Three degrees of grace there are. The first GOD gives to all creatures, to uphold them with; and this is called GOD'S help freely given to all creatures; and without this gift of grace, creatures cannot do, nor last in their kind; for as water is made hot through fire and becomes cold again if the fire be withdrawn, so, as S. Austin says, |All creatures that are made of naught, so are they worth naught in a little time, unless GOD upholds them with His grace.| Therefore says the Apostle |Through the grace of GOD, I am what I am.| As if he said, |That I live, that I feel, that I speak or hear or see, and all that I am: all this I have only through GOD'S grace.| The second degree of grace is more special: that GOD gives freely to every man who is a good and reasonable creature: and this grace stands ever at the gates of our hearts, and knocks on our free-will, and bids it let it in. This, GOD says that He does: |Behold, I stand at the door knocking,| that is, |I stand at the door of thine heart and knock; let Me in.| And this grace is given freely to man before he deserves it. Then let every man make himself worthy and ready to receive His gift of the Holy Ghost, Who ever stirs man's free-will to good, and calls it from evil. Two things are needful to the health of man's soul. The first is this grace that I speak of: the second, is man's free-will according thereto. And without these two, no man can do thoroughly what he ought, that should help him to health of his soul; for neither free-will, without this grace stirring, nor this grace without free-will assenting, can do aught that pleases GOD. Therefore, says S. Austin, |He Who made thee without thee, will not justify thee without thee|; that is, |He Who made thee without thee, will not make thee righteous, save thou helpest thereunto.| And though the free-will of man cannot make the grace of GOD in man, nevertheless, let man do what is in him, and prepare himself, that he may be ready and able to receive the grace, when it comes. If thou wert in a mirk house one day, and doors and windows shut: if thou wouldest not let the sun come in, who was to blame if the house were mirk. Also blame none save thyself, if thy grace be less. For S. Anselm says, |Man lacks not this grace, for GOD gives it to him; but he has it not, because he does not make himself ready to receive this grace as he should.| GOD is not stingy of His grace, for He has enough thereof; for though He deal it out never so far, and to so many, He never has the less; for He only wants clean vessels, to put His grace in. Therefore says S. Austin; |GOD by vast freedom and abundance fills all creatures according to their capacity|: that is, |GOD through His great freedom of His great grace fulfils all creatures according as they are able to receive His grace.| If man opened his heart to this grace when GOD sends it to him, he would shew it in works; for the Apostle, when he had won it, said, |His grace in me was not in vain,| that is |the grace that GOD has given me, is not useless in me|; for he enjoyed it ever in work. We unite with GOD in His grace, as merchants do together: for GOD sets His grace against our work; but for His grace and His death, He wills (to have) naught but our praising and thanking, and He wills that man should have all the profit that may arise thereof. But they try to reave from GOD, His part, who would be praised of men for good deeds. Against them, GOD says, |I will not give My glory to another|; that is, |Praising and worship that belong to Me, I will give to no other.| Thou shalt understand, that free-will of man is to turn freely to good or ill. Three states there are of man; before sin, after man's sin, and after man is confirmed, that is, after man is departed out of this deadly life, and come to that joy that shall never end. In the first place, before man sinned, was man's will so free, that he could sin or not sin: in his free-will it was, to do good or ill. In the last state, that is confirmed, shall man sin no more. In the second state, in which he may sin, and may not but sin, man's will is free to ill, till it be strengthened with grace: and when grace leads the will, then it is free to work the good. Before man sinned, no hindering had he from doing good, nor no need to do ill: but now has sin joined with our flesh, and bred what S. Paul calls the |law of the flesh,| so that it is master of the flesh, and withstands GOD'S law in all that it can. This hinders our will from assenting to good; and stirs it to ill so that it may not work good, unless grace helps and accustoms him away from sin. Every man before he sins, has a free will to do good or ill, but when he is bound to the fiend, through works of sin, he may through no power of himself come out of his bonds: and then he fares like a ship that in a tempest has lost all that could help it, and is cast from wave to wave whither the tempest drives it. Right so, a man who lacks GOD'S grace, because he be fallen into deadly sin, he does not what he would, but aye wavers from hand to hand, at the fiend's will, and unless GOD give him grace to rise out of his sin, he shall be in sin to his life's end, and after, be lost body and soul, and damned to endless pain. If the folk or the common people choose them a king, and he be confirmed in his kingdom, he be never so ill to them, they can do naught to him, unless it be through some other, who has more power than he: and so, it behoves them suffer, do he them never so much ill. Right so, man before he sins, has a free will to choose whether he will be under GOD or the fiend; and when, with his will, he chooses to serve the fiend, he cannot after, when he would, come out of his bonds. And therefore, worldly men who are bound in sin say to them who counsel them to amend their lives, |fain would we rise, but we cannot.| No, they cannot through might of themselves, but through GOD'S grace helping them they can. The third grace is most special; for it is given only to those who receive the second grace; and with their free-will fulfil it in deed, and can say as S. Paul said, |The grace of GOD was not in vain in me.| And S. Austin says; |GOD, working with us, fulfils that which He, through grace stirring, began in us.| For neither without His helping can we do good to ourselves, nor please Him: as GOD says Himself |without Me, thou canst no nothing.| GOD'S grace stirring, goes before good will, and stirs it to do the good and leave the ill.
