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Three Friends Of God by Frances Bevan


WHEN the Master had finished his sermon, he went down from the pulpit, and read the service. Meanwhile Nicholas observed that a good many people, it might be as many as forty, remained sitting in the churchyard. Therefore when the service was over, he told the Master of it, and they went out to where he had seen the people sitting, to know wherefore they were there. But some of them had by this time gone away, and only twelve remained, and they lay still as if they were dead.

Then Nicholas went from one to another, and touched them, but they scarcely moved. Then said the Master to the man, |Dear son, what dost thou think we had best do with these people?|

For the Master knew not what to think of this strange thing, the like of which he had never seen before. And he said to the man, |Tell me, what dost thou think? Are the people alive or dead?|

Then he smiled and said, |If they were dead, it would be that the Bridegroom had called them through the words you spake. How then should you bring them round again?|

The Master said, |If it be the Bridegroom who has called them, ought I to seek to awaken them?|

The man answered, |Sir, these people are still in the body. I wish that you would ask the convent ladies to let them be carried into their cloister, that they may not take some sickness and harm, by lying in the open air on the cold earth.|

And they did so, and the people were brought into a warm place.

Then the convent ladies said, |Dear sir, we have a nun here to whom the same thing has happened, and she is lying on her bed as if she were dead.|

Then said the Master, |My dear daughters, be patient, for God's sake, and look to these sick people, and when any one of them comes to himself, give him something warm to take. If he will have it, give it him in Christ's name.| And the ladies said they would willingly do so. So the Master and the man went their way, and entered into the Master's cell.

Then the man said, |Now, dear Master, what think you of this? Has the like ever happened to you in your life before? Now I wot you see what wonders God works with good tools. Dear sir, I perceive that this sermon will stir many, and one will tell it to another. If it please you, methinks it were well that you let these sick children rest for a while, for this sermon will give them plenty to digest for some time, and if you think it good, and God give you so to do that you preach a sermon also to those who are in the world.|

And the Master said, |I will gladly do so,| and he preached also to those who were in the world, whereby certain of them were converted.

I grieve to say that I have been unable to find these first sermons |preached to the world.| But it is plain that the Master's sermon to the nuns and the congregation in the convent church, had at least reached the hearts and consciences of some. They saw that there was that in the heart of Christ, which hitherto they had never known, and it was to them as to the Queen of Sheba, of whom it is said when she saw that which was in the house of Solomon, |There was no more spirit in her.| The Lord had shown Himself in His great love to those poor men and women who had been accustomed to regard themselves as holy persons, taken out from the evil world. And therefore it was that some of them now abhorred themselves, and repented in dust and ashes.

And we may believe that there were some also amongst them, who were already the children of God, for in those evil days, when the churches were closed by the order of the Pope, and the preachers were silenced or banished, there were many of God's true servants who without taking vows, or entering religious orders, joined themselves together in little companies, and lived it might be in convents, or in houses set apart for a life of retirement, and prayed together and, as far as their light went, |comforted themselves together, and edified one another.|

And in their hearts the Master's words found an answer, and they knew that the One of whom he spake, was the One whom they also knew as the chiefest amongst ten thousand, and the altogether lovely.

From this time for about six years, we find that the Master preached continually in the city of Strasburg. Sometimes, indeed most often, to these little companies, sometimes in convents and in Beguine houses, and the words he spoke were blessed to many souls, and were as food to the hungry, and living water to those who were athirst.

And during those six years there were many who needed to be comforted and strengthened, for the troubles and sorrows of the city were many and great.

Just after Dr. Tauler had begun again to preach, the Pope, Benedict XII, died. The new Pope, Clement VI, was a yet bitterer enemy than Benedict had been to the Emperor Lewis. The curses and excommunications which were launched forth against the friends of Lewis, were far more terrible and severe than those of Benedict. Many who had hitherto taken part with Lewis, now deserted him out of sheer terror. Amongst them Berthold, Bishop of Strasburg, who humbly asked the Pope's forgiveness, and renounced all obedience to the Emperor Lewis. He was rewarded by the release of his city of Strasburg from the interdict, in the year 1345, two or three years after Dr. Tauler had begun his new sermons. But two years later the Emperor Lewis died, and the |Parson-emperor,| as he was called, Charles IV, was chosen by a certain number of the electors. Charles was aware that his election was very displeasing to the city of Strasburg, and he appealed to Pope Clement for the renewal of the Interdict. Therefore in 1347 the city was again laid under the curse of Rome. And meanwhile had there come upon the city troubles and calamities more real and more terrible than the curse of Pope Clement.

