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CHAPTER VI. HOW DECEITFUL THE LOVE OF THIS WORLD IS, AND HOW AMIABLE GOD IS.
The Servant.—Sweetest God, if I leave Thee but a little I am like a young roe which has strayed from its dam, and is pursued by the hunter, and runs wildly about, until it escapes back to its cover. Lord, I flee, I run to Thee with ardent desire, like a stag to the living waters. Lord, one little hour without Thee is a whole year; to be estranged one day from Thee is as much as a thousand years to a loving heart. Therefore, Thou branch of salvation, Thou bush of May, Thou red blooming rose-tree, open and spread out the green branches of Thy divine nature. Lord, Thy countenance is so full of graciousness, Thy mouth so full of living words, Thy whole carriage such a pure mirror of all discipline and meekness! O Thou aspect of graciousness to all the saints, how very blessed is he who is found worthy of Thy sweet espousals!
Eternal Wisdom,—Many are called to them, but few are chosen.
The Servant.—Gentle Lord, either they have broken with Thee, or Thou with them.
Eternal Wisdom.—Lift up, therefore, thy eyes, and behold this vision.
The Servant lifted up his eyes and was terrified, and, with a deep sigh, said: Woe to me, dear Lord, that ever I was born! Do I see aright, or is it only a dream? I saw Thee before in such richness of beauty, and such tenderness of love; now I see nothing but a poor, outcast, miserable pilgrim who stands wretchedly leaning on his staff before an old decayed city. The trenches are in ruins, the walls falling down, only that, here and there, the high tops of the old timber work still project aloft; and in the city is a great multitude of people; among them are many that look like wild beasts in a human form: and the miserable pilgrim goes wandering about to see if any one will take him by the hand. Alas! I behold the multitude drive him with insult away, and hardly look at him, because of the things about which they are busy. And yet some, but only a very few, offer to give him their hands; this the other wild beasts come and prevent. Now I hear the miserable pilgrim begin to sigh woefully, and cry aloud: O heaven and earth have pity on me—me who have garnered up this city with such bitter toil, and who am so badly welcomed in it, while those who have spent no labour upon it are yet so kindly received!
Lord, such is what has been shown me in the vision. O Thou eternal God, what does it mean? Am I right or wrong?
Eternal Wisdom.—This vision is a vision of pure truth. Hearken to a lamentable thing; O let it touch thy heart with pity! I am the miserable pilgrim whom thou didst see. At one time I was in great honour in that city, but now I am brought down to great misery and driven out.
The Servant.—Dearest Lord! what is this city, what are the people in it?
Eternal Wisdom.—This decayed city is an image of that spiritual life in which I was once so worthily served. And while they were living in it so holily and securely, it begins in many places to fall very much to ruin; the trenches begin to decay, and the walls to crack, that is to say, devout obedience, voluntary poverty, secluded purity in holy simplicity, begin to disappear, and, at last, to such a degree that nothing is to be seen standing, except the high timber work of mere exterior observance. As to the great multitude, the beasts in human form, they are worldly hearts under spiritual disguises, who, in the vain pursuit of transitory things, drive Me out of their souls. That a few should, nevertheless, offer to give Me their hands, but are hindered by the rest, signifies that some men of good intentions and devout feelings are perverted by the speech and evil example of others. The staff on which thou didst see Me stand leaning, is the cross of My bitter passion, with which I admonish them at all times to think on My sufferings, and to turn, with the love of their hearts to Me alone. But the cry of misery thou didst hear is My death which even here begins to cry aloud, and ever cries aloud, because of those in whom neither My unfathomable love nor My bitter death is able to do so much as to expel the worm of sinful thoughts from their hearts.
The Servant.—O Lord, how it cuts through my very heart and soul to think Thou art so lovable, and yet, in spite of all Thy advances, art in many hearts so utterly despised. Ah! tender Lord, what will Thy advances be to those who, though they see Thee in the miserable shape in which Thou art rejected by the multitude, yet stretch out their hands to Thee with sincere faith and love?
Eternal Wisdom.—Those who for My sake give up perishable affections, and receive Me with sincere faith and love, and remain constant to the end, will I espouse with My divine love and sweetness, and will give them My hand in death, and exalt them on the throne of My glory before the whole court of heaven.
The Servant.—Lord, there be many who think they will still love Thee without giving up perishable love. Lord, they will needs be very dear to Thee, and yet will not the less indulge in temporal love.
Eternal Wisdom.—It is as impossible as to compress the heavens together and enclose them in a nut shell. Such persons array themselves in fair words, they build upon the wind, and construct upon the rainbow. How may the eternal abide with the temporal, when even one temporal thing neither can nor will endure another? He but deceives himself who thinks he can lodge the King of kings in a common inn, or thrust Him into the mean dwelling of a servant. In entire seclusion from all creatures must he keep himself who is desirous of receiving his guest as he ought.
The Servant.—Alas, sweet Lord, how completely bewitched must they all be not to see this!
