A SERIOUS CALL TO A DEVOUT AND HOLY LIFE
by William Law
Of the necessity and benefit of intercession, considered as an exercise of universal love. How all orders of men are to pray and intercede with God for one another. How naturally such intercession amends and reforms the hearts of those that use it.
THAT intercession is a great and necessary part of Christian devotion, is very evident from Scripture.
The first followers of Christ seem to support all their love, and to maintain all their intercourse and correspondence, by mutual prayers for one another.
St. Paul, whether he writes to churches or particular persons, shows his intercession to be perpetual for them, that they are the constant subject of his prayers.
Thus to the Philippians, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy." [Phil. i. 3, 4] Here we see, not only a continual intercession, but performed with so much gladness, as shows that it was an exercise of love in which he highly rejoiced.
His devotion had also the same care for particular persons, as appears by the following passages: "I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers, with a pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day." [2 Tim. i. 3] How holy an acquaintance and friendship was this, how worthy of persons that were raised above the world, and related to one another, as new members of a kingdom of Heaven!
Apostles and great saints did not only thus benefit and bless particular churches, and private persons; but they themselves also received graces from God by the prayers of others. Thus saith St. Paul to the Corinthians: "You also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons, thanks may be given by many on our behalf." [2 Cor. i. 11]
This was the ancient friendship of Christians, uniting and cementing their hearts, not by worldly considerations, or human passions, but by the mutual communication of spiritual blessings, by prayers and thanksgivings to God for one another.
It was this holy intercession that raised Christians to such a state of mutual love, as far exceeded all that had been praised and admired in human friendship. And when the same spirit of intercession is again in the world, when Christianity has the same power over the hearts of people that it then had, this holy friendship will be again in fashion, and Christians will be again the wonder of the world, for that exceeding love which they bear to one another.
For a frequent intercession with God, earnestly beseeching him to forgive the sins of all mankind, to bless them with His providence, enlighten them with His Spirit, and bring them to everlasting happiness, is the divinest exercise that the heart of man can be engaged in.
Be daily, therefore, on your knees, in a solemn deliberate performance of this devotion, praying for others in such forms, with such length, importunity, and earnestness, as you use for yourself; and you will find all little, ill-natured passions die away, your heart grow great and generous, delighting in the common happiness of others, as you used only to delight in your own.
For he that daily prays to God, that all men may be happy in Heaven, takes the likeliest way to make him wish for, and delight in their happiness on earth. And it is hardly possible for you to beseech and entreat God to make any one happy in the highest enjoyments of his glory to all eternity, and yet be troubled to see him enjoy the much smaller gifts of God in this short and low state of human life.
For how strange and unnatural would it be, to pray to God to grant health and a longer life to a sick man, and at the same time to envy him the poor pleasure of agreeable medicines!
Yet this would be no more strange or unnatural than to pray to God that your neighbour may enjoy the highest degrees of His mercy and favour, and yet at the same time envy him the little credit and figure he hath amongst his fellow-creatures.
When therefore you have once habituated your heart to a serious performance of this holy intercession, you have done a great deal to render it incapable of spite and envy, and to make it naturally delight in the happiness of all mankind.
This is the natural effect of a general intercession for all mankind. But the greatest benefits of it are then received, when it descends to such particular instances as our state and condition in life more particularly require of us.
Though we are to treat all mankind as neighbours and brethren, as any occasion offers; yet as we can only live in the actual society of a few, and are by our state and condition more particularly related to some than others; so when our intercession is made an exercise of love and care for those amongst whom our lot is fallen, or who belong to us in a nearer relation, it then becomes the greatest benefit to ourselves, and produces its best effects in our own hearts.
If therefore you should always change and alter your intercessions, according as the needs and necessities of your neighbours or acquaintance seem to require; beseeching God to deliver them from such or such particular evils, or to grant them this or that particular gift, or blessing; such intercessions, besides the great charity of them, would have a mighty effect upon your own heart, as disposing you to every other good office, and to the exercise of every other virtue towards such persons, as have so often a place in your prayers.
