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Sermon for Whit Sunday
John vi. 44.—“No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.”
THUS said the blessed Jesus: “No man can come to Me except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.” The persecuted, disheartened disciples of Jesus, who were held captive in the bonds of ignorance as with iron fetters, and in their own esteem were lying in the deep dungeons of their trespasses, confessing themselves stript of all their own might, cried with fervent prayer to the Almighty Father (as St. Luke tells us, that while they were waiting for the promise of the Father, they “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication”), praying that their bonds might be loosed, and that they might be delivered from their prison-house. Wherefore their Heavenly Father, to whom they had made known their requests in faith, heard their prayer, and set them free from all bonds, and drew them out of their dungeon by six steps into the glorious liberty of the Holy Spirit, where they were filled with all truth.
First of all, He turned His merciful eyes upon them, and made them fit to receive, not only His ordinary influences, whereby He is wont to bring 343men unto Himself, but He sought to bring them unto Himself in a peculiar manner above other men. For we find three other ways by which God draws men unto Himself. The first is by means of the creatures, in whom He very clearly reveals Himself to men through the created light of their souls. Thus St. Thomas tells us how some heathen, from the evidences of His in-dwelling and presence in all the creatures, have maintained that God is the creator and ruler of the world, and how therefore in every part of the world honours ought to be rendered unto Him. In this drawing by means of the creatures, does God give a hint and offer of Himself to man. The second way is by His voice in the soul, when an eternal truth mysteriously suggests itself. So St. Augustine says, that the heathens have discoursed of certain truths, and these they have reached by virtue of the eternal laws of God which are working in all men when they speak what is true, and not by the mere light of their own nature. As Augustine says: “Whatever is true, by whomsoever it is spoken, proceeds from the Holy Ghost.” Hence, at those moments when all the powers of the soul are collected and turned inwards, it often happens that some eternal truth presents itself with irresistible clearness. This happens not unfrequently in morning sleep, just before waking. This sort of drawing may be called a whisper of love, or a monition. The third way is when the human will is subdued, and stands waiting for the blessed Will of God, truly stript of itself and all things, so that the Almighty Father draws the created will without resistance, and it leans towards Him with peculiar delight. This drawing may be 344called a union and an embrace. This drawing of the will towards God comes from the Highest Good; from Him who has created heaven and earth, and all the creatures, for man’s sake, and yet humbled Himself even unto death. Now it is because He has a greater delight in man than in all the glories of heaven and earth, and for no other reason, that He seeks him out and gives him monitions through all things. It was that He might thus draw the beloved disciples unto Himself that He cast His eye of mercy on them, and through blessing and affliction turned and disposed their wills until He fitted them to receive and follow His leadings. And it was because the disciples let Him work in them as it pleased Him, that they came at last to experience the full power of His drawing, as we may see in all that happened to them afterwards.
Now some may ask, Why did God thus prepare the disciples for His leadings, and not me, or others before me, in whom He has not wrought after such a special manner? For this special leading there were two causes: the first is the sovereign will of God, who chooses some men above others to be partakers of His mysteries and hidden sweetness; just as a King, out of his mere good pleasure, chooses certain knights to compose his privy council and to be about his person. The second cause is that one man listens more attentively to God’s voice, and takes more pains to discover God’s leadings, or endeavours more strenuously to lay aside his faults and whatever comes between him and God; and for this cause also one man is more strongly drawn than another. Now because the dear disciples had this mind in them, that with hearty repentance 345they besought forgiveness for all their past life of ignorance and sin, and meditated on the sweet teachings and holy life and death of their beloved Master and His boundless love and resignation, and forsook all things, and watched continually and committed themselves wholly to God, ever waiting to discern His will, and gave heed thereto, and did without means so far as they could, and prayed for help when they could not; therefore this special drawing was given unto them, as it is still given to this day to those who follow in their footsteps.
