We do not now speak of those great elect souls whom God by a most special favour so maintains and confirms in his love, that they run no hazard of losing it. We speak for the rest of mortals, to whom the Holy Ghost addresses these warnings: He that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall. Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Labour the more that by good works you may make sure your calling and election. Whence he makes them make this prayer: Cast me not away from thy face; and take not thy holy spirit from me. And lead us not into temptation: that they may work out their salvation with a holy trembling, and a sacred fear, knowing that they are not more constant and strong to preserve God's love than were the first angel with his followers and Judas, who receiving it lost it, and losing it lost themselves for ever; nor than Solomon, who, having once left it, holds the whole world in doubt of his damnation; nor than Adam and Eve, David, S. Peter, who being children of salvation, fell yet for a space from the love without which there is no salvation. Alas! Theotimus, who shall then have assurance of preserving sacred love in the navigation of this mortal life, since, as well on earth as in heaven, so many persons of incomparable dignity have suffered such cruel shipwrecks?
But, O eternal God! how is it possible, will one say, that a soul that has the love of God can ever lose it; for where love is it resists sin, and how comes it to pass then that sin gets entry there, since love is strong as death, hard in fight as hell? How can the forces of death or hell, that is, of sins, vanquish love, which at least equals them in strength, and surpasses them in helps and in right? And how can it be that a reasonable soul which has once relished so great a sweetness as is that of heavenly love, can ever willingly swallow the bitter waters of offence? Children, though children, being fed with milk, abhor the bitterness of wormwood and of aloes, and cry themselves into convulsions when they are made to take them. Ah! then, O true God! Theotimus, how can the soul, once joined to the goodness of the Creator, forsake him to follow the vanity of the creature?
My dear Theotimus, the heavens themselves are astonished, their gates become desolate with fear, and the angels of peace are lost in amazement at this prodigious misery of man's heart, abandoning a good so worthy of love, to join itself to things so unworthy. But have you never seen that little marvel which every one knows, though every one does not know the reason of it? When a very full barrel is broached, the wine will not run unless it have air given from above, which yet happens not to barrels in which there is already a void, for they are no sooner open but the wine runs. Truly in this mortal life though our souls abound with heavenly love yet they are never so full of it but that by temptation this love may depart: in heaven, however, when the sweetness of God's beauty shall occupy all our understanding, and the delights of his goodness shall wholly satiate our wills, so that there shall be nothing which the fulness of his love shall not replenish, no object, though it penetrate even to our hearts, can ever draw or make run out one sole drop of the precious liquor of our heavenly love. And to expect to give air above, that is, to deceive or surprise the understanding, shall no more be possible; for it shall be immovable in the apprehension of the sovereign truth.
So wine well purified and separated from the lees is easily kept from turning and getting thick; that which is on its lees is in continual danger; and we, so long as we are in this world, have our souls upon the lees or tartar of a thousand moods and miseries, and consequently easy to change and spoil in their love. But once in heaven, where, as in the great feast described by Isaias, we shall have wine purified from all lees, we shall be no longer subject to change, but be inseparably united by love to our sovereign good. Here in the twilight of dawning we are afraid that in lieu of the spouse we may meet some other object, which may engage and deceive us, but when we shall find Him above, where He feeds and reposes in the mid-day, there will be no chance of being deceived, for His light will be too clear, and His sweetness will bind us so closely to His goodness, that we shall no longer have the power to will to unfasten ourselves.
We are like the coral, which in the sea, the place of its origin, is a pale-green, weak, drooping and pliable tree, but being drawn from the bottom of the sea, as from its mother's womb, it becomes almost a stone, firm and unbending, while it changes its pale-green into a lively red. For so we being as yet amidst the sea of this world the place of our birth, are subject to extreme vicissitudes, liable to be bent on every side; to the right, which is heavenly love, by inspiration, to the left, which is earthly love, by temptation. But if, being once drawn out of this mortality, we have changed the pale-green of our trembling hopes into the bright red of assured fruition, we shall never more be movable, but make a settled abode for ever in eternal love.
It is impossible to see the Divinity and not love it, but here below where we do not see it, but only have a glimpse of it through the clouds of faith, as in a mirror, our knowledge is not yet so perfect as not to leave an opening for the surprises of other objects and apparent goods, which through the obscurities which are mixed with the certainty and verity of faith, steal in unperceived, like little fox cubs, and demolish our flourishing vineyard. To conclude, Theotimus, when we have charity our free-will is clothed with her wedding garment, which, as she can still keep it on if she please by well-doing, so she can put off if she please by offending.