The Causes why so few Souls in comparison of the Multitude of others, come to this Reforming that is both in Faith and Feeling
BUT now thou wilt say, Since our Lord is so courteous of His goodness, and so free of His gracious gifts, it is a wonder that so few souls (as it seems) in comparison of the multitude of others come to this reforming in feeling. It would seem that either He is unwilling, but that is not so; or that He hath no regard of His creatures, who by receiving of Faith are become His servants.
Unto this I answer that one occasion is this: Many that are reformed in Faith, set not their hearts to profit in grace, nor to seek a higher estate of good living, through much industry in praying and thinking, and other bodily and spiritual exercises; but think it enough for them to keep themselves from deadly sins, and to stand still in the plight they are in. For they say it is enough for them to be saved, and have the least degree in Heaven, they will covet no more.
Thus perchance, do some souls, who are in the state of grace, and lead an active life in the world, say or think; and it is no wonder, for they are so busied with worldly things that are needful to be done that they cannot fully set their hearts to profit in spiritual exercises. But nevertheless, such proceeding is perilous to them, for they fall daily, and are now up, and now down, and cannot come to the stability of good living, yet are they somewhat excusable, by reason of their condition of life. But other men and women who are free from worldly businesses if they will, and may have their needful sustenance without much solicitude about it, especially religious men and women, who have bound themselves by entering into religion to the state of perfection, and other men also in secular estate that have good abilities and understanding, and may (if they will dispose themselves) come to much grace; these men are more to blame. These persons, I say, are more to blame, for they stand still, as idle, and will not profit in grace, nor in further seeking to come to the love and knowledge of God.
It is dangerous to be content with a low degree of grace.
For verily it is perilous for a soul to be reformed only in Faith, and will not seek to make any further progress, nor give himself diligently to spiritual exercises, for so he may easily lose that he hath, and fall again into deadly sin. For a soul cannot stand still always in one state, for it is either profiting in grace, or decaying through sin. For it fareth with him, as it doth with a man that were drawn out of a pit, and when he is up, would go no further than the pit's brink, surely he were a very fool, for a little puff of wind, or an unwary moving of himself, might soon cast him down again, and that worse than he was before. But if he fly as far as he can from the brink and go forward, on further ground, then, though there come a great storm, he is the more secure from falling into the pit. Right so is it in this spiritual business; he that is drawn out of the pit of sin through reforming of Faith, and when he is out of deadly sin thinketh himself secure enough, and therefore will not profit, but remaineth still at the pit's brink, as near as he may, he is not wise; for upon the least temptation of the enemy, or of his flesh, he falleth into sin again. But if he flee from the pit, that is, if he set his heart fully to come to more grace, and to use his best industry to come thereto, and give himself heartily to prayer, meditating and other good works, though great temptations rise against him, he falleth not easily to deadly sin again.
And verily it is a wonder to me, that seeing grace is so good and so profitable, why a man, when he hath but a little thereof, yea so little that he can scarce have less, should say: Ho, I will have no more of this, for I have enough. When yet I see a worldly man, though he have of worldly goods much more than he needeth, yet will he never say: Ho, I have enough, I will have no more of this; but will covet more and more, and bestir all his wits and might, and will never set a stint to his covetousness to get more. Much more, then, should a chosen soul covet spiritual good, which is everlasting, and which maketh a soul blessed, and never should cease from coveting, if he did well, to get what he might get. For he that most coveteth, most shall have; and surely if he do thus, he shall profit and grow in grace greatly.
Another cause of such fewness of souls reformed in feeling is this: Some men that are reformed in Faith, in the beginning of their turning to God, set themselves in a certain manner of working, whether it be spiritual or corporal, and think ever to hold on in that manner of working, and not to change it for any other that cometh through grace, though it were better, imagining the first course to be best for them to hold on in, and therefore they rest therein, and through custom so bind themselves thereto that when they have fulfilled it they find themselves wonderfully well satisfied, for they imagine they have done a great good thing therein for God. And if it chance that they be at any time hindered from their said custom, though it be by a just occasion, they are sad and troubled in conscience, as if they had done a great deadly sin.
It is not good to tie ourselves to any customary devotions unalterably.
These men hinder themselves somewhat from feeling of more grace, for they set their perfection in a corporal work, and so they make an end in the midst of the way, where no end is. For those corporal or sensible customs, which men use in their beginnings, are good, but they are but means and ways to lead a soul forward to perfection.
And therefore he that setteth his perfection in any bodily or spiritual exercise, which he feeleth in the beginning of his turning to God, and will seek no further, but ever rest therein, he hindereth himself greatly. For it is but a silly way of trading, wherein an apprentice is ever in the same degree of skill, and can do as much in it on the first day as he can thirty years after. Or else, if the trade be good and subtle, he is but of a dull wit, or an evil will that profiteth not therein.
Now it is certain, that of all crafts the service of God is most sovereign and most subtle, and the highest and hardest to come to perfection in it, and also the most profitable and gainful to them that faithfully prosecute it; and therefore it seemeth that the apprentices to it that are ever alike in learning are either dull witted or evil willed.
I do not reprove those customs that men use in their beginnings, whether they be corporal or spiritual, but say that they be full good and profitable183 for them to use. But I would that they should hold them only as a way and an entry towards spiritual feeling, and that they use them as convenient means till better come; and that while they use them they covet after better. And then if better come that are more spiritual, and more drawing in of the thoughts from fleshliness and sensuality, and vain imaginations, if that same better thing should be hindered by cleaving still to their former customs, that then they leave such their custom (when it may be left without scandal or harm184 to others) and follow that which they feel. But if neither hinder the other, that then they use both if they may. I mean not of leaving customs necessary through bond of law, or of rule, or of penance, but of others voluntarily undertaken. Thus saith the Prophet in the Psalms: Surely the lawgiver will give His blessing, they shall go from strength to strength, and the God of Gods shall be seen in Sion.185 That is, our Saviour will give His grace to chosen souls, calling them from sin and making them righteous through good works to His likeness; through which grace they shall profit and grow from virtue to virtue till they come to Sion, that is, till they come to contemplation in which they shall see the God of gods, that is they shall see well that there is but one God.