Now it may be asked, But the disciples could not have made this first step of their own power; for the Word of Truth says: “Without Me ye can do nothing.” Therefore, it must have been necessary for God to draw them, and to influence their will, even as regards these three points already treated of. But if this be so, all hangs upon the first cause, as has been said before. To this the doctrine of Scripture answers: It is true that we can do no good thing without God’s ordinary influence, except we make progress by means of a special influence from the Holy Spirit; yet, at the same time, man may do his part, inasmuch as his will has power to withstand the offers of the Holy Spirit, and to cleave to his own way. God does not justify a man without his own free will; even as our eyes cannot see except they are enlightened by the sun or any other light, yet even when we have the light we must open our eyes, or we can never see it. If the eyes were covered with a thick veil or screen, the man must take it away or he could see nothing, however brightly the sun might pour forth his rays. Now, when the 346Almighty Father came unto the disciples with his Divine light, they opened their eyes, and cast away the screen of outward forms, as much as might be; therefore, God did his part also, and drew them up unto Himself after a special manner. This was the work of the lovely, Divine Son, who is the reprover of all hearts,—clearing out all stumbling-blocks and rending away all evils of darkness from the inward eye of the soul.
Secondly, their Heavenly Father drew them forth from the bonds of slavery to sense, so that they were delivered from this captivity never again to fall into it, but to stand ready in perfect acquiescence to receive His further leadings. Wherefore He gave them, by His beloved Son, four precepts, according to which they should order their lives, as St. Matthew tells us: “Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass, in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves.” He who only considers the matter aright, will find that this drawing them up above the things of the body was very necessary, if they were to enter the school of the Eternal Light. For this school has four qualities. First, that it is raised far above all time, not only in the third heaven, physically speaking, but above all the movements of the heavenly bodies, and all else that is subject to time. In the second place, that whatever may be found still remaining of self-appropriation is not suffered to make itself a home and resting-place in the heart. In the third place, in this school is perfect rest; for no storms, nor rain, nor sin, nor aught that can bring change, is there. Fourthly, there reigns perpetual light, clear and unbedimmed; for the sun and moon, which set 347from time to time, and leave the earth in darkness, do not shine there. God is their eternal sun, shining in His brightness. Now, seeing that all material, created things are base, narrow, subject to change and alloy, it was needful that the disciples should be raised above the trammels of material things, for St. Jerome says: “It is as impossible for God to bestow Himself under the limitations of time, or temporal things, as it is for a stone to possess the wisdom of an angel.”
Here a question occurs: Since the Eternal Father draws some men from earth by happiness, and others by pain, by which were the disciples most strongly drawn? I answer: If you consider their life, you will find that they were drawn to God much more by great hardships than by enjoyment; for even while Christ dwelt with them, they were always suffering contempt, and contradiction to their self-love; and after His holy death, until they were lifted up as on this day, they were indeed well-nigh crushed to the earth with sorrow and disappointment, before the bonds were withdrawn from their eyes; and their Heavenly Father ordered it thus out of special love toward them. To be drawn to God through pain is in itself a surer way than by joy, as St. Gregory says, paraphrasing on the Psalmist: “In time of persecution and tribulation, a thousand shall fall by thy side; but in a time of prosperity and good fortune ten thousand shall fall at thy right hand.” So, too, is it more like Christ in all His life and death; and, moreover, it is a greater proof of love; for it is said: “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. Wherefore, as the disciples were to receive many peculiar 348and mysterious favours from God, so this was to be paid for beforehand, and for each gift a death was to be suffered—a dying unto themselves; and if one trial was removed by God, He forthwith sent another equally severe (as He does to this day with His beloved friends), and they understood this, and endured to the end all that their Heavenly Father laid upon them, until they came to have their suffering turned into gladness, and rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.