This would make it pleasant to you to be courteous, civil, and condescending to all about you; and make you unable to say or do a rude or hard thing to those, for whom you had used yourself to be so kind and compassionate in your prayers.
For there is nothing that makes us love a man so much as praying for him; and when you can once do this sincerely for any man, you have fitted your soul for the performance of everything that is kind and civil towards him. This will fill your heart with a generosity and tenderness, that will give you a better and sweeter behaviour than anything that is called fine breeding and good manners.
By considering yourself as an advocate with God for your neighbours and acquaintance, you would never find it hard to be at peace with them yourself. It would be easy to you to bear with and forgive those, for whom you particularly implored the Divine mercy and forgiveness.
Such prayers as these amongst neighbours and acquaintance, would unite them to one another in the strongest bonds of love and tenderness. It would exalt and ennoble their souls, and teach them to consider one another in a higher state, as members of a spiritual society, that are created for the enjoyment of the common blessings of God, and fellow-heirs of the same future glory.
And by being thus desirous that every one should have his full share of the favours of God, they would not only be content, but glad to see one another happy in the little enjoyments of this transitory life.
These would be the natural effects of such an intercession, amongst people of the same town or neighbourhood, or that were acquainted with one another's state and condition.
Ouranius42 is a holy priest, full of the spirit of the Gospel, watching, labouring, and praying for a poor country village. Every soul in it is as dear to him as himself; and he loves them all, as he loves himself, because he prays for them all, as often as he prays for himself.
If his whole life is one continual exercise of great zeal and labour, hardly ever satisfied with any degrees of care and watchfulness, it is because he has learned the great value of souls, by so often appearing before God as an intercessor for them.
He never thinks he can love, or do enough for his flock; because he never considers them in any other view than as so many persons, that by receiving the gifts and graces of God, are to become his hope, his joy, and his crown of rejoicing.
He goes about his parish, and visits everybody in it; but visits in the same spirit of piety that he preaches to them: he visits them to encourage their virtues, to assist them with his advice and counsel, to discover their manner of life, and to know the state of their souls, that he may intercede with God for them, according to their particular necessities.
When Ouranius first entered into holy orders, he had a haughtiness in his temper, a great contempt and disregard for all foolish and unreasonable people; but he has prayed away this spirit, and has now the greatest tenderness for the most obstinate sinners; because he is always hoping, that God will, sooner or later, hear those prayers that he makes for their repentance.
The rudeness, ill-nature, or perverse behaviour of any of his flock, used at first to betray him into impatience; but it now raises no other passion in him, than a desire of being upon his knees in prayer to God for them. Thus have his prayers for others altered and amended the state of his own heart.
It would strangely delight you to see with what spirit he converses, with what tenderness he reproves, with what affection he exhorts, and with what vigour he preaches; and it is all owing to this, because he reproves, exhorts, and preaches to those for whom he first prays to God.
This devotion softens his heart, enlightens his mind, sweetens his temper, and makes everything that comes from him, instructive, amiable, and affecting.
At his first coming to his little village, it was as disagreeable to him as a prison, and every day seemed too tedious to be endured in so retired a place. He thought his parish was too full of poor and mean people, that were none of them fit for the conversation of a gentleman.
This put him upon a close application to his studies. He kept much at home, writ notes upon Homer and Plautus, and sometimes thought it hard to be called to pray by any poor body, when he was just in the midst of one of Homer's battles.
This was his polite, or I may rather say, poor, ignorant turn of mind, before devotion had got the government of his heart.
But now his days are so far from being tedious, or his parish too great a retirement, that he now only wants more time to do that variety of good, which his soul thirsts after. The solitude of his little parish is become matter of great comfort to him, because he hopes that God has placed him and his flock there, to make it their way to Heaven.
