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CHAPTER XXXI

THE WILDERNESS

AS years went on, there were many who began to understand from Dr. Tauler’s preaching, that there is a life hidden with Christ in God — a land not of promise only, but of possession, where the soul dwells in peace and rest, in the midst of the strife and sorrow of the world — and yet apart from the world, and closed in all around, by the walls that are salvation, and the gates that are praise.

The Master often spoke of this, and had many names for this place of hidden joy and stillness.

He called it sometimes the wilderness whereunto the Lord allures the soul, and where He speaks comfortably to her, and makes her to sing as those that are brought up out of the land of Egypt. “It is a pleasant wilderness,” he said, “where the storms are raging all around, and yet within that land of God there is blessed peace and quietness. And no man knows nor understands the words that God speaks to the heart, till he is brought into that wilderness, and is all alone with Him.

“It is a wilderness — for there are few who dwell there, but it is there that the soul meets oftentimes the Lord who loves her. ‘Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, and all the powders of the merchant?’ And who is this also, ‘who cometh up from the wilderness leaning upon her Beloved?’ And the soul answers, ‘I have found Him whom my soul loveth, I have held Him, and will not let Him go.’

“For he who has been afar in this wilderness can tell of things learnt and tasted in the stillness of the solitary place. And who that looks upon the face of God, receiveth not in return that which is Divine? It is even thus that S. Paul has taught us, ‘We all with open face beholding His glory, are changed into the same image’ — we are transformed into that which we behold.

“And again, it is a wilderness into which He leads us, inasmuch as many a fair flower groweth there, springing up all around, because no foot of man is there to tread them down. For the way into the wilderness is a strait gate, and few there be who enter there. But there within are white lilies and white blossoms — the pure in heart and mind — and there are the red roses which tell of the longing of the heart to suffer and to die for Christ. And there are the violets, the lowly and the small, and there are sweet roots and flowers of pleasant odours, the holy patterns left to us by many a saint of God.

“It is well to find a dwelling-place in this wilderness, where, as it is written, the flowers appear on the earth; even the saints who are gone and leave their memories behind, and the saints who are living yet.

“And again it is as in the wilderness of old, there is no want there. This seems to the men of this world an impossible thing — and it was so with the Israelites of old, who knew not that the bread of God was all they needed, and that thence was all their strength. The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for the saints of God, and in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. To the lost soul we should say ‘Believe,’ but to him who is found we should say, ‘Look upon the King in His beauty, and behold His face.’”

And the Master would often say that as man was made at first in the image of God, there is a craving in his soul which can never be satisfied with any other than God. But that when sin came in, and deformed the fair image, men became as the woman who was bowed together by the spirit of infirmity, and instead of beholding God, they can behold none but themselves, and only seek themselves in all things. But that the man who has been brought back to God, has an eternal and quenchless desire after Him, and in Him alone has joy and rest.

“If you lift a stone,” the Master said, “and let it go, it will fall straight to the earth, for the earth attracts it, and it cannot do otherwise. If it were held up aloft 1000 years, and then let go, it would fall as swiftly and as surely, for the attraction is changeless and eternal. And thus the godly man has that which attracts and draws him with a changeless and eternal force — he may be occupied by necessity with this thing or with that — but as soon as his heart is free, he is drawn swiftly and surely to God. For Christ is to His own as the magnet to the steel, and He alone.

Children, God has never spoken more than One Word, and that Word is still unspoken. That word is Christ.

Let us think for a moment of this saying. Do we know what it was the Master meant when thus he spoke? Have we learnt by the teaching of God the Holy Ghost, that all that God has said or done, is but a revelation of the One by whom, and for whom, all things were created, and all things are redeemed, and in whom alone is God revealed and glorified?

Have we known that all the written Word of God, from beginning to end, leads up to the One concerning whom of old Moses and the prophets spake, and who is now made known to us by His holy apostles and prophets, speaking by the Spirit of Him? God has indeed spoken but One Word — and that word is still unspoken. For no man knoweth the Son but the Father, and in the bosom of the Father He is, and was, and ever will be, the mystery of unspeakable love. And thus is it said that we love Him with the love wherewith the Father loves Him — a love that is not our own, the love which flows from the Father’s heart, and fills the heart of him who abides in God, and God in him.

The Master said that it is to this great and deep and blessed gladness of abiding in His love, that God is leading us by all things great and small, that befall us on our way. “For this,” he said, “He counts the hairs of our head, and not one is lost but by His ordering. Eternally foreseen, and marked, and ordered, is all that can happen to the children of His love. Your finger aches, or your head aches, your feet are cold, you are hungry or thirsty, you are grieved by loveless words and deeds — all has been prepared by God, and ordered, that you may be fitted for the blessed joy, as you could not otherwise have been.

“The God who set my eyes in my head, might make me blind or deaf — and if the eyes and ears of the soul are then unsealed, I shall thank Him that He has done it.

“Children, it is a needs-be that things should go against us, that we should labour and suffer, for God thus shapes and fashions us for Himself. He might have made bread grow in the fields as easily as corn — but we should have missed the labour that is needed for us; we should not learn unless things are contrary to us, to press forward and overcome.

“But, children, the blessing comes not from our work and labour, but from yielding ourselves to His will. Thus to suffer and be still is the noblest work, for then it is not we who work but God, and His work is high above our works, as the heaven is high above the earth. And one spark of love in our hearts, which makes us glad that God should have His will, should give or take, do this or that, is worth more than if we were to give away all our clothes to the poor, or feed on stones and thorns, if that were possible, in order to mortify our bodies.”

And the Master explained that the great blessing which comes to us from God, even His great salvation, comes not by doing, but by hearing. “In hearing,” he said, “we must needs be passive and silent. The eternal Word passes into us from God, and the power is His, we receive only.

“And what is the end and purpose of all the work of God, of all His ways and dealings with our souls? It is to lead us up to the glory, where Christ is gone before. For where the Head goeth, thither must the members follow. Where the treasure is, there must the heart be also. Thus it is said, ‘Draw me, we will run after Thee,’ and who can hinder us? We go to His Father and our Father, to His God and our God. His Home and ours. His end and ours. His blessedness and ours. His welcome and ours, all are one, for He and we are one, and where He is, there must we be also, even in the glory of the Father.

“Oh, how blessed is it to be brought at last to be there where we are nothing, and where God is all!

“Dear children, own yourselves as nothing, and then is the better part yours, the better part which Mary chose, when to her there was nothing in heaven or on earth, but Jesus only. Sink down into this depth of nothingness, and let the tower with all its bells fall upon you — let all the devils come leagued against you, let heaven and earth stand as a barrier in your way — all will be well.”

And thus did it prove to be when the famine came, and the pestilence followed, when the curse of Rome was a terror to those who knew not God; for many there were whose hearts were filled with joy and gladness, and who died without “the sacraments,” thanking and praising God.

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