Fifty Spiritual Homilies. Homily 26
17 min read
17 min read
Concerning the worth and value, the power and efficiency of the immortal soul, and how it is tempted by Satan and obtains deliverance from the temptations. It contains also some questions full of very great instruction.
1. Do not regard lightly the immaterial substance of the soul, beloved one. The immortal soul is a precious vessel. See how great the heaven and the earth are, and God was not satisfied with them, but only with thee. Consider thy dignity and thy nobility, that to thy succour the Lord came in person, not by the medium of angels, to recall thee who were lost, thee who were wounded, and to restore to thee the primal fashioning of the pure Adam. For man was master from the sky above to the things beneath, and capable of discerning the affections, without any connexion with devils, pure from sin, the image and likeness of God. But by the transgression he is lost, and wounded and brought to death. Satan has darkened his mind. In one thing this is so, and in another he lives and discerns, and has a will.
2. Question. When the Holy Ghost comes, is not the natural desire eradicated along with the sin?
Answer. I have already said that sin is eradicated, and man recovers the primal fashioning of the pure Adam. Man, however, by the power of the Spirit and the spiritual regeneration, not only comes to the measures of the first Adam, but is made greater than he. Man is deified.
3. Question. Is Satan let loose upon us by measure, or does he fight as he pleases?
Answer. As for him, his attack is not directed only against Christians, but against idolaters, and against all the world. If therefore he were allowed to fight as he pleases, he would have demolished all. Why? Because that is his object and his will. But as the potter puts his vessels in, and heats the furnace gradually by measure, not overmuch, lest, if they were baked too violently, they should crack, and not too little, lest they should be spoiled by being half-baked; and if the silversmith or goldsmith applies the fire by measure, for if the fire is in excess, the gold and the silver are melted, and get watery, and are spoiled; and if the mind of man knows how to measure the burden to the beast, to the camel or whatever animal it is, according to its burden-bearing capacity; how much rather does God, knowing what vessels men are, let loose the enemy power accordingly, in different degrees?
4. And as the earth is one, but here is rocky and there rich, and one part is suitable for vine-culture, another for growing wheat or barley, so do these fields of human hearts and wills differ from each other, and so are the gifts of grace from above bestowed. To one is given a ministry of the word, to another discernment, to a third gifts of healings. God knows a man’s capacity for stewardship, and distributes His different gifts accordingly. In the like manner with regard to warfare the enemy power is let loose upon men by a kind of measure, according as each man is able to receive and bear the brunt.
5. Question. When a man has received the divine power, and is in some degree altered by it, does he still remain in the state of nature?
Answer. In order that the will may be tested, even after grace, to see what way it inclines and gives consent, nature remains as it was before, the hard man in his hardness, and the light-hearted in his light-heartedness. It sometimes happens that an unlearned person is spiritually born again, and converted to a state of wisdom, and hidden mysteries are made known to him; and yet he remains by nature an unlearned man. Another was made by nature hard; and he gives up his will to godliness, and God accepts him; but the hardness of his nature remains, though God is satisfied in him. Another is of kindly habits, gentle, and good: he gives himself to God, and God accepts him; but if he does not continue in works of goodness, He is not satisfied. The whole nature of Adam is liable to change, for better or for worse, capable of what is wrong, yet, if it so pleases, without carrying it into effect.
6. It is like writing in a book. You write what you did not mean to write, and you erase it again. The book takes any kind of writing. So the hard man gave his will to God, was converted to what is good, was accepted by God; for God, to show His compassions, accepts men of all kinds, every sort of disposition. The apostles, when they came into a city, stayed there some time, and healed some of those who were ill, and others not. The apostles themselves would have liked to raise all their dead, and bring to health all who were ill, and they had not entirely their own way: they were not permitted to do all that they liked. In like manner, when Paul was seized by the ethnarch, if the grace that was with him had but willed it, he would have made ethnarch and wall to cleave asunder—and he a man possessed of the Paraclete; but the apostle was let down by means of a basket. Where then was the divine power that was with them? These things happened providentially, that in some matters they did signs and wonderful works, and in some were powerless, in order to show the difference of faith between those who believed not and those who believed, and to test and display the freedom of the will, whether some would take offence at their weaker side. If the apostles had done every single thing that they liked, men and their free will would have been planted in God’s service by compulsory force because of the miracles, and it would no longer have been the work of faith or of unbelief. Christianity is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.
