YET it was not that the Friends of God were reformers in the same sense as those who followed them two hundred years later.
It was not the error and ignorance of the professing Church which lay heavily upon their hearts, for they themselves were ignorant as yet, but it was that their Lord was loved so little, and that so few were found who dwelt in His secret place, and learnt the lesson, as the Master had said, |of the Father's heart.|
And as the first fall of the Church began with those who had left their first love, so did the times of refreshing follow the return rather to love than to light. For that to which the |Friends of God| pressed forward, was not so much clearer truth, but nearer fellowship with God.
And we may also say they did not so much look forward to heaven hereafter, as to an ever-deepening knowledge of the love which to them was heaven.
We all know well, for who does not? the Pilgrim's Progress, which tells of the journey from the City of Destruction, to the Celestial City beyond the river of death. But the Pilgrim's Progress of the Friends of God was a journey not so much from condemnation to safety, and to heaven, as a journey from the city of alienation from God, to the blessed love of the Father's House, where the welcome and the kiss are followed by the music and the feast.
A journey from the icy regions of profession -- it may be orthodox profession -- to the sweetness and the glory of the hidden sanctuary, where the Face of God is seen.
The |book of the nine rocks,| written by Rulman Merswin, dark, superstitious, and ignorant, as in many respects he was, may well be called the Pilgrim's Progress of the fourteenth century, and of the two centuries that followed.
Without describing this book in detail, it may be said to be the process of the soul from the dead form of Christianity, to the communion of the heart with God.
To a man of God was shown the great wide world, covered everywhere with an outspread net. And nine rocks were there, rising one above another, out of the great net, and men were seen who climbed upon the rocks, and were many in number on the lowest rock, and less in number upon each rock that rose higher.
But down below, beneath the net, were Christian men of every name and order. Christians -- for they professed the faith of Christ, but dead, lost souls who knew Him not, and who had clean forgotten Him.
There, under the net, were popes and cardinals, bishops and abbots, priests and monks, emperors and kings and nobles. There were knights and citizens, and artisans and peasants, and many a worldly woman, nuns and queens, and nursing sisters -- all alike in the snare of Satan, and most of them content to be there.
And when the man saw these things, he fell down before the Lord, and prayed that if it were His will, he might give his heart, and soul, and body, for the dead and fallen Church, if so they might be brought to remember Him who had given Himself for them, |who had shed His precious Blood, and suffered a death of shame, and yet was remembered no more,| by those who were called by His Name.
And the Lord showed him how some of these people had found their way out of the net, and had climbed upon the rocks, and He told him that those on the lowest rock were those who desired to serve two masters, and were neither hot nor cold.
And the man perceived that on this rock was a young damsel, of fourteen years old, who was leading downwards by a cord, a train of older people. First a clergyman, and next a respectable and honourable man and woman, and lastly two other women. And they were going down, nearer and nearer at each step, to the net below.
And when the man asked who they were, the Lord told him that the respectable man and woman were a worthy couple who had long lived a God-fearing life. And the damsel was their eldest child, who had found opportunities of watching the pleasures and enjoyments of the people who lived under the net, and therefore had set her heart upon going amongst them. And she told her father and mother that she wished to do like other damsels of her own age, and enjoy this world as they did.
Now the father and mother had brought her up from her childhood in the fear of God, and therefore they had kept her apart from this evil world; and now they knew not what to do, so they went to their confessor, and told him what their daughter desired, and asked his counsel.
And he was a man who was anxious not to lose the friendship of wealthy people, and he said, |Such things are now quite the custom, and many Christian people allow such and such things.| And he gave them to understand that the pride of life was a harmless thing, not considering that on account of pride, the devil had fallen into the condemnation of God.
|And this,| it was said to the man, |is the reason that you see the young damsel leading the confessor first, and then father and mother, and then two friends who take pattern by her example, all down the path that leads beneath the net.| And beneath the net they went, and the man saw them no more.
