Fifty Spiritual Homilies. Homily 37
8 min read
8 min read
Concerning Paradise and the spiritual law.
1. The friendship of the world, according to that which is written, is enmity with God. For which cause the scripture bids every one to keep his own heart with all diligence, that keeping in it the word, like a paradise, a man may enjoy grace, not hearing the serpent that winds within, when he counsels the things that make for pleasure, whereby is engendered the wrath that slays a brother, and the soul that brings it forth perishes, but hearing the Lord when He says, “Take heed to faith and hope, through which is engendered love towards God and man, which gives eternal life.” Into this paradise Noe entered, keeping the commandment and working, and through love was redeemed from the wrath. Keeping this paradise, Abraham heard the voice of God. Keeping this, Moses received glory in his countenance. David likewise keeping this worked, from whence he gained the mastery of his enemies; and Saul too, so long as he kept his heart, prospered, but when at last he transgressed, at last he was forsaken. For the word of God follows each man by measure according to proportion. So long as a man holds fast, he is held fast; and so long as he guards, he is guarded.
2. For this cause the whole company of holy prophets, apostles, martyrs, kept the word in their hearts, caring for nothing else, but despising earthly things, and abiding in the commandment of the Holy Ghost, and preferring before all things the Spirit’s love of God and the Spirit’s good, not in word only or in mere knowledge, but in word and deed as well, by actual practice, choosing poverty instead of wealth, dishonour instead of glory, suffering instead of pleasure, affliction instead of enjoyment, and for that reason love instead of wrath. For as they hated the sweet things of life, they rather loved those who took them away, as working with them to the purpose, forbearing to know good and evil. They neither denied those who were good, nor blamed those who were evil, esteeming all alike to be envoys of the Master’s dispensation. Therefore they had a well-disposed benevolence towards all. When they heard the Lord say, Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven, then they reckoned those who wronged them as benefactors, because from them they received occasion for their own forgiveness. When again they heard, As ye would that men should do unto you, do ye also unto them, then they began to love good men also according to conscience. Leaving their own righteousness, and seeking the righteousness of God, they naturally found love also included in it.
3. For the Lord, in giving many commandments concerning love, bade us seek the righteousness of God, for He knows that it is the mother of love. There is no other way to be saved but through our neighbour; according as He enjoined, Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. This is the spiritual law, written in faithful hearts, the fulfilling of the first law. I came not, He says, to destroy the law, but to fulfil. How is it fulfilled? Let me tell you. The first law, by reasonable occasion of him who sinned, condemned, over and above, him that was sinned against; for wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself. So says the law: In the midst of judgment, judgment; in the midst of striking, a stroke.
4. Forgiveness is the fulfilling of the law. We have called it a “first law”; not that God has set two laws before men, but one law, which is spiritual in its nature, but in regard to retribution, it awards to each man the retribution which is just, forgiving him that forgives, and contending with him that contends. With the clean, it says, thou shalt be clean, and with the froward thou shalt wrestle. Therefore those who spiritually fulfil it, and are favoured in proportion, came to love with a spiritual love not only those who did them good, but also those that reproached them and persecuted them, looking for a recompense of good things. Of good things, I say; not because they acquiesced in the wrongs done to them, but because they did good to the souls of the wrongdoers. They committed them to God as the means by which they obtained the beatitude; as it says, Blessed are ye, when they shall revile you, and persecute you.
5. It was under a spiritual law that they were taught to be thus minded. While they endured, and preserved their inward meekness, the Lord, looking upon the patience of the heart under attack and of the love that lost not its self-control, broke through the middle wall of partition, and they cast away perfect hatred, and their love was no longer against the grain, but with relief. The Lord brought to nought the sword that turned every way, which stirs the thoughts, and they entered into that within the veil, whither the forerunner is for us entered, even the Lord; and they revelled in the fruits of the Spirit, and having beheld things to come in security of heart, no longer, as the apostle says, in a glass, and darkly, they said what eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, how many things God hath prepared for them that love Him.
But I will ask this wonderful question. 6. Question. If it has not entered into the heart of man, how do you come to know it—especially when you confessed in the Acts that you were men of like passions with us?
Answer. Well, listen what answer Paul makes to this. But God, he says, hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the depths of God. But lest any one should say that to them the Spirit was given because they were apostles, but that we are naturally incapable of it, he says elsewhere in prayer, That God would give you to be strengthened with might in the inward man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts; and again, But the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty; and again, But if any have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.
