The most profitable and desirable state in this life is that of Christian perfection, and consists in the union of the soul with Infinite Purity, a union that includes in it all spiritual good; producing in us a freedom of spirit; which raises us above all the events and changes of this life, and which frees us from the tyranny of human fear; it gives an extraordinary power for the well performing of all actions, and acquitting ourselves well in our employments; a prudence truly Christian in all our undertakings; a peace and perfect tranquility in all conditions; and, in short, a continual victory over self love and our passions.
It is impossible to attain Divine Union solely by the activity of meditation, or by the meltings of the affections, or even by the highest degree of luminous and elegantly composed prayer; for, according to Scripture, no man shall see God and live.(93) Now all the exercises of discoursive prayer, and even of active contemplation, being performed in the life of our own will, we cannot thereby see God; for all that is of man’s own power or exertion must first die, be it ever so noble; ever so exalted.
John related, that there was silence in heaven.(94) Now heaven represents the centre of the soul, wherein, ere the Divine Majesty appears, all must be hushed to silence. All efforts, nay the very existence, of self-love must be destroyed; because it is the natural will that is opposed to God, and all the malignity of man proceeds from it, insomuch, that the purity of the soul increases, in proportion as the natural will becomes subjected to the Divine Will.
Therefore, the soul can never arrive at Divine Union but by the annihilation of its will; nor can it ever become one with the Father, but by being re-established in the purity of its first creation. God purifies the soul by His Wisdom, as refiners do metals in the furnace. Gold cannot be purified but by fire, Hhich gradually separates from it, and consumes, all that is earthly and heterogeneous: it must be melted and dissolved, and all impure mixtures taken away, by casting it again and again into the furnace: thus it is refined from all internal corruption, and even exalted to a state incapable of further purification. It now no longer contains an adulterate mixture; its purity is perfect, its simplicity complete and it is fit for the most exquisite workmanship. Thus we may see that the Divine Spirit, as an unremitting fire, must devour and destroy all that is earthly, sensual and carnal, and all self-activity, before the soul can be fitted for, and capable of, union with it.
I will make man more precious than fine gold.(95) But when the Word which was in the beginning begins to burn, destroy, and purify then the soul, not perceiving the salutary designs of these operations, shrinks back from them; and as gold seems rather to blacken than brighten when first put into the furnace, so the soul conceives that its purity is lost, and that its temptations are its sins.
But while we confess that the enjoyment of God is the end for which we were created; that without holiness,(96) none can attain it; and that to attain it we must necessarily pass through a severe and purifying process; how strange is it, that we should dread and avoid this process, as if that could be the cause of evil and imperfection in the present life, which is to be productive of glory and blessedness in the life to come!
Let all, then, press forward towards the mark, suffering themselves to be guided and governed by the Spirit of Grace, which will infallibly conduct them to the end of their creation, the enjoyment of the Blessed Presence.
It may perhaps be said that some may pretend to have attained this blessed state; but alas! none can any more pretend this than the wretch, who is on the point of perishing with hunger, can for a length of time feign to be full and satisfied; some wish or word, some sigh or sign, will inevitably escape him, and betray his famished state.
Be ye perfect, even as you Father, which is in heaven is perfect.(97) The soul, remaining in its disorderly will, is imperfect; it becomes more perfect, in proportion as it approaches nearer to the Divine will. When a soul is advance so far that it cannot in any thing depart therefrom, the Divine will, it then becomes wholly perfect, united with, and transformed into, the Divine Nature; and being thus purified and united to Infinite Purity, it finds a profound peace, and a sweet rest, which brings it to such a perfect union of love, that it is filled with joy. It conforms itself to the will of the great Original in all emergencies, and rejoiced in everything to do the Divine good pleasure.
The Lord draws near to such a soul, and communicates Himself inwardly to it. He fills it with Himself because it is empty; clothes it with His light and his love, because it is naked; lifts it up, because it is low; and unites it with Himself.
If you would enter into this heaven on earth, forget every care and every anxious thought, get out of yourself, that the love of God may live in your soul, so that you may be enabled to say with the apostle: It live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.(98)—How happy should we be if we could thus leave all for Him, seek Him only, breathe after none but Him; let Him only have our sighs! O, that we could but go on without interruption towards the enjoyment of this blessed state! God call us thereto. He invites us to enter our inward centre, where He will renew and change us, and show us a new and heavenly kingdom, full of joy, peace, content, and serenity.
The spiritual, abstracted and retired soul has here its peace no more broken, though outwardly it may meet with combats, and may sometimes be naked, forsaken, fought against, and desolate, because, from the infinite distance, tempests never reach to that serenest heaven within where pure and perfect love resides. For although the prince of darkness my indeed make violent assaults against it; yet it makes head against them, and stands like a strong pillar; no more happening to it than happens to a high mountain in a storm. The valley is darkened with thick clouds, fierce tempests of hail, and thunder; while the
lofty mountain glitters by the bright beams of the sun, in quietness and serenity, continuing clear like heaven, immovable, and full of light; such a soul, indeed, is a mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever.(99)
In this throne of quiet are manifest the perfections of spiritual beauty; here we shall enjoy the true light of the secret and divine mysteries of Christ, perfect humility, the amplest resignation, the meekness and innocence of the dove, liberty and purity of heart; here is witnessed joyful simplicity, heavenly indifference, continual prayer, a total nakedness, perfect disinterestedness, and conversation of heaven. This is the rich hidden treasure; this is the pearl of great price.
93) Exodus 33:20
94) Revelation 8:1
95) Isaiah 13:12
96) Hebrews 12:14
97) Matthew 5:48
98) Galatians 2:20
99) Psalms 125:1