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Matilda’s Faith.

Thus far in the five first books of Matilda’s writings can we trace the history of her soul before she found her last refuge in the convent of Hellfde.

Preger’s remarks are valuable as showing how Matilda, in expressions which she borrowed from the common stock of the writings of the mystics, as well as in expressions of her own, might appear to have wandered into the regions of Pantheism. That she herself attached a meaning to these expressions, which those who were simply mystics, and not believers in Christ as their Saviour, could not understand, seems, 92 however, clear. But the expressions were open to the danger of being thus misunderstood. To those who were mystics, and nothing more, intercourse with God was a vague sentiment; and what they called the love of God, was merely a name given to their own human thoughts of God, the God of their imagination.

But Matilda insisted strongly upon the truth, that there is no way to God but through the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners. That otherwise all communication between the soul and God is cut off, “the bolt fastened by Adam” holding fast the door between God and men.

In speaking of some (no doubt the “Brethren of the Free Spirit”), she mentions as the greatest sin, and as the highest degree of unbelief, that “men should think to enter into the presence of the eternal God, passing by the holy Manhood of our Lord Jesus Christ. When such people imagine themselves to have entered into communication with the being of God, they enter instead into eternal condemnation. And yet by that means they intend to become holier than others. They set at nought and deride the words of God, which are written regarding the Manhood of our Lord.”

Thus to an unbelieving mystic, the term 93 “union with God” was familiar, and meant nothing better than the dreams of a Buddhist. But to Matilda, though she did not, and no doubt could not, clearly define it, the truth was revealed, expressed in so few words in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, where, with reference to Christ and the Church, it is written, “He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth it and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church: for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.” And again, in 1 Cor. xii. 12, “As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”

That this truth, taught so plainly in many passages of Scripture, notably by the Lord Himself in the one word which smote the heart of Paul, “Why persecutest thou Me?” was the truth Matilda believed, seems to be clear. But she was apt to use, when speaking of it, the stereotyped expression “union with 94 God,” not perceiving that this is untrue, and incapable of being symbolised, as in Ephesians, by the figure of Adam and Eve. It is not Christ as God, but as the second Adam, who is there symbolised.

Many such incorrect expressions may, no doubt, be found now in modern Protestant books.99In which the Church, the Body of Christ, is spoken of as existing not only before His death and resurrection, but before He became Incarnate.

Preger further remarks, “If we would describe religious life, as shown in Matilda, by its distinctive features, we should remark, in the first place, that she is seeking after a consciousness, or is, in fact, conscious of being in immediate intercourse with God. Whilst the majority of her contemporaries knew of no relation with God, except through culture or learning, or the medium of saints, or the ordinances of the Church, and were satisfied to know no more, Matilda looked upon all these things merely as helps to personal and immediate communion with God. This alone could satisfy her.

“And further, she was aware that into this communion with God she could only be 95 brought through God’s free grace. And only by free grace could she retain it. It is true she speaks of human merit, and alludes to the intercession of Mary, but in so doing was rather expressing the ruling thoughts of her age than her own innermost convictions. For it is only in speaking of others that she admits the merit of human works; she has another law for herself, finding, as she says, no peace in the good works of the saints, ‘and as for me, unhappily I have no good works to find peace in.’

“That which is the important matter with regard to Matilda’s faith is this—she grounds her peace not on imparted, but on imputed righteousness. ‘It is a fathomless mystery,’ she says, ‘that God can look upon a sinner as a converted man.’

“But in spite of this evangelical tendency in her writings, we cannot but receive the impression that in the heights of her communion with God she at times loses the safe path. The reason of this is, that the subordinate place which she gives to all relations between God and men by Church ordinances is also given more or less to the knowledge of God by means of the written Word. It does not appear to be the ring in which her new life is 96 set; it would seem as though she endeavoured to soar above it, in order to assure herself more firmly of her state of grace by immediate communications from God to her soul.

“Therefore she seems in some passages to regard the written Word and the Divine Word spoken to her as distinct, and on the same level. Thus, as in mysticism generally, the safe path is lost, and the soul is cast forth upon the wide sea of subjective self-consciousness.

“We feel the presentiment of this danger, and the need of a safer path, in which the security of Divine teaching is ours. This can only be when the written Word is the seed of Divine knowledge, and the faculties of man the ground in which the seed takes root.”

So far Preger. It may also be remarked, that whilst Matilda evidently grounded her salvation and enjoyment of God upon the atoning work of Christ, she does not allude to it very frequently. We must remember that amongst all the errors of mediæval Catholicism, the blood-shedding of Christ was still regarded as the means by which sin was expiated. It was still an article of faith, though disfigured, and often kept out of sight by all that man had added to the Scriptures.

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Matilda, therefore, regarded it as an understood necessity in Christian faith, and as not demanding frequent assertion or proof. Had she lived in our days it might have been otherwise.

That “Christ once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God,” was a truth known and believed amongst the “Friends of God,” Catholic or Waldensian. That “it is the Blood that maketh atonement for the soul,” that “without shedding of Blood there is no remission,” that on Christ, the Lamb who was slain, did “the Lord lay the iniquity of us all,” they knew, and rejoiced to know. However overlaid in Roman Catholicism by the teaching of human merit, and of the mediation and intercession of the saints, this truth was preserved through God’s great mercy in the corruption of the Church. It may be found yet as the anchor of the soul in the confession of faith of many an ignorant and unlearned Roman Catholic, who know little of the doctrines of their Church, but who do know from their service-books that “Christ died for our sins.”

The three have ever borne witness on earth, the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood, and these three agree in one—a witness never silenced through the darkest ages of the Church.

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It was during the last years of Matilda’s life that she wrote for “the children of the world” a call to Christ.

Wilt thou, sinner, be converted?

Christ, the Lord of glory, see

By His own denied, deserted,

Bleeding, bound, and scourged for thee.

Look again, O soul, behold Him

On the cross uplifted high;

See the precious life-blood flowing,

See the tears that dim His eye.

Love has pierced the heart that brake,

Loveless sinner, for thy sake:

Hearken till thy heart is broken

To His cry so sad and sweet;

Hearken to the hammer smiting

Nails that pierce His hands and feet.

See the side whence flows the fountain

Of His love and life divine,

Riven by a hand unthankful—

Lo! that hand is thine.

See the crown of thorns adorning

God’s belovèd holy Son,

Then fall down in bitter mourning,

Weep for that which thou hast done.

Thank Him that His heart was willing

So to die for love to thee;

Thank Him for the joy that maketh

This world’s joy but gall to be.

And till thou in heaven adore Him

Fight for Him in knightly guise;

Joy in shame and toil and sorrow,

Glorious is the prize!

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