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

XII Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Of the power of the Word of God, of fiery desires, and the essence of self-renunciation.

John viii.47. -- |He who is of God heareth the words of God.|

DEAR children, ye ought not to cease from hearing or declaring the word of God because you do not alway live according to it, nor keep it in mind. For inasmuch as you love it and crave after it, it will assuredly be given unto you; and you shall enjoy it for ever with God, according to the measure of your desire after it. There are some people who, when they hear speak of high things which they do not understand, and moreover see that they have no share in them, turn away from these things with such aversion, that they do not even like to hear them treated of, or that others should think about them and seek after them. Yea, they hear of high things, and say: |That is not my way of thinking; I had better not try to put it into practice, for I should not keep it, and then I should be just where I was before.| And thus they turn away themselves and others from the truth, just as if it in no wise concerned them, and sit down quite contented with their own ways, while yet they know in the bottom of their hearts that their ways are not the best that might be. This is an infallible token that these persons will never reach the highest point of which they are capable; nor will they become partakers of the highest, pure, absolute goodness, unless indeed they come to go through a painful and agonizing struggle after it.

St. Bernard has said: |Man, if thou desirest a noble and holy life, and unceasingly prayest to God for it, if thou continue constant in this thy desire, it will be granted unto thee without fail, even if only in the day or hour of thy death; and if God should not give it thee then, thou shalt find it in Him in eternity: of this be assured.| Therefore do not relinquish your desire, though it be not fulfilled immediately, or though ye may swerve from your aspirations, or even forget them for a time. It were a hard case if this were to cut you off for ever from the end of your being. But when ye hear the word of God, surrender yourselves wholly to it, as if for eternity, with a full purpose of will to retain it in your mind and to order your life according to it; and let it sink down right deep into your heart as into an eternity. If afterward it should come to pass that you let it slip, and never think of it again, yet the love and aspiration which once really existed live for ever before God, and in Him ye shall find the fruit thereof; that is, to all eternity it shall be better for you than if you had never felt them.

What we can do is a small thing; but we can will and aspire to great things. Thus, if a man cannot be great, he can yet be good in will; and what he, with his whole heart and mind, love and desire, wills to be, that without doubt he most truly is. It is little we can bring to pass; but our will and desire may be large. Nay, they may grow till they lose themselves in the infinite abyss of God. Not that we ought to think within ourselves that we wish to be this or that, like such a saint or angel, for we ought to be much more than we can conceive or fathom: wherefore our part is to give ourselves over to God, and leave ourselves utterly in His hands, being wholly His. And if ye cannot be as entirely His as ye fain would be, be His as much as ye may attain unto; but whatever ye are, be that truly and entirely; and what ye cannot be, that be contented not to be, in a sincere spirit of resignation, for God's sake and in Him. So shall you peradventure possess more of God in lacking than in having. Therefore be God's; yield to His hand, suffer Him to do in thee, and to thee, and with thee, what He will; and then nothing here or hereafter shall be able to confound you.

Think not that God will be always caressing His children, or shine upon their head, or kindle their hearts, as He does at the first. He does so only to lure us to Himself, as the falconer lures the falcon with its gay hood. Our Lord works with His children so as to teach them afterwards to work themselves; as He bade Moses to make the tables of stone after the pattern of the first which He had made Himself. Thus, after a time, God allows a man to depend upon himself, and no longer enlightens, and stimulates, and rouses him. We must stir up and rouse ourselves, and be content to leave off learning, and no more enjoy feeling and fire, and must now serve the Lord with strenuous industry and at our own cost. Our Lord acts like a prudent father, who, while his children are young, lets them live at his cost, and manages everything for them. What is needful for them, he provides, and lets them go and play; and so long as this lasts they are at leisure, free from care, happy, and generous at their father's expense. Afterwards he gives a portion of his estate into their own hands, because he will have them to take care of themselves, and earn their own living, to leave off childish play, and thus learn how to grow rich. So it is with us. In the beginning of a holy life, there is nothing but brightness, enjoyment, and feeling, and God draws us after Him with His gifts, that we may praise Him in the influencing of our wills, and we do all with a good will, and we know and recognize therein God's will. But now it is very different; now God will have us to give up ourselves and our own will, and to accept Him with readiness in His acts of severity, and in all kinds of suffering, and in darkness of mind, whatever He may do, and however contrary it may be to all our natural wishes. As the Lord said to Peter: |When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hand, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.| Thus did the Lord in our early days go beside us, drawing us onward by His benefits; then we went whither we would, for our will was sweetly girded with the pleasantness of divine things. But now it must be otherwise: another shall gird us, and lead us whither we would not.

The Lord will draw us and securely lead us to Himself, in a way contrary to all our natural will, until He have divested us thereof, and consumed it and made it thoroughly subject unto the Divine will. For this is His will: that we should cease to regard our own wishes or dislikes; that it should become a light matter to us whether He give or take away, whether we have abundance or suffer want, and let all things go, if only we may receive and apprehend God Himself; that whether things please or displease us, we may leave all things to take their course and cleave to Him alone. Then first do we attain to the fulness of God's love as His children, when it is no longer happiness or misery, prosperity or adversity, that draws us to Him, or keeps us back from Him. What we should then experience none can utter; but it would be something far better than when we were burning with the first flame of love, and had great emotion but less true submission: for here, though there may be less show of zeal, and less vehemence of feeling, there is more true faithfulness to God. That we may attain thereunto, may God help us with His grace. Amen!

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