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Second Sermon for Epiphany

By John Tauler


      Showeth on what wise a man shall arise from himself and from all creatures, to the end that God may find the ground of his soul prepared, and may begin and perfect his work therein.

      Isaiah lx. 1.-"Arise, O Jerusalem, and be enlightened." [45]

      IN all this world God covets and requires but one thing only, and that He desires so exceeding greatly that He gives His whole might and energy thereto. This one thing is, that He may find that good ground which He has laid in the noble mind of man made fit and ready for Him to exercise His divine agency thereon. For God has all power in heaven and on earth, and the only thing that is lacking unto Him is that He is hindered from accomplishing the most glorious of all His works in man.

      Now what must we do that God may shine in on this innermost ground of the soul, and work there? We must arise, says our text. Arise! this sounds as if we could do something towards this work. We must arise from all that is not God, from ourselves and from all creatures. And by this act of arising, the ground of the soul is stirred, and a strong craving springs up in it; and the more this deepest ground of the soul is laid bare, and all that occupied and cumbered it is cleared away, the keener grows this craving after something higher than itself, so that ofttimes with God's lightest touch upon the naked soul, the longing pierces through flesh and blood and marrow.

      But there are two sorts of over-bold men who are driven by this stirring up of their souls into two rash courses. The first come with their natural quickness of parts, and with the conceptions of their own minds, and try therewith to touch the principle of their souls, and seek to still the craving within them by hearing and learning of lofty matters. And in this they find great delight, and ween that they are a Jerusalem,-a city of peace, by the exercise of their intellect. There is another class who think to prepare the ground of their souls for God and to obtain peace by means of self-chosen good works, or by religious exercises, such as prayer, meditation, or whatever they see other people do for the same end; and then they fancy they are verily children of Zion, and their works of piety and charity do yield them great peace, and they delight in nothing so much as in religious exercises and the fulfilling of the tasks they have set themselves. But that their peace is a false one, may be perceived by this, that they do not cure themselves of their former faults, such as pride, sensuality, self-indulgence, love of the creature, proneness to suspect or to judge others; and if any offend them, resentment forthwith flames up within them, and an angry word escapes them, or hatred smoulders in their heart; and such like faults they indulge in with their own consent. By this we may know that they wish to manage their souls after their own fashion, and work in them; while God cannot accomplish His work in such a foul and unswept chamber. Therefore, their peace is false, and they have not yet arisen in truth. Let not such claim to be children of Zion, nor dare to think they have found true peace; but let them seriously set themselves to work to conquer their faults, exercising themselves, after the pattern of our Lord, in humility and works of love, dying unto themselves in all things, and thus learn how to rise on high.

      But those others, that is to say those noble men who do truly arise and receive divine light, these allow God to prepare their souls for Himself, and renounce themselves in all things without any reserve, either as regards their words or their daily habits, or what they do or refrain from, or anything else, whether things go smoothly or crossly with them. Both in framing their purposes, and in meeting what arises, they refer all to God in humble fear, and give themselves wholly up to Him, in utter poorness of spirit, in willing self-surrender, acquiescing in the divine will. They are content to say in all matters, "As God will": in quiet or in disquiet; for their sole delight is the holy and excellent will of God. To these we may apply what Christ said unto His disciples when they bade Him to go up unto the feast: "Go ye up; your time is alway ready, but my time is not yet come." These men's time is alway ready for them to endure and submit; all time is fitting for them; but God's time is not alway ready, when He deigns or sees fit to work, or to send forth His light. This they submissively leave to His divine will, and are willing to wait as long as He pleases.

      Now the distinguishing mark of this better sort of men is that they suffer God to order their souls' affairs, and do not hinder Him. Yet they are not raised above the shocks of temptation, nor even the liability to fall for a moment (for no one is entirely delivered from this danger); but afterwards, as soon as the first onset of passion is over, and their fault is held up before them, whether it be pride, or self-indulgence, or anger, or hatred, or whatever is their special temptation, they come to God in self-abasement, and submit themselves to Him, and bear without murmuring what He sees fit to appoint unto them. And such do in truth arise, for they rise above themselves in all things, and they do become in truth a Jerusalem or stronghold of peace, for they have quiet in disquietude and prosperity in adversity, and rejoice in the will of God amidst all circumstances. Therefore no power in this world can take away their peace, nor could all the devils in hell, nor all the men on earth banded together. All their affections centre in God, and they are enlightened by Him of a truth; for He shines into their souls with a strong and clear light that reveals all things unto them; and He shineth as truly, nay far more brightly, in the blackest darkness than in the seeming light. Ah! these are sweet and lovely children of God, raised above nature by their likeness to Him; and such neither undertake nor bring to pass any of their works without God. Nay, if we may dare to use such language, they are, so to speak, nothing, but God is in them; as St Paul says: "I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me." Ah! these are highly-favoured men; they bear the world upon, their shoulders and are the noble pillars of society. To make one of their number, what a blessed and glorious thing were that!

      Now, the distinguishing mark of those two classes of presumptuous men whom we first spoke of, is that they choose to govern their souls for themselves, instead of submitting themselves to the direction of God; and hence their powers are kept under bondage to sin, so that they cannot fully conquer their evil habits; nay, they even continue therein with content, or at least with the consent of their own will. But those other noble, blessed, self-renouncing men, who have given themselves over to God, are exalted above themselves; and hence, if they are overtaken in a fault, so soon as they are aware of it, they flee unto God with it, and straightway the sin is no more, and they are in a state of godlike freedom. Shall they not then with reason desire that God may prepare their souls?

      There is no need for these men to perform outward works, in addition, as if they were a matter of necessity. No! Now the text itself in this one word, "Arise!" bids them to lift themselves up: and is not that a work? Yes, one work it does behove them to fulfil without ceasing, if they are ever to come to perfectness. They must continually arise, and have their minds directed upwards towards God, and their hearts free from entanglement, ever asking, "Where is He who is born a king?" and watching with humble fear and quick eye to discern what God desires of them, that they may do His pleasure. If God gives them to suffer, they suffer; if He gives them to work they work: if He them to enjoy Him in contemplation, they contemplate. The ground of their own souls bears witness that God has cleansed them and created them anew.

      And this ground and substance of the soul will God possess alone, and will not that any creature should enter therein. In this chamber of the heart God works through means in the one class of men, and without means in the other and more blessed sort. But what he works in the souls of these last with whom He holds direct converse, none can say, nor can one man give account of it to another, but he only who has felt it knows what it is; and even he can tell thee nothing of it, save only that God in very truth hath possessed the ground of his soul. And where this comes to pass, outward works become of no moment, but the inward perceiving of God greatly increases. But when a man reaches the highest point that he may attain unto by his most earnest endeavour and the help of God's grace, let him ascribe nothing whatever unto himself; as our blessed Lord said: "When ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which it was our duty to do." Therefore, let a man be never so perfect, he shall always stand in humble fear, at his highest glory; and shall always say and feel, "Father, thy will be done!" and shall at all times keep a watch upon himself, looking narrowly lest he should cleave unto one single thing that is amiss, and God should find anything in the secret chambers of his heart that hinders His accomplishing His glorious work therein without the help of means.

      May God help us all so to arise that He may accomplish His work in our souls! Amen.

      NOTES:

      [45] According to our authorized version: "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee." The German version of the text has been retained, because the argument of the Sermon is based upon it.

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