The Spirit of God Dwells in the Heart of Man
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A Guide to True Peace
Introduction (As taken from first two pages of Part I)
This little book was written to nourish the spiritual life. Evidently it succeeded in its purpose, for it passed through at least twelve editions and reprintings from 1813 to 1877. Compiled anonymously by two Quakers, William Backhouse and James Janson, from the writings of three great mystics of a century earlier, Fenelon, Guyon, and Molinos, it was widely used as a devotional book by members of the Society of Friends. Always printed in pocket size, it was constantly ready at hand to plead for "a species of prayer which may be exercised at all times, a lamp continually lighted before the throne of God."
In this new edition, A Guide to True Peace makes a timely reappearance. It was first issued at the dawn of the industrial age when man was learning how to control nature through scientific knowledge. And now, just when that effort seems close to complete success, we stand bewildered in the midst of the ruin we ourselves have created. Many are beginning to doubt whether the meaning and goal of life can be found through power over the world around us, but they know not where else to turn.
A Guide to True Peace diagnoses our trouble and points out the remedy. It tells us that we are in trouble because, in learning how to control nature, we have neglected to learn how to control ourselves. We must look within, not without, for the meaning and goal of life. In the depths of our being we shall find an inner sanctuary where there is true peace, where all desire for selfish exercise of power is overcome by unselfish love, where the Divine Presence is known by direct immediate glance of the soul.
This solution will seem too simple to intellectuals and too inadequate to activists, the two groups that dominate our age. The intellectual seeks an answer in some system of philosophy or theology or some scheme of social or political reform. But our Guide does not encourage us to seek ultimate Truth solely by thinking. "Man may indeed open the window, but it is the Sun himself that must give the light." This Sun is "the Way, the Truth and the Life" whose Light shines into our souls if we but open the window of prayer. All progress in prayer is a progress in simplicity, and so the highest form of prayer is not a mental act nor an upsurge of feeling but the direct perception of the Divine Presence.
But how, the activist will ask, can we heal a sick world when we are advised to "retire from all outward objects and silence all desires in the profound silence of the whole soul?" The answer is that there is no peace without until there is peace within. A man who is inwardly disordered will infect all about him with his inner disorder. John Wollman, a New Jersey tailor of the eighteenth century, followed without reservation the type of religion portrayed in Guide to True Peace, yet he was one of the world’s greatest social reformers. When he went about persuading the Quakers, a hundred years before the Civil War, to give up their slaves, he did not say much about suffering and injustice. He simply pointed out to the slaveholders that they felt no inner peace. The history of the Society of Friends shows that almost always this search for inner peace is the dynamic of Quaker pioneering in social reform. True peace comes, not by inaction but in letting God act through us.
The Guide to True Peace is compiled principally from the Short Method of Prayer of Madame Guyon, the Maxims of the Saints of Fenelon, and the Spiritual Guide of Molinos. The writers of these three mystical classics were the outstanding figures in that seventeenth century movement in France and Italy nicknamed Quietism because of its teaching that God is known only through the prayer of inward silence when all human thought and feeling is quieted. This movement had strong influence on the Society of Friends whose teachings were closely akin. Jeanne de la Motte Guyon’s dramatic and tragic life (1648-1717) is vividly described in her autobiography. Fenelon (1651-1715), Archbishop of Cambrai and preceptor to the grandson of Louis XIV, was her friend and convert. Miguel de Molinos (1640-1697) was a Spanish priest who came to Rome where he secured the support of the Pope and a large following. All three, after a period of favor, were condemned and persecuted by the Roman Church.
The present printing of the Guide to True Peace is taken from the 1839 edition published in Philadelphia.
PREFACE (also from inside book)
"They who worship the Father, must worship him in Spirit and in Truth." Now the object of this work is to explain, in a simple and familiar manner, how this only true worship can be acceptably performed, and inward, spiritual prayer rightly attained. Few authors have written with greater clearness thereon than those from whose works this little volume has been chiefly compiled; they, therefore, have been preferred: at the same time, it has been thought necessary to simplify, and render more intelligible, some of their terms, in order that they may be more generally understood.
