ON THE NECESSITY OF KNOWING AND LOVING GOD
IT is not astonishing that men do so little for God and that the little which they do costs them so much. They do not know Him; scarcely do they believe that He exists; and the impression they have is rather a blind deference for general opinion than a lively and distinct conviction of the Divinity. They suppose it is so, because they do not dare to examine, and because they are indifferent in the matter, their souls being distracted by the inclination of their affections and passions for other objects; but their only idea of Him is of something wonderful, far off and unconnected with us. They think of Him as a stern and powerful Being, ever making requisitions upon us, thwarting our inclinations, threatening us with great evils, and against whose terrible judgment it behooves every one to be on his guard. Such is the inward thought of those who think seriously about religion, and their number even is small enough. "He is one who fears God," say they; and in truth such an one fears only, but does not love; as the child is in awe of the master who punishes him, or as the servant is in dread of the blows of one whom he serves from fear, and of whose interests is he utterly regardless. Would he like to be treated by a son or a servant as he treats God? It is because God is not known; if He were known, He would be loved. God is love, says the apostle John (1 John iv. 8, 16); he who loves Him not, does not know Him, for how could we know love without loving it? It is plain, then, that all those who have hitherto only feared God, have not known Him.
He has but to withdraw the hand that sustains us and we plunge into the abyss of annihilation, as a stone held in the air falls by its own weight when its support is removed. Existence and life, then, are only ours because they are conferred by God.
There are blessings, however, of a purer and higher order than these; a well-ordered life is better than life; virtue is of a higher price than health; uprightness of heart and the love of God are as far above temporal goods as the heavens are above the earth. If then these lower and baser gifts are held only through the mercy and at the pleasure of God, with how much more reason must it be true of the sublime gift of his love!
They know Thee not, then, O my God, who regard Thee as an all-powerful Being, separate from themselves, giving laws to all nature, and creator of everything which we behold; they know Thee but in part! they know not that which is most marvelous and which most nearly concerns thy rational creatures! To know that Thou art the God of my heart, that Thou there doest what pleaseth Thee, this it is that elevates and affects me! When I am good, it is because Thou renderest me so; not only dost Thou turn my heart as pleaseth Thee, but Thou givest me one like thine own! It is Thyself that Thou lovest in me; Thou art the life of my soul as my soul is the life of my body; Thou art more intimately present to me than I am to myself; this I, to which I am so attached and which I have so ardently loved, ought to be strange to me in comparison with Thee; Thou art the bestower of it; without Thee it never would have been; therefore it is that Thou desirest that I should love Thee better than it.
O incomprehensible power of my Creator! O rights of the Creator over the creature which the creature will never sufficiently comprehend! O prodigy of love which God alone could perform! God interposes himself as it were, between me and myself; He separates me from myself; He desires to be nearer to me by his pure love than I am to myself. He would have me look upon this "me" as a stranger; He would have me escape from its walls, sacrifice it whole to Him, returning it absolutely and unconditionally to Him from whom I received it. What I am ought certainly to be less precious to me than He by whom I am. He made me for himself and not to be my own; that is, to love Him and to will what He wills, and not to seek my own will. Does any one feel his heart revolt at this total sacrifice of self to Him who has created us? I weep for his blindness; I compassionate his bondage to self, and pray God to deliver him from it, by teaching him to love Him above every other object.
O my God! in these souls, offended at thy pure love, I behold the darkness and rebellion resulting from the fall! Thou didst not make man's heart will this monstrous passion of appropriation. The uprightness wherein the scriptures teach us he was originally created consisted in this, that he had no claim upon himself but acknowledged that he belonged to his Creator. O Father! thy children are sadly changed, and no longer bear thine image! They are enraged, they are discouraged when they are told they should belong to Thee as Thou belongest to Thyself! They desire to reverse this holy order, and would madly raise themselves into Gods; they desire to be their own, to do everything for self, or at least, to surrender themselves with certain reservations and conditions, and for their own advantage. O monstrous usurpation! O unknown rights of God! O the ingratitude and insolence of the creature! Miserable nothing! what hast thou to keep for thyself! What hast thou which belongs to thee? What hast thou which did not come from on high, and ought not to return thither? Everything, yea, even this I which would divide with God his gifts, is a gift of God, and was only made for Him; everything within thee cries out against thee and for thy Creator. Be still, then, thou who, having been created, wouldst deny thy Creator, and surrender thyself wholly to Him.
But alas! O my God! what a consolation is it to know that everything within as well as without me, is the work of thy hand! Thou art ever with me. When I do wrong, Thou are within me, reproaching me with the evil which I do, raising within me regrets for the good which I abandon, and opening to me thine arms of mercy. When I do good, Thou inspirest the desire, and doest it in me and with me; it is Thou who lovest good and hatest evil in my heart, who sufferest and prayest, who doest good to the neighbor and givest alms: I do all these things but by thy means; Thou causest me to do them; it is Thou who puttest them in me. These good works, which are thy gifts, become my works; but they do not cease to be thy gifts; and they cease to be good works if I look at them for a moment as emanating from myself, or if I forget that they are good only because they come from Thee.
Thou, then, (it is my delight to believe it!) art incessantly working within me; there Thou laborest invisibly like a miner in the bowels of the earth. Thou doest everything and yet the world beholds Thee not, attributes nothing to Thee; and even I myself wandered everywhere vainly searching for Thee outside of myself; I ran over all the wonders of nature that I might form some conception of thy greatness; I asked thy creatures of Thee and not once thought of finding Thee in the depths of my heart where Thou hadst never ceased to dwell. No, O my God! it is not necessary to descend into the depths nor to pass beyond the seas; it is not necessary to ascend into the heavens to find Thee; Thou art nearer to us than we are to ourselves.
We abandon ourselves into the hands of God, and are just as happy in knowing ourselves there, as we should be miserable if we were in our own. We desire to see nothing of what it pleases Him to conceal. As we love Him infinitely more than we do ourselves, we make an unconditional sacrifice of ourselves to his good pleasure; desiring only to love Him and to forget ourselves. He who thus generously loses his soul, shall find it again with eternal life.