§ 3. What benefit such an one may also reap from instructions here peculiarly belonging to religious.
§§ 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Such a soul needs not to apprehend want, if, consecrating herself to God, she shall relinquish worldly solicitudes.
1. In the next place, as concerning a secular person not in holy orders, that lives a common life in the world, of what sex or condition soever (for with God there is no difference or acceptation of persons), to whom the Divine Spirit shall have given an effectual call to seek God in these internal ways of contemplation, yet so as that they do not find themselves obliged to forsake a secular profession and to embrace a religious life (of which state, the person perhaps being married or otherwise hindered, is not capable, or, however, finds no inclination thereto), such a soul may make benefit also of these instructions, though purposely written for religious, inasmuch as many of them do generally belong to all persons tending to perfection; and those that seem more peculiar to religious, yet with some qualifications and applications (such as ordinary discretion will teach), these instructions also may afford unto them some good help and useful benefit. And for that purpose they may do well to take into their consideration, and apply unto their own advantage in practice, these following advises:
2. A devout soul, therefore, being inspired by God to such a course, and living in the world, ought to conceive herself obliged as truly and as properly (though not altogether equally) as any of a religious profession to the practice of these substantial and essential duties and instructions following, viz.: 1. A strong resolution, notwithstanding any contradictions and difficulties, to pursue, by the divine assistance, the ways tending to contemplation.2. An equal care to observe, and faithfully to execute, all divine inspirations, and to dispose herself likewise (as is here taught) for the better receiving and discerning of them.3. The practice both of external and internal mortifications (I mean those which through the divine providence are sent her, or do belong to her present state and condition of life. And as for voluntary mortifications, she is likewise to behave herself according to the following directions).4. The exercise of internal prayer, according to the several degrees of it. In these general duties there is little or no difference between the obligation of religious from that of secular persons.
3. But whereas, in the next place, there are in this book many instructions that seem peculiar to souls of a religious profession; such I mean as are grounded upon and referred unto a life abstracted from the world, confined unto solitude, and there limited with a strict enclosure of special laws, constitutions, observances, &c.; even in these also, a secular devout person tending to contemplation, may think himself in some proportion and degree concerned and interested; and from them he may reap much benefit, applying to his own use so much of the spirit of religion as discretion will show to be fruitful to him. Now, for a better application of this advice, I will exemplify certain peculiar duties of a religious life, and therein show in what sort a secular person may do well, yea, and in some proportion is obliged, to imitate them.
4. First, therefore, such a soul, though she be not obliged really and personally to withdraw herself from worldly conversation, and to retire herself into a solitude as strict as that of religion, yet so much solitude and silence she must needs allow herself daily, as may be necessary for a due practice of internal prayer. Neither must she engage herself in any businesses of solicitude and distraction that do not necessarily belong to her vocation; and even those also must she perform with as much internal quietness and recollectedness as may be, carefully avoiding all anxiety of mind, care of multiplying riches, &c. And as for vain conversations, complimental visits, feastings, &c., she must not think to permit unto herself such a free scope as others do and as formerly herself did. But she must set a greater value upon her precious time, as much whereof as she can borrow from the necessary employments of her calling ought to be spent upon the advancing of her spirit in the way of contemplation. And she indeed will find the great inconveniences that do attend vain conversations, as dissipation of thoughts, engagements in new unnecessary affairs, sensual friendships, &c., all which she ought carefully to prevent and avoid.
