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CHAPTER XXI

THE RELIGION OF MAN

IT is not strange that many of these things were new to the people of Strasburg, and some of the priests and the “devout women” were fully persuaded that the doctor had become a heretic.

“In ancient times,” he said, “God’s saints were murdered and persecuted by Jews and heathens, but now, dear children, prepare yourselves to be martyred by people who seem very holy, and do many more works than you do. They will tell you, you are all in the wrong, and they have seen and heard and learnt much more than you, and that you know nothing at all. That touches you to the quick — but keep quiet, set a watch upon yourselves, and be silent. Speak only to the Lord, and say, ‘Dear Lord, Thou knowest well I seek only to please Thee.’ But do not expect to please others, for many will condemn and judge you, if you do not follow all the outside religion to which they pin their faith.

“You have seen the fields harrowed and smoothed, after the seed has been put in. Now just so do many people smooth down and harrow their souls with confessions and penances and religious doings, but the evil roots of noisome weeds are left untouched below, and as the seed springs up, the weeds spring up too, and choke and spoil the good seed. The pride, and the uncleanness, and the hatred, and envy, and anger, and many another weed, come up thick and strong, and the blessed fruit, and the fresh life of the plants of God, are spoiled and smothered.

“This is just the history of many of those old fathers who went to live in the woods, and exercised themselves with all sorts of penances and holy works, for thirty or forty years, and yet never reached down to the roots of the noisome weeds; and therefore at the end of all their performances, they were but a display of all that is evil.”

But the Master took no heed to the anger of the “religious” people of whom he spoke, and as time went on, he spoke out more strongly and plainly.

“The work of the Holy Ghost in the souls of men can be hindered,” he said, “in various ways. The first great hindrance is self-will and the love of created things.

“The next are the seven Sacraments. People are taken up with outward signs and symbols, and thereby a veil is drawn between their hearts and the inward truths of God. The worship of God is spiritual at all times and in all places, as S. Paul says he would that men prayed everywhere, and in all things gave thanks.

“Another hindrance is, that even good men look at divine and spiritual things in a carnal way — they have natural and fleshly thoughts of the Lord Jesus, and think much of visions, and represent to themselves the Lord Jesus, or the angels, in some bodily shape of their own imagining” (it could indeed scarcely be otherwise where crucifixes abound), “and work themselves up to think they are specially favoured by God because of these workings of their imagination, and a love for Christ which is the excitement of natural feeling. Therefore the Lord said to His disciples, It is good for you that I go away, for they knew Him after the flesh, and thus even the presence of His blessed manhood had become a hindrance to them.

“People are, notwithstanding, satisfied and proud when they have let their natural hearts occupy themselves with the things of God. ‘I am always thinking,’ they will say, ‘about the Lord, how He stood before Pilate and Herod, and was scourged,’ and so on.

“Dear children, whoever you may be who are thus taken up with your feelings, remember that He of whom you speak is not a man only, but the great and mighty God, who created all things, and upholds them with the word of His power, and that He became as nothing for your sins, and therefore let the thought of His sufferings lay you low in the dust before Him with shame and sorrow.

“Oh, how little fruit has the blessed and glorious suffering of the Lord brought forth in men! Even the remembrance of it can fill the heart with pride, and with self! You hear people talk of these deep things of God, just as if they had flown up into the highest heaven, and have yet never taken one single step out of their own wretched selves!

“How many are there who will stand there, clothed in shame, when all things are made manifest, who pass now for the spiritual and the holy! They will wish then they had never heard of these high and deep and holy things, nor had gained to themselves a great name amongst religious people — they will wish then that they had spent their days rather in herding cattle in the fields, and working in the sweat of their brow! ‘How little do they know that their spirituality is but sense and nature!

“They talk of ‘the dear Lord Jesus,’ and His birth and death, and are filled with an enjoyment which they think is of God, or they weep tears over the sufferings and the cross of Christ, but all these things pass smoothly through their souls, as a ship through the Rhine, and leave no trace behind. For their love is a love of the enjoyment of their own feelings, and not a love of God. Outside things have touched their hearts, and the inner truth has never reached them. But natural love, and divine love, look often so much alike, it is more than easy to mistake the one for the other.”

Yes, how can we know the one from the other?

Master Tauler tells us this also. “If it is natural love and enjoyment,” he says, “such a man will drag himself away with a great effort from the things of the world. But if it is divine love, the things of the world will drop off, and he will despise them, and they will become to him nauseous and loathsome. It will be as though he can see no longer, for the glory of the light that has shone down upon him, for the natural eye is darkened by the radiance of the glory.

