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EVERY ONE OUGHT TO CONSIDER HIS OWN ABILITY, AND TO PROCEED ACCORDINGLY.
MOREOVER, let him attempt nothing beyond his strength, but be content with his lot. If he cannot reach as far as he desireth, let him reach as far as he can. And unless he flatter himself, he may easily know what proceedings he is able to make. Nevertheless, the divine bounty is liberal, infusing itself wheresoever it findeth a mind worthily prepared.
Wherefore, if our spiritual practitioner be not yet admitted to the sublimity of contemplation and perfect charity, let him think himself as yet not prepared for the receipt of so great a good. And what good would it do him to receive that grace, which he knows not how to make good use of. Let him make haste to pull up all vice by the root, that he may be the fitter. But still with this proviso, that he strive not beyond his strength. Let him not impatiently try to forerun God’s grace, but humbly to follow it. Let him not, I say, violently force his spirit thither, whither he cannot reach; lest presuming, which he ought not, he tumble himself down headlong by his own violence, and being crushed be punished for his rashness. Let him so tend to perfection, that unbridled violence and turbulent solicitude bear no part in his endeavours.
Let him attend the measure of grace given him, and withal remember that he shall far more easily, safely, quickly, and happily attain to the highest degree of contemplation, that is, to the comprehending of mystical divinity, if he be touched and rapt by the mere grace of God, than if he endeavour to attain unto it by his own labours. Let him always, therefore, observe a man with discretion, lest by excess he run into defects.
The bread of tears is good, and many, when they should refresh themselves, surfeit by it. For they insist so long in tears, and with so great confusion and agitation, that both spirit and body are fain to lie down under the too much intent or extended exercise. We confess that many, by the discretion and the help of the Holy Ghost, can long and profitably mourn; and there are many again that being, as it were, steeped in the torrent of pleasure which they take in God, do unseasonably urge and spur forward themselves to greater violence, and desist not from this indiscreet forcing of themselves until, being hurt and confounded, they fall and faint in themselves, and are thenceforth made unapt to receive the sweetness of grace. Wherefore the internal heat and violence is always so to be moderated, that the spirit be not extinguished, but comforted by it. They whose heads are of a good temper may more fervently and strongly insist in fervent aspirations; but they that have weak heads (especially if the weakness grow by indiscretion) are not able to exercise themselves otherwise than very gently and moderately. And such can scarcely sometimes admit a simple compunction of mind, or. meditation, or reading, without hurt, yea, although they leave their head on some place. So great is the calamity of the vice that proceedeth from indiscretion. But let them diligently, inasmuch as in them lieth, avoid this discommodity, and humbly pray to God for the restoring of that which they have spoiled themselves. If God be pleased to hear them, let them be thankful; if not, let them bless our Lord, and for His love learn according to His pleasure patiently to endure this misery, which they have done on themselves.
Let our internal practitioner beware also of all lightness of inconstancy and instability. Let him take in hand those exercises that are good; and let him go on with what he hath once begun, although they like him not; but so that the pleasure of the Holy Ghost be followed in all, the decree of his own will and appointment being rejected. For the Holy Ghost doth divers ways as it were invite us and uses to bring us by divers paths to the wine-cellar and bed-chamber of divine love; Whose instinct we must still observe and most readily follow, laying aside all propriety; wherefore this our spiritual scholar shall often present himself to the Holy Ghost as a prepared instrument; and which way soever the Holy Ghost shall bend and apply, let him presently follow. If at any time he shall be drawn or elevated up to the soaring contemplation and embracements of the chiefest good, let him freely offer up himself; and if the Passion of Christ, or any holy meditation and imagination occur, let him not stay at it, but with all expedition fly thither, whither he is called by the Spirit
When he doubtfully staggereth in his purpose, not knowing how he ought to proceed in his begun enterprize, let him use the counsel of men that are prudent, expert, and humble; for so he shall be a greater proficient, than if relying upon himself he- proceed according to his own inventions.
But in the meantime let him not forget carefully to have recourse to the remedy of prayer, humbly beseeching in all things to be directed and illuminated by our Lord; lest at any time being deceived he follow error instead of truth. And let him always remember that he can never perfectly be at leisure for God, unless his heart be free and clear from all things besides God.
You have now heard, Brother, after a manner,. how he should begin and how he should go forward in external exercises that desireth to attain to any excellent degree of a pure life. It shall be your part not only to hear and read these things, but also to put them in practice. Which if you do, and have help from above, and that you being to be clear within, and that psalmodies and other offices of divine praise wax sweet unto you, search not too high, but be afraid. For although, your heart being enlarged, you do awhile run the way of God’s commandments, you have not of yourself enlarged your heart, but God hath done it. And He that enlarged it can permit it, His grace being withdrawn, to be again coupled up and imprisoned: The Sun of Justice hath shined on you, and certain scales being taken off, hath illuminated your mind; but who can hinder Him from hiding Himself if He be so pleased. Be you therefore ready; for He will hide Himself, and His amiable brightness being once departed, your senses shall again be darkened and hindered.
