But lest that thing fear thee from the way of virtue because it seemeth sharp and grievous, partly because thou must forsake worldly commodities, partly because thou must fight continually against three very cruel enemies, the flesh, the devil, and the world, set this third rule before thee alway, bear thyself in hand that all the fearful things and fantasies which appear forthwith unto thee as it were in the first entering of hell ought to be counted for a thing of nought, by the example of Virgilius’ Eneas.
For certainly, if thou shalt consider the very thing somewhat groundly and steadfastly (setting at nought these apparent things which beguiled thine eyes) thou shalt perceive that none other way is more commodious than the way of Christ: though thou account this thing not at all, that this way only leadeth to eternal life, yea and though thou have no respect unto the reward. For I beseech thee what kind of living after the common course of the world is there that thou canst choose in which thou shall not bear and suffer things enough abundantly both careful and grievous? Who is he that knoweth not the life of courtiers to be full of grievous labour and wretched misery, except it be either he that never proved it or certainly a very natural fool? Oh immortal God, what bondage, how long and how ungoodly must there be suffered even unto the life’s end! What a cumbrous business is there in seeking in purchasing the prince’s love and grace! A man must flatter to obtain the favour of all such as may either hinder or further one. The countenances must now and then be feigned and new fashioned. The injuries of the greater men must be whispered or muttered with silence secretly.
Consequently, what kind of evil life can be imagined whereof the life of warriors is not full? Of either life then mayst thou be a very good witness, which hast learned both at thine own peril. And as touching the merchant man what is that he either doth not or suffereth not fleeing poverty by sea, by land, through fire and water?
In matrimony what a mountain of household cares be there? What misery feel not they there which proveth and hath experience of it! In bearing of offices how much vexation, how much labour, and how much peril is there! which way so ever thou turn thyself an huge company of incommodities meeteth thee. The very life of mortal men of itself without addition of any other thing is cumbered and tangled with a thousand miseries which be common and indifferent as well to good as bad.
They all shall grow into a great heap of merits unto thee if they shall find thee in the way of Christ: if not they shall be the more grievous, moreover fruitless, and yet must nevertheless be suffered. Whosoever be soldiers of this world, first how many years do they pant, blow, sweat, and canvass the world, tormenting themselves with thought and care, moreover for how transitory and things of naught? Last of all, in how doubtful hope? Add to this that there is no rest or easement of miseries, in so much that the more they have laboured, the more grievous is the pain. And when all is past, what shall the end be of so tedious and laborious a life? verily eternal punishment. So now and with this life compare the way of virtue, which at the first ceaseth to be tedious, in process is made easier, is made pleasant and delectable, by which way also we go with very sure hope to eternal felicity. Were it not the uttermost madness to have liefer with equal labour to purchase eternal death rather than life immortal? Yet are these worldly men much madder than so, that they choose with extreme labour to go to labour everlasting, rather than with less labours to go to immortal quietness. Moreover if the way of piety, or obedience to God were so much more laborious than the way of the world, yet here the grievousness of the labour is assuaged with hope of reward, and the comfort of God is not lacking which turneth the bitterness of the gall into the sweetness of honey. There one care calleth in another, of one sorrow springeth another, no quietness is there at all. The labour and affliction withoutforth, the grievous cares and thoughts withinforth cause the very easements to be sharp and bitter. These things so to be was not unknown to the poets of the gentiles which, by the punishment of Ticius, Ixion, Tantalus, Sisiphus, and of Pentheus, painted and described the miserable and grievous life of lewd and wretched persons: of whom is also the late confession in the book of Sapyence. We be wearied in the way of iniquity and perdition, we have walked hard ways, but the way of God we know not. What could be either filthier or more laborious than the servitude of Egypt? What could be more grievous than the captivity of Babylon? What more intolerable than the yoke of Pharao and of Nabugodonosor? But what saith Christ? Take my yoke upon your necks and ye shall find rest unto your souls: my yoke, saith he, is pleasant and my burden light. To speak briefly, no pleasure is lacking where is not lacking a quiet conscience. No misery is there lacking where an unhappy conscience crucifieth the mind. These things must be taken as of most certainty, but and if thou yet doubt go ask of them which in time past have been converted out of the middle of Babylon, unto the Lord: and by experience of them at the least way believe nothing to be more troublous and grievous than vices, nothing to be more easy or of quicker speed than not to be drowned in business, nothing more cheerful and more comfortable than is virtue. Nevertheless go to let it be that the wages be like, and that the labours be like also, yet for all that how greatly ought a man to desire to war under the standard of Christ, rather than under the banners of the devil. Yea, how much liefer were it to be vexed or to suffer affliction with Christ, than to swim in pleasures with the devil. Moreover, ought not a man with wind and weather, with ship sail and swiftness of horses, to fly from a lord not very filthy only, but very cruel and deceitful, which requireth so cruel service and so strait a task, which promiseth again things so uncertain, so caduke, so transitory, which so soon fade and vanish away, of the which very same things yet deceiveth he the wretches, and that not seldom. Or though he perform his promise once, yet another time when it pleaseth him he taketh them away again, so that the sorrow and thought for the loss of things once possessed is much more than was the grievous labour in purchasing them. After that the merchant man hath mingled together both right and wrong for the intent of increasing his goods, after he hath put his honest reputation of good report that is sprung of him, his life, his soul in a thousand jeopardies, if it so be then that the chance of fortune hap aright at the latter end with all his travail, what other thing hath he prepared for himself more than the matter of miserable care if he keep his goods, if he lose them a perpetual torment?
If fortune chance amiss what remaineth but that he should be made twice a wretch wrapped in double misery, partly because he is disappointed of the thing whereon his hope hanged, beside that because he cannot remember so great labour spent in waste without much both sorrow of heart and grief of mind? No man enforceth with sure purpose to come to good living or conversation which hath not attained it. Christ as he is not mocked, so neither he mocketh any man. Remember another thing, when thou fliest out of the world unto Christ, if the world have any commodities or pleasures that thou forsakest them not, but changest trifles with things of more value. Who will not be very glad to change silver for gold, flint for precious stone? Thy friends be displeased? What then? thou shalt find more pleasant and better companions. Thou shalt lack outward pleasures of thy body, but thou shalt enjoy the inward pleasures of the mind, which be better, purer, and more certain. Thy goods must be diminished, nevertheless these riches increase which neither the moths destroy nor thieves take away. Thou ceasest to be of price in the world, but thou for all that art well beloved of Christ: thou pleasest the fewer, but yet the better. Thy body waxeth lean, but thy mind waxeth fat. The beauty of thy skin vanisheth away, but the beauty of thy mind appeareth bright. And in like manner if thou shalt reckon all other things thou shalt perceive nothing not of all these apparent good things to be forsaken in this world, that is not recompensed largely with greater advantage and more excellent a great way. But if there be any things which though they cannot be desired without vice, yet without vice may be possessed: of which kind of things is the good estimation of the people, favour of the commonalty, love or to be in conceit, authority, friends, honour due to virtue: for the most part it chanceth that all these things be given without searching for, to them that above all things seek the kingdom of heaven, which selfsame thing Christ promised and God performed to Salomon. Fortune for the most part followeth them that flieth from her, and flieth from them that follow her. Certainly whatsoever shall happen to them that love, nothing can be but prosperous unto whom loss is turned to advantage, torment, vexation or adversity to solace, rebukes to laud, punishment to pleasure, bitter things to sweetness, evil things to good. Doubtest thou then to enter in to this way and forsake that other way, seeing there is so unequal comparison, yea none at all, of God unto the devil, of hope to hope, of reward to reward, of labour to labour, of solace to solace.