A GUIDE TO TRUE PEACE – CH 13: ON CONVERSION

13: ON CONVERSION

“Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”(68) “Turn ye to Him from whom, ye have revolted.”(69) To be truly converted is to avert wholly from the creature, and turn wholly unto the Creator.

For the attainment of salvation, it is absolutely necessary that we should forsake outward sin, and turn unto righteousness: but this alone is not perfect conversion, which consists in a total change of the whole man, from an outward to an inward life. 

When the soul is once turned to God, it finds a wonderful facility in continuing steadfast in its conversion; and the longer it remains thus converted, the nearer it approaches, and the more firmly it adheres to God; and the nearer it draws to Him, of necessity, the farther it is removed from that spirit, which is contrary to Him: thus the soul is so effectually established and rooted in its conversion, that a state of conversion becomes in some measure natural to it. 

Now, we must not suppose that this is effected by a violent exertion of its own powers; for the soul is not capable of, nor should it attempt, any other cooperation with Divine Grace, than that of endeavoring to withdraw itself from external objects, and to turn inward: after which, it has nothing further to do, than to continue steadfast in its adherence to God.

He has an attractive virtue, which draws the soul more and more powerfully to Himself,  the nearer it approaches towards Him, and in attracting, He purifies and refines it; just as it is with a gross vapor exhaled by the sun, which, as it gradually ascends, is rarified and rendered pure: the vapor, indeed, contributes to its exhalation only by its passiveness; but the soul cooperates with the attraction of Purity, by a free and affectionate correspondence. This turning of the mind inward is both easy and efficacious, advancing the soul naturally, and without constraint, because God Himself is the centre which attracts it.

All our care and attention should therefore be to acquire inward silence: nor let us be discouraged by the pains and difficulties we encounter in this exercise, which will soon be recompensed by such abundant supplies of Divine strength as will render the exercise perfectly easy, provided we are faithful in meekly withdrawing our hearts from outward objects and gratifications, and returning to our centre, with affections full of tenderness and serenity. —When at any time the passions are turbulent, a gentle retreat inward to a present God easily deadens and pacifies them; and any other way of contending with them, rather irritates than appeases them. Divine Power, in time past, instantly calmed a boisterous and raging sea; and can we now doubt, if we sincerely apply to Him in our distress, that He will still the tumults of the agitated soul?

68) Ezekiel 33:11
69) Isaiah 31:6

A GUIDE TO TRUE PEACE – CH 14: ON SELF-ANNIHILATION

14: ON SELF ANNIHILATION

The soul becomes fitted for union with God, by giving up self to the destroying and annihilating power of Divine Love.— This, in deed, is a most essential and necessary sacrifice in the Christian religion, and that only by which we can pay true homage to the sovereignty of God. By the subjection of self within us, we truly acknowledge the supreme existence of God; for unless we cease to exist in self, the Spirit of the Eternal Word cannot exist in us. Now it is by the giving up of our own life, that we give place for His coming; and, in dying to ourselves, He Himself liveth and abideth in us.(70)

We should, indeed, surrender our whole being unto Christ; and cease to live any longer in ourselves, that He Himself may become our life; “that being dead, our life may be hid with Christ in God.”(71) By leaving and forsaking ourselves, we are lost in Him; and this can be effected only by the annihilation of self, which being the true prayer of adoration, renders unto God, and unto the Lamb, blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, forever and ever.(72)

This is the prayer of truth: it is worshiping God is spirit and truth.(73) because we here come to know the Spirit to help our infirmities, and make intercession for us;(74) and being thus influenced by the pure Spirit of God, we are thereby drawn forth and freed from our own carnal and corrupt manner of praying. We can pay due honor to the Almighty only in our own annihilation which is no sooner accomplished, than He, Who never suffers a void in nature, instantly fills us with Himself.

Did we but know the virtues and the blessings which the soul derives from this species of prayer, we should willingly be employed therein without ceasing. It is the pearl of great price;(75) it is the hidden treasure; which whoever findeth, selleth freely all that he hath to purhase it:  it is the “well of living water, which springeth up into everlatsting life:” it is true adoration, and comprehends the full performance of the purest evangelical precepts.