7. What is written of Job is not without significance, how Satan desired him. He was not able to do anything of himself, without leave. What does the devil say to the Lord? “Give him into my hands: surely he will bless Thee to Thy face.” Job is the same to-day, and God is the same, and the devil is the same. In proportion as a man finds the help of God, and is zealous and fervent in grace, Satan desires him, and says to the Lord, “Because Thou succourest him, and helpest him, he serves Thee: let him go, and deliver him to me, surely he will bless Thee to Thy face.” So, just because the soul is comforted, grace withdraws, and the soul is delivered to temptations. The devil comes, bringing ten thousand evils to bear—despair, giving it up, wicked thoughts—afflicting the soul, to loosen it and estrange it from hope of God.
8. But the prudent soul, when in miseries and affliction, never despairs, but holds what it holds, and whatever he may bring to bear, it endures amidst ten thousand temptations, saying, “If I die for it, I will not let Him go.” Then, if the man endures to the end, the Lord begins to argue with Satan, “Thou seest how many miseries and afflictions thou hast brought to bear upon him; and he has not listened to thee, but serves Me, and fears Me.” Then the devil is ashamed, and has nothing more to say. In Job’s case, if he had known that in spite of falling into temptations Job would dare and not be worsted, he would never have desired him, for fear of being ashamed. So it is still with those who endure afflictions and temptations; Satan is ashamed and sorry, because he has got nothing by it. The Lord begins to reason with him, “Behold, I gave thee permission; behold, I suffered thee to tempt him. Wast thou able to do anything? Did he listen to thee at all?”
9. Question. Does Satan know all a man’s thoughts and intentions?
Answer. If one man, by being with another, knows about him, and you, who are twenty years old, know the affairs of your neighbour, can Satan fail to know your reasonings? He has been with you from your birth. He is six thousand years old. Yet I do not say that he knows what a man will do before he tempts him. The tempter tempts, but does not know whether the man will yield or not yield, till such time as the soul gives up its will into bondage. Nor do I say that the devil knows all the thoughts and devices of the heart. Suppose there is a tree with many branches and many limbs. A man may be able to grasp two or three branches of the tree. So the soul has many branches and many limbs. There are some branches of thought and intention which Satan grasps; there are other thoughts and intentions not grasped by Satan. 10. In one thing the side of evil is the stronger when thoughts spring up, in another the man’s thought is more than conqueror, receiving succour and deliverance from God, and resisting sin. At one point the man is mastered, at another he has his will. Sometimes he comes to God with fervour, and Satan knows it, and sees that he is acting against him, and cannot restrain him. Why? Because he has the will to cry to God; he has the natural fruits of loving God, of believing, of seeking and coming. In the outer world, the husbandman tills the ground; but in spite of his tilling, he needs rains and showers from above. If no moisture comes from above, the husbandman has no profit from his tilling of the ground. So is it with the spiritual world. There are two factors to be taken into consideration. The man must cultivate with a will the ground of his heart, and labour upon it—for God requires the man’s labour and toil and travail. But unless clouds of heaven make their appearance from above, and showers of grace, the husbandman does not profit by his toil.
11. This is the mark of Christianity—however much a man toils, and however many righteousnesses he performs, to feel that he has done nothing, and in fasting to say, “This is not fasting,” and in praying, “This is not prayer,” and in perseverance at prayer, “I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practise and to take pains”; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, “I am not righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day.” He should every day have the hope and the joy and the expectation of the coming kingdom and deliverance, and to say, “If to-day I have not been delivered, I shall to-morrow.” As the man who plants a vine has the joy and the hope in himself, before ever he embarks upon the toil, and sketches out vineyards in his mind, and reckons up the income, when there has been no wine yet, and so enters upon the toil—for the hope and expectation make him labour cheerfully, and for the time being he incurs many expenses out of pocket; and in like manner the man who builds a house, and the man who tills a field, are at much expense to themselves first, in hope of the advantage to come; so it is here. If a man does not keep before his eyes the joy and the hope, “I shall find deliverance and life,” he cannot endure the afflictions, or the burden, and adopt he narrow way. It is the presence of hope and joy that make him labour and endure the afflictions.
