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tainty. There are, and have been, some religious, who have acted madness, and pretended inspirations; and when these are destitute of a prophetic spirit, if they resolve to serve themselves upon the pretences of it, they are disposed to the imitation, if not to the sufferings, of madness; and it would be a great folly to call such.“ Dei plenos,” full of God, who are no better than fantastic and mad people.
23. This we are sure of, that many illusions have come in the likeness of visions, and absurd fancies under the pretence of raptures; and what some have called the spirit of prophecy, hath been the spirit of lying; and contemplation hath been nothing but melancholy and unnatural lengths; and stillness of prayer hath been a mere dream and hypochondriacal devotion, and hath ended in pride or despair, or some sottish and dangerous temptation. It is reported of Heron, the monk, that having lived a retired, mortified, and religious life, for many years together, at last he came to that habit of austerity or singularity, that he refused the festival refection and freer meals of Easter, and other solemnities, that he might do more eminently than the rest, and spend his time in greater abstractions and contemplations; but the devil, taking advantage of the weakness of his melancholy and unsettled spirit, gave him a transportation and an ecstacy, in which he fancied himself to have attained so great perfection, that he was as dear to God as a crowned martyr, and angels would be his security for indemnity, though he threw himself to the bottom of a well. He obeyed his fancy and temptation, did so, bruised himself to death, and died possessed with a persuasion of the verity of that ecstacy and transportation.
24. I'will not say, that all violences and extravagances of a religious fancy are illusions; but I say, that they are all unnatural, not hallowed by the warrant of a revelation, nothing reasonable, nothing secure. I am not sure, that they ever consist with humility ; but it is confessed, that they are often produced by self-love, arrogancy, and the great opinion others have of us.
I will not judge the con. dition of those persons, who are said to have suffered these extraordinaries ; for I know not the circumstances, or causes, or attendants, or the effects, or whether the stories be true that make report of them; but I shall only advise, that we
follow the intimation of our blessed Saviour, that “ we sit down in the lowest place, till the master of the feast comes, and bids us sit up higher.” If we entertain the inward man in the purgative and illuminative way, that is, in actions of repentance, virtue, and precise duty, that is the surest way of uniting us to God, whilst it is done by faith and obedience; and that also is love; and in these peace and safety dwell. And after we have done our work, it is not discretion in a servant to hasten to his meal, and snatch at the refreshment of visions, unions, and abstractions; but first we must gird ourselves, and wait upon the master, and not sit down ourselves, till we all be called at the great supper of the Lamb.
25. It was, therefore, an excellent desire of St. Bernard, who was as likely as any to have such altitudes of speculation, if God had really dispensed them to persons holy, fantastic, and religious : “ I pray God grant to me peace of spirit, joy in the Holy Ghost, to compassionate others in the midst of my mirth, to be charitable in simplicity, to rejoice with them that rejoice, and to mourn with them that mourn; and with these I shall be content: other exaltations of devotion I leave to apostles and apostolic men; the high hills are for the harts and the climbing goats; the stony rocks, and the recesses of the earth, for the conies.” It is more healthful and nutritive to dig the earth, and to eat of her fruits, than to stare upon the greatest glories of the heavens, and live upon the beams of the sun : so unsatisfying a thing is rapture and transportation to the soul; it often distracts the faculties, but seldom does advantage piety, and is full of danger in the greatest of its lustre. If ever a man be more in love with God by such instruments, or more endeared to virtue, or made more severe and watchful in his repentance, it is an excellent grace and gift of God; but then this is nothing but the joys and comfort of ordinary meditation: those extraordinary, as they have no sense in them, so are not pretended to be instruments of virtue, but are, like Jonathan's arrows, shot beyond it, to signify the danger the man is in, towards whom such arrows are shot. But if the
person be made unquiet, inconstant, proud, pusillanimous, of high opinion, pertinacious, and confident in uncertain judgments, or desperate, it is certain they are temptations and illusions : so that, as all our duty consists in the ways of repentance and acquist of virtue ; so there rests all our safety, and, by consequence, all our solid joys; and this is the effect of ordinary, pious, and regular meditations.
26. If I mistake not, there is a temptation like this, under another name, amongst persons whose religion hath less discourse and more fancy, and that is a familiarity with God; which, indeed, if it were rightly understood, is an affection consequent to the illuminative way; that is, an act or an effect of the virtue of religion and devotion, which consists in prayers and addresses to God, lauds, and eucharists, and hymns, and confidence of coming to the throne of grace, upon assurance of God's veracity and goodness infinite : so that familiarity with God, which is an affection of friendship, is the intercourse of giving and receiving blessings and graces respectively; and it is produced by a holy life, or the being in the state of grace, and is part of every man's inheritance, that is a friend of God. But when familiarity with God shall be esteemed a privilege of singular and eminent persons, not communicated to all the faithful, and is thought to be an admission to a nearer intercourse of secrecy with God, it is an effect of pride, and a mistake in judgment concerning the very same thing, which the old divines call the unitive way, if themselves that claim it understood the terms of art, and the consequents of their own intentions.
