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Scale (or Ladder) of Perfection
« Prev CHAPTER VIII: How great profit it is to the Soul… Next »

CHAPTER VIII: How great profit it is to the Soul to be brought through Grace into lightsome Darkness, and how a Man shall dispose himself if he will come thereto

THERE be many devout souls that through grace come into this darkness and feel the knowledge of themselves, and yet know they not fully what it is, and that ignorance is partly a hindrance to them. They feel well often their thoughts and their affections drawn out and separated from the minding of earthly things, and brought into great rest of a delectable softness, without painful troubling of vain thoughts or of their bodily senses, and they feel that time so great a freedom of spirit that they can think on Jesus peaceably and offer up their Psalms and Prayers mightily, savourly and sweetly to Him, as long as frailty of bodily nature will suffer them. They understand well that this feeling is good, but they know not what it is. Therefore unto all such souls I say, as methinketh, that this manner of feeling, though it be but short and but seldom, it is really this darkness that I speak of. For it is a feeling of themselves first, and a rising above themselves through burning desire to the sight of Jesus; or else, if I shall say more truly, this gracious feeling is a spiritual sight of Jesus. And if they can keep themselves in that rest, or bring it through grace into a custom, so that they can lightly and freely have it when they list, and hold themselves in it, they shall never be overcome by temptation of the fiend, nor of the flesh, nor by errors or heresies; for they are set in the gate of Contemplation, able and ready to receive the perfect love of Jesus. Therefore he that hath it, it is good that he know it humbly, keep it tenderly, and pursue it fervently that no creature let199199    Hinder. him utterly from it, but that he follow it when he may. And that he forget and set at nought all things that may put him from this, if so be, he be at his own liberty, and may do what he will without scandal or offence to his neighbour. For I think that he cannot come to this rest lightly, unless he hath great plenty of grace and set himself to follow the motions of grace, and that ought he to do; for grace would ever be free, namely from sin and worldly business, and all other things that let the working of it, though they are not sins.

Nevertheless, another soul that hath not yet received this plenty of grace, if he desire to come to this spiritual knowing of Jesus, he must, as much as in him lieth, enable himself to it, and put away all lettings that obstruct grace as much as he can. He must truly learn to die to the world, and truly forsake the love of it. First, pride, both spiritual and corporal, that he desire no worship, worldly knowledge, nor worldly craft, profits, nor riches, nor precious clothing, nor worldly array, nor anything by which he may be honoured above other men; he shall covet none of all these. But if they be put upon him take them with fear, so that he be poor both outwardly and inwardly, or at least fully inwardly in his heart. And that he covet to be forgotten of the world, and men regard him no more, though he be never so rich or so wise, than the poorest man living. Also that he suffereth not his heart to rest in the beholding of his own deeds, or in his virtues, imagining that he doth better than another, in that he forsaketh the world, which others do not, and therefore he setteth well by himself. Also he must leave all risings of heart, and evil will of anger and envy against his neighbour. And that he offend no man, nor anger him indiscreetly by word or deed; nor give any man occasion whereby he may reasonably be angered, or moved, so that he may be free from every man. And also that he forsake covetousness, that he covet right naught of earthly goods, but only crave his bodily sustenance which he needeth, and hold himself well apaid, when God stirreth up other men to give it him. And that he put no manner of trust in the possession of any worldly goods, nor in the help or favour of any worldly friends, but principally and fully in God; for if he doth otherwise, he bindeth himself to the world, so that he cannot be free to think on Jesus. And also gluttony, and lechery, and all other fleshly uncleanness must he utterly leave, that his affections be bound to no woman by fleshly familiarity; for it is no doubt but that such blind love as is sometime betwixt a man and a woman, and seemeth good and honest, forasmuch as they would not sin in act, is in the sight of God full unclean and very great sin. For it is a great sin for a man to suffer his affections, which should be fastened to Jesus and to all His virtues, and to all spiritual cleanness, to be bound by any fleshly love willingly to any creature, especially if it be so much that it beareth down his thoughts, and maketh them unrestful that he cannot have favour in God. And this I hold to be done willingly, when a man doth it, though he confess it to be a sin, or else when he is so blinded with it that he will not see it. And also that a man covet not delights of meats and drinks only for lust of his flesh, but be contented with such as he can easily have without great trouble; namely, if he be in health with what meat will put away hunger, and keep his body in ordinary strength for the service of God. And that he grudge not, nor strive not, nor vex himself for his meat, though sometime he be served not as his flesh desires. All these sins and all other must he forsake utterly in his will, and in deed when he can; and all other things that hinder him, so that he may dispose himself to think freely on Jesus. For as long as these lettings and such other hang upon him, he cannot die to the world, nor come into this darkness of knowing of himself. And therefore that he may come thereto, he must do all these things, as St Paul did, saying thus: This world is slain and crucified to me, and I to the world.200200    Gal. 6. That is, he that hath forsaken the love of the world in honours and riches and in all other worldly things abovesaid, for the love of God, and loveth it not, nor pursueth it, but is well satisfied that he hath right nought of it, nor verily would have though he might, verily to him the world is dead, for he hath no favour nor delight therein. And if the world set him at nought, and hath no regard to him, nor favour, nor worship, and set no price by him, but forgetteth him as a dead man, then is he dead to the world. And in this plight was St. Paul set perfectly, and so must every other man in part that would come to the perfect love of God; for he cannot live to God fully, unless he die first to the world. This dying to the world is this darkness, and it is the gate to Contemplation, and to reforming in feeling, and none other than this. There may be many sundry ways, and several works letting and leading sundry souls to Contemplation; for according to divers disposings of men, and after divers states as are religious and seculars, according as they are in, are there divers exercises in working. Nevertheless there is but one gate; for whatsoever exercise a soul useth, unless thereby he come to this knowing, and to an humble feeling of himself, and that is, that he be mortified and dead to the world, as to his love of it, and that he may feel himself sometime in this restful darkness, by the which he may be hid from the vanities of the world, as to the love of them, and that he may feel himself what he is indeed, he is not yet come to the reforming in feeling, nor hath he Contemplation fully. He is full far from it, and if he will come to it by any other gate, he is but a thief and a breaker of the wall, and therefore shall be cast out as unworthy.

