Almighty God saith by holy Job, that all man’s life upon earth is fighting, that is battle against spiritual enemies and sin. St. Paul saith, Clothe yourselves in the armour of God, that ye may stiffly stand against temptations and deceits of the fiend. Man’s body is as a cloth with which his soul is hid; and as a horse that bears his master through many perils. And to this horse, that is, man’s body, belong many things, if he will bear his master aright out of perils. For no knight can securely fight against his enemy, unless his horse be obedient to him; no more can the soul fight against the wiles of the fiend, if the flesh, which is his horse, live in lusts and likings at his own will.
For holy writ saith. He that nourishes his servant, that is, his body, delicately or lustfully, shall find him rebel when he least expects. As soon as man begins to live wisely, and flees divers lusts and likings, and vanities, which he before used and loved, and bows himself under the yoke of God’s holy doctrine, then his enemies begin to contrive by wiles, frauds, and temptations, to make him fall. And therefore it is needful that his horse be meek, and helping his master to overcome his enemies. For if the soul and the body be well agreed together, and either of them helps the other in this spiritual contest, the fiend shall soon flee and be overcome. For holy scripture saith, Withstand ye the fiend, and he shall flee from you.
But it were great folly for any man to fight upon an unbridled horse, and if the horse be wild and ill taught, the bridle must be heavy, and the bit sharp, to hold him again. And if the horse be easy and obedient to his master, his bridle shall be liglit and smooth also. This bridle is called abstinence, with which the flesh shall be restrained, that he have not all his will, for he is wild and wilful, and loth to bow to goodness. With this bridle his master shall restrain him, to be meek and bow to his will. For if he will fight without a bridle upon him, it is impossible but that he fall.
But this bridle of abstinence should be led by wisdom, so that nature beholden by strength, and the wildness of the flesh be restrained by this bridle. For else his horse will fail at the greatest need, and harm his master, and make him lose his victory.
This bridle must have two strong reins, by which thou mayest direct thy horse at thy will; also they must be even, and neither pass the other in length. For if thou drawest one faster than the other, thy horse will glide aside, and go out of his way. Therefore, if thy horse shall hold the even way, it behoves thee to draw the reins of thy bridle even. The one rein of thy bridle is too loose, when thou sufferest thy flesh to have his will too much, in eating and drinking, in speaking, in sleeping, in idle standing or sitting, and vain tale telling, and all other things that the flesh desires beyond measure and reason. The other rein of the bridle is held too strait when thou art too stern against thine own flesh, and withdrawest from it that which reason would that it should have. Whoso strains either of these reins uneven, will make his horse glide aside and lose his right way. If thou sufferest thy flesh to have its full liking, he that should be thy friend becomes thy decided foe. If thou withholdest therefrom that which it ought to have to sustain its nature, as its need requires, then thou destroyed its strength and its might, so that to help thee as it should it may not. Therefore sustain thy horse, that he faint not, nor fail at thy need. And withdraw from him that which might turn thee to folly.
Yet thy horse needs to have a saddle, to sit upon him the more steadfastly, and seemly to other men’s sight. This saddle is mansuetude (Mildness) or easiness. That is, whatsoever thou doest, be it done with good consideration; wisely thinking of the beginning and the ending, and what may fall thereof; and that it be done sweetly and meekly, and with mild semblance. That is, that thou mildly suffer slanders and scorns, and other harms that men do against thee, and neither grieve thyself in word nor in deed. And though thy flesh be aggrieved, keep mildness in heart, and let not any wicked words out of thy mouth or tongue, and then thou shalt be made glad. As the prophet saith. The mild and the meekly suffering shall joy for ever, who do mildly, with easiness and love, whatsoever they do; that their outward and inward semblance and cheer, be so mild and lovely in word and deed, that others may be turned to good by their example. This virtue, which is called mansuetude — that is, mildness of heart and of appearance — makes man gracious to God, and seemly to man’s sight, as a saddle makes a horse seemly and praiseable.
Two spurs it is needful that thou have to thy horse, and that they be sharp to prick thy horse if needful, that he loiter not in his way; for many horses are slow if they be not spurred. These two spurs are love and dread; which of all things most stir men to the way of heaven. The right spur is the love that God’s dear children have for the lasting weal that shall never end. The left spur is dread of the pains of purgatory and of hell, which are without number, and never may be told out. With these two spurs prick thy horse if he be dull and unwilling to stir himself to good. And if the right spur of love be not sharp enough to make him go forward on his journey, prick him with the left spur of dread to rouse him.
Separate thy soul from thy body by inward thought, and send thy heart before, into that other land; and do as a man would do that of two dwelling places must choose one, into which when he had once entered he must dwell world without end. Certainly, if he were wise, he would send before some of his near friends to see what these places were. Two places are ordained for man to dwell in after this life. While he is here, he may choose, by God’s mercy, which he will; but if he be once gone hence, he may not do so. For whithersoever he first comes, whether he like it well or ill, there he must dwell for evermore. He shall never after change his dwelling, though he feel it ever so evil. Heaven and hell are these two places, and in one of them, each man must dwell. In heaven is more joy than maybe told with tongue, or thought with heart; and in hell is more pain than any man may suffer. With these two spurs awake thou thy horse, and send thy heart before, as a secret friend, to espy these dwelling places, what they are. In hell thou shalt find all that heart may hate, default of all good, plenty of all evil that may grieve anything in body or in soul. — Hot fire burning, darkness, brimstone most offensive, foul storms and tempests, greedy devils, open-mouthed as raging lions, hunger and thirst that never shall be quenched — there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and thick darkness. Each hates the other as the foul fiend, and ever curse the time that they wrought sin. Above all things they desire to die, and they are ever dying, and fully die they never shall, but ever dying live in pain and woe. They hated death while they lived here, but now they had rather have it than all the wide world. Souls that are there shall be dark and dim, offensive and loathsome to see. The bodies shall be heavy and charged with sin, so that they shall move neither body nor limb, but have all manner of woe that shall grieve them. They shall think upon no good, and have no knowledge but of their pains and sins that they have wrought. And of all these pains, and many more sorrows than we can tell, end shall never come.
