6) ON SPIRITUAL DRYNESS
No sooner shall we have given ourselves up to serve the Lord in this inward way, than He will begin to purify us and try our faith, in order to draw us nearer to Himself. And, for this purpose, He will lead us through the paths of dryness and desertion; so that, when we endeavor to fix our minds in silence, in order to feel after our God, we will not experience the comfort and refreshment we expected; but, on the contrary, will be more than usually beset with a multitude of troublesome and importunate imaginations; insomuch, that we shall begin to think that we labor to no purpose, and that the prayer of internal silence is an attainment to which we need not aspire, seeing that our imagination is so ungovernable, and our minds so void of good. But this state of dryness is very profitable, if it be suffered with patience.
The Lord makes use of the veil of dryness, to the end we may not know what He is working in us, and so we may be humble; because if we felt, and knew, what He was working in our souls, satisfaction and presumption would get in; we should imagine we were doing some good thing; and this self-complacency would prevent our spiritual advancement.
And, though in the prayer of mental stillness, we may feel ourselves to be in a dry and comfortless state, not being able to get rid of our troublesome thoughts, nor experience any light, consolation, or spiritual feeling; yet let us not be afflicted, nor desist from our undertaking; but resign ourselves at that time with vigor, and patiently persevere as in His presence; for while we persevere in that manner, our souls will be internally improved.
We need not believe that when we come from prayer in the same manner as we began it, without feeling, ourselves
profited thereby, that we have been toiling in vain. True prayer consists, not in enjoying the light, and having
knowledge of spiritual things, but in enduring with patience, and persevering in faith and silence; believing that
we are in the Lord’s presence, turning to Him our hearts with tranquility and simplicity of mind.
We must be aware that nature is always an enemy to the spirit; and that when she is deprived of sensible pleasures; she remains weak, melancholy, and full of irksomeness. Hence, from the uneasiness of thoughts, the lassitude of body, importunate sleep, and our inability to curb the senses, every one of which would follow its, own pleasure, we will often feel impatient again to mingle in the concerns of time. Happy are we if we can persevere, amidst this desert trial! Remember, that “they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”(42)
The prayer of internal silence may be well typified by that wrestling, which the Scriptures say the patriarch Jacob had all night with God, until the day broke, and He blessed him. Wherefore, the soul is to persevere, and wrestle with the difficulties that it will meet with in inward prayer without desisting, until the Son 0f internal light begins to appear, and the Lord gives it His blessing.
If you go to prayer with the spirit and intention of praying, so long as you retract not that intention, although through misery and frailty, your thoughts may wander, you will, nevertheless, pray in spirit and truth. Almighty Power, in due time, will help you overcome your flesh’s affections and lusts. Distrust Him not, therefore, but only yourselves; and remember that, as the Apostle saith, He is the father of mercies, and God of all comforts.(43) His comforts are sometimes withdrawn, but His mercies endure forever. He hath deprived you of what was sweet and sensible in His grace, because you required to be humble.
Be of good courage, then, and though it may seem to you that you toil without gaining much advantage, yet you
remember that we must plough and sow before we can reap; and if you persevere in faith and patience, you will reap an abundant reward for all your labors. Would you be so unreasonable as to expect to find without seeking; or for
it to be opened to you, without taking the pains to knock? As well might the husbandman might expect to see his
fields waving with grain, without his having been at the trouble to put the seed in the ground.
It is no hard matter to adhere to God while you are in the enjoyment of His comforts and consolations; but if you
would prove your fidelity to Him, you must be willing to follow Him through the paths of dryness and desertion.
The truth of a friend is not known while he is receiving favors and benefits; but if he remain faithful to us when we treat him with coldness and neglect, it will be proof of the sincerity of his attachment.
Though Almighty Goodness has no other desire than to impart Himself to those that love and seek Him, yet He
frequently conceals Himself from us, that we may be roused from sloth, and induced to seek Him with fidelity and
love. But, with what abundant goodness does He recompense our faithfulness! And how sweetly are these apparent
withdrawings of Himself succeeded by the consolations of His love! David said, “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feel upon a rock, and established my goings. And He has put a new song in my mouth; even praise unto our God.”(44)
In seasons of the withdrawings of His presence, we are apt to believe that it will be a proof of our fidelity, and
evidenced by the ardor of our love, to seek Him by an exertion of our own strength and activity; and that this
exertion will induce Him the more speedily to return. But this is not the right procedure when we are in this
state: with patient resignation, with self-abasement, with the reiterated breathings of an ardent, but peaceful
affection, and with reverential silence, we must wait the return of our Beloved. Thus only we shall demonstrate that we seek nothing but Himself, and his good pleasure; and not the selfish delights of our own sensations.
It is very common for us, when we feel the sweetness of the grace of God, to fancy that we love Him; but it is
only in the withdrawings of His presence that our love can be tried, and the measure of it known. It is at these
seasons that we are convinced of the weakness and misery of our nature, and how incapable we are, of ourselves, to
think or do any good. There are many who, when they experience meltings of heart, shedding of tears, and other sensible delights, imagine that they are favorites of the Almighty, and that then they truly possess Him; and so pass all their lives in seeking after those pleasurable sensations. But they should be cautious lest they deceive
themselves, for these consolations, when they proceed from nature, and are occasioned by their own reflections, or
self-admirings, hinder them from discerning the true light, or making one step towards perfection. You should therefore be attentive to distinguish those meltings of the affections from the operations which purely proceed from the Divine Spirit; leaving yourselves to be led forward by Him, who will be your light in the midst of darkness and dryness.
It is of no small advantage, patiently to suffer the want of consolation, and the trouble and importunities of a wandering imagination: it is an offering up of one’s self in a whole burnt offering and sacrifice. And as many times as you exercise yourselves, calmly to reject your vain thoughts, and peacefully to endure your dark and desolate state, so many crowns will the Lord set upon your heads.
It is of great importance that you endeavor, at all times to keep your hearts in peace; that you may keep pure that temple of God. The way to keep it in peace is to enter into it by means of inward silence. When you see yourselves more sharply assaulted, retreat into that region of peace; and you will find a fortress that will enable you to triumph over all your enemies, visible and invisible, and over all their snares and temptations.
Within your own soul resides Divine Aid, and Sovereign Succor. Retreat within it, and all will be quiet, secure, peaceable, and calm. Thus, by means of mental silence, which can only be attained by Divine Help, you may look for tranquility in tumult; solitude in company, light in darkness; forgetfulness in pressures; vigor in despondency; courage in fear; resistance in temptation; peace in war; and quiet in tribulation.
42) Isaiah 40:31
43) II Corinthians 1:3
44) Psalms 40:1-3