And yet at the bottom it might be found that the Master and Nicholas had received the same truths which we are now taught, but with this difference: we are taught in the first place to believe the actual facts that God has done this, or that, in the work of our redemption, quite apart from the practical effect of it in ourselves. The "Friends of God" learnt from Scripture the practical effect, and judged thereby of the work of God.
For instance, we are taught that the Holy Ghost united all believers to the Lord, on the day of Pentecost, and that from that day to this, the Holy Ghost thus joins to the Lord every one who believes in Him, and that this is equally true of believers who are walking consistently or inconsistently.
We are also taught that God regards the believer as one who has died, and is risen again to die no more. That is to say, that he reckons the death of Christ as our death, because it was in our place, as our substitute, that He died. And therefore the guilty sinner is regarded by God as dead, for guilt no longer rests upon the head of him who has believed in Jesus; and the new man, alive with the life of Christ, and joined to Christ by the Holy Ghost, stands before God in Christ, not only free from all spot and stain, but one with Christ, and loved with the love wherewith the Father loves Him. And this again we know (to our shame) is true of all who believe, whether walking consistently with so wonderful a place before God, or alas, as too often, inconsistently.
Yet it is true that notwithstanding all our inconsistencies, there is always to be found, more or less, in the life and walk of a believer, that which is the consequence of the great work of the Lord Jesus, and of the gift of the Holy Ghost. And this consequence, love to God, who first so loved us, is found in the life and walk of all those, who, though ignorant of much truth, have received by faith God's great gifts. The saints of the fourteenth century had not as clear a knowledge of the great facts upon which our salvation rests, nor of our perfect acceptance in Christ, as we now have, if we have been well taught in the Scriptures.
We are taught that we are dead, and that our life is hid with Christ in God. The true practical effect (which, alas, we overlook so often) is, that we reckon ourselves as dead, and no longer feed the flesh, or give way to the desires of the old man, but have our joys and interests in heaven above.
And as the practical effect is also the work of God, we find that these dear saints of old were led into the sense and the enjoyment of that which God had done for them, and consequently walked in holiness of life, no longer loving the world, nor serving the flesh, but following the voice of the Beloved, and delighting in His presence. And they judged by the effect of the cause. We know the cause, and too often think little of the effect.
We find too a great difference between such writings as those which go by the name of Thomas a Kempis, and the writings of the Friends of God, who had drawn their water nearer to the fountain-head, from the teaching of the ancient Waldensian "Brethren."
That life in God, and walk with God which is spoken of by the author of the "Imitation of Christ," as an attainment, won by mortifications and effort, is spoken of by Tauler and by other "Friends of God," as an unmerited gift of grace, never to be attained by penances and mortifications, but on the contrary making such efforts to cease, and to be cast aside, as the work of man, which hinders the work of God, who alone worketh in us, to will and to do, of His good pleasure.
Let us listen to Master Tauler as to this matter also. "If God speaks, let the soul be still and hearken. It is not doing that helps here, but ceasing to do. And it is this which is hard to us and painful. To be as dead and gone, by the power of the death of Christ.
"Yes, dear children, the sacrament itself is a hindrance to you, for all that you regard as a help and stay, only hinders you from feeling that you are nothing, and can do nothing.
"But your reason will start up, and say there must be something of which you are to make a prop and stay, and will tell you you are idle, and negligent, you ought to be up and doing. Why are you sittings here doing nothing? Go and pray. Be off, you are wasting your time -- do this good work or that.'
"And then come untaught men, who are full of their own doings, and say, Dear man, why do you sit here idle? Go and hear some preaching. Bestir yourself! Go to the sacrament.' Make sure, children, that you do not go to the sacrament as a step up to God!
"I tell you if you came thus to me, and told me you wanted to receive the sacrament, I should speak to you and say, Who sent you here? was it God, or was it your natural heart that wanted a prop? or was it habit?'
"Dear children, do not misunderstand me. I do not mean that to hear the preaching of God's Word, or to go to the Lord's Supper, are thing forbidden to believing people. But I do say they are hindrances, and not helps, if you make of them a ground to stand on before God -- a prop or a stay.
"Nature would much rather go on a pilgrimage to Rome, than be cast wholly and entirely on God.
"Therefore I say, if you depend on these things, it is just as much as if you turned your back upon God, and said to Him, I will not depend upon Thee, I will go elsewhere to find that which my soul needs.'
"It is just the same as if the Lord had never been crucified for you, in order that He might do the glorious work for you and in you.
"O children, could you but cease from doings, and let go the last prop and the last stay, where would it land you? How blessed is the end of the man who is cast only on the Lord! How blessed is the proof of this in Paul the Apostle!
"For he was taught the truth, unveiled and glorious, in the one true school, the third Heaven above. There did he see and gaze upon the Truth Himself, and beholding Him, he learned from His lips, and thus he says, We are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord!'
"For it is as S. Augustine taught, when the Lord revealed this truth to him, Thou shalt be changed into Mine image, it is not that I was changed into thine.'
"What is this change? Those men know it who have experienced it, and none besides. It may come to a man in a moment, as a veil suddenly lifted which shows the glory within, and the blessed vision of the glory is the gift of God, without any deserving on our part.
"He gives it freely of His own pure grace, and those who have known it, and have entered into the secret chamber, can feel it, but cannot tell it, for it is unspeakable."