And the man saw that the enemy had great power over the people who dwelt upon the lowest rock, for they were foolish, and thought they could at the same time please God, and their own fallen nature.
|They are honourable and respectable people,| it was said to the man; |they have no desire to commit great sins, and they wish to escape hell. And they think God is well-pleased with them, and they are well pleased with themselves. Therefore they have no desire to live nearer to God, and they are not afraid to die, because they keep themselves from deadly sins. And they do not like people who tell them that their life is a very miserable one, for they are quite satisfied that they are good people, and safe, though they are living close to the edge of the great net. And the enemy has a great hook with which he catches these people very easily. The hook is called Nature.| It is to be remarked that in this, and in the passages that follow, the hook is to be regarded as the means by which Satan draws back souls into this present evil world, |the world beneath the net.| It does not therefore touch the question of saved souls being finally lost. It is rather the fall of the soul from communion with God, brought about by various means, and in the case of the lower rocks, the fall from mere profession into open ungodliness. This is in keeping with all the teaching of the Friends of God, to whom present intercourse with God was heaven; and a thought more constantly present to their minds, than the thought which in our times is the prevailing one amongst professing Christians, that of |going to Heaven when we die.| To the Friends of God, Heaven was Himself, whilst to the ordinary Christian now, it is a place, where he will meet departed friends, and have no more troubles. Let us now return to our story.
And the man saw that some of these people climbed to the second rock. And these were religious people who gave up some of the things of the world, but thought it not wise or prudent to give up more. And because they were so wise and discriminating they were easily caught by the hook which the enemy had prepared for them, which was called Spiritual Pride.
And on the third rock were some who had climbed up from the second. And these were earnest people, who desired fervently to go to heaven, and to escape hell. And therefore they did many penances, and kept apart from the world, and denied themselves in many things. But the enemy had a hook whereby he caught many of them. And this hook was called Will-worship.
And the man saw that some of the people from the third rock climbed upon the fourth rock, but most of them fell back quickly, and disappeared under the net. And he saw a man also, down below, who came running up to the mountain, and with one leap he cleared the three first rocks, and alighted on the fourth. And it was told him that this man was suddenly convinced of sin, whilst he was under the net, and his repentance and remorse were so great, he would willingly have given his heart's blood to be freed from his sins, and he did great penances till he had well-nigh killed himself, and instead of stopping short when he had done so, pressed forward and was found amongst the people on the fourth rock. Now these people were they who had taken the flesh in hand, and who kept down their evil nature with strength and resolution. But the enemy had a hook which he cast at them, and a very great hook it was. It was called Self-sufficiency, for these people are determined to take their own course, and to listen to none who would teach them a better way than theirs. God sends many messages to these people, to see if they will give up their own will, but to these messages they turn a deaf ear, for they think they know better than all others how to order their course. And in spite of their resolution and their self-control, they are speedily overtaken with anger and evil tempers, for they have not yielded themselves up to God, but are doing the best they can for themselves.
And on the fifth rock were there people who were far more pleasant to behold, for they were kind and loving, and they desired not to follow their own will, but the will of God. But the enemy had a great hook whereby he dragged down many from amongst them. And this hook was called Instability.
And up above, on the sixth rock, there were people beautiful and lovely. And they had given up their wills to God, and they were true and steadfast, and desired to be faithful unto death to Him whom they loved. But the enemy had a hook also prepared for them. It was the desire to be a select few, in special communion with God.
And on the seventh rock were people far more beautiful to see than any below them. And they were shining people, for the grace of God was in their hearts, and the light of His grace shone forth from each one of them. And they walked with Him, and His will was their delight, whether sweet or bitter, whether He sent them forth upon labours of love, or whether He called them apart for intercourse with Him.
But the enemy had a great hook, whereby he caught many of them, and dragged them downwards. And this hook was a joy and delight of the natural heart in the comfort and the sweetness of the Lord.
And when the man had gone up to the eighth rock, he was filled with joy and wonder, for the people were yet more beautiful and glad and radiant, for they thought not of their own enjoyment, but sought only the honour of the Lord, and they scarcely knew whether they had, or had not, the things of time, for they wept as though they wept not, and rejoiced as though they rejoiced not. And the man was glad, and thought that none could have greater blessedness than these shining and joyful people.
But it was told him that for these blessed people the enemy had in readiness two great hooks, which he cast into them in evil moments. For as they had, as those below had not, the gladness of some wondrous moments when they saw the Face of God, they were thereby in danger of being exalted above measure, so that even the highest things could thus put self upon a high place in their hearts. And therefore the first hook was called Self. And the second hook was a delight which was a natural delight, in the wonder and the mystery of the ways of God. For God had shown them great and marvellous things, and they were apt, without knowing it, to be led away by the wonder, and to have imaginations that were not of God. And this second hook was therefore the delight of nature in great and marvellous things.
