§§ 3, 4, 5. The miseries of a tepid religious person that is ignorant of internal ways.
§§ 6, 7. Or of one that knows them, but neglects to pursue them.
§§ 8, 9. How pestilent such are in a community.
§ 10. On the other side, an indiscreet passionate fervour may be as dangerous as negligence.
1. A third yet more pressing motive to a courageous resolution of prosecuting internal ways once begun, and a strong proof of the extreme necessity thereof, is the consideration of the extreme danger and miseries unexpressible of a negligent and tepid life, whether in religion or in the world; the which not only renders perfection impossible to be attained, but endangers the very root of essential sanctity and all pretension to eternal happiness, as among other mystic writers, Harphius in his twelve mortifications earnestly demonstrates.
2. Tepidity is a bitter poisonous root fixed in the minds of negligent Christians, who though out of a servile fear they abstain from an habitual practice of acknowledged mortal actual sins, and therefore (groundlessly enough) think themselves secure from the danger of hell, yet they perform their external necessary obligations to God and their brethren sleepily and heartlessly, without any true affection, contenting themselves with the things however outwardly done; yea, perhaps knowing no perfection beyond this; but in the mean time remain full of self-love, inward pride, sensual desires, aversion from internal conversation with God, &c. And the ground and cause of this pernicious tepidity is want of affection and esteem of spiritual things, and a voluntary affection to venial sins (not as they are sins, but as the objects of them are easeful or delightful to nature), joined with a willfulness not to avoid the occasions of them, nor to do any more in God's service than what themselves judge to be necessary for the escaping of hell.
3. Such persons, if they live in religion, must needs pass very uncomfortable and discontented lives, having excluded themselves from the vain entertainments and pleasures of the world, and yet retaining a strong affection to them in their hearts, with an incapacity of enjoying them. They must undergo all obligations, austerities, and crosses incident to a religious state without comfort, but only in having dispatched them, with very little benefit to their souls, and with extreme wearisomeness and unwillingness. Now, what a resemblance to hell hath such a life, where there is an impossibility freely to enjoy what the soul principally desires, and where she is forced continually to do and suffer such things as are extremely contrary to her inclinations!
4. Whereas, if souls would courageously at once give themselves wholly to God, and with a discreet fervour combat against corrupt nature, pursuing their internal exercises, they would find that all things would coöperate, not only to their eternal good, but even to their present contentment and joy. They would find pleasure even in their greatest mortifications and crosses, by considering the love with which God sends them, and the great benefit that their spirit reaps by them. What contentment can be greater to any soul than to become a true inward friend of God, chained unto Him with a love, the like whereto never was between any mortal creatures? to know and even feel that she belongs to God, and that God is continually watchful over her, and careful of her salvation? None of which comforts tepid souls can hope to taste; but, on the contrary, are not only continually tortured with present discontents, but much more with a fear and horror, considering their doubtfulness about their future state.
5. If such tepid souls be ignorant of the internal ways of the spirit (which without some fault of their own they scarce can be), when they come to die, it is not conceivable what apprehensions and horrors they will feel; considering that a settled willful affection to venial sins brings a soul to an imminent danger of a frequent incurring actual mortal sins, the which, though they be not of the greater kind of enormous sins, yet they may be no less dangerous, because less corrigible, such as are those spiritual sins of pride, murmuring, factiousness, envy, ambition, &c.; besides which, how is it possible for them to give an account of sins of omission, of the want of perfecting their souls by prayer, &c., of the avoiding of which they never took any care, although their profession and vows obliged them thereto?
6. Again, if tepidity (though not in so high a degree) be found in souls that are acquainted speculatively with the internal ways of the spirit, and their obligation to pursue them in order to perfection, but either for want of courage dare not apply themselves seriously to them, or do it very faintly, coldly, or with frequent interruptions, and only are not resolved to relinquish and abjure such ways, such as though they have not a willful affection to venial sins, yet are for the most part willfully negligent in resisting them, -- such souls ought to consider that their case in all respects approaches near to the miserable condition of the former, and they will have guilt enough to take away all comfort almost in a religious state, and to give them just apprehensions for the future life, of which they have no security.
7. For when such souls approach near unto death, they will then too late consider that for want of diligent prayer there may be, yea, assuredly are in them, a world of inordinations, impurities, and defects undiscovered by them, and therefore can neither be acknowledged nor bewailed; so that they cannot have any assurance of the state and inclinations of their souls; besides, they know themselves to have been guilty of a life spent in an uninterrupted ingratitude to God, who gave them light to see the ways to perfection which their profession obliged them to walk in, and yet willfully they neglected to make use of such light, or to make progress in those ways, &c. (and this is an aggravation of guilt beyond the former); they are conscious likewise of an unexcusable and long-continued unfaithfulness, never almost complying with the divine inspirations which daily urged them to put themselves resolutely into that only secure way of an internal life, nor ever vigorously resisting the sins and imperfections which they did discover in themselves, &c. Such sad thoughts as these pressing (as usually they do) one upon another near the approaches of death, what grievous apprehensions, what terrible uncertainties must they needs cause in tepid souls, then most sensible of dangers and fears! so that their lives will be full of anguish and continual remorse, and their deaths very uncomfortable.
8. Lastly, to all these miseries of a tepid life, this also may be added as an increase of the guilt, and consequently an aggravation of the dangerous state of souls infected with that poison, which is, that they do not only themselves most ungratefully withdraw their own affections from God and divine things, but by their ill example, by misspending the time in vain extroverted conversations, by discountenancing those that are fervourous in internal ways, &c., they infect their companions, and so treacherously defraud Almighty God of the affections of others also. So that a tepid religious person, though given to no enormous excesses, is oft more harmful in a community than an open, scandalous liver; because none that hath any care of himself but will beware of such an one as this latter is; whereas a tepid soul unperceivably instills into others the poisonous infection wherewith herself is tainted.
9. From the grounds and considerations here mentioned, it doth appear how necessary it is for a devout soul, both in the beginning and pursuance of a contemplative life, to excite and fortify her courageous resolution not to be daunted by discouragements either from within or without, but at what price soever, and with what labours and sufferings soever, with fervour to persevere in the exercises and duties belonging thereto, accounting tepidity and spiritual sloth as the very bane of her whole design, the which, if it be yielded unto, though but a little, it will gather more force, and at last grow irresistible.
10. But withal she is to be advised that such her courage and fervour must be exercised, not impetuously out of passion, or such impulses as a fit of sensible devotion will sometimes produce in her; but this fervour and resolution must chiefly be seated in the superior will, and regulated by spiritual discretion, according to her present forces, both natural and supernatural, and the measure of grace bestowed on her, and no further; for there may be as much harm by outrunning grace, as by neglecting to correspond unto it. Hence, it oft comes to pass, that many well-minded souls, being either pushed forward by an indiscreet passionate zeal, or advised by unexperienced directors to undertake unnecessarily and voluntarily either rigorous mortifications or excessive tasks of devotions, and wanting strength to continue them, have become able to do nothing at all; so that affecting too hastily to attain unto perfection sooner than God did enable them thereto, they so overburden themselves that they are forced to give over quite all tendence to it. Therefore we must be contented to proceed in such a pace as may be lasting, and that will suffice.