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OF THE DIGNITY AND THE WOE OF MAN’S ESTATE.
[§1.] I. Our creation to the Image and Likeness of God. Awake, my soul, awake; bestir thy energies, arouse thy apprehension; banish the sluggishness of thy deadly sloth, and take to thee solicitude for thy salvation. Be the rambling of unprofitable fancies put to flight; let indolence retire, and diligence be retained. Apply thyself to sacred studies, and fix thy thoughts on the blessings that are of God. Leave temporal things behind, and make for the eternal.
What, then, in so divine an occupation of the mind, canst thou conceive more useful or more salutary than to recall in delighted musing thy Creator’s boundless benefits to thee? Consider what grandeur and what dignity He bestowed on thee in the very beginning of thy creation, and ponder well what loving and what adoring worship thou shouldest therefore pay Him.
It was assuredly a noble purpose which He 2formed for the dignity of thy state, when, creating and ordering the universal frame of the visible and the invisible creation, He determined to make man; for He determined to lavish richer honours on man’s nature than on all other creations in the universe. Behold thy lofty origin, and bethink thee of the due of love thou owest thy Creator. ‘Let Us make man,’ said God, ‘to Our Image and Likeness’ (Gen. i. 26.). If thou awakest not at this word, O my soul; if thou art not all aflame with love of Him for His so ineffable graciousness of condescension towards thee; if thine inmost marrow burns not with longings after Him, what shall I say? Asleep shall I call thee? Or must I rather think thee dead? Consider diligently, therefore, what it is to have been created to God’s Image and God’s Likeness; thou hast in this thought the sweet earnest of a pious meditation in which thy musings may have full play.
Observe, then, that likeness is one thing; image another. For example, the horse, the ox, or other dumb animal may have a certain likeness to man; but the image of man is borne by none but a human being. Man eats, so does the horse; here is a certain likeness, a certain something common to creatures of diverse moulds. But the image of 3man is only borne by some human being, some being of selfsame nature with that man whose image he is. Image, therefore, is of a higher order than likeness.
God’s Likeness, then, may be attained by us in this way; if, musing on Him as the Good, we study to be good; if, owning Him the Just, we strive to be just; if, contemplating Him the Merciful, we make endeavours after mercy.
But how to His Image? Listen. God ever remembers Himself, understands Himself, loves Himself. If thou, therefore, after thy poor fashion, art unweariedly mindful of God, if thou understandest God, if thou lovest God, thou wilt then be man ‘to His Image;’ for thou wilt be striving to do that which God does eternally. ’Tis the duty of man to bend his whole being to this task; the task of remembering, of understanding, and of loving the Highest Good. To this idea should every thought and every turn and folding of thy heart be moulded, chased, and formed; to be mindful of God, to understand Him, and to love Him; and thus savingly exhibit and display the dignity of thine origin in that thou wast created to the Image of God.
But why say that thou wast created to His 4Image, when, as the Apostle testifies, thou art in deed His Image? ‘The man,’ he says, ‘ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God’ (1 Cor. xi. 7).
[§ 2.] II. To praise God eternally the end of our creation. Are, then, these so incalculable benefits of thy Creator inducements enough to thee for continual thanksgiving in return, and for discharging the debt of an endless love; when thou considerest that out of nothing—rather, out of clay—thou wast raised by His bounty to so excellent a dignity in the very beginning of thy state? Test thy life, therefore, by the master-feeling of the saints, and note well what is said of the saint, ‘With his whole heart he praised the Lord’ (Ecclus. xlvii. 10). Behold the end of thy creation, behold the task set thee as God’s servant! Why should God have graced thee with the privilege of so illustrious a lot, if He had not willed thee to apply thyself unceasingly to the praise of Himself? Thou wast created for the glory of thy Creator, that, making His praises thy employment, thou mightest ever advance towards Him by the merit of justice in this life, and mightest live happily in the world to come. For the praise of 5Him yields the fruit of justice here, and of beatitude hereafter.
And if thou praise Him, praise Him with all thy heart, praise Him by loving; for this rule of praising has been laid down for the saints—‘With all his heart he praised the Lord, and loved God who made him’ (ib.).
