Concerning the progress of a Christian man, the whole power of which depends upon the heart, as is here described in various ways.
1. As many lamps and burning torches are kindled from the fire, but all the torches and lamps are kindled and shine from a single nature, so Christians are kindled and shine from a single nature, the divine fire, the Son of God, and have their torches burning in their hearts, and shine before Him while on earth, as He did. For it says, Therefore hath God, even Thy God, anointed Thee with the oil of gladness. That is why He was called Christ, in order that we also, being anointed with the same oil with which He was anointed, might become Christs, of the one substance and one body. It says again, Both He that sanctifieth and they which are sanctified are all of one. 2. Christians, then, in one direction are like lamps containing the oil in themselves, that is, the fruits of righteousness: but if it be not kindled from the lamp of Godhead within them, they are nothing. The Lord was the burning lamp, because of the Spirit of the Godhead which abode substantially in Him and set on fire His heart according to His human nature.
As if there were a rotten pouch filled with pearls, so Christians ought to be lowly and easily despised in the outward man, but inwardly in the inner man they have the pearl of great price. Others are like to whited sepulchres, outwardly painted and decorated, but within full of dead men’s bones, of much stench and unclean spirits. They are dead from God, and clothed with all shame and filthiness and with the darkness of the adversary.
3. The apostle says that the child, so long as he is little, is under tutors and governors of evil spirits, which spirits do not wish the child to grow up, lest he should become a full-grown man, and begin to aim at the advantage of the house, and to claim the lordship. The Christian ought at all times to have God in remembrance; for it is written, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart; that he may love the Lord not only when he goes into the place of prayer, but that in walking, and talking, and eating, he may have the remembrance of God, and love and dutiful affection for Him. It says, Where thy mind is, there also is thy treasure. To whatever thing a man’s heart is tied, and where his desire draws him, that is his God. If the heart at all times desires God, He is the Lord of his heart. But if a man after renouncing and making himself without possessions, and without home, and fasting—if this one is still tied to the man that he is, or to worldly affairs, or to house, or to the charm of parents, where his heart is tied and his mind is captive, that is his God, and he is found to have gone out of the world by the front door, but to have entered and thrown himself into the world by the side door.
As sticks thrown into the fire cannot resist the power of the fire, but are forthwith burned up, so the devils desiring to fight with a man to whom the Spirit has been vouchsafed are burned and consumed by the divine power of the fire, if only the man is at all times cleaving to the Lord, and keeping his trust and his hope towards Him. And even if the devils are strong as stropg mountains, they are burned by prayer, like wax by fire. But meantime great is the struggle and the battle against them which awaits the soul. There are rivers of dragons, and mouths of lions. There is fire which flames into the soul. As the perfect evildoer, drunk with the spirit of error, is insatiable to evil, either murdering, or committing adultery, so Christians, when they have been baptized into the Holy Spirit, are without experience of evil; but those who have grace, but are still mingled with sin, these are subject to fear, and travel through fearful places. 4. For as merchants on a voyage, though they find a wind to suit them and the sea calm, but have not yet reached the haven, are always subject to fear, lest suddenly a contrary wind should stir and the sea rise into billows, and the ship be in peril, so Christians, even if they have in themselves a favourable wind of the Holy Spirit blowing, are nevertheless yet subject to fear, lest the wind of the adverse power should rise and blow on them, and stir disturbance and billows for their souls. There is need therefore of great diligence, that we may arrive at the haven of rest, at the perfect world, at the eternal life and pleasure, at the city of the saints, at the heavenly Jerusalem, at the church of the firstborn. Unless a man gets through these measures, he is under much fear, lest in the meantime the evil power should effect some fall.
5. As a woman who has conceived carries her babe within in the dark, so to speak, and in covert; but if by and by the child comes forth at the proper time, it sees a new creation, which it never saw before, of sky and earth and sun, and immediately friends and kinsfolk with cheerful countenances receive it into their arms; but if through some derangement it happens that the child is displaced, then the surgeons whose business it is are obliged to use the knife, and the child is thus found to pass from death to death, from darkness to darkness—so think of what happens in the spiritual world. As many as have received the seed of the Godhead, these have it invisibly, and because of sin which dwells there also they conceal it in dark and obscure places. If therefore they make themselves sure, and preserve the seed, these in due time are visibly born again, and then at the dissolution of the body the angels and all the companies above receive them with cheerful countenances. But if after receiving the weapons of Christ to fight manfully a man grows slack, such a one is immediately delivered over to the enemies, and at the dissolution of the body passes from the darkness which now encompasses him to another and a worse darkness, and to perdition.
6. Suppose there to be a garden with many fruit trees and other sweet-smelling plants, and that it were all well tilled and laid out for beauty, and that it had also a small wall by way of hedge to preserve it, and suppose that a vehement stream goes through there, though but a little of the water dashes against the wall and saps the foundation, it gets itself a course, and little by little breaks up the foundation, and finds entrance and tears its way, and roots up all the plants, and mars all the tilling, and makes it fruitless. So is it with man’s heart. It has its good thoughts; but the streams of evil also are always near the heart, desiring to cast it down, and to incline it to its own side. Then if the mind be ever so little light, and yield to unclean thoughts, behold, the spirits of error have found scope, and have entered in, and have overturned the beauties that were there, and have destroyed the good thoughts and laid the soul waste.
7. As the eye is little in comparison of all the members, and the pupil, small as it is, is a great vessel, because it sees at one glance sky, star, sun, moon, cities and other creatures, and likewise these things, seen at the glance, are formed and imaged in the little pupil of the eye; so is the mind in the heart, and the heart itself is but a little vessel, and yet there are dragons, and there lions, and there venomous beasts, and all the treasures of wickedness; and there are rough uneven ways, there chasms; there likewise is God, there the angels, there life and the kingdom, there light and the apostles, there the heavenly cities, there the treasures, there are all things.
For as is a fog laid upon all the world, so that man sees not man, so is the darkness of this age, laid upon all creation and upon every nature of man from the transgression; for which cause, being overshadowed of the darkness, they are in night, and pass their lives in dreadful places. And as is a thick smoke in a single house, so is sin, with its filthy thoughts, settling upon the thoughts of the heart, and creeping over them, and an infinite multitude of devils.
8. As in the natural order, when a war is in preparation, the wise men and the great personages do not go to it, but fear death and stay away; and raw recruits, and the poor, and the ignorant are put forward; and it so falls out that they get a victory over the enemies, and pursue them out of their borders, and receive from the king rewards of victory and crowns, and come to promotions and dignities, and those great ones are found to be behind them; so is it in the spiritual order. The ignorant begin by hearing the word, and do the work thereof with the love of the truth in their thoughts, and receive from God the grace of the Spirit; while the wise, and those who seek the word in subtle fashion, these fly from the war, and make no advancement, and are found behind those who fought and conquered.
9. As, when the winds blow vehemently, they move all the creatures under heaven, and succeed in making a great sound, so the power of the enemy buffets and carries the thoughts along, and shakes the depths of the heart at will, and scatters the thoughts for its own advantage.
Like tax-collectors sitting in the narrow ways, and laying hold upon the passers-by, and extorting from them, so do the devils spy upon souls, and lay hold of them; and when they pass out of the body, if they are not perfectly cleansed, they do not suffer them to mount up to the mansions of heaven and to meet their Lord, and they are driven down by the devils of the air. But if whilst they are yet in the flesh, they shall with much labour and effort obtain from the Lord the grace from on high, assuredly these, together with those who through virtuous living are at rest, shall go to the Lord, as He promised, Where I am, there shall also My servant be, and to endless ages they reign with the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.