Jesus assured us that the kingdom of God is within us;(76) and this is true in two senses: first, God becomes so fully the Master and Lord in us, that nothing resists His dominion: then is our interior His kingdom. And again, when we possess God, who is the Supreme Good, we possess His kingdom also, wherein there is fullness of joy, and where we attain the end our creation. The end of our creation, indeed, is to enjoy our God, even in this life; but, alas! how few there are who ever come to know the pure joy which His Presence gives.

70) Galatians 2:20
71) Colossians 3:3
72) Revelation 5:13
73) John 4:23
74) Romans 8:26
75) Matthew 13:44
76) Luke 17:21

A GUIDE TO TRUE PEACE – CH 15: ON MAN ACTS MORE NOBLY UNDER THE DIVINE INFLUENCE, THAN HE CAN POSSIBLY DO BY FOLLOWING HIS OWN WILL

15. MAN ACTS MORE NOBLY UNDER THE DIVINE INFLUENCE,
THAN HE CAN POSSIBLY DO BY FOLLOWING HIS OWN WILL

Some persons, when they hear of the prayer of silence, falsely imagine that the soul remains dead and inactive; but unquestionably it acteth more nobly and more extensively than it ever has done before; for God Himself is its Mover, and it now acts by the agency of His Spirit. When Paul speaks of our being led by the Spirit of God, it is not meant that we should cease from action; but that we should act through the internal agency of His grace. This is finely represented by the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the wheels which had a Living Spirit; and whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went, they ascended and descended, as they were moved: for the Spirit of Life was in them, and they turned not where they went.(77)— Thus the soul should be equally subservient to the will of that vivifying Spirit wherewith it is enlightened, and scrupulously faithful to follow only where that moves. Our activity should, therefore, consist in endeavoring to acquire and maintain such a state as may be most susceptible of Divine impressions, most flexible to all the operations of the Eternal Word.

Whilst a tablet is unsteady, the painter is unable to delineate a true copy: so every act of our own selfish spirit is productive of false and erroneous lineaments; it interrupts the work, and defeats the design, of this adorable Painter: we must then remain in peace, and move only when He moves us. Jesus Christ has the life in Himself,(78) and this is the life of every living soul.

As all action is estimable only in proportion to the dignity of the efficient principle, this action is incontestably more noble than any other. Actions produced by a Divine principle are Divine; but creaturely actions, however good they may appear, are only human. Christ, the Word, has the Life in Himself: and being communicative of His nature, He desireth to communicate it to man. We should, therefore, make room for the influx of this Life, which can only be done by ejection of the fallen nature, and the suppression of the activity of self. This is agreeable to the assertion of Paul: If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new!(79) But this state can be accomplished only by dying to ourselves, and to all our own activity, that an heavenly influence may be substituted in its stead.

Man may, indeed, open the window; but it is the Son Himself that must give the light. Jesus has exemplified this in the Gospel: Martha did what was right, but because she did it in her own spirit, He rebuked her. The spirit of man is restless and turbulent; for which reason it does little, though it would appear to do much.— Martha,” said Jesus, “thou art careful and troubled about many things but one thing is needful; and Mary has chosen that good part which shall not be taken from her.”(80) And what was it that Mary had chosen? Repose, tranquility, and peace. She apparently ceased to act, that the spirit of Christ might act in her; she ceased to live, that Christ might be her life.

Peter, in the warmth of his affection, told Jesus that, for His sake, he was ready willingly to lay down his life; but, at the word of a young damsel, he denied Him.

The many troubles in life come from the soul not abiding in its place, and not being content with the will of God, and what is afforded therein, from time to time. Many souls may be resigned as to the general will, and yet fail as to the present moment: being out of the will of God, they fall: they renew such falls as long as they continue out of the Divine Will; when they return to it, all will go on well. God loves what is done in His own order, and His own will and time; and while you faithfully give yourself up thereto, you will do all things right.

All men have more or less of ardent desires, except those who live in the Divine will. Some of these desires may appear to be good; but unless they are according to the will of God, he who rests in the Divine will, though he be exempt from all these desires, is infinitely more peaceful, and glorifies God more. This shows us how necessary it is to renounce ourselves, and all our own activity, to follow Christ; and we cannot follow Him, without being animate with His Spirit. Now that His Spirit may gain admission in us, it is necessary that our spirit should be first subdued: He that is joined to the Lord, said Paul, is one spirit.(81)

All things should be done in their season: every state has its commencement, its progress, and its consummation; and it is an unhappy error to stop in the beginning. There is even no art but what has its process; and at first we must labor with diligence and toil, but at last we shall reap the harvest of our industry. When the vessel is in port, the mariners are obliged to exert all their strength that they may clear her thence, and put to sea; but at length they turn her with facility, as they please. In like manner, while the soul remains in sin and creaturely entanglements, very frequent and strenuous endeavors are requisite to effect its freedom; the cords which hold it must be loosed; and then, by strong and vigorous efforts, it pushes off gradually from its old port; and, in leaving that at a distance, it proceeds to the haven to which it wishes to steer.

