When, being applied to God, I desire to commit an action of a different nature from those which He would prompt, I turn away from God, and I turn towards created things more or less according to the strength or weakness of my action. If, being turned towards the creature, I wish to return to God, I must commit the action of turning away from the creature, and turning towards God; and thus the more perfect is this action, the more complete will be the conversion.
Until I am perfectly converted, I need several actions to turn me towards God. Some are done all at once, others gradually; but my action ought to lead me to turn to God, employing all the strength of my soul for Him, as it is written, "Therefore even now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart" (Joel ii.12). "Thou shalt return unto the Lord thy God ... with all thine heart and with all thy soul" (Deut. xxx.2). God only asks for our heart: "My son, give me thy heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways" (Prov. xxiii.26). To give the heart to God is to have its gaze, its strength, and its vigour all centred in Him, to follow His will. We must, then, after we have applied to God, remain always turned towards Him.
But as the mind of man is weak, and the soul, being accustomed to turn towards earthly things, is easily turned away from God, it must, as soon as it perceives that it is turned towards outward things, resume its former position in God by a simple act of return to Him.
And as several repeated acts form a habit, the soul contracts a habit of conversion, and from action it passes to a habitual condition.
The soul, then, must not seek by means of any efforts or works of its own to come near to God; this is seeking to perform one action by means of others, instead of by a simple action remaining attached to God alone.
If we believe that we must commit no actions, we are mistaken, for we are always acting; but each one must act according to his degree.
I will endeavour to make this point clear, as, for want of understanding it, it presents a difficulty to many Christians.
There are passing and distinct actions, and continued actions; direct acts and reflected acts. All cannot perform the first, and all are not in a condition to perform the others. The first actions should be committed by those who are turned away from God. They ought to turn to Him by a distinct action, more or less strong according to their distance from Him.
By a continued action I understand that by which the soul is completely turned towards its God by a direct action, which it does not renew, unless it has been interrupted, but which exists. The soul being altogether turned in this way, is in love, and remains there: "And he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God" (1 John iv.16). Then the soul may be said to be in a habitual act, resting even in this action. But its rest is not idle, for it has an action always in force, viz., a gentle sinking in God, in which God attracts it more and more strongly; and, following this attraction, and resting in love, it sinks more and more in this love, and has an action infinitely stronger, more vigorous, and more prompt, than that action which forms only the return. Now the soul which is in this profound and strong action, being turned towards its God, does not perceive this action, because it is direct, and not reflex; so that persons in this condition, not knowing how rightly to describe it, say that they have no action. But they are mistaken; they were never more active. It would be better to say they do not distinguish any action, than that they do not commit any.
The soul does not act of itself, I admit; but it is drawn, and it follows the attracting power. Love is the weight which sinks it, as a person who falls in the sea sinks, and would sink to infinity if the sea were infinite; and without perceiving its sinking, it would sink to the most profound depths with an incredible speed. It is, then, incorrect to say that no actions are committed. All commit actions, but all do not commit them in the same manner; and the abuse arises from the fact, that those who know that action is inevitable wish it to be distinct and sensible. But sensible action is for beginners, and the other for those more advanced. To stop with the first would be to deprive ourselves of the last; and to wish to commit the last before having passed the first would be an equal abuse.
Everything must be done in its season; each state has its commencement, its progress, and its end. There is no act which has not its beginning. At first we must work with effort, but afterwards we enjoy the fruit of our labour.
When a vessel is in the harbour, the sailors have a difficulty in bringing it into the open sea; but once there, they easily turn it in the direction in which they wish to navigate. So, when the soul is in sin, it needs an effort to drag it out; the cords which bind it must be loosened; then, by means of strong and vigorous action, it must be drawn within itself, little by little leaving the harbour, and being turned within, which is the place to which its voyage should be directed.
When the vessel is thus turned, in proportion as it advances in the sea, it leaves the land behind it, and the further it goes from the land, the less effort is needed to carry it along. At last it begins to sail gently, and the vessel goes on so rapidly that the oars become useless. What does the pilot do then? He is contented with spreading the sails and sitting at the helm.
Spreading the sails is simply laying ourselves before God, to be moved by His Spirit. Sitting at the helm is preventing our heart from leaving the right way, rowing it gently, and leading it according to the movement of the Spirit of God, who gradually takes possession of it, as the wind gradually fills the sails, and impels the vessel forward. So long as the vessel sails before the wind, the mariners rest from their labour. They voyage farther in an hour, while they rest in this manner and leave the ship to be carried along by the wind, than they would in a much longer time by their own efforts; and if they wished to row, besides the fatigue which would result from it, their labour would be useless, and would only serve to retard the vessel.
This is the conduct we should pursue in our inner life, and in acting thus we shall advance more in a short time by the Divine guidance, than we ever could do by our own efforts. If only you will try this way, you will find it the easiest possible.
When the wind is contrary, if the wind and the tempest are violent, the anchor must be thrown in the sea to stop the vessel. This anchor is trust in God and hope in His goodness, waiting in patience for the tempest to cease, and for a favourable wind to return, as David did: "I waited patiently for the Lord," he says, "and He inclined unto me" (Ps. xl.1).