will sing in the spirit, I will sing also in the mind.75 That is to say: If I pray with my tongue only, by the consent of my spirit, and with painstaking and diligence, it is meritorious, but my soul is not fed by it, for it feeleth not the fruit of spiritual sweetness by understanding. What then shall I do, saith St Paul? And he answers, I will pray with the exercise and desire of the spirit, and I will also pray more inwardly in my spirit without labour, in spiritual savour and sweetness of the love and the sight of God, by the which sight and feeling of love my soul is fed. Thus (as I understand him) could St Paul pray.
Of this manner of prayer speaketh our Lord in holy Writ in a figure thus: Fire shall always burn upon the altar, which the priest shall nourish, putting wood underneath in the morning every day, that so the fire may not go out.76 That is, the fire of love shall ever be lighted in the soul of a devout and clean man or woman, the which is God's altar. And the priest shall every morning lay to it sticks and nourish the fire, that is this man shall, by holy psalms, clean thoughts and fervent desires, nourish the fire of love in his heart, that it go not out at any time. This prayer of rest or quiet our Lord giveth to some of His servants, as it were a reward of their travail, and an earnest of that love and sweetness which they shall have in the bliss of heaven.
BUT thou wilt say that I speak too high in this matter of prayer, which indeed is no mastery nor difficulty for me to write it, but it were a great piece of mastery for a man to practise it.
Thou sayest that thou canst not pray thus devoutly, nor so perfectly in heart as I speak of; for when thou wouldst have thy mind upward to God in thy prayer, thou feelest so many vain thoughts, either concerning thy own business or other men's, with many other lets and hindrances, that thou canst neither feel savour nor rest nor devotion in thy prayers, and ofttimes the more thou strivest to keep thy heart the further it is from thee and the harder, and sometimes continues so from the beginning to the end, that thou thinkest all lost that thou dost.
In answer to that which thou saidst, that I spake too high of prayer, I grant well that I spake more than I myself can or may do. Nevertheless I spake it for this intent that thou shouldst know how we ought to pray; and when we cannot do so, that we should acknowledge our weakness with all humility and God's mercy. Our Lord Himself hath commanded us thus: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy might. It is impossible for any man living to fulfil this bidding so fully as it is said. Yet our Lord hath bidden us so, to the intent, as St Bernard saith, that thereby we should know our feebleness, and then humbly cry for mercy, and we shall have it. Nevertheless I shall instruct thee in this point what to do as well as I can.
When thou goest about to pray, first make and frame betwixt thee and God in thy mind a full purpose and intention in the beginning to serve Him, then with all the powers of thy soul by thy present prayer, and then begin and do as well as thou canst. Though thou be never so much letted contrary to thy former purpose, be not afraid, neither be angry at thyself, nor impatient against God, because He giveth thee not the savour and spiritual sweetness in devotion as thou thinkest He giveth to others. But see therein thy own feebleness and bear it patiently, deeming it to be (as it is) feeble and of no worth in thy own sight, with humility of spirit; trusting also firmly in the mercy of our Lord, that he will make it good and profitable to thee, more than thou imaginest or feelest. For know thou well that thou art excused of thy duty, and thou shalt be rewarded for this (as well as for any other good work done in charity), though thy mind and intention may be not so fully set upon it as thou wishest. Therefore do what belongs to thee, and suffer our Lord to give what He will, and teach Him not. Think thyself wretched and negligent, and as it were in great fault for such things, yet for this fault and all other venials which cannot be eschewed in this wretched life lift up thy heart to God, acknowledging thy wretchedness, and cry God mercy, with a good trust of forgiveness, and strive no more therewith, nor stay any longer upon it, as if thou wouldst by main strength not feel such wretchedness, but leave off and go to some other good exercise, either corporal or spiritual, and resolve to do better the next time. Though thou shouldst fall another time into the same defect, yea, an hundred times, yea, a thousand, yet still do as I have said, and all will be well. Moreover a soul that never finds rest of heart in prayer, but all her life is striving with her thoughts, and is troubled and letted with them, if she keep her in humility and charity in other things, she shall have great reward in heaven for her good will and endeavours.