He can now not only converse with, but gladly attend and wait upon the poorest kind of people. He is now daily watching over the weak and infirm, humbling himself to perverse, rude, ignorant people, wherever he can find them; and is so far from desiring to be considered as a gentleman, that he desires to be used as the servant of all; and in the spirit of his Lord and Master girds himself, and is glad to kneel down and wash any of their feet.
He now thinks the poorest creature in his parish good enough, and great enough, to deserve the humblest attendances, the kindest friendships, the tenderest offices, he can possibly show them.
He is so far now from wanting agreeable company, that he thinks there is no better conversation in the world, than to be talking with poor and mean people about the kingdom of Heaven.
All these noble thoughts and Divine sentiments are the effects of his great devotion; he presents every one so often before God in his prayers, that he never thinks he can esteem, reverence, or serve those enough, for whom he implores so many mercies from God.
Ouranius is mightily affected with this passage of holy Scripture, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." [James v. 16]
This makes him practise all the arts of holy living, and aspire after every instance of piety and righteousness, that his prayers for his flock may have their full force, and avail much with God.
For this reason, he has sold a small estate that he had, and has erected a charitable retirement for ancient poor people, to live in prayer and piety, that his prayers, being assisted by such good works, may pierce the clouds, and bring down blessings upon those souls committed to his care.
Ouranius reads how God Himself said unto Abimelech, concerning Abraham: "He is a prophet; he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live." [Gen. xx. 7]
And again, how he said of Job, "And my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept." [Job xlii. 8]
From these passages Ouranius justly concludes, that the prayers of men eminent for holiness of life have an extraordinary power with God; that He grants to other people such pardons, reliefs, and blessings, through their prayers, as would not be granted to men of less piety and perfection. This makes Ouranius exceeding studious of Christian perfection, searching after every grace and holy temper, purifying his heart all manner of ways, fearful of every error and defect in his life, lest his prayers for his flock should be less availing with God, through his own defects in holiness.
This makes him careful of every temper of his heart, give alms of all that he hath, watch, and fast, and mortify, and live according to the strictest rules of temperance, meekness, and humility, that he may be in some degree like an Abraham or a Job in his parish, and make such prayers for them, as God will hear and accept.
These are the happy effects which a devout intercession hath produced in the life of Ouranius.
And if other people, in their several stations, were to imitate this example, in such a manner as suited their particular state of life, they would certainly find the same happy effects from it.
If masters, for instance, were thus to remember their servants in their prayers, beseeching God to bless them, and suiting their petitions to the particular wants and necessities of their servants; letting no day pass without a full performance of this part of devotion, the benefit would be as great to themselves, as to their servants.
No way so likely as this, to inspire them with a true sense of that power which they have in their hands, to make them delight in doing good, and becoming exemplary in all the parts of a wise and good master.
The presenting their servants so often before God, as equally related to God, and entitled to the same expectations of Heaven as themselves, would naturally incline them to treat them not only with such humanity as became fellow-creatures, but with such tenderness, care, and generosity, as became fellow-heirs of the same glory. This devotion would make masters inclined to everything that was good towards their servants; be watchful of their behaviour, and as ready to require of them an exact observance of the duties of Christianity, as of the duties of their service.
This would teach them to consider their servants as God's servants, to desire their perfection, to do nothing before them that might corrupt their minds, to impose no business upon them that should lessen their sense of religion, or hinder them from their full share of devotion, both public and private. This praying for them would make them as glad to see their servants eminent in piety as themselves, and contrive that they should have all the opportunities and encouragements, both to know and perform all the duties of the Christian life.
How natural would it be for such a master to perform every part of family devotion; to have constant prayers; to excuse no one's absence from them; to have the Scriptures and books of piety often read amongst his servants; to take all opportunities of instructing them, of raising their minds to God, and teaching them to do all their business as a service to God and upon the hopes and expectations of another life!
How natural would it be for such an one to pity their weakness and ignorance, to bear with the dulness of their understandings, or the perverseness of their tempers, to reprove them with tenderness, exhort them with affection, as hoping that God would hear his prayers for them!
