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studied the heavens, to search out their natural causes and production of bodies; the wiser Chaldees and Assyrians studied the same things, that they might learn their influences upon us, and make predictions of contingencies; the more moral Egyptian described his theorems in hieroglyphics and fantastic representments, to teach principles of policy, economy, and other prudences of morality and secular negotiation : but the same philosophy, when it is made christian, considers as they did, but to greater purposes, even that from the book of the creatures we may glorify the creator, and hence derive arguments of worship and religion: this is christian philosophy.
I instance only in considerations natural to spiritual purposes; but the same is the manner in all meditation, whether the matter of it be nature or revelation. For if we think of hell, and consider the infinity of its duration, and that its flames last as long as God lasts, and thence conjecture, upon the rules of proportion, why a finite creature may have an infinite, unnatural duration; or think by what ways a material fire can torment an immaterial substance ; or why the devils, who are intelligent and wise creatures, should be so foolish as to hate God, from whom they know every rivulet of amability derives ; this is to study, not to meditate: for meditation considers any thing that may best make us to avoid the place and to quit a vicious habit, or master and rectify an untoward inclination, or purchase a virtue, or exercise one: so that meditation is an act of the understanding put to the right use.
First : And, therefore, every wise person, that intends to furnish himself with affections of religion, or detestation against a vice, or glorifications of a mystery, still will proportion the mystery, and fit it with such circumstances of fancy and application, as, by observation of himself, he knows aptest to make impressions. It was a wise design of Mark Antony, when he would stir up the people to revenge the death of Cæsar ; he brought his body to the pleading-place, he shewed his wounds, held up the rent mantle, and shewed them the garment, that he put on that night, in which he beat the Nervii ; that is, in which he won a victory, for which his memory was dear to them; he shewed them that wound which pierced his heart, in which they were placed by so dear a love, that he made them his heirs, and left to their public use places of delight and pleasure: and then it was natural, when he had made those things present to them, which had once moved their love and his honour, that grief at the loss of so honourable and so loved a person should succeed; and then they were lords of all; their sorrow and revenge seldom slept in two beds. And thus holy meditation produces the passions and desires it intends ; it makes the object present and almost sensible ; it renews the first passions by a fiction of imagination ; it passes from the paschal parlour to Cedron, it tells the drops of sweat, and measures them, and finds them as big as drops of blood, and then conjectures at the greatness of our sins; it fears in the midst of Christ's agonies, it hears his groans, it spies Judas's lantern afar off, it follows Jesus to Gabbatha, and wonders at his innocence and their malice, and feels the stroke of the whip, and shrinks the head when the crown of thorns is thrust hard upon his holy brows; and, at last, goes step by step with Jesus, and carries part of the cross, and is nailed fast with sorrow and compassion, and dies with love. For if the soul be the principle of its own actions, it can produce the same effects by reftex acts of the understanding, when it is assisted by the imaginative part, as when it sees the thing acted : only let the meditation be as minute, particular, and circumstantiate, as it may; for a widow, by representing the caresses of her deal husband's love, produces sorrow, and the new affections of a sad endearment. It is too sure, that the recalling the circumstances of a past impurity does re-enkindle the flame, and entertain the fancy with the burnings of an impure fire; and this happens, not by any advantages of vice, but by the nature of the thing, and the efficacy of circumstances. So does holy meditation produce those impresses and siga
natures, which are the proper effects of the mystery, if presented in a right line and direct representation.
For beyond this I have described, there is a degree of meditation so exalted, that it changes the very name, and is called contemplation; and it is in the unitive way of religion, that is, it consists in unions and adherences to God; it is a prayer of quietness and silence, and a meditation extraordinary, a discourse without variety, a vision and intuition of divine excellencies, an immediate entry into an orb of light, and a resolution of all our faculties into sweetnesses, affections, and starings upon the divine beauty ; and is carried on to ecstasies, raptures, suspensions, elevations, abstractions, and apprehensions beatifical. In all the course of virtuous meditation, the soul is like a virgin invited to make a matrimonial contract; it inquires the condition of the person, his estate and disposition, and other circumstances of amability and desire : but when she. is satisfied with these inquiries,and hath chosen her husband, she no more considers particulars, but is moved by his voice and his gesture, and runs to his entertainment and fruition, and spends herself wholly in affections, not to obtain, but enjoy his love. , Thus it is said.