When thou understandest that the deadly sin which man has wrought, and which is not amended with better fore thinking here he go hence, shall be bought so dearly with that everlasting pain, that thou wouldest desire rather to let thy skin be torn from thy flesh, and thy body hewn to pieces, than that thou wouldest wilfully do a deadly sin — this spur of dread shall make our horse awake, and hold him in an even way, and speed him fast forward, and cause him ever to flee deadly sin, which is thus dearly bought, and makes man to be thus bitterly pained for ever. When thy heart hath thoroughly sought all these fearful pains which the sinful shall suffer who will not leave their sins, then send him to purgatory, and look how they shall fare who shall there be cleansed.
[Wycliffe then describes the sufferings of purgatory, and the pains there to be endured for the doing away such sins as are not deadly, cautioning however thus,]
Of such as some call small sins, it is full needful to beware. For St. Augustine saith, that many venial sins draw a man to perdition as one deadly sin does. Many drops of rain make a great flood, and water entering little by little by the ship’s bottom, and not cast out, sinks the ship at the last, as a great wave drowns it suddenly. And since God is displeased and dishonoured by each sin, each sin is full great, though some sin is called little sin in comparison of greater sin, as St. Anselm saith. Wycliffe proceeds thus: —
Heretofore some that have defiled their souls with many deadly sins, and also with innumerable that are venial, oftimes for dread to offend God more, and to get forgiveness of all their sins, and to flee the pains of hell and purgatory, have forsaken all this world, and the company thereof, and have fled into desert places, to learn to love Jesus, and be- wail their own sins, and other men’s also. Some souls are cleansed here, and have their purgatory with fire of tribulation and persecution, meekly suffering for the truth of God, and have much trouble because they would live well. Some also are cleansed through the fire of God’s love. For the love of man’s soul might so fully be set on God, that God of his great grace would cleanse him in this world, so clean from each spot of sin, that after this life he should feel little or none.
And this is the right spur that should quicken thy horse to speed in his way; that thou learn to love Jesus Christ, in all thy living. And therefore send thou thy thought into that land of lite, where no disease is, of no kind; neither age nor sickness, nor any other grievance. Courtesy and wisdom there must men learn, for there all villainy is shut out. And whoso goes thither shall there find a gracious fellowship; the orders of angels, and of all holy saints, and the Lord above them, who gladdens them all. There is plenty of all good, and want of all things that may grieve. There are fairness and riches, honour and joy that each man may feel; love and wisdom that ever shall last. There is no disease that men suffer here; as hypocrisy or flattery, nor falsehood, envy, and ire. Thence are banished thieves and tyrants, cruel and greedy men that pillage the poor, proud men and boasters, covetous and beguilers, slothful and licentious, all such are banished out of that pure land.
For there is nothing that men may fear, but liking and joy and mirth at will, melody and song of angels, bright and lasting bliss that never shall cease. Man’s body there shall be brighter than the sun ever was to man’s sight. — As the light of the sun suddenly flees out of the east into the west, so shall the blissful, without any travail, be where they like. And though they were sick and feeble while they lived here, they shall be so strong there, that nothing shall move against their will. They shall have such great freedom that nothing shall be contrary to their liking. The saved bodies shall never have sickness, nor anger nor grievance. Also they shall be filled with joy in all their senses; for as a vessel that is dipped in water or other liquor, is wet within and without, above and beneath, and also all about, and no more liquor can be within it, even so shall those that are saved, be full filled with all joy and bliss. Also they shall have endless life in the sight of the Holy Trinity, and this joy shall pass all other. They shall be in full security, that they never fail of that joy, nor be put out thereof They shall also be filled with wisdom; for they shall know all that is, was, and shall be. They shall have full knowledge of the Holy Trinity; the might of the Father, the wisdom of the Son, and the goodness of the Holy Ghost. For in the sight of the blessed face of God, they shall know all things that may be seen of any creature. For as Augustine saith. They shall see him, both God and man, and they shall see themselves in him also. All things that are now hid firom man, he shall then see and know. They shall also have perfect love to each other, for every one shall accord with the other’s will. And these joys and many more than any tongue of man can fully tell, shall those have that shall be saved, both in body and soul, after the day of doom.
This is the right spur, which should stir men joyfully to love Jesus Christ, and to hasten in the heavenly way. For so sweet is the bliss there, and so great withal, that whoso might taste a single drop thereof, should be so rapt in liking of God, and of heavenly joy, and he should have such a languishing to go thither, that all the joy of the world should seem pain to him. This love should move such a man to live more virtuously, and to flee sin, a hundred fold more than any dread of the pain of purgatory or hell. For perfect love puts out all dread, and cleanses the soul from filth, and makes it to see God, and to flee off to heaven by desire, hoping to dwell there, world without end.