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Scale (or Ladder) of Perfection
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SECTION II: How that without great Corporal and Spiritual Industry, and without much Grace and Humility, Souls cannot come to reforming in Feeling nor keep themselves therein after they come thereto

BUT now thou wilt say, since it is so, that reforming in Faith only is so low, and so perilous to rest in, for fear of falling again; and reforming in Feeling is so high, and so secure for them that can arrive thereto, therefore covetest thou to know what kind of exercises and industries were most convenient to be used for it, by the which thou mayest profit and come thereto; or whether there be any one certain exercise or special work by which a man may come to that grace and that reforming in feeling.

To this I answer thus: Thou knowest well that what man or woman that will dispose himself to come to cleanness of heart and to feeling of grace, it behoveth him to use much industry and great striving both in will and in deeds continually against the wicked stirrings of all chief sins. Not only against pride or envy, but against all other, with all the kinds that come out of them, as I have said before in the First Book. For why? Passions and fleshly desires hinder the cleanness of heart and peace of conscience. And it behoveth him also to labour to get all virtues, not only chastity and temperance, but also patience and mildness, charity and humility, and all the other. And this cannot be done by one manner of work, but by divers works, according to the divers and sundry dispositions of men, as now praying, now meditating, now working some good works, now proving and exercising themselves in divers ways, in hunger, in thirst, in cold, in suffering of shame and despite, if need be, and bodily pains and labours, for the love of virtue and justice. This thou knowest full well, for this thou readest in every book that treateth of good life; thus saith every man that would stir up men’s souls to the love of God. And so it appeareth that there is no one special exercise, no certain work by which only a soul can come to that grace, but principally through the grace of our Lord Jesus, and by many and great deeds, in all that he is able to do, and yet all is little enough.

And one reason why there must be such painstaking is this: That since our Lord Jesus Himself is the special master and teacher of this art, and the special Physician of spiritual sicknesses; for without Him all is nought; it is therefore reasonable, that as He teacheth and stirreth, so a man should follow and work. But he is a simple master that cannot teach his scholar whilst he is learning but only one lesson, and he is an unskilful physician, that by one medicine would heal all sores. Therefore our Lord Jesus, that is so wise and so good, to show His wisdom and goodness teacheth divers lessons to His scholars, after that they profit in their learning, and giveth to divers souls divers and several medicines according to the nature of their sickness.

Another reason also is this: If there were one certain work by which a soul might come to the perfect love of God, then might a man fancy that he might come thereto by his own endeavours, and through his own travail only; as a merchant cometh to his riches only by his own industry and travail. But it is not so in this spiritual business, concerning the love of God, for he that will serve God wisely and come to the perfect love of God, he will covet to have none other reward but Him only. But then for to have him may no creature deserve by his own travail or industry; for though a man could labour both corporally and spiritually as much as could all the creatures that ever have been, yet could he not, for all that, only by his own working deserve to have God for his reward; for He is the sovereign bliss and endless goodness, and surpasseth without comparison all men’s deserts; and therefore He cannot be gotten by any man’s special working, as a temporal reward may, for He is free and giveth to whom He will, and when He will, neither for this, nor for that, nor in this time, nor after that time. For though a soul work all that he can and may all his lifetime, yet shall he never have the perfect love of Jesus till our Lord will freely give it.

Nevertheless, on the other side, I say that God useth not to give such grace unless a man do work and travail all that he can and may; yea, till it seem to him that he can work no more, or else be in full will and desire to do more if he could. And so it seemeth, that neither grace only, without the full working of the soul so far as it can, nor the man’s working alone, without grace, bringeth the soul to the reforming in feeling (the which reforming consisteth in perfect love and charity). But that both joined together, that is grace joined to working, bringeth into a soul the blessed feeling of perfect love. The which grace cannot rest fully, but only on humble souls that be full of the fear of God.

Therefore I may affirm that he that hath not humility, nor doth use his industry and labour, cannot come to this reforming in feeling. And he hath not full humility, that understandeth and perceiveth not himself truly as he is. As thus: He that doth all the good deeds that he can, as fasting, watching, wearing hair-cloth, and all other sufferings of bodily penance, or doth all the outward works of mercy to his neighbour, or else internal works, as praying, weeping, sighing, meditating, if he always rest in them, and lean so much on them, and so greatly regardeth them in his own sight and esteem that he presumeth on his own deserts, and thinketh himself ever rich and good, holy and virtuous, verily as long as he feeleth himself thus, he is not humble enough. No; though he say or think that all that he doth is of God’s gift, and not of himself, he is not yet humble enough; for he doth not as yet make himself naked of all his good deeds, nor truly poor in spirit, nor feels himself to be nothing, as indeed he is. And verily, till a soul through grace is come sensibly to annihilate herself and strip herself of all the good deeds that she doth, through the sight and beholding of the truth of Jesus, she is not perfectly humble; for what is humility but truth? Verily nothing else. And therefore he that through grace can see Jesus, how that He doth all, and himself doth just nothing, but suffereth Jesus to work in him what He pleaseth, he is humble. But this is very hard, and as it were impossible, and unreasonable (to a man that worketh all by human reason, and seeth no further) for to do many good deeds, and then to attribute all to Jesus and set himself at nought. But whoso can have a spiritual sight of the truth, he shall think it full true and full reasonable to do so. And verily he that hath this sight shall do never the less, but shall be stirred up to travail corporally and spiritually, much the more, and with a better will. And this may be one cause why some men peradventure labour and travail,186186    Swink and sweat. and pine their wretched bodies with outrageous penance all their lifetime, and are ever saying prayers and psalms and many beads, and yet cannot come to the spiritual feeling of the love of God, as it seems some do in short time, with less pains, for they have not that humility I spake of.

Also on the other side I say: He that useth not his industry, but thinketh thus with himself, to what end should I take pains? Why should I pray, or meditate, or watch, or fast, or do any other bodily penance to attain to such grace, seeing it cannot be gotten or had but only by the free gift of Jesus? Therefore I will continue in my sensuality as I am, and do even nothing of any such corporal or spiritual works; but expect till He give it, for if He be pleased to give it, He asketh no working of me, how much soever or how little I do, I shall have it, and if He be pleased not to give it, labour I never so hard, I shall get it never the sooner. He that saith thus shall never come to this reforming, for he draweth himself wilfully to idleness of the flesh, and disenableth himself for the receiving of the gift of grace, inasmuch as he layeth aside and putteth from him both inward working, which consisteth in a lasting desire and longing after Jesus, and outward working, by exercising his body in outward deeds, so that he shall never receive the said grace.

Therefore I say that he that hath not true humility, nor is very serious and diligent, either only in internal exercises and continual desire towards God by prayer, and devout affections and thoughts of Him, or else both inward and outward, he cannot come to this spiritual forming of His image.


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