Praise then, and praise with all thy heart; and whom thou praisest, love; for, for this wast thou created, to praise Him, and to love Him also. For that man praises God, but not with all his heart, who is charmed by prosperity into blessing God, but checked by adversity from the privilege of blessing; whilst that man praises, but without loving, who amid his praises of God seeks for some other good in praising than God Himself. Praise therefore, and praise aright; in such wise that there be in thee no care, no aim, no thought, no anxious bent of mind, uninspired by praise of God, grace helping thee. From praise of Him let no prosperity of this present life seduce thee, nor no adversity restrain thee; for thus shalt thou praise Him with all thy heart. But when thou shalt praise Him with all thy heart, and praise with the homage of thy love as well, then wilt thou desire nothing from Him but Himself, and thou wilt pray 6that the object of thy longing may be God; the reward of thy toil, God; thy solace in this life of shadows, God; thy possession in that blissful life to come, God.
Yes, indeed, thou wast created for this; to praise Him, and to praise Him without end; which thou wilt then more fully understand when, entranced by the blessed vision of Himself, thou shalt see that by His sole and gratuitous goodness thou, when thou wast not, wast created out of nothing; so blessed, and to such unspeakable bliss created; created, called, justified, glorified. Such a contemplation as that will give thee an untiring love of praising Him without end; from whom, and through whom, and in whom thou wilt rejoice in being blessed with blessings so great and so unchangeable.
[§ 3.] III. Wherever we are, we live, move, and are in Him; whilst also we have Him within us. But, returning from the beatitude that is to be, do thou with the eye of contemplation consider for a while the abundance of grace wherewith He hath enriched thee even in this fleeting life. He, very God, whose dwelling is in heaven, whose throne among the angels, He to whom heaven and earth, 7with all that they contain, do bow down and obey, has offered Himself to thee as thine abode, and furnished and prepared His presence for thee; for, as the Apostle teaches, ‘in Him we live, and move, and be’ (Acts xvii. 28). So to live, how sweet! So to move, how lovable! So to be, how desirable! For what more sweet than to have life in Him who is the very life of bliss itself? What more lovable than to rule each movement of will or act of ours towards Him and in Him, seeing that He will stablish us in an unending security? What more desirable than in aspiration and in act evermore in Him to be, in whom alone—or rather who alone—is true being, and apart from whom none can rightly be? ‘I AM WHO AM,’ He says (Exod. iii. 14); and beautifully said it is, for He alone truly IS, whose Being is unchangeable. He, therefore, whose so unapproached Being is being in so transcendent and unique a sense that He alone truly IS; in comparison of whom all being is no being; when He would create thee to so great excellency that thou couldest not even comprehend the lustre of thy dignity, what did He set as the sphere of thy being, what place of abode did He furnish for thee? Hear Him Himself speaking to His own in the Gospel, ‘Abide in Me, and I in you’ (St. John xv. 4). O inconceivable condescension! O blissful abiding! O glorious interchange! What condescension of the Creator, to will that His creature should in Him have dwelling! What inconceivable blessedness of the creature, to dwell in the Creator! How great glory of a rational creation to be, by so blessed an interchange, associated with the Creator, as that He in it and it in Him should have their dwelling! Yes, He of His mercy has willed that we, so highly ennobled in our creation, should have the farther dignity of dwelling in Him. He, governor of all things, without care or solicitude existing over all; He, source and foundation of all things, without toil sustaining all; He, superexcellent above all things, without vain-glory transcending all; He, embracing each and every thing that is, without extension of Himself enfolding all; He, the plenitude of all things, without narrowing of Himself, fulfilling all,—yes, indeed, He, though His Presence is nowhere wanting, has chosen for Himself a kingdom of delights within us; the Gospel bearing witness where it says, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ (St. Luke xvii. 21). And if the kingdom of God is within us, and if God dwells in His realm, does not He whose kingdom is within us abide Himself within 9us? Clearly so; for, in like manner, if God is wisdom, and if the soul of the just is the dwelling of wisdom, he who is truly just has God abiding in him. And the Apostle says, ‘The temple of God is holy, which temple you are’ (1 Cor. iii. 17).
Do thou, therefore, apply thyself unweariedly to the pursuit of holiness, lest thou cease to be the temple of God. He Himself says of His own, ‘I will dwell in them and walk in them’ (2 Cor. vi. 16). Doubt not, therefore, that wherever there are holy souls, there He is in them. For if thou art in those limbs of thine which thou quickenest, wholly and in all their parts, how much more is God, who created thee and thy body, wholly present in thee through and through? It is thy duty, then, to think with most intense devotion with what consideration and what reverence we should control those senses and those members of our body, over which the very Godhead sits in charge. Let us offer, therefore, as is meet, the whole empire of our heart to so great an Indweller, that nothing in us may rebel against Him; but that all our thoughts, all the movements of our will, all our words, and the whole course and tenour of our actions may wait upon His beck, stand obedient to His will, and be conformed to His rule of 10right. For thus shall we truly be His kingdom, and He will abide in us; and we, abiding in Him, shall live aright.
