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How the Doctor learns this task very quickly (though with trouble), and how this layman further instructeth him in the shortest way to the highest contemplation; also how he was obliged to begin a dying life, and exercise himself therein till at last he prevailed over himself. And in this following lesson lies the true ground of almost all the sermons that stand in this book, from which lesson also this Doctor obtained his understanding of Holy Scripture, and the perfecting of his life, as shall be hereafter set forth.
NOW, dear sir, take kindly as from God, without cavilling, this child’s task, which He sets you by the mouth of me, a poor and unworthy human being.”
Then said the Master, “However thou mayst call this a child’s task, methinks it needs a man’s strength to attack it. Now tell me, dear son, how long a time wilt thou give me to learn this lesson?” The man answered, “We will take five weeks, in honour of the five wounds of Christ, that you may learn it well. You shall be your own schoolmaster; and when you are not perfect in any one of these letters, and think yourself hardly able to learn it, then cast aside your garment and chastise your body, that it may be brought into subjection to your soul and reason.” Then said the Master, “I will gladly be obedient.”
Now when this discipline had lasted three weeks, the man said to the Master, “Dear sir, how goes it with you?” The Master said, “Dear son, thou must know that I have received more stripes in these three weeks about your lesson than I ever did in all my days before.” Then said the man, “Sir, you well know that no man giveth his pupil a new task before he have learnt the first lines.” Then said the Master, “If I said that I knew them, I should say what is not true.” Then said the man, “Dear sir, go on as you are doing till you know your lesson right well.”
But at the end of another three weeks the Master sent for the man, and said to him, “Dear son, rejoice with me, for I think, with God’s help, I could say the first line; and if thou art willing, I will repeat over the whole lesson to thee.” “No, dear sir,” said the man, “I will gladly rejoice with you, and take your word for it that you know it.” Then said the Master, “I tell thee of a truth it has gone hard with me. And now, dear son, I pray thee give me further instruction.” Then said the man, “I can for myself teach you nothing further; but if so be that God willeth to teach you through me, I will gladly do my part, and be an instrument in the Lord’s hand by which He may work out His purposes.
“Hearken, dear Master: I will counsel you in godly love and brotherly faithfulness. If it should happen to you as to the young man in the Gospel, to whom our Lord said, ‘Go and sell all that thou hast and give to the poor, and come and follow me,’ I will not be answerable.” Then said the Master, “Dear son, have no fears on that score, for I have already left all that I have, and, with God’s help, am resolved to go forward, and be obedient unto God and to thee.” Then said the man, “Since your heart is steadfastly fixed to commit yourself wholly unto God, I counsel you in all faithfulness that ye be obedient to your order and your superiors; as it may be that you may be brought into great perplexity if you be minded to go the straight and narrow way, and that you will be hard pressed and assailed, and most of all by your brethren. And if this should come to pass, your earthly feelings will seek everywhere for help, and make you call to mind the words in which you pledged yourself to God, and also other things, with the intent that, if possible, they might break away from the cross; and that must not be, but you must yield a willing obedience to suffer all that is appointed you, from whatsoever it may proceed. For know that you must needs walk in that same path of which our Lord spoke to that young man;—you must take up your cross and follow our Lord Jesus Christ and His example, in utter sincerity, humility, and patience, and must let go all your proud, ingenious reason, which you have through your learning in the Scripture. You shall also for a time neither study nor preach, and you shall demean yourself with great simplicity towards your penitents; for when they have ended their confession, you shall give them no further counsel than to say to them, ‘I will learn how to counsel myself, and when I can do that I will also counsel you.’ And if you are asked when you will preach, say, as you can with truth, that you have not time at present, and so you will get rid of the people.” Then said the Master, “Dear son, I will willingly do so; but how then shall I occupy myself?” The man replied, “You shall enter into your cell, and read your Hours, and also chant in the choir if you feel inclined, and shall say mass every day. And what time is left, you shall set before you the sufferings of our Lord, and contemplate your own life in the mirror of His, and meditate on your wasted time in which you have been living for yourself, and how small has been your love compared to His love. In all lowliness ye shall study these things, whereby in some measure ye may be brought to true humility, and also wean yourself from your old habits, and cease from them. And then, when our Lord sees that the time is come, He will make of you a new man, so that you shall be born again of God.
“Nevertheless, you must know that before this can come to pass, you must sell all that you have, and humbly yield it up to God, that you may truly make Him your end, and give up to Him all that you possess in your carnal pride, whether through the Scriptures or without; or whatever it be, whereby you might reap honour in this world, or in the which you may aforetime have taken pleasure or delight, you must let it all go, and, with Mary Magdalene, fall down at Christ’s feet, and earnestly strive to enter on a new course. And so doing, without doubt, the Eternal Heavenly Prince will look down on you with the eye of His good pleasure, and He will not leave His work undone in you, but will urge you still further, that you may be tried and purified as gold in the fire; and it may even come to pass, that He shall give you to drink of the bitter cup that He gave to His only-begotten Son. For it is my belief that one bitter drop which God will pour out for you will be that your good works and all your refraining from evil, yea your whole life will be despised and turned to nought in the eyes of the people; and all your spiritual children will forsake you and think you are gone out of your mind, and all your good friends and your brothers in the convent will be offended at your life, and say that you have taken to strange ways.
“But when these things come upon you, be not in any wise dismayed, but rejoice, for then your salvation draweth nigh; howbeit, no doubt, your human weakness will shrink back in terror, and give way. Therefore, dear Master, you must not be fainthearted, but trust firmly in God, for He forsakes none of His servants, as you know well from the examples of the blessed saints. Now, dear sir, if so be that you are minded to take these things in hand, know that there is nothing better or more profitable for you at this present than an entire, hearty, humble self-surrender in all things, whether sweet or bitter, painful or pleasant, so that you may be able to say with truth, ‘Ah, my Lord and my God, if it were thy will that I should remain till the Day of Judgment in this suffering and tribulation, yet would I not fall away from thee, but would desire ever to be constant in thy service.’ Dear sir, I see well, by God’s grace, how you are thinking in your heart, that I have said very hard things to you, and this is why I begged you beforehand to let me go, and told you that if you went back like that young man, I would not have it laid to my charge.” Then said the Master, “Thou sayest truly; I confess it does seem to me a hard thing to follow your counsel.” The man answered, “Yet you begged me to show you the shortest way to the highest perfectness. Now I know no shorter nor surer way than to follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ. But, dear sir, I counsel you in all faithfulness, to take a certain space of time to consider these matters, and then in God’s name do as God gives you grace to do.” Then said the Master, “That will I do, and wait and see whether, with the help of God, I may prevail.”
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