Whilst some, into whose hands this little treatise may fall, may receive it as a messenger of glad tidings, there will, doubtless, be others, who may not feel disposed to place much dependence on the simple manner here pointed out, of drawing near to their Creator; let such, however, not judge according to the appearance; but, laying aside all reasoning thereon, in humility and simplicity make trial of it, and feel for themselves, whether what is herein stated will not prove to be something more than an empty dream of imagination, or a cunningly devised fable. And, if they do this in sincerity of heart, they will soon have to acknowledge, to their great consolation, that these are indeed substantial, efficacious, and incontrovertible truths; and that this is the true way to become purified from our many defilements, to be instructed in heavenly mysteries, to taste of the wine of the kingdom, and to partake of that bread which nourishes up unto everlasting life.
1: THE SPIRIT OF GOD
DWELLS IN THE HEART OF MAN
It is certain from Scripture, that the Spirit of God dwells within us, that a "manifestation of this Spirit is given to us to profit withal," and that this is "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." This is the grace of God, which bringeth salvation, and which hath appeared unto all men; teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. But we make too little account of this internal Teacher, which is the soul of our soul, and by which only we are able to form good thoughts and desires. God ceases not to reprove us for evil, and to influence us to that which is good; but the noises of the world without, and of our own passions within, deafen us, and hinder us from hearing him.
We must retire from all outward objects, and silence all the desires and wandering imaginations of the mind; that in this profound silence of the whole soul, we may hearken to the ineffable voice of the Divine Teacher. We must listen with an attentive ear; for it is a still, small voice. It is not indeed a voice uttered in words as when a man speaks to his friend; but it is a perception infused by the secret operations and influences of the Divine Spirit, insinuating to us obedience, patience, meekness, humility, and all the other Christian virtues, in a language perfectly intelligible to the attentive soul. But how seldom is it that the soul keeps itself silent enough for God to speak! The murmurs of our vain desires, and our self-love, disturb all of the teachings of the Divine Spirit. Ought we then to be surprised, if so many persons, apparently devout, but too full of their own wisdom, and confidence in their own virtues, are not able to hear it; and that they look upon this internal word as the chimers of fanatics? Alas! What is it they aim at with their vain reasoning? The external word, even of the gospel, would be but an empty sound without this living and fruitful Word in the interior, to interpret and open it to the understanding.
Christ saith, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock —if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in unto him, and sup with him and he with me." His knocks are the monitions of his Spirit; which touch us, and operate in us. And to attend to these monitions and follow them, is to open unto him.
He speaks in impenitent sinners; but these, engrossed in the eager pursuit of worldly pleasures, and the gratification of their evil passions, are not able to hear him. His word with them passes for a fable. But woe to those who receive their consolation in this life. The time will come when their vain joys shall be confounded.
He speaks in sinners who are in the way of conversion: these feel the remorses of their conscience, and these remorses are the voice of the Spirit, which upbraids them inwardly with their vices. When they are truly touched, they have no difficulty to comprehend the secret voice, for it is this that so pierces them to the quick. It is that two-edged sword within them, of which Paul speaks, which goes even to the dividing of soul from itself: "The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword; piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
He speaks in persons enlightened, learned, and whose life, outwardly regular, seems adorned with many virtues; but often these persons, full of themselves, and of their knowledge, give too much ear to themselves to listen to his teachings. God who seeks only to communicate himself, finds no place (so to speak) where to introduce himself into these souls that are so full of themselves, and so over-fed with their own wisdom and virtues. He hides his secrets from the wise and prudent, and reveals them to the low and simple; Jesus said, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth! Because thou has hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." It is with the humble and childlike that he delights to dwell, and to disclose to them his ineffable secrets. It is these who are more peculiarly qualified for receiving in a greater measure the gift of faith; for, being willing that the pride of Reason should be laid in the dust, they obstruct not the entrance of this gift of their vain arguments; but believe with simplicity and confidence.