[§ 4.] IV. All of us who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ. Rouse thyself, my soul; rouse thyself, and let the fire of a love from heaven blaze in thy inmost parts, and learn thou carefully the dignity bestowed on thee by thy Lord God; and learning, love; and loving, revere with the addresses of a holy practice. Does not He who has assigned thee a dwelling in Himself, and has deigned to dwell in thee, does not He clothe thee, deck thee, and adorn thee with Himself? ‘As many of you,’ says the Apostle, ‘as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ’ (Gal. iii. 27). What worthy meed of praise, then, and of thanks wilt thou pay Him who has invested thee with such grace and exalted thee to so great dignity, as that with thy heart’s happiest outburst of joy thou mayest well exclaim, ‘He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, and with the robe of justice He hath covered me’ (Is. lxi. 10)? To the angels of God, to gaze on Christ is supremest joy; and, lo, of His infinite condescension He has bent Himself to thee so low as to will thee 11to be clothed with Himself. What sort of clothing can it be, but that of which the Apostle glories when he says, ‘Christ . . . is made unto us of God wisdom and justice and sanctification’ (1 Cor. i. 30)? And with what stately robes could He have more richly decked thee than with the amice of wisdom, the apparel of justice, the fair covering of sanctification?
[§ 5.] V. We are the Body of Christ. Yet why should I say that Christ has clothed thee with Himself, when He has joined thee to Himself so intimately as to choose that in the unity of the Church thou shouldest be of His very Flesh? Listen to the Apostle as he sets forth the witness of Scripture, ‘They two shall be in one flesh; I speak in Christ and in the Church’ (Eph. v. 32). And then again meditate on the closeness of union of their espousal. ‘Ye are,’ he says, ‘the Body of Christ, and members of member.’ Treat, then, thy body and its members with the respect which be seems them; lest if thou treat them wrongfully by any heedless management soever, thou be subjected to so much the severer punishment for thy unworthy usage, as thou wouldest have been crowned with a nobler prize for treating them as they deserved. 12Thine eyes are the eyes of Christ; therefore thou mayest not turn thine eyes to gaze on any kind of vanity; for Christ is the Truth, to whom all vanity is entirely opposed. Thy mouth is the mouth of Christ; therefore thou mayest not—I speak not of detractions, nor of lies—thou mayest not open for idle speeches that mouth which should be reserved only for the praises of God and the edification of thy neighbour.
So, too, must thou think of the other members of Christ intrusted to thy keeping.
[§ 6.] VI. In Christ we are one, and are with Him one Christ. But look deeper still, and see in how close fellowship thou art joined with Him. Hear the Lord Himself entreating the Father for His own: ‘I will,’ He says, ‘that as I and Thou are One, so they also may be One in Us (St. John xvii. 21). I am Thy Son by nature; let them by grace be Thy sons and My brethren.’ How high a privilege is this, that a Christian, mere man as he is, should in Christ be so advanced as to be in a certain sense himself called Christ! A truth apprehended by that faithful dispenser of the ecclesiastical household, who said, ‘All we Christians are in Christ one Christ.’ And no wonder; since 13He is the Head, we the Body; and He Bridegroom at once and Bride; Bridegroom in Himself and Bride in holy souls whom He has joined to Himself by the bond of a deathless love. ‘As a Bridegroom He hath set a mitre on My Head, and adorned Me as a Bride with ornaments’ (Is. lxi. 10).
Here, then, my soul, consider well His benefits to thee; burn thou from devotion to Him; glow with flames of desire for the blessed vision of Himself; call aloud, touched with the burning ardours of an inmost love; and, melted into longings after Him, break forth into the cry of the faithful spouse, ‘Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His Mouth (Cant. i. 1). Away from my soul, all delight outside of Him; let no attachment, let no solace of the present life allure me, so long as His blissful presence is denied me. Let Him embrace me with the arms of His charity; let Him kiss me with His mouth of heavenly sweetness; let Him speak to me with that speech ineffable wherewith He displays His secret wonders to the angels.’ Let this be the interchange of addresses between the Bridegroom and the bride; I opening my heart to Him, He unfolding His hidden sweetness to me. O my soul, quickened by musings such as these, and inspired with the touch of a holy longing, 14strive thou to follow the Bridegroom; and say to Him, ‘Draw me; we will run after Thee to the sweet odour of Thy ointments’ (Cant. i. 3). So say, and say it faithfully, not with a quickly-fleeting sound of words, but with desires that can never flag. So speak as to be heard; so desire to be drawn to Him as to be able to follow on.
