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An excellent sermon which this Doctor delivered in a convent after his illumination, concerning Christ the true Bridegroom of the soul, in the which he showed how she is to follow Him in true, shamefaced, humble, and patient resignation, and how Christ tries her beforehand in divers ways, and at last accepts her lovingly. Taken from these words—“Ecce sponsus venit, exite obviam ei” (Matt. xxv. 6).
DEAR children, it may be now two years or more since I last preached. I spoke to you then of four-and-twenty Articles, and it was then my custom to speak much Latin, and to make many quotations; but I intend to do so no more, but if I wish to talk Latin, I will do so when the learned are present, who can understand it. For this time repeat only an Ave Maria to begin with, and pray for God’s grace.
Dear children, I have taken a text on which I mean to preach this sermon, and not to go beyond it: in the vulgar tongue it runs thus,—“Behold the Bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him.”
The Bridegroom is our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Bride is the Holy Church and Christendom. Now 86we are all called brides of Christ, wherefore we ought to be willing to go forth and meet our Bridegroom; but, alas! we are not so. The true paths and straight highways by which to go out to meet the Bridegroom are, alas! nowadays quite deserted and falling into decay, till we have come hardly to perceive where they are; nay, this highway is to many quite strange and unknown, so that they do not go out to meet the Bridegroom, as they are in duty bound to do, of which I will speak another time, with God’s help; but now, since we hear that we are all called brides, I will tell you somewhat concerning what the Bride must do in order to go and meet the Bridegroom.
It is seemly that a faithful Bride should avoid everything that is displeasing to the Bridegroom, such as vain-glory, pride, envy, and all the other sins of this world, and all the delights of the body and the flesh, whether it be the ease and indulgence of the body, or other things which are beyond the necessaries of life. Further, it beseems a faithful Bride to be shamefaced. When this comes to pass, and the Bride, for her Bridegroom’s sake, has despised and given up all these things, then she begins to be somewhat well-pleasing to the Bridegroom.
But, if she desires to be yet more well-pleasing in His sight, she must humbly bow down before Him, and say with heart and lips, “Ah! my dear Lord and Bridegroom, Thou knowest all hearts. I have said to Thee, with my whole heart, that I desire to do all that I can and may, and to do it willingly, as far as Thou givest me to perceive through my conscience what is agreeable and well-pleasing to Thee.” When the Bride makes this vow to the Bridegroom, He turneth himself and begins to look upon her. 87Then she beseeches Him to bestow upon her some gift as a token of love. What is the gift? It is that she is inwardly and outwardly beset with divers assaults, with which He is wont to endow his special friends.
But if the Bride be as yet unaccustomed to suffer, she will say, “Ah! dear Lord and Bridegroom, this is very hard upon me; I greatly fear that I shall scarcely be able to endure it. Therefore, dear Lord and Bridegroom, I pray Thee to make my burden somewhat more tolerable, or else to take a part of it away.” Then the Bridegroom answers, “Tell me then, dear Bride, should the Bride fare better than the Bridegroom has fared? If thou desirest to meet the Bridegroom, thou must imitate Him in some sort, and it is, moreover, reasonable that a faithful Bride should suffer somewhat with Him for her Bridegroom’s sake.” Now when the Bride heareth what is the will of her Bridegroom, and how grave a matter it is, she is sore affrighted, and says, “Dear Lord and Bridegroom, be not wroth with me, for I will gladly hearken unto Thee: appoint unto me what Thou wilt; I am willing to suffer all things with Thy help and in thy love.” When the Bridegroom heareth this, He loveth the Bride yet better than He did before, and giveth her to drink of a still better cup. This cup is that she is to cease from all her own thoughts, and all her works and refrainings will give her no content, for she can take pleasure in nothing that is her own. However good the actions may be in themselves, she is always thinking how she shall anger her Bridegroom therewith, and feareth much that she will, perhaps, have to suffer a great punishment for them hereafter. Moreover, she is derided by all, and these things are accounted her folly.88
Now, children, by reason of all these things, her natural powers become wearied out and grow feeble, insomuch that she is constantly in fear lest she should not hold out to the end, but must die at last; and hereupon she is greatly terrified, for she is yet somewhat timorous and faint-hearted. Then she cries earnestly unto the Bridegroom, and says, “Ah! dear Lord and Bridegroom, how great are Thy terrors; know that I cannot endure them long: I must die.” But the Bridegroom answers, “If thou wilt in truth go out to meet thy Bridegroom, it is fitting that thou should first tread some portion of the path that He has travelled. Now whereas the Bridegroom has suffered shame, hunger, cold, thirst, heat, and bitter pains, for three and thirty years, and at last a bitter death, for the Bride’s sake, out of pure love, is it not just and right that the Bride should venture even her life for the Bridegroom’s sake, out of love, and with all her heart? Verily, if thou hadst the right sort of love and true faithfulness unto thy Bridegroom, all thy fear would vanish.”
Then when she hears these words of the Bridegroom her whole heart is moved with fear, and she says, “Ah! dear Lord, I acknowledge in all sincerity that I have done wrong, and I am out of all measure terrified at it; I grieve from the bottom of my heart that I have not with a faithful heart yielded myself up unto Thee, even unto death. Dear Lord and Bridegroom, I here vow and promise to Thee surely that all which Thou willest I also will. Come sickness, come health, come pleasure or pain, sweet or bitter, cold or heat, wet or dry, whatever Thou willest, that do I also will; and desire altogether to come out from my own will, and to yield a whole and willing obedience 89unto Thee, and never to desire aught else either in will or thought: only let Thy will be accomplished in me, Thy poor unworthy creature, in time and in eternity. For, dear Lord, when I look at what I am, I am not worthy that the earth should bear me.”