But he that can bring himself first to nought by the grace of humility, and die on this manner, he is in the gate; for he is dead to the world, and he liveth to God. Of the which St Paul speaketh thus: Ye are dead.201201    Colos. 3. That is, ye that for the love of God forsake all the love of the world, are dead to the world, and Your life is hid with Christ in God. That is, ye live spiritually in the love of Jesus. But your life is hid from worldly men, as Christ liveth, and is hid in His Godhead from the love and the sight of fleshly lovers.

This gate our Lord Himself showed in the Gospel, when He said thus: Every man that forsaketh for My love Father or Mother, Sister or Brother, or any earthly good, he shall have an hundredfold in this life, and afterward the bliss of Heaven.202202    St Matt. 19. This hundredfold which a soul shall have, if he forsake the world, is nought but the profit of this lightsome darkness, which I call the gate of Contemplation. For he that is in this darkness, and is hid through grace from worldly vanity, he coveteth nothing of worldly goods, he seeketh it not, he is not hindered therewith, he looketh not after it, he loveth it not, and therefore hath he an hundredfold more than the King, or than he that coveteth most of worldly goods, for he that coveteth nought but Jesus hath an hundredfold, for he hath more rest, more peace in heart, more true love and delight in soul in one day, than he that most coveteth of this world, and hath all the wealth of it in his full possession, hath all his life-time.

This is, then, a good darkness, and a rich nought, that bringeth a soul to so much spiritual ease, and so quiet softness. I suppose David meant of this night, or this nought, when he said thus: Ad nihilum redactus sum, et nescivi—I was brought to nought, and I knew it not.203203    Ps. 72. That is, the grace of our Lord Jesus sent into my heart hath slain in me, and brought to nought all the love of the world, and I knew not how, for not through any working of my own, nor by my own wit had I it, but by the grace of our Lord Jesus. And therefore methinketh that he that would have the light of grace, and sweetly feel the love of Jesus in his soul, he must forsake all the false light or worldly love, and abide in this darkness. And, nevertheless, if he be fearful, at first to continue therein, he must not turn again to the love of the world, but suffer awhile, and put all his hope and his trust in Jesus, and he shall not be long without some spiritual light. Thus the Prophet commandeth: Qui ambulat in tenebris, &c.—He that walketh in darkness and hath no light, let him hope in our Lord, and let him rely upon his God.204204    Is. 9. That is, whoso would hide himself from the love of the world, and cannot readily feel the light of spiritual love, let him not despair, nor turn again to the world, but hope in our Lord, and rely upon Him; that is, trust in God, and cleave to Him by desire, and abide awhile, and he shall have light. For it falleth out therein as it doth when a man hath been a great while in the sun, and after that cometh suddenly into a dark house where no sun shineth, he will be as it were blind, and see just nought. But if he will abide awhile, he shall be able presently to see about him; first great things, and then small things, and afterwards all that is ever in the house. Just so is it spiritually: he that forsaketh the love of the world, and cometh to himself into his own conscience, at first it is somewhat dark and blind to his sight; but if he stand still, and hold out by serious praying, and often meditating in the same will to the love of Jesus, he shall be able afterwards to see both great and small things which he knew not before. This it seemeth the Prophet promiseth when he saith thus: Orietur in tenebris lux tua, &c.—In darkness shall thy light spring up, and thy darkness shall be as noon-day, and thy Lord God shall give thee rest, and shall fill thy soul with lights.205205    Isa. 58. That is, thou that truly forsaketh the light of all worldly love, and hidest thy thought in this darkness, light of blessed love and spiritual knowing of God shall spring up to thee, and thy darkness shall be as midday; that is, thy darkness of painful desire, and thy blind trust in God, that thou hast at first, shall turn into clear knowledge, and into security of love, and thy Lord God shall give rest to thee; that is, thy fleshly desires, and thy painful fears and doubts, and wicked spirits that have before time vexed thee, all these shall grow weak, and lose much of their might, and thou shalt be made so strong that they shall not trouble thee, for thou shalt be hid in rest from them. And then shall our Lord fulfil thy soul with shinings; that is, when thou art brought into this spiritual rest, then shalt thou more easily attend to God, and do nought else but love Him, and then shall He fill all the powers of thy soul with beams of spiritual light. Wonder not that I call the forsaking of worldly love a darkness, for the Prophet calleth it so, saying thus to a soul:—Intra in tenebras tuas filia Chaldaeorum—Go into thy darkness, thou daughter of Chaldee.206206    Is. 47. That is, thou soul that art as a daughter of Chaldee through love of this world, forsake it, and go into thy darkness.


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