THOU must understand that in meditation no certain rule can be set for every one to observe, for they are in the free gift of our Lord, according to divers dispositions of chosen souls, and according as we thrive in that state and in virtues, so God increaseth our meditations, both in spiritual knowing and loving of Him. For whoso is always alike, and at a stand in knowing of God and spiritual things, it seemeth that he profiteth and groweth but little in the love of God, which may be proved by the example of the apostles, who, when at Pentecost they were filled with burning love of the Holy Ghost, became thereby neither fools nor dolts, but became wonderful wise, both in knowing and speaking of God and spiritual things, as much as men could in mortal bodies. For thus saith the Scripture: They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak the wonders of God; all which knowledge they got by ravishing in love, through the working of the Holy Ghost within them. Divers sorts of meditations there be which our Lord putteth in a man's heart. Some of them shall I tell thee of that thou mayest exercise thyself in them. In the beginning of the conversion of such a man as hath been much defiled with worldly or fleshly sins, commonly his thoughts are much upon his sins with great compunction and sorrow of heart, with great weeping and many tears humbly and busily asking mercy and forgiveness of God for them. And if he be deeply touched in conscience for them (for then our Lord will soon cleanse him from them), his sins will seem ever to be in his sight, and that so foul and so horrible, that hardly can he be able to brook or endure himself for them; and though he confess himself never so clearly of them, yet will he find difficulty and a fretting and biting in his conscience about them, thinking that he hath not confessed right. And scarce can he take any rest, or be quiet, insomuch that his body were not able to undergo such vexation and pain, were it not that our Lord of His mercy sometimes comforteth him by the consideration of His Passion, and devotion wrought in him thereto; or by some other means as He seeth good. After this manner worketh He in some men's hearts more or less, as He will, and this is through His great mercy, that not only will He forgive the sin or the trespass, but will both forgive the trespass and the pain due for it in Purgatory, for such a little pain here felt in the remorse and biting of conscience. Also, to make a man rightly to receive any special gift or degree of the love of God, it behoveth that he first be scoured and cleansed by such a fire of compunction for all his great sins before done. Of this kind of exercise of compunction often David speaks in the Psalter, but especially in the psalm, Miserere mei, Deus -- Have mercy on me, O God.78
And then sometime after this travail and exercise, and sometimes together with it, such a man that hath been so defiled with sins, or else another who, by the grace of God, hath been kept in innocence, our Lord bestoweth on him the meditation of His humanity, or of His birth, or of His Passion, and of the compassion of our Lady, St Mary. When this meditation is made by the help of the Holy Ghost, then it is right profitable and gracious, and thou shalt know it by this token: when thou art stirred to a meditation in God, and thy thoughts are suddenly drawn out from all worldly and fleshly things, and thou thinkest that thou seest in thy soul the Lord Jesus in a bodily likeness as He was on earth, and how He was taken by the Jews and bound as a thief, beaten and despised, scourged and judged to death, how lowly He bore the cross upon His back, and how cruelly He was nailed thereon; also of the crown of thorns upon His head, and of the sharp spear that sticked Him to the heart; and thou in this spiritual sight feelest thy heart stirred to so great compassion and pity of thy Lord Jesus, that thou mournest and weepest, and criest with all thy might of body and soul, wondering at the goodness, the love, the patience, the meekness of thy Lord Jesus, that He would, for so sinful a caitiff as thou art, suffer so much pain; and, nevertheless, thou seest so much goodness and mercy to be in Him that thy heart riseth up into a love and a joy and a gladness in Him, with many sweet tears, having great trust of the forgiveness of thy sins and the salvation of thy soul by the virtue of this precious Passion; so that when the meditation of Christ's Passion, or any part of His humanity is thus wrought in thy heart by such a spiritual sight, with devout affection answerable thereunto, know well that it is not of thy own working, nor the feigning or working of any evil spirit, but by the grace of the Holy Ghost. For it is an opening of the spiritual eye into the humanity of Christ, and may be called the fleshly love of God, as St Bernard saith, inasmuch as it is set upon the fleshly nature of Christ, and it is right good, and a great help for the destroying of great sins, and a good way to come to virtues, and so after to the Contemplation of the Godhead. For a man shall not come to the spiritual light in Contemplation of Christ's Godhead, unless first he be exercised in imagination with bitterness and compassion, and in stedfast thinking of His humanity. Thus St Paul did, and therefore first he saith: I desired to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. As if he had said: My knowing and my faith is only in the Passion of Christ; and therefore he saith thus also: God forbid I should rejoice in anything, save in the cross of Christ. Nevertheless afterward he saith: We preach unto you Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. As who should say: First I preached of the humanity and Passion of Christ; now I preach to you of the Godhead, that Christ is the power of God, and the endless wisdom of God.