2: ON FAITH
There are two sorts or degrees of faith: the first is that by which the mind gives its assent to the truth of a thing on the testimony of another; the second is of a more exalted nature, being of Divine origin, and is a gift of the Holy Spirit. By the first, we believe in the existence of God, and in the truths which he has revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. It is an essential principle in the beginning of the spiritual path; for "he that cometh to God, must believe that he is God, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." And if we put our whole trust in him, and endeavour in all things to obey him, we shall be in a state of preparation for the reception of that true and living faith which is "the gift of God."
It is only by this faith that we shall be enabled to overcome all our spiritual enemies, and clearly to understand those mysteries which are incomprehensible to human reason; for faith, being born of God, cannot err; reason, therefore, must follow and submit to faith, not go before and control it.
It is by faith that, "being justified, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." And when this precious gift has been granted to us, it produces in us hope, love, confidence, joy and holiness of heart. We shall then be enabled to feel an entire dependence on the goodness, power, justice, and mercy of God, and a confidence in his promises; as well as more fully to experience and comprehend the operations of his spirit on the mind.
Faith is an essential requisite for the proper performance of all our duties to the Supreme Being; indeed, without it we cannot possibly please him; neither should we ever be induced to seek him, or believe in the influence of his holy Spirit upon our souls. It is by faith that we are supported in our path to peace, and are enabled to persevere through the difficulties and besetments, which we may have to encounter on our way: it is through this holy principle that we suffer the pains of dryness, and want of consolation, without fainting; being thereby strengthened to "endure, as seeing him who is invisible." And it is only by faith that we can attain to the practice of true, inward, and spiritual prayer.
3: ON PRAYER
Prayer is an intercourse of the soul with God. It is not a work of the head but of the heart; which ought always to continue. It is the medium through which life and food are conveyed to the soul, and the channel through which the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit flow and are communicated. Every secret aspiration of the soul to God is prayer: all therefore are capable of prayer, and are called thereto, as all are capable of, and are called to salvation.
Paul hath enjoined us to "pray without ceasing;" and Jesus saith, "I say unto all, watch and pray." Come, then, all ye that are athirst, to these living waters; nor lose your precious moments in "hewing out cisterns that will hold no water." Come, ye famishing souls who find naught whereon to feed; come, and ye shall be fully satisfied. Come, ye poor afflicted ones, who groan beneath your load of wretchedness and pain, and ye shall find ease and comfort. Come, ye sick, to your Physician, and be not fearful of approaching him, because you are filled with diseases; expose them to his view, and they shall be healed.
Children draw near to your Father, and he will embrace you in the arms of love. Come, ye poor, stray, wandering sheep, return to your Shepherd. Come, ye who have been seeking happiness in worldly pleasures and pursuits, but have failed to find in them that satisfaction ye expected: come, and learn how to be truly happy here, and eternally happy hereafter. Come, sinners, to your Saviour. Come, ye dull, ignorant, and illiterate; ye who think yourselves the most incapable of prayer: ye are more peculiarly called and adapted thereto. Let all, without exception, come; for Christ hath called all. You must however learn a species of prayer which may be exercised at all times, which doth not obstruct outward employments, and which may be equally practised by all ranks and conditions of men; by the poor as well as the rich, by the illiterate as well as the learned. It cannot, therefore, be a prayer of the head, but of the heart. It is a species of prayer which nothing can interrupt but irregular and disorderly affections. And though you may think yourselves ever so dull, and incapable of sublime attainments, yet, by prayer the possession and enjoyment of God is easily obtained; for he is more desirous to give himself to us than we can be to receive him. Prayer is the guide to perfection, and the sovereign good; it delivers us from every vice, and obtains for us every virtue: for the one great means to become perfect is to walk in the presence of Infinite Purity. He himself has said, "Walk in my presence, and be thou perfect." It is only by prayer that we are brought into, and maintained in his presence; and when once we have fully known him, and the sweetness of his love, we shall find it impossible to relish any thing so much as himself.