Eternal Wisdom.—They stand in deep blindness. They endure many a hard struggle for pleasures which yet neither fix their attachment nor afford them full gratification. Before they obtain one joy they meet with ten sorrows, and the more they pursue their lusts the more are these upbraided with being insufficient. Lo! godless hearts must needs be at all times in fear and trembling. Even the fleeting pleasure they obtain proves very harsh to them, for they procure it with much toil, they enjoy it in great anxiety, and lose it with much bitterness. The world is full of untruth, falsehood, and inconstancy; when profit is at an end, friendship is at an end, and to speak shortly, neither true love, nor entire joy, nor constant peace of mind, was ever obtained by any heart from creatures.
The Servant.—Alas! dear Lord, what a lamentable thing it is, that so many a noble soul, so many a languishing heart, so many an image formed after God in such beauty and sweetness, that in Thy espousals ought to be queens and empresses, powerful in heaven and on earth, should so foolishly go astray and degrade themselves! Oh, wonder of wonders! to think that of their own accord they should be lost! since, according to Thy words of truth, the fell separation of the soul from the body were better for them than that Thou, the Life Eternal, shouldest have to separate from their souls where Thou findest no dwelling-place. Oh, ye dull fools, behold how your great ruin prospers, how your great loss increases, how you allow the precious, the fair, the delightsome moments to pass away, which ye may hardly or indeed never again possess, and how gaily you carry yourselves the while, as though it concerned you not! Alas! Thou gentle Wisdom, did they but know it and feel it surely they would desist.
Eternal Wisdom.—Listen to a wonderful and lamentable thing. They know it and feel it at all hours, and yet do not desist; they know it and yet will not know it; they beautify it, like unsound argument, with dazzling brightness, which yet is unlike the naked truth, as so many of them at last, when it is too late, will have to feel.
The Servant.—Alas! tender Wisdom, how senseless they are, or what does it mean?
Eternal Wisdom.—Here will they needs escape calamity and suffering, and yet fall into the midst of it; and as they will not endure the eternal good and My sweet yoke, they will be overwhelmed by the inevitable doom of My severe justice with many a heavy burthen. They fear the frost, and fall into the snow.
The Servant.—Alas! tender and merciful Wisdom, remember that, without being strengthened by Thee, no one can accomplish anything. I see no other help for them than to raise their eyes to Thee, and to fall at Thy feet with bitter, heart-felt tears, entreating that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to enlighten them, and free them from the bonds with which they are made fast.
Eternal Wisdom.—I am at all times ready to help them, if only they be ready. I do not turn away from them.
The Servant.—Lord, it is painful for love to separate from love.
Eternal Wisdom.—Very true, if I could not and would not lovingly make good all love in hearts of love.
The Servant.—O Lord, it is impossible to leave off old custom.
Eternal Wisdom.—But it will be yet more impossible to endure future torments.
The Servant.—They are perhaps so well regulated in themselves that it does them no injury.
Eternal Wisdom.—I was the best regulated of men, and yet the most self-mortified. How may that be regulated which, from its very nature, corrupts the heart, confuses the mind, perverts discipline, draws off the heart from all fervour, and robs it of its peace? It breaks open the gates, behind which godly living lies hidden, that is, the five senses. It casts forth sobriety and introduces audaciousness, the loss of grace, estrangement from God, interior tepidity, and exterior sloth.
The Servant.—Lord, they do not think they are hindered so much, if only what they love have the appearance of a spiritual life.
Eternal Wisdom.—A clear-seeing eye may just as easily be blinded by white meal as by pale ashes. Behold, was ever any person’s presence so harmless as Mine among My disciples? No unprofitable words fell from us, among us there was no extravagant demeanour, no beginning loftily in the spirit, and sinking down in the depth of endless words; there was nothing but real earnestness and entire truth without any deceit. And yet, My bodily presence had to be withdrawn from them before they became susceptible of My spirit. What a hindrance, then, must not a merely human presence prove! Before they are influenced to good by one person, they are seduced by a thousand; before they are reformed in one point by good precept, they are often led astray by bad example; and, to speak briefly, as the sharp frost in May nips the blossoms and scatters them abroad, so the love of perishable things blights godly seriousness and religious discipline. If thou hast still a doubt respecting it, look around thee into the beautiful, fruitful vineyards which formerly were so delightful in their first bloom, how utterly withered and ruined they are, so that they contain few traces more of fervent seriousness and great devotion. Now, this produces an irreparable injury, for it has become a thing of habit, a spiritual decorum, which, secretly, is so destructive of all spiritual salvation. It is all the more pernicious as it appears innocent. How many a precious spice-garden is there, which, adorned with delightful gifts, was a heavenly paradise, where God was well pleased to dwell, which, now, by reason of perishable love, has become a garden of wild weeds; where lilies and roses formerly grew, now stands thorns, nettles, and briars, and where angels were used to dwell, swine now root up the soil. Woe betide the hour, when all lost time, when all good works neglected, shall be reckoned up, when every idle word spoken, thought written, whether in secret or in public, shall be read out before God and the whole world, and its meaning, without disguise, be understood!
The Servant.—Alas! Lord these words are so sharp that indeed it must be a stony heart that is not moved by them. Ah, my Lord, some hearts there are, of so tender a nature, that they are much sooner attracted by love than fear, and as Thou, the Lord of nature, art not a destroyer but a fulfiller of nature, O, therefore, most kind and gracious Lord, put an end to this sad discourse, and tell me how Thou art a Mother of beautiful love, and how sweet Thy love is.
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