But this manner of meditation a man hath not always when he would, but only when our Lord will give it. Unto some He giveth it all their lifetime by fits, when He visiteth them; some men being so tender in their affections that, when they hear men speak or think themselves of this precious Passion, their hearts melt into devotion, and are fed and comforted thereby against all manner of temptations of the enemy, and this is a great gift of God. To some men He giveth it plentifully at the first, and afterwards withdraws it for divers causes, either if a man grow proud of it in his own eyes, or for some other sin by which he disableth himself to receive the grace; or else our Lord withdraweth it, and all other devotions sometimes, because He will suffer him to be tried with temptations of the enemy, and thereby will dispose a man to understand and feel our Lord more spiritually, for so He saith to His disciples: It is expedient for you that I go away from you [in my body], for except I go the Holy Ghost will not come.80 As long as He was with them they loved Him much, but it was fleshly according to His humanity, and therefore it was necessary that He should withdraw His bodily presence, that the Holy Ghost might come to them and teach them how to love Him and know Him more spiritually, as He did at Pentecost. Right so, it is expedient for some that our Lord withdraw a little the fleshly and bodily image from the eye of their soul, that their heart may be set and fixed more busily in spiritual desire and seeking of His divinity.
NEVERTHELESS it behoveth a man to suffer many temptations first, which shall befall some men often after that their comfort is withdrawn, and that sundry ways by the malice of the enemy. As thus: when the devil perceiveth devotion much withdrawn, that the soul is left, as it were, naked for a time, then sendeth he to some temptations of lust, of gluttony, and these so hot and burning that they shall think they never felt so grievous ones in all their life before, even when they gave themselves most to such sins. Insomuch as they think it impossible to stand out long from falling without help. And, therefore, have they then much sorrow for lack of comfort and devotion which formerly they have had, and much dread also of falling from God by such open sins. All this the devil worketh (by God's permission) to make them repent of their good purposes, and turn back to their former courses of sinning. But whoso will abide, and suffer a little pain, and not turn again to sin for anything, the hand of our Lord is full near, and will help them right soon, for He hath much care of that man that is in such a case, though he knoweth it not; for so saith David in the person of our Lord: I am with him in trouble, I will deliver him, and he shall glorify Me.81 The devil tempteth others maliciously to spiritual sins, as to doubt of the articles of faith, or of the Sacrament of our Lord's blessed Body. Also to despair, or blaspheme of God or any of His saints, or to a wearisomeness of their own life, or to bitterness against others, or foolish melancholy and sadness, or too much fear of themselves, of doing hurt to their healths by giving themselves so much to serving of God. Some others, and namely solitary folks, he frighteth with dreads and ugly shapes appearing to their eyes or to their imaginations, causing often thereby great shakings and quakings in their bodies, either sleeping or waking, and so troubleth them that they can hardly take any rest. And also many other ways he tempteth, more than I can or may say.
The remedies for such may be these. First: that they put all their trust in our Lord Jesus Christ, and often call to mind His Passion and the pains that He suffered for us, and that they then believe stedfastly that all sorrows and travail which they suffer in such temptations, which to unskilful men may seem a forsaking by God, are indeed no such leavings or forsakings, but trials for their good, either for cleansing of their former sins or for the great increasing of their reward and the disposing of them for more grace, if they will but suffer awhile and stand fast, that they turn not again willingly to sin.
