That all the virtues and all the vices are bound each to other, and like a chain are linked one to another.
1. Concerning exterior discipline, and what practice is best and first, know this, beloved, that all the virtues are bound up together. The one is linked to the other, like a kind of spiritual chain; prayer to love, love to joy, joy to meekness, meekness to humility, humility to service, service to hope, hope to faith, faith to obedience, obedience to simplicity. And on the opposite side, evil things are bound one to another, hatred to anger, anger to pride, pride to vainglory, vainglory to unbelief, unbelief to hardness of heart, hardness of heart to carelessness, carelessness to sloth, sloth to sullenness, sullenness to want of endurance, want of endurance to love of pleasure. The other parts of vice likewise are dependent upon each other; so also on the good side the virtues are dependent on each other and connected.
2. But the chief of all good endeavour, the topmost of right actions, is perseverance in prayer. From it we may daily gain increasingly the rest of the virtues through asking them of God. By it is formed, in those to whom it is vouchsafed, the fellowship of the holiness of God and of spiritual energy, and the attachment of the disposition of the mind to the Lord in love unspeakable. The man who compels himself every day to persevere in prayer is enflamed with divine affection and fiery longing by spiritual love towards God, and receives the grace of the sanctifying perfection of the Spirit.
3. Question. Since there are some who sell their goods, and emancipate their slaves, and perform commandments, yet do not seek to receive the Spirit in this world, living thus, do they not go into the kingdom of heaven?
Answer. This is a subtle matter. Some say that there is one kingdom and one hell; but we say that there are many grades and differences and measures, both in the kingdom and in hell. As there is one soul in all the members, which operates aloft in the brain, and also moves the feet beneath, so the Godhead contains all creatures, the heavenly, and those under the bottomless pit, and is everywhere fulfilled in the creation, although it transcends the creatures, because it is infinite and incomprehensible. This Godhead looks upon men, and providentially orders all things according to reason; and when some pray, not knowing what they seek, and some fast, others continue in service; God being a just judge, gives to each a reward according to the measure of faith. What they do, they do for the fear of God; but not all these are sons, or kings, or heirs.
4. And in the world there are some who are murderers, others fornicators, and others extortioners, while others distribute their own possessions to the poor. Upon both these classes the Lord keeps His eye, and to those who do good He gives refreshment and reward. For there are superior measures, and there are little measures, and in light and glory there are differences, and in hell itself and punishment appear poisoners and robbers, as well as others who have committed only little sins. Those who say that there is one kingdom and one hell, and that there are no degrees, say ill. How many worldly people there are who are now continually at theatres and other disorderly things, and how many there are now who pray and fear God! On these and those alike God keeps an eye, and, like a just judge, prepares refreshment for the one and punishment for the other.
5. As men harness horses and drive chariots and race them against each other, while each struggles to overcome and conquer his opponent, so is there a spectacle in the heart of those who strive, the evil spirits wrestling with the soul, and God and the angels beholding the contest. At each hour many fresh devices are set on foot by the soul, and likewise by iniquity within. The soul has many secret devices, and in due time produces them and gives them birth. Iniquity likewise has many devices and inventions, and gives birth hour by hour to fresh devices against the soul. The mind is charioteer, and harnesses the chariot of the soul, holding the reins of the thoughts; and thus it runs against the chariot of Satan, where he too has harnessed against the soul.
6. Question. If prayer is rest, how do some say, “We cannot pray,” and will not continue in prayer?
Answer. Rest itself, when it abounds, produces compassion and other forms of service, such as to visit the brethren, to serve them with the word. Nature itself desires to go and see the brethren, to speak a word. Nothing thrown in the fire can remain in its own nature. It cannot help becoming fire. If you throw pebbles into the fire, they become a little lime. The man who wishes to plunge at large into the sea, and to get into the middle of the ocean, is submerged and disappears from sight, while the man who goes in step by step wishes to come up and float on the top and get out at the haven to see the people on shore. So in the spiritual world a man enters into the depth of grace, and again bethinks him of his companions, and nature itself desires to go to one’s brethren to fulfil duties of charity, and to prove the word.
7. Question. How can the two things be in the heart together, grace and sin?
Answer. As when there is fire outside a brazen vessel, then when you put fuel under, the vessel gets hot, and the inside of it boils and bubbles up, because the fire outside burns up beneath; but if a man pays no attention, and puts no fuel under, the fire begins to get less hot, and almost to go out; so grace, which is the heavenly fire, is both inside you and outside you. So if you pray, and give your thoughts to the love of Christ, see how you supplied the fuel, and your thoughts become fire, and are plunged in longing after God; and even if the Spirit withdraws a little, as though It were outside you, still It is within you, and Its signs are seen outside you. But if one is careless, lending himself a little either to worldly affairs or to wandering, iniquity comes back and enters into the soul, and begins to afflict the whole man. The soul therefore remembers its former rest, and begins to be afflicted, and to suffer without intermission.
8. The mind has again given heed to God. The former rest has begun to draw near it. It begins to seek more earnestly. “I beseech Thee,” it says, “O Lord.” Little by little is added to it the fire which kindles and refreshes the soul, as the hook lifts the fish out of the depth by little and little. If this were not so, and he were not to taste of bitterness and death, how could he have discerned the bitter from the sweet, and death from life, and given thanks to the life-giving Father and Son and Holy Ghost, for ever? Amen.