Fifty Spiritual Homilies. Homily 27
15 min read
15 min read
This Homily, like the foregoing, describes at length the dignity and status of a Christian man. Then it teaches many useful things concerning free will, intermixing some questions full of divine wisdom.
1. Know, O man, thy nobility and thy dignity, how honourable thou art, the brother of Christ, the friend of the King, the bride of the heavenly Bridegroom. He who has learned to know the dignity of his own soul, is in a position to know the power and the mysteries of the Godhead, and thereby to be the more humbled; since by the power of God a man beholds the greatness of his own fall. But as He passed through passion and cross before He was glorified and sat down on the Father’s right hand, so thou also must suffer with Him, be crucified with Him, and so ascend and sit with Him, and be joined with the body of Christ, and reign for ever with Him in that world—if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.
2. For those who prove able to overcome and pass the fences of evil, enter into the heavenly city, which is at peace, and is full of many good things, where the spirits of just men are at rest. Therefore we ought to take great pains and strive mightily for this; for it is not right for the Bridegroom, who came for thy sake, to suffer and be crucified, while the bride, for whose sake the Bridegroom came, idles along and wanders. A harlot gives herself away disorderly to anybody; so the soul has given herself away to every devil, and is corrupted by those spirits. There are some who have sin and evil because they choose to have it, others against their choice. What is the meaning of this? Those who have evil of their own choice are those who have given away their will to evil, and take pleasure in it, and make friends with it. These have peace with Satan, and make no war in their thoughts with the devil. But those with whom it is against their choice, have the sin that is in them warring in their members, as the apostle says; and the misty power and the veil is against their choice, and they do not consent to it in their thoughts, and take no pleasure in it, nor comply with it, but contend with it by word and deed, and throw their whole weight against it, and are angry with themselves. These are far nobler and more honourable in God’s eyes than the others, who of their own choice give away their wills to evil, and have pleasure in it.
3. Suppose a king were to find a poor maiden, clothed in rags, and were not ashamed, but took away her soiled clothes, and washed off her blackness, and adorned her with splendid clothes, and made her a partner of the king, and gave her a share of his table and the banquet; so did the Lord find the soul wounded and stricken, and gave her medicine, and took off her the black garments and the disgrace of sin, and clothed her with royal, heavenly garments, the garments of the Godhead, all shining and glorious, and put a crown upon her, and made her a partaker of the royal table for joy and gladness. And as when there is a pleasure garden, and it has there fruit trees, and all sweet-smelling ones, and there are there many charming spots, all lovely and filled with fragrance and refreshment, and whoever goes there is delighted and refreshed; so are the souls in the kingdom, all in joy, delight, and peace. Kings and lords they are, and gods; for it is written, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
4. Christianity, then, is no ordinary thing. This mystery is great. Recognise therefore thy nobility, that thou art called to kingly dignity, a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation. The mystery of Christianity is foreign to this world. The visible glory of the emperor and his wealth are earthly, and perishable, and passing away; but that kingdom and wealth are divine things, heavenly and glorious, never to pass away or be dissolved. For they reign together with the heavenly King, in the heavenly church, and He is the firstborn from the dead, and they also are firstborn. And yet, though they are all this, chosen and approved before God, in their own eyes they are the least, and highly disapproved; and this is fixed in them like a part of nature, to esteem themselves nothing.
5. Question. Are they then unaware that they have received something additional, and have acquired what they had not before, that was foreign to their nature?
Answer. What I say is that they are not approved, and that they have made no progress, and they do not know how they acquired what they had not; but while they are all this, grace itself comes and teaches them not to count their soul dear, for all their progress, but to count themselves naturally the reverse of dear, and dear though they are to God, to themselves they are not so. With all their progress and knowledge of God, they are as if they knew nothing, and rich as they are before God, in their own eyes they are poverty stricken. But as Christ took the form of a servant, and conquered the devil by humility, so at the beginning it was by pride and self-esteem that the serpent overthrew Adam; and the same serpent, lurking in hearts, still casts down and destroys the race of Christians by self-esteem.
6. If a man is free and well born, according to the world, and possessed of much wealth, and continues to make money, and increases his income, he loses his senses, and becomes self-confident, and becomes unbearable, and kicks and cuffs everybody. That is the way with some people of no discretion, who, on finding some little enjoyment and power of prayer, began to be puffed up and to lose their senses, and to pass sentence; and so they fell to the lowest parts of the earth. The same serpent who threw Adam out by pride, saying, Ye shall be as gods, still suggests pride in men’s hearts, saying, “You are perfect; you have enough; you have got rich; you have no need; you are blessed.” There are others in the world, who have riches, and improve upon them with large incomes, and yet hold within the bounds of discretion, and neither boast nor are lifted up, but keep their level, because they know that after affluence comes dearth; and again when loss and dearth befall them, they are not dismayed, but still keep level, knowing that the turn of plenty will come back; and by long training in these matters, they are never surprised, and in times of increase and plenty are not elated, and if loss comes upon them, they are not surprised.