And at last the man was led up to the ninth rock, which reached into the heart of heaven. For this rock was of a great and terrible height, and it seemed to the man that all the other rocks piled one upon another would not be as high as this one rock alone.
And the people on this rock were few -- and they looked like people whose natural life was gone, and they had another life that made them more beautiful and more shining than all below. For God had shed abroad such fulness of love in their hearts, that it could not but shine forth from them, though they knew it not, and never desired to know. |And though these men are few,| it was told the man, |it is because of them that Christendom remains. For if they were not there, the judgment of God must come upon that which is called by His name, and Satan would reign and rule, and spread his net over all the earth.|
|And these blessed people,| it was said to him, |have given themselves up to God by faith, desiring only to walk in faith in the steps of Christ. They seek not comfort, and they have become fools for Christ's sake, and they deem themselves unworthy of the great gifts which God bestows.
|Yet they fear neither hell, nor purgatory, nor the enemy, nor death, nor life. For all fear is taken away from them, save only the fear lest they should not follow closely in the footsteps of the Lord. They do not seek themselves, for they have lost themselves, and lost all things, save only God. For the world is crucified to them, and they also to the world, and they have taken up the cross to follow Him who bore the cross before. To the world they are unknown, but the world is well known to them. They are the true worshippers, who worship the Father in spirit and in truth.|
Then said the man, |I fear to write of these people, for those who read of them would be offended. And we may not cast pearls before the swine, that would trample on them.|
But it was answered to the man, |I know that what thou shalt write about the ninth rock shall be more profitable to Christendom than all that shall be written in the book besides. And know that one of these men is more dear to God, and of more service to Christendom, than a thousand men who are serving Him out of their own hearts.|
And the man saw that these people were shining with a wondrous joy and gladness, and it was said to him that it was no marvel, for that could a man have all the understanding of men and angels, he could never comprehend the smallest joy that God gives eternally to His beloved friends.
And the man was grieved that there were so few of these blessed people, for he desired that there might be many to pray for the fallen Church.
And it was said to him, |It will be known some day how few there are. For the judgments of God must come at last, as once they came before, when eight people only were spared to be the fresh beginning of another world.|
And then was it granted to the man that he should see that which these joyful people had seen -- and a door was as it were opened before him, and he was so filled with light and gladness, that he was as it were taken out of himself, and how long it was that he was thus lost in joy, he knew not.
And when he came to himself his gladness was so immeasurable, and unspeakable, and overwhelming, that it was as an exceeding weight upon him, and he spake to himself and said, |Where hast thou been? and what great wonder and glory is it that thou hast seen?| And he sat a long while and thought of it. And the more he thought, the less did he know what it was.
He thought he would write about it, as he was commanded to do, but he could not speak or write the smallest word.
Then he bethought him of forms or pictures whereby he might retain the image of it. But he could find none, for it was far beyond all pictures that the mind could imagine.
Then he bethought him that he would meditate upon it, till by reason and understanding he might comprehend it. But it passed all understanding.
Then he would fain have shaped it into thoughts, but the more he thought, the less he could conceive it, because it was beyond all thought, and all that ever had entered his heart before.
And he could only turn himself to the Lord, and ask that he might be able to contain this unspeakable joy, so that he might not break forth in unseemly delight.
And it was said to him, |Know, that the very smallest joy that is in God, is far beyond all the joys of all the world, could they all be gathered into one moment of gladness. Therefore marvel not that thou canst neither speak of it, nor understand it, nor grasp it, for had a man all the understanding of all men who have ever walked upon the earth, he could not lay hold with his mind upon the least of that which God has showed thee. For He has shown thee Himself as the Bridegroom of thy soul, and thou hast been brought into the high school where the schoolmaster is the Holy Ghost.|
And the man answered and said, |O my Beloved, so unspeakable and so marvellous is the love wherewith Thou hast loved me, that I would gladly suffer all things for Thy sake and my soul thirsts for any pain or sorrow, for the most shameful death that could befall me, if it might be for Thine honour. For now do I feel in my heart how Thou hast suffered for me, and so precious to me is Thy death, that I could wish to suffer even hell itself, if so be that other men might know that which Thou hast made known to me.|
Then did the Lord tell the man to look down from the high peak, to the world that lay far below, and he saw a man who was walking to and fro beneath the net, but who was shining as an angel. And there was also a man who was dark and black like the enemy, who walked to and fro beneath the net.