Say, therefore, to thy Redeemer and thy Saviour, ‘Draw me after Thee. Let not the world’s charms entice me, but the sweetness of Thine own most blessed love allure me. Time was I was drawn by my own vanity; but now let Thy truth draw me, draw me after Thee. Draw me, for Thou hast drawn; keep me, for Thou hast laid hold of me. Thou didst draw me to redeem, draw me to save. Thou didst draw me in Thy pity, draw me to Thy bliss. Thou didst lay hold of me, appearing among us made Man for us; keep me, keep me, now that Thou rulest over heaven exalted above the angels. It is Thy word, Thy promise. Thou hast promised, saying: ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself’ (St. John xii. 32). Draw me now, therefore, Thou so mightily exalted, even as Thou hast allured me, so compassionately humbled. Thou hast ascended on high, let me see it; Thou reignest over 15all things, let me know it. Do I not know, then, that Thou reignest? Yes, yes, I do, and I thank Thee that I do. But let me know by perfect love what I know by pious thought of Thee; let me know by sight what I know by faith. Bind to Thyself the desires of my heart with the links of an indissoluble love, for with Thee are the spring and source of my life. Let loving unity associate whom redeeming love has linked together. For Thou hast loved me, Thou hast given Thyself for me. Let my desires be ever in heaven with Thee; let Thy protection be ever upon earth with me. Help this heart, this heart all but breaking with desire of Thy love, as Thou didst choose it, when it despised Thy love. Give to me now that I ask; for when I knew Thee not Thou gavest me Thyself. I return, O take me home; for when I was a runaway Thou didst call me back. Let me give love, that I may have love; nay, rather, because I am loved, let me love Thee more and more, that I may all the more be loved by Thee. Let my heart’s will be one with Thine; let my one sole aim be all with Thee; for with Thee our nature, assumed by Thee in mercy, now reigns glorified. Let me cling to Thee inseparably, and adore Thee unweariedly, and serve Thee perseveringly, and 16seek Thee faithfully, and find Thee happily, and possess Thee eternally.’ Plying thy God with words like these, O my soul, take fire, and burn, and break forth in flames, and long to be all ablaze with yearnings after Him.
[§ 7.] VII. A consideration of our sins, for the which our conscience does the more sting us, and by which we have forfeited all these blessings. But whilst thou considerest to what and how great blessings thou hast been advanced by His grace, reflect also what and how great blessings thou hast by thine own fault foregone, and into what evils thou hast fallen, overburdened by a load of sins. Ponder with sighs over the ills thou hast wantonly committed; reflect with groans and tears over the blessings which by those same ills thou hast miserably lost. For what good has not thy all-bountiful Creator of His goodness lavished on thee? And what ill hast thou not paid Him in requital, grown wanton in execrable impiety? ‘Thou hast cast away good, and merited evil; nay, made shipwreck of good, and freely chosen evil; and, the grace of thy Creator being thus lost, or rather thrown away, thou hast miserably incurred His wrath. Thou hast no resource for proving 17thyself innocent when a crowd of evils done by thee surrounds thee like a countless army, here confronting thee with thy unholy deeds, there marshalling an innumerable host of unuseful and, what is more to be condemned, of harmful words; and there yet again parading an infinite array of wicked thoughts. These, then, are the price for which thou hast foregone inestimable blessings; for these hast thou forfeited the grace of thy Creator. Conjure them up, and grieve over them; grieve over them, and renounce them; renounce them, and condemn them; condemn them, and change thy life to a better course. Wrestle with thyself in thy heart of hearts, lest even for a moment’s space thou give consent to any kind of vanity, whether in heart, or tongue, or, worst of all, in act. Let there be a daily, or rather an unceasing, struggle in thy heart, lest thou keep any kind of covenant with thy faults. Ever and unremittingly examine thyself severely; peer into thy secret depths; and, whatever thou findest wrong in thee, by a vigorous reproof smite it, lay it low, bruise it, crush it, fling it from thee and annihilate it. Spare not thyself, flatter not thyself; but in the light of the morning—that is to say, in the view of the last assize, which, like 18the morning beam, is breaking on the night of this present life—slay all the sinners of the land—that is to say, the sins and delinquencies of thine earthly life—and so destroy out of the city of God which thou shouldest build to Him in thyself all those that work iniquity—that is, all diabolical suggestions, all delights hateful to God, all deadly consents, all froward acts. From all of them must thou, as the city of God, be thoroughly cleansed, that thus thy Creator may find, possess, and keep in thee an abode pleasing to Himself. Be not of those whose obstinacy very God seems to be wail when He says, ‘There is none that considereth in his heart, and saith, What have I done?’ (Is. lvii. 1.) If they are to be cast away who have refused to blush, and to accuse themselves for the sins they have committed, canst thou neglect to arraign, to judge, and with strict discipline chastise thyself? Review, then, in careful thought the innumerable blessings wherewith thy Creator has ennobled thee, no merits of thine own intervening, and call to mind thine own unnumbered evils, thy sole response—O, how wicked and how undeserved! for all those His benefits; and cry out in the pangs of a great grief, ‘What have I done? Provoked my God, challenged my Creator’s anger, 19repaid Him innumerable ills for untold goods. What have I done?’ And speaking thus, rend, rend thy heart, pour forth sighs, weep showers of tears. For if thou weepest not here, when wilt thou weep?