7. Christianity is in practice something like this—the tasting of the truth, the eating and drinking of the truth, to eat and drink on and on in reality and to good effect. Suppose there to be a spring, and some one that is thirsty begins to drink of it, and then before he has done some one carries him off, and will not allow him to be as much filled as he desires, that man is the more inflamed for having tasted of the water, and he makes the more earnest effort to get it. So in the spiritual order a man tastes and partakes of heavenly sustenance, and then, before he has done, it withdraws, and no one enables him to take his fill.
8. Question. Why is he not allowed to take his fill?
Answer. The Lord knows the man’s weakness, that he is easily lifted up. Therefore He withdraws, and permits the man to be exercised and put to trouble. If you receive but a little, and no one can put up with you, you are so puffed up with it, how much more intolerable you would have been if some one had given you your fill at once! But God, knowing that weakness, providentially brings you into troubles, that you may be humble, and the more earnest in seeking God. A poor man according to the world found a purse of gold, and was so light with pleasure that he began to proclaim, “I have found a purse; I am a rich man”; then by the report the loser heard of it, and recovered it. Another man, who was rich, lost his senses, and began to kick, and to be insolent to everybody, and to exalt himself above certain persons, when the emperor heard of it, and confiscated his property. So it is in the spiritual realm. If some people taste but a little refreshment, they do not know how to manage it, but lose even what they had received, for sin tempts them, and darkens their mind.
9. Question. How do some fall after the visitation of grace? Is not Satan shown to be much the weaker? Where it is day, how can there be night?
Answer. It is not that grace is quenched or feeble; but in order that your free-will and your liberty may be tested, which way it inclines, grace makes way for sin; and then you again draw nigh to the Lord with your will, and entreat that grace may visit you. How is it written, Quench not the Spirit? The Spirit cannot be quenched, but is always light; but you, if you are careless and do not with your own will correspond, are yourself quenched and lose the Spirit. In like manner it says, Grieve not the Holy Spirit, whereby ye were sealed unto the day of redemption. You see that it lies in your own will and freedom of determination to honour the Holy Spirit and not to grieve Him. I assure you that freedom of choice remains even in perfect Christians, who are subjugated to what is good and intoxicated with it, and the consequence is that, though put to the proof by ten thousand evils, they turn to that which is good.
10. As when persons of rank and wealth and high birth by their own will and choice forsake their wealth and birth and dignities, and go and put on poor sordid clothing, and dishonour instead of respect, and bear hardship, and are held of no account, this is all left to their own discretion. You may believe me, that even the apostles, perfected as they were in grace, were not hindered by that grace from doing as they desired, if they wished occasionally to do a thing that was not pleasing to grace. Our nature is susceptible of good and bad, and the adverse power acts by persuasion, not compulsion. You have free choice to incline which way you will. Do you not read that Peter was to be blamed, and that Paul went and reproved him. In spite of being what he was, he was still to be blamed. And Paul, for all his spirituality, of his own will, engaged in a dispute with Barnabas, and they grew so sharp that they withdrew from one another. And that same Paul says, Ye that are spiritual, restore such an one, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. There! the spiritual are tempted, because their freedom of will remains; and the enemies keep plying them as long as they are in this world.
11. Question. Could not the apostles sin, if they chose? or was grace too mighty for their wills?
Answer. They could not sin, because they could not choose to sin, being in light and in such grace. I do not say that grace in them was weak. What I say is that grace permits even perfect spiritual persons to have the use of their will, and power to do what they choose, and to turn in which direction they like. And human nature, which is weak, has power to turn, even when good is present with it. If there are people in full armour, with breastplate and other arms, they are then well protected inside, and the enemies do not attack them; or if they attack, it is within the power of their will either to make use of those arms, and to fight and struggle with the foe, and to carry off the victory, or to take a liking to that foe, and come to terms with him, and refrain from fighting, in spite of the armour. In the same way, Christians, arrayed with perfect power, and possessed of the armour of heaven, can, if they are so minded, take a liking to Satan, and come to terms with him, and desist from the war. Nature is liable to change, and a man can, if he pleases, become a son of God or a son of perdition. His freedom of will remains.
