The scale (or ladder) of perfection



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SECTION I

How Lovers of this World in divers ways disenable themselves from becoming reformed in their Souls

BUT some now will say thus: I would fain love God, and be a good man, and forsake the love of the world if I might; but I have not grace for it. If I had the same grace that a good man hath, I should do as he doth; but because I have it not, I cannot, and so I need177 seek to do no more, but am excused.

Unto these men I answer thus: True it is as they say, that they have no grace, and therefore they lie still in their sin, and cannot rise out. But that availeth them not before God, for it is their own fault. They disenable themselves in divers ways, so that the light of grace cannot shine into them, nor rest in their hearts. For some are so froward that they will not have grace, nor be good men at all; for that they know well, if they should turn good men, they must part with the great liking and lust of this world, which they have in earthly things; but that they will not do, for they think they are so sweet that they will not part with them. And they must also do works of penance, as fasting, watching, praying and many other good works, in chastising of their flesh and in withdrawing of their fleshly will, and these may they not do, for they seem so sharp and so terrible to their thinking, that they shrink178 and loathe to think upon them, and so they cowardly and wretchedly still dwell in their sins.

Some would seem desirous of grace, and begin to dispose themselves for it, but their will is exceedingly weak, for as soon as any stirring of sin cometh, though it be contrary to the command of God, they fall presently thereto, for they are (through former custom of often falling and assenting to sin) so as it were bound and tied to sin, that they think it impossible to withstand it; and so their imagined difficulty of being able to make such resistance maketh their will weak, and smiteth it down again.

Some also feel the stirrings of grace, as when they have bitings of conscience for their evil living, and motions to leave it, but it seems so painful and grievous to them that they will not suffer it nor abide it, but fly from it and forget it if they can, so that they run to seek comfort and contentment outwardly, at such times, in fleshly creatures, to the end that they may not feel such pangs of conscience within their souls. And moreover some men are so blind and so brutish that they think there is no other life but this; nay that there is no soul other than of a beast, and that the soul of a man dieth with the body as the soul of a beast; and therefore they say: Let us eat and drink and make merry here, for of this life we are secure, we see no other heaven.



Verily such are some wretches that say thus in their hearts though they say it not with their mouths. Of which men the Prophet saith thus: The fool hath said in his heart there is no God. Such a fool is every one that loveth or liveth in sin, and chooseth the love of the world as the rest of his soul; he saith there is no God, not with his mouth, for he will speak of Him sometimes, when the world goes well with him, as it were in reverence of Him, saying: Blessed be God. And sometimes in despite, when he is angry against God or his neighbour and sweareth by his blessed body or any of his members. But he saith in his thoughts that there is no God, and that is because he imagineth that God seeth not his sin, or that He will not punish it so severely as the Scripture saith; or that He will forgive him his sin though He see it; or else that there shall no Christian be damned, do he never so ill. Or else, if he fasts the fasts of our Lady, or say every day so many prayers, or hear every day two or three Masses, or do some bodily work, as it were for the honour of God, he thinketh he shall never go to hell, do he never so much sin, and continue in it. This man saith in his heart that there is no God, but is unwise, as the Prophet saith, for he shall one day find and feel in torments that He is a God whom he forgot and set at nought; but set by the wealth of the world, as the Prophet saith: Pain only will give understanding.179 For he that knoweth not this here, nor will know it, shall know it well when he is in torments.

SECTION II

A little Counsel how Lovers of this World should do, if they will be reformed in their Souls before their departure hence

THESE men, though they know well that they are out of grace, and in deadly sin, they have no care nor sorrow nor thought therefore, but give themselves to sensual mirth and worldly solace as much as they can. And the farther they be from grace the more mirth they make, and perchance some of them hold themselves well apaid that they have no grace, that they may as it were the more fully and freely follow the liking of fleshly lusts as though God were asleep and did not see them. And this is one of the greatest faults that can be. And thus, by their own perverseness, they stop the light of grace from their own soul, that it may not rest therein. The which grace, for its part, is most willing and ready to shine to all creatures, and enter into the souls of men, that will but be willing to receive it, even as the sun shineth upon all creatures bodily, where it is not hindered. Thus saith St John in the Gospel: The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.180 That is, these blind hearts receive not the gracious light, nor have the benefit of it, but even as a blind man is becompassed with the light of the sun when he standeth in it, and yet seeth it not, nor receiveth any benefit of it, as for going, or walking, or working by it. Even so, spiritually, a soul blinded with deadly sin is all encompassed with this spiritual light, and yet he is never the better, for he is blinded, and will not see nor know his blindness, and this is one of the greatest impediments of grace, that a man so wretched will not, by reason of his pride, be aknown of his blindness; or else, if he know it, careth not for it, but maketh merry, as if he were very secure and safe.