When the vessel is thus put in motion, in proportion as she advances on the sea, she leaves the land behind; and the farther she departs from her old harbor, the less difficulty and labor is requisite in moving her forward: at length, she begins to get sweetly under sail: and now proceeds so swiftly in her course, that the oar, which is become useless, is laid aside. How is the pilot now employed? He is content with spreading the sails and holding the rudder. To spread the sails is to lay the mind open before God, that it may be acted upon by His Spirit; to hold the rudder is to restrain the heart from wandering from the true course, recalling it gently, and guiding it steadily to the dictates of the blessed Spirit, which gradually gain possession and dominion of it; just as the wind by degrees fills the sails, and impels the vessel.

While the winds are fair, the mariners rest from their labors, and the vessel glides rapidly along without their toil, and when they thus repose, and leave the vessel to the wind, they make more way in one hour, than they had done in a length of time by all their former efforts: were they now even to attempt using the oar, they would not only fatigue themselves, but retard the vessel by their ill-timed labors.

This is the manner of acting we should pursue interiorly: it will, indeed, advance us in a very short time, by the divine influence, infinitely farther than a whole life spent in repeated acts of self exertion.

If the wind is contrary, and blow a storm, instead of putting out to sea, we must cast anchor to hold the vessel. Our anchor is a firm confidence and hope in Divine Power, waiting patiently the calming of the tempest, and the return of a more favorable gale, as David waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto him, and heard his cry.(82) We must, therefore, be resigned to His Spirit, giving up ourselves wholly to His Divine Guidance; never suffering ourselves to be disquieted by any accident: for inquietude is the door by which the enemy gets into the soul, to rob it of its peace: neither should we concern or busy ourselves with what others say and do, for this will be a great cause of disturbance to us.

Let us pacify all the motions of our heart, as soon as we see it in agitation. —Let us quiet all pleasure that comes not from a pure source. Let us do away with all unprofitable thoughts and musings. Let us diligently seek God within us, and we shall infallibly find Him, and with Him, joy and peace; such joy and peace that will endure in the midst of suffering, and which, flowing from an inexhaustible source, becomes a perpetual fountain of delight. —Peace I leave with you, said Christ, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you.(83)

Did we but know the blessedness of harkening unto God, and how greatly the soul is strengthened and invigorated thereby, all flesh would surely be silent before Him;(84) all would be still as soon as He appeareth. But to engage us further in a boundless resignation, He assures us, by the same prophet, that we should fear nothing in thus giving up ourselves to Him, because He takes care of us, surpassing the highest tenderness of which we can form an idea: Can a woman, saith He, forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, she may forget; yet I will not forget thee.(85) Oh, blessed assurance, full of consolation! Who, after this, shall be fearful of resigning themselves wholly to the dispensation and guidance of their God!

All men seek for peace, but they seek where it is not to be found. They seek it in the world, which is ever promising, but can never give us solid peace; for, wherever we go, we shall carry this fruitful source of every perplexity, our own unsubdued and selfish will. The love of liberty is one of the most dangerous passions of the heart. If we follow this propensity, instead of true liberty, it reduces us to slavery. As our passions are the worst of tyrants, if we obey them partially, we must always be in a perpetual strife and contest within; and if we entirely give ourselves up to them, it is horrid to think to what extremities they will lead; they will torment the heart, and, like a torrent, sweep all before them, and yet never be satisfied. True liberty is to be found only in Him, whose truth shall set us free,(86) and who shall make us experience that to serve Him is to reign.

That piety by which we are sanctified, and entirely devoted to God, consists in doing his will precisely in all circumstances in life. Take what steps you please, do what deeds you will, let shine with lustre, yet you shall not be rewarded but for having done the will of you Sovereign Master. Although your servant did wonders in your house, yet if he did not what you required, you would not value his service, and you might justly complain of him as a bad servant.