4: ALL ARE CAPABLE OF ATTAINING
TO INWARD AND SPIRITUAL PRAYER
If all were solicitous to pursue the spiritual path, shepherds, while they watched their flocks, might have the spirit of the primitive Christians, and the husbandman at the plough maintain a blessed intercourse with his Creator; the manufacturer, while he exhausted his outward man with labour, would be renewed in internal strength; every species of vice would shortly disappear, and all mankind become true followers of the good Shepherd. Oh, when once the heart is gained, how easily is all moral evil corrected! It is for this reason, that God, above all things, requires the heart. It is the conquest of the heart alone, that can extirpate those dreadful vices which are so predominant amongst men; such as drunkenness, blasphemy, lewdness, envy, and theft. Christ would become the universal and peaceful Sovereign, and the hearts of all mankind would be wholly renewed.
The decay of internal piety is unquestionably the source of the various errors that have risen in the world; all of which would speedily be sapped and overthrown, were inward religion to be established. If, instead of engaging our wandering brethren in vain disputes, we could but teach them simply to believe, and diligently to pray, we should lead them sweetly unto God.
Oh, how inexpressibly great is the loss sustained by mankind, from the neglect of the interior!
Some excuse themselves by saying that this is a dangerous way; pleading the incapacity of simple persons to comprehend spiritual matters. But Isaiah saith, "The wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." And where can be the danger of walking in the only true way, which is Christ? Of giving ourselves up to him, fixing our eye continually on him, placing all our confidence in his grace, and turning with all the strength of our souls to his pure love?
The simple, so far from being incapable of this perfection, are by their docility, innocency and humility, peculiarly adapted and qualified for its attainment; and as they are not accustomed to reasoning, they are less employed in speculations, less tenacious of their own opinions. Even from their want of learning, they submit more freely to the teachings of the Divine Spirit; whereas others, who are blinded by self-sufficiency, and enslaved by prejudice, give great resistance to the operations of Grace.
We are told in Scripture that, "unto the simple, God giveth understanding;" and we are also assured that he careth for them: "The Lord preserveth the simple." Christ said, "Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
The simple are incapable of reasoning; teach them therefore, the prayer of the heart, not of the head; the prayer of the Spirit, not of man's invention.
Alas! By wanting them to pray in elaborate forms, and to be curiously critical therein, we create their chief obstacles. The children have been led astray from the best of Fathers, by endeavouring to teach them too refined, too polished a language.
The simple and undisguised emotions of filial love are infinitely more expressive than the most studied language. The spirit of God needs none of our arrangements and methods: when it pleaseth him, he turns shepherds into prophets; and, so far from excluding any from the temple of prayer, he throws wide open the gates, that all may enter in; while "Wisdom crieth, ‘Who so is simple let him turn in hither; as for him that wanteth understanding,’ she saith to him, ‘Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled’."
To teach man to seek God in his heart, to think of him, to return to him whenever he finds he has wandered from him, and to do and suffer all things with a single eye to please him is the natural and ready process; it is leading the soul to the very source of Grace, wherein is to be found all that is necessary for sanctification.
O that all would at once put themselves into this way, that Christ’s kingdom might be established in their hearts! For as it is the heart alone that can oppose his sovereignty, it is by the subjection of the heart that his sovereignty is most highly exalted. And since none can attain this blessed state, save those whom God himself leads and places therein, we do not pretend to introduce any into it, but only to point out the shortest and safest road that leads to it: beseeching you not to be retarded in your progress by any external exercises; not to rest in the shadow instead of the substance. If the water of eternal life is shown to some thirsty souls, how inexpressibly cruel would it be, confining them to a round of external forms, to prevent their approaching it: so that their longing shall never be satisfied, but they shall perish with thirst!
O ye blind and foolish men, who pride yourselves on science, wisdom, wit and power! How well do you verify what God hath said, that his secrets are hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto the little ones—the babes!
5: ON ATTAINING TO TRUE PRAYER
The sort of prayer to which we have alluded is that of inward silence; wherein the soul, abstracted from all outward things, in holy stillness, humble reverence, and lively faith, waits patiently to feel the Divine presence, and to receive the precious influence of the Holy Spirit. And when you retire for this purpose, which should be your frequent practice, you should consider yourselves as being placed in the Divine presence, looking with a single eye to him, resigning yourselves entirely into his hands, to receive from him whatsoever he may be pleased to dispense to you; calmly endeavouring, at the same time, to fix your minds in peace and silence; quitting all your own reasonings, and not willingly thinking on any thing, how good and how profitable soever it may appear to be. And should any vain thoughts present themselves, you should gently turn from them; and thus faithfully and patiently wait to feel the Divine presence.