“And when this has happened to a man it does not exalt him, but casts him down, and he fades away as it were into his own nothingness. Thus can we know that it was the light of God.

“And therefore, dear children, it is exactly contrary to the spirituality of the natural heart, for that hoists people up to a wondrous height in their own self-satisfaction and self-conceit, and makes them look down on others from this giddy height, and they say they are above this one or that one — this thing or that. Remember, dear children, a godly man never talks of being above any person or thing, however small or mean, but when it is God who has raised him up above the things below, he loves and honours more than before, those whom he loved and honoured for natural reasons; for he sees himself less than the least, and above none.

“Neither does he despise the body, which is the work of God, or anything that God has made. You see people tormenting the poor body, and leaving the evil flesh untouched. What has the poor body done, that you should torture it? Such people are trying to break through stone walls with their heads. They break their heads and leave the wall standing. They may shut themselves up in convents, and have their hearts wandering all over the world after the things that perish.

“And, on the other hand, you may find people at the great yearly market in the town, with buying and selling, and all sorts of din and noise all round them, and yet they have their hearts so shut in with the Lord, in peace and rest, that nothing disturbs or distracts them.

“That is the best convent to live in, the blessed convent of communion with God, whereas some closed in by stone walls could not keep their thoughts from wandering for two minutes.

“But because they do the works which men can see with their eyes, people praise them, and hold them up as examples. And thus they become quite convinced themselves that they are holy and good, and they have a false peace and rest of heart, and no sense of sin to trouble them. But if from time to time their consciences are awakened, they think of the penances they have done, and count over their good works, till they are more proud and vain than they were before.

“They do not understand that what they need is to be converted.

“And at times when they fall into sin and feel uneasy, they give way to self-indulgences to raise their spirits; but the next day you may find them doing penance again, for they do not want to lose their good name before men.

“Or to ease their consciences, they will talk about the things of God, and look out texts which may give them comfort, turning away from those which would warn and convict them. And thus they again gain for themselves a peace and rest that are not of God.

“But conscience may be put to sleep for a time, and then it is sure to wake and trouble them afresh, and they are beset with fleshly temptations to covetousness, and uncleanness, and laziness, and such like. Then they think to themselves, they are thus beset, in order that they may make a valiant stand, and win for themselves crowns of victory at last. And for a while they fight with the temptations, but little by little they give way, because the flesh is too strong for them, and the end is, they give themselves up hopelessly to the lusts of the flesh, to eating and drinking, and gadding about, and amusing themselves.

“But for the sake of their good name they keep themselves from disgraceful crimes; and they keep up religious services, which in their hearts they hate, for they are utterly wearied of them. They have become just like the men of the world around them.

“So, dear children, the guilty conscience may find rest, which is a false rest, in two ways. It may be stifled with pleasures of the world, or it may be puffed up by abstaining from pleasures, and suffering penances, till the man is convinced that he is highly esteemed by God, and that he is standing on a pinnacle from whence he can look down on all the people who are not like himself, and in fact upon all people, for he is in his own eyes spiritual, and the rest are low and carnal; he is doing all sorts of holy works and penances, and they are livings like common men and women.

“All this while, however, notwithstanding their good opinion of themselves, the fear of hell is gnawing at their hearts. Because they are trusting in themselves, and not in God, they are afraid of Him, and therefore cannot love Him, and they take every trouble He sends them as a dire misfortune which they have never deserved.

“To quench the fear of hell, they count up their good deeds, and yet they are always in fear and darkness, though they believe at the same time God is greatly their debtor. Yes, a man may be as proud of a wooden walking-stick as of a jewelled sword.

“And at last, after all this, the Lord in His grace, who loves them as a tender mother loves her child; who knows the mortal sickness of their souls, as a wise physician who cannot be deceived — the Lord, in His great mercy, ofttimes opens their blind eyes, and then they fall down and say, ‘My sins are more in number than the sand of the sea, I have sinned against Heaven and before Thee,’ and the grief and agony of their souls are such that words cannot tell them.

“And it is then, dear children, that they are near to the door of the Lord’s great grace, and He welcomes them into the bride-chamber of His beloved Son. He heals and binds up the wounds of the broken-hearted. He fills them with His joy, with the riches of His consolation.

“Dear children, when this has happened to a man, when he has been brought into the gladness and the glory of that wedding-feast, of that high festival, then to him are earthly festivals amongst the things that are past away. He rejoices no more in Christmas nor in Easter, nor in any feast-day in the calendar, but he rejoices every day in the high festival of God’s marvellous and surpassing love. Whatever day of the year it may be, in that day all festivals meet, and are complete with the fulness of joy.”

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