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FIRST OF CONVERSION
Tarry thou not to our Lord to be turned, nor put it off from day to day; for ofttimes the cruelty of death ravishes the wretched, and bitterness of pains suddenly devours them that now irk to be turned. It may not be numbered by us how many of the worldly wicked presumption has beguiled.
Truly it is a great sin to trust in God’s mercy and not cease from sin, trowing God’s mercy be so mickle that He will not give righteous pain to sinners. ‘Work ye therefore whiles it is day, the night truly comes in which no man may work.’ ‘Light or day’ he calls this life, in which we ought never to cease from good working, knowing that death to us is sicker, the hour of death truly unsicker. ‘The night’ he calls death, in the which our members are bound, and wits put by, and we may not now work any healthful thing, but shall receive joy or tormentry according to our works. In a point we live, yea less than a point; for if we would liken all our life to the life everlasting, it is nought.
Therefore how waste we our life in love of vanity, not without grievous damnation; and all day negligent, without repenting, we stand idle. Lord, therefore turn us and we shall be turned; heal us and we shall be healed. Many truly are not healed, but their wounds rot and fester; for today turned to God, tomorrow are turned from Him; today doing penance, tomorrow turning to their ill. Of such it is said: we have cured Babylon and it is not healed, for to Christ it is not truly turned.
What is turning to God but turning from the world and from sin; from the fiend and from the flesh? What is turning from God but turning from unchangeable good to changeable good; to the liking beauty of creatures; to the works of the fiend; to lust of the flesh and the world? Not with going of feet are we turned to God, but with the change of our desires and manners.
Turning to God is also done whiles we direct the sharpness of our minds to Him, and evermore think of His counsel and His commandments, that they may be fulfilled by us; and wherever we be, sitting or standing, the dread of God pass not from our hearts. I speak not of dread that has pain, but that that is in charity, with which we give reverence to the presence of so great a Majesty, and alway we dread that we offend not in any little thing. Soothly, thus disposed, to God we are truly turned because we are turned from the world.
To be turned from the world is naught else but to put aback all lust, and to suffer the bitterness of this world gladly for God; and to forget all idle occupations and worldly errands, in so mickle that our soul, wholly turned to God, dies pithily to all things loved or sought in the world. Therefore being given to heavenly desires they have God evermore before their eyes, as if they should unwearily behold Him, as the holy prophet bears witness: Providebam Dominum in conspectu meo semper, that is to say ‘In my sight I saw our Lord evermore before me.’ Not only the space of an hour; as do they that set all fair or lovely earthly things before the eyes of their hearts, which they behold and in which they delight and desire for love to rest. And after the prophet says: Oculi mei semper ad Dominum; quoniam ipse evellet de laqueo pedes meos, that is: ‘Mine eyes evermore are to our Lord, for he shall deliver my feet from the snare.’ By this is shewed that except our inward eyes to Christ unwearily be raised we may not escape the snares of temptation. And there are many lettings so that the eyes of our heart may not be fixed on God; of which we put some: abundance of riches; flattering of women; the fairness and beauty of youth. This is the threefold rope that scarcely may be broken; and yet it behoves to be broken and despised that Christ may be loved.
Truly he that desires to love Christ truly, not only without heaviness but with a joy unmeasured he casts away all things that may let him. And in this case he spares neither father nor mother, nor himself; he receives no man’s cheer; he does violence to all his letters; and he breaks through all obstacles. Whatever he can do seems little to him so that he may love God. He flees from vices as a brainless man and looks not to worldly solace, but certainly and wholly directed to God, he has nearly forgotten his sensuality. He is gathered all inward and all lifted up into Christ, so that when he seems to men as if heavy, he is wonderfully glad.
But there are many that say they will turn to God, but they can not yet, they say, for they are holden back by this occupation or other; whose cold mind sorrowingly we reprove. For withouten doubt and they were touched with the least spark of Christ’s love, anon with all busyness they would seek which way they might come to God’s service, and in seeking they would not cease until they had found.
Ofttimes they feign excuses, which the rather accuses them more. Riches forsooth withdraws many, and the flattering of women beguiles them; and they that have long done well sometimes are drowned, by them, in the worst dykes. For fairness is soon loved; and when it feels itself loved, it is lightly cherished; and the chosen one is cast down, and after turning or conversion, he is made worse than he was before. Then his name is blackened, and he that before was worthy, now is despised of all men and hated of all.
I saw a man truly of whom they said that he chastised his body with marvellous sharpness for fifteen years, and afterwards he lapsed into sin with his servant’s wife, nor might he be parted from her until his death. In his dying truly they said that he cursed the priests that came to him, and refused to receive the sacraments.
Therefore the newly turned ought for to flee the occasion of sinning; and with their will avoid words, deeds, and sights stirring to ill. The more unlawful a thing is, the more it is to be forsaken.
The feind also strongly upbraids against them which he sees turned from him and turned to God, and ceases not to kindle fleshly and worldly desires. He brings to mind lusts done before, and the desolation of the contrite; and unprofitable desires that were slaked before stir themselves. Among these it behoves the penitent manfully to use himself, and to take ghostly armour to gainstand the devil and all his suggestions; and to slake fleshly desires and ever to desire God’s love; and to go not from Him, despising the world: of the which now we will speak.
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