Thirdly, their Heavenly Father drew them up above all the corporeal ideas that they had of the humanity of Christ, making their minds as bare of those and all other images, as they were when first created, in order that henceforward, according to their necessities, they might learn for evermore in the school of the Holy Spirit. For this we are able to perceive four reasons. First; that truth and love, which are the end of all teaching in all schools, have no images nor any existence outside the soul; for no painting can, properly speaking, depict truth and love; for they have no images, external or internal. No image or type which we can devise to express love, is love itself; and it is the same with truth. Next; that in the school of the Spirit, man does not learn through books, which teach through outward images addressed to the senses; but here the truth, which of its nature does not speak by means of images, is spoken into the soul itself. Hence the humble St. Francis commanded the brethren of his Order not to trouble themselves too much with books and letters, and that those who were unlettered should not be anxious about acquiring 349learning, but remember to covet above all things the Spirit of God, and pray only for a pure heart and His influences. Thirdly; because in the school of the Spirit man learns wisdom through humility, knowledge by forgetting, how to speak by silence, how to live by dying. For St. John was sleeping when he looked into the fount of eternal wisdom, and St. Paul knew not whether he was in the body or out of the body, when he was “caught up to the third heaven and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” Therefore it was needful for the disciples to be deprived of all images that they might learn in this school. Fourthly; where the mind is busied with images, time must necessarily enter into the operations of the imagination, and this has no place in the highest school of the Holy Spirit; for there neither time nor images can help us, but contact is all that is needed, the which may happen without time within the space of a moment. St. Gregory says: “The Holy Ghost is an admirable master-workman; He fills a fisherman, and makes a preacher of him; He fills a persecutor, and transforms him into a teacher of the Gentiles; He fills a publican, and makes of him an evangelist. Who is this master-workman? He needs not time for His teachings; by whatever means He chooses, so soon as He has touched the soul, He has taught it, and His mere touch is His teaching.” For these four reasons we can perceive how that it was necessary for the disciples to have their souls bereft of all images. But when they were drawn upwards to this end, not all happened to them which happened to St. Paul, when he was caught up to the third heaven; for, in the opinion of St. 350Augustine, it was given to Paul in his trance, and to Moses in Sinai, to behold the Godhead without a veil. This was not the case with the disciples at this time, for they well knew that they were still in the body. Yet their hearts were so lifted up, and their minds so illumined with eternal truth, that they were enabled to receive that same thing, though some more and some less, which St. Paul afterwards received in his vision.
In the Fourth place; the Holy Father drew them out of themselves, and delivered them from all natural self-seeking, so that they stood at rest, in true peace with themselves, and in perfect freedom. Then ceased all the mourning, fears, and pain which they had suffered hitherto; for in the lifting up of their souls, there was an act of such entire self-surrender, that they reached the summit of that first stage of the Christian course of which we have spoken above. Henceforward the Eternal Father could fulfil His good pleasure in them without any resistance from their will or natural inclinations. The Eternal Father thus drew them upwards, that He might reign as a master in them, in His omnipotence, greatness, unity, and love, and they should learn of Him and grow up into His likeness. Hence it was needful that they should be drawn out of themselves, because they could not be free, at one, noble and loving, so long as they were held captive to Self. It may be asked: When the disciples were thus drawn out of themselves, and all images were effaced from their souls, was there an extinction of their natural powers, so that they were dead to nature? I answer, No: their nature was not extinguished, for they were much more truly according 351to nature in their self-surrender than they had ever been before; for what the Lord of nature ordains for a creature, that it is natural for the creature to observe, and if it departs therefrom, it acts contrary to nature. Thus St. Augustine says, “that the rod in the Old Testament was turned into a serpent was not contrary to nature, for it was God’s will.” Wherefore I say too, that inasmuch as the disciples surrendered themselves utterly to the Divine Will, they were in the highest sense in harmony with nature; and their nature did not perish, but was exalted and brought into rightful order. There were no fewer images in their minds than before; but the images did not disturb their inward harmony or move them out of God. And when I said that their minds were to be emptied of images, it is to be understood in this sense, that it was just as when you set a lighted taper at midday in the sunshine, the taper continues to burn, and sheds forth no less light than it did before; but its light is lost in the sunshine, because the greater light prevails over the lesser and absorbs it, so that it no longer seems to shine with a separate lustre, but is diffused and shed forth in the greater light. Thus I said of images and of creatures in the case of the disciples, that henceforth they performed all their works by means of the Divine light, and yet were much more according to nature, and their minds were as full of images as before.