12. It is one thing to give a description of bread and table, and another to eat and take the relish of that bread, and to be strengthened in all your members. It is one thing to speak in words about a delicious drink, and another to go and draw from the very spring, and to take your fill of the delicious drink. It is one thing to discourse of war, and of noble combatants and warriors, and another to go yourself into the fighting-line, and to close with the enemy, and to go in and out, and to take and give, and to carry off the victory. In spiritual things the same holds good. It is one thing to give descriptive accounts with a certain head-knowledge and correct notions, and another in substance and reality, in full experience, and in the inward man, and in the mind, to possess the treasure and the grace and the taste and the effectual working of the Holy Ghost. Those who utter bare words, make a parade and are puffed up by their mind. Our speech, it says, and our preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; and again elsewhere, The end of the commandment is love out of a pure heart and a good conscience and faith unfeigned. A man like that does not fall. To many who sought after God, the door has been opened, and they have seen a treasure, and have entered into it; and in the midst of their joy, while they were saying, “We have found a treasure,” He has shut the doors upon them. Then they began to cry aloud, and to mourn, and to seek the more. “We found a treasure and have lost it.” Grace withdraws of set purpose, that we may seek more earnestly. The treasure is shown, to encourage us to seek after it.
13. Question. Some say that after grace a man has passed from death unto life. Can then one who is in the light have impure thoughts?
Answer. It is written, Having begun in the Spirit, do ye now finish in the flesh? It says again, Put on the whole armour of the Spirit, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Naturally enough, these are two different places—one where he was when he put on the armour, and one where he is when he fights with the principalities and powers—in the light, or in the darkness. Again, That ye may be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one, and again, Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, and again, It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the gift of God, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and fell away, to renew them again. There! those who were enlightened and have tasted fall away. You see that a man has the power of will to agree with the Spirit, or to grieve Him. Certainly he takes up arms with a view to going to battle and contending against the foe; certainly he was enlightened, in order to campaign against the darkness.
14. Question. What does the apostle mean by saying, Though I have all knowledge and all prophecy, and speak with the tongues of angels, I am nothing?
Answer. We ought not to understand it to mean that the apostle is nothing; but in comparison with that charity which is perfect, these things are little, and he who is in these measures may fall; but he who has charity is beyond falling. I can assure you, that I have seen men who had come by all the spiritual gifts and were partakers of the Spirit, who, not having attained perfect charity, fell. One, a nobleman by birth, renounced the world, sold his possessions, gave his slaves their liberty; being a man of prudence and understanding, he was renowned for his strict and holy life; and meanwhile, conceiving an opinion of himself and getting proud, at last he came down to debaucheries and a thousand bad things. 15. Another in time of persecution gave his own body, and was a confessor. When peace was restored, he was set free, and had a great name. His eyelids were injured by having been smoked. This man, being much glorified and called to prayers, took victuals, and gave to his servant, and his mind was as if he had never heard the word of God. Another gave his body under persecution, and was hung up, and scraped, and then flung into prison. There he was religiously served by one of the sisters-regular. He contracted a familiarity with her, while in prison, and fell into fornication. Observe the fall of the rich man who sold his possessions, and of him who gave his body to martyrdom. 16. Another, a prudent ascetic, who lived with me in the same dwelling and prayed with me, was so rich in grace that in praying beside me he would be struck speechless, grace boiled so within him. There was given him also the gift of healings, and he not only drove away devils, but those who were bound hand and foot and had dreadful sufferings he would cure by the imposition of his hands. Then he relaxed his care, and being much glorified by the world, and taking pleasure in it, he became vain, and fell into the lowest depths of sin. Observe the fall of one who had the gift of healing. You see how men fall, before reaching the measures of charity. For one who arrives at charity is bound and intoxicated; he is drowned, and carried captive to another world, as if he had no consciousness of his own nature.
17. Question. What is the meaning of the things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man?
Answer. At that time, the great and the righteous men, and kings and prophets, were aware indeed that the Redeemer was coming; but that He should suffer and be crucified, and His blood poured out upon the cross, they neither knew, nor had they heard it; neither had it entered into their heart that there should be a baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and that in the church bread and wine should be offered, the symbol of His flesh and blood, and that those who partake of the visible bread eat spiritually the flesh of the Lord, and that the apostles and Christians receive the Paraclete, and are endued with power from on high, and are filled with the Godhead, and their souls mingled with the Holy Ghost. This the prophets and kings knew not, neither did it enter into their heart. Now, Christians have a very different wealth, and their hearts are set upon the Godhead; but for all this joy and comfort, they are still under fear and trembling.
