The scale (or ladder) of perfection

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Of the Ground and Image of Sin in us, which is first to be found out and laboured against, and how it is to be done

THOU hast heard already what thy soul is, and what dignity and beauty it had, and how it lost it, and also how it may by grace and busy travail be somewhat recovered again, in feeling, in part in this life. Now I shall tell thee (according to my feeble ability) how thou mayest enter into thyself to see the ground of sin, and destroy it as much as thou canst, and so recover a part of thy soul's dignity.
How we should behold this image.

To do this thou shalt cease for a time from all bodily works, and from all outward business as much as thou canst, then shalt thou draw thy whole thought into thyself from all thy bodily senses, which thou must hold in and restrain from wandering forth, so that thou take no heed of anything thou seest or hearest or feelest, and after this draw in thy thoughts nearer from all imaginations of any bodily deeds done before by thee, or of any other men's deeds; and this is not difficult to be done at that time when thou hast devotion, but thou must do it also when thou hast no such devotion, and then it will be somewhat difficult. And set thy intent and full purpose, as if thou wouldst not seek nor find anything but only the grace and spiritual presence of Jesus.

This will be painful; for vain thoughts will press into thy heart very thick, to draw thy mind down to them. And in doing thus thou shalt find somewhat, but not Jesus whom thou seekest, but only a naked remembrance of His name. But what then shalt thou find. Surely this: a dark and ill-favoured image of thy own soul, which hath neither light of knowledge nor feeling of love of God. This image, if thou behold it heedfully, is all inwrapped and clothed with black stinking rags of sin, as pride, envy, anger, covetousness, gluttony, sloth and luxury. This is not the image of Jesus, but the image of sin, which St Paul calleth a body of sin and of death.116 This image and this black shadow thou bearest about with thee wheresoever thou goest; out of this spring many great streams of sin, and small ones also. Just as out of the image of Jesus, if it be reformed in the beams of spiritual light will spring and ascend up towards heaven burning desires, pure affections, wise thoughts and all comeliness of virtues. Even so out of this image spring stirrings of pride, of envy and such other, which cast thee down from the comeliness of a man into a beast's likeness.

What this image is like.

Peradventure now thou beginnest to think with thyself what this image is like, and that thou shouldst not study much upon it, I will tell thee. It is like no bodily thing. What is it then, sayest thou? Verily it is nought, or no real thing, as thou shalt find, if thou try by doing as I have spoken; that is, draw in thy thoughts into thyself from all bodily things, and then shalt thou find right nought wherein thy soul may rest.

This nothing is nought else but darkness of conscience, and a lacking of the love of God and of light; as sin is nought but a want of good, if it were so that the ground of sin was much abated and dried up in thee, and thy soul was reformed right to the image of Jesus; then if thou didst draw into thyself thy heart, thou shouldst not find this nought, but thou shouldst find Jesus; not only the naked remembrance of this name, but Jesus Christ in thy soul readily teaching thee; thou shouldst there find light of understanding and no darkness of ignorance, a love and liking of Him, and no pain of bitterness, heaviness or tediousness of Him. But because thou art not reformed, therefore when thy soul draweth into herself from all bodily things and delights, thou findest nothing but emptiness, darkness and heaviness; so that thou thinkest it an hundred years till thou be out again to some bodily delight or vain thoughts, and it is no wonder; for he that cometh home to his house, and findeth nothing but stink and smoke, and a chiding wife, he will quickly run out of it. Even so thy soul, finding no comfort in itself, but black smoke of spiritual blindness, or great chiding of guilty or fleshly thoughts, crying upon thee that thou canst not be in peace, verily it will quickly be weary of being alone and recollected, until it be out again. And this is the darkness of conscience.

He that will find Jesus must take pains about this dark image of sin.

Nevertheless, in this dark conscience it behoves him to labour and sweat; that is to say, it behoveth thee to draw thy thoughts into thyself from all bodily things as much as thou canst, and then when thou findest right nought but sorrow and pain, and blindness in this darkness, if thou wilt find Jesus, thou must suffer the pain of this dark conscience, and abide awhile therein. And here also thou must beware that thou take Jesus Christ into thy thoughts against this darkness in thy mind, by busy prayer and fervent desire to God, not setting the point of thy thoughts on that aforesaid nought, but on Jesus Christ whom thou desirest. Think stiffly on His Passion and on His humility, and through His might thou shalt arise. Do as if thou wouldst beat down this dark image, and go through-stitch with it. Thou shalt hate and loathe117 this darkness, and this nought, just as the devil, and thou shalt despise and all to break it.118 For within this nought is Jesus hid in His joy, whom thou shalt not find with all thy seeking, unless thou pass this darkness of conscience.

This is the ghostly travail I spake of, and the cause of all this writing is to stir thee thereto, if thou have grace. This darkness of conscience and this nought is the image of the first Adam. St Paul knew it well, for he said thus of it: As we have before borne the image of the earthly man, that is the first Adam, right so that we might now bear the image of the heavenly man, which is Jesus, the second Adam. St Paul bore this image oft full heavily, for it was so cumbersome to him that he cried out of it, saying thus: O who shall Deliver me from this body and this image of death?119 And then he comforted himself and others also thus: The grace of God through Jesus Christ.

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