Grace, when it comes first to visit man's soul, wakens him as out of a slumbering and inquires of him with those sharp words: |Where art thou? Whence comest thou? Whither shalt thou?| First he says, |Where art thou?| as if he said, |Bethink thee, unhappy wretch, how foul thou art cast down, and what peril thou art in. For, for thy sin thou art fallen into the enemy's hands, who above all things dost covet to work thy woe; and naught may deliver thee out of the foe's hands, but Almighty GOD, thy good Lord, Whom thou hast forsaken.| After he says: |Whence comest thou?| as if he said, |thou wretch, behold how thou hast wasted thy life in sin; thou comest from the fiend's tavern -- Where are all the goods that GOD has given thee to help thee with, and to worship Him? Sorrily hast thou lost them. Thy Lord made thee rich, and thou art become a poor wretch.| After, he inquires, |Whither wendest thou?| |Woeful wretch thou wendest to the woeful doom, that GOD dooms men to; for as thou hast served so shalt thou be judged. So awful shalt thou see GOD there, that thou shalt for fear be out of thy wits; and to the mountains and hills thou shalt cry with a grisly noise, and pray them to fall on thee and hide thee, that thou see Him not. Woeful wretch, thou wendest to hell, if thou dost forth as thou hast begun, where thou shalt find fire so hot and so raging, that all the water in the sea, though it ran through it, should not slake a spark thereof. And because thou stinkest here to GOD, for thy foul sin, there thou shalt feel everlasting stink: and because thou lovedst mirkness here, for aye to be in sin, there shalt thou feel such thick mirkness that thou canst grip it; and because here thou didst rest thyself in sin against GOD'S will, there shalt thou shed more tears than there are motes in a sunbeam. Thou shalt suffer pain ever after pain, ever to renew thy woe.|
When GOD'S grace has stirred man and wakened him with these three, and has made him to know the peril he is in, then he conceives a terror of GOD'S awful doom: and therethrough, he begins to repent whatever he did ill, and covets to amend himself through GOD'S grace, that stirs him to flee ill and give himself to good: and then comes grace following, to help the goodwill of man to fulfil it in deed. For though man have a good will to do the good, through grace before stirring the good will, yet can he not do indeed without GOD'S grace following and helping: and this the Apostle affirms of himself when he says; |But not I, but the grace of GOD in me|; that is, |the good which I do is naught, but GOD'S grace does it with me|; as if he had said, |I can do no good, unless GOD'S grace help me.| GOD'S will is also a handmaiden to grace, to work all her will. GOD'S grace, wherever it be, will not be useless, but ever working and growing more and more, to increase thy reward. Therefore do we as the Apostle counsels us, |We exhort you, brethren, that ye receive not the grace of GOD in vain|; that is, |I pray you and bid you, my brothers in GOD, that ye receive not GOD'S grace in vain.| He receives GOD'S grace in vain, that enjoys it not in good, when GOD sends it to him; and therefore perhaps, he shall never after win thereto. Isidore tells of a little fly that is called Saura, and this fly betokens grace stirring beforehand. This kind of fly is said to be the enemy of all venomous worms, so that when he sees any worm (going) toward man to sting him when he sleeps in the wilderness; he flies before to the man, and lights upon his face, and bites him a little; and therethrough he wakes before the beast comes to sting him. By this Saura is understood grace that GOD sends to man against the temptations of the fiend, who often stings venomously: it cries unto thee, as the Apostle says; |Awake, thou that sleepest, and rise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.| But the unthankful act against this grace, and ruin it: as Virgil did with this little fly that saved him from death. He lay asleep, and an adder came toward him: but this fly Saura flew before, and lighted on his forehead, and pricked him a little, and therewith he wakened; also the adder came; but this Virgil, in his waking, felt his forehead smart, and smote himself on the face; and so he slew the fly, and so repaid him for his service, who saved his life. Therefore do thou not ruin GOD'S grace when it comes to thee, to warn thee of harm and stir thee to good. Glad ought man to be of GOD'S grace, when GOD sends it to him, and to take care full warily of so rich a gift: for grace is earnest-money of that lasting joy which is to come, as the Apostle says: |the grace of GOD is eternal life|; that is, |GOD'S grace is like a help and way to everlasting life.| Therefore, He sets grace before us as the way that leads to everlasting joy: and also a pledge, if we keep it well, to make in us certainty of endless joy; as the Apostle says, |Who gave us His Spirit as a pledge in our bodies,| that is |GOD has given us the Holy Ghost as pledge of endless joy.| Hold we then this heavenly pledge; and enjoy we it well in work; for it is well for us in this life, if GOD'S grace lead us; and when grace leaves us, we fail of that welfare. Therefore, through help of grace let us destroy in ourselves everything that is against grace, be it less or more, that our reason says is against GOD'S will, that is, all that is sin, or may stir to sin: and let us have repentance in our heart, shrift in mouth, and withstanding, with will never to turn again.