Earthquakes, tempests, and famine spread terror and desolation all around, and at last, in the years 1348 and 1349, came the awful visitation of the |black-death.| Whilst this fearful pestilence was raging, 16,000 people died of it in the city of Strasburg -- in the city of Basle 14,000.

More than ever precious to those who remained were the words of the faithful preacher, who stood at his post, regardless of the curse of the Pope, and of the dangers and death that surrounded him. The Lord was drawing to Himself the sorrowful and afflicted. And at the same time, as it always happens, His judgments did but harden those who knew Him not.

Some of the people rose in fury against the Jews. Those who had crucified the Lord were the cause, they said, of the calamities and the sickness. They had poisoned the wells! They had brought down the curse of God! And thus at Strasburg and elsewhere, thousands of Jews were seized and burnt, and the days of terror were made yet darker and sadder by the senseless rage of ignorant men.

It was no wonder that when the earth was overclouded by death and misery, and when the church was the battle-field of proud and covetous and selfish men, that the eyes of many turned to Him who can never fail nor forsake His own, and were ready to welcome any message sent by Him to their sad and weary hearts. We with our greater light can see that the messengers were still beclouded with the mists of past ages, and were ignorant of much that we know, holding fast to ancient errors from which God has delivered their children. Dr. Tauler still believed that the Mass was a holy and blessed service. He still believed there was a purgatory, not to release from condemnation, but to cleanse from evil ways and evil tempers.

But he saw at the same time that there were those who departed, not to purgatory, but to be with Christ, and that such a blessed departure only, was according to the Lord's desire for His own.

It is not very easy for us to judge how far the Master clung to any of the errors of his Church. Some sermons, which are evidently not his, have been printed with his own under his name, and some no doubt of those he preached before his conversion, were printed with those of his later years.

It is also to be remarked that before the age of printing, when books were copied and recopied in manuscript, it was not uncommon for the copyist to take the opportunity of adding to the text his own thoughts and remarks which he considered edifying, or which might, as he supposed, increase the sale of his book.

A | friend of God,| Henry Suso, who lived at the same time as Tauler, and who wrote books which were widely copied, thus remarked, -- |As several of my books have been copied in lands far and near by ignorant writers, it has so happened that each one has added something, or omitted something, according to his own ideas, I therefore have collected my books and revised them, that there may be a faithful copy written according to the light which God has given me.|

This may account for the strange and contradictory passages in the printed sermons of Tauler, which must have been copied and recopied many times before the invention of printing, and which no doubt found a wider circulation when they had been interlarded with errors regarding the Mass, saint-worship and other matters, errors which are in entire contradiction to the plain and bold teaching of Tauler in other passages.

The following remarks also, taken from Dr. Keller's History of the Early Reformers, may throw further light on the subject. He refers to writings sent anonymously by Nicholas to the Knights of S. John, in a house near Strasburg, of which an account will be given later on.

|In order to preserve his influence with the Knights, and to guard against the risk of their breaking off all relations with him (the severe laws against heretics and their writings being borne in mind), the friend of God' used purposely, in a certain degree, expressions which would be in harmony with the ideas of his readers, or would even speak from their point of view to a certain extent, as we find to be constantly the case in Waldensian writings.

|He calls, for example, the Lord's Supper The Mass,' he speaks of our dear lady,' and of the saints, though without a syllable which might countenance the practice of praying to them or worshipping them.|

It is therefore the more likely that when the sermons of Dr. Tauler were copied or circulated, this language was used for purposes of concealment, or he may himself have seen no harm in thus becoming |a Romanist to Romanists,| though it was easy to carry it out too far, and to imagine unduly that the end justified the means.

We can therefore judge better by the truth which we find in his teaching, than by the error (often so contradictory) which we find in other sermons, how much he had learnt by the teaching of the Spirit.

And now let us go back to those ancient days, and listen for a while to the dear old saint, and gather up for ourselves some of the bread of life which came in those days from the hand of God.

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