But this is a thing not to be discoursed of, but felt : and although, in other sciences, the terms must first be known, and then the rules and conclusions scientifical; here it is otherwise : for first, the whole experience of this must be obtained, before we can so much as know what it is; and the end must be acquired first, the conclusion before the premises. They that pretend to these heights, call them the secrets of the kingdom; but they are such, which no man can describe ; such, which God hath not revealed in the publication of the gospel ; such, for the acquiring of which there are no means prescribed, and to which no man is obliged, and which are not in any man's power to obtain ; nor such, which it is lawful to pray for or desire ; nor concerning which we shall ever be called to an account.
It was, therefore, an excellent desire of St. Bernard, who was as likely as any to have such altitudes of speculation, if God had really dispensed them to persons holy, fantastic, and religious : “I pray God grant to me peace of spirit, joy in the Holy Ghost, to compassionate others in the midst of my mirth, to be charitable in simplicity, to rejoice with them that rejoice, and to mourn with them that mourn; and with these I shall be content: other exaltations of devotion I leave to apostles and apostolic men; the high hills are for the harts and the climbing goats ; the stony rocks, and the recesses of the earth, for the conies.” It is more healthful and nutritive to dig the earth, and to eat of her fruits, than to stare upon the greatest glories of the heavens, and live upon the beams of the sun: so unsatisfying a thing is rapture and transportation to the soul; it often distracts the faculties, but seldom does advantage piety, and is full of danger in the greatest of its lustre. If ever a man be more in love with God by such instruments, or more endeared to virtue, or made more severe and watchful in his repentance, it is an excellent grace and gift of God; but then this is nothing but the joys and comfort of ordinary meditation : those extraordinary, as they have no sense in them, so are not pretended to be instruments of virtue, but are, like Jonathan's arrows, shot beyond it, to signify the danger the man is in, towards whom such arrows are shot. But if the person be made unquiet, inconstant, proud, pusillanimous, of high opinion, pertinacious, and confident in uncertain judgments, or desperate, it is certain they are temptations and illusions : so that, as all our duty consists in the ways of repentance and acquist of virtue ; so there rests all our safety, and, by consequence, all our solid joys; and this is the effect of ordinary, pious, and regular meditations.
If I mistake not, there is a temptation like 'this, under another name, amongst persons whose religion hath less discourse and more fancy, and that is a familiarity with God; which, indeed, if it were rightly understood, is an affection consequent to the illumina
tive way; that is, an actor effect of the virtue of religion and devotion, which consists in prayers and addresses to God, lands, and eucharists, and hymns, and confidence of coming to the throne of grace, upon assurance of God's veracity and goodness infinite: so that familiarity with God, which is an affection of friendship, is the intercourse of giving and receiving blessings and graces respectively; and it is produced by a holy life, or the being in the state of grace, and is part of every man's inheritance, that is a friend of God. But when familiarity with God shall be esteemed a privilege of singular and eminent persons, not communicated to all the faithful, and is thought to be an admission to a nearer intercourse of secrecy with God, it is an effect of pride, and a mistake in judgment concerning the very same thing, which the old divines call the unitive way, if themselves that claim it understood the terms of art, and the consequents of their own intentions.
Only I shall observe one circumstance: That familiarity with God is nothing else but an admission to be of God's family, the admission of a servant, or a son in minority, and implies obedience, duty, and fear on our parts; care and providence, and love. on God's part: and it is not the familiarity of sons, but the impudence of proud equals, to express this pretended privilege in even, unmannerly, and irreverent addresses and discourses : and it is a sure rule, that whatsoever heights of piety, union, or familiarity, any man pretends to, it is of the devil, unless the greater the pretence be, the greater also be the humility of the man. The highest flames are the most tremulous; and so are the most holy and eminent religious persons more full of awfulness, and fear, and modesty, and humility: so that, in true divinity and right speaking, there is no such thing as the unitive way of religion, save only in the effects of duty, obedience, and the express of the precise virtue of religion. Meditations in order to a good life, let them be as exalted as the capacity of the person and subject will endure, úp to the height of contemplation ; but if contemplation comes to be a distinct