27. Only I shall observe one circumstance: That familiarity with God is nothing else but an admission to be of God's family, the admission of a servant, or a son in minority, and implies obedience, duty, and fear on our parts ; care and providence, and love on God's part: and it is not the familiarity of sons, but the impudence of proud equals, to express this pretended privilege in even, unmannerly, and irreverent addresses and discourses: and it is a sure rule, that whatsoever heights of piety, union, or familiarity, any man pretends to, it is of the devil, unless the greater the pretence be, the greater also be the humility of the man. The highest flames are the most tremulous; and so are the most holy and eminent religious persons more full of awful-ness, and fear, and modesty, and humility : so that, in true divinity and right speaking, there is no such thing as the unitive way of religion, save only in the effects of duty, obedience, and the expresses of the precise virtue of religion. Meditations in order to a good life, let them be as exalted as the capacity of the person and subject will endure, up to the height of contemplation; but if contemplation comes to be a distinct thing, and something besides or beyond a distinct degree of virtuous meditation, it is lost to all sense, and religion, and prudence. Let no man be hasty to eat of the fruits of paradise, before his time.
28. And now I shall not need to enumerate the blessed fruits of holy meditation ; for it is a grace, that is instrumental to all effects, to the production of all virtues, and the extinction of all vices; and, by consequence, the inhabitation of the Holy Ghost within us is the natural or proper emanation from the frequent exercise of this duty; only it hath something particularly excellent, besides its general influence: for meditation is that part of prayer, which knits the soul to its right object, and confirms and makes actual our intention and devotion. Meditation is the tongue of the soul, and the language of our spirit; and our wandering thoughts in prayer are but the neglects of meditation, and recessions from that duty; and according as we neglect meditation, so are our prayers imperfect; meditation being the soul of prayer, and the intention of our spirit. But, in all other things, meditation is the instrument and conveyance; it habituates our affections to heaven, it hath permanent content, it produces constancy of purpose, despising of things below, inflamed desires of virtue, love of God, self-denial, humility of understanding, and universal correction of our life and manners.
Holy and eternal Jesus, whose whole life and doctrine was a
perpetual sermon of holy life, a treasure of wisdom, and a repository of Divine materials for meditation; give me grace to understand, diligence and attention to consider, care to lay up, and carefulness to reduce to practice, all those actions, discourses, and pious lessons, and intimations, by which thou didst expressly teach, or tacitly imply, or mysteriously signify, our duty. Let my understanding become as spiritual in its employment and purposes, as it is immaterial in its nature ; fill my memory, as a vessel of election, with remembrances and notions highly compunctive, and greatly incentive of all the parts of sanctity. Let thy Holy Spirit dwell in my soul, instructing my knowledge, sanctifying my thoughts, guiding my affections, directing my will in the choice of virtue ; that it may be the great employment of my life to meditate in thy law, to study thy preceptive will, to understand even the niceties and circumstantials of my duty ; that ignorance may neither occasion a sin, nor become a punishment. Take from me all vanity of spirit, lightness of fancy, curiosity and impertinency of inquiry, illusions of the devil, and fantastic deceptions : let my thoughts be as my religion, plain, honest, pious, simple, prudent, and charitable of great employment and force to the production of virtues and extermination of vice; but suffering no transportations of sense and vanity, nothing greater than the capacities of my soul, nothing that may minister to any intemperances of spirit; but let me be wholly inebriated with love; and that love wholly spent in doing such actions, as best please thee, in the conditions of my infirmity and the securities of humility, till thou shalt please to draw the curtain, and reveal thy interior beauties, in the kingdom of thine eternal glories : which grant, for thy mercy's sake, O holy and eternal Jesu. Amen.
Of the Death of the Holy Innocents, or the Babes of Beth
lehem, and the Flight of Jesus into Egypt.
1. All this while Herod waited for the return of the wise men, that they might give directions, where the child did lie, and his sword might find him out, with a certain and direct execution. But “ when he saw, that he was mocked of the wise men, he was exceeding wroth.” For it now began to deserve his trouble, when his purposes, which were most secret, began to be contradicted and diverted with a prevention, as if they were resisted by an all-seeing and almighty Providence. He began to suspect, the hand of Heaven was in it; and saw, there was nothing for his purposes to be