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ANTHONY: Forsooth, cousin, if we were such as we should be, I would scant, for very shame, speak of the pains of hell in exhortation to the keeping of Christ's faith. I would rather put us in mind of the joys of heaven, the pleasure of which we should be more glad to get than we should be to flee and escape all the pains of hell.
But surely God is marvellous merciful to us in the thing in which he may seem most rigorous. And that is (which many men would little think) in that he provided hell. For I suppose very surely, cousin, that many a man—and woman, too—of whom some now sit, and more shall hereafter sit, full gloriously crowned in heaven, had they not first been afraid of hell, would never have set foot toward heaven.
But yet undoubtedly, if we could conceive in our hearts the marvellous joys of heaven as well as we conceive the fearful pains of hell—howbeit, we can conceive neither one sufficiently. But if we could in our imagination approach as much toward the perceiving of the one as we may toward the consideration of the other, we would not fail to be far more moved and stirred to suffering for Christ's sake in this world, for the winning of those heavenly joys than for the eschewing of all those infernal pains. But forasmuch as the fleshly pleasures are far less pleasant than the fleshly pains are painful, therefore we fleshly folk, who are so drowned in these fleshly pleasures and in the desire of them that we have almost no manner of savour or taste for any pleasure that is spiritual, we have no cause to marvel that our fleshly affections are more abated and refrained by the dread and terror of hell than spiritual affections are imprinted in us and pricked forward with the desire and joyful hope of heaven.
Howbeit, if we would set somewhat less by the filthy voluptuous appetites of the flesh, and would, by withdrawing from them, with help of prayer through the grace of God, draw nearer to the secret inward pleasure of the spirit, we should, by the little sipping that our hearts should have here now, and that instantaneous taste of it, have an estimation of the incomparable and uncogitable joy that we shall have (if we will) in heaven, by the very full draught thereof. For thereof it is written, "I shall be satiate" or satisfied, or fulfilled, "when thy glory, good Lord, shall appear," that is, with the fruition of the sight of God's glorious majesty face to face. And the desire, expectation, and heavenly hope thereof, shall more encourage us and make us strong to suffer and sustain for the love of God and salvation of our soul, than ever we could be made to suffer worldly pain here by the terrible dread of all the horrible pains that damned wretches have in hell.
Therefore in the meantime, for lack of such experimental taste as God giveth here sometimes to some of his special servants, to the intent that we may draw toward the spiritual exercise too—for which spiritual exercise God with that gift, as with an earnest-penny of their whole reward afterward in heaven, comforteth them here in earth—let us labour by prayer to conceive in our hearts such a fervent longing for them that we may, for attaining to them, utterly set at naught all fleshly delight, all worldly pleasures, all earthly losses, all bodily torment and pain. And let us do this, not so much with looking to have described what manner of joys they shall be, as with hearing what our Lord telleth us in holy scripture how marvellous great they shall be. Howbeit, some things are there in scripture expressed of the manner of the pleasures and joys that we shall have in heaven, as, "Righteous men shall shine as the sun and shall run about like sparkles of fire among reeds."
Now, tell some carnal-minded man of this manner of pleasure, and he shall take little pleasure in it, and say he careth not to have his flesh shine, he, nor like a spark of fire to skip about in the sky. Tell him that his body shall be impassible and never feel harm, and he will think then that he shall never be ahungered or athirst, and shall thereby forbear all his pleasure of eating and drinking, and that he shall never wish for sleep, and shall thereby lose the pleasure that he was wont to take in lying slug-abed. Tell him that men and women shall there live together as angels without any manner of mind or motion unto the carnal act of generation, and he will think that he shall thereby not use there his old filthy voluptuous fashion. He will say then that he is better at ease already, and would not give this world for that. For, as St. Paul saith, "A carnal man feeleth not the things that be of the spirit of God, for it is foolishness to him."
But the time shall come when these foul filthy pleasures shall be so taken from him that it shall abhor his heart once to think on them. Every man hath a certain shadow of this experience in the fervent grief of a sore painful sickness, when his stomach can scant abide to look upon any meat, and as for the acts of the other foul filthy lust, he is ready to vomit if he hap to think thereon. When a man shall after this life feel in his heart that horrible abomination, of which sickness hath here a shadow, at the remembrance of these voluptuous pleasures, for which he would here be loth to change with the joys of heaven: when he shall, I say, after this life, have his fleshly pleasures in abomination, and shall have there a glimmering (though far from a perfect sight) of those heavenly joys which here he set so little by—O, good God, how fain will he then be, with how good will and how gladly would he then give this whole world, if it were his, to have the feeling of some little part of those joys!