How impossible would it be for a master, that thus interceded with God for his servants, to use any unkind threatenings towards them, to damn and curse them as dogs and scoundrels, and treat them only as the dregs of the creation!
This devotion would give them another spirit, and make them consider how to make proper returns of care, kindness, and protection to those who had spent their strength and time in service and attendance upon them.
Now if gentlemen think it too low an employment for their state and dignity, to exercise such a devotion as this for their servants, let them consider how far they are from the Spirit of Christ, who made Himself not only an Intercessor, but a Sacrifice for the whole race of sinful mankind.
Let them consider how miserable their greatness would be, if the Son of God should think it as much below Him to pray for them, as they do to pray for their fellow-creatures.
Let them consider how far they are from that spirit, which prays for its most unjust enemies, if they have not kindness enough to pray for those by whose labours and service they live in ease themselves.
Again; if parents should thus make themselves advocates and intercessors with God for their children, constantly applying to Heaven in behalf of them, nothing would be more likely not only to bless their children, but also to form and dispose their own minds to the performance of everything that was excellent and praiseworthy.
I do not suppose, but that the generality of parents remember their children in their prayers, and call upon God to bless them. But the thing here intended is not a general remembrance of them, but a regular method of recommending all their particular needs and necessities unto God; and of praying for every such particular grace and virtue for them, as their state and condition of life shall seem to require.
The state of parents is a holy state, in some degree like that of the priesthood, and calls upon them to bless their children with their prayers and sacrifices to God. Thus it was that holy Job watched over and blessed his children, he sanctified them, "he rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt-offerings according to the number of them all." [Job i. 5]
If parents, therefore, considering themselves in this light, should be daily calling upon God in a solemn, deliberate manner, altering and extending their intercessions, as the state and growth of their children required, such devotion would have a mighty influence upon the rest of their lives; it would make them very circumspect in the government of themselves; prudent and careful of everything they said or did, lest their example should hinder that which they so constantly desired in their prayers.
If a father were daily making particular prayers to God, that He would please to inspire his children with true piety, great humility, and strict temperance, what could be more likely to make the father himself become exemplary in these virtues? How naturally would he grow ashamed of wanting such virtues, as he thought necessary for his children! So that his prayers for their piety would be a certain means of exalting his own to its greatest height.
If a father thus considered himself as an intercessor with God for his children, to bless them with his prayers, what more likely means to make him aspire after every degree of holiness, that he might thereby be fitter to obtain blessings from Heaven for them? How would such thoughts make him avoid everything that was sinful and displeasing to God, lest when he prayed for his children, God should reject his prayers!
How tenderly, how religiously would such a father converse with his children, whom he considered as his little spiritual flock, whose virtues he was to form by his example, encourage by his authority, nourish by his counsel, and prosper by his prayers to God for them.
How fearful would he be of all greedy and unjust ways of raising their fortune, of bringing them up in pride and indulgence, or of making them too fond of the world, lest he should thereby render them incapable of those graces which he was so often beseeching God to grant them.
These being the plain, natural, happy effects of this intercession, all parents, I hope, who have the real welfare of their children at heart, who desire to be their true friends and benefactors, and to live amongst them, in the spirit of wisdom and piety, will not neglect so great a means, both of raising their own virtue, and doing an eternal good to those, who are so near and dear to them by the strongest ties of nature.
Lastly, If all people, when they feel the first approaches of resentment, envy, or contempt, towards others; or if in all little disagreements and misunderstandings whatever, they should, instead of indulging their minds with little low reflections, have recourse, at such times, to a more particular and extraordinary intercession with God, for such persons as had raised their envy, resentment, or discontent; this would be a certain way to prevent the growth of all uncharitable tempers.
If you were also to form your prayer or intercession at that time, to the greatest degree of contrariety to that temper which you were then in, it would be an excellent means of raising your heart to the greatest state of perfection.