18. Question. What fear and trembling?
Answer. That they may make no mistake, but correspond with grace. It is like a man possessed of treasures, who is journeying to places where there are robbers. He is glad of the riches and the treasure; but he is in fear lest the robbers should set upon him and spoil him of them; and as one who carries his blood in his hands, so is he. Look, so far as outward things go, we have all made our renuntiation, and are strangers, without possessions, and deprived of fleshly fellowship. Now, there lies the body in prayer; the brethren must say whether the mind is in correspondence with the body. Artisans and foremen in the world usually apply their whole body to their business and their mind too, both night and day. Now look well to yourself. Your body is strange to this world; is your mind alienated from the age? do you never wander into the world? Every man of the world, soldier, or merchant, wherever his body is, has his mind also there fixed, and there is his treasure. It is written, Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 19. What treasure is your mind after? Is it wholly and entirely Godwards, or not? If it is not, you must tell me what it is that hinders. Certainly they are evil spirits, Satan and the devils, who have hold of the mind, and put fetters on the soul. The devil is very wily, and has many conjuring tricks, and loopholes, and all manner of shifts, and keeps hold of the ranges and thoughts of the soul, and will not allow it to pray properly and to draw nigh to God. For nature itself is capable of fellowship with the devils and spirits of wickedness, and likewise with angels and the Holy Ghost. It is the temple of Satan, or the temple of the Holy Ghost. Examine your mind, brethren; which are you in fellowship with? angels, or devils? Whose temple are you? a habitation of God, or of the devil? With what treasure is your heart filled? grace, or Satan? Like a house that has been filled with evil smells and filthiness, it must be thoroughly cleansed, and set in order, and filled with all fragrance and treasures, that the Holy Ghost may come instead of Satan, and may rest in the hearts of Christians.
20. Not the moment, however, that he hears the word of God, does a man come to be of the good side. If hearing made him of the good side at once, there would no longer be conflicts, or critical battles, or a race. Without further ado, if only he had heard, he would have come into peace and to perfect measures. But the facts are otherwise. You take away the man’s free will, if you say so, and deny the existence of the opposite power, wrestling with the mind. What we say is this, that the man who hears the word comes to compunction, and after that, grace purposely withdraws, for the man’s good, and he enters into training and the discipline of battle, and engages in a struggle and contest with Satan, and only after a long race and contest carries off the prizes of victory, and becomes a Christian. If merely hearing made a man to belong without more ado to the good, then all the theatre-people and the whoremongers will go into the kingdom and the life. No one will give them this without effort and striving, because it is a straight and narrow way. By this rough way we have to travel, and to endure, and bear affliction, and so to enter into life.
21. If it were possible to succeed without effort, Christianity would no longer be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. There would be no faith and unbelief. You would make man a creature of necessity, incapable of turning to good or evil. It is only to one who can turn to either side that a law is given—one who is at liberty to do battle with the adverse power. No law is laid down for a nature that is under necessity. The sun, the heaven and the earth, call for no legislation; such creatures are of a nature governed by necessity, and for this reason they are not liable to reward or punishment. Reward and glory are prepared for him who turns to the good; hell and punishment are prepared for this convertible nature, capable of fleeing from the evil and throwing its weight upon the right-hand side, the side of good. If you say that he is not of an alterable nature, you make the good man undeserving of praise. For one who is good and kind by nature does not deserve praise for it, though he may be very desirable. What is not good by choice is not praiseworthy, however desirable it may be. Praise is only deserved by one who by his personal resolution with effort and struggle makes the good his own through free-will and choice.
22. As if when the Persians have a camp on one side and the Romans a camp on the other, two winged youths of equal powers should come forth from them and engage in a struggle, so the opposing force and the mind are in equipoise. Satan has power to influence and entice the soul to his own will, and the soul has equal power to resist and to refuse any compliance with him. Both powers, good and evil, act by suasion, not by compulsion. A choice like this may count upon divine assistance, and is able in its struggle to receive weapons from heaven, and by them to root out evil and conquer it. To resist sin is in the power of the soul, though without God it cannot conquer the evil or root it out. Those who say that sin is like a mighty giant and the soul like a little child are wrong. If things were so ill-matched, sin like a giant and the soul like a little child, the Law-giver would be unjust, in having given man a law to struggle against Satan.
23. This is the foundation of the way to God—in much patience, in hope, in humility, in poverty of spirit, in meekness to travel along the way of life; and it is by these things that a man can come to have righteousness in himself. By righteousness we mean the Lord Himself. These commandments, which so enjoin us, are like milestones and waymarks that stand by the king’s highway, which leads wayfarers up to the heavenly city. We read, Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers. That is what you may call Christianity. If any one does not travel by this way, he has wandered where there is no way; he uses a bad foundation. Glory to the compassions of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost for ever. Amen.