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“Familiarity breeds contempt"; therefore it is that thy Lord departs, lest His too constant presence be despised, and that, being absent, He may the more be longed after, and, being longed after, may be more hungeringly sought, and, being so long time sought, may at length be more welcomed when found of thee. Besides, if this consolation were never lacking here, (which consolation, indeed, is in compare with the glory that shall be revealed in us, but dimly known and in part only,) we might think that here was our abiding city, and less ask after one to come. Lest, therefore, we should mistake our estate of exile for our home, our earnest for the full possession, the Bridegroom comes and then departs, now bringing consolation with Him, and then changing all our estate of comfort into weakness; for a little while He suffers us to taste how sweet He is, and, before that we enjoy Him fully, He is gone; and thus, as though hovering over us upon His outstretched wings, He provokes us to fly upwards on the wings of desire, as if He would say: "If ye have longing to be fully satisfied with this sweetness of love, run after Me in the odour of Mine ointments, lifting your hearts ever above, where I am at the right hand of God. There ye shall see Me, not as through a glass darkly, but face to face, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy none shall take from you.” Only take heed, O bride, when thy Spouse is away from thee; although thou seest not Him, yet He ever looketh upon thee.
'Blessed is the man whose mind, free from other cares, desires ever to occupy itself in these four degrees, and to know how sweet the Lord is : for in the first, exercising his heart in the diligent reading of Holy Scripture ; made careful in the second, that is, in meditation seeking after hidden truth; become devout in the third, and in prayer fixing his soul's intention upon God; in the last, or in a spiritual contemplation, he will be raised above himself, he will climb by these ascensions of soul to see the God of gods in Zion. Right blessed is he, who is suffered but for a little while to abide in this highest degree. Yet, alas ! for the miserable and weak estate even of the spiritual man, for who can hold on or continue in this path of living in God?
'O good God, who art both sweet and gentle, Thou loving Friend, Thou wise Counsellor, Thou strong Helper, how full of unkindliness and soul-hazard is his will who refuseth Thee, who casts forth from his heart-door so humble, so kindly a Guest! O unhappy and damnable exchange ! to cast forth his Creator and to admit depraved and harmful thoughts ; to suffer to be trodden by unclean imaginations that sweet chamber of the soul, which should be the secret rest of the Most Holy Spirit, and which so little before had been professed as a heart devoted to heavenly delights ; while still the footsteps of the Bridegroom are warm within, yet even now to admit false desires ; to surrender the ear, which but now heard words such as man may not utter, so quickly to hearken to slanders and falsehood ; to suffer the eyes, that were but now baptized with holy tears, to be turned so soon to vanities; and the tongue, which but now chanted its spousal hymn to Christ, to be changed into the eloquence of vain speeches, of scurrility, of lying, of detraction. How unseemly and base is this ! Far be it from us, O Lord. Yet if by the infirmities of sin we relapse even so far, let us not despair, but run again to our merciful Physician, who will yet again have cure of us and heal us. Let us beseech God that He will even now in this life lessen the hindrances to our contemplation of Himself, and hereafter in the life to come remove them utterly; that He will lead us from grace to grace and strength to strength by these spiritual degrees to see the God of gods in Zion, where the elect shall not enjoy the intermittent sweetness (given, as it were, only drop by drop) of this Divine contemplation, but shall be filled with an infinite, unmeasured, unimagined joy, which none shall take from them, and, with an immutable peace, which is peace, indeed, in that self-same thing.'*
Are not these the words of an exquisitely sensitive spirituality, though written by one unknown, who has long since entered, we will surely believe, into the peace and refreshment of the Land of Life? Shall they not awaken and stimulate our desires to ascend this holy ladder by the steps of prayer, the constant and devout reading of the Holy Scriptures, with meditation and the interior contemplation of God in faith, love, and longing ? So at last, with far sweeter than the angelic Alleluias, we shall look upon the face of Him who became Himself in the Nativity the One Ladder let down from heaven to earth, that He might bring us by the humility of His Divine Passion from our self-willed wanderings to the Father's feet for ever.
'Sure, Mighty Love, foreseeing the descent
Of this poor creature, by a gracious art
Hid in these low things snares to gain man's heart,
Chide and fly up; mists of corruptest foam
Quit their first beds and mount; trees, herbs, flowers, all
Though he knows these, and hath more of his own,
Sleeps at the ladder's foot.' May it be ours rather to pray of God's dear mercy, that through all
• Earth's masques and shadows we may see
(O God,) Thy sacred way,
And by those hid ascents climb to that Day
* 'In idipsum,' an expression, I would suppose, taken from Psa. iv. 8 in the Vulgate. Cf. St. Bernard, iii. 1031, E.
† Vaughan, pp. 117, 145.
It may be of comfort to some, and it will serve as another evidence to the unity of the faith in all ages, if we add a translation of St. Anselm's 'Instruction to one dying, or to one too fearful because of his sins.' The saintly archbishop certainly teaches that the hope of the soul must be only in the death and merits of Jesus Christ far more clearly than many of his successors in the See of Canterbury-yes, even since the days of the Reformation-have done. Full of spiritual truth and consolation, this little “instruction' or 'admonition' is.
'Q. Doth it gladden thee, brother, that thou diest in the Christian faith?
'R. It doth.
'Q. Dost thou confess that thou hast lived so ill that everlasting pains are due to thy deserts ?
'R. I do so confess.
Q. Hast thou a will to amend thy life if God give thee space for amendment ?
R. Yes, truly.
'Q. Dost thou believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died for thee?
'R. I do so believe.
'Q. Dost thou believe that thou canst not be saved but by His Death ?
'R. I do so believe.
'Q. Well, then, while thy life remains to thee, in this Death alone place all thy confidence; in no other thing repose thy faith; commit thyself wholly to this Death; cover thyself wholly with it alone; cast thyself wholly on this Death, and if the Lord God will judge thee, say, “Lord, I place the Death of my Lord Jesus Christ between me and Thy judgment; no otherwise will I enter into judgment with Thee.” If He shall say that He will judge thee because thou art a sinner, say, “ Lord, I place between Thee and my sins the Death of my Lord Jesus Christ.” If He shall still say, “But thou hast deserved damnation,” say, “Lord, I place between Thee and my ill deserts the Death of my Lord Jesus Christ, and His merit do I offer to Thee in the stead of that which I should have had, but have not.” If He shail yet say He is angered with thee, say, “Lord, I set between me and Thine anger the Death of my Lord Jesus Christ.” This being done, let the sick man say thrice those words in Ps. xxxi. 5.'*