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Three Friends Of God by Frances Bevan


IT is wonderful to us, that the doctor could yet go through the forms, and repeat the words of ceremonies and services, which strangely contradicted the glorious truths he preached. But it is very difficult, and perhaps impossible to us, to see things with his eyes, for we have known in many respects, as regards the outer service of God, a more perfect way, and we have never been accustomed to revere the decrees of Rome, or to attach the smallest importance to the authority of that, which to Dr. Tauler was the one professing Church on earth.

It is true that his heart owned and loved his Lord's dear people, wherever he met with them, and under whatever name. But he had never dared to imagine that anything that was commanded by |the Church,| could be in itself an evil thing. He grieved over the abuses, as he would imagine them to be, and the unlawful acts done on all sides by the Pope and the clergy, but he did not see that it was to an utterly fallen and apostate Church that he outwardly belonged, and that the evil branches sprang from an evil root.

He saw in every outward form a sign and symbol, and his mind was so fixed upon the inner truth which he considered the only reality, that he did not observe, as far as we can tell, how contradictory and ill-matched were the symbol and the truth.

This seems to be the only explanation of his reverence for the mass, and for the ordinances of the Church of Rome. Did he believe that by the words of the priest, the bread and wine were transformed into Christ Himself? We must remember that though this strange delusion had existed in the minds of some, for centuries before the time of Dr. Tauler, it was scarcely more than eighty years before his birth, that it was first proclaimed as an article of faith, at the Council of the Lateran. There had been up to that time some who believed it, and some who regarded the bread and wine as symbols only. And the declaration made at Rome, had not the magic power of convincing all those who heard it, that so it was.

Many must have believed afterwards, as they did before, that the Presence of the Lord was spiritual, and that instead of a repeated sacrifice, the mass, as it was called by Romanists, was a remembrance of His death.

We must also take into account that in the days when books and papers, and magazines and printed announcements of all sorts, were not spread abroad, and carried by trains into every distant corner, changes in belief and custom came slowly and gradually, and the old-fashioned people in quiet places, went on in their old ways, undisturbed and unknown. It is therefore very probable that we are apt to rush unduly to the conclusion, that to every Roman Catholic of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the mass was, as now, a miracle worked by the priest. Since the Council of Trent gave fresh authority to this delusion, it is a necessary part of |Catholic| belief.

But when we examine the Master's sermons, it seems to us, that the One represented by the bread and wine was Himself so present to his mind, that he scarcely remembered aught beside. |The outward thing is nothing,| he said, |but a sign of the inward thing. A signboard hung out means that there is wine in that house. But there may be wine where there is no signboard, and the wine is of no less value to the owner for that reason.|

It may be well to give a part of a sermon which touches on the subject of the |Sacrament.|

He said that God would have us for Himself, and that as a deer is chased by hounds, so do the hounds of God, grief, and pain, and persecution, and affliction, chase the soul, till it is brought at last to seek Him only, and to yield itself up without reserve to Him. |This yielding of the soul to God, is better,| he said, |than all the services performed by men. Better than fasting, and watching, and repeating prayers; better than beating yourselves, and tormenting yourselves. If God has thus drawn you to Himself, and has satisfied your soul, so that the thirst for the things that perish has passed away, then it is good for you to go to the feast of the Lord as often as you will. But how often? We ask the Lord to give us our daily bread. But where shall we find the tender Priest, who would give us day by day this sacrament of love?

|Dear children, do not trouble yourselves if earthly priests deny it to you;| (the interdict was still upon the city); |the Highest Priest, the Priest eternal and true, allows it you, and He will give Himself to you, in a manner more spiritual and more fruitful than in the outward sacrament. By the Holy Ghost you may eat Him and enjoy Him, even as He has said, He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him.' If you find that to go outwardly to the sacrament, helps you and furthers you, go there, but do not make a necessity of it to your soul, especially if you find that to abstain from the outward service, furthers you in communion with the Lord.|

Thus we find that the Master's chief intent was the real and spiritual communion of the soul with the living God. We, with our greater light, may see further, that outward observances, as well as inward communion, are to be judged by the Word of God, and that it is not a matter of indifference to Him, when men in their manner of worship, add to His perfect word by rules of their own.

Thus it is not merely, as perhaps Dr. Tauler would have thought, a matter of indifference whether a man calls himself a priest, and invents for himself vestments and ceremonies, or regards such things as binding upon him, because other people have invented and ordered them.

But at the same time, we may be very careful to adhere to Scripture in all these outward things and omit the weightier matters of the Gospel, and know little or nothing of that |school in the third Heaven,| to which Dr. Tauler directed his |dear children.| |The school,| he said, |where the Holy Ghost is the schoolmaster, and where the lesson that is taught is the heart of God.|

To the Master, in spite of his firm persuasion that he owed respect and obedience to the Roman Church, in spite of his adhesion to forms which told the tale of the fall and ruin of Christendom, the spiritual reality was all in all. |The friends of God,| he said, |cannot but see and lament, that their beloved Lord, whose honour they seek and desire, more than life itself, is dishonoured and despised by those for whom His precious Blood was shed. Look around, at the world and at the Church, at the clergy and the laymen -- rarely will you find one whose eye is single, and who seeks God simply and only. A man may be baptized a thousand times, and wear a hundred monk's cowls, and if God is not his object, and God only, what is he the better? Yes, a man may be in the devil's hands, and wear the Pope's triple crown upon his head. A man may have spiritual covetousness, which is like an ague, with hot fits and cold fits, he may be at one moment all in a fever to do something whereby he may be distinguished amongst religions people. Sometimes he abstains from speaking. Sometimes he will hold forth. Now he wants to be in one religious order, and now in another. Now he will give away all his money, now he will keep it: now he will go on a mission to some distant land, now he will shut himself up in a cloister: at one time reading is everything to him, at another time meditating.

|But a truly converted Christian man has learnt to know that he is nothing. He desires that men should not honour him, or think much of him. He desires to serve, and not to rule. He despises himself, and regards himself as a fool, and seeks the lowest place. God looks not at the greatness of the work, but He measures it by the love He finds in it. A grain of gold is as truly gold, as a pile of one thousand golden pieces. And where the grain of gold is found, it is precious in the eyes of God.|

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