12. But as it is not easy for a brand to escape from the fire, so neither can the soul escape out of the fire of death, except with a great deal of trouble. For the most part, Satan, under pretext of good thoughts, that in such and such a way you can please God, offers suggestions to the soul, and underhand seduces it to subtle and specious notions, and it does not know how to discern that it is being seduced, and thus it falls into the snare and perdition of the devil. The most deadly weapon of the combatant and champion is this, to enter into the heart and make war there upon Satan, and to hate himself and to deny his own soul, to be angry with it and rebuke it, and to resist the desires that dwell there, and grapple with his thoughts, and fight with himself.
13. If outwardly you keep your body from corruption and fornication, but inwardly commit adultery, to God you are an adulterer and a fornicator in your thoughts, and you have gained nothing by the virginity of your body. If there is a young woman and a young man, and he by guile wheedles her till she is corrupted, she then becomes an object of loathing to her spouse, because she has been unfaithful. So the incorporeal soul, if it holds fellowship with the serpent that lurks within, the wicked spirit, goes a-whoring from God, as it is written, Everyone that looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already in his heart. There is a fornication effected in the body, and there is a fornication of the soul, when it holds fellowship with Satan. The same soul is partner and sister either of devils, or of God and the angels; and if it commits adultery with the devil, it is unfit for the heavenly Bridegroom.
14. Question. Is Satan ever quiet, and a man set free from warfare, or has he war as long as he lives?
Answer. Satan is never quiet from warring. As long as ever a man lives in this world and wears the flesh, he has to war. But when all the fiery darts of the wicked one are quenched, what harm does it do the man, if Satan does try conclusions with him? A man is a friend of the king’s, and an adversary brings a suit against him. When he has the king to favour and befriend him, and the king gives him a helping hand, he takes no harm. When any one succeeds in passing through all ranks and degrees and becomes a friend of the king’s, no one then can do him any harm. There are in the outward world cities which receive gifts and subsidies from the emperor. If they do perform some service, they lose nothing by it, when they gain and get such advantages from the emperor. So Christians, even if the enemy fights against them, have taken up their quarters with the Godhead, and have put on the power and rest from on high, and do not mind the war.
15. As the Lord put on the body, leaving behind all principality and power, so Christians put on the Holy Ghost, and are at rest. Even if war comes outwardly, Satan may knock, but they are secured within by the power of the Lord, and do not mind Satan. He tempted the Lord in the wilderness forty days, and what harm did it do Him, to approach His body outwardly? Inwardly He was God. So Christians, though outwardly tempted, are inwardly filled with the Godhead, and are in nothing injured. But if any one has reached these measures, he has arrived at the perfect love of Christ, and at the fulness of the Godhead. One that is not so, has still war within. For an hour he is at rest in prayer; at another hour he stands in affliction and at war. Such is the will of the Lord. Because he is still a child, He practises him in the wars; and both things spring up in him, light and darkness, rest and affliction. They rest in prayer, and at another hour they are in distress.
16. Do you not hear what Paul says, “Though I have all gifts, though I give my body to be burned, though I speak with the tongues of angels, and have not charity, I am nothing. These gifts serve only as inducements. Those who are contented with them, are but children, though in the light. Many of the brethren have come to such measures, and had gifts of healing, and revelation and prophecy, and because they did not reach the perfect love, wherein lies the bond of perfectness, war came upon them, and they took no heed, and fell. But if anyone reaches the perfect love, that man is from thenceforth fast bound, and is the captive of grace. If anyone approaches within a little of the measure but does not reach to be fast bound in love itself, such an one is still subject to fear, and war, and falling, and unless he takes good care of himself, Satan throws him.