There is no good spirit but that of God: that spirit, which removes us from the true good, is but a spirit of illusion, however flattering it may appear. Who would be carried in a magnificent chariot on the road to an abyss! The way which leads to a precipice is frightful, although it should be covered with roses; but the way that leads to a crown is delightful, although it should be thick set with thorns. He has given His Good Spirit to instruct us,(87) therefore, let us no longer follow our own will, but His; so that not only our religious actions, but also all others, may be done with no other view but that of pleasing Him; then will our whole conduct be sanctified; then will our deeds become a continual sacrifice; and incessant prayer, and uninterrupted love will occupy the heart: therefore, let us submit to the annihilation of our own will, that His will may reign in us! For it is His prerogative to command, our duty to obey.

77) Ezekiel 1:15-21
78) John 5:26
79) 2 Corinthians 5:17
80) Luke 10:41-42
81) 1 Corinthians 6:17
82) Psalm 40:1
83) John 14:27
84) Zechariah 2:13
85) Isaiah 49:15
86) John 8:32
87) Nehemiah 9:20

A GUIDE TO TRUE PEACE- CH 16: ON THE POSSESSION OF PEACE AND REST BEFORE GOD

16. ON THE POSSESSION OF PEACE AND REST BEFORE GOD

The soul that is faithful in the exercise of that love and adherence to God already described is astonished to feel Him gradually taking possession of its whole being; and now enjoys a continual sense of that presence which is become, as it were, natural to it. This presence diffuses an unusual serenity throughout all our faculties — it calms the mind, and gives sweet repose and quiet, even in the midst of our daily labors; but then we must be resigned to Him without reserve.

We must, however, urge it as a matter of the highest importance, to cease from self-action and self-exertion, that Divine Power may act alone; He saith by the mouth of His prophet David, “Be still, and know that I am God.”(88) Yet those greatly err, who accuse this species of prayer of idleness, a charge that can only arise form inexperience. If they would but make some efforts towards the attainment of it, they would soon experience the contrary or what they suppose, and find their accusation groundless.

This appearance of inaction is, indeed, not the consequence of sterility and want, but of fruitfulness and abundance; this will be clearly known by the experienced soul, which will know and feel, that its silence is full and unctuous, and the result of causes totally the reverse of apathy and barrenness. The interior is not a stronghold to be taken by storm and violence; but a Kingdom of Peace, which is to be gained only by love. Let us then give ourselves up to God without apprehension of danger. He will love us, and enable us to love him; and that love, increasing daily, will produce in us all other virtues. He alone can replenish our hearts which the world has agitated and intoxicated, but never could fill. He will take nothing from us but that makes us unhappy.
We shall only be made to alter a little in our actions, and correct the motive of them, by making all referable to Him. Then the most ordinary and seemingly indifferent actions will become exercises of virtue, and sources of consolation. We shall behold in peace the approach of death, as the beginning of life immortal; and as Paul said, We shall not be unclothed; but clothed upon, and mortality shall be swallowed up of life.”(89)

Let us therefore no longer fear to commit ourselves wholly to Him. What risk do we run, in depending solely on His goodness? Ah! He will not deceive us, unless by bestowing an abundance beyond our highest hopes: but those who expect all from themselves will inevitably be deceived, and must suffer this rebuke by the prophet Isaiah: Behold all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks; walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that you have kindled.— This shall ye have of my hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.(90)

The soul advanced thus far has no need of any other preparative other than quietude: for now the Divine Presence, which is the great effect, or rather the continuation of prayer, begins to be powerfully felt, and the soul experiences what the apostle Paul saith, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him.(91) The soul certainly enjoys transcendent blessedness, and feels that it is no longer she or he that lives, but Christ that liveth in the her; and that the only way to find Him is to turn the mind inward.(92) We no sooner do this, than we are filled with the consolations of His presence: we are so amazed at so great a blessing, and enjoy an internal converse, which external matters cannot interrupt.

The same may be said of this species of prayer, that is said of wisdom: “All good things come together with her.” For the virtues now flow from us into action with so much sweetness and facility, that thy appear natural and spontaneous.

88) Psalm 46:10
89) 2 Corinthians 5:4
90) Isaiah 50:11
91) 1 Corithians 2:9
92) Galatians 2:20

A GUIDE TO TRUE PEACE- CH 17: ON PERFECTION, OR THE UNION OF THE SOUL WITH GOD

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