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The History And Life Of The Reverend Doctor John Tauler by Catherine Winkworth


How Doctor Tauler was visited, touched, and illuminated after a wonderful manner by God, and how the layman came to him again, and admonished him tenderly to begin to preach afresh, and to exercise himself in the Holy Scriptures. Also concerning a strange event that befell him afterwards, whereby he was still more tried and humbled, yet not without fruit.

NOW when the Master had suffered thus for two years, from sore assaults and temptations of the Devil, and great contempt from all his friends, and also great poverty, so that he was obliged to pledge a part of his books, and withal fell into great weakness of the body, and he had demeaned himself with great humility throughout; -- behold, it came to pass on the Feast of St. Paul's Conversion, that in the night he was overtaken by the most grievous assault that may be imagined, whereby all his natural powers were so overcome with weakness that when the time for matins came he could not go in to chapel, but remained in his cell, and commended himself to God in great humility, without help or consolation from any creature. And as he lay in this state of weakness, he thought of the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ, and His great love that He had for us, and considered his own life, how poor his life had been compared to the love of God. Whereupon he was overwhelmed with contrition for all his sins and all his wasted time, and exclaimed with tongue and heart: |O merciful God! have mercy upon me a poor sinner, for thy boundless mercy's sake, for I am not worthy that the earth should bear me.| And as he was lying in this weakness and great sadness, but fully awake, he heard with his bodily ears a voice saying: |Stand fast in thy peace, and trust God, and know that when He was on earth in human nature, He made the sick whom He healed in body sound also in soul.| Straightway when these words were uttered, he lost his senses and reason, and knew not how or where he was. But when he came to himself again, he felt within himself that he was possessed of a new strength and might in all powers outward and inward, and had also a clear understanding in those things which aforetime were dark to him, and he wondered greatly whence this came, and thought to himself, |I cannot come to the bottom of this matter. I will send for my friend and tell him all that has happened.| So he sent for the man; and when he was come, the Master told him all that had befallen him. Then the man said, |It rejoices me from the bottom of my heart to hear all that you have told me. Dear sir, you must know that you have now for the first time received the true and mighty gift of God's grace; and I tell you of a truth that now, for the first time, your soul has been touched by the Most High; and know that, as the letter hath in some measure slain you, so it shall likewise make you alive again, for your doctrine will come now from the Holy Ghost, which before came from the flesh; for you have now received the light of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God, and you already know the Holy Scriptures. Therefore you have now a great advantage, and you will henceforward have a much clearer insight into the Scripture than you had before. For, as you know, the Scripture sounds in many places as if it contradicted itself, but since that you have now, by the grace of God, received the Holy Scriptures into your own heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, you will perceive that all Scripture has the same intent, and does not contradict itself, and you will also be able rightly to follow the pattern left us by the Lord Jesus Christ. You ought also to begin to preach again, and to teach your fellow-Christians, and show them the right path to eternal life. The time is come now when good books will be profitable to you; for know that one of your sermons will be more profitable now, and the people will receive more fruit therefrom, than from a hundred aforetime, for the words that you say now, coming from a pure soul, will have a pure and simple favour. Wherefore, just as much as you have been despised by the people, so shall you now be esteemed and beloved by them. But it will be most especially needful that you keep yourself humble, for you know well that he who carries a great treasure exposed to view must ever be on his guard against thieves. I tell you truly the Devil is in great terror when he perceives that God has bestowed on any man such a noble and precious treasure, and the devils will set all their arts and wisdom, and their lusts too, to work, to rob and bereave you of this costly treasure; wherefore look wisely to your goings, for nothing will so greatly help you to preserve it as utter humility. Now, dear sir, it is no longer needful for me to speak to you as a teacher, as I have done hitherto, for you have now the right and true Master, whose instrument I have been: to Him give ear, and obey His commands; this is my most faithful counsel. And now, in all godly love, I desire to receive instruction from you, for I have, with God's help, accomplished the good work for which I was sent and came hither. I would fain, if God will, sojourn here a good while and hear you preach. If God give you to do so, methinks it were well that you should now begin to preach again.| Then said the Master, |Dear son, what had I better do; I have pledged a great many good books, as many as come to thirty florins?| The man answered, |Look! I will give you that sum, for God's sake, and if you have any of it left over, give it back to God, for all that we have is His, whether temporal or spiritual.| So the Master redeemed his books, and ordered notice to be given that he would preach three days after. The people wondered much thereat, because it was so long since he had preached, and a great crowd gathered together to hear him. And when the Master came and saw that there was such a multitude, he went up into a pulpit in a high place that they might hear him all the better. Then he held his hood before his eyes, and said, |O merciful, Eternal God, if it be Thy will, give me so to speak that it may be to the praise and glory of Thy name and the good of this people.| As he said these words, his eyes overflowed with tears of tenderness, so that he could not speak a word for weeping, and this lasted so long that the people grew angry. At last a man spoke out of the crowd, |Sir, how long are we to stand here? It is getting late; if you do not mean to preach, let us go home.| But the Master remained in earnest prayer, and said again to God, |Oh, my Lord and my God, if it be Thy divine will, take this weeping from my eyes, and give me to deliver this sermon to Thy praise and glory. But, if Thou dost not do it, I take it as a sign that Thou judgest I have not yet been enough put to shame. Now fulfil, dear Lord, Thy divine will on me Thy poor creature, to Thy praise and my necessities.| This all availed nothing; he wept yet more and more. Then he saw that God would have it so, and said, with weeping eyes, |Dear children, I am sorry from my heart that I have kept you here so long, for I cannot speak a word to-day for weeping; pray God for me, that He may help me, and then I will make amends to you, if God give me grace, another time, as soon as ever I am able.| So the people departed, and this tale was spread abroad and resounded through the whole city, so that he became a public laughing-stock, despised by all; and the people said, |Now we all see that he has become a downright fool.| And his own brethren strictly forbade him to preach any more, because he did the convent great injury thereby, and disgraced the order with the senseless practices that he had taken up, and which had disordered his brain.

Then the Master sent for the man, and told him all that had happened. The man said, |Dear Master, be of good cheer, and be not dismayed at these things. The Bridegroom is wont to behave so to all His best and dearest friends, and it is a certain sign that God is your good friend, for, without a doubt, He has seen some speck of pride concealed within you that you have not perceived, nor been conscious of yourself, and therefore it is that you have been put to shame. You may have received some great gifts of God, which you yourself do not know or perceive, that have been given you by means of the patience with which you have endured this assault; therefore be of good cheer, and be joyful and humble. Neither should you think this a strange thing, for I have seen many such instances in other people. You shall not despise this pressure of the cross which God has sent you, but count it a great blessing and favour from God. I counsel you that you remain alone for the next five days, and endure without speaking to any, to the praise and glory of the five wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ. And when the five days are ended, beg your Prior to give you permission to deliver a sermon in Latin. If he refuse, beg him to let you try in the school and read a lecture to the brethren.| And he did so; and read to his brethren such an excellent lecture as they had never heard in their lives before, so grand and deep and godly was his doctrine. Then they gave him permission to preach a sermon; and after one of their brethren had preached in the church where the Master was wont to preach, he gave notice to the people, and said, |I am ordered to announce that to-morrow the Master intends to preach in this place; but if it should befall him as it did lately, I will not be answerable for it. So much I can say with truth, that in our school he has read us a lecture containing such great and profound instruction, with high and divine wisdom, as we have not heard for a long time. But what he will do this time I know not; God only knoweth.| The next day after, the Master came to the convent (it was a convent of ladies), and began to preach, and said:

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