17. In this way many have erred when grace came to them. They thought that they had attained perfection, and said, “That is enough; we need no more.” But the Lord has no end, and there is no comprehending Him. Christians do not presume to say, “We have comprehended,” but are humbled, still seeking night and day. In the outer world, there is no end to learning, and no man knows it except a scholar who has acquired some degree of learning. So in the matter before us, God cannot be comprehended or measured, unless by those who have had a taste of Him, whom they have personally received, and they recognise their own incapacity. If a man who has a smattering of learning goes to a country place, where the people are no scholars, he is admired by them as a scholar, because they are altogether illiterate, and have no means of judging. But let that same man with his small amount of learning pass into a city where there are rhetoricians and real scholars; he dare not appear among them, or open his mouth, because the true scholars consider him illiterate.
18. Question. If a man who is still at war, and who still has both these things in his soul—sin and grace—is removed from this world, where does he go, when both sides have a hold upon him?
Answer. He goes where his mind aims, and where his love is. Only if affliction and war come upon you, you ought to resist, and to hate it. That the war comes upon you is not your doing, but to hate it, is; and then the Lord, seeing your mind, that you are striving, and that you love Him with your whole soul, parts death from your soul in one moment—which is not hard for Him to do—and takes you to His bosom and into the light. In a moment of time He snatches you out of the mouth of darkness, and translates you at once into His kingdom. For to God all things are easy to do in a moment of time, if only your love is set upon Him. God needs man’s working, because the soul is capable of fellowship with the Godhead.
19. I have often already made use of the parable of the husbandman, how after labouring and putting his seed into the ground he must wait for the rain from above. Unless clouds appear and winds blow, the labour of the husbandman is of no use. The seed lies bare. Apply this to the spiritual order. If the man rests only upon his own working, and does not receive in addition something which his nature cannot supply, he cannot yield to the Lord fruits worthy of Him. Now what is man’s working? To renounce, to go out of the world, to pray when it is hard, to be on the watch, to love God and the brethren. This is his own doing. But if he rests upon this working of his own, and does not hope to receive anything else besides, and the winds of the Holy Ghost do not blow upon the soul, and if clouds of heaven do not appear, nor rain from heaven fall and moisten the soul, the man cannot yield to the Lord fruits worthy of Him.
20. It is written that when the husbandman sees the branch bearing fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit, but that which beareth not fruit he rooteth out, and giveth it to burning. But this is the part of man, that whether he fasts, or keeps watch, or prays, or does some fine thing, he should ascribe all to the Lord, and say, “If God had not enabled me, I could not have fasted, or prayed, or gone out of the world.” In this way, God, seeing your intention, that you ascribe to God the things that are yours, which you do of your own nature, bestows upon you in return the things that are His—the spiritual things, the divine and heavenly things. And what are they? The fruits of the Spirit, gladness and mirth.
21. Question. But since there are natural fruits like these, love, faith, prayer, show us the difference, how the natural things are, and how the spiritual.
Answer. The things which you do of yourself are all very well, and acceptable to God, but they are not quite pure. For instance, you love God, but not perfectly. The Lord comes, and gives a love which is unchangeable, the heavenly love. You pray in the natural manner with wandering and doubt; God gives you the pure prayer, in Spirit and in truth. In the visible world, the soil of itself for the most part produces thorns; the husbandman digs, works it carefully, puts in seed, but the thorns which no one sowed, spring up and multiply; for after the transgression it was said to Adam, Thistles and thorns shall the earth bring forth unto thee. The husbandman again takes trouble, digs up the thorns, and yet they multiply. Apply this spiritually. Since the transgression the ground of the heart brings forth thorns and thistles. The man works it, takes trouble, and still the thorns of the evil spirits spring up. Then the Holy Ghost Himself helpeth the infirmities of men, and the Lord puts heavenly seed in that ground of the heart, and works it; and though the seed is cast, the thistles and thorns still spring up. Again the Lord and the man together work the ground of the soul, and yet the evil spirits and the thorns shoot up there and grow, until the summer comes, and grace abounds, and the thorns are withered by the heat of the sun.
22. For though evil is present with nature, yet it no longer has the same dominion over it, or the same range. The delicate blades of the wheat may be choked by the tares; but when summer comes, after the drying off of the fruits, the tares harm the wheat no more. If there should happen to be thirty peck of pure wheat, and a mixture of tares of perhaps a quart is in it, what comparison does it bear? It is swamped in the abundance of the wheat. So in grace, when the gift of God and grace abounds in the man, and he is rich in the Lord, and yet evil is present to some extent, it cannot seriously harm the man, nor has it any force or range against him. The coming of the Lord and His provision had this object—to liberate those who were in bondage to evil, and bound over, and subject to it, and to make them conquerors of the death of sin. Brethren therefore ought not to think it strange, if some people give them trouble, with a view to getting rid of evil.