And it was told the man that the dark one who was walking there, was one who had once had companionship with the shining people upon the ninth rock, and had been pleased with their discourse, and had found delight in hearing of these great and wondrous things, for he desired to be somewhat, and to shine with a light of his own.
And this man was more hurtful than any other who walked upon the earth, and was more to be dreaded than an evil fiend. And it was grievous to the man who heard these things, for when he looked down he saw that there were many such beneath the net, and it was told him that they were those who taught a way that seemed to be a glad and pleasant way, but it was the way of death, for it was made to please the nature of fallen men.
And the man asked, who then was the shining one who walked beneath the net and shed a light around?
And it was told him, |This man is one who has looked upon the Face of God, and has companied with these blessed people. And because of the love and pity that the Lord has shed abroad in his heart, has he gone down swiftly beneath the net, that by the help of God he may seek poor sinners, so that they may be converted and saved.
|For this man can see the wide far country of Christendom, lying beneath the net in sin and misery, and he knows the great judgments of God that must close up these evil days, and he would gladly lay down his life, if so be that any should be turned from their sins to God.|
And the man asked if there were many of these shining ones in Christendom, and if they were afraid when they went down beneath the net.
And it was told him that it were not well that he should know how few there were. And that as to fear, the shining ones were oftentimes afraid, but only of one thing, namely, that they should do too little for their Lord and God, and follow Him less nearly than their hearts desired.
|As to the rest,| it was said to him, |they fear neither purgatory, nor hell, nor devils, nor men, nor death, nor life, for all fear has passed away from such as they, save the childlike fear which is a sweet fear, and which they will carry with them till they go home to God.| And the man asked if they had any sorrow. And it was told him, |Yea, they have to suffer, and they do not desire it to be otherwise, for they are walking in the steps of Christ. And they sorrow greatly for the Church that is fallen, and have a love and pity deep and strong.
|And it grieves them to the heart when they see the men who are led captive by the enemy, and are cleaving to themselves, and to the world; and this cross they bear, as Christ their Head has borne it, so long as they are here below.|
And the man said, |O my Beloved, are these men sure that they have eternal life?|
And it was answered him, |They are no more in themselves, but have passed out of themselves, and are in God. And what thinkest thou that God will do with His friends? Should He give them over to the enemy? Far be it from Him. When these men die, behold, they take but one step from earth to heaven.|
And after these things the man bethought himself, and he said: |O my Beloved, what is the reason that all order is lost in holy Christendom?|
And it was told him that it was because men had turned away from God, and from the friends of God. And that when a man had come speaking that which the Holy Ghost had taught him, he was mocked and despised, and men considered him a fool.
Then the man prayed earnestly and said: |O my Lord, my One Beloved, the altogether lovely One, have mercy upon the Church that has fallen from Thee. Oh that I might give my heart to be broken into a thousand pieces, if that might be for good to Christendom!|
But the Lord said that it had always been, and yet must be, that He had those who dwelt in His hidden place, and were the friends to whom He told His secret things, but that most men would believe neither His word nor His friends. For men loved rather to hear flattering words, than the truth of the Holy Scriptures. And therefore there was nothing to which any man could turn in these evil days, but simply to the cross of Christ, to Jesus only. For God is ready to give, wherever He finds a heart that is ready to receive.
Then did the man beseech the Lord again, and yet again, that He would have mercy on the Church, and raise it up from the dust, and restore it as of old. But the Lord said, that the day must come at last when His friends should have prayed their last prayer for fallen Christendom, and that when that day came, the Son of God must avenge the dishonour done to His Father, and to His holy name, by that which had been called the Church.
And the man was silent. But after a while he asked yet one question more, and said, |O my heart's Beloved, tell me if these men who have dwelt upon this rock, and have looked upon Thy Face, have here in this life below a perfect joy?|
And it was answered him, |I tell thee that their joy is so great, no speech can declare it. Yet is this joy to the joy that they will have in the eternal Home, as time is to eternity.|