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Sin and ill are the false notes struck by man across the harmony of God's will, and to strike upon or even remember such notes is instant banishment from the music of His presence. Where all is joy, there joy is all; and he who has not reached this joy does not know God—he is still a follower, and not a possessor, and he should refuse in his heart to remain satisfied with his condition, but climb on. Why stay behind? Climb on, climb on!
How often I have been mystified and disturbed by the attitude of many religious and pious people, that to follow Christ is a way of gloom, of sadness, of heaviness! How often have I gathered from sermons that we are to give up all bright and enticing things if we would follow Him, and the preacher goes no further! Has the Lord, then, no enticements, no sweetnesses, no brightness to offer us, that we should be asked to forsake all pleasantnesses, all brightness, all attractions if we follow Him? This to me always seemed terrible, and my heart would sink. Indeed, to my poor mind and heart it seemed nothing more hopeful than a going from bad to worse!
All the pictures I have seen, either of the Crucifixion or the Way of the Cross (and especially those of more recent times and painting), portray His Blessed Face all worn with gloom; and I know now that this is far from the truth. For perfect love knows agony, but no gloom. He went through all His agony, lifted high above gloom, in a great ecstasy of love for us.
To speak of sacrifice in connection with following Him is, to my mind, the work of a very foolish person and one in danger of being blasphemous. For how dare we say that it is a sacrifice when, by the putting away of foolish desires, we find God! And to find God, through the following of Jesus Christ, is to gain so much (even in this world, and without waiting for the next) that those who gain it never cease to be amazed at the vastness of it.
We find this to be an absolute truth, that if we have not Him we have, and are, nothing, in comparison with that which we are and that which we have when we have Him.
In my earlier stages I was greatly set back and disturbed by this gloom and sacrifice (which is no sacrifice) of myself so put forward by pulpit teaching. It was a great hindrance to me and blinded me to the truth. I was only a normal, ordinary creature, and they thrust a great burden into my arms.
Little by little, as I was able to learn directly from His own heart, I came to know Him as He is; and I could not reconcile this knowledge of Himself which He gave me, especially of His high willingness and serenity, with pulpit teachings of heavy gloom. The Church too frequently spoke to me of following Him in terms which conveyed a burden: "Pick up thy cross, pick up thy cross!" they cried; and He spoke to me in terms which conveyed a great joy: "Come to Me, come to Me, for I love thee!"
I thought I was very cowardly and sinned by this inability to like the gloomy burden, and one day I came upon this out of Jeremiah: "As for the prophet, or the priest, or the people, that shall say, The burden of the Lord, I will punish that man and his house . . . because ye say, The burden of the Lord, I will utterly forget you and forsake you, and cast you out of My presence."
These words of Jesus, "Take up thy cross and follow Me": whoever will do it will be shown by Jesus that the cross of following Him is no burden, but a deliverance, a finding of life, the way of escape, a great joy, and a garland of love.
The world thinks of joyousness as being laughter, cackling, and much silly noise; and to such I do not speak. But the Christ's joyousness is of a high, still, marvellous, and ineffable completeness—beyond all words; and wholly satisfying to heart and soul and body and mind.
It is written, "They shall love silver, and not be satisfied with it"—for why? Only those are satisfied who know the gold of Christ.
All of which is not to say that by following Him we shall escape from happenings and inconveniences and sorrows and illnesses common to life; but that when these come we are raised out of our distress into His ineffable peace.
When the heart is sad, use this sadness in a comprehension of the deeper pain of Jesus, who was in the self-same exile as we ourselves. The more the soul is truly awakened and touched, the more she feels herself to be in exile; and this is her cross.
But the remedy for her sadness is that she should courageously pass out of her woes of exile and go up to meet her lover with smiles. Now, He cannot resist this smiling courage and love of the soul, and very quickly He must send her His sweetness, and her sadness is gone.
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When I say that if we will take a few steps alone towards Christ—which is to say, if we will make some strenuous efforts to cleanse ourselves and change our minds and ways—He will take us all the rest of the way, I speak from experience. For amongst many things this happened to me: at a certain stage, after my third conversion on the hill, He caused my former thoughts, desires, and follies to go away from me! It was as though He had sent a veil between me and such thoughts of my heart and mind as might not be pleasing to Him, so that they disappeared from my knowledge and my actions!
By this marvellous act He removed my difficulties, and put me into a state of innocence which resembled the innocence I remember to have had up to the age of four or five years. But I find this new innocence far more wonderful than that of childhood, which is but the innocence of ignorance. But this new innocence—which is a gift of God—is innocence with knowledge. I am not able to express the gratitude and amazement and wonder that have never ceased to fill me about this. Such things can only be spoken of by the soul to her lover, and then not in words but in a silence of tears.
