By Francois Fenelon
Christian Perfection is not that rigorous, tedious, cramping thing that many imagine. It demands only an entire surrender of everything to God from the depths of the soul, and the moment this takes place, whatever is done for Him becomes easy. They who are God's without reserve, are in every state content; for they will only what He wills, and desire to do for Him whatever he desires them to do; they strip themselves of everything, and in this nakedness find all things restored an hundred fold. Peace of conscience, liberty of spirit, the sweet abandonment of themselves and theirs into the hand of God, the joy of perceiving the light always increasing in their hearts, and finally the freedom of their souls from the bondage of the fears and desires of this world, these things constitute that return of happiness which the true children of God receive an hundred fold in the midst of their crosses, while they remain faithful.
They are sacrificed, it is true, but it is to that which they love best; they suffer, but they will to endure all that they do receive, and prefer that anguish to all the false joys of the world; their bodies are subject to excruciating pain; their imaginations are troubled; their minds become languid and weak, but the will is firm and peacefully quiet in the interior of the soul, and responds a joyful Amen! to every stroke from the hand that would perfect the sacrifice.
What God requires of us, is a will which is no longer divided between Him and any creature; a simple, pliable state of will which desires what He desires, rejects nothing but what He rejects, and wills without reserve what He wills, and under no pretext wills what He does not. In this state of mind, all things are proper for us; our amusements, even, are acceptable in his sight.
Blessed is he who thus give himself to God! He is delivered from his passions, from the opinions of men, from their malice, from the tyranny of their maxims, from their cold and miserable raillery, from the misfortunes which the world attributes to chance, from the infidelity and fickleness of friends, from the artifices and snares of enemies, from the wretchedness and shortness of life, from the horrors of an ungodly death, from the cruel remorse that follows sinful pleasures, and finally from the everlasting condemnation of God!
The true Christian is delivered from this innumerable multitude of evils, because, putting his will into the hands of God, he wills only what He wills, and thus finds comfort in the midst of all his suffering in the way of faith, and its attendant hope.
What weakness it is, then, to be fearful of consecrating ourselves to God, and of getting too far into so desirable a state!
Happy those who throw themselves, as it were, headlong, and with their eyes shut, into the arms of "the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort!" (2 Cor. i. 3.) Their whole desire then, is to know what is the will of God respecting them; and they fear nothing so much as not perceiving the whole of his requirements. So soon as they behold a new light in his law, they are transported with joy, like a miser at the finding of a treasure.
No matter what cross may overwhelm the true child of God, he wills everything that happens, and would not have anything removed which his Father appoints; the more he loves God, the more is he filled with content; and the most stringent perfection, far from being a burthen, only renders his yoke the lighter.
What folly to fear to be too devoted to God! to fear to be happy! to fear to love the will of God in all things! to fear to have too much courage under inevitable crosses, too much consolation in the love of God, and too great a detachment from the passions which make us miserable!
Let us refuse, then, to set our affections upon things of the earth that we may set them exclusively upon God. I do not say, that we must abandon them entirely; for if our lives be already moral and well ordered, we have only to change the secret motive of our actions into Love, and we may continue almost the same course of life. God does not overturn our conditions nor the duties attached to them, but we may go on doing that now for the service of God which we did formerly to satisfy the world, and to please ourselves. There will only be this difference: instead of being harassed by pride, by overbearing passion, and by the malicious censures of the world, we shall act with liberty, with courage, and with hope in God. We shall be animated with confidence; the expectation of things eternal, which advance as things temporal recede from us, will support us in the midst of suffering; the love of God, who will cause us to perceive how great is his love toward us, will lend us wings to fly in his ways, and to raise us above all our miseries. Is this hard to believe? Experience will convince us. "O taste and see that the Lord is good!" says the Psalmist. (Ps. xxxiv. 8.)
The Son of God says to every Christian without exception, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." (Matt. xix. 24.) The broad way leadeth unto destruction; we must walk in the strait way, though there be few that travel therein. It is only the violent who take the Kingdom by force. We must be born again, renounce and hate ourselves, become children, be poor in spirit, mourn that we may be comforted, and not be of this world, which is cursed because of offences.
Many are affrighted at these truths, and their fear arises from this: that while they know the exacting nature of religion, they are ignorant of its gifts, and of the spirit of love which renders everything easy. They are not aware that religion leads to the highest perfection, while bestowing peace through a principle of love that smooths every rough place.
They who are in truth and indeed wholly consecrated to God, are ever happy. They prove that the yoke of our Redeemer is easy and his burden light; that in Him is the peace of the soul, and that He gives rest to them that are weary and heavy laden, according to his own blessed promise. But how unhappy are those poor, weak souls, who are divided between God and the world! They will and they do not will; they are lacerated at once by their passions and their remorse; they are afraid of the judgments of God and of the opinions of men; they dislike the evil, but are ashamed of the good; they suffer the pains of virtue, without enjoying its consolations. Ah! could they but have a little courage,--just enough to despise the vain conversation, the cold sneers, and the rash judgments of men,--what peace would they not enjoy in the bosom of God!
It is dangerous to our salvation, unworthy of God and of ourselves, and destructive even of our peace of mind, to desire to remain always in our present position. Our whole life is only given us that we may advance with rapid strides towards our heavenly country. The world recedes like a deceptive shadow, and eternity already approaches to receive us. Why do we linger and look behind, while the light of the Father of Mercies is shining upon us from before? Let us make haste to reach the Kingdom of God.
All the vain pretexts which are used to cover our reservations toward God are instantly dissipated by the first commandment of the law: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind." (Luke x. 27.) Notice how many expressions are here brought together by the Holy Spirit, to forestall all the reservations the soul might make to the prejudice of this jealous Love; not only with the whole extent and strength of the soul, but with all the intensity of the intellect. How then can we conclude that we love Him if we cannot make up our minds to receive his law, and to apply ourselves at once to fulfil all his blessed will?
They who fear that they shall discover too clearly what this love demands, are very far indeed from possessing the active and incessant affection required by this commandment.
There is but one way in which God should be loved, and that is to take no step except with Him and for Him, and to follow, with a generous self-abandonment, everything which He requires.
They who live in some self-denial, but have still a wish to enjoy a little of the world, think that this is a small matter; but they run the risk of being included in the number of those lukewarm ones whom God will spue out of his mouth. (Rev. iii. 16.)
God is not pleased with the souls that say, "thus far will I go and no farther." Should the creature prescribe laws to the Creator? What would a master say of his servants, or a king of his subjects, who should be willing to serve him, but only after their own fashion? who should be afraid of becoming too much interested in his service and his interests, and who should be ashamed publicly to acknowledge themselves attached to him? Or rather, what will the King of kings say to us if we serve Him in this wicked manner?
The time is not far distant; it is near, it is even at hand; let us hasten to anticipate it; let us love that eternal beauty which never grows old, and which preserves in endless youth those who love nought but it; let us despise this miserable world which is already falling to pieces on every side! Have we not beheld for years, that they, who to-day are high in honor and in the esteem of men, to-morrow, surprised by death, are laid side by side in the tomb? This poor world, the object of so much insane attachment, we are daily about to leave; it is but misery, vanity and folly; a phantom,--the very fashion of which passeth away! (1 Cor. vii. 31.)