Another remedy is that they fear not, nor esteem these malicious stirrings for sins, nor lay to heart that despair or blasphemy, or doubtings of sacrament, or any such other, though never so ugly to hear; for the feeling of these temptations defile the soul no more than if they heard a hound bark or felt the biting of a flea. They vex the soul indeed, but do not harm it, if so be a man despise them and set them at nought, for it is not good to strive with them, as if thou wouldst cast them out by mastery and violence, for the more they strive with them the more they cleave to them. And therefore they shall do well to divert their thoughts from them as much as they can, and set them upon some business. And if they will still hang upon them, then it is good for them that they be not angry nor heavy through feeling of them; but with a good trust in God bear them (like a bodily sickness and scourge of our Lord for the cleansing of their sins as long as He pleaseth) out of love to Him, even as He was willing to be scourged and bear His cross for the love of them. Moreover, it is good for them to open their minds to some wise man in the beginning, before these temptations get rooting in their heart, and that they forsake their own wit and judgement and follow the counsel of another. But that they show them not unadvisedly or lightly to any unskilful or worldly man, who never felt such temptations, for such may happily by their unskilfulness bring a simple soul into despair.
Of this manner of temptations by which a man seemeth forsaken of God, and is not, the help and comfort is this: The Lord saith by His prophet, For a little space have I left thee, but in great mercy will I gather thee. For a moment of indignation have I hid my face a little while from thee, and in mercy everlasting will I have mercy on thee.82 As if He had said, I suffered thee to be troubled a little while, and in a point of My wrath I smote thee; that is to say, the penance and the pain that thou sufferest here is but a point or little prick of My wrath, in regard of the pain of hell or of purgatory. Yet in My manifold mercies I shall gather thee; when thou thinkest thyself forsaken, then will I of My great mercy gather thee again to Me; for when thou esteemest thyself, as it were, lost, then shall our Lord help thee, as Job saith: When thou shalt think thyself consumed, thou shalt arise as the daystar, and thou shalt have confidence.83 That is to say, when thou art brought so low by travail into temptation that thou despairest of help or comfort, like a forlorn man, yet stand stiffly in hope and pray to God, and verily thou shalt suddenly spring up as the day-star, in gladness of heart, and have a sure trust in God.
Moreover, for the comfort of such men, that they may not despair in temptation, the wise man saith thus of our Lord: In temptation He walketh with him, and bringeth fear and dread upon him, and torments him with His discipline, till He try him in his cogitations, and may trust His soul: And He will establish him, and make a direct way unto him, and make him glad, and will disclose His secrets to him, and will heap upon him as treasures knowledge of understanding and justice.84 The wise man, because he would have not despair in temptation, to comfort them saith thus: In temptation our Lord forsaketh not a man, but goeth with him from the beginning to the end. For he saith first, He chooseth him, and that is, when He draweth a man to Him by comfort of devotion, and afterward bringeth upon him sorrow and dread and trials, and that is when He withdraweth devotion and suffereth him to be tempted. And he saith that He tormenteth him in tribulation until He hath well tried him in his thoughts, and until a man will put all his trust in Him fully, and then He bringeth him out into the right way, and fasteneth him to Him, and gladdeneth him, and sheweth him His secrets, and giveth him His treasure of knowing and understanding of righteousness.