Moreover, certain immissions by evil angels will toss the ship of your breast; yea, peradventure the temptation will be so strong, that you will think all to oppose itself against you. You will seem to yourself to be wholly given over to Satan, and will not have list to open your mouth in God’s praise. Neither shall this calamity endure a little while. Neither shall you only once, or thrice, or six, or ten times be laid hold on by it, but very often, sometimes more vehemently than at others. But be not dejected at this; neither think anything sinisterly of your fault. For He hath permitted you to be tempted that it may be manifest if you truly love Him, and that you may learn to pity others that are oppressed by temptations. He scourgeth and bruiseth you, that He may purge you from vice, and prepare you for more grace. He seemeth to leave you, as it were, for a time, that you wax not proud, but may always acknowledge that you can do- nothing without Him; yet, nevertheless, He doth not forsake you. He exerciseth you in these and the like adversities out of the unspeakable charity wherewith He loveth you. For the Heavenly Spouse useth this kind of dispensation with a fervent soul converted unto Him. He visiteth her solemnly in the beginning of her new purpose, doth comfort and illustrate her, and after He hath recreated and allured her with His sweet smile, he draweth her after Him, and lovingly meeteth her almost everywhere, with His milk feeding His new friend.
Afterwards He begins to administer to her the solid food of affliction, and plainly shows her how much she ought to endure for His name. Now she beginneth to be in a sea of troubles. Men molest her without, passions trouble her within. Punishments afflict her externally, internally she becometh dejected by pusillanimity. Externally she is grieved with infirmities, internally darkness overcasteth and cloudeth her. The external parts are oppressed, the internal dried up; one while the Bridegroom hideth Himself from the soul, another while He discovereth Himself unto her. Now He leaveth her, as it were, in the darkness and horror of death, and presently recalleth her to the sweetness of light, insomuch that it may be truly said of Him that He leadeth down to hell and bringeth back again. By such means He trieth, purifieth, humbleth, teacheth, weans, draws, and adorns the soul. If He find her faithful in all things, and to be of a good will and holy patience, and that, by long exercise and His grace, she doth mildly and affectionately endure all tribulations and temptations, then doth He more perfectly join her to Himself, and similarly maketh her partaker of His secrets, and bindeth her far otherwise to Him. This He did at the beginning of her conversion. Be not therefore troubled when vehement temptation scourgeth you, but as if you received a token of His love remain faithful and invincible in your agonies, saying with blessed Job—“Although He shall kill me I will trust in Him” during this storm. It will be somewhat hard for you to be present at the Divine Office, by reason of the instability and cloudiness of your mind. Notwithstanding, be patient, and gently do what lieth in your power. The night will pass away, darkness will be dispersed, and light will take place again. But as long as it is yet night take heed you are not found idle and negligent; if you have no list to pray, sing, or meditate, then read. If your mind loathe reading, write, or manfully exercise yourself for the time in some other external work, in the meantime diligently rejecting the troubles of vain cogitations. If drowsiness do unseasonably molest you, so that it grievously depress you, you shall peradventure (time and place permitting) do better if somewhat pertinently, to the honour of God, leaning your head somewhere, you slumber a little, than if inexorably you resist it; for if by labour you think to drive it away, as long as you labour you shall be free, but that once past, and you betaking yourself to your spiritual exercises, it will easily return. If you sleep, let it not be deep nor long, so that it last no longer than one may say one, or two, or three Psalms: for so your spirit, being, as it were, renewed, will arise with more expedition and alacrity. They that know not how to behave themselves soberly in eating, drinking, and the custody of their senses, if they fly to this remedy it is to be feared lest they rather aggravate than alleviate this disease, and, falling into a deep and long sleep, miserably lose their time by sluggishness. Watch carefully against those temptations by which the devil endeavoureth to incline the mind to those things that are indecent and vicious. Be sure to reject them in the very beginning, before they take possession of you within, for unless you repel the adversary at the first onset, if he get entrance he will presently clap bolts on your soul, and you, being destitute of liberty and force, will hardly be able to resist. But if you have behaved yourself negligently, and he fetter you, do not yield so, but deny your consent, and strive against him even by creeping on the ground, and pray to our Lord in the strength of your spirit, that, freeing your bonds, he will restore you to liberty, or at least preserve you from giving consent. But know that many times you shall more easily overcome the adversary suggesting any filthy, impious, and absurd thing, if you contemn and set light by his barking, and so pass them over, than if you strive long with him, and with great labour endeavour to stop his wicked mouth. But if he over much importune you, and being repelled once or twice do still come on afresh, you must meet with him on plain terms, that, being overthrown on plain ground, he may fly away with disgrace.
Now, he setteth on us many ways, for sometimes he seeketh to ensnare us secretly, and under pretence of piety; sometimes he setteth upon us openly and with open fury; sometimes he creepeth by little; sometimes he breaketh forth suddenly and unlooked for; sometimes he layeth siege to us by spiritual and internal means, sometimes by corporal and external adversaries or prosperities. Wherefore we must always have recourse to the aid of our Lord’s Passion, and cry to God with tears. But, as I have always said, soar not too high by reason of the grace which, peradventure, you have. For what have you that you have not received? Why do you glory, as if you had not received? Take heed, therefore, that by no means you open the window of your heart to the blast of vainglory or the air of self-complacence. See you brag not, see you boast not abroad of what you have received. But keep your secret to yourself, let it abide with you, unless you happen to reveal it humbly and modestly to some intimate and secret friend for spiritual utility and consolation, or that you be compelled by obedience, or rather manifest necessity, or great profit. See that you believe not that you have received the gift of God by your own merits and labours, but rather judge yourself unworthy (as indeed you are) of all grace and consolation, and worthy of all confusion and dereliction. Compare yourself with those that are more holy, that, by consideration of their perfection, you may the better acknowledge your own imperfection. Humble and deject yourself; place yourself infinitely below all men. But you will say, How can I do this, considering that many without fear or shame live most debauchedly, which I neither do nor will do? What! shall I cast myself below them? Shall I place them above me? I say you shall.
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