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Preface To The Third Book.

As there are different degrees of age and maturity in the natural life; so are there also in the spiritual. This life has its first foundation in sincere repentance, by which a man sets himself heartily to amend his life. This is succeeded by an increase of light, when by contemplation, prayer, and bearing the cross, a man is daily improving in grace, and growing up to perfection. The last and most perfect state is that which consists in firm union, which is founded in, and cemented by, pure love. This is the state which St. Paul calls the “perfect man,” and “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Eph. 4:13.

2. To explain these three different states, is the design of these three books; so that I think that (with my Book of Prayer), the whole body of Christianity is contained and explained in them, as far as is essentially necessary; though, perhaps, not so perfectly as might be wished. As for the Fourth Book, I thought fit to add it to the rest, to show how harmoniously the Holy Scriptures, Jesus Christ, human nature, and the whole creation agree together; and how all things centre in the one Eternal, which is God!

3. That the reader may not mistake the design of this Third Book, I would remark that it proposes to instruct him how to seek and find the kingdom of heaven within himself (Luke 17:21); and that, in order to this, he must devote and consecrate his whole heart and soul to God; that is, not only his understanding, but his will and affections also. It is a notion too prevalent at this day, that men are very good Christians, if by reading or discourse they have attained to some kind of intellectual knowledge of Jesus Christ. This is that which generally passes under the name of Divinity, which the generality take to be nothing but a science, or a set of doctrines or opinions to be learned only in theory, not regarding the other most noble powers of the soul, namely, the will and the affections. But all these must be consecrated to God in Christ; and when thou hast done this, thou mayest assure thyself that thou art entirely dedicated to him. For there is a wide difference betwixt the understanding by which we know, and the will or affections by which we love the Lord Jesus. Our love may be perfect, though our knowledge be not so. To know Christ with our understanding, and yet not to love him, is nothing worth; on the other hand, it is infinitely better to love him, than merely to be able to dispute and discourse about him. Eph. 3:19. Let us learn, therefore, so to seek Christ with our understanding, that we may also love him with the entire strength of our will. By this we may be assured that we know him truly, if our knowledge be productive of love. Otherwise, we may be said, indeed, to find him and 376 know him, but it will be to our condemnation. So our blessed Lord tells us, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 7:21. Moreover, there are two ways of obtaining wisdom and knowledge. The one consists in reading and discussion; the other in prayer and charity. The one makes us learned, the other holy. And between these there is a great difference. If men be learned, and not lovers of God, they breathe nothing but pride and arrogance; but if holy, they are humble, and think meanly of themselves. If thou take the first method, thou wilt never find thy internal treasure; if thou take the latter, thou canst not be disappointed. Such is the argument of the Third Book.

4. And now, how glorious, how noble, and happy a thing is it, that our chief and most valuable treasure, that is, the kingdom of God, is not to be sought without, but to be found within us, that we continually carry it about with us, hidden from the world, and that neither the world nor the devil can rob us of it; and that this is not to be obtained by profound learning, skill in languages, or variety of books, but by a devout and humble spirit. Here then let us exercise our greatest care and diligence, and turn our thoughts inward to that hidden, celestial, and eternal good, that divine, that incomparable treasure. Why do we spend our time and pains in the pursuit of external comforts, whilst so great a treasure as the kingdom of God, with all its blessings, lies within us? For in our heart and soul is the true school of the Holy Spirit, the true habitation of the Holy Trinity, the very temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19), the true house of prayer, wherein he desires to be worshipped “in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23, 24. For though God by his universal presence is in all things, though not included in them (Isa. 66:1), but after an incomprehensible manner filling heaven and earth; yet in a particular and proper sense, he dwells in the soul of the enlightened Christian, taking up his seat and habitation there, as it were in his own image and similitude. Here he operates in a way suitable to himself, answering and aiding every groan and sigh of the devout soul. For how is it possible that He should deny anything to him with whom, and in whom he lives? In a word, there is nothing more pleasant and agreeable to divine love, than to communicate itself to all that unfeignedly seek it.