And if the averted Face of God do not excite thee to contrition—a Face averted from thy sins—at least let the intolerable pains of hell, which those sins have provoked, break thy hard heart.
Return then, sinful soul, return into thyself. Draw thy foot out of hell; so mayest thou escape from the evils due to thee, and recover the lost goods of which thou art so justly bereft; for if thou revert with pleasure to thine own evils, then all the goods given thee by Him are lost and thrown away. It behoves thee, therefore, ever to keep a strict eye upon them, and chiefly those of which thy conscience does the more bitterly accuse thee, that so He may turn away His eye of anger from them. For if thou turnest aside thy sins with a due intention of satisfying for them, He turns aside His glance of retribution. If thou forgettest, He remembers.
[§ 8.] VIII. A review of our Lord’s Incarnation, by means of which we have recovered all these 20losses. And that them mayest be set free from them, think of the compassions of thy Redeemer towards thee. Of a truth thou wast blinded by the guilt of original sin, and couldest not scan thy Creator’s royal heights. Sins like a fog enveloped thee; thou wast drifting to the realms of darkness, and, swept on by the whirling current of thy faults, thou wast hurrying to the eternal glooms; when lo, thy Redeemer applied the eye-salve of His Incarnation to thy blinded orbs, so that, albeit thou couldest not discern God shining in the secret chamber of His Majesty, thou mightest at any rate behold Him made manifest in man; and beholding, own; and owning, love; and loving, strive with all thy might to arrive at last at His glory. He was Incarnate to recall thee to a spiritual state; He became partaker of thy changeful lot to make thee sharer of His immutability; He stooped to thy lowliness that He might raise thee to His heights.
He was born of virginal integrity in order to heal the corruption of our wayward nature; circumcised, to teach man the duty of cutting away all excesses, whether of sin or of frailty; and offered in the temple and fondled by a holy widow, to teach His faithful to frequent the house of God, 21and aim by the pursuit of sanctity to merit to receive Him to themselves. He was embraced by the aged Simeon, who sang His praise, that so He might display to us His love of sober life and ripened character; and baptized, that thus He might sanctify for us the Sacrament of Baptism. And when in the Jordan, stooping to baptism at the hand of John, He heard the Voice of the Father, and received the Holy Spirit’s advent under the figure of a dove, it was to teach us how to stand in unvarying humility of soul—as is intimated by the Jordan, which is by interpretation their going down—and so be favoured with converse with our heavenly Father, of Whom it is said, that ‘His communication is with the simple’ (Prov. iii. 32), and exalted by the presence of the Holy Ghost, Who takes His rest with the humble; at the hand of John withal, a name signifying the grace of God, that, whatever we receive from God, we ascribe all to His grace, not our merits. And when He had completed His fast of forty days, and was gloriously tended by ministrant angels, He taught us how, by turning away from the enticements of transitory things, all through the course of the present life to trample the world and the prince of the world under our feet, and so be 22guarded by troops of angels. By day He converses with the people, preaching the Kingdom of God to them, and edifies the surging crowds by His miracles and His doctrine; by night He frequents the mountain, and spends the time in prayer: hinting to us how, at one time, as opportunity offers, to point the way of life, according to our measure, by word and by example to our neighbours among whom we live; how at another, to betake ourselves to thoughtful solitude, and climb the hill of virtues, and yearn after the sweetnesses of high contemplation, and with unweariable desire direct our soul’s bent to the things that are above. ’Tis on the mountain that He is transfigured before Peter and James and John; thus hinting to us that if like Peter (which is interpreted acknowledging) we humbly acknowledge our infirmity, if we endeavour to be made supplanters of vices (for James, or Jacobus, means supplanter), and strive faithfully to yield ourselves to the grace of God (for this is signified by the name of John), we shall climb all happily that heavenly mountain, and be hold the glory of Jesus; Jesus our King Himself being our Guide. ’Twas in Bethany that He woke Lazarus out of sleep (Bethany is interpreted the house of obedience); showing thus that all who by 23the effort of a right will die to this world and rest in the bosom of obedience, shall be wakened up by Him to everlasting life. Intrusting His Body and Blood to His disciples in the mystic supper, He humbly washed their feet; teaching us that the dread ministries of the altar must be celebrated with purity of deed and pious humility of mind. And then, or ever He was exalted in the glory of His holy resurrection, He endured the jests and the rough speeches of perfidious men, the shame of the Cross, the bitterness of gall, and at last death; in all this admonishing His own, that they who desire to attain after death to glory should not only endure with even mind the toils and distresses of the present life, and the oppressions of the wicked, but should love all hardnesses that this world can give, for the sake of guerdons through eternity; should love them, court them, and thankfully embrace them.