By these words may you see that these temptations or any other, be they never so ugly, are expedient and profitable to a man that by grace is in full will to forsake sin, if he will be willing to suffer and abide God's will, and not turn again to sin which he hath forsaken, for any sorrow, or pain, or dread of such temptations; but ever stand still in travail and in prayer with good hope. Our Lord of His endless goodness having pity and mercy of all His creatures, when He seeth time, will put to His hand and smite down the devil and all his power, and ease him of his travail, and put away all dreads and sorrows and darkness out of his heart, and brings into his soul the light of grace, opening the eye thereof to see, that all the travail that he hath had was expedient for him, giving him also fresh spiritual might to withstand all the suggestions of the fiend and all deadly sins without great difficulty, and leadeth him into a stability and settledness of virtue and good living; in which, if he keepeth himself humble to the end, then will He take him wholly to himself. Thus much have I said, that thou mightest not be troubled or letted with any such temptation, or too much afraid; but do as I have said, and better if thou canst, and I hope through the grace of Jesus Christ thou shalt never be overcome by thine enemy.
But after thou hast escaped these temptations, or else if our Lord hath so kept thee (as He doth many by His mercy) that thou hast not been troubled much with any such, then it is good for thee that thou beware of turning thy rest into idleness; for there is many a man that taketh rest upon him too soon, as if he were ripe for rest in Contemplation. But if thou wilt do well, begin a new game and a new travail, and that is, by meditation, to enter within into thy own soul, for to know what it is, and by the knowing thereof to come to the spiritual knowledge of God. For St Austin saith, By the knowing of myself I shall get the knowledge of God. I say not that such exercise is absolutely necessary, and thy bounden duty, unless thou feel thyself stirred up by grace, and as it were called thereto. For our Lord giveth divers gifts where He pleaseth, not all to one man, nor one to every man, save the gift of charity, which is common to all.
Therefore, if a man have received a gift from God, as devotion in prayer, or in the Passion of Christ, or any other, be it never so little, let him not leave it quickly for any other, unless he assuredly find and feel a better, but hold that which he hath, and exercise himself therein seriously, ever desiring a better when God will give it. Nevertheless, if that be withdrawn somewhat, and he seeth a better, and feeleth his heart stirred thereto, then seemeth it to be a calling of our Lord to the better, and then is it time that he follow after it, to get it, and fall to practise it as speedily as he may.
OUR holy Fathers heretofore taught us that we should know the measure of our gift, and therefore to work upon it, and according to it, and not take upon us, out of our head or imagination, to have more in our feeling or ability than indeed we have. We may ever desire the best, but we may not ever work the best or our utmost, because we have not yet received that grace and ability. A hound that runneth after the hare only because he seeth other hounds run, when he is weary, he stayeth and resteth, or turneth home again; but if he run because he seeth or is in view of the hare, he will not spare for weariness till he have caught her. Right so it is in the spiritual course, whoso hath grace, be it never so little, and wittingly leaveth it, and the working upon it, and putteth himself to the exercise or practice of another kind, for which he hath not as yet received a gift or grace, but doth it only because he seeth, readeth, or heareth that some others do so, he may perhaps run awhile till he be weary and then will he turn home again, and if he be not the more wary, may hurt his feet with such fancies before he get home. But he that continueth working upon such grace as he hath, and humbly beggeth by prayer perseverantly for more, and after feeleth his heart stirred to follow after the grace which he desired, he may securely run, if he keep himself humble. Therefore, desire of God as much as thou wilt or canst, without measure or moderation at all concerning any thing that belongs to His love or Heaven's bliss, for he that can desire most of God shall feel and receive most; but work as thou mayest and cry God mercy, for that thou canst not do. Thus St Paul seems to mean, when he said: Every one hath a proper gift of God, one so, and another so. Also, when he said: There are varieties of gifts, to one is given the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge,86 etc. And also when he said: To every one of us is given grace, according to the measure of the donation of Christ.87 And further, where he said: That we may know the things that are given us by God. He saith that every one hath his gift of God: For to every man that shall be saved is given a grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is speedful that we know the gifts that are given us by God, that we may work in them, for by those we shall be saved, as some by bodily works, and by deeds of mercy, some by great bodily penance, some by sorrow and weeping for their sins all their lifetime, some by preaching and teaching, some by divers graces and gifts of devotion shall be saved and come to bliss.
751 Cor. 14:14,15.
1 Cor. 2.
80St John 16.
1 Cor. 7.
861 Cor. 12.