23. In the Old Testament, Moses and Aaron, when they held the priesthood, had much to suffer. Caiaphas, when he occupied their seat, himself persecuted and condemned the Lord; yet the Lord, in respect for the priesthood, suffered him to execute the office. The prophets likewise were persecuted by their own nation. Peter was the successor of Moses, entrusted with Christ’s new church and with the true priesthood; for we have now a baptism of fire and the Spirit, and a circumcision in the heart. For the divine and heavenly Spirit lodges in the mind; nevertheless even these perfect ones, so long as they are in the flesh, are not free from anxiety, because of the freedom of their will, but are still subject to fear, and for that same reason are allowed to be tempted. But if the soul succeeds in reaching that city of the saints, then, but not before, it is able to live without trouble and temptations. There, no longer is there anxiety, or trouble, or weariness, or old age, or Satan, or warfare, but rest, joy, peace, and salvation. The Lord is in the midst of them, and He is called the Saviour, becauses He saves the captives. He is called the Physician, forasmuch as He gives the heavenly and divine medicine, and heals the sufferings of the soul; for in some respects they have dominion over the man. To speak of them in comparison, Jesus is King and God; Satan is an usurper and a tyrant.
24. Well, God and His angels wish to adopt this man for the kingdom with themselves, the devil likewise and his angels desire to adopt him to themselves. The soul is in the middle between the two subsistences, and to whichever side the will of the soul inclines, of that side it becomes a possession and a son. And as a father, who sends his son to a foreign country, where he will meet with venomous creatures by the way, gives him remedies and antidotes, in order that if the venomous creatures or dragons attack him he may give them his remedy and kill them; so endeavour, I charge you, to receive the heavenly remedy, the healing and antidote of the soul, that by means of it you may kill the poisonous beasts of unclean spirits. It is indeed no easy matter to get a clean heart; only with much effort and labour can a man get a clean conscience and heart, that the evil may be quite eradicated.
25. It sometimes happens that grace comes to a man without his heart being cleansed. The reason why those who have fallen fell was that they did not believe that after grace smoke and sin could still be present with them. But all the righteous have gone the straight and narrow way to please God, and gone on it to the end. Abraham was rich toward God, as well as to the world, but he called himself dust and ashes. David says, A very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people, a worm and no man. In like manner all the prophets and apostles were ill-treated and reviled. The Lord Himself, who is the Way, and is God, when He came for thy sake, not for His own, to be a pattern to thee of every good thing—see to what humiliation He came, having taken the form of a servant, who is God, the Son of God, King, the Son of the King, giving healing remedies and curing those that are wounded, when He Himself appeared outwardly as one of the wounded.
26. But do not despise His divine dignity when thou beholdest Him outwardly humbled as one like us. It was for our sake that he appeared thus, not for His own. Consider, at the hour when they cried, Crucify Him, crucify Him, and the multitude came together, how He was humbled beyond all men. In the ordinary world, if there be a malefactor, and he receives sentence from the magistrate, he is then abhorred by the whole people, and set at nought. So was the Lord at the hour of the cross. As a man that was going to die, He was held of no account by the Pharisees. And when they spat in His face, and put on Him the crown of thorns, and buffeted Him, what further humiliation could He have undergone? It is written, I gave My back to the smiters, and I hid not My face from shame and spitting, and my cheeks from buffeting. If God condescends to such insults and sufferings and humiliation, thou, who art by nature clay and of mortal nature, howsoever thou mayest be humbled, thou wilt never do anything like Thy Master. God for thy sake humbled himself, and thou wilt not be humbled for thine own sake, but art proud and puffed up. He came to take upon Him thy afflictions and thy burdens, and to give Thee His own rest; and thou art unwilling to bear troubles and to suffer in order to gain healing for thy wounds. Glory be to His patience and long-suffering for ever. Amen.