And therefore let us all who cannot now conceive such delight in the consideration of them as we should, have often in our eyes by reading, often in our ears by hearing, often in our mouths by rehearsing, often in our hearts by meditation and thinking, those joyful words of the holy scripture by which we learn how wonderful huge and great are those spiritual heavenly joys. Our carnal hearts have so feeble and so faint a feeling of them, and our dull worldly wits are so little able to conceive so much as a shadow of the right imagination! A shadow, I say, for, as for the thing as it is, not only can no fleshly carnal fancy conceive that, but beside that no spiritual person peradventure neither, so long as he is still living here in this world. For since the very essential substance of all the celestial joy standeth in the blessed beholding of the glorious Godhead face to face, no man may presume or look to attain it in this life. For God hath said so himself: "There shall no man here living behold me." And therefore we may well know not only that we are, for the state of this life, kept from the fruition of the bliss of heaven, but also I think that the very best man living here upon earth—the best man, I mean, who is no more than man—cannot attain the right imagination of it; but those who are very virtuous are yet (in a manner) as far from it as a man born blind is from the right imagination of colours.
The words that St. Paul rehearseth of the prophet Isaiah, prophesying of Christ's incarnation, may properly be verified of the joys of heaven: "Oculus non vidit, nec auris audivit, nec in cor hominis adscendit, quae preparavit Deus diligentibus se." For surely, for this state of this world, the joys of heaven are by man's mouth unspeakable, to man's ears not audible, to men's hearts uncogitable, so far excel they all that ever men have heard of, all that ever men can speak of, and all that men can by natural possibility think on.
And yet, whereas such be the joys of heaven that are prepared for every saved soul, our Lord saith yet, by the mouth of St. John, that he will give his holy martyrs who suffer for his sake many a special kind of joy. For he saith, "To him that overcometh, I shall give him to eat of the tree of life. And I shall confess his name before my Father and before his angels." And also he saith, "Fear none of those things that thou shalt suffer . . . , but be faithful unto the death, and I shall give thee the crown of life. He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." And he saith also, "To him that overcometh will I give manna secret and hid. And I will give him a white suffrage, and in his suffrage a new name written, which no man knoweth but he that receiveth it." They used of old in Greece, where St. John did write, to elect and choose men unto honourable offices, and every man's assent was called his "suffrage," which in some places was by voices and in some places by hands. And one kind of those suffrages was by certain things that in Latin are called calculi because, in some places, they used round stones for them. Now our Lord saith that unto him who overcometh he will give a white suffrage, for those that were white signified approving, as the black signified reproving. And in those suffrages did they use to write the name of him to whom they gave their vote. Now our Lord saith that to him who overcometh he will in the suffrage give him a new name, which no man knoweth but him who receiveth it. He saith also, "He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out thereof, and I shall write upon him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which descendeth from heaven from my God, and I shall write on him also my new name." If we wished to enlarge upon this, and were able to declare these special gifts, with yet others that are specified in the second and third chapters of the Apocalypse, then would it appear how far those heavenly joys shall surmount above all the comfort that ever came in the mind of any man living here upon earth.
The blessed apostle St. Paul, who suffered so many perils and so many passions, saith of himself that he hath been "in many labours, in prisons oftener than others, in stripes above measure, at point of death often times; of the Jews had I five times forty stripes save one, thrice have I been beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice have I been in shipwreck, a day and a night was I in the depth of the sea; in my journeys oft have I been in peril of floods, in peril of thieves, in peril by the Jews, in perils by the pagans, in perils in the city, in perils in the desert, in perils in the sea, perils by false brethren, in labour and misery, in many nights' watch, in hunger and thirst, in many fastings, in cold and nakedness; beside those things that are outward, my daily instant labour, I mean my care and solicitude about all the churches," and yet saith he more of his tribulations, which for the length I let pass. This blessed apostle, I say, for all these tribulations that he himself suffered in the continuance of so many years, calleth all the tribulations of this world but light and as short as a moment, in respect of the weighty glory that it winneth us after this world: "This same short and momentary tribulation of ours that is in this present time, worketh within us the weight of glory above measure on high, we beholding not these things that we see, but those things that we see not. For those things that we see are but temporal things, but those things that are not seen are eternal."
Now to this great glory no man can come headless. Our head is Christ, and therefore to him must we be joined, and as members of his must we follow him, if we wish to come thither. He is our guide to guide us thither, and he is entered in before us. And he therefore who will enter in after, "the same way that Christ walked, the same way must he walk." And what was the way by which he walked into heaven? He himself showed what way it was that his Father had provided for him, when he said to the two disciples going toward the village of Emaus, "Knew you not that Christ must suffer passion, and by that way enter into his kingdom?" Who can for very shame desire to enter into the kingdom of Christ with ease, when he himself entered not into his own without pain?
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