Therefore, unto all these men that are thus blinded and bound with the love of this world, and are fallen from the natural fairness of man, and are become misshapen, I say and counsel that they would think on their souls, and dispose themselves for grace as much as they can; which they may do on this wise, if they will, when they find themselves out of a state of grace, and overlaid with deadly sin, let them first think with themselves what a miserable and dangerous thing it is to be out of the state of grace and separated from God; for there is nothing that holdeth them from falling into the pit of hell presently, save the bare single thread of this bodily life, whereby they hang; and what may more easily be broken in two than a single thread? For, were the breath stopped in their body (and that may easily happen) their soul would presently pass out, and would instantly be in hell, there to remain everlastingly. And if they would but thus think with themselves for some time, they would shake and tremble at the righteous judgements of God and at His severe punishing of sins, and they would begin to grieve and sorrow for their sins, and for their want of God's grace and favour, and then would they cry and pray that they might have grace, and if they did thus, then would grace enter in and put out darkness and hardness of heart and weakness of their will, and give them might and strength to forsake the false love of this world, so far at least as it is deadly sin; for there is no soul so far from God through wilfulness of deadly sin (I except none that liveth in this body of sin) that may not, through grace, become righteous, and be restored to cleanness of living, if he will but bow and submit his will to God with humility, for to amend his life, and heartily ask grace and forgiveness of Him, and excuse our Lord and wholly accuse himself. For holy Writ saith: I will not, saith the Lord, the death of a sinner, but rather that he be converted and live,181 for our Lord's will is that the most froward man that liveth, and who through sin is misshapen in soul, if he will but change his will and ask grace, may be reformed to His likeness.



PART II -- CHAPTER I

OF REFORMING IN FAITH AND FEELING ALSO


That this Reforming cannot be suddenly gotten, but in length of Time, by Grace, and much Spiritual and Corporal Industry

THE reforming in Faith, which I have before treated of, may easily be gotten. But after this cometh reforming in Faith and Feeling, which will not easily be gotten, but by much pains and industry. For reforming in Faith is common to all chosen souls, though they be in the lowest degree of charity. But reforming in Feeling is only in those souls that are coming to the state of perfection, and that cannot be attained unto suddenly, but after great plenty of grace, and much and long spiritual exercising, and thereby shall a man attain thereto, and that will be after that he is first healed of his spiritual sickness, and after that all bitter passions and fleshly lusts and other old feelings are burnt out of the heart by the fire of desire: and new gracious feelings are brought in with burning love and spiritual light. Then doth the soul draw very near to perfection, and to reforming in feeling.

And here it is no otherwise then, as when a man through bodily sickness is brought near to death, though he receive a medicine, by the which he is restored, and is freed from the danger of death, yet cannot he, therefore, presently rise up, and go to work as a sound man may; for the feebleness of his body keeps him down, so that he must rest, and follow the use of medicines, and use a good diet, by measure, according to the advice of a physician, till he hath fully recovered his health. Right so in this spiritual business, he who through deadly sin is brought to a spiritual death, though through the medicine of the Sacrament of Penance he be restored to life, so that he shall not be damned, nevertheless he is not presently whole, and cured of all his passions and of all his fleshly desires, nor is apt for contemplation; but he must abide a great while, and take good heed to himself and order himself so, that he may recover perfect health of soul; for he shall linger a great while, ere he be fully whole. Yet if he take medicines, by the counsel of a good spiritual Physician, and use them in time with measure and discretion, he shall much the sooner be restored to his spiritual strength, and come to reforming in feeling. For reforming in Faith is the lowest state of all chosen souls, for beneath that they cannot well be.

But reforming in feeling is the highest state in this life that the soul can come to. But from the lowest to the highest a soul cannot suddenly start, no more than a man that would climb upon a ladder that is high, and setteth his foot on the lowest stave, can at the next step get up to the highest, but must go by degrees from one to another till he come to the highest.

Even so it is spiritually, no man becometh suddenly supreme or high in grace, but through long exercise and cunning182 working of the soul may he come thereto, namely when He (in whom all grace lieth) helpeth and teacheth a wretched soul, for without His special help and inward teaching can no soul arrive thereto.



CHAPTER II
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