What did I ever do that He should show me such kindness? I did nothing except this: I desired with all the force of my heart and soul and mind and body to love Him. I said, "Oh, if I could be the warmest, tenderest lover that ever thou didst have! Teach me to be Thy burning lover." This was my perpetual prayer. And my idea of Heaven was and is this, that without so much as knowing, or being known or perceived by any save Himself, without even a name, yet retaining my full consciousness of individuality, I should be with Him for always.
What is this love for God, and how define it? For myself, I never knew it until I was filled with it upon the hill. Many judge it to be a following of Christ and His wishes, but this is only a part of it and the way we begin it, and often we begin from duty, fear of future punishment, desire for salvation or spiritual pre-eminence, and obedience; and in none of these is there the joy of love.
By such standards I might count myself to have loved Him for twenty years; but know I did not. For ten years past I felt myself to have so great a need of Him, I sought Him so, that for me Heaven contained no re-met former earthly loves, much as I loved them here. I knew that He would be my all. Nevertheless, He was not yet my Love, but my Need.
Love is a fire, for we feel the great heat of it.
Love is a light, for we perceive the white glare of it.
Of things known, to what can we compare it? Most perhaps to electricity, for here we have both light and heat, and the lightning flash strikes that which already contains the most of itself (or electricity). And the lightning of God's love strikes him whose heart contains the most love for Himself. And He strikes when He will, and afterwards visits when He will; and I do not count myself (for all my earthly loves) to have so much as known the outer edge of the meaning of the word love, till He struck me with His own upon that hill.
Truly, fair and holy love is our warranty, our only pass for entering into Heaven.
Brave and wilful, rapturous and insistent, love passes with bold yet humble ecstasy into the very presence of her Lord and God; and alone, out of all creation, is never denied the Right of Way.
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I have seen it quoted, "Turn to the heights, turn to the deeps, turn within, turn without, everywhere thou shalt find the Cross." But I see it so: "Turn to the heights, turn to the deeps, turn within, turn without, everywhere thou shalt find His Love." Love to help on the way. Too much we might suppose, to hear pious people talk, that because of Christ's way we must be miserable and our life an endless Cross! And so life may be a cross, but He carries it for us.
Do sinful men never suffer? Do the sinful escape disease? and live for ever without biting the dust in death or disappointment? Why, disease and suffering are the very twin-children of sin. I am amazed that people can take such a view of the Cross as to think it an unhappy, miserable way. For so marvellous is the beauty of such love that there is no other so desirable a thing upon earth.
"Come, walk the way with Me," says the Beloved; "I am all serenity, all peace, all might, all power, all love. Come, walk with Me, and forget thy tiny cares in the peace of My bosom."
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We do not love God because we do not yet know Him. And we do not know Him because we seek only to know and have our own desires: and having learnt to know these, we would have our unknown God accommodate Himself to us and them.
But let us first seek to know God's desires by heart, and then accommodate our own to His: so shall we learn to be pleasing to Christ, that He may lead us, whilst here, into His Garden. For to the creature that ardently pursues God there comes at last a time when He reveals Himself to the searching soul, saying: "I Am Here. Come!" Then in secrecy we arise,—and go to Him out of the House of Vanity into the music of the great Beyond.
There is small credit or virtue to the soul when, in a state of high grace or nearness, she burns with love for her God: for she is under the spell of the enticement of His Presence—how can she help but burn! It is as though two earthly lovers, in full sight and nearness, are filled each for each with great love, and are content.
But this is a credit to the soul and the creature (as to the earthly lovers), that in separation and farness they should seek no other, but continue to dwell with great intentness upon the absent love. This is fidelity.
At times it is as if her Lord said to the soul: "I have other to do than to stay by thee; and also thou hast had more than enough to thy share of My honey"; and, so saying, He departs.
And this is fidelity of the soul and the creature, and a great virtue, that, without change of face, without complaint or petitioning, they should with all sweetness continue to pour up to Him their unabated love. If any can do this, he is a perfect lover and has no more to learn.
When the love of the soul, as it were, exceeds itself, it passes up and beyond even the song of love; and being unable to express itself by words or by song, or by deep sighings, or by any of those subtle, silent, spiritual means known only between herself and God, when all means fail because of the too great stress of her adoration, then the soul passes into a great pain, which is the anguish of love and a hard thing to bear. This excess is to the fullness of the Godhead.
And now the soul must turn to prayer for help, but not to the Godhead: for the more she turns to the Godhead the greater becomes her anguish. But coming down to His humanity, she must beseech sweet Jesus for His aid, and so regain her equilibrium.
Source: Project Gutenberg