7. Let us therefore pray to partake of the Holy Spirit in full assurance and experience, and to enter in whence we came out, and that for the future the serpent may be kept away from us, the parent of wrath, the counsellor of vain glory, the spirit of carking and surfeiting; so that having gained a firm faith we may keep the commandments of the Lord, and may grow up in Him unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature, that we may no longer be under dominion to the deceit of this world, but may be in the full assurance of the Spirit, and not disbelieve, that the grace of God has pleasure even in sinners when they repent (for that which is bestowed according to grace is not measured by comparison with previous infirmity; otherwise grace is no more grace;) but believing in the Almighty God may come with simple and not over-anxious heart to Him who through faith bestows the participation of the Spirit, and not through comparison of the works of nature; for it says, Ye received not the Spirit by the works of the law, but by the hearing of faith.
8. Question. What is the meaning of the text, I had rather speak five words in the church with my understanding?
Answer. The word church is understood of two several things, the assembly of the faithful, and the compound soul. When it is taken spiritually, of the individual man, the church denotes him as a compound whole. “Five words” mean the comprehensive virtues which build up the whole man in varying modes of distribution. As he who spoke in the Lord comprehended all wisdom in his five words, so he who follows the Lord builds up godliness to abundance through the five virtues. Five they are, and they comprehend all; first prayer, then temperance, alms, poverty, patience. These, performed with longing desire and set purpose, are words of the soul spoken by the Lord and heard by the heart. The Lord works, and then the Spirit speaks without sound, and the heart performs in outward manifestation, in proportion as it desires.
9. And as these virtues contain all virtues, so they are productive of each other. If the first is wanting, there is an end of all. Likewise through the second come those that follow, and so on. How shall any one pray except under the operation of the Spirit? And the scripture bears me out when it says, No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. And how will a man persevere who enters on a course of temperance without prayer and with no assistance? And he who is not temperate in everything, how shall he do alms to the hungry or the wrongdoer? And he who does no alms, will not himself willingly submit to poverty. And again, resentment is akin to the desire of money, whether it has or whether it has not. But the virtuous soul is thus built up into the church, not because of what it has done, but because of what it has desired. It is not his own work that saves a man, but He who bestows on him the power. If any one therefore endures the marks of the Lord, let him not pride himself on anything, even if he have done some ordinary thing, but only on having loved and taken pains with a view to action. Never think that you have been beforehand with the Lord in your virtue, according to him who says, It is He that worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
10. Question. What then does the scripture charge a man to do?
Answer. We have already said that a man has by nature the power of taking pains, and this is what it demands. It charges therefore that a man should first consider, and that when he has considered, he should love, and should use his will to take pains. But to have the mind influenced, or to endure the labour, or to accomplish the work, this the grace of the Lord bestows on the man who has willed and believed. Man’s will therefore is like a material support. Where the will is not present, even God Himself does nothing, though He could, because of man’s freedom. The effectual working of God depends upon the will of man. On the other hand, if we give our whole will, He ascribes to us the whole work. Wonderful is God in all things, and altogether beyond the grasp of our understanding; but we men endeavour to speak some portion of His wonders, relying upon the scripture, or rather made intelligent by it. For who, it says, hath known the mind of the Lord? But He says Himself, How often would I have gathered thy children together, and ye would not, so that we believe by this that it is He who gathers us, and demands of us nothing but the will. But what is it that manifests the will, except voluntary labour?
11. For as iron when it saws, and fells, and delves, and plants, gets worn itself and fails; but there is another who sets it in motion and applies it, and when it is battered makes it red hot and renews it; so although man becomes worn and wearied in working that which is good, yet the Lord works secretly in him, and when he is wearied and battered, comforts and renews his heart, as the prophet says, Shall the axe boast itself apart from him that heweth, or the saw exalt itself apart from him that draws it? So is it also with regard to evil, when a man obeys it and makes himself ready for it. Then Satan also draws and sharpens him, as the robber his sword. We have likened the heart to iron, because of its insensibility to things and its great hardness. But we ought not, like insensible iron, to be ignorant of Him who holds us—otherwise we should not change quickly from the word which is our husbandman to the suggestion of the evil one—but rather, like the ox and ass, to know Him who drives and guides us according to disposition; for it says, The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, but Israel knoweth Me not. Let us therefore pray to receive the knowledge of God, and to be instructed in the spiritual law to the accomplishment of His holy commandments, glorifying the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost for ever. Amen.