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THAT FOR EVERY HOUR OF THE DAY WE OUGHT TO CLEAVE TO SOME SETTLED EXERCISE, LEST OUR MIND GROW SLUGGISH.
SO that you may be settled in your private exercise, prescribe yourself something what to do every hour, and to be busied in. But so that, if at any time, either upon obedience or any other private reasonable cause or chance happening, you abbreviate your exercise or wholly overslip it, you be not inordinately vexed, for you ought chiefly to endeavour to attain to this, that in the liberty and purity of heart (rejecting all propriety) you may always persevere, peaceable and without trouble before God. For this is acceptable to our Lord above all other exercises, be they never so laborious and hard. Whatsoever, therefore, shall hinder this liberty in you, although it be spiritual and seem very profitable, occasion so requiring, leave it as much as obedience doth 23permit. Endeavour, I say, to repel all restlessness of heart, which c1oketh true peace and perfect trust in God all spiritual proceedings. Let not vicious idleness at any time take place, for it destroyeth souls. Avoid also idle businesses; I mean those that are unprofitable, neither marvel at this kind of speech. Let not vicious idleness at any time take place, for there is also a commendable idleness, which is when the soul, fixed on God, and exempted from the noise and imagination of all sensible things, doth rest as it were idle in internal silence, and in the most blessed embracements of her Beloved, to which, if the hand of our Lord bring you, you shall profitably and happily be idle. Otherwise, always either read, or meditate, or pray, or take in hand something else that shall be serious and necessary; and truly, if you will settle yourself with all diligence to the study of Scripture you will be wonderfully comforted, and every spiritual thing will begin to grow sweet unto you, and so it will come to pass that, being accustomed to holy delights, you will easily condemn those that are carnal, and your mind will be wonderfully strengthened in your good purpose. To the end, 24therefore, that you may merit so great a fruit, willingly and wisely give yourself to reading; that is to say, in reading seek spiritual consolation and profit and the love of God, not curiosity, not superfluous understanding and knowledge, not neatness and elegance of words; for the Kingdom of God is not in elegance of speech but in holiness of life, which elegance of speech, nevertheless, as it is not over-carefully to be sought after if it be wanting, so it is not scornfully to be rejected by him that hath it, for it is also the gift of God. Receive all things with thanksgiving, and all things shall help forward for your salvation. Howbeit, be not troubled if many of those good. things which you hear or read slip out of your memory. For as a vessel which often receiveth water remaineth clean, although the water poured in be presently poured out again, so likewise, if spiritual doctrine often run through a well-willing mind, although it abide not there, nevertheless it maketh and keepeth the mind clean and pleasing to God. Your chief profit consisteth, not in committing the word of doctrine to memory, but rather that the effects of the doctrine and words remain in you, 25that is by this doctrine to get an internal purity, and a ready mind to fulfil the commandments of God. Learn to apply those things to yourself that are spoken against vice, for it is not safe to assert them against others with a fixed judgement of mind, lest while you obstinately judge another you defile or trouble your own conscience. And so, in all things which seem any way obscene, avoid as much as in you lieth even the very least allurement of any slippery motion; if by way of temptation they do impugn, molest, and trouble you importunately, contradict them with reason, deny to give consent, and, making the sign of the Cross, direct your whole intention to God. For so without hurt you may escape this danger. Furthermore, do not imitate those that observe no order in reading, but do read what cometh first to hand and where they first open the book; they like nothing which is not new and strange, for they loathe all things that are usual and stale, though never so profitable. Far be such instability from you, for it doth not recollect but distract the spirit, and he is dangerously sick that is tainted with this disease. Wisely bind your mind to a certainty of reading, and 26accustom yourself to go through with it, although sometimes it administer no matter of pleasure.
Read, I say, not confusedly or disorderly, but methodically. Repeat those things again and again that are good. Nevertheless, in time of tribulation and spiritual poverty you may intermit what you have begun, and, according to your necessity, turn and apply yourself to other godly exercises which may be more consolatory.
For it is the opinion of the Fathers that it is good to go to prayer or meditation from reading, and again to have recourse to reading from prayer; that prayer with a commendable vicissitude succeeding reading and reading succeeding prayer, loathsomeness may be taken away; and the mind being, as it were, fresh and lusty, may always be the more able for the proposed work, and that the greater fruit may be reaped of both. And what hindrance is there why a man should not make short prayers even in reading, and aspire to God by holy desires? There are many things that may serve either for reading or prayer or meditation: such are all the Scriptures in which there is conference with God. Always prefer common prayers before 27private, and judge them to be more profitable for you, although sometimes they may seem more barren and unsavoury. In like manner, esteem of all common and regular actions, for above all things obedience ought to be in the first place. If, peradventure, you demand in what prayers and meditations you should in private chiefly exercise yourself: if you will credit me, after you have accused yourself and craved pardon for your sins, you shall chiefly beseech God to mortify your evil passions and vicious affections, and quite and clean to strip you of all inordinateness; and that He will be pleased to grant you grace joyfully and patiently to endure all tribulation and temptation. Ask of Him profound humility and most fervent charity. Beseech Him to vouchsafe always to direct, teach, illuminate, and protect you in all things. These things, in my judgement, are most necessary for you. And, indeed, they are most great and high, neither can they otherwise be obtained than by prayer. Persevere, therefore, continually knocking; and without doubt our Lord will at length open unto you, and will give you as much bread as your necessity shall require. But so you neglect not 28willingly to give thanks for what you have received. For nothing displeaseth God more than forgetfulness and ingratitude for received benefits. And that you may the more willingly and sooner incline God’s benignity unto you, pray attentively for the state of the whole Church, commending unto God all the Faithful, both alive and dead, and every reasonable creature. Will you further hear in what with profit you may exercise yourself. I will tell you: singing of psalms is profitable, the godly meditating on other parts of Scripture is profitable, the consideration of .creatures compared to their Creator is profitable.29
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