Now when the Bridegroom seeth this entire and faithful will in the Bride, and her deep and thorough humility, what does He then do? His heart yearns over the Bride, and giveth her a very costly, noble, sweet cup to drink. What is this cup? It is that she suffers yet far more from all manner of temptation and tribulation than she has ever suffered before. And when the Bride perceiveth this, and seeth the Bridegroom’s earnestness and good pleasure concerning her, she suffereth all these things willingly and gladly for the Bridegroom’s sake, and boweth herself down humbly before Him, and saith, “Ah! dear Lord and Bridegroom, it is just and right that Thou shouldest not will as I will, but I desire and ought to will as Thou wilt; I receive this gift right willingly and gladly for Thy love from Thy divine hand, whether it be pleasant or painful to the flesh, I acquiesce wholly in it for love of Thee.”
Now when the Bridegroom, in His eternal wisdom, perceives this disposition within His humble Bride, and her thorough earnestness, she begins to grow precious to Him, and from hearty love He giveth her to suffer in all her nature, until the Bride is wholly purified from all faults and stain of sin, and become perfectly fair and unspotted. Then He says, “Now rise up, my beloved, my pleasant, my beautiful Bride, for Thou art pure and without spot, and altogether lovely in my eyes.” Then He looks upon her with infinite, mighty, divine love. To this joyful high-tide 90cometh the Father of the Eternal Bridegroom, and saith to the Bride, “Rise up, my lovely, chosen beloved, it is time to go to Church,” and He taketh the Bridegroom and the Bride, and leadeth them to the Church, and marries them to each other, and binds them together with divine love; yea, God doth bind them together in bonds so fast that they can never be parted again, either in time or eternity. And when, in these divine espousals, they have been made one, the Bridegroom saith, “O, beloved and Eternal Father, what shall be our wedding-gift?” And the Father saith, “The Holy Ghost, for that it is His office to be in the Father’s stead.” And He sheds forth upon the Bride the torrent of divine love, and this love flows out unto the Bridegroom, insomuch that the Bride loseth herself, and is intoxicated with love, so that she forgets herself and all creatures, in time or eternity, together with herself.
Now he only who is bidden to such a spiritual, glorious marriage-feast, and has obeyed the call, does for the first time perceive and taste the real, true, blessed, gracious sweetness of the Holy Spirit. Now is this Bride a true worshipper, for she worshippeth the Father in the Holy Spirit. In this marriage-feast is joy upon joy, and therein is more peace and joy in one hour than all the creatures can yield in time or in eternity. The joy that the Bride hath with the Bridegroom is so vast that no senses or reason can apprehend or attain unto it.”
As the Doctor spoke these words a man cried out with a loud voice, “It is true!” and fell down as if he were dead. Then a woman called out from the crowd and said, “Master, leave off, or this man will die on your hands.”91
Then the Master said, “Ah, dear children, and if the Bridegroom take the Bride and lead her home with Him, we will gladly yield her to Him; nevertheless, I will make an end and leave off. Dear children, let us all cry unto the Lord our God in Heaven. For verily we have all need so to do, seeing that, alas! we have grown so dull of hearing and foolish of heart that none of us has compassion on his fellow, although we confess that we are all called brothers and sisters. There be also few who are willing to fight their way against their own flesh, and follow the Bridegroom, in order to reach a nobler joy and a glorious wedding-feast.
I give you to know that in these days those be few and far between who do truly go out to meet the Bridegroom, such as there were many in the olden time. Therefore it behoveth each one to look at himself and consider his ways with great earnestness. For the time is at hand—nay, it is already come—when it may be said of most who are now living here, that “they have eyes and see not, and ears that hear not.” Dear children, let us all strive to enter into this wedding-feast, most rich in joy, and honour, and blessedness.
But when the Bride departs from this marriage-feast and is left to herself, and beholds that she has come back again to this miserable earthly state, she says within herself, “O! poor miserable creature that I am, am I here again?” And she is sad in herself; nevertheless, she is so utterly resigned in boundless humility to her Bridegroom, that she in no wise may think of or desire His presence, because she deems herself wholly unworthy thereof. But the Bridegroom does not therefore forsake her, but looketh 92upon His Bride from time to time, because He well knoweth that none will or can comfort her, but He alone.
And now that you have heard this, let it not surprise you that I have not told you how lovingly the Bridegroom talketh with the Bride. It might well happen that none would believe me (except such a one as had tried and tasted it himself), should I tell you what strange words the Bride saith to her Bridegroom. We find, too, in the Scriptures, that the loving soul ofttimes holds such converse with her Beloved as words cannot perfectly express. Nay, does it not happen every day with earthly lovers, that a bride and bridegroom talk together in such wise that if others heard it they would declare them mad or drunk?
Now, dear children, I fear that I have kept you too long; but the time has not seemed long to me: also, I have said it all for your good, and could not well this time make my sermon shorter if I were rightly to explain my meaning; therefore receive it kindly.
That we may all become real, true, perfect brides of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that we may in sincere, true, utter humility and resignation, go out to meet our glorious Bridegroom, and abide with Him for ever, may God help us, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
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