God works the dispensations of grace upon mankind after a twofold manner, intending to require the fruits of it by a just judgment.
1. The wisdom of God, being infinite and incomprehensible, works the dispensations of grace incomprehensibly and unsearchably upon the human race in various fashions for the testing of our free will, so that those who love Him with their whole heart, and will endure every danger and toil for God’s sake, may be made manifest. To some the gifts and endowments of the Holy Ghost come in advance, directly they draw near in faith and prayer, without labour, or sweat, or toil. Sometimes, while they are still in the world, God gives them grace, not idly, nor out of season, nor at random, but in an unspeakable and incomprehensible wisdom, in order to try the determination and free will of those who have so quickly received the grace of God, whether they were sensible of the benefit and of the kindness and sweetness of God that was shewn them, in proportion to the grace received without pains of their own, in return for which they ought to show diligence, and run well, and fight hard, and to bear the fruit of will and purpose and love, and to give back a requital for their spiritual gifts, by yielding themselves wholly up to the love of the Lord, and accomplishing His will alone, and perfectly withdrawing from all carnal affection.
2. To others, even when they have withdrawn from the world, and have renounced this age, according to the gospel, and pass their time in much perseverance in prayer and fasting and diligence and the other virtues, God does not immediately grant the grace and the refreshment and rejoicing of the Spirit, being patient with them and reserving the gift. And this He does, not idly, nor unreasonably, not at random, but with unspeakable wisdom, for the testing of their free will, to see whether they have counted God faithful and true who promised to give to them that ask and to open the door of life to them that knock, to see whether after believing His word in truth they continue to the end in full assurance of faith and diligence, asking and seeking, and will not prove faint-hearted, and draw back, and give up, and in unbelief and hopelessness despise the quest, not persevering to the end, because of the putting off of the time, and because of the testing of their will and purpose.
3. For he who does not receive at once, is the more kindled through God’s delay and patience, and the more desirous of the good things of heaven, and every day adds to his longing and diligence, his running and striving, and every disposition of virtue, his hunger and thirst after that which is good, not slacking for the sinful suggestions which are present in the soul, or turning aside to despise or forget or despair; nor again under pretence of patience will he give himself over to slackness, using this argument, that “Some day or other I shall receive the grace of God,” and from this enticed by sin into carelessness. On the contrary, so long as the Lord Himself in His delay is patient over him, testing the faith and love of his will, the man himself ought the more keenly, the more laboriously, without giving in, without turning faint, to seek the gift of God, having once for all believed and assured himself, that God is true and cannot lie, who has promised to give His grace to those who ask with faith to the end, in all perseverance.
4. For God is faithful and true in His leading of faithful souls, and they have set to their seal that He is true, according to the true word. Therefore in accordance with this intuition of faith they examine themselves to see in what respects they on their part are lacking—in labour, in striving, in diligence, in faith, in love, or in the rest of the dispositions of virtue; and thus examining with all minute exactness, they force and constrain themselves to the best of their power to please the Lord, having once for all believed that God, being true, will not cheat them of the gift of the Spirit, if they continue to the end with all diligence serving Him and waiting upon Him, but that they will have the heavenly grace vouchsafed to them, while they are still in the flesh, and will obtain eternal life.
5. And so they set in motion all their love towards the Lord, denying everything else, and looking only for Him with much desire and hunger and thirst, and always waiting for the refreshment and consolation of grace, and not willingly finding consolation or refreshment or binding attachment in anything of this world; but always resisting material attractions they look only for the help and succour of God, when the Lord Himself is secretly present already to souls that take upon them this kind of diligence, and purpose of heart and endurance, and helps them, and preserves them, and confirms them unto every fruit of virtue, even though they are in trouble and distress, even though they have not yet in certainty of the truth and in manifestation to the soul received the grace of the Spirit and the refreshment of the heavenly gift, and have not had experience of it in full consciousness, because of the unspeakable wisdom of God, and His inexpressible judgments, in which He tries believing souls in various ways, with a view to a love which is of the will and of purpose. For there are bounds and measures and degrees of choice and purpose, and of the will to love, and of disposition to obey all His holy commandments with might and main; and when souls thus fill up the measure of their love and duty, they are permitted to receive the kingdom and the eternal life.
6. For God is just and just are His judgments, and with Him there is no respect of persons; and He judges each in proportion to the varying benefits with which He has endowed mankind—benefits of body or of spirit, whether knowledge, or understanding, or discernment—and will require the fruits of virtue accordingly, and will render to each the due reward of his works in the day of judgment. He will come, we are told, and will render to every man according to his deeds, and mighty men shall be mightily tormented, for mercy will soon pardon the meanest; and the Lord says, The servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes; and unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required, and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. The knowledge and understanding I have mentioned may be variously thought of, either according to grace and the heavenly gift of the Spirit, or in conformity with the natural intelligence and discernment, and through the instruction of the divine scriptures. Of each man will be required the fruits of virtue in proportion to the benefits conferred upon him from God, whether natural, or given by God’s grace. Therefore every man is inexcusable before God in the day of judgment, for every man will be required to answer of his will and purpose according to what he knew of the fruits of faith and love and every other virtue towards God, whether he knew by hearing, or had never heard the word of God.
7. For the faithful, truth-loving soul, looking to the eternal blessings laid up for the righteous, and to the unspeakable benefit of the grace of God that is to visit it, esteems itself, and its diligence and pains and labour, all unworthy in comparison with the unspeakable promises of the Spirit. This is the poor in spirit, whom the Lord pronounced blessed; this is he who hungers and thirsts after righteousness; this is he who is contrite in heart. Those who take upon them this purpose and diligence and pains and longing after virtue, and continue therein to the end, will be enabled to obtain life and the eternal kingdom in truth. Therefore let no brother be exalted against his brother, or proceed to form an opinion of himself under the cheating influence of sin, to think, “Behold, I for my part possess a spiritual gift.” It is not fit that Christians should have these notions. You know not what the morrow may do for him; you are ignorant what his end will be, and what your own. Let each give heed to himself, and examine his own conscience at all times, and try the work of his heart, what diligence and striving towards God his mind has; and looking towards the perfect mark, of liberty, and of freedom from passions, and of the Spirit’s rest, let him run without stopping and without sloth, never satisfied with any spiritual gift or with any righteous attainment. Glory and adoration to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, for ever. Amen.