These, therefore, so glorious and countless benefits of thy Creator, if thou endeavour to ponder them worthily, to embrace them devoutly, and to imitate them with a fervent love, not only shalt thou recover the good things lost to thee through thy first parent, but by the unspeakable grace of thy Saviour thou shalt have far higher goods for 24thy possession through eternity. For thine own very God being made thy Brother by the mystery of the Incarnation, what unspeakable joy has He not insured thee against the day when thou shalt see thy nature exalted in His Person over all creation!
[§ 9.] IX. The duty of praying to be drawn out of the pit of misery and the mire of dregs. What then remains but, duly considering all these things, by all means possible to rouse thy heart’s ardours towards the attainment of so great blessings, and to implore Him who created thee for their possession to snatch thee out of the pit of misery and out of the mire of dregs, and to make thee possessor of so great happiness? For what is the ‘pit of misery’ but the gulf of worldly desire? And what is the ‘mire of dregs’ but the filth of carnal pleasure? For these, that is to say cupidity and pleasure, are two bands or leashes by which the human race is checked and held back lest it should attain the blessed liberty of heavenly contemplation. For in truth earthly desire is a pit of misery, a pit which engulfs the soul it has enthralled by numberless desires, and drags, as strongly as ever chains could drag, into a deep, a gulf of vices; and then allows her to have no rest. For the mind of 25man, once crushed by the yoke of cupidity, is dissipated from without by the love of visible things, and distracted from within by conflicting passions. Toil in acquiring, anxiety in multiplying, delight in possessing, fear of losing, distress at having lost; these all make havoc of her, nor do they allow her to see what danger she is in. This is the pit of misery, and these are the ills with which worldly cupidity for ever stores it. From this pit it was that the blessed David rejoiced that he had been rescued, when he broke forth into thanksgiving, and exclaimed, ‘He hath brought me out of the pit of misery and the mire of dregs’ (Ps. xxxix. 3).
And the ‘mire of dregs,’ what is that? It is the delight of unchaste pleasure. Cry aloud, then, with the blessed David, and say to thy Creator, ‘Draw me out of the mire, that I may not stick fast’ (Ps. lxviii. 15). Cleanse thy heart from every stain of carnal delight, shut out impure musings from thy soul, if thou dost really long to get free out of the filth of this mire. But when by penance, by confession, by tears, by carefully inviting holy thoughts into the heart, thou hast clean escaped, then be ware that thou fall not back; but from the deep of thy heart of hearts sigh thou in the sight of God, and implore His mercy that He would set thy feet 26upon the rock; ask Him, that is to say, to establish thy heart’s affections in the strength of Christ; that thy mind may root itself on the solid ground of justice, clinging inseparably to Christ, of whom, it is said that He is ‘made unto us of God wisdom and justice and sanctification’ (1 Cor. i. 30). Pray Him also to direct thy steps that they turn not back to sins, but may advance with unvarying course and inflexible intent in the way of His. heavenly precepts, and may hasten on with full determination to the angels’ blissful home.
But, in aspiring to such a goal as this, be not remiss in praising thy Creator; rather supplicate His mercy that He would put a new song in thy mouth, and help thee to sing with due devotion a hymn to our God. For it is meet that a soul united to God in a new life should ever sing a new song in His praise, despising temporal things and yearning only for eternal; obeying the Divine law now no more from fear of punishment, but from love of justice. For the singing of the new song to God is this, to crush the desires of the old man, and with thy whole heart’s endeavour, and with a sole desire of eternal life, to walk the ways of the new man which have been pointed out to the world by the Son of God. And he sings a hymn to God 27who treasures in pure mind’s recollection the joys of that heavenly home, and strives to reach them, supported by the consciousness of a holy life, and relying on the gift of supernatural grace.