If, while you are thus engaged, something of inward stillness, or a degree of the softening influence of the Divine Spirit, is mercifully granted you, you should prize these manifestations of the presence of God in your souls; and be carefully and reverently attentive thereto; being cautious, however, not to endeavour to increase them by your activity; for, by so doing, you will draw the mind off from that state of holy stillness and humble watchfulness, which you should be solicitous as much as possible to maintain: by fanning the flame there is danger of extinguishing it, and thus depriving the soul of that nourishment which was intended for it.
A lively sense of this presence will extricate us speedily from numberless mental wanderings, remove us far from external objects, and bring us nigh unto that Almighty Power, which is to be found in our inmost center; which is the temple wherein he dwelleth. And when we are thus fully turned inward, and warmly penetrated with a sense of his presence, we should in stillness and repose, with reverence, confidence, and love, suffer the blessed food of which we have tasted, to sink deep into the soul.
The prayer of inward silence is the easiest and most profitable path, because, with a simple view, or attention to God, the soul becomes like a humble supplicant before its Lord; or as a child that casts itself into the safe bosom of its mother. It is also the most secure, because it is abstracted from the operations of the imagination; which is often beguiled into extravagancies, and is easily bewildered and deceived; the soul being thereby deprived of its peace.
It will at first be difficult, from the habit the mind will have acquired of being always from home, roving hither and thither, and from subject to subject, to restrain it, and free it from those wanderings which are an impediment to prayer. Indeed those wanderings of the imagination, with which beginners are for some time tried, are permitted in order to prove their faith, exercise their patience, and to show them how little they can perform of themselves; as well as to teach them to depend upon an Almighty Power alone for strength to overcome all their difficulties; "for by (his own) strength shall no man prevail;" and if they place all their hope in him, and faithfully persevere, every obstacle will be gradually removed, and they will find that they will be enabled to approach him with facility, and that inward silence is not only attended with much less difficulty, but at times will be found to be easy, sweet, and delightful. They will know that this is the true way of finding God; and feel "his name to be as ointment poured forth."
And although we should at all times be very watchful and diligent in recalling our wandering thoughts, restraining them, as much as may be, in due subjection; yet a direct contest with them only serves to augment and irritate them; whereas, by calling to mind that we are in the Divine presence, and endeavouring to sink down under a sense and perception thereof, simply turning inwards, we wage insensibly a very advantageous, though indirect, war with them.
Those who have not learned to read are not, on that account, excluded from prayer; for the great Teacher who teacheth all things is Christ himself. They should learn this fundamental rule, that "the kingdom of God is within them;" and that there only it must be sought.
"The kingdom of God is within you," saith the blessed Jesus. Abandon, therefore, the cares and pleasures of this world, and turn to the Lord with the whole heart, and the soul shall find rest. If we withdraw our attention from outward things, and keep it fixed on the internal Teacher, endeavouring to obey him in whatsoever he may require of us, we will soon perceive the coming of the kingdom of God: for the kingdom of God is that "peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," which cannot be received by sensual and worldly men.
It is for want of inward retirement, and prayer, that our lives are so imperfect, and that we are neither penetrated nor warmed with the divine light of truth, Christ the light. We should therefore be in the daily practise of it; and there are none so much occupied, as not to be able to find a few moments of inward retirement. The less we practise silent prayer, the less desire we have for it; for our minds being set upon outward things, we contract at last such habit, that it is very hard to turn them inward.
"The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him." The silence of all our earthly thoughts and desires is absolutely indispensible, if we would hear the secret voice of the Divine Instructor.
Hearing is a sense formed to receive sounds, and is rather passive than active, admitting, but not communicating, sensation; and if we would hear, we must lend the ear for that purpose: so, Christ the Eternal Word, without whose divine inspeaking the soul is dead, dark, and barren, when he would speak within us, requires the most silent attention to his all-quickening and efficacious voice.
We should forget ourselves and all self-interest, and listen and be attentive to the inspeaking voice. Outward silence is very requisite for the cultivation and improvement of inward; and, indeed, it is impossible we should become internal, without the love and practice of outward silence and retirement.