Fifthly: the Heavenly Father drew His disciples, thus free and acquiescing, into so close a union that He gave Himself as truly unto them, as they had given themselves unto Him. Then all the desire of the good pleasure of God was fulfilled, and also 352all the desires of the disciples, so that God’s will with them went no farther than their own wills. Not only did the Holy Ghost give himself unto them, but also God the Father and the Son gave themselves with the Spirit, as one God without distinction of persons. For when love is attributed to the Holy Spirit (as wisdom to the Son), He must be considered as a distinct Person, as touching his attribute of being the bond of mutual love, but not as otherwise distinct. Here some may ask, if the disciples were all drawn out of themselves, and gave themselves up to God, did God draw them all to Himself in the same degree, and also give Himself alike to all? I answer: though all the disciples were set free of self, yet one turned to God with warmer love and stronger desire than another; as the angels who kept their first estate all remained in perfect obedience to God, and yet one cleaved to Him with greater love than another. Wherefore God gave Himself more to one than to another, though all with like sincerity turned unto Him. Thus was it with the disciples; they turned unto God with unequal affections, and hence God bestowed Himself and His gifts upon them after an unequal manner. The beloved disciple John was the most highly favoured because he looked up to God with the greatest fervour of love. It is true, nevertheless, that in this matter much must be ascribed to the sovereign will of God, who giveth to every man as He will. Further, we must note that it was not only on the Day of Pentecost that God gave Himself personally to His disciples; for, as Richard and other doctors say, so often as that grace is given to man which makes the creature to find favour in the sight of God, 353so often is the Person of the Holy Ghost given unto him. Thus the disciples had many times before received the Person of the Holy Ghost, but they had never before utterly renounced themselves, and opened their hearts to His gifts. Hence, in this sense, He was first given unto them on the Day of Pentecost.
Sixthly, the Eternal Father brought them into the highest school of the Holy Spirit, in the which they straightway understood the mysteries of the Holy Scriptures, and the simple naked truth of God, which cannot be understood by any of the mere earthly masters in the schools. And in this school the greatness of God was first laid open to them; and therewith the gift of childlike fear of God sank down into their hearts, and abode there unto their life’s end. Next, all power was given unto them, and they were enabled always to look up to God; and herewith they received the gift of strength. In the third place, they learnt not only to obey the precepts, but also to apprehend the counsel of Christ, and therewith they received the gift of counsel. Fourthly, He taught them to feel the hidden sweetness of God, and gave them therewith the gift of charity. Fifthly, He taught them how to observe and judge the creatures, and to distinguish between the light of God and the suggestions of nature, and therewith bestowed on them the gift of science. Sixthly, He taught them to perceive aright their present condition, and all their previous states, and gave them therewith the gift of understanding. Seventhly, He taught them to be transformed into the likeness of God, by loving union with Him, and gave them therewith the gift of wisdom. These sevenfold 354gifts does the Holy Ghost convey to the disciples in His school: for as the schools of natural learning teach the seven sciences, and the school of doctrine the seven sacraments, so does the Holy Ghost, in his school, teach those seven things with His sevenfold gifts.
Here a question arises: Did the disciples in this highest school of the Spirit obtain an insight into all those sciences which are learnt in the school of nature? I answer, Yes; it was given them to understand all science, whether touching the courses of the heavenly bodies, or what not, in so far as it might conduce to God’s glory, or concerned the salvation of man; but those points of science which bear no fruit for the soul, they were not given to know. This in no wise abated their happiness, or their perfection; for, as St. Augustine says: “He is a miserable man who knows all things, and does not know God; and he is happy who knows God, even though he know nothing else. But he who knows God and all else beside is not made more blessed thereby; for he is blessed through God alone.” That God may thus draw us up unto Himself, and shine into our inmost parts with the same truth, may He grant us of His grace! Amen!
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