[§ 10.] X. A consideration of the miseries of the present life. But withal, weigh well the miseries of the present life, and with watchful heart reflect how very cautiously thou shouldest live in it. Remember that thou art partaker of his lot of whom Scripture says, ‘A man whose way is hidden, and God hath surrounded him with darkness’ (Job iii. 23). For thou art indeed encompassed with a thick cloud of blind ignorance, since thou knowest not how God forms His estimate of thy works, and art all ignorant of the end that awaits thee. ‘Man knoweth not,’ says Solomon, ‘whether he be worthy of love or hatred’ (Eccles. ix. 1).
Picture to thyself some profound and darksome valley, stored in its depths with every kind of torments. High above it imagine a bridge, a solitary bridge, spanning the vast chasm, and measuring no more than a foot in breadth. This bridge, so narrow, so high, so perilous, if any one were forced to cross it whose eyes were bandaged so as not to see where he stepped, and his hands tied behind 28him so that he could not even grope with a staff to guide himself; what fear, think you, what perplexity would he not feel! What! Would there be place left in him for gaiety, for merriment, for wantonness? No, no, I warrant thee. All his pride would be taken from him, his vain-glory would be put to flight, and death, only death, would wave its dark shadow on his soul. Imagine, farther, hideous ravenous birds careering round the bridge, bent on dragging the traveller down into the deep; will not his terror be enhanced? And if, as he crosses, the boards are slipped ever from his heels, will he not be stricken with fresh alarms the further he advances?
But lay to heart the meaning of a similitude like this, and roused to solicitude brace thy mind with a godly fear. By that profound and dark some valley understand hell, hell deep and fathomless, and frightfully black with dreary gloom. Thither converge all kinds of torment; there all that soothes is not, all that terrifies, or tortures, or can distress, is, is everywhere. That perilous bridge, from which the awkward traveller launches headlong, is the present life, whence he who lives amiss falls and plunges into hell. The boards withdrawn at the passenger’s heel are the several 29days of our life, which so pass away as never to return; but by the diminution of their number urge us to our destiny and compel us to hurry to our end. The birds wheeling about the bridge and waylaying those who cross it are malignant spirits, whose whole study is to cast men down from the straight way they are on, and to hurl them into the depths of hell. We, we are the passengers, blinded by the gloom of uncertainty, and, from the difficulty of doing right, clogged, as it were, with a heavy chain, so that we cannot tread the way of a holy life unfettered unto God. Consider, then, whether in so great danger thou must not cry with utmost earnestness to thy Creator, that, shielded by His protection, thou mayest sing with confidence while passing through the troops of the adversaries, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?’ (Ps. xxvi. 1.) Light, I mean, against blindness, salvation against danger; for these are the two evils in which our first parent has involved us, ignorance and danger; such ignorance and such danger that we neither know whither we are going nor what we are to do; and that, when we have after a sort seen where we are, even then, clogged and hampered by difficulty, we can not fully do that which we rightly know.30
Dwell on these things, O my soul; muse upon them; let thy mind day by day practise herself therein. Intent on them, let her recall herself from anxieties and thoughts about useless objects, and inflame herself with the fire of a holy fear and a blessed love, that she may avoid these ills, and secure eternal goods.
[§ 11.] XI. Of the body after the soul’s departure. And now I return to Thee, most sweet Creator and most kind Redeemer, who hast made me and re-made me; and with lowly prayers I supplicate Thy pity, that Thou wouldest teach my heart to consider with life-giving fear and salutary alarms, in how loathsome and deplorable plight my flesh must be given over after death a prey to worms and putrefaction, bereft of the breath that now inspires it. Where then will be the beauty, if any it have, of which it boasts now? Where the exquisite delights it revels in? Where its pampered limbs? Will not the prophet’s word then have its true fulfilment: ‘All flesh is grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of the field’? (Is. xl. 6.) My eyes will be shut, their orbs twisted in the socket; eyes from whose vain and mischievous wanderings I ofttimes drew pleasure. So 31shall they lie, covered over with fearful darkness; eyes that now love to drink in vanities as they drink in the light. My ears will lie exposed, soon to be crowded with worms; ears which now catch with an accursed delight slanderous speeches and the vain tittle-tattle of the world. My jaws, which gluttony has opened wide, will be tied up, miser ably locked together. My nostrils, which are now gratified with divers odours, will waste and rot away. My lips, which loved ever to be relaxed with silly laughter, will grin with rank unsightliness. My tongue, which has so often uttered idle stories, will be clogged with putrid foulness. And, what now are ofttimes gorged with various kinds of meat, throat and belly, will be choked with worms, surfeited with worms! But why rehearse in detail? The whole frame and structure of the body, for the health, the comfort, and the pleasure of which almost every thought stands minister, will be dissolved into putrefaction and the worm, and last of all, vile dust. Where then the proud neck? Where the ornaments, the dress, the varied dainties? They are vanished, and gone like a dreamy gone all of them, never to return; and I, their poor, poor votary, left behind.32
[§ 12.] XII. Of the soul after her separation from the body. O good God, what do I behold? Lo, fear meets fear, and grief encounters grief!