5. In order to this, however, the soul must be at rest, which it never can be till disengaged from the world. This even some heathens were sensible of, and accordingly one of them tells us, “that the soul is incapable of wisdom till it is composed and at rest.” There is a fine passage in St. Cyprian to this purpose. “This,” says he, “is the true rest and security of the soul, when the man, being delivered from the storms and tempests of the world, raises his heart and eyes unto God, and endeavors to be like him. By this he comes to understand, that all which the world calls beautiful and valuable, is truly hidden in his own soul, so that he neither expects nor desires anything from without. O celestial treasure, to be delivered from the chains and fetters of this world! O chief and boundless good, not to be obtained by any labor of ours, nor by our interest with the great men of this world; in short, not to be gained by our industry and study; but solely and entirely, by the grace and favor of God. For as 377 the light of the sun proceeds from itself, the day breaks from itself, the fountain flows from itself, the rain falls from itself, and waters the earth; so the Holy Spirit descends freely into that soul, which has raised itself from the world unto God.”

6. These words of St. Cyprian express a great truth, and are a sort of epitome of this Book. In a word, this turning inwards of the soul, very often gives us a view of the inward treasure of our souls, though but for a moment. And one such moment is better than heaven and earth, and all the creatures. Hence St. Bernard truly observed, “that he who has once learned to descend into himself, to seek the face of God, and taste the sweetness of his presence in the inmost recesses of the heart, will think it more tolerable to suffer even the pains of hell for a season, than, after having tasted the sweetness of this divine exercise, to return again to the pleasures, or rather, to the lusts and wearisome gratifications of the world and the flesh, arising from the insatiable cravings of the inferior appetites.” In short, such a soul not only feels the highest happiness, by finding in itself the presence of God; but also the deepest misery, in being deprived of it. By this the true Christian is fully instructed, that by dying to the world, he lives in God, as the fountain of life; and, on the other hand, that the more he lives to the world, the more he dies unto God: that the soul which is dead to the world, truly lives unto God, and is his joy, or, as the Song of Solomon expresses it, is better than the taste of wine, or the smell of all spices (Cant. 4:10); while on the other hand, the hearts of worldly men are but sour grapes, as the grapes of Sodom, which are as gall, and their clusters are bitter. Deut. 32:32. The soul that is dead to the world, may be discovered by these tokens. It resigns its own will to the will of God in all things; it suppresses self-love; it mortifies the desires of the flesh; it avoids worldly pleasures; it esteems itself as the meanest of all, and is not apt to judge or censure a neighbor. Such a one refers all his injuries and wrongs to the God of righteousness, to whom vengeance belongeth; he is not puffed up with the applause of men, nor grieved by their revilings; in a word, he bears everything with patience and without repining. A noble instance of this resigned temper we have in king David (2 Sam. 23:15-17), when he poured out before the Lord the water of the well of Bethlehem, after which he had so earnestly longed, and which three mighty men of his host had brought for him at the hazard of their lives. This was an action of great self-denial; for he would not gratify his desires by tasting that for which three men had ventured their lives.

7. Herein consists the true perfection of the Christian life. For perfection is not, as some suppose, a sublime, spiritual kind of relish for heavenly enjoyments; but it is the denying our own will, the contempt of the pleasures and profits of this life, the acknowledging our own vileness, constant resignation to the will of God, and unwearied love and unfeigned compassion for our neighbor. In a word, it is that degree of love, which, allowing for human infirmities, thinks of nothing, seeks nothing, desires nothing but God. This is that true Christian virtue, true liberty, and true peace, which consists in overcoming the flesh and fleshly desires, as will appear in this Third Book, and as thou wilt learn from thine own experience, 378 if thou wilt apply the truth. For which great end, I pray that divine grace may descend both upon the reader and writer, that it may please God to begin, strengthen, and perfect his good work in us, to the praise and glory of himself. Amen.

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