That excellent good thing desired and sought for of all men, is peace or quietness: unto which the lovers of this world also refer all their study, but they seek a false peace, and shoot at a wrong mark. The same peace the philosophers also promised unto the followers of their conclusions, but yet falsely, for Christ only giveth it, the world giveth it not.
To come to this quietness the only way or means is (if we make war) against ourself, if we fight strongly against our own vices, for with these enemies God, which is our peace, is at variance with deadly hate, seeing he is naturally virtue itself and father and lord of all virtue. And whereas a filthy puddle or a sink gathered together of all kind of vices, is named of the stoics, which are the most fervent defenders of virtue, foolishness, and in our scripture the same is called malice, in like manner virtue or goodness lacking in no point of both parts, is called wisdom. But after the saying of the wise man—doth not wisdom overcome malice? The father and head of malice is the ruler of darkness, Belial: whose steps whosoever followeth walketh in the night and shall come to eternal night. On the other side the ground of wisdom and indeed wisdom itself is Christ Jesus, which is very light and the brightness of the glory of his Father, putting away by himself only the night of the foolishness of the world. That which (witnessing Paul) as he was made redemption and justification to us that be born again in him: even likewise was made also our wisdom. We (saith Paul) preach Christ crucified, which to the Jews is an occasion of unity, and to the gentiles foolishness. But to the elected both of the Jews and also of the gentiles we preach Christ the virtue or strength of God, and the wisdom of God, by whose wisdom through his example we may beat away the victory of our enemy malice, if we shall be wise in him in whom also we shall be conquerors.
Make much of this wisdom and take her in thine arms. Worldly wisdom set at nought, which with false title and under a feigned colour of honesty boasteth and showeth herself gay to fools, when after Paul there is no greater foolishness with God than worldly wisdom, a thing that must be forgotten indeed again of him that will be wise indeed. If any man (saith Paul) among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him be a fool that he may be wise, for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. And a little afore Paul saith, It is written, I will destroy the wisdom of wise men, and the prudence of prudent men I will reprove. Where is the wise man, where is the subtle lawyer, where is the searcher of this world? Hath not God made the wisdom of this world foolishness? And I doubt not but even now with great hate these foolish wise men bark against thee, and these blind captains or guides of blind men cry out and roar against thee, saying that thou art deceived, that thou dotest and art mad as a bedlam man, because thou intendest to depart unto Christward. These be in name only christian men, but in very deed they are both mockers and also enemies of Christ’s doctrine. Take heed and beware that their foolish babbling move thee not, whose miserable blindness ought rather to be wept, sorrowed and mourned than to be counterfeited or followed. Oh what foolish kind of wisdom and clean out of order is this in trifles and things of no value, yea to filthiness only to be clear witted, ware and expert: but in those things which only make for our safe-guard or health, not to have much more understanding than a brute beast! Paul would we should be wise but in goodness, and children in evil. These men be wise to all iniquity: but they have no learning to do good. And for as much as that fecund and Greek poet Hesiodus counteth him good for nothing which neither is wise of himself, neither yet will follow and do after him that giveth him good counsel: of what degree then shall they be counted which when they themselves be most shamefully deceived, yet never cease to trouble, to laugh to scorn and put in fear them which already be come to their wits again? But shall not the mocker be mocked? He that dwelleth in heaven shall mock them again, and our Lord shall laugh them to scorn. Thou readest in the Book of Sapience, They shall see verily and shall despise him, but God shall mock them. To be mocked of lewd men, is as it were a praise. And no doubt it is a blessed thing to follow our head, Christ and his apostles, and a fearful thing truly to be mocked of God. I also (saith the Wisdom) will laugh when ye perish, and mock you when that thing hath happened to you which ye feared, that is to say, when they awaked out of their dream and come again to themselves, when it is too late, shall say, These be they whom we have had in derision and reproof, we for lack of understanding have counted their lives to be madness, and their end to be without honour. This wisdom is beastly, and as James saith, diabolic and of the devil, and is an enemy to God, whose end is destruction.
For always after this wisdom followeth as a waiting-servant or hand-maid mischievous presumption, after presumption followeth blindness of mind, after blindness of mind followeth fervent rage and tyranny of affections and appetites, after the tyranny of affections followeth the whole heap of all vices and liberty to do what he listeth. Then followeth custom, after followeth most wretched dulness or insensibility of mind, a dazing of the wits for lack of capacity. By which it is caused that evil men perceive not themselves to sin. And whiles they be in such insensibility without any feeling or perceiving of themselves, bodily death cometh suddenly on them, and after it followeth the second death, which is death everlasting. Thou seest how the mother of the extreme mischief is worldly wisdom, but of the wisdom of Christ which the world thinketh foolishness, this wise thou readest. All good things came to men by heaps with her, and inestimable honesty by the hands of her. And I rejoiced in all things because this wisdom went before me, and I was not aware that she was mother of all good things. This wisdom bringeth with her as companions soberness and meekness. Meekness disposeth and maketh us apt to receive the spirit of God. For in the lowly, humble and meek person he rejoiceth to rest. And when the spirit hath replenished our minds with his sevenfold grace, then forth withal springeth that plenteous herbage of all virtue, with those blessed fruits of which the chief is the secret joy of a clear conscience, which joy is known of none but only of such to whom it hath chanced to taste of it. Joy that never vanisheth away, nor fadeth with the joys of this world, but increaseth and groweth to eternal gladness and mirth. This wisdom my brother (after the counsel of James) must thou require of God with fervent and burning desire. And after the counsel of the wise man dig her out of the veins of holy scripture, as it were treasure hid in the earth. The chief part of this wisdom is that thou shouldest know thyself, which word to have descended from heaven the antiquity believed, and so much hath that saying pleased great authors, that they judged all plenty of wisdom to be shortly comprehended in this little sentence, that is to wit, if a man know himself. But let the weight or authority of this conclusion and doctrine be of no value with us, except it agree with our learning. The mystical lover in Canticles threateneth his spouse, and biddeth her to get herself out of the doors, except she know herself, saying, O thou beautiful among all women, if thou know not thyself, go out of the doors and walk after the steps of thy flock and sort. Therefore let no man presumptuously take upon him this so great a thing, to think that he knoweth himself well enough. I am not sure whether any man knoweth his body unto the uttermost, and then how can a man know the state of his mind surely enough? Paul, whom God so loved that he saw the mysteries of the third heaven, yet durst he not judge himself which thing doubtless he would have been bold to do, if he had known himself surely enough. If so spiritual a man which discerneth all things, and is himself to be judged of no man, was not surely enough known to himself, how should we carnal men presume? In conclusion let him seem to be a very unprofitable soldier, which surely enough neither knew his own company, neither his enemies’ host.
But so it is that one christian man hath not war with another but with himself, and verily a great host of adversaries spring out of our own flesh, out of the very bowels and inward part of us. Likewise as it is read in certain poets’ tales of the brethren gendered of the earth. And there is so little difference between our enemy and our friend, and so hard to know the one from the other, that there is great jeopardy lest we somewhat recklessly or negligently defend our enemy instead of our friend, or hurt our friend instead of our enemy. The noble captain Joshua was in doubt of an angel of light, saying Art thou on our part, or of our enemies’ part. Therefore seeing that thou hast taken upon thee war against thyself, and the chief hope and comfort of victory is if thou know thyself to the uttermost, I will paint a certain image of thyself, as it were in a table, and set it before thine eyes that thou mayst perfectly know what thou art inwardly and within thy skin.