After her separation from the body, will not the soul be stormed by a multitude of demons flying to confront her, and charged to lay against her accusation upon accusation, indictment on indictment? And will not the soul be examined on all of these, down to the most trivial negligence? The prince of this world surrounded by his satellites will come, furious with rage; that prince so adroit in circumventing, so unscrupulous in lying, so spiteful in accusing; he will come, preferring against her, out of all her offences done, as many true charges as he can, and forging many false besides. O dreadful hour! O terrible ordeal! Here the rigorous Judge to judge me, there the pert adversaries to accuse me. My soul shall stand alone without a comforter, and with no source of solace, unless it be that the memory of its good works protects it.
But in so strict a reckoning, when all things shall be naked and open, ‘who shall boast that he hath a chaste heart?’ For ‘if the just man shall scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ (1 St. Pet. iv. 18.) Then shall 33the lips of the flatterers fail; the fawning tongue shall wag no more, vain-glory shall be proved a traitor, false joys shall flee away, dignities and pomp shall take to flight, and the greed of power shall be seen to have been a hollow cheat. Happy then the soul which in such peril is protected by the consciousness of innocence, and shielded by the memory of holiness; happy the soul which, while as yet in her lodging of flesh, was over and over again washed with the waters of contrition, dressed and trimmed with careful confessions, and illuminated with the light of sacred meditations; happy the soul which had been chastened by humility, tranquillised by patience, detached from her own will by obedience, and inspired by charity to the exercise of all virtue. Such a soul will have no dread of that fearful hour, ‘nor shall it be confounded when it shall speak to its enemies in the gate’ (Ps. cxxvi. 5). For it will be joined to those of whom Scripture says, ‘When He shall give sleep to His beloved, behold the inheritance of the Lord’ (ib. 3).
[§ 13.] XIII. A consideration of the day of judgment, when the goats shall be set on the left hand. And now who can skill to say anything of the terrors of that last assize, when the sheep shall 34be set on the right hand, and the goats on the left? What will be the trembling when the powers of heaven shall be moved? What the crash of the elements, what the wailings, what the cries, when that terrible sentence shall be passed upon the careless ones, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire’ (St. Matt. xxv. 41). A day of wrath that day will be—dies iræ, dies illa—a day of tribulation and anguish, a day of clouds and whirlwind, a day of trumpet and the trumpet-blast! The voice of that day will be a bitter voice, and then the mighty shall be harrowed up; for they who now in the pride of their heart despise the will of God, and glory in the pursuit of their own self-will, shall then be wrapt in perpetual inextinguishable flame, and the undying worm shall feed on them, and the smoke of their torment shall go up for ever and ever.
[§ 14.] XIV. A consideration of the joy when the sheep shall be set on the right hand. But, while these are wailing and roaring out their heart’s grief for anguish of spirit, what, thinkest thou, will be the happiness and exultation of those blessed ones, who, set on the right hand of God, are to hear His that most joyful summons, ‘Come, ye blessed of My Father: possess you the Kingdom 35prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ (St. Matt. xxv. 34). Then indeed shall the voice of joy and salvation dwell in the tabernacle of the just; then shall the Lord lift up the heads of the lowly, who now refuse not to be the vile and the outcast for His sake. He will heal the contrite of heart, and console with unending joys, according to their desire, those who now sorrow in their pilgrim age. Then will be seen the ineffable reward of those who held it joy to have thrown away their own wills from love of their Creator. In that day He will wreathe the heads of His obedient ones with a heavenly crown, and the glory of those who suffered shall shine forth with unutterable brightness. Then shall charity enrich her vassals with the society of all the angels, and purity of heart beatify her lovers with the all-happy vision of their Creator. Then shall God Himself reveal Himself to all who love Him, and raise them up for ever to enduring resting places and perpetual peace. Then in its truth shall this song be sung by all the elect: ‘Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house; they shall praise Thee for ever and ever’ (Ps. lxxxiii. 3). In which praise may He vouchsafe to give us a part, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth God for ever and ever. Amen.36
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