5. Secondly, such a soul is by virtue of her new divine vocation obliged studiously to imitate especially the internal solitude belonging to a religious person, abstracting her spirit as much as may be both from all affection to outward things, as riches, pleasures, &c., and likewise from the images of creatures and worldly objects. For which purpose she is to perform all the duties of her external vocation in order to God, and in subordination to her principal design, which is the perfectionating of her spirit in the divine love. She is therefore not to account herself as absolute mistress of the riches that God had given her, but only as His steward to manage them so as may be most to His glory. So that in the midst of them, she ought to exercise true poverty of spirit, renouncing all propriety joined with affection to them, so as not to be disquieted if God should take them from her, and making no more use of them for her own sensual contentment or for show in the world than shall in true discretion be necessary. This internal solitude, introversion, and nakedness of spirit she must increase, as much as may be, both in her affection to it and practice of it, so that it may become habitual to her. Because without it she will never be in a fit disposition to attend unto the divine inspirations, or to exercise the internal duties of prayer, &c., belonging to a state tending to contemplation.
6. Thirdly, in conformity to religious obedience, she is to behave herself to all those in the world whom God hath set over her with a most profound submission of spirit, obeying them, or rather God in them, with all purity of intention. And moreover, she is, at the first especially, to put herself under the government of a spiritual director, if such an one be to be had, who is to teach her how she may discern the exercises of prayer and mortification proper for her. And in the choice of such an one she is to use the utmost of her prudence, recommending withal an affair of such importance in her prayers to God, that He would provide her one of sufficient abilities and virtue, and especially one that is experienced in those internal ways much exalted above the ordinary exercises of prayer commonly taught and practised. And when God has found out such an one for her, she is with all sincerity and humility to obey him, yet without prejudice to the duty which she principally owes to her divine internal Master, as hath been taught in the foregoing section, the doctrine and practice whereof doth as well belong to her as to any religious person.
7. Fourthly, although such a soul be not by any vow or otherwise obliged to any rule, or restrained by any constitutions or regular observances, notwithstanding she is to reduce the whole course of her actions and behaviour to a certain order, regularity, and uniformity, observing in her retirements, reading, praying, as also her refection, sleep, &c., an orderly practice both for times and manner, according as prudence and her spiritual guide shall ordain. This order and uniformity observed discreetly (yet without any nice scrupulosity), is very requisite in an internal course; for otherwise, a soul being left at large will be unstable and uncertain in her most necessary duties.
8. It will not be necessary to exemplify in any more particulars; for the same reflections and the like applications may a soul make from any other instructions and duties peculiarly designed for religious persons. Besides, if she pursue diligently and constantly her internal prayer, God will not be wanting to afford her sufficient internal light, and likewise strong impulses and spiritual force to follow such light; to which if she faithfully correspond, she will find that since God has not given her a vocation to religion, yet He has not deprived her of the means of enjoying in the world in a sufficient manner the principal advantages of a religious state (except the solemn vows themselves), yea, in this case she may, not altogether unprofitably, think that it was for her own particular good that God did not give her an opportunity to enter into religion.
9. And whereas it was required of such souls that they should quit all solicitudes about temporal riches, let them not fear any great inconveniences by complying with this duty. For as the author of the Cloud of Unknowing observes, and confidently professeth, those whom God effectually calls from secular solicitudes to an internal abstracted life, may more than any others be confidently secure of His divine providence and special care over them and all that belong unto them, forasmuch as concerns a sufficient and contentful subsistence in this life. For though He should have called them into a wilderness, where no means of procuring corporal sustenance did appear, or if in the midst of a city He should call any one to lead an abstracted solitary life there, they are obliged to follow such a call, and may most securely do it, referring all care of their subsistence wholly to His divine providence, who infallibly, some way or other, either by ordinary or extraordinary means, will not be wanting to provide convenient maintenance for them, which, if it should happen to be with some scarcity, He will abundantly recompense that with feasting their spirits with far more desirable internal and celestial delicacies. And examples of God's wonderful care over such peculiar servants of His are plentifully afforded us in ecclesiastical history, both ancient and modern. So that to the end of the world that will appear to be a most approved truth, which the Psalmist so long since delivered. Divites equerunt, et esurierunt: inquirentes autem Dominum non minuentur omni bono, that is: the rich in the world have been brought to want and hunger; but such as truly seek our Lord shall not be unprovided of any kind of good things.