And unquestionably our being thus internally engaged is wholly incompatible with being busied, and employed in the numerous trifles that surround us. When through inadvertency or unfaithfulness we become dissipated, or as it were uncentered, it is of immediate importance to turn again gently and peacefully inward; and thus we may learn to preserve the spirit and unction of prayer throughout the day: for if the prayer of inward silence were wholly confined to any appointed half-hour, or hour, we should reap but little fruit.
It is of greatest importance for the soul to go to prayer with confidence; and such a pure and disinterested love, as seeks nothing from the Father, but the ability to please him, and to do his will: for a child who only proportions his diligence to his hope of reward, renders himself unworthy of all reward. Go, then, to prayer, not that ye may enjoy spiritual delights, but that ye may be full or empty, just as it pleaseth God. This will preserve you in an evenness of spirit, either in desertion or in consolation, and will prevent your being surprised at dryness, or the apparent repulses of him who is altogether love.
Constant prayer is to keep the heart always right towards God. Strive then not to suffer your minds to be too much entangled with outward things, endeavouring to be totally resigned to the Divine Will; that God may do with you and yours according to his heavenly pleasure, relying on him as on a kind and loving father; and though you be taken up with your outward affairs, and your minds thereby prevented from being actually fixed on him, even then you will always carry a fire about you that will never go out; but which, on the contrary, will nourish a secret prayer, that will be like a lamp continually lighted before the throne of God.
A son who loves his father does not always think distinctly of him; many objects draw away his mind, but these never interrupt the filial love; whenever his father returns into his thoughts, he loves him, and he feels, in the very inmost of his heart, that he has never discontinued one moment to love him, though he has ceased to think of him. In this manner should we love our heavenly Father. It is by coming under the influence of the Divine Spirit that we are enabled to call God Father, and that we can indeed become his sons.
True religion is a heaven-born thing, it is an emanation of the truth and goodness of God upon the spirits of men, whereby they are formed into a similitude and likeness of himself, and become "partakers of the Divine nature." A true Christian is every way of a most noble extraction, of a heavenly and divine pedigree, being born, as John expresseth it, "from above." And in another place he saith, "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God."
If considerations such as these are not sufficient to convince us of the folly of our attachment to perishing things, and to stimulate us to press after those which obtain for us such great and glorious privileges, we must, indeed, be sunk into a state of deep and deplorable insensibility; out of which, even "if one were to rise from the dead" for that purpose, it would be impossible to arouse us.
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 endeavour 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 labour 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 vigour, and patiently 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 tranquillity 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 painful 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."
The prayer of internal silence may be well typified by the 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 Sun of 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 in truth. Almighty Power, in due time, will help you to overcome all your difficulties; and, when least you think, will give you holy purposes, and more effectual desires of serving him. Distrust not him, therefore, but only yourselves; and remember that, as the apostle saith, "He is the father of mercies, and God of all comforts." His comforts are sometimes withdrawn, but his mercy endureth forever. He hath deprived you of what was sweet and sensible in his grace, because you required to be humbled.
Be of good courage, then, and though it may seem to you that you toil without gaining much advantage, yet you must recollect 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 labours. Would you be so unreasonable as to expect to find without seeking; or for it to be opened to you, without your taking the pains to knock? As well might the husbandman expect to see his fields waving with grain, without his having been at the trouble to put the seed into 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 favours and benefits from us; 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 hath 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 doth he recompense our faithfulness! And how sweetly are these apparent withdrawings of himself succeeded by the consolations of his love! David saith, "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 feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth; even praise unto our God."
In seasons of the withdrawings of his presence, we are apt to believe that it will be a proof of our fidelity, and evince the ardour 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 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 the favourites 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 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 endeavour, 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 succour. Retreat within it, and all will be quiet, secure, peaceable, and calm. Thus, by means of mental silence, which can only be attainted by divine help, you may look for tranquillity in tumult; solitude in company, light in darkness; forgetfulness in pressures; vigour in despondency; courage in fear; resistance in temptation; peace in war; and quiet in tribulation.