As for instance, when at any time you find in your heart motions of envy towards any person, whether on account of his riches, power, reputation, learning, or advancement, if you should immediately betake yourself at that time to your prayers, and pray to God to bless. and prosper him in that very thing which raised your envy; if you should express and repeat your petitions in the strongest terms, beseeching God to grant him all the happiness from the enjoyment of it, that can possibly be received; you would soon find it to be the best antidote in the world, to expel the venom of that poisonous passion.
This would be such a triumph over yourself, would so humble and reduce your heart into obedience and order, that the devil would even be afraid of tempting you again in the same manner, when he saw the temptation turned into so great a means of amending and reforming the state of your heart.
Again; if in any little difference, or misunderstandings that you happened to have at any time, with a relation, a neighbour, or any one else, you should then pray for them in a more extraordinary manner than you ever did before; beseeching God to give them every grace, and blessing, and happiness, you can think of; you would have taken the speediest method that can be, of reconciling all differences, and clearing up all misunderstandings. You would then think nothing too great to be forgiven; stay for no condescensions, need no mediation of a third person, but be glad to testify your love and good-will to him who had so high a place in your secret prayers.
This would be the mighty power of such Christian devotion: it would remove all peevish passions, soften your heart into the most tender condescensions, and be the best arbitrator of all differences that happened betwixt you and any of your acquaintance.
The greatest resentments amongst friends and neighbours, most often arise from poor punctilios and little mistakes in conduct. A certain sign that their friendship is merely human, not founded upon religious considerations, or supported by such a course of mutual prayer for one another as the first Christians used.
For such devotion must necessarily either destroy such tempers, or be itself destroyed by them: you cannot possibly have any ill temper, or show any unkind behaviour to a man, for whose welfare you are so much concerned, as to be his advocate with God in private.
Hence we may also learn the odious nature and exceeding guilt of all spite, hatred, contempt, and angry passions; they are not to be considered as defects in good nature, and sweetness of temper, not as failings in civility of manners, or good breeding, but as such base tempers as are entirely inconsistent with the charity of intercession.
You think it a small matter to be peevish or illnatured to such or such a man; but you should consider whether it be a small matter to do that, which you could not do if you had but so much charity as to be able to recommend him to God in your prayers.
You think it a small matter to ridicule one man, and despise another; but you should consider whether it be a small matter to want that charity toward these people, which Christians are not allowed to want toward their most inveterate enemies.
For be but as charitable to these men, do but bless and pray for them, as you are obliged to bless and pray for your enemies, and then you will find that you have charity enough, to make it impossible for you to treat them with any degree of scorn or contempt.
For you cannot possibly despise and ridicule that man, whom your private prayers recommend to the love and favour of God.
When you despise and ridicule a man, it is with no other end but to make him ridiculous and contemptible in the eyes of other men, and in order to prevent their esteem of him. How, therefore, can it be possible for you sincerely to beseech God to bless that man with the honour of His love and favour, whom you desire men to treat as worthy of their contempt?
Could you, out of love to a neighbour, desire your Prince to honour him with every mark of his esteem and favour, and yet, at the same time, expose him to the scorn and derision of your own servants?
Yet this is as possible as to expose that man to the scorn and contempt of your fellow-creatures whom you recommend to the favour of God in your secret prayers.
From these considerations we may plainly discover the reasonableness and justice of this doctrine of the Gospel, "Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire." [Matt. v. 22]
We are not, I suppose, to believe that every hasty word, or unreasonable expression that slips from us by chance or surprise, and is contrary to our intention and tempers, is the great sin here signified.
But he that says "Raca," or "Thou fool," must chiefly mean him that allows himself in deliberate, designed acts of scorn and contempt towards his brother, and in that temper43 speak to him, and of him, in reproachful language.
Now since it appears that these tempers are at the bottom the most rank uncharitableness; since no one can be guilty of them, but because he has not charity enough to pray to God for his brother; it cannot be thought hard or rigorous justice, that such tempers should endanger the salvation of Christians. For who would think it hard, that a Christian cannot obtain the favour of God for himself, unless he reverence and esteem his brother Christian, as one that bears the image of God, as one for whom Christ died, as a member of Christ's body, as a member of that holy society on earth, which is in union with that triumphant Church in Heaven?
Yet all these considerations must be forgot, all these glorious privileges disregarded, before a man can treat him that has them, as an object of scorn and contempt.
So that to scorn, or despise a brother, or, as our blessed Lord says, to call him Raca or fool, must be looked upon as amongst the most odious, unjust, and guilty tempers, that can be supported in the heart of a Christian, and justly excluding him from all his hopes in the salvation of Jesus Christ.
For to despise one for whom Christ died, is to be as contrary to Christ, as he that despises anything that Christ has said or done.
If a Christian that had lived with the holy Virgin Mary, should, after the death of our Lord, have taken any occasion to treat her with contempt, you would certainly say, that he had lost his piety towards our Blessed Lord. For a true reverence for Christ must have forced him to treat her with respect who was so nearly related to Him.
I dare appeal to any man's mind, whether it does not tell him, that this relation of the Virgin Mary to our Blessed Lord, must have obliged all those that lived and conversed with her, to treat her with great respect and esteem. Might not a man have justly dreaded the vengeance of God upon him, for any scorn or contempt that he had shown to her?
Now if this be plain and obvious reasoning, if a contempt offered to the Virgin Mary must have been interpreted a contempt of Christ, because of her near relation to Him, then let the same reasoning show you the great impiety of despising any brother.
You cannot despise a brother, without despising him that stands in a high relation to God, to His Son Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Trinity.
You would certainly think it a mighty impiety to treat a writing with great contempt that had been written by the finger of God; and can you think it a less impiety to contemn and vilify a brother, who is not only the workmanship but the image of God?
You would justly think it great profaneness, to contemn and trample upon an altar, because it was appropriated to holy uses, and had had the body of Christ so often placed upon it; and can you suppose it to be less profaneness to scorn and trample upon a brother, who so belongs to God, that his very body is to be considered as the temple of the Holy Ghost? [1 Cor. vi. 19]
Had you despised and ill-treated the Virgin Mary, you had been chargeable with the impiety of despising her of whom Christ was born. And if you scorn and despise a brother, you are chargeable with the impiety of despising him for whom Christ laid down His life.
And now, if this scornful temper is founded upon a disregard of all these relations which every Christian bears to God, and Christ, and the Holy Trinity, can you wonder, or think it hard, that a Christian who thus allows himself to despise a brother, should be in danger of hell-fire?
Secondly, It must here be observed, that though in these words, "Whosoever shall say, Thou fool," etc., the great sin there condemned is an allowed temper of despising a brother; yet we are also to believe, that all hasty expressions, and words of contempt, though spoken by surprise or accident, are by this text condemned as great sins, and notorious breaches of Christian charity.
They proceed from great want of Christian love and meekness, and call for great repentance. They are only little sins, when compared with habits and settled tempers of treating a brother despitefully, and fall as directly under the condemnation of this text as the grossest habits of uncharitableness.
And the reason why we are always to apprehend great guilt, and call ourselves to a strict repentance for these hasty expressions of anger and contempt, is this; because they seldom are what they seem to be, that is, mere starts of temper that were occasioned purely by surprise or accident, but are much more our own proper acts than we generally imagine.
A man says a great many bitter things; he presently forgives himself, because he supposes it was only the suddenness of the occasion, or something accidental that carried him so far beyond himself.
But he should consider, that perhaps the accident, or surprise, was not the occasion of his angry expressions but might only be the occasion of his angry temper showing itself.
Now as this is, generally speaking, the case, as all haughty, angry language generally proceeds from some secret habits of pride in the heart; so people that are subject to it, though only now and then as accidents happen, have great reason to repent of more than their present behaviour, to charge themselves with greater guilt than accidental passion, and to bring themselves to such penance and mortification, as is proper to destroy habits of a haughty spirit.
And this may be the reason why the text looks no farther than the outward language; why it only says Whosoever shall say, Thou fool; because few can proceed so far as to the accidental use of haughty, disdainful language, but they whose hearts are more or less possessed with habits and settled tempers of pride and haughtiness.
But to return: intercession is not only the best arbitrator of all differences, the best promoter of true friendship, the best cure and preservative against all unkind tempers, all angry and haughty passions, but is also of great use to discover to us the true state of our own hearts.
There are many tempers which we think lawful and innocent, which we never suspect of any harm; which, if they were to be tried by this devotion, would soon show us how we have deceived ourselves.
Susurrus44 is a pious, temperate, good man, remarkable for abundance of excellent qualities. No one more constant at the service of the Church, or whose heart is more affected with it. His charity is so great, that he almost starves himself, to be able to give greater alms to the poor. Yet Susurrus had a prodigious failing along with these great virtues.
He had a mighty inclination to hear and discover all the defects and infirmities of all about him. You were welcome to tell him anything of anybody, provided that you did not do it in the style of an enemy. He never disliked an evil-speaker, but when his language was rough and passionate. If you would but whisper anything gently, though it were ever so bad in itself, Susurrus was ready to receive it.
When he visits, you generally hear him relating how sorry he is for the defects and failings of such a neighbour. He is always letting you know how tender he is of the reputation of his neighbour; how loth to say that which he is forced to say; and how gladly he would conceal it, if it could be concealed.
Susurrus had such a tender, compassionate manner of relating things the most prejudicial to his neighbour, that he even seemed, both to himself and others, to be exercising a Christian charity, at the same time that he was indulging a whispering, evil-speaking temper.
Susurrus once whispered to a particular friend in great secrecy, something too bad to be spoken of publicly. He ended with saying, how glad he was that it had not yet taken wind, and that he had some hopes it might not be true, though the suspicions were very strong. His friend made him this reply:
You say, Susurrus, that you are glad it has not yet taken wind: and that you may have some hopes it may not prove true. Go home, therefore, to your closet, and pray to God for this man, in such a manner, and with such earnestness, as you would pray for yourself on the like occasion.
Beseech God to interpose in his favour, to save him from false accusers, and bring all those to shame who, by uncharitable whispers and secret stories, wound him, like those that stab in the dark. And when you have made this prayer, then you may, if you please, go tell the same secret to some other friend, that you have told to me.
Susurrus was exceedingly affected with this rebuke, and felt the force of it upon his conscience in as lively a manner, as if he had seen the books opened at the day of judgment.
All other arguments might have been resisted; but it was impossible for Susurrus either to reject, or to follow this advice, without being equally self-condemned in the highest degree.
From that time to this, he has constantly used himself to this method of intercession; and his heart is so entirely changed by it, that he can now no more privately whisper anything to the prejudice of another than he can openly pray to God to do people hurt.
Whisperings and evil-speakings now hurt his ears like oaths and curses: and he has appointed one day in the week to be a day of penance as long as he lives, to humble himself before God, in the sorrowful confession of his former guilt.
It may well be wondered, how a man of so much piety as Susurrus could be so long deceived in himself, as to live in such a state of scandal and evil-speaking, without suspecting himself to be guilty of it. But it was the tenderness and seeming compassion with which he heard and related everything that deceived both himself and others.
This was a falseness of heart, which was only to be fully discovered by the true charity of intercession.
And if people of virtue, who think as little harm of themselves as Susurrus did, were often to try their spirit by such an intercession, they would often find themselves to be such as they least of all suspected.
I have laid before you the many and great advantages of intercession. You have seen what a Divine friendship it must needs beget amongst Christians; how dear it would render all relations and neighbours to one another; how it tends to make clergymen, masters, and parents, exemplary and perfect in all the duties of their station; how certainly it destroys all envy, spite, and ill-natured passions; how speedily it reconciles all differences; and with what a piercing light it discovers to a man the true state of his heart.
These considerations will, I hope, persuade you to make such intercession as is proper for your